Anne Symon 1825-1883: a “melancholy death”

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.”

Anne Symon, record of death, 1883. Source: Scotland's People.

Anne Symon, record of death, 1883. Source: Scotland’s People.

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.

Register of Corrected Entries, report into

Death of Anne Symon, Register of Corrected Entries. Source: Scotland’s People.

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.

Dundee Courier and Argus, Friday 9 November 1883. Image: British Newspaper Archive.

Dundee Courier and Argus, Friday 9 November 1883. Image: British Newspaper Archive.

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.

Ordnance Survey map, Kirkmichael area. c. 1860s. Source: screenshot, Scotland's Place.

Ordnance Survey map, Kirkmichael area. c. 1860s. Source: screenshot, Scotland’s Place.

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:

Birth

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.

Census records

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?

Ann, or Susan Symon? 1841 census record. Image: Scotland's People.

Ann or Susan Symon? 1841 census record. Image: Scotland’s People.

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.

 

__________

(1) Wikipedia: Procurator fiscal

(2) Scotland’s People: RCE Help

(3) University of Glasgow, Scottish way of Birth and Death: Marriage

(4) Who Do You Think You Are, Marriages in Scotland

 

 

 

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16 thoughts on “Anne Symon 1825-1883: a “melancholy death”

    • Thanks Susan. I guess that must have been the case. It’s all probably quite straight-forward, but of course, I’m working with incomplete information, and most of it is from the local newspaper (say no more)!

  1. Your account of your relative’s unattended death was very well presented. Doing family history is an emotional experience. A lot of tears are shed. I’ve found two inquests in my own family within just a few years of each other (late 1940’s), one we know to be a suicide. In the US the information is confidential and there are very few newspaper reports to be found right now due to copyright concerns.
    A thought on : “there were no marks on the body” from the newspaper account. Is it also possible the mill race was dry at the time and she did not become entangled in the wheel. A stroke can cause disorientation and confusion. Just some thoughts on your relative, a hard-working woman all of her life.

    • Thank you so much. It is incredibly emotional. I’ve found myself standing in tiny churchyards or council archives, with tears streaming down my face. Thanks for your thoughts on her cause of death. I hadn’t thought of her possibly having stroke. Your point about the mill race being dry is a good one too. It was November in Scotland, so if the mill was in use, there would have been plenty of water. But it is possible that the mill wasn’t being used, and the water was diverted perhaps. It’s a little thing, but it bugs me not to understand it, so I’ll have to do a bit of investigating into the design of water mills. Thanks again. Cheers, Su.

  2. I see Ann as well. You’ve got a mystery on your hands – if you were on Who Do You Think You Are? they’d have sent you off to a forensic specialist to explain it all. Where’s a handy CSI when you need one?

    • Yes it is a mystery. Since writing this I’ve discovered one of Ann’s brothers in Dundee at around the same time. I’ll have to investigate further but it could provide a reason for her to be there too.

  3. Compliments – A sad story, but well researched and presented. Not sure if the census is an Anne or Susan – The capital A is different from the capital S in Symon, but the two nns in Anne don’t look quite right !

    • Thank you. I’m still struggling with this too and I haven’t managed to find any time for genealogy recently, so I’ve yet to follow up the possibility that Ann’s brother was living in Dundee at the time. Perhaps I need to settle down with a good gin and get researching. Thanks again for dropping by and commenting 🙂

  4. Pingback: Donald Wallace: the outline of a life cut short | Shaking the tree

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