Stepney and the Moncurs

Back in 2019, I came across the intriguing story that a James Moncur had been a master mariner working out of Sydney in the 1840’s and had has a Maori wife, and two daughters who had both European and Maori names.

At the time I wasn’t able to tie it into my own family history, but recently I’ve got a little closer.

James was born in Stepney in London. No surprises there, that was a major shipping and dockside area. (interesting, Ann Salmond, my distant relation and Thomas Allen’s mistress was born  a few years earlier in Hackney perhaps hinting at a family migration.

His father, also James, married in Marylebone in London but was born and christened in Dundee,

At this point the records start to run out.

His father is given as George Moncur who is said to have been born sometime around 1745 in Dundee.

However a search of Scotland’s People turns up only one George Moncur in the decade between 1740 and 1750, and he was born on March 29 in 1748 in Kirriemuir


Screenshot 2021-08-27 160343

with his father being either Joseph or John Moncur.

Kirriemuir is of course roughly in the area that my family came from, and while circumstantial this hints at a possible link to the New Zealand connection.

Of course, 1745 was a time of disruption with Bonnie Prince Charlie and all, and while Dundee was not subject to any serious damage it could be that the various Kirk session minute books from around that time were lost (or less romantically, that the rats got to them), but for the moment Kirriemuir it is.

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The location, Burnmouth of Kintyrie, as seen in this 1860’s Ordnance Survey map, still exists, and is not that far from Cortachy castle, which I remember various elderly relatives talking about, so possibly there was some oral memory, now lost, of a connection to the Cortachy area.

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Paddle steamers …

About a year ago I blogged about Mary Shelley and her trip by sea to Dundee.

At the time I made the point that before railways, travel by sea was considerably more comfortable that overland travel by coach.

In much the same way, during that window between around 1815 and the development of the railway network – say 1850 – river borne paddle steamers offered a viable alternative mode of travel between major cities in both England and Scotland.

So I was particularly interested when reports on a major archaeological dig in Hull reveled the graves of victims of an 1837 paddle steamer explosion in Hull.

When I lived in Hull at the end of the seventies, it was a moribund, woebegone place. The fishing industry had collapsed, and the city was very isolated geographically – the Humber Bridge was still being built, rail services were poor, often involving a change at Selby (who else remembers coming back from London and freezing on the platform on a winter’s evening waiting for the porter to shout ‘Ull train’ for the invariably late connecting service ?) and road links were not the best.

In contrast, in the early nineteenth century it was a bustling port with shipping services, including passenger services to London and the port cities of Scotland, to the Netherlands and northern Germany, and a network of paddle steamer services up the navigable tributaries of the Humber.

Paddle steamers demanded little in terms of infrastructure – they did not need particularly deep water to operate in, and could utilize existing wharves used for riverborne traffic – making them quick to establish, for example Edward Baines’ 1823 Yorkshire Gazetteer lists numerous steam packet services from Hull to Gainsborough, York, Selby, Thorne, and also connecting stagecoach services to the larger industrial cities of Yorkshire.

In contrast railways were capital intensive due to the costs of construction, and of course took significant time to build requiring bridges, viaducts, cuttings and stations to be built.

But of course the paddle steamers could only go where the navigable rivers went, and of course were often too wide to manage the canal locks, which is why their routes often terminated at unlikely seeming places such as Gainsborough in Lincolnshire and Thorne in West Yorkshire – Thorne being the nearest paddle steamers could get to Doncaster and Sheffield, and Gainsborough to the Trent valley.

The railways won out because they offered direct connections without the need to change services.

But of course it was not just in Britain that paddle steamers offered valuable low infrastructure links.

In Sibera some forty years later, Harry de Windt had a mad dash from Khiatka to catch a paddle steamer to take him on to Irkutsk, and Anton Chekhov again made use of paddle steamers on Amur on his 1889 journey to the Russian far east, the trans-Siberian and trans-Mongolian railways not having been in service until another fifteen years or so in the future.

At the same time, here in Australia, paddle steamers played a crucial role on the Murray allowing wool to be shipped to ports such as Morgan in South Australia from whence it could be shipped on the railway down to Adelaide for export – when we visited Morgan on a chilly winter’s day in 2012 it seemed chilly and forlorn – both the railway and the paddle steamers are long gone.

Paddle steamers, because they need little in terms of infrastructure, have left little behind them – an abandoned wharf there, a rusting hulk here, but it’s important to remember that once they provided an important service before road and rail won out …

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The Victorian Anti-Vaccination movement in England

As part of my background reading about the roles of nineteenth century pharmacists in Victoria (roles such as opticians or dentists) I’ve been reading about the nineteenth century anti vaccination movement in England.

No one seems to have studied the movement much in Australia, and I’m unsure if there was much opposition to compulsory vaccination in Victoria.

Certainly, a quick and dirty search of Trove suggests that while some people may have been opposed, generally most people were in favour.

What is interesting is where the movement sits.

Nineteenth century medicine was not actually very scientific – it was a mixture of herbalism and optimism – doctors had found some things seemed to alleviate some illnesses but no one was very sure as to the causes of illness – not really until the discovery of viruses and a greater understanding bacterial illnesses in the late nineteenth century was there anything resembling a modern understanding of the role of viruses and bacteria in spreading disease.

So, for example, people knew smallpox vaccination worked, but actually did not know how it worked or how smallpox spread.

The major competing theory with germ theory was the miasma theory where the infection spread through the air in some unknown way.

This was not a completely stupid idea – the idea that disease circulated in a community and was spread by close contact, made a lot of sense, as did the consequent need for cleanliness and being careful to avoid contact with diseased people.

And in a slightly roundabout way the miasma theory gave rise to various movements that advocated for access to fresh air and sunshine (and strangely enough, nudism) all of which were generally good things.

At the same time, given the very imperfect understanding of how smallpox spread and the use of the ‘arm’ method where infected lymph as collected from the pustules of people who had been recently vaccinated and then used to vaccinate next group to be vaccinated, that contamination could happen and various dire diseases such as syphilis could be inadvertently spread – syphilis being an especially important worry to a Victorian due to both the moral stigma attached to it and that was incurable and could infect one’s children.

Understandably, some people did not want to be vaccinated under such circumstances, and in England at least, if you could not pay to have your children vaccinated, they would be vaccinated by the same doctor who oversaw the local workhouse, and possibly someone who did not command the respect of the community, and who because of his (and it would always be a man) association with the workhouse might be suspected of using lymph from individuals who were also carrying other diseases.

There were of course cranks who advocated strange cures based on vegetables and being doused with cold water or held bizarre beliefs, but it’s important to realise that given the state of knowledge at the time, the worries about compulsory vaccination were rational.

I suspect that the seeming lack of a strong anti-vaccination movement in Victoria might be due to the government appointing various local doctors as public vaccinators, free from any taint of association with the poor and indigent …

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Bonox, Bovril, and Jack the Ripper …

Recently, I’ve come across a number of beef extract bottles while documenting the contents of Dow’s, including this rather decayed bottle of Beefine, which dates from the early 1920’s.


Beefine was a beef extract product similar to Bonox. So, what was it doing in a chemist’s shop rather than a grocer’s?

Looking at advertising from the time it’s clear that many of these products were positioned as restoratives for invalids recovering from 1919 flu pandemic and as a substitute for that great Victorian pick me up, beef tea. (Incidentally, Florence Nightingale was not a fan of beef tea, thinking it a waste of good beef and of doubtful nutritional value.)

Of these products, Bonox is still with us. In fact when I make a casserole, a bolgnese, or a ragout, I sometimes add a little bonox to improve the flavour, and of course people working outside in winter sometimes drink Bonox dissolved in hot water rather than tea or coffee.

Just as we have Vegemite and the English have Marmite, they have Bovril where we have Bonox.

But while Bonox dates from 1918, Bovril in something like its present form dates from the 1880’s. During the first world war it was fed to troops on the Western Front, and the Irish Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton was apparently a fan.

Certainly, he took several crates with him on the Endurance expedition and encouraged his men stuck on Elephant Island to add it to their hoosh, a stew of seal, penguin, pemmican and ship’s biscuit. Unappetising maybe, but it certainly kept them alive and in relatively good health.

However, the origins of Bovril go back to the Franco Prussian war – Napoleon III ordered a million cans of beef to feed his army, and the supply contract was won by a Scottish Canadian entrepreneur John Lawson Johnson.

Johnson had no problem sourcing the beef but getting it to the French was a logistical nightmare. To make transport simpler Johnston, a trained chemist, developed a beef extract product, Johnston’s Fluid Beef, that was probably a bit runnier than today’s beef extract, but each bottle or can contained four or five times the beef content of a standard can of beef.

However, Johnston’s fluid beef wasn’t the only such product.

Across the Atlantic, in Richmond Virginia, Mann Valentine developed a similar product, Valentine’s Meat Juice, in the early 1870’s.

The story is that he originally developed it as an easy to digest product for his ailing wife in the post civil war South, where everything was either unobtainable, or in very short supply. While his wife did not recover, the product was a success and marketed in both America and Britain,.

I first came across Valentine’s Meat Juice in Harry de Windt’s From Pekin to Calais, which I was reading to test out Lithium on the dogfood device.

[Harry de Windt was one of these mad adventurers like Fred Burnaby that the high Victorian period seemed to produce.

Independently wealthy, well connected (he was the brother of Margaret Brooke, the wife of Charles Brooke, the white Rajah of Sarawak, and had served as Charles Brooke’s aide-de-camp) he was a noted adventurer and explorer.

Perpetually restless, he went on many incredible journeys, including a journey from Pekin to Calais before the Trans Siberian or Trans Mongolian railways had been built. In it, he describes how, while riding across the Gobi Desert to Urga (now Ulaan Baatar) they had no time to stop during the day and how lunch was invariably a cup of Valentine’s Meat Juice, some biscuit, and occasionally a shot of whisky.]

However, Valentine’s meat juice also had a major role in a sensational Victorian murder trial. Florence Maybrick, had been born in Mobile, Alabama in 1862, and had married James Maybrick, a wealthy Liverpool financier and cotton merchant 24 years her senior in 1881.

Liverpool was of course a centre for blockade running during the civil war, and Florence’s father was a banker in Alabama, making it possible that he and James Maybrick had had a long standing association.

In any case Florence was obviously pregnant when she married James, giving birth to a son a few months later.

Overall, the marriage was not a success. James was a philanderer, had mistresses and neglected Florence.

Florence took a younger lover, which probably did nothing to heal the growing rift between her and James.

Finally, James died suddenly in 1889. You might think that Florence’s troubles might be over, but no, she was arrested and accused of poisoning James with arsenic.

Now we know from the Madeleine Smith case that women would sometimes use an arsenic wash to improve their complexions, and that, as Madeleine’s love Emile L’Angelier did, people might also consume small quantities of arsenic to maintain a youthful and vigorous appearance.

James Maybrick did indeed habitually take medications containing arsenic, but it was alleged that Florence had administered a dose enough to kill via a bottle of Valentine’s meat juice she fed him with while unwell.

Access to arsenic was rather more controlled by the late 1880’s than it was in Madeleine Smith’s time, but it was claimed that often women would make up an arsenic face wash by soaking fly papers in water to wash out the arsenic from the coating.

It was alleged that this was exactly what Florence did to poison James.

Like the Madeleine Smith case, it’s difficult to know at this distance whether James died as a result of an accidental overdose, or as a result of Florence poisoning him, or a bit of both. In the even the judge thought she did, sentenced her to death, which was commuted to life.

Released in 1904, Florence eventually moved to Connecticut where she lived on with her cats, ultimately dying in 1941.

That would have seemed to have been the end of it, except that in 1992 a diary emerged, that seemed to have been written James Maybrick.

In it, the author describes various of the Jack the Ripper murders in some detail, but crucially misses out some aspects of the murders, or gets some of the details wrong. Equally the provenance of the diary is highly suspect – while it is written in a genuine Victorian period notebook, some have felt the handwriting to be more twentieth century than nineteenth in style. Coupled with the inconsistencies in the diary, and the provenance problems, it could well be argued to be a fake.

We’ll probably never truly know, but we can probably say with some certainty that James Maybrick is unlikely to have been Jack the Ripper, even if his death in May 1889 fits with the abrupt end of the Ripper killings in late 1888.

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Dating deposits using patent medicine bottles


Three or so years ago, I posted about a rather attractive nineteenth century bottle that had contained Hayman’s Balsam of Horehound.

At the time I was more interested in how a bottle of a patent medicine manufactured in South Wales had ended up in Chiltern on the other side of the world, and uncovered a story powered by advertising – basically a search of online auction sites showed the bottles turning up in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and a comparative search of Trove, Papers Past, and Welsh Newspapers online showed how Hayman’s had reused the same advertising copy.

And you could argue that this showed the first flickers of globalization.

Today I did something a little different.

I searched for “balsam of Horehound” on both Trove and Papers Past and counted the relative occurrences of individual brands for the first ten pages on each site.

Grossly unscientific, but it showed that the two most advertised brands were Arnold’s and Hendry’s in Australia and Arnold’s and Ayre’s in New Zealand.

So, what does the distribution look like in Australia:


We can see that Balsam of Horehound was very much a thing between roughly 1870 and 1900. If we break it down to the individual brands we see


That Hayman’s had a short peak around 1880 – roughly around when the product was also being advertised in Wales. (Unfortunately, there’s no distant reading tool analogous to QueryPic for Welsh Newspapers online, so I’m afraid I’m basing the dates for Wales on the human eyeball.)

What we see is that Arnold’s rapidly becomes the dominant product, rapidly superseding Hayman’s.

Hendry’s, which turns up in advertising as a competitor to Arnold’s really doesn’t figure until even later, and even then was not so heavily promoted.


In New Zealand, mentions of Balsam of Horehound start to become significant a little earlier than in Australia and appear to be a bit more ‘peaky’. I don’t have an explanation for the peakiness of the data – one hypothesis I could conceivably test would be winter rainfall to see if products were advertised more heavily in wetter years.

Graphing the two most common brands, plus Hayman’s,


One sees basically the same pattern as in Australia, with Arnold’s displacing Hayman’s from the mid 1880’s and Ayre’s competing with Arnold’s from the 1890’s.


So, what does this all mean?

For a start when dating deposits, we can say that any deposit containing Hayman’s bottles is unlikely to be much later than the mid 1880’s – the bottles are readily identifiable due to their embossing.

Unfortunately, I havn’t been able to find an image of an Arnold’s bottle so am unable to say if they are similarly identifiable, but being able to tie Hayman’s to a quite short window around 1880 certainly would help date assemblages found on abandoned house sites

(Incidentally, Kirstienne Graham (The Archaeological Potential of Medicinal Advertisements – AUSTRALASIAN HISTORICAL ARCHAEOLOGY, 23, 2005) has proposed a similar use of patent medicine bottles as a dating tool, albeit using different methodology.)

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Bahamian Moncurs …

I’ve long been puzzled by why there are quite a few AfroCaribbean people in the Bahamas with the same slightly unusual surname as me.

I think I might now have the answer. Possibly not the whole answer, but good enough.

A rough trawl of various Caribbean family history websites seems to point the most of the Bahamian Moncurs being descended from a trio of brothers, James, Samuel and Louis all born between 1810 and 1815. There was also a Thomas Moncur born around the same time, and I’m not sure quite how he fits into the story.

Unfortunately, while the records of their deaths are online, their birth records appear not to be available. It is of course entirely possible that their births were simply not recorded, except perhaps in individual slave registers.

I have not been able to trace any earlier births or marriages, so I assume that these individuals had a father whose surname was Moncur. As records started being kept officially in the Bahamas in 1850, we are reliant on church registers, slave registers etc for any earlier birth death or marriage records.

The records seem to point back to Abaco island, which was settled by loyalist refugees from America who brought their slaves with them.

The name Moncur is also known from the slave states in America and comes from earlier migration to the Americas by people who became land owners and possibly slave owners.

In the Bahamas most slaves acquired their western surnames from their slave owner.

So, waving our hands a bit, I’m going to guess that the AfroCaribbean Moncurs are descended from a white slave owner or plantation manager who lived in the Bahamas sometime around the Napoleonic War period. It’s possible that I might be out by a generation and the original slave master arrived in the aftermath of the American Revolutionary War, but the sources don’t seem to be there to settle that point.

However, despite other distant family connections to slavery in Jamaica, there seems to be no direct connection with my line of farming folk …

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3D scanning and the dead …

I have been thinking a little more about what to do about human remains in museums.

I claim no great ethical insights, but the experience of dealing with aboriginal remains in Australia may provide a baseline of good practice.

For example, the return and reburial of the remains of Mungo man, and a second, more difficult case where blood and tissue samples were taken, sometimes in questionable circumstances, from members of aboriginal communities.

And, quite clearly, a return to community was the most appropriate response given the cultural beliefs of community members.

This brings us full circle – we are treating the remains with the respect that original people who buried the dead would have expected of themselves.

Now just suppose that Mungo man’s remains had been through a 3D scanner prior to return. The images, the data are simply ones and zeroes sitting on a server somewhere.

Yes, they can be used to create 3D images of the remains, and print copies of the remains, but they themselves are not the remains.

Should these files also be deleted?

Equally, if we consider our dead Anglo Saxon, is it as distasteful to display a 3D printed copy of the skeleton as the skeleton itself?

One part of me says not, provided we treat the original skeleton respectfully, and another part wonders if we would simply be doing it for entertainment.

I have no answers. I am not an ethicist, but the appearance of new technologies such as 3D scanning does seem to change things somewhat

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Displaying the dead

The dead, they say, are always with us.

And sometimes, they are on display in museums. And as Jonathan Jarrett recently reminded me via a recent blogpost, there are a whole range of issues around the display of human remains.

Now, there are a number of good reasons why human remains should be kept and displayed in medical collections – essentially to illustrate various pathologies. Having once had pretensions to study psychophysiology I’ve seen my fair share of disarticulated skeletons and bits of dead people in bottles.

I assume that in most of these cases the people whose bits now float in jars gave their consent. And in the case of some of the older samples I recognise they may not have done, perhaps because they had no one to speak for them.

However, I have no problem with these collections. They clearly have a role in the advancement of human knowledge and alleviation of suffering. In other words, they have a purpose that we can all agree is useful, even if the items sometimes make us squirm.

And that’s fine in a medical context.

Historical and archaeological museums are something else.

I remember going to look at the Jewry Wall in Leicester one grey November day in the mid eighties.

I then continued on to the adjacent museum to look at their mosaics.

At the time, and it was nearly forty years ago, they had a dead Anglo Saxon in foyer – they had recreated the excavation of a grave and had the skeleton as found laid out with their grave goods. As I remember it the skeleton was an example from the transition from pagan to Christian practice, it had been buried with both a crucifix and grave goods.

I remember thinking that the display was a little tasteless. The dead person had been buried with some ceremony, by people who cared enough about the dead person to ensure a decent burial. They did not expect the bones to be displayed and gawked at.

Obviously, construction work means that we will always uncover burials, and it is perfectly understandable that we would wish to document the dead to enhance our understanding – questions such as where did they come from, did they exhibit any abnormal pathologies, how old were they when they died.

But display them?

I think we can say with confidence that the people who buried the dead human would expect the remains to be treated with something approaching the same degree of respect that they showed when they buried them, and that this most probably does not include having the remains put on display.

And basically this is what it come down to. Are we showing the degree of respect that the people who buried the dead person would expect of us?

And of course, it’s not just the actual dead.

Historical medical records equally need to be treated with something approaching the degree of privacy that they would have when they were ‘live’ records.

To explain:

At Dow’s Pharmacy we have a number of prescription books in which the pharmacist of the day wrote down what he or she had dispensed to whom, on such and such a date and how much they had been charged.

Much of the information is probably innocuous – after all who, especially in the days before antibiotics – did not have a cough that did not go away, or a cut that did not heal cleanly.

But of course, sometimes that cough was the first sign of consumption, and sometimes that cut never did heal and the person died horribly of sepsis.

And, while I don’t know this, there may be cases of people who were being treated for syphilis and the like, and records of medicine made up to treat an ailing child who subsequently died.

At the time, people would have expected that the books would have been kept private.

So today, we have one on display. We normally keep it closed, but open it at a ‘safe’ page when explaining the life of the pharmacy. We don’t let the pages of the book be photographed.

I think that’s an acceptable compromise. Things that people would have wanted to keep secret are kept secret. It is unlikely that anyone would be too upset if we accidentally revealed that someone’s great aunt Maisie had a very bad cold in the winter of 1931.

Just as if it was thought appropriate to recreate a burial to display items in context, as they did in Leicester all these years ago, it would be acceptable to use a modern plastic anatomy skeleton in place of the human remains.

It doesn’t change the validity of the display, but ensures that the remains themselves are treated with the respect that the original burial group would have expected.

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Victorian Vaccination …


Vaccination day in Port Mackay – attribution

When I went for my Covid shot, the nurse took a look at my arm to choose a vaccination site, noticed an old and faded scar, and asked ‘Was that a smallpox vaccination?’

It was.

In Scotland, where I was born, it was policy to use a lancet to scratch the inoculation site to leave a noticeable scar as proof of vaccination – in effect a vaccine passport.

As a teenager, girlfriends would bitch about how unsightly they were, especially if they’d manage to get a bit of a tan, but to be honest everyone had them, and anyway this was Scotland – short sleeves and spaghetti straps were a lot less common than woolly jumpers and Damart thermals.

Smallpox and tuberculosis were two of the really big killer diseases of the nineteenth century. When I look at my family history it’s quite disturbing to see how many of my predecessors died of lung diseases – usually lumped together under phthisis, which was used as a catchall term for not only tuberculosis but diseases brought on by constant exposure to smoke and pollution.

Primarily smallpox and phthisis were urban diseases – the ones in my family who died of these complaints lived in Dundee or Edinburgh, never those living on the farms, where they mixed less, living an isolated life except for market days, and were possibly less exposed to pollution and either adulterated or contaminated food.

The other interesting thing is that from the mid Victorian period onwards none of them died of smallpox – the reason being that smallpox vaccination became compulsory in Scotland in 1864, although not without some opposition. (There was no cure for tuberculosis – diagnosis was a death sentence and though treatment got better, remained so until the advent of antibiotics)

England had made vaccination compulsory some years earlier, and in Australia, Victoria made vaccination compulsory in 1854 to stop the spread of smallpox in the goldfields appointing public vaccinators for each district.


The vaccinator would make an incision into the skin and scrape in infected material harvested from someone already vaccinated to induce a mild case of cowpox – in fact it was a requirement that vaccinated people had to come back and have their infected material harvested.

Nineteen century medical equipment catalogues are full of various gruesome instruments for vaccination


Although some vaccinators preferred to make an incision with a lancet and then use a special tool such as this


to transfer the infected material – as perhaps the vaccinator is doing in the sketch at the head of this post.

And of course this reveals another gruesome secret about nineteenth century vaccination. To get the safe vaccination material here from England they transported in in the arm – having no other way of transferring a live vaccine.

This meant starting out the voyage with a group of unvaccinated individuals and progressively vaccinating a pair every eight days or so with material harvested from the previous pair to be vaccinated and hoping that they would be able to harvest live material once they got to Melbourne.

From there the material could be transported (quickly) on glass plates and used to restart the vaccination cycle.

Gruesome as the story is, it worked. Compulsory vaccination and health inspection successfully controlled the spread of smallpox in nineteenth century Victoria.

Of the other colonies, Tasmania enacted similar regulations but didn’t actually enforce them terribly strictly, and New South Wales never had compulsory vaccination. I’m unsure about the situation in the other colonies, although the lead picture suggests Queensland had a vaccination service …

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RLS and St Cyrus


I was reading Bella Bathurst’s The Lighthouse Stevensons, the story of the extraordinary Stevenson family, who over several generations built most of Scotland’s lighthouses, not to mention a quite a few elsewhere.

Robert Louis Stevenson, of course, was one of the family who did not take to lighthouse building and ran away to be an author, ending his days in Samoa.

Anyway, in the book, I came across a minor error that obviously slipped through the sub-editing process.

Bella Bathurst states the Alan Stevenson, after he resigned as Chief Engineer to the Northern Lighthouse Board due to illness, lived for sometime at St Cyrus in Fifeshire.

Well St Cyrus in Kincardineshire I know well from summer holidays when a child, and also that we once had a farm there, but I didn’t know of one in Fife an area which I also know reasonably well.

A few minutes with Google Maps convinced me that there was only one St Cyrus in Scotland, and that was the one in Kincardineshire above the mouth of the North Esk and the border with Angus, which was known as Forfarshire in the nineteenth century.

But where did he live?

The answer was Kirkside House, which was amazingly adjacent to what was our farm. I remember old uncles referring to it as ‘The Toorie House’ due to its distinctive round tower and using it as a landmark from the beach to place the location of field boundaries when looking at landslips.

Thomas Stevenson, Alan’s youngest brother married Margaret Balfour, whose parents lived in the Mall House in Montrose, in 1848, with Robert Louis Stevenson coming along in 1850. However despite J’s assertion that every third person in Montrose is related to me in some way, I can claim no connection with the Balfours, unless it was as servants.

We do know that Thomas Stevenson’s family, including RLS, visited with Alan Stevenson when he was in Kirkside House, and while I had a moment of fantasy about some of my forbear’s children encountering the sickly RLS on walks, it actually can’t be true – we didn’t acquire the lease of the farm till the mid 1860’s and Alan Stevenson died in Portobello in Edinburgh in 1865, of something that sounds a lot like what we would nowadays diagnose as Multiple Sclerosis.

I’m assuming that RLS continued to visit family in the area – given that his father and brother David built Scurdie Ness Lighthouse in Montrose, it would be surprising if he did not – after all he would still have been trying to meet his father’s wishes and become an engineer in the family firm …

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