#52Ancestors #35 Hugh Forbes and Isabella Simpson – tugboats and Grandpa Simpson        

52ancestorsHugh came from rural beginnings in Alness, Ross-shire, where he was baptised in April 1831. He was the third of six children and grew up speaking both Gaelic and English.

Isabella, the fourth of the eight children of gardener Douglas Simpson and Elizabeth Wilson; she was christened on 30 October 1836 in Greenock.  Like her husband, she also grew up speaking both Gaelic and English.  By the time she was 14 Isabella was working in a cotton mill.

I suspect that Hugh moved away from Alness for work, although perhaps he just didn’t want to work on the land. If that was the case he certainly achieved that goal as he became an engineer and later worked on tug-boats.

They married on New Years Eve 1857 (so they could celebrate then get a day off the next day!?)

I have a lot of Isabellas in my family and had wondered where the name came from.  I was at Who Do You Think You Are Live yesterday and in a leaflet I bought I found out that it’s a variant on Elizabeth.  So there you go, things you learn!  And instantly I see the connection when their first child, a daughter, was named Elizabeth, born in 1858.

Together they went on to have 8 more children, with the birth of William in 1867 curious – the only child not to be born in Greenock – a census entry states he was born in Ireland.  Why? For his father’s work? Friends of the family?  I’m not aware of any Irish connection for Hugh, so maybe Isabella has Irish roots (via Glasgow where her parents lived).  I can’t see him on Scotland’s People and a quick search on Ancestry’s Irish pages (all Family Search records) doesn’t give me enough info to confirm.

There may have been a family ruction in 1863 – their first son was born and registered Hugh Forbes by his grandfather Douglas Simpson, Isabella’s father.  In the margin there is a reference to a corrected entry – it seems Grandpa Simpson had made a mistake and Hugh had been changed to John!  However eight years later they did have a son called Hugh, his name unchanged.

By 1871 Isabella’s widowed mother Elizabeth had moved in with them but passed away the following year.

Hugh and Isabella lived on together until 1909 when Hugh died.  The cause of death is intriguing: concussion cerebri(?) – I’ll have to find out if it’s a medical term or a blow to the head.  He’d retired by then so wouldn’t have been at work.  Isabella herself died 15 years later in 1924, in Greenock.

© Text copyright Lynne Black 30 August 2014
First published:


7 thoughts on “#52Ancestors #35 Hugh Forbes and Isabella Simpson – tugboats and Grandpa Simpson        

  1. pastsmith

    Fascinating, so many interesting things! Isabella a variant of Elizabeth, who knew? William born in Ireland. Am curious how you know they spoke Gaelic? And what a mystery about Hugh’s death. If it was an accident of some sort, how sad. Isabella had to live another 15 years without him. Always enjoy reading your posts. Great job.

    1. starryblackness Post author

      Thank you! there is a column on some of the later Scottish census returns with a column for the language(s) spoken.
      It did surprise me about Isabella speaking Gaelic as I wouldn’t have expected that of someone living in Greenock/Glasgow which is why I’m wondering whether she has Irish roots.

      1. Colin MacDonald

        Greenock at various times actually had an extremely large Gaelic speaking community. I can think of at least two Gaelic churches in the town off the top of my head. Many Gaelic speaking highlanders, particularly from Argyll, moved to Greenock in order to find work. Greenock also had a very large Irish community, which is shown today by the fact that Inverclyde is one of the few areas in the whole of Scotland where Irish surnames figure prominently on lists of ‘Top 10 surnames’.

      2. starryblackness Post author

        Thanks Colin. I did find that some of other family branches had come down from the Highlands and ended up worshipping in St Columba’s, Glasgow, which was known as the Highland Cathedral. But I’m not up to speed with that side of the family just now, bit rusty!

  2. Ellen McFadyen

    I have been searching for information on my great grandmother’s family for several years. Her name was Catherine Forbes McFadyen and she was Hugh Forbes sister. She also married and settled in Greenock. I believe at least one other sister came to Greenock from Alness. Catherine’s husband, Archibald McFadyen, came from Islay. I have other information about their family if you are interested.
    I live in Australia. Where do you live?


    1. starryblackness Post author

      Thanks! Sorry, I am hardly ever on WordPress for a variety of reasons and so didn’t see your comment until today.
      So your great grandmother was the sister of Hugh who was baptised in 1831, daughter of Alexander and Alexandrina, yes?
      I would be interested in knowing a bit more, yes please. I live in Scotland.
      Best wishes


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