In a couple of months I will be making a long-anticipated trip to Shetland. I have three main reasons for wanting to go, none of them immediately relating to DI Jimmy Perez as portrayed in the recent television dramas based on Ann Cleves’ novels.
Shetland seems such a long way when you look at an atlas, exactly how far is left rather vague since mapmakers have tended to tuck it into a box which they float somewhere in the Moray Firth. Now I find that it is only just over an hour by plane, or will be, but my mind is back in the first decades of the 1800s, before steam ships, before planes, before phones, before the internet. Almost back in the days of here be dragons, or at least sea monsters, and certainly of the likelihood of rather rough water… However I decided to skip any attempt at replication. I will fly.
My first reason is curiosity about the life of one of my maternal ancestors who spent a brief and ultimately unhappy time there. Ann Wyse went as a bride and returned about eighteen months later as a widow with infant twin daughters. These infants do not appear in the family tree copied out on shelf paper by my grandfather:
- What happened to the twins? (early death I imagined, aware of infant mortality at the time).
- What can it have been like for a young woman raised in 1820s Glasgow to find herself living so far from family in a part of Scotland so remote?
- How did she get there?
- and how might she have got back to central Scotland where some ten years later she married my Edinburgh-based ancestor and produced the further progeny from one of whom I am derived?
Nothing like a quest!
I have prowled through family documents, summoned up information from the internet and visited archives. Now I am now booked up to go. And what better time to find my jottings and begin pulling the past together.
Find a marriage
Nineteenth century novels often end with a marriage. Ancestral quests can start from one. Ann Wyse’s marriages took place before registration began in 1855 so off to the newspapers, or at least to British Newspapers Online. There she is, her second marriage reported in the Caledonian Mercury, Edinburgh, Thursday June 23rd 1842.
“At 25 Gayfield Square, on the 21st current, Robert Chisholm, Esq. jeweller, Edinburgh, to Ann Wyse, relict of the late Rev. Colin Bogle, Walls.”
I am rather intrigued by the Georgette Heyerish union which appears below of ‘the Hon and Reverend Edward Harbottle Grimstone, second son of the Earl and Countess of Verulam, to Frances Horatia, eldest daughter of John Morier, Esq’ – was she born in 1805? but I must not be distracted.
25 Gayfield Square is not as grand as its neighbours, no fanlight above the doorway which appears to lead to a stair. It is on the east side of Gayfield Square, standing 4 stories at the front and six at the rear (owing to Edinburgh’s rolling hillsides).
She was married at No 25, so who lived at there?
Nine names are given in the 1842/43 Edinburgh Post Office Directory, including Mrs Browning who kept lodgings, and a hatter and: Edwin Millidge, jeweller. A connection there. It turns out that Edwin had married Sarah, Ann’s elder sister, in Edinburgh in 1820.
The description of the bride as “relict of the late Rev Colin Bogle, Walls” took me straight to the Fasti.
Ah, the groom was a Minister of the Kirk
Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae: the succession of ministers in the Church of Scotland from the Reformation is an invaluable tool for those, such as I, who are fortunate to have been blessed with a minister ancestor. There, in volume seven, they and the twins were.
Not quite accurate, Ann and Robert were married on 21st June 1842 (once again she had an older groom, tho probably not as old as the Rev Colin, Robert being born in 1799). I haven’t established Colin’s date of birth but if he was licenced in 1810, almost a year before Ann was born on 14 May 1811, he must have been at least twenty years older than she was. There is a long gap before he obtained his church. A stickit minister.
Walls is on the west coast of the mainland of Shetland. I am looking forward to seeing how it looks today. It is not my impression that the parish of Walls was a well-doing place during the time Ann Wyse lived there. I hope at least that the Rev Colin Bogle managed to get his manse fixed up before he brought his bride home. On the 17th of November 1830, that is less than a year before he married, he ‘represented [to the Lerwick Presbytery] that the repairs which the Presbytery had ordered on his Manse in April last had not been executed with the diligence which the Presbytery had enjoined – that in consequence of there not being even one habitable room in the house, he had been obliged to remove to lodgings at a distance from the manse…’ [CH2/1071/8/10]
By the time of the events of December 1832 and January 1833 the family were living in the manse. Birth and death reported in the same issue of the Aberdeen Journal on Wednesday 6th February 1833:
There appears to be neither note of burial nor gravestone for the Rev Colin Bogle. Nor is there any record of a baptism for the twins Colina and Jessie. Surely it would have been possible for some colleague to have travelled the twenty odd miles from Lerwick and officiated?
Ann was married (in Glasgow) on 18th August 1831, age 20
She gave birth to twins (in Shetland) on 29 December 1832
Her husband died (in Shetland) on 16 January 1833.
She returned south for she appeared in Edinburgh in relation to her husband’s will in September 1833.
There is a sad postscript…
Colina and Jessie were buried together in Edinburgh on 30 December 1833, their interments shown in St Cuthbert’s Parish Register, the head of family given as the late Rev Colin Bogle of Walls, Shetland. Both died of Hooping Cough, Colina on 24th December and Jessie on the 29th, one just before and one after her first birthday.
So now I know what happened to the twins. My lost great-great-aunts if I have counted aright. Perhaps the archives in Lerwick will enable me to get some feeling for conditions in Shetland in the 1830s and some idea of the roads and packet boats which carried my great-great-grandmother to and from the islands.
I hope Ann had some sunny days before all these terrible events. I’m glad she at least survived to settle in more comfortable surroundings. I found a bit more detail of that second wedding in the OPRs:
More of what happened next anon (though some of the outcomes can be found in my ‘Walking back into the past’ posting last year).
And I hope for sunshine, fair winds and no demons for myself when I survey Ultima Thule.
I should like to put on record my gratitude to all those who transcribe and organise and share records, whether as part of the job, for the benefit of family and friends, or just for the fun of it. Doing history now is a great collaborative enterprise, thank you all.