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