Anne Symon (Simon) was my 3x great grand aunt; the elder half-sister of my 3x great grandfather, Donald Wallace. She died in 1883 under quite mysterious circumstances — suffering exposure (hypothermia) trapped under a mill-wheel.
I discovered Anne Symon’s rather sad death by accident; a by-product of trying to flesh out my knowledge of Donald Wallace and his family. Scottish death records are extremely comprehensive and I use them a lot to corroborate other information.
On Anne’s death record, the cause of death was recorded as “supposed from exposure”, while the ‘Where and When Died’ column read “between 7 pm on Second of November and 9 am on 4th November. Found dead under water wheel of thrashing mill at Borland.”
I found it really odd that if her body had been found under a water wheel, the cause of death wasn’t drowning, and I wondered (as you do) how she came to die in such a way.
The useful (I hesitate to say “good”) thing about unusual or violent deaths is that they are subject to coroner’s inquests and are often reported in local newspapers — as Anne’s was.
In Scotland, the Procurator Fiscal’s Office performs the function of a coroner in other jurisdictions (1). The record of Anne’s death contains a marginal note that says “For Report of Precognition of Death See Reg Cor Ent Vol 1 p 13.”
I learned that Scottish law requires the registration of a death within 8 days of it taking place (or the body being found). In cases like Anne’s, the cause of death may not be known when it is first recorded. Once a record has been made in an official register, it cannot be altered, so a Register of Corrected Entries (RCE, or Reg Cor Ent above) is kept and reference to that is made on the original record. (2)
The RCE record for Anne Symon, shown below, is quite unhelpful; confirming only that the cause of death was exposure. This was certified by James Neilson, a doctor of Blairgowrie.
Anne’s death was reported in the Dundee Courier and Argus under the tagline ‘Melancholy death of a woman’. The article appeared on November 9th, and like the death record, raises more questions for me than it answered.
The first thing that struck me was the reference to a “man from Glenisla” who reported:
“hearing cries of a woman in a field near the Blackwater Road. On going up to her she asked him if he could direct her to Mr Campbell’s house. The man, being a stranger, told her he could not, but directed her to the nearest light and said the people there would direct her, but she never landed at the house.”
If we assume that the man’s testimony is true (and accurately reported), and that the woman he met was Anne Symon (who had lived virtually her entire 58 years in and around the village of Kirkmichael) it seems a little odd to think she was simply lost. The report doesn’t suggest that she was drunk — which seems an obvious possibility, and hardly something newspapers shied away from. Other possibilities are that she had fallen and hit her head, or that she was ill and disoriented. If this were the case, I suppose she might have sat down by the mill, fallen asleep or lost consciousness and been dragged under the mill lade. I do struggle though to work out how she didn’t drown.
I’ve tried to locate the various places mentioned in the article on a nineteenth century ordnance survey map of the area. I cannot find Brae of Dounie (Anne’s home) on any map, but the article reports that “workers at the turnips on a field at Easter Dounie” initially raised the alarm, so the house must have been in sight of that. The ordnance survey map shows Easter Dounie to the south of Mains of Dounie and Croft of Dounie, so I assume that Brae of Dounie is in the same vicinity. All are within about a mile of each other.
The witness, whom the woman assumed to be Anne asked for directions, was on the Blackwater Road – which runs east-west, to the north of the various Dounies. The mill at Borland where Anne’s body was found, is just north of this road.
The article stated that was a dark night — not surprising for early November in 19th century rural Scotland. There would have been no street lights, and only oil lamps and candles to provide light within houses, and I find it really sad thinking of a woman wandering alone in the dark, disoriented and unable to find her way home. This of course assumes that the witness testimony was true, and that Anne Symon wasn’t attacked and possibly killed, rather than dying accidentally.
Thinking about Anne Symon’s sad end has made me want to learn about her life. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
Anne Simon (the Symon spelling first appears in the 1861 census) was baptised in the Church of Scotland in Kirkmichael on 2 July 1825. Her OPR (Old Parish Register) baptism record reads:
Anne Daughter Charles Simon, Ashintully and Anne Cunnison, Whitefield born 2nd and baptised 18th July 1825.
Anne’s death record states that she was illegitimate. However, while other OPR records I’ve seen describe illegitimate children as “the natural child of …” this is not the case here. I don’t know if this was an oversight or if perhaps Anne Cunnison and Charles Simon were married. If so, I have not been able to find any record of this.
In 1828, it seems that Anne Cunnison married (or at least intended to marry) James Wallace (my 4x great grandfather) in Kirkmichael. The OPR record reads:
James Wallace in Balnald and Anne Cunnison Whitefield both of this parish, were proclaimed three times on Sunday 28 of September 1828 in order to be married.
Until recently in Scotland, it was required that a couple intending to marry had this intention proclaimed (called reading the banns) in church for three successive Sundays (3). The interesting thing in James Wallace and Anne Cunnison’s case is that it seems that this requirement was waived — and the banns were “proclaimed three times on Sunday 28 September”. Anne was pregnant at the time with the couple’s first child, Robert, so it is possible that this had an influence on the way the marriage was proclaimed. Apparently, the proclamation of a marriage isn’t a record of a wedding taking place, and in some cases, it didn’t. (4)
If Anne Cunnison and Charles Simon had been married, Charles had presumably died. Even today, Kirkmichael is a very small rural community, and it is highly unlikely that a marriage could have been proclaimed between Anne and James unless both were free to do so. I looked for a death record for Charles Simon (or Symon — as is found in some records), for the period between the time Anne Symon would have been conceived and Anne Cunnison’s marriage to James Wallace, but have found none. In fact, I have found no records at all for a Charles Symon or Simon which contain sufficient information for me to believe they relate to the “right” Charles — so he remains a mystery figure for now.
Anne Symon’s siblings
Robert Wallace, the first of James and Anne’s 10 children together was born on January 12th, 1829. My 3x great grandfather Donald was born in 1830, followed by Spence in 1832, Elizabeth in 1835, Alexander in 1837, Thomas in 1839, Charles in 1841, John in 1844, Margaret in 1845 and Christian in 1848. All but John Wallace survived childhood.
The 1841 census shows the Wallace family — minus Ann Symon — living in Balnauld. James’s occupation is listed as shoemaker.
I’ve searched for Ann elsewhere in the 1841 Scottish census, and have found two possible matches. One, Ann Simon, is listed as a 15 year old servant to a family called Geddes in the parish of Nigg, Kincardineshire (over 130 miles from Ann’s birthplace). I can find no obvious connection between the Geddes family and the Symon’s, so for now, I’m assuming this is not “my Ann.”
The other possible match, indexed in Scotland’s People as Ann Symon, is shown as living in Pitcairns Court, Dundee. At face value, this would seem a much more likely possibility. Dundee is only around 30 miles from Kirkmicheal — a much more likely distance for a young woman to travel — and the town was home to a very large number of mills and other industry that attracted thousands of workers from rural Scotland, and indeed Ireland.
There is however, one troubling matter. While the indexer for Scotland’s People has interpreted the handwriting on the census return as “Ann”, the indexer for FreeCen has seen the same name as “Susan”. I’ve looked at it repeatedly and can’t decide. What do you think?
It looks likely that I will never really know what became of Ann Symon during her early years. After 1851 however, there is more information available about her.
1851: Anne, age 25 was living with the Wallace family. Her occupation is described as house servant, and her relationship to head of household is daughter.
1861: Anne was living as a boarder in Strathardle with a woman named Mary McGlashin and Mary’s infant son. Her occupation is given as dressmaker.
1871:Mains Farm, Persie, Perthshire. Anne is listed as a Housekeeper, living in home of James McFarlane, ploughman, along with his family and other servants.
1881: Brae Of Dounie. Anne is shown as a domestic servant for James Campbell, Shoemaker. This is the same address and employer as in the article about her death.
It seems that Anne Symon never married, nor had children, and spent most of her life working as a domestic servant in other people’s homes. At the time of her death, both parents (and her step-father James Wallace) were deceased, and the informant on her death record was her sister Margaret, who lived about 13 miles away in Blairgowrie.
She was buried in the Kirkmichael churchyard with no headstone. But in the words of the Dundee Courier and Argus:
The deceased was a native of the glen, and much regret is felt at her untimely end.
Hats make people feel good. That’s the point of them.
I love hats; cloches, fedoras, boaters — the bigger and more extravagant the better. But beyond shoving on a fairly battered straw number while I’m gardening, or donning a oversized fluffy beret at early morning soccer games, my lifestyle isn’t what you might call hat-friendly.
I suspect I was born out of my time; too late to be part of a culture that embraced millinery as a day-to-day necessity. Even in my mother’s generation, it was at least considered normal to wear hats to weddings. Here in New Zealand — a country famous for it’s informality — current wedding attire is more likely to include a baseball cap or beanie than any of the elaborate confections favoured by earlier generations.
Celebrations of marriage (weddings and anniversaries) seem to have brought the millinery out of the closet in our family. My great grandmother donned this rather frilly, and very “sixties” hat for the party to celebrate her sixty years of marriage to my great grandfather.
For my mother, her hat-wearing heyday seems to have been the late 1950s. I guess this is probably a function of her age and life stage; she could afford to dress well (married, no kids) and was probably going to lots of her friends’ weddings.
I love the photo below of my mother and aunt. I don’t know where they were going, but they look happy — and very glamourous.
A street photographer captured this shot of the Big T’s aunt Hazel and a friend. They look as though they are out for a day’s shopping, or off to see a movie — but both made hats a part of their outfit.
Perhaps a favourite hat for my mum. She’s wearing it in the shot with her sister, and its very similar in style to another shown above.
This image of my mother reminds me of one I found of the Big T’s great aunt Alice. The shots are separated by about 30 years, but the look is the same; a young woman, posed for the camera in special clothes.
The Big T’s grandmother, Isabella Lietze, also seems to have been a hat wearer. I love her wedding photo; Isabella and her new husband Arthur Dove, surrounded by family, including sister Alice shown above.
One of the things I admire about Isabella’s hat-wearing is how she experimented with different styles. I’d love to know what colours they were, but most of our photos are in black & white.
The Big T’s great aunt Alice was by all accounts an amazing woman who lived life to the full (and well into her 90s). She certainly wasn’t afraid to wear a bold hat!
And the last time I wore a hat just to feel good …. our friends Chris and Nolene’s wedding in 1989. Can’t believe how much younger than me the Big T looked!
Yesterday would have been my gran’s 107th birthday. There was a time when I could almost have believed she would live to 107; she seemed for so long to have such energy and strength. But she died a few days short of her 98th birthday — having moved from her own house into a care home a year or so before.
Margaret Simpson Bissett Cruden (11 May 1908 – 1 May 2006) was the eldest child and only daughter of Alexander Cruden and Catherine Simpson Bisset Black. My great grandparents were very young when she was born; Great Gran was 18, Great Grandad still 17. Margaret had four younger brothers; Stewart, Alexander, James and George, the youngest of whom was born just a few months before my gran herself became a mother.
Gran was born and raised in Dysart, Scotland and lived all her life in Dysart and Kirkcaldy. She married my grandad (David Skinner Ramsay) in 1927, when Grandad was 25 and she was 18. They raised six children; a son David, and five daughters – Catherine, May, Margaret, Elizabeth (my mum) and Sandra.
Grandad was a coal miner, who, in later life, suffered from diabetes. Because of that he had both legs amputated at the knee after small wounds turned gangrenous. My gran was relatively young when she found herself nursing an invalid husband; a role she took on without hesitation and carried out with great love and care until my grandad’s death in 1973.
After his death, my grandmother left the UK for the first (but not the last) time. She travelled to New Zealand to visit my family and to Australia to stay with her brother Alexander and his family. During the next thirty years she travelled again to Australia, to Zimbabwe while it was still Rhodesia and in the midst of civil war, and to Switzerland to visit one of my cousins. She also traveled extensively around the UK visiting family.
I only really got to know my gran in my late twenties and thirties while I was living in the UK. We spent hours together drinking tea, eating meringues (her favourite sweet) and gossiping. She was a lovely little barrel of a woman; about 4′ 10″ (1.47 metres), and solid (I definitely take after her). She was quick-witted, a good story teller and could be very funny, although she also possessed a very sharp tongue — as anyone on the receiving end of it would tell you.
She really was a force of nature; a matriarch who spend almost 80 years looking after her family. She is remembered with great love by a global tribe consisting of not only myself, my siblings and cousins, but our children and the children and grandchildren of Gran’s brothers — who still speak fondly of their “Auntie Maggie.” She had 17 grandchildren, 28 great grandchildren and was great, great grandmother to two newborns by the time she died.
My son only got to meet his great gran once; he was very young, but claims to remember her (she told him off, so I’m not surprised it stayed in his mind). I’m sad that she died two months before we were due to go back to the UK for a visit. My son was eight by then and would have enjoyed another encounter with that feisty, four foot ten force of nature.
Years ago in a cafe, my young son and I were sitting near two women who were having a heated discussion. Eventually one leaned over to me and asked if I carried a photo of my son with me. As it happened, I did have a picture of him. The woman looked at her friend triumphantly and said “see, everyone does.”
Aside from the obvious problem of generalizing from a sample of one, my possession of an image on that day was a consequence of my son having just had an particularly flattering passport photo taken. In fact, I didn’t normally carry his picture — I had never thought to cut one up small enough to fit in my wallet.
But it got me thinking about the abundance of photos I DID possess of my son — and how normal is seems for parents to turn the camera lens on their offspring.
These days, with smart phones and social media, it’s only a matter of personal taste how quickly after (or during) birth, photos of our children can be spread around the globe. Seventeen years ago, when the boy-child came into the world, the Big T did have his camera at the birth, and we have several slightly out of focus shots of me in the delivery suite holding our newborn. But in those pre-digital, pre-FaceBook days, the photos were taken on film, and weren’t available for anyone to see until all 24 shots on the roll of film had been exposed and developed. As both sets of grandparents lived in other countries, it would have been at least a week or more until they saw images of their new grandchild.
A generation earlier, when the boy-child’s grandparents were becoming parents, the processes of capturing and sharing images of their children would have taken even longer. For a start, although both my father and father in law were keen photographers, neither were present at the births of their children. The earliest photos of me that I’m aware of were taken at my christening.
Go back another generation, and camera ownership was less widespread. We are fortunate to have photos of both my parents as children, and of the Big T’s mother, but we have none of his father.
Although the Box Brownie (1) was first released in 1900 — revolutionizing photography by making it affordable to ordinary people — amateur photos don’t appear before the 1920s in either the Big T’s or my family (2), making our parents’ generation the first whose childhood was captured by enthusiastic family members, rather than professional photographers.
By contrast, I have a collection of studio portraits of my grandmother Margaret Cruden, and her younger brother Stewart, as small children.
I’m not sure why there are so many portraits of my grandmother. She and her brother Stewart were the eldest children of Alexander Cruden and Catherine Black. On my grandmother’s birth certificate, her father’s occupation is shown as coal miner, and it’s unlikely the family was particularly wealthy. However, my great grandparents (or possibly their parents) took the children to several different studios for sittings during their early childhood.
While I love these glimpses into the childhoods of my grandmother and great uncle, the last image saddens me, as all photographs of little boys dressed up as soldiers sadden me. The photo was taken probably during World War I, and I wonder if my great grandfather had already signed up. My great uncle has such a sad, slightly lost expression on his face.
(1) ‘The Most Important Cardboard Box Ever.’ BBC Magazine 5 January 2015 http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-30530268
(2) With the possible exception of the Dove family, of whom we have a few images thought to be c. 1913-16.