This page outlines my paternal grandmother's origins in Scotland, primarily in the Lanarkshire area east and south east of Glasgow, and from south and north of Edinburgh, all relatively close to each other as shown in the map below.
The primary source for this information is Scotlands People as noted by (Ref ...). Additional information about the Renwick family below comes from this website created by Charles Houston.
Inveresk parish is of a semicircular form, lying round Musselburgh bay, four miles from Edinburgh. It is two miles and a half in length, and about, the same in width. The parish includes the town of Musselburgh. (Source and for further information about Inveresk, see: this site.
Based on the birth records of three of their children listed below, John Archbald (bap 1 May 1654, Inveresk) is believed to have married Issobell/Isabell Paul (born around 1660 at Inveresk) before 1681 (Ref TBA, their marriage is not obvious in Scotland's People, this Ancestry page suggests that they married at Musselburgh, Midlothian (part of Inveresk parish), in about 1675). They had the following children:
Based on the birth records of their children, James Archbald/Archibald married Margaret Deuar/Dewar* sometime before 1714 (Ref TBA), presumably in the Inveresk parish where the children below were registered. They had the following children:
Margaret Deuar's surname is only recorded once as 'Dewar' against the names of her children. She may be the only recorded child of William Deuar and Jonet Cunningham, baptised in Edinburgh on 21 April 1689 (Ref 685/1 110/100), although this is but speculation.
Two other Archibald men had children around the same time in Inveresk:
They may be related somehow.
John Henderson and Ann Henderson, both of Hamilton, married in around 1741/42. While Ann is identifiable in the records, John's family is less obvious and needs further investigation.
Family of Ann Henderson
Based on the details of their children, it is believed that John Henderson* married Agnes Paterson/Peterson in Hamilton by 1710. They had the following children:
*John's parents cannot be positively identified but as it would have to have been at least 20 when his first son was born, he was probably born before 1690. Agnes Paterson is probably the daughter of Thomas Paterson and Jonet Haddow, baptised 24 April 1684, Hamilton (Ref 647 10/170) - there are no other Agnes Patersons born in the date range of 1650 to 1700.
Family of John Henderson
At around the same time, several other Henderson families had children, including a John Henderson who married the Ann Henderson above (born 1718). It is not possible to confirm with certainty which John Henderson married Ann (see below). Accordingly, all the possibilities are listed below.
Most likely option: John Henderson* and Jean Wilson, who had the following children:
*Given the names of the children, John may be the son of John Henderson and Isabel Roberton, baptised 8 August 1690 (Ref 647 20/6), and the brother of James Henderson (baptised 14 October 1694 (Ref 647 20/234)), while Jean may be the daughter of Agnes Wilson.
Less likely option: James Henderson and Elizabeth Leaper, who had the following children:
Not considered likely: John Henderson and Ann Wilson,who had the following children:
John Henderson married Anne Henderson in Hamilton on 31 May 1741 (Ref 647 20/490). They had the following children:
The parents of George Renwick (bap abt 1743, Traquair, Peebles, Scotland) may have lived around Traquair House, where he was born in 1743. George Renwick married Christian Brunton (bap abt 1747, Traquair, Peebles), also from Traquair, before 1765. They had two children:
James McKLennin [sic] married Violet Archibald on 26 June 1751 at Inveresk (Ref 689 120/379). They had the following children:
Abraham Douglas/s and Margaret Anderson married on 3 August 1766 in Polmont (Ref 487 20/143) (banns the previous day, about 5 kms away, in Bo'ness, ref 663 50/43)). Perhaps Margaret was from Polmont. They had the following children, all born in Bo'ness:
As he is the only one with this name, with a father named Abraham, Robert Douglas above is believed to be the person who married Elizabeth Whillis in 1815, although he would have been 37 at the time - see below.
Interestingly, another Abraham Douglass, perhaps a cousin of the other Abraham, married an Isabel Reid in Bo'ness on 31 March 1770 (Ref 663 50/58), and had the following children, first in Bo'ness - Alexander Douglas (bap 28 Oct 1770), Andrew Douglas (bap 13 Sep 1772), and then in Duddingston (Edinburgh): Margaret Douglas (bap 10 August 1777), Marion Douglas (bap 23 Jan 1780), Barbar(y?) Douglas (bap 13 May 1775), Isabel Douglas (bap 2 May 1784 - possibly died), James Douglas (bap 24 December 1786, Isabel Douglas (bap 7 June 1789), Abraham Douglas (bap 12 Jan 1794).
Robert Henderson married Margaret Nicol in Hamilton before 1775 (Ref TBA). They had one son:
Interestingly, a Janet Renwick, married to another Robert Henderson, gave birth to a number of children in Hamilton from 1764 to 1774. Could this Janet have also been from Traquair and the reason why other Renwicks moved to the Hamilton area? Or is this just coincidence of names?
Based on the birth details of their children, John Penman married Helen Brown, possibly in Lasswade, by 1789 (Ref TBA, the marriage is not obvious in Scotland's People). They had the following children (note that they appear to have moved after the first two were born):
Abraham was destined to meet Janet McLennan - see next paragraph.
Samuel McLennan married Janet Adamson on 1 March 1776 at Newton (Ref 696 40/370). They had two daughters:
Janet Renwick (abt 1765 - 1824) married George Brunton (1766, Peebles - 5 June 1838, Peebles) on 13 August 1790 at Peebles (Ref M117686). George and Janet Brunton had the following children:
Further details of the Bruntons are known but not recorded here.
Janet Renwick's brother, Thomas Renwick (abt 1768 - 1857), married Mary Stoddart (1770 - 10 July 1827, Peebles) on 28 December 1794 at Peebles (Ref 768 40/0 (banns), Ref 768 40/136 (marriage). The banns reference states: '28 December 1794. There is a purpose of marriage between Thomas Renwick, weaver, and Mary Stoddart both in this Parish in 2 days, daughter of the deceased John Stoddart(,) Smith in Selkirk'. The marriage record states: 'December 28: Thomas Renwick, weaver in this parish and Margaret [sic] Stoddart in this Parish, daughter of the deceased John Stoddart Smith in Selkirk were proclaimed in order to marriage and were married by the Rev'. Peebles is about 30 kms away from Selkirk, it is not known what may have brought Mary to Peebles. Thomas and Margaret/Mary Renwick had the following children:
George Renwick married twice. He first married Janet Stark (1796, Dolphinton, Lanark - 6 June 1861, South Side, High Street, Peebles) on 4 July 1830 in Peebles. There were no children from this marriage. On 6 January 1862 he married Agnes (or McClapetry) Baird (1808, Peebles - 1872, Northgate, Peebles). George Renwick was recorded in April 1851 as a horse breaker at Southside, High St, Peebles. In April 1861 he was recorded again as a horse breaker at High St, Peebles. By April 1871 he was a horse trainer at Northgate, Peebles.
Thomas Henderson (bap 1776) of Hamilton married Anne Frame* of Larkhall on 1 January 1797 in Hamilton (Ref 647 30/424). Thomas and Anne Henderson had two children, both registered in nearby Dalserf:
*Anne Frame may be the Ann Fram born to Thomas Fram and Marion Watson, baptised on 26 March 1780 at Liberton, Lanarkshire; if it is this one, it appears that Thomas and Marion had the following children, including two earlier daughters named Ann Fram, who are both assumed to have died:
Another Henderson family, Robert Henderson and his wife Janet (nee Davidson), also of Larkhall, had children also registered in Dalserf in a similar timeframe, suggesting that Robert and Thomas may have been related:
A William Neilson, the son of William Neilson and Isobel Rowan, was baptised in Cathcart on 3 June 1810 (Ref 560/10/182). Only four Neilsons were baptised in Cathcart between 1800 and 1820, in 1810 (William), 1817 (x 2, one a William) and 1819. This William Neilson (born 1810) may be the man who married Margaret Gardner there in May 1830 - see below.
Robert Douglass [sic] (likely to be the one born in Bo'ness in 1777) moved from Bo'ness to the Old Monkland area and married Elizabeth (Willis) Whillis [sic] (abt 1794 - ) in Old Monkland/Coatbridge on 4 February 1815. Their marriage record read 'Robert Douglas and Elizabeth Whillies [could be 'Willis'] both in this parish to be proclaimed three days' (Ref 652 10/466). Robert and Elizabeth Douglas had the following children:
Abraham Penman (born in Liberton in 1792) and Janet McLennan (born in Newton in 1790 (Ref 696 20/272)) 'gave in their names for proclamation of their marriage' in Newton, west of Edinburgh on 21 February 1817 (Ref 696 40/357). Abraham and Janet Penman had at least two children:
It appears from the marriage and birth records that the family moved from Newton to Dalkeith, just south of Edinburgh. Janet Abraham (nee McLennan) may have died after the birth of her daughter Helenor (or Helen). However, while Helen may be the Helen Peaman [sic] who died on 17 April 1823 in Lasswade (Ref 691 70/272), there is no obvious death of her mother Janet. Did Abraham re-marry? Two other children were born to an Abraham Penman and a Barbara Mitchell in Dalkeith after 1821 - Sarah Penman was registered on 11 November 1827 (Ref 683 100/132), Abraham Bennet Penman was registered on 21 June 1829 (Ref 683 100/154).
Peter Ferguson married Grizal Bryden in Muirkirk in 1818 or earlier. They had at least one daughter, Jean Ferguson, who was christened in Muirkirk, Ayr, Scotland on 18 April 1819.
The map below shows the area south east of Glasgow where many of the people below this point lived.
On 5 August 1830, a boy named William Neilson, conceived from around October 1829, was born to William Neilson and Anne Henderson. The boy William Neilson was baptised on 17 March 1831 (Ref 638/20 112) in Dalserf, close to Larkhall. The birth register states that he was the 'illegitimate son' of William Neilson of the Parish of Bothwell, and Anne Henderson of Larkhall.
No birth with the surname Henderson was registered in Larkhall from 1800 to 1815 and so it is assumed that Anne was not born there.
There is no marriage record for William and Anne, or any obvious death record for Anne. It is not known for sure who took care of the child. However, the 1841 census may provide some clues - see below.
A William Neilson married a Margaret Gardner/Gardener on 8 May 1830 at Cathcart (Ref 560/20/208).
Is it possible that William Neilson had had a relationship with Anne Henderson, who became pregnant, but decided to marry Margaret Gardener? It is only speculation at this point, as there is no other reason to connect William and Margaret Neilson.
William and Margaret Neilson of Cathcart had several children before 1841:
This family (along with another at Bothwell) appears in the 1841 census with a William Neilson, aged 10 - see below.
John Renwick (baptised abt 1798 at Prestonkirk, East Lothian - before April 1851 possibly in Amos Close, Dalkeith) married Isabella Simpson (baptised 1812 at Prestonkirk, East Lothian) in 1835 (according to the marriage certificate of his son Thomas - see below).
As they were the only couple recorded with the same names, they were probably the John Renwick and Isabella Simpson who married in Dysart (opposite Edinburgh, now part of Kirkcaldy - before 1855) on 12 December 1835. Confirming it is the same John and Mary, their marriage notice states that John Renwick was a shoemaker and was the son of Thomas Renwick (and Mary/Margaret Stoddart) of Peebles (south of Edinburgh). Isabella Simpson was stated to be the daughter of the late John Simson 'in this parish', indicating that Isabella was from Dysart. (John Simpson may be the person with that name who died in Dysart, aged 78, on 29 September 1834 (Ref 426 80/293, the only person with that name to die in Dysart from 1770 to 1835), or perhaps that was her grandfather?) There is also a minor mistake on the notice - the word 'Peebles' is crossed out and Simson written above it. (Ref 426 70/108).
John and Isabella Renwick had the following children. It is interesting to speculate why the children were all born in different locations - did John travel to make shoes, or was he looking for work?
Another, possibly related Renwick/Simpson marriage occurred in the same general timeframe - James Renwick (born 24 July 1810 at Newlands, Peebles, the son of Thomas Renwick and Marion Ritchie) who married Lillias Simpson (born 1809) at Lasswade on 29 September 1832. James and Lillias Renwick had the following children:
Sometime before 1837, Jean Ferguson (1819 - ) met and married James Coupland (Copland, Copeland)(born abt 1814). James and Jean Coupland/Copland/Copeland had the following children:
Thomas and John Renwick
In June 1841, Thomas Renwick (abt 1768 - 1857) was recorded as 'CHLW' in High Street, Peebles. His son, John Renwick (1798 - 1851), is recorded as a shoemaker in Lasswade.
Robert Douglas, aged 65, is recorded at Airdrie/New Monkland in the 1841 census with the following individuals: John Douglas, aged 20, Elizabeth Douglas, aged 10, and Isobel Douglas, aged 7 (Ref 651 33/19). Elizabeth and Isobel are Robert's children, it is assumed that 'John' may be his son Abraham as the only other Abraham Douglas in the 1841 is 40 years old and living in Barony, Lanark.
Thomas Henderson (abt 1775 - ) may be the person of the same name, aged 65 registered in Hamilton, Lanark, in the 1841 census at the same location as an Agnes Henderson aged 50 (Ref 647 6/5). His son Robert may also be living in Hamilton at that time - there are two Robert Hamiltons aged 45, one living with an Isabella (aged 45), Robert (aged 13), Arthur (also aged 13), William (aged 9), Janet (aged 7) and Margaret (aged 3) (Ref 647 17/9); the other apparently living close by (Ref 647 15/5) with his likely children: James (aged 23), Marion (aged 21), Thomas (aged 17), May (aged 14), Jean (aged 5), and David (aged 4).
Anne Henderson cannot yet be positively identified in the 1841 census.
Nelsons at Bothwell
The father of William Neilson born in 1830 was from Bothwell. In the 1841 census we find two possible links:
What is interesting about this William Nelson is that no wife is present AND a young William Nelson is living with the Scott family. See also the 1851 census.
Neilson family - Airdrie
The family of William and Margaret Neilson appear in the 1841 census at Airdrie (ref 23/9).
At some point before the 1851 census, the family moved to Sorn.
Interestingly, two women with the name Janet Penman appear in the 1841 census in Bothwell, Lanark, the same location where William Neilson's family lived.
At some point, Abraham Douglas, the son of Robert Douglas, met Janet Penman, the daughter of Abraham Penman - quite likely because they both lived and works near the Carnbrae coalworks - and they decided to marry. The banns for the marriage of Abraham Douglas and Janet Penman were registered on 12 February 1842 at 'Old Monkland or Coatbridge' just east of Glasgow (near where the family was living in 1861). (Ref: 652/30, Page 191 of 587). Interestingly, the same reference records a John Douglas registering his marriage to Janet Barr 'both in this parish' on 29 January 1842. Perhaps John and Abraham were brothers. Two other people with the surname Douglas are also present in the 1841 in Old Monkland - Sarah Douglas, aged 18 (Ref 652 19/5) and Alexander Douglas, aged 19 (Ref 652 40/17). It seems possible that both Robert and Elizabeth Douglas (nee Whillis/Willies) had died by 1841 - there are several individuals who may match in the death records. This requires further investigation.
Abraham and Janet Douglas had the following children:
Abraham Douglas and family, including their three year old daughter Janet Douglas, do not appear in the 1851 census as they were in England that year when Janet's sister Elisabeth Douglas was born. The reason for the Douglas family being in England in 1851 is not yet known.
Thomas and John Renwick
In 1851, Thomas Renwick (abt 1768 - 1857) was recorded in the census as a woollen manufacturer in High Street, Peebles.
Thomas' son, John Renwick (1798 - 1851?) appears to have died by the time of the 1851 census. His wife, Isabella Renwick of Dalkeith, Midlothian (ref 683 7/27), aged 48 (born 1803) is recorded as a farm worker and head of the household with the following children: Mary (aged 17), Thomas (aged 13, born Edinburgh), and Archibald (aged 10, born Edinburgh, Lasswade).
William Neilson (1810 - ) and William Neilson (1830 - ) - Bothwell
The family of William Nelson who appeared in Bothwell in the 1841 census is still there in the 1851 census (Ref 625/7/36) with the surname Neilson:
However, (a) William Neilson (born 1830) is no obviously recorded and (b) why would William give a second son the same name? At this stage, they are not considered to be the same family and the focus is on the family at Sorn.
William Neilson (1810 - ) and William Neilson (1830 - ) - Sorn
The family of William and Margaret Neilson (who married in 1830) appear in the 1851 census in Sorn, Ayr (Ref 613/7/2), not far from Muirkirk:
William and Margaret (recorded as 'Nelson') had another child, Elizabeth Nelson [sic], who was baptised in Sorn after the census on 16 June 1851 (Ref 613/30/394).
Grace Copland gave birth to one James Mcmath Copland on 12 March 1859 in Muirkirk. (Ref C11607-1, Scotland-ODM, GS Film 6035516, Scotland's People Statutory Births 607/00 0039 - shows the birth as 'Illegitimate').
The Douglas family re-appears in Scotland in the 1861 census at No. 19 in Bothwell, Lanark (Ref 625/1 1/12) as follows.
The following individuals named Thomas Renwick, aged from 18 to 20, appear in the 1861 census:
The family of William Neilson (born 1810) and Margaret Neilson (born 1810 (who married in 1830) and four children, again appear in the 1861 census for Sorn with the surname spelled Nilson (Ref 613/10/16):
Their children listed below are not listed at Sorn.
The 1861 census show James and Jane Copeland (aged 46 and 41 respectively) along with the following children (including Grace's son), living at 13 Bridge Row, Muirkirk:
According to William Neilson's 1864 marriage certificate, his father William Neilson (born around 1808) was already deceased. It has not yet been possible to positively identify when he died.
Janet Penman Douglas' older brother Thomas Douglas (1844, Old Monkland, Lanark - ), a coal miner, married Janet Frew (1842, Hamilton, Lanark - ) before 1865. They had the following children:
Thomas Douglas and family were living at 1 Wemyss Row, Cambusnethan, in 1881, two doors from his sister and her family.
William Neilson (born 1830) appears to have arrived in Muirkirk sometime before 1864. He met and married Grace Copeland (also shown as Copland and Coupland), a domestic servant and single mother, in Muirkirk, Scotland on 25 March 1864 (Ref 607/6).
William Neilson's marriage to Grace Copeland.
As can be seen in the image, William's name was shown as Nelson (perhaps a typographical error but if it is his father and siblings in Sorn, they were also known as Nelson and Nilson). He mis-stated his age - he said he was 29 but was in fact closer to 35. He seems to have persisted with this younger age; the 1871 census shows him as being 36. It is not known why this age was incorrectly given.
Grace's parents were shown on the marriage certificate as James Copland, a coal miner, and Jane Copland (nee Ferguson), while William's were shown as William Nelson, a deceased labourer, and Ann Henderson (without the MS, indicating she was not married). Witnesses to the wedding were Daniel Ferguson and William Coupland, who were probably Grace's uncles on both sides.
William and Grace Neilson had the following children. Grace was recorded as 'Grace Copland' for all of the children.
Grace's father James Copland/Coupland died in Stonehouse, Lanark, in 1867.
Before 1865, Thomas Renwick travelled to Coatbridge to work as a miner there, where he met and married Janet Douglas. See below for further details.
On 9 June 1865, 25 year old Thomas Renwick (1837 - ), a coal miner in the area around Coatbridge known as 'the Monklands', married 18 year old Janet Penman Douglas (born abt 1847), a domestic servant in Airdrie in the County of Lanark (Ref: 651/1 75, page 38). Their marriage certificate notes that they both lived at 'Carnbrae', parish of Bothwell (9 miles (14 km) east-south-east of Glasgow city centre) and were married 'according to the (?) of the Evangelical Union'. The marriage certificate states that Thomas Renwick was the son of John Renwick - deceased, and (Isabella?) Renwick (nee Simpson) - also deceased. Janet Douglas was said to be the daughter of Abraham Douglas, a coal miner, and Janet Douglas (possibly 'pensioner') (Ref: 651/1 75, page 38). They were married by an A M Nelson. The witnesses were Elizabeth Douglas (probably Janet's sister) and Isabella (Urlsop?).
Thomas and Janet Renwick had the following children:
A younger brother of Janet Penman Douglas and Thomas Douglas, Abraham Douglas (1856 - ), a coal miner, married Martha Neilson (8 February 1856, Cambusnethan - ), the daughter of Richard Nelson and Roseann Wilson, in 1878 in Cambusnethan, Lanark. In 1881 they were recorded at 59 Meadowhill, Dalserf, Lanark. They had two children:
In the 1871 census, James Copland (aged 12) was recorded living with (presumably his grandmother) Jane Coupland (aged 51 and head of the household) at 53 King Street in the district/parish of Stonehouse, Lanarkshire County, along with Cornelius Coupland, her son.
By the time of the 1871 census, the Neilson/Nelson/Nilson family were no longer recorded in Sorn. William's death after 1861 likely had something to do with this. It is not yet possible to locate the family.
The 1871 census shows William Neilson (aged 36) and Grace Copeland Neilson (aged 34) and children living at No 2 Deaffan Rows, Lesmahagow, Lanark with his wife's uncle William Copeland, his husband Janet, and their daughter Marion. (Ref 649/1/15). William Copeland and William Neilson are both recorded as 'gas coal miners'.
The census shows the following individuals:
It is not known why daughters Jane Neilson (then aged 4) or Annie Neilson (then aged 2), were not recorded with the family in this census.
William and Grace Neilson appear to have moved to Lesmahagow after the birth of Peter Neilson in December 1870. They had three more children (who are already listed above): James Coupland Neilson (1872 - 1874); Robert Neilson (1874 - ?); and Agnes Neilson (1876 - ?)
Grace Neilson died in 1878, probably in Lesmahagow at her uncle's house, leaving William with several very young children. This may be related to his move to Dalserf.
The family of Thomas Renwick (aged 41, coal miner) and Janet Renwick appear in the 1881 census living at 3 Wemyss Row in Cambusnethan (Ref 628 8/47):
The family also had a border and probably Janet's younger brother, John Douglas, aged 20 (born Cambusnethan) and also a coal miner. Janet Renwick may be the person, aged 16, at Eastwood, Lanark (Ref 562 1/12).
The map shows the towns in the area mentioned including Dalserf and Lesmahagow.
In the 1881 census, James Copeland (now 22) and Cornelius Copeland (recorded as the son of Jane Copeland, aged 23 and a coal miner) are recorded in the same household with their mother Jane Copeland, now 61, along with a John Copeland aged 9, in Queen Street, Stonehouse, Lanarkshire County. (Source - Martha Parker).
Sometime between 1878 and 1881 after Grace's death, William Neilson and his children left Lesmahagow and moved about 12 kms north to the town of Dalserf (recorded as 'Cornsilloch, Dalserf') where they were recorded in the 1881 census living in Ashgill Rows. One Neilson descendent has suggested that the Neilsons may have been originally from Dalserf. It was unlikely to have been for work as the mining industry was still going strong in Muirkirk when the expansion of the Lanarkshire coalfield was happening in the second half of the 19th century. There are many Neilsons living in the Dalserf area who are likely to be relatives.
William Neilson senior (now aged 45) was recorded as a coal miner. The children recorded in 1881 were:
It seems that the then 15 year old Jane Neilson was living (and likely working) elsewhere. There are four or five Jane Neilsons around 15 years old recorded in the 1881 census in the Lanark area. Given the later connection with the Renwick family in Cambusnethan (see below), it may be that she is the 15 year old Jane Neilson recorded there in the census (628/6/31), but this needs to be verified.
William Neilson and family in the 1881 census.
According to the website Scottish Mining (http://www.scottishmining.co.uk), Ashgill Rows was described as follows in 1914:
There had been 32 single-apartment houses in this property, but some of these, have been so rearranged as to form two apartments. There are only three washhouses for the whole property. There are coal-cellars for all the houses ; but the closet accommodation is beyond description. The water supply is one stand well for the whole place. An open channel carries off the dirty water, and was stagnant when we saw the place. [Evidence presented to Royal Commission, 25th March 1914]
It is not known if Jane Neilson (who would have been 14) had died or was elsewhere at the time of the census. Also, there is no woman present in the house so it is not clear how William managed with such young children. The Dalserf mines, as with many others in Scotland, were not overly safe, as noted in this summary; it is perhaps surprising that none of the Neilsons were killed.
Note: Details of William Neilson's military service have been taken from his military records.
Private William Neilson, No 236, was discharged from the 4th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers on 9 October 1882. Three days later, on 12 October 1882, the 19 year old William joined the King's Own Borderers at Berwick on Tweed. He was 5' 4 1/2" tall with blue eyes. On his Short Service Attestation he noted that he had previously served with the 4th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers. William is recorded in the King's Own Borderers Depot and 2nd Battalion Musters from 1 April 1882 to 31 March 1884. (Ref WO16/1593 and WO16/1590).
William embarked for India on board the Euphrates on 15 December 1883, where he would spend 5 years and 323 days. He arrived in India on 15 January 1884. The Borderers' 1st Battalion was already in India at that time, having served in the Afghan War under Lord Roberts from 1878 to 1880. It appears that William joined the Borderer's 1st Battalion during its 1881-1882 trooping season; the Battalion left Cherut for the foothills of the Himalayas, proceeding by route march across Northern India. They marched through the Punjab to Rawalpindi, then down through Jhelum, Ludhiana and Ambala on their way to Dagshai about 68 kms (by road) from Simla, 6,000 feet above sea level. They remained at Daghsai for three years.
Map showing the location of the small town of Dagshai relative to Ludhiana, Changigarh and Umballa
William's medical record shows that he was in Umballa (Ambala) on 28 January 1884 (probably on his way to join up with the Battalion), then Dagshai on 1 April 1884. Perhaps like other young soldiers, William was drawn to local women and on 1 June 1885 he was admitted to hospital at 'Jatehgarh' (?) for nine days suffering from 'primary syphilis'.
According to the article 'Sexually transmitted diseases and the Raj' by R Basu Roy, India was an unhealthy place where malaria, cholera, dysentery and smallpox were endemic. By the end of the 19th century, sexually transmitted diseaseas were becoming more common among British troops; by 1895 the rate of infection had reached over 500 per 1000 troops (up from around 200 per 1000 in 1866). The primary treatment for syphilis at the time was mercury, usually via an injection of mercuric chloride or calomel. Unfortunately, many or possibly most soldiers had relapses and in some stations many men did not receive the recommended course of treatment. As a result, many men had destructive lesions on their face, mouth and nasopharynx. The treatment for gonorrhoea was urethral lavage and some early antiseptics or astringents such as alum or zinc sulphate, often in combination by the end of the century - urethral irrigation with large amounts of dilute antisepctic solution. This method was common until the late 1930s. (Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1758083/pdf/v074p00020.pdf accessed 29 October 2017)
In the column titled 'Remarks on the nature of the disease; how induced; if mild or severe ... In venereal cases, state nature of primary disease and whether mercury has been given' etc, it states that William's condition was caused by 'contagion' and was regarded as 'mild'. The next two words are not clear but look like 'Croml [possibly short-form for colomel], Recovery'. A few months later, in October 1885, William was admitted again at the same hospital suffering from ague (fever), caused by mild malaria.
The 1st Battalion moved from Dagshai to Meerut in Uttar Pradesh. In December 1885, William contracted gonorrhoea and was transferred to the General Hospital in Meerut where he spent 26 days recovering. It was noted that the cause of the infection was 'contagion local'. He was discharged on 9 January 1886. Unfortunately, he either re-contracted or had a relapse of syphilis (again 'local contagion') and was re-hospitalised at Meerut with the condition on 12 May 1886 where he spent 29 days. On 19 August 1886, William was again hospitalised with ague caused by 'climate'.
William was apointed Lance-Corporal on 15 October 1886.
The King's Own Borderers became the King's Own Scottish Borderers in 1887.
William was promoted to Corporal on 20 September 1888. He was admitted to hospital in Delhi on 16 July 1889 for 26 days, suffering again from primary syphilis caused by 'contagion'; again, his condition was stated as 'mild'.
Annie Neilson (baptised as Ann Neilson)(24 January 1869, Muirkirk, Ayr - ) married Robert Thomson in Dalserf on 3 December 1886 (Ref 638/2/19). They lived at one point in Leafield Cottage, next to the railway that transported the coal across some of the collieries of the South Lanarkshire coal field. This was a more substantial house than some of the other mine workers' houses. They had a number of children:
It has not yet been possible to identify when and where Robert Thomson died.
Britain annexed Burma in November 1885 following their victory in the third Anglo-Burmese War but raids by local tribes in the Chin Hills against British territory continued (as they had since the early 1870s). In September 1889 the Indian Government authorised the establishment of the Chin-Lushai Expededition, the objects of which were: 'to inflict chastisement on such tribes as had committed depredations on British territory, to extend British influence over these and other tribes, to explore the country between Chittagong and Burma, to complete, if possible, a mule road between Bengal and Burma and, by the establishment of communications and military posts, to ensure the recognition of the paramount power and the pacification of the country'. (Source: The London Gazette, 12 September 1890).
William was in Mandalay (? - more likely somewhere between Dagshai and Delhi) on 24 September 1889. In October 1889 the 1st Battalion left Meerut for Calcutta, then on to Rangoon. William's record shows that he was posted to Burma from 3 November 1889 (the date of the Battalion's arrival). He appears in Rangoon on 11 November 1889.
According to a history (the name of which has been lost because the old photocopy didn't include the details), the Borderers joined the Burma Columns, totalling around 3,500 men, whose object was 'to punish and subjugate the tribes of the Chin Hills between the Assam border and the Chindwin. The force was divided into Northern and Southern Columns; the Northern column was already located in the Chin Hills at Fort White. The Borderers were with the Southern column (also known as the Chin or Gangaw Column), consisting primarily of Indian troops and artillery under Brig Gen W P Symons. Their objective was Haka, to the south of Fort White. The Southern Column approached the Hills from the east and targetted the Zomi tribe.
Map showing the location of Haka in Burma
The men were only lightly equipped with summer clothing, one blanket, a waterproof sheet, ammunition, boots and one pair of puttees. The Column marched to Kan, a march of 165 miles through completely unknown territory, arriving there on 10 and 11 December 1899. Many of the troops suffered from malaria and dysentary and were evacuated to Kalewa, and from there by steamer to base hospital. Monsoonal rains resulted in the destruction of much of the supplies, meaning that the men had to rely on very poor rations; tinned meat that sick men could not eat, preserved compressed vegetables, and mouldy biscuits. By the end of January the rains had subsided enough for better quality supplies to be transported in by road. William was recorded in Kan on 2 February 1990.
The advance of 64 miles from Kan to Haka was originally estimated to take around 10 to 12 days. However, the tangle of steep jungle hills and ravines made for slow headway and it took 66 days. 1,000 mules, nearly 600 ponies, and 69 elephants provided the transport. Chin villages were subdued along the way and some of the Borderers were killed; Chin villages were burned in retribution. The Borderers reached Haka by mid-February 1890. Unfortunately for many of the men (who had only summer kit), it became very cold and often below freezing at night. By March 1890 many of the men were weakened by sickness. From this time, men were sent down in batches to Pakokku where they were then transported by river boat to Rangoon. William arrived in Rangoon on 24 May 1890.
In December 1890, the 1st Battalion embarked at Rangoon for Bombay and England. William Neilson arrived in Scotland on 7 February 1891, where he remained with the military. He was awarded the India Medal of 1854 with a clasp inscribed 'Chin Lushai' 1889-90 on 16 March 1891, the Mounted Infantry Certificate on 28 December 1891, and a musketry certificate on 24 November 1892. He was promoted to Sergeant on 1 March 1892.
According to his service record, William was 'permitted to convert the remainder of his Army Service into Reserve Service' on 29 April 1893.
A Jane Neilson married James Dunn in Dalserf in 1890 (Ref 638/2 13). It is not yet known if this is the daughter of William and Grace Neilson who was born in 1867. See below for the 1901 census.
The 1891 census for Dalserf shows the following groupings of Neilsons. Annie Thomson (nee Neilson) and her family do not appear to be in the 1891 census, for reasons unknown. Further research (and access to the original images) is required to confirm relationships.
Another Grace Copland Neilson was born in 1892 in Dalserf (Ref 638/2/16). She was registered as the illegitimate daughter of Agnes Brown Neilson (born 1876). Ann Neilson, Agnes older sister, was recorded (as Grace's aunt) as being present at this birth.
Agnes Brown Neilson, the youngest child of William Neilson and Grace Copeland, married James Hamilton at Ashgill, Dalserf in 1893 (Ref 638/2/13) 'after Banns and according to the norms of the Established Church of Scotland'. They were both 18 at the time. The marriage register records that Agnes was a domestic servant and James was an engine keeper at a coalpit. James' parents were John Hamilton, a former colliery manager (deceased) and Sarah Hamilton (nee Millar).
James and Agnes Hamilton had several children, in addition to Agnes' daughter Grace Copeland Neilson (who likely took the surname Hamilton):
Note that another Sarah Miller Hamilton was born in 1898 in Dalserf (Ref 638/2/89). She may be a cousin, also named after her grandmother. She appears to have died in Dalserf in 1900, aged 2 (Ref 638/2/30).
Young William Neilson remained in Dalserf and eventually met and married Janet Penman Renwick (9 August 1866, Whifflet, Scotland (abt 20 kms east of Glasgow) - 21 January 1939, Richmond, Victoria, Australia) on 1 December 1893 in Cornsilloch, Dalserf, Scotland (Ref 638/2/20). As noted above, Janet Penman Renwick was the daughter of Thomas Renwick, a coal miner, and Janet Douglas who were married on 9 June 1865.
A William Neilson, aged 59, died in Dalserf in 1894 (Ref 638/2/29). This man may be the same as William Neilson, aged 55, in the 1891 census.
On 8 June 1894, William (who was still in the military reserves at the time) began work at Peterhead Prison, Peterhead (north east side of Scotland), resigning on 1 October 1894. His address when he started working at Peterhead was 19 Ashgill Rows, 'by Netherburn', Lankarkshire. This job may have been an attempt to find suitable work outside the military.
According the then Project Coordinator of the Heritage Recovery Project of H.M. Prison Peterhead writing in 1999, 'William Neilson was only in the service from July to October 1894, not even three months. Plainly long enough for him to realise the Civil Guards corps of Peterhead prison was not for him. He had no demerit points against him, the section dealing with negative comment is blank, so he simply didn't like the job. Not hard to understand - he had enlisted in a unique corps that served only at Peterhead convict prison' ... 'Only in Peterhead were there firearm carrying guards. The Warder corps of this prison was also unique, in that they carried cutlasses.' ... 'Peterhead is quite a windswept area, the 'sea breezes' coming inshore with a chilling edge that made standing exposed at guard posts on the wall, or out atop Stirlinghill, looking down into the quarry, a less than appealing prospect day in day out'.
William was discharged from the military on completion of the first period of limited engagement on 8 October 1894, leaving on 8 December 1894. His involvement in the military did not stop, however, even after he married.
William and Janet Neilson had the following children. Sometime after Janet was born, the family moved from Muirkirk and lived at 27 Beechgrove Street, Bridgeton, Glasgow. During the time that the children were born, William served for periods overseas with the military - see below:
Agnes Brown Hamilton (nee Neilson), who married James Hamilton in 1893, died of 'malignant scarlet fever', from which ailment she suffered for three days, on 14 February 1899 at Ashgillhead, Dalserf. She was 23 and recorded as the wife of James Hamilton and daughter of William Neilson (coalminer, deceased) and Grace Neilson (nee Copeland).
According to online resources, 'Scarlet fever, also known as scarlatina, is an infection that can develop in people who have strep throat. It is characterized by a bright red rash on the body, usually accompanied by a high fever and sore throat. The same bacteria that cause strep throat also cause scarlet fever.' It spreads easily. 'If left untreated, scarlet fever can lead to serious complications including rheumatic fever (an inflammatory disease that can affect the heart, joints, skin, and brain), kidney damage, ear infections, skin infections, pneumonia, and sepsis.'
James Hamilton then married Elizabeth Whiteford in Dalserf in 1899 (Ref 638/2/19).
The 1901 census for Dalserf shows the following groupings of Neilsons. Further research (and access to the original images) is required to confirm relationships.
According to his service record (Ref WO128/121 195837), William Neilson, now a clerk, re-enlisted in May 1901 in the Scottish Horse for service in the Second Boer War in South Africa (October 1899 - May 1902). He stated that he had previously served with the 1st Battalion, King's Own Scottish Borderers. His new service number was 36914. He was under 5' 7" tall, his complexion was 'fresh', he had blue eyes and brown hair. The Scottish Horse was raised for the South African War in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Pietermaritzburg and consisted of two regiments, formed from Australian volunteers plus drafts from Scotland and South Africa.
According to the Military History Sheet on his service record, William initially served at home (UK) from 31 May 1901 to 25 June 1901, in South Africa from 26 June 1901 to 27 August 1902 (63 days), and then home from 28 August to 3 September 1902. (This would suggest that his wife became pregnant with their son John just before he left for South Africa and was born while he was overseas).
William Neilson, Scottish Horse Uniform, 1901/2
According to 'The Scottish Horse (1900 - 1956)' by Lt Col R M T Campbell-Preston, the Regiment 'trekked continuously and with great success'. They were 'known and feared throughout the Eastern Transvaal'. Peace was signed on 31 May 1902 and the regiments returned to the UK in late August 1902.
William Neilson was discharged from the military at Aldershot on 3 September 1902. He was awarded the Queen's Medal and the South African Medal. William return to being a clerk.
The 1911 census for Dalserf shows the following groupings of Neilsons. Further research (and access to the original images) is required to confirm relationships.
Grace Copeland Neilson, the daughter of Agnes Brown Neilson born in 1892, is not clearly identifiable in the 1911 census and is not known what happened to her after 1901. There is no obvious marriage record. Perhaps she left Scotland? Curiously, a Grace Hamilton Neilson died aged 76 in 1971 in Hamilton (Ref 647/167). Not quite the right age, but very close all the same.
Grace Copeland Neilson Thomson (1891, Dalserf (Ref 638/2/7) - ), the daughter of Annie Neilson and Robert Thomson, and niece of William Neilson, married Robert Macdonald in 1912 in Dalserf (Ref 638/2/27).
Robert Macdonald was previously married to Elizabeth Falconer in Dalserf in 1906 (Ref 638/2/8). Robert and Grace Macdonald lived at Oak Place, Dalserf. Elizabeth died aged 19 (Ref 638/2/68, recorded with both her maiden and married name) giving birth to twins who also died (names not recorded).
Robert and Grace Macdonald had two children:
See below from 1920 for further details of the family
Perhaps influenced by the Scottish men from Melbourne Australia who he met in South Africa, William and family migrated to Australia. They arrived in Melbourne in May 1913 where he took up the occupation of 'coal merchant' or 'caretaker' (see below). They lived at 12 Moodie Place, St Kilda which had a name plate 'Strathclyde'. It is not known why that name was chosen.
Go to this page about the Neilson family in Australia for further details. Some of these details are noted below also.
World War 1 was declared on 4 August 1914. William, now aged 49, decided to enlist soon after, on 17 August 1914. His children were now aged between 8 and 18. His motivation for enlisting, at that age, with such young children, having just migrated to Australia the year before, remain a mystery.
To read the rest of William Neilson's activities in World War 1 and Gallipoli, click this link.
Sarah Millar Hamilton (1895 - ), the daughter of Agnes Brown Neilson (died 1899) and James Hamilton, married William Lackie in Blythswood (Glasgow) in 1915 (Ref 644/10/1047).
William Neilson Hamilton (1898 - ), the son of Agnes Brown Neilson (died 1899) and James Hamilton, married Jeanie Whitelaw in Ardrossan New (south western Scotland) in 1918 (Ref 576/2/9).
A possible son, Patrick Neilson, was born in Adrossan New in 1919 (Ref 576/2/129). Although only speculation and recorded here for reference, a William Patrick Neilson married Sarah Watson Ralston in Dalziel in 1940 (Ref 639/80).
Anne Copland Neilson Thomson was born in 1920 in Dalserf (Ref 638/2/87). Her name suggests a relationship with the children of Robert Thomas and Annie Thomson (nee Neilson); one of their children, Grace Copeland Neilson Thomson was born in 1891 (as noted above) but their youngest children as recorded in the 1901 census were only just born. Further research is required.
Robert Macdonald was killed in a mining accident on 5 January 1920 (aged 41, Ref 638/2/5). the Scottish Mining archive, which quotes the The Lanarkshire 7 February 1920 as follows:
Larkhall – Another fatal accident occurred at Woodside Colliery, Dalserf, on Thursday night, whereby Robert M'Donald, who resided at Oak Place, lost his life as the result of a large stone falling on his head from the roof.
Robert was a very respected member of the community and local masonic St Thomas lodge. The Scottish Mining site above, quoting The Larnarkshire of 11 February 1920, noted that:
Larkhall – On Monday afternoon the remains of Robert M'Donald, Oak Place, Ayr Road (?), the victim of the colliery accident at the end of last week were laid to rest in Larkhall cemetery with Masonic honours. There was a good attendance of the members of St [illegible] Lodge of which the deceased was a member and the general public were also well represented.
With the loss of Robert, the family were left struggling as there was no welfare state in those days; Grace took a job in the local police station at Larkhall, cooking and taking care of the constabulary. She had a tough life.
Not long after the death of Robert, his son Robert Thomson Macdonald (born 1918) was hit by a motorcycle and left disabled. This incident added to the struggles the family had to endure. Family history recalls that Grace's mother, Ann Neilson Thomson helped her daughter and two children.
Janet Neilson wrote to the Officer in Charge, Base Records, on 30 March 1921 to advise of a change of address from 12 Moodie Place to 23 Addison Street, St Kilda. The house was named 'Strathclyde'.
Agnes Neilson Hamilton (1897 - ), the daughter of Agnes Brown Neilson (died 1899) and James Hamilton, married John McIntosh in Blythswood (Glasgow) in 1923 (Ref 644/10/2168).
Janet and William Neilson's daughter, also named Janet, had married Herbert Warland in 1925. Herbert Warland died in an airplane crash in 1928. Click this link for more information about his life and the accident.
Ann Neilson Thomson, the wife of Robert Thomson and mother of Grace Copeland Macdonald (nee Thomson), died on 4 March 1931.
Grace Copeland Macdonald died on 23 October 1939 in Dalserf (Ref 638/2/27). Her daughter Annie Macdonald continued to care for her disabled brother Robert. Ann married Anthony Peter Cornin in 1941 and they had three children.
Janet Penman Neilson died on 21 January 1939 in Richmond, Victoria, Australia (Vic BDM Ref 597). The younger Janet wrote several letters on behalf of her mother to the Australian Department of Defence about her father's military service.
All three of William Neilson's sons enlisted in World War 2 in Australia. For more details, go to the Neilson in Australia page.
Page added 7 June 2015, last updated 18 May 2020, copyright Andrew Warland.