Tombstone Tuesday: the first family headstone photograph

Leslie family headstone

Headstone of my paternal grandparents and older brother.

This is the only photo of a family headstone I have.

I haven’t yet begun scouring graveyards – mainly because I’m in New Zealand and pretty much all my family is buried in Scotland.

The big T, the boy-child and I did take a detour on a family holiday a few years ago to check out the cemetery at Hororata near Christchurch. We weren’t so much searching for the big T’s family, as idly wondering whether any of his ancestors were buried there. Without really knowing what we were looking for, I’m still not sure whether we found anything relevant. We certainly didn’t think to photograph any of the headstones, although we did take this photo of the church, which I quite like.

St. John's Church, Hororata, Canterbury, NZ

St. John’s Church, Hororata, Canterbury, NZ.

I have a particular fondness for monumental masonry, particularly from the nineteenth century where  those who could afford it managed to combine some truly elegant sculpture with some amazing euphemisms for death.

I’m looking forward to learning more about my ancestors from the memorial inscriptions their loved ones gave them; and hopefully will come back from the UK in a few weeks with some more photos to add to my tree.

Captain’s log: July 1867 “… I judged that they were the worse for liquor…”

Extract of Captain's Log, 11 July 1867.

Extract from the Captain’s Log; the ship Cherokee, 11 July 1867, Valparaiso, Chile.

Alcohol seems to have played a part in several branches of my family history. My mum’s grandfather ran a pub, while my father had great grandparents who were spirit merchants and a great, great grandfather who owned a brewery.

So far, they all seem to be fairly upstanding people; I certainly haven’t found any evidence to the contrary. However, I have recently found one ancestor whose relationship with alcohol was definitely less professional.

My great, great grandfather Rankine Gourlay was born in 1845; the seventh child of Thomas Gourlay – master tailor according to the 1851 census and Elizabeth Rankine. Elizabeth died in 1850, and within a year Thomas had married Agnes Berry, with whom he had another five children.

I know from the extract of his marriage to Mary Gerrard in 1866 that Rankine had joined the Merchant Navy – although I haven’t yet discovered when. I cannot find him in either the Scottish or English census records between 1851 and 1891, so I’m working on the assumption that he was at sea for most of those years (although he did father at least five children during those years).

On 11 July 1867, Rankine was aboard the Cherokee at Valparaiso Bay, in Chile, when the following report was made in the Ship’s Master’s log:

I was awoke with an unusual noise above my head on the deck as if someone stumbling. I got up to ascertain the cause, called the Anchor Watchman several times, but received no reply. I went forward to the Forecastle and judged by the speech of Rankine Gourlay and Joseph White that they were the worse for liquor. I then went aft and called the first and second officers and captain. I asked the mate if he had taken in any spirits as cago. He replied yes, 6 cases of brandy and 25 cases of wine. Sent them into the hold to see if any had been opened but they did not think the cargo had been disturbed. The first and second mates went forward to the forecastle bulkhead and heard Rankine Gourlay, David Sharp, Thomas Harper, John Jones, George Thomson and Joseph White all speaking some of them trying to keep the others quiet. Rankine Gourlay unable to turn to his work next morning through drink. And at 1pm Joseph White and Daniel Brown were fighting both by the worse for drink.

 The following day the Log carries on:

I sent the Second Mate into the hold to make a thorough search and to count the cases of wine and brandy which had been taken on at Valparaiso. He found one case of brandy broken open and one case of olive oil, and one case of the brandy we could not find.

A one thirty pm called all hands aft and asked them if any of them knew anything about the cases that were broken open the case of olive oil then laying on the skylight? with the lid loose on it. Rankine Gourlay then replied that he knew nothing about liquor, but I had not spoken about the contents of the cases and several of the crew said they had nothing to do with it. The remainder said nothing.

Friday August 9th 1867 at Paquica (also Chile).

Landed the last of our cargo this day but the case of brandy above alluded to has not turned up. Therefore it must have been taken by the ship’s crew as no other persons were employed in loading or discharging ships.

Robert Torrance, Master. A. Gilling, Mate; Allan Campbell, Second Mate.

It seems this was not an isolated incident. I have found a similar report from 1868, but have not managed to get a copy of it yet.

Crew list, Carleton. Sydney, 1885.

Crew list, Carleton. Sydney, 1885. Source: NSW Govt. Mariners’ Records

I haven’t been able to find any documents relating to Rankine Gourlay for the years 1868-1885, when he seems to have become a ship’s cook. His name appears in the Manifest of the Carleton, on two voyages to Sydney, Australia – the first in April 1885, the second a year later.

I don’t know much about 19th century maritime history, but suspect that I will be learning a bit more in the coming months. I’d like to know what sort of ships the Cherokee and Carleton were and if possible, track some of Rankine’s voyages.

Crew list, Carleton. Sydney, 1886. Source: NSW Govt. Mariners' Records.

Crew list, Carleton. Sydney, 1886. Source: NSW Govt. Mariners’ Records.

I’m particularly interested in his trips to Australia and wonder if he ever made it as far as New Zealand.

The last years of Rankine Gourlay’s life are quite well documented. He appears in the 1891 census as an patient of the Fife and Kinross Lunatic Asylum, and in the 1901 census as an inmate of the Kirkcaldy CombinedPoorhouse – where he died on 23 July 1903.

The Fife Council Archive has the patient register from the Asylum which relates to Rankine Gourlay, and I believe that the Kirkcaldy Library has Minute Books for the Poorhouse. These two repositories are high on my list of places to go when I’m in the UK next month. I’m hoping not only to have more information to share, but also – by seeing hand-written, contemporary accounts of my ancestor’s life – to understand and know him a little better.

Catalogue listing: Fife Archives.

Catalogue listing: Fife Archives.

A thousand thank you’s


As any parent will tell you; milestones matter. So I was really quite chuffed to see this message yesterday.

1000 likesWhen I started blogging, I really wasn’t sure what I was doing – either technically or editorially. I just knew that I wanted a place to collect together information about my family’s life and history.

I think I’m still only scratching the surface technically, but I do feel that over time I am becoming clearer that Shaking the Tree is my place to tell family stories – mainly historical stories, but also those that will become history.

Context is all-important to me. As I read census returns and marriage certificates I find myself rushing off to look at maps; I want to know what my ancestors’ homes were like. Occupational data raises questions about where people worked, what the routine of their workings lives was like, how much they earned, how many hours they worked  – and what the output of their labour might have been.

Every now and then I find myself taking byroads into other people’s history – most notably a few months ago when I wrote about the death, in 1886, of 17 year old Emily Keeling on a suburban Auckland street; a victim of domestic violence.

I may be telling these stories for my own benefit, and to preserve them for my family, but I would probably do so with less frequency and much less enthusiasm without you – my readers – who read and comment and often share your own stories with me.

A wonderful, valuable lesson for me in all of this is the importance of my blogging community. I am learning so much from you; history, cultural patterns, research tips and skills and also the knowledge that my family is not unique – that our problems are like your problems; our joys and sorrows are mirrored in the lives of your families and your ancestors. And above all, I’m learning how to tell the stories.

This feels like a very good time to acknowledge and thank some of the wonderful bloggers who form my online “whanau” and whose interest and support and humour and wisdom I value so much.