Saturday, 3 August 2019

Children of the Dundee Poor

I've been doing some more work on my family history, both here in Dundee and elsewhere in Scotland. And as it does relate somewhat to the landscape of Angus, I'll post here a piece I wrote several years ago on Thomas Lynch, his family, and his being 'farmed out' as a young child to Auchterhouse as an orphan child from Dundee. There is some new information that relates to this piece - particularly two elder siblings, Duncan born 1819 and John born 1821, in Port Glasgow, for whom I've both 'paper trails' and DNA evidence - but this is the original piece of writing from 2011.

I may add more later!

Seeking ancestors: Children of the Dundee Poor
© J Blain 2011

On a day in 1834 or early 35, four children were taken from Dundee to Auchterhouse in the Sidlaws. This was not a day trip for them: boarding out children was a way in which Dundee dealt with the problem of its orphaned poor. These four bore the Irish name of Lynch, still an unusual name at that time in Dundee. History has confused their origins; the father was Michael, or perhaps James, Lynch and the mother Margaret Haggart, or Haray, or Haughey. Perhaps, though it’s unlikely, they were even from two families not one. This is the story of the children, and it is also the story of their finding, based only in a mystery-man in my own family, a ‘Thomas Lynch’ for whom the only clues were in later census records giving a birth around 1831 in Dundee.

Death records, much later, of three of these children do exist. Thomas’s, five decades later in Glasgow, gives his parents as Michael Lynch, weaver, and Margaret McTaggart. Those of George and James, in Dundee, name the parents as James Lynch and Margaret Haggart, an interesting similarity of sound. James’s record says his father was a coal carter, likely resulting from confusion with James’s own occupation, while George’s death and marriage record show no occupation for his father. Perhaps, given the circumstances, nobody really knew.

But I am ahead of my tale. The children sent into the Angus countryside were James, aged around eleven in 1834 and possibly ‘boarded’ only very briefly before being placed in service on a farm or possibly placed directly into service, George, then around 6, Thomas, around 4, and a baby, Ann. Exactly when they went isn’t known. An entry in the Dundee Kirk Session minutes for 7thNovember 1834 states, ‘Messrs Fergusson & Kyd to attend to the case of Lynch family’, so that they were by then in care of the parish. Dundee death records show a Michael Linch, from Drogheda, dying from fever in the infirmary, buried in the Howff on 30th May 1834, though there is also a James Lynch, born in County Cavan, aged 40 dying of consumption in September 1835. There are records of baptism in St Andrew’s Roman Catholic Church, for James Linch, in 1823, son of Michael Linch and Margaret Harvy or Haray, and for Thomas Lynch, born in July 1830 but not baptised until January 1831, to Michael Lynch and Margaret Haghey. Alas, for childen named George and Ann no birth or baptism records are evident. 

What however makes these children traceable is that the 1820s were seeing only the beginning of Irish immigration to Dundee, so that the Lynch children are among the earliest Dundee births to families with Irish names. Consistently from the 1851 census onwards they appear as born in Dundee, and James, George and Thomas are shown in the 1841 census as born within Angus, though there is a small glitch for Ann in the 1841 census where she is said to have been born outside the county, though in Scotland, not Ireland.

Lists of the Dundee poor exist for some years in the 1830s, as small printed brochures, bound into volumes and available in the Dundee Central Library’s local history area, including sections on ‘The Board of Children’ for poor orphan children sent out with a sum paid for their keep. In these records, in 1835 and 36, George and Thomas are boarded, along with other children, with Andrew Scott in Bonnettown of Auchterhouse – today’s Bonnyton. Ann is there too, but in a different household, that of John Scott, with a monthly amount of fourteen shillings paid for her keep, whereas George and Thomas rate only the standard eight shillings. James is not boarded. By 1837, George has been ‘struck off the list or put to service during the year’, the standard phrase when children are no longer supported by Dundee parish, and Ann has been moved to the Dundee household of Robert Moncur in the Hawkhill, at the standard eight shilling rate. Only Thomas remains in Bonnettown of Auchterhouse. In 1838 and 1839 records Thomas is in Kirkton of Auchterhouse with a Mrs Chrichton, while Ann remains in the Hawkhill, and finally in 1841 census records Thomas is the oldest boarded child of several with grocer’s widow Charlotte Chrichton and her daughter Betsy, and Ann remains in Dundee with Robert Moncur.

In 1841, also, a James Lynch reappears as a farm servant at Carlungie in Monikie parish, and George is in Tealing, a male servant aged approximately 13 on a farm run by David Bell. Two younger boys there are identified as ‘orphans’, presumably boarded. Ten years later in the 1851 census – still clearly identifiable by that ‘Dundee’ birth – James is in Dundee, and married, George in Panbride, both farm labourers. Thomas is now also an agricultural labourer, in Westmuir by Kirriemuir, and married to Euphemia Low, a weaver there.

It isn’t clear when these children were sent out to the countryside, and even whether they all arrived at one time. The Lists of Poor in Dundee for 1833-4 have no mention of them, tallying with the 1834 Kirk Session minute that puts two elders in charge of the Lynch family ‘case’. How directly the children were taken to Auchterhouse isn't given, so that we know only that they arrived there before the end of the year of 1st February 1834 to 25th February 1835. They might have been housed in Dundee for a while before being taken to Auchterhouse. The appearance of James as a farm labourer, though, suggests that he too was ‘farmed out’, arriving in 1835 if not the year before.

But what did happen to these four children, traceable through censuses and records of marriages, subsequent births, and deaths? James married Margaret Laing in 1850, and moved into Dundee before 1861, becoming a market gardener in Blackscroft, then a carter of coals and seemingly developing a small business in this trade. His children included Anne, Helen, Robert, James, George and Margaret, with Robert and Helen named for his wife’s parents. He eventually declined in health and became an inmate in Dundee’s West Poor House poor house, dying there of cardiac failure in 1904 aged in his 80s. Margaret Laing had predeceased him.

George, now a ploughman at Claypots, married Agnes Osler, a domestic servant in West Ferry, born in Murroes, in 1857 and in 1861 they are living in Cotton Road in Dundee with George a ploughman, later moving to 3 Crescent Street. They had children Margaret, Alexander and William, but George is not in the household with Agnes and the children in the 1871 and 1881 censuses. He may have been on a ship, having changed his occupation, as there is a George Lynch in the 1881 census on the Dundee ship Beryl, then in Aarhus harbour, with occupation ‘fireman’ which would be stoker. George died in 1890, at 3 Crescent Street, survived by his widow Agnes, the death reported by his son Alexander.

Ann, the youngest, had a somewhat different set of experiences. In 1851 she was a general servant in the household of brewer Thomas Kerr and his sisters Margaret and Mary, in the Hawkhill, along with three apprentices, a clerk and a drayman. However by 1861 she was lodging with embroideress Jean Christie in the Nethergate, her occupation given as servant, and with an infant daughter Mary. The child’s birth was recorded in 1860 as ‘illegitimate’ with her name given as Marian Jane Paterson Lynch, leading to speculation that the father’s name may have been Paterson. Ann then disappears from records, with no death or marriage found – but Mary is in the 1871 and 1881 censuses, at 3 Crescent Street, as ‘niece’ in the household of Agnes Osler or Lynch. 

Then Mary, too, disappears from records, possibly marrying or emigrating.

Thomas’s tale is the most complex and leads beyond the scope of this article. He married Euphemia Low in 1850, but though a child, James, was born in Kirriemuir in 1851, the marriage did not last. (Euphemia Low outlived the Lynch brothers, dying in Kirriemuir in 1818.) Thomas left her in the early 1850s, and reappeared in Glasgow records in 1868. His story therefore leads elsewhere, as does that of the infant James who would eventually become a farmer in Colorado – tales for another day.

But the question remains: Why were the four Lynch children sent out, in 1834 or 35, to the Angus countryside?  Dundee had an association which gave care to orphans (funds always permitting), a charity developed from 1815, opening its orphanage in 1821, supported by subscription, collection and in particular by bequests. But the efforts of the charity were aimed at the ‘industrious poor’ and several specific records suggest that a child’s admission to the Dundee Orphans Institution was dependant also on their father being ‘of the parish’, presumably of the ‘right’ religion rather than only living there, on the children’s perceived ‘fitness’ or ability to benefit, on an initial petition with recommendations by two notable people of the town, and also on their state of health. There are implicit social class assumptions here – and possibly of ethnicity, as very few children of Irish names appear in the ledger, excepting a James Keough and a Rose Ann Lynch admitted in 1857 and 61. The births of James and Thomas Lynch are recorded in the Catholic register, but Thomas’s baptism is a whole six months after his birth, and records of baptisms of George and Ann were apparently not made or have not survived. Did these children qualify neither for the Orphans Institution nor for provision from the growing Catholic community?

Apparently not – so they became a charge on the parish, and were sent to the countryside, with (unlike many children of the orphanage) no possibilities of apprenticeship to a trade.

The pursuit of family history can involve many types of records, not only the most obvious ones of the censuses, and births, marriages and deaths. This article – and the discovery of the four Lynch children – was made possible by the lists of Dundee poor. In these lists, details are sparse. The ledger of pupils of the Dundee Orphan Institution (vol2, 1821-1892) is rich and detailed, a wonderful resource for family historians and for all those interested in the story of Dundee, giving details of parents’ names, occupations, even places of birth, names of those recommending children to the Charity, and notes on how children came to leave, apprenticeships or wages paid. From comments we know that Margaret Ann Dickson ‘Went to learn to be a tailoress with J S Smith Reform Street’, that Catherine Adam ‘Went out to America with her Aunt’, that Thomas Kermoth was ‘Engaged to Messrs Paxton & Sinclair, Coffee & Tea dealers 7 Reform St for 3 years’ and even what happened to this child after that period. But these children’s fathers’ trades were jeweller, engraver, shipmaster, wright, with only an occasional labourer, such as the father of Rose Ann Lynch admitted in 1861. For the children of the immigrant Irish, in these early years, the orphanage does not seem to have been an option. For children who developed some sort of problem, the orphanage committee requested that the Kirk Session ‘relieve them’ of the child – as in the case of Alexander Scott who developed ringworm.

The Lynch children clearly did not qualify and so, alas, their records are sparse. Family historians often search for ‘facts’ perceived as ‘truth’. But truths are what people make them. Even in the ‘factual’ records there is room for dispute and there are problems in searching: for instance, the burial record for Michael Linch, in the Howff on 30thMay 1834, is recorded in the online Howff burials as on 30thJune, and was indexed in the Scotland’s People website as Michael Smith, so that finding him required some effort and some lateral thinking. The death records for James, George and Thomas – giving different names for the father – may indicate that none of them have good information, or might still indicate that Thomas wasn’t related to the others. And records don’t hold the full story. There is need for imagination to interpret the records, to fill in the gaps – in the knowledge that we may never really ‘know’ much about our forebears, and that the speculation of uncertainty, while informed by history, remains with us.

Useful resources:
Lists of Poor in Dundee available at the Family History Centre, Dundee Central Library, Wellgate
Dundee Kirk session minutes, viewed at Dundee City Archives
Minute Books of the Dundee Orphans Institution, ditto
The Dundee Orphan Institution Pupils Ledger, 1821-92 ditto
Old Parochial Records, available from Scotland’s People at as scans, and from film reels available to view at Tay Valley Family History Society and at Dundee Central Library
Statutory Records, available from Scotland’s People at
Census records, available from Scotland’s People and from microfilm at Tay Valley and at Dundee Central Library, and via transcriptions on the website
Burial records for the Howff burial ground, Dundee, available from Scotland’s People, accessed also through the online material at and from microfilm at Tay Valley and at Dundee Central Library

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Silly quiz - regnal names in Britain

I haven’t posted here for far too long...

So (given the media's continuing insistence on 'royals') here’s a bit of fun, a rather silly quiz for any readers. It’s about ‘regnal’ names and numbers. Three questions;
  1. Given that since the Union of the Crowns,1603, Scotland and England have shared a monarch, how many monarchs since that time would have the same ‘regnal number’ in both countries, who share names of previous monarchs? (naming, please)

  2. Since the Union of the Crowns, how many names of monarchs did not occur previously as names of rulers in either country (in other words, they’re strictly post -Union names)? And what were these names? There are only a very few… 

  3. And, what names of monarchs are found only in Scotland or only in England before the Union of the Crowns? (Please, take this from around the year 1000, or there would be far too many…)
Any answers? - you can post here, or on my FB status to which I'll forward this.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Now follows the Dark Time... for Samhuinn, a poem from ten years ago

Samhuinn / Winternights

Now follows the dark time,
grey stones, night’s chill falling,
owls, flower-faced, calling
winter and old friends

As wind gathers, rustling
dry dead flowers from heather,
rattling broom-seeds; shifting
now, between the worlds, wait,
between year and season,
between known and unknown,
turnings, change, year’s end.

Harvest made, we gather,
shape and sort, assemble
sift tales of our season
spun from joy or sadness
crafting song and legend
stories to attend

On the cairn, leaves new-spread,
new-dead, over long-dead
bones in barrow bearing
stories of the years past
living tales and sped

Our deeds, their rememberings,
merging here, our beings,
self or legend; lives turn,
seed to earth our year’s work
wait the new year’s growing,
join our hopes ahead

So, now, comes the wanderer,
worlds-walking, by barrow,
stone, or stream, or city
hearing song and story
hoarding deed and meaning

words that lie in wyrd

(© J Blain, 2005)

Friday, 1 April 2016

Dundee, for my father: rememberings from around four years old

We walked, those times in my remembering, into
the town, a mile or so, a slow walk
for a young child tripping on sandalled feet,
stones going into the shoes;
and the dust in Princes Street blew into my eyes,
so a hankie was needed, and sometimes spit.
But then, the toun, the streets, and you would say
how the Seagait and the Murraygait cam aboot
and the Cowgate wi the coos coming intae the toun
frae Angus to merkat; then the city square,
Boots' corner and Monck's lodging, with the old toun,
the kirks, the steeple, Overgait, and scents of foods
and people, and smoke too, and gaun doun the hill tae
docks, the arch, with swing bridge and the walking
among salt breezes, with stories of the harbour.

And the Fifie, oh the Fifie! and the trip for a day
and the lifebelts, rings that so teased imagining;
going there and back, and the engine's sound,
beside that bridge of fear and exaltation,
with joy of the return, tired and expectant
of a bus ride home.

Or maybe into Tally Street's hotel,
'Imperial', they called it, friends who ran it;
by Barrack Street and through the ghoulful Howff
to where you, my Dad, worked - with a wondrous door,
and that lift that the small child marvelled at; then
by statues at the Albert Institute
and by the school that I would go to,
when I was bigger.

Trying to not sleep on the bus,
Stumbling up the street to home,
home, home, home,


Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Explorations in Angus

I was writing some pieces for an online course I'm teaching for Cherry Hill Seminary, and developed a photo-essay from a trip out into the Angus countryside on Saturday. So I'll attempt to post it here too. Alas I can't just post the pdf, apparently!

Last Saturday I  drove out towards the Sidlaw Hills, a few scant miles from my house on the outskirts of Dundee. My purposes were vague, only to explore a couple of places I had not seen, possibly investigate one of the local stone circles, and have a gentle walk in the wild.

Balkello Community Woodland is a good place to explore. As summer draws to its close and autumn nears, rowans are laden with berries and the trees display their varying shades of green, with the richness of oak and alder against the darker spruce and pine. A good place to wander: and as I reached the north side of the woodland, the hills beyond - Balkello and Auchterhouse - caught the afternoon light.

The derivation of 'Sidlaw' is not clear. 'Law' is a hill (so 'Sidlaw Hills' is Sid-Hill-Hills). The first part, though, is more difficult. Some say that 'Sid' means 'seat', and indeed one of the hills is named 'The King's Seat'. Others have names that come from older languages or blend two, as indeed 'Sidlaw' may do: Dunsinane, Auchterhouse, Balkello, Balluderan and Craigowl. The last of these is from Creag gobhal, 'forked hill', despite its name having meaning in English also. But an alternative derivation of Sidlaw is from Sidhe, the 'fairy folk', the hidden people, by which the Sidlaws would be the Hills of the Sidhe.

I think I prefer that derivation, though it may owe more to hope than to linguistic analysis.

Balkello woodland is young, and managed by the Forestry Commission: the trees were planted only in the 1990s, to create a community place which contrasts with the farmlands around and uplands beyond. It lies to the north of the road which connects the villages of Auchterhouse and Tealing.

Just south of the road is a standing stone, the Balkello Stone, which will be a visit for another day. However, I'd hoped to catch site of a circle nearby at Balkemback, and find the Pictish carved stone known as Martin's Stane. 

The field in which the circle sits was occupied by many cows, and would have required climbing over several barbed wire fences: again, not for this day as the afternoon was wearing on. Views from the roadside, though, showed the heather coming into its own on the hills behind, and the plain beyond stretching to the coast - a landscape farmed for thousands of years, by people who left their marks on the land, clearing fields, creating cairns, erecting stones to mark places that, perhaps, called especially to them, building roundhouses and digging souterains, carving on rock and boulder, building houses of stone and later of brick, then churches for each group of villages as those became parishes. This landscape is not 'wild', even on the heights of the Sidlaws, but changed in the interaction of humans and others through millennia.

Finally, I headed for Martin's Stane, on my way home to Dundee. Some information on this Pictish carved stone is at
Alas, it was broken long ago, so that only part of the stone remains, with figures of a horse though the rider is no longer present, with, below, another rider and horse and a pair of 'Pictish symbols' one of which has been said locally to be a 'dragon'. Local folklore has therefore created its own meanings for this stone, linked to place names towards Dundee, but what it commemorated, or its inscription as 'sacred', may never be known.

The stone, minutes from Balkemback and Balluderan, is in a field which on my visit held glowing golden barley, waist-high or even higher, waiting for harvest. There was a narrow trackway across the field, on which I walked with care for the barley, which let me come close enough to photograph such of the images as could be seen through the waving grass around the stone and the barley between it and me. Again, this calls for a visit once the crop is harvested.

And so, the final images here are of that field and the waving barley, farmer's gold, with the stone visible through its protective railings. That I could not approach closely did not, on this visit, matter: the ripeness of the barley was, for today, enough.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

On Petrushka and 'illegal' migrants

This evening I turned over to BBC4 without knowing what was on - and was delighted to find Stravinsky's Petrushka being played in a Proms concert.  And then I browsed through a bit of my email, while listening, to find a statement by Tim Farron on the Calais situation.

And they were so much in tune. For those who don't know it, Petrushka is the story of three marionettes, at a Russian town's fair, manipulated by the puppet owner, and performing under his rule for the entertainment of the assembled people at the fair. And the people have their own lives and things to do, their dance, their joys, and take no notice of the puppets.

But the puppets have their own lives, offstage or out of sight of the crowd, and there are tensions between them, ending when one kills another. Petrushka, mortally wounded, breaks from his booth, attempts to take agency and runs out into the fairground, the town square, and with his dying movements accuses those who have not known of the puppets' situation, effectively that of slaves of the puppetmaster; and his death - the death of one whom the crowd thought of as not a person - troubles them.

So then to Tim Farron's piece: the central message of which is while we do need to 'police' boundaries and work on security issues, the situation of those caught within this dreadful system of politics, seeking freedom or new futures and issues of trafficking needs our attention in other ways. I will add that we do seriously need to take on board the predicaments of the people attempting to transport goods, and those who depend on this trade (particularly important for Scottish seafood transporters who are hit very hard by the situation). How do we balance this, somehow, with the need to think of those breaking free of the camps as both victims of the 'puppetmasters' of their initial trafficking, and people attempting to take agency and do whatever they can to draw our attention, the attention of those sitting comfortably in our British homes, to what drives them to assay these difficult and dangerous ploys?

Farron said that 'While the Government is focussing on building bigger fences and bolstering security, we cannot ignore the humanitarian crisis. Tear gas and dogs will never solve the problems that these people are facing, and we should not turn a blind eye to their suffering.'

Indeed: and a photo accompanying his text showed a sign on the side of a makeshift tent, 'We are not dangerous, we are in danger.' But I'd put his message more blatantly - that the solutions, if there can be 'solutions', to the queues of lorries and the people dying on the Mediterranean, the Calais camps and the problems of lorry drivers, have to be in tune. We have to take our share of migrants to Europe, and in particular we have to open doors as and how we can, to help with this crisis; at the same time as exploring what the possibilities are in North Africa and Syria, and what we might do that recognises the ordinary people and the everyday, dreadful, things that they are facing there. And to take on board at least some of the historical reasons for these fearful situations.

This doesn't mean that we should blame the West for all the problems of North Africa and the Middle East. It does mean that we need to see ourselves as part of an interconnected system, with what we do and have done affecting other people's lives there; to acknowledge responsibility for some actions and some mistakes, and to think about what kinds of connectedness we can help create, and who we might connect with; and in the meantime to recognise what privilege we have and to extend that hand of help to others who, because of a specific situation at this specific time, have it not.

Sunday, 30 November 2014


Dundee, in the last week of November. I was coming across the bridge at just the right time to see the wonderful sunset and its reflection - and that of the city and the hills - in the so-still water of the Firth of Tay. This was begun three nights ago, when a possible frost was forecast, and completed just now.

A finger-nipping chill is in the air,
and in the earth, as I dig, even now
to plant and seek to grow, for hopes of sping.
Though days continue mild, their warmth now fades,
and soon dark gathers, evening deeps to show
how near we are to solstice.
And daily flocks of chaffinches now gather,
forgetting their rivalries of summer
for winter friendships here.

At night, again, my candles blaze, to mark
a time between the times, a time so late,
a time when winter hovers on her dark brink
and darkness holds the calling owls, who greet
the winter’s chill, the driving rain,
the last wind-fallen leaves.

Yet today, with winds moderate, then stilling,
it seems December pauses on the threshold
as marigolds unfurl their still-bright petals
to drink the sun that gives life to their brilliance,
and stubbled fields and hills hold promised beauty,
the bare trees limned by low-slanting sunlight;
when evening chill returns, a gold-red sunset,
glowing, is mirrored in stillness of the firth.

(© J Blain 2014 - still draft of course.)