Tag Archives: Dewar

Duncan Dewar and Margaret Leitch, their family’s hard times and survival

Duncan Dewar, the fourth child of Argyll Gamekeeper Donald Dewar and his wife Janet MacCallum, grew up in rural Argyll, in Glassary parish.

In September 1869 he married Margaret Leitch, a labourer’s daughter from Dunoon, in Dunoon and Kilmun, Argyll.  She was already expecting the first of their ten children: Donald was born in December that year in Innellan.  By April 1871 the three of them were living at Craiginewer Cottage, Low Road in the hamlet of Innellan.  Innellan was so small as to not warrant a mention in the extract of John Bartholomew’s Gazetteer of the British Isles, 1887in the parish Genuki entry for Dunoon and Kilmun.

There weren’t just three of them for long: Neil (c1873), Margaret (1873), Janet (c1876) Anne (c1878), Duncan (c1880) had arrived before the 1881 census.  The remaining children were Christine (c1882), Peter (c1884), Mary (1886) and Dugald (1887); all were born in Innellan.  Duncan was a mason and things must have been tight with 10 children.  However things got worse for his wife and children after Duncan died of TB on 3rd November 1890 in the Dunoon area, aged only 47, after both his legs had been amputated. 

Poor Margaret, a widow at 41 with ten children, that loss was followed the following year by the loss of her son Neil.  Although she saw her daughter Margaret marry in 1892, she herself died the following year, also of TB, on 2nd December 1893 aged just 43.

 Her eldest son Donald was working locally by 1891 as a Baker’s Vanman, but he too died young, in October 1900, of TB and Bright’s Disease.

Oldest daughter Margaret, prior to her marriage to James Graham, had been working in April 1891 aged 18 as an nurse, the servant of John Irving, Minister.  James was a baker from Greenock.    Together they had 3 children although five were listed in the 1901 census so from the timings it looks like James, who was 10 years older than her, had been married before and the first two were from a previous marriage. By 1901 the family of 7 were living in Greenock, the other side of the Clyde from Dunoon.

Her sister Janet married too, and her husband William Tait was a Glaswegian spirits salesman.  She had been working in Govan, Glasgow, as a domestic servant by 1891 and they married in the Dunoon registration district in 1895 before having their first son George there. They were living back in Govan, though, in 1898 when son William was born, and for the censuses of 1901 and 1911.

Duncan and Margaret’s third daughter, Anne, stayed in the local area.  By the 31st March 1901 census she had married John McKellar, a fisherman/seaman from Kilfinan in Argyll and they were still living in Dunoon in April 1911.

It seems Annie’s younger brother Duncan was the black sheep of the family.  He was only 10 when his father died and 13 when he was orphaned.  By the age of 18 he was a general labourer but in prison, shockingly convicted at Edinburgh Court of robbery with violence and sent to HM General Convict Prison in Peterhead.  This is the story as reported in the Dundee Courier on 17 June 1898,

He was still there in March 1901 for the census, but was released on 16th December that year, ahead of his intended release date of 15 June 1903.  Perhaps he decided to start over as on 29th September 1911 he set sail on the Numidan for Boston, USA.  However by 1915 he was back and married with a new name, and was fighting for his country in the First World War.

The next of Duncan and Margaret’s ten children was Christine.  By the age of 19 she was also in service.  She was working as a general servant of Archibald Hood, a Lecturer on Education, and his wife Mary in Kelvingrove, Glasgow.  She married John Murdoch Morrison, her cousin germaine (first cousin), in Clydebank in June 1908.  John was the Lanarkshire-born son of her Aunt Joan(a), her father’s younger sister; he was a joiner.

Peter was the next sibling; he was born c1884 and only 6 when his father died and 9 when his mother died.  I don’t know who he was with or where for the 1891 or 1901 censuses but in August 1907 when he married Annie Lloyd (a farmer’s daughter working as a domestic servant) in Clydebank he was a ship caulker (apprentice).   Within a few months he was a dad when Duncan was born in April 1908.  Like his brother Duncan he emigrated, unlike Duncan he didn’t come back, dying in Victoria, Australia and being buried in Coburg Pine Ridge Cemetery in April 1914.

Ninth child of ten, Mary, also ended up in Glasgow, she was working as a dairymaid in Pollokshaws, Renfrewshire by the age of 21.  She married a Grocer’s Assistant called Alexander Cameron and together they had two sons.

Tenth and final child of Duncan and Margaret, Dugald was born in late 1887 and was an orphan by the age of six.  Dugald was luckier than his wayward brother Duncan: he was found living with his wealthy paddle steamer captain Uncle Peter Dewar and Aunt Mary in 1901 in Dunoon when he was 13.  He married Catherine Smith in 1910 and things were looking good.  However The Scotsman reported on 3rd September 1913 that “Dugald Dewar, carpenter, while working in Messrs Russell & Co.s Kingston Yard, Port Glasgow, fell from the bridge deck to the bottom of the vessel, a depth of about 40 feet.  His thigh was fractured, and he was otherwise injured about the head and body.  He was conveyed to Broadstone Hospital.”[1]

He died on 5th September in Broadstone Hospital.   Catherine who was pregnant with their only son, named him after his father when he was born in March 1914 in Port Glasgow.  In 1917 the grieving Catherine took out an In Memorium in the Port Glasgow Express[2]:  

DEWAR – In loving memory of my dear husband, Piper Dugald Leitch Dewar, who died at Broadstone Hospital, Port Glasgow, on 5th September 1913.
However long my life may last,
Whatever land I view
Whatever joys or cares be mine,
I will remember thee.
Inserted by his sorrowing Wife and Son, 14 Chapelton Street, Port Glasgow.
Also, in loving memory of my dear cousin, Lance Corporal Neil McLean, who died of wounds on 5th September 1916.

One of the dearest, one of the best,

God in His mercy took him to rest.

This young family of Dewar children had such a hard time of it, losing their parents young and being (by various means) being sprinkled round either side of the Clyde.  I found them witnessing each other’s marriages when thigs had settled a bit – I’m so glad they could stay in touch.  


[1] The Scotsman 03 September 1913, P6, col 4

[2] Port-Glasgow Express 05 September 1917, P2, Col 2, In Memorium


Peter Dewar, 1840 – 1914, Master of the PS Jeanie Deans

Peter, born in Tayinloan, North Knapdale parish in January 1840, was the oldest son of gamekeeper Donald Dewar and his wife Janet MacCallum.  He had an elder sister Margaret, and nine younger brothers and sisters.

It was a rural community and he was a son of a gamekeeper so he worked on the land and was a ploughman by the age of 21, although he was living across Loch Fyne, working on Achnabreck Farm in Kilmodan, Argyll at the time of the April 1861 census.

However on 11th March 1869 he was back closer to home, marrying Mary Macnair, a carter’s daughter from the parish of Glassary.  Mary’s baptism record said she was born in 1848 in Dunadd (an Argyll hill fort where legend has it the kinds of Dalriada were crowned in ancient times) in that parish.  Peter’s parents were living and working in Dunamuck, by Dunadd, around 1870.

Maybe Peter had already moved away from Kilmodan and Glassary by the time they had married and had come back for his wedding, but certainly by 2 April 1871 he and Mary were living at 2 John Street in Rothesey, Bute, and Peter was listed on the census as a sailor.

By 3rd March 1881 he had risen through the ranks as he’s recorded as a Steamship Master and was found at the Ardlui Hotel in Arrochar, Dumbartonshire.  Mary was home in Bonhill, Dumbartonshire.

His sister Christina died on 10th Dec 1868, aged 18 years and 3 months and Peter paid for a family stone to be erected to honour her, and also his father Donald who died in April 1889 and his mother Janet who died in March 1891, so he must have been doing well. By April 1891 he and Mary were living at 42E Clyde Street in Helensburgh, Dumbartonshire on the River Clyde where it intersects with the Gareloch; they were also there in March 1901.

By 1895 Peter had become Captain of the Clyde Paddle Steamer Jeanie Deans (pictured), famed for being a really fast ship[1].  The Jeanie Deans was described as “built by Barclay Curle & Co in 1884 for the North British Steam Packet Co. She operated out of Craigendoran until 1896, when she was sold for service on Lough Foyle.”[2]

There is a news story in September 1890 that the ship was passing Fort Matilda, Greenock, when they were doing target practice and nearly got hit; however Peter may not have been captain by then.  In 1891 the census described him as a Seaman but in the 1901 census he was specified as a Steamboat Captain.

Peter died in 1913 in Tigh Alasdair, Ardrishaig (on Loch Gilp off Loch Fyne); Mary died, also in Ardrishaig, on 10th May 1933.

Text copyright Lynne Black, starryblackness blog, first published 9 April 2022
Photo of the Jeanie Deans is ownership unknown.


[1] The Clyde Coasting Season; 06 May 1895 – Glasgow Herald – Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland

[2] Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PS_Jeanie_Deans

Searching for Experiment Farm: Tricks and Hidden Histories

Seven years ago I wrote about my ancestor-in-law Donald Dewar who had been a gamekeeper in Kilmartin parish of Argyll, Scotland:  #52Ancestors #34 Donald Dewar, the man from Experiment  The post has received comments over the years, including a couple last year about the farm and draining the land.

Obviously 2020 didn’t give us the opportunity to head back to Argyll, but as I’ve had annual leave to use up we decided to book a last-minute break and finally got back there for the first time in 4 years this weekend.  I spent the day before we went adding the necessary facts to one of my essential yellow ‘The Family Record’ books from Aberdeen & North-East Scotland Family History Society (I think they’re maybe on a different edition now) which I could easily have handy in case I needed to check years and places.  I also took Allan Begg’s Deserted Settlements of Kilmartin Parish book which is a mine of otherwise-lost specialist local information.  It was a lucky choice of weekend as the weather for most of the time there was glorious, the best I’ve ever experienced there. 

After studying books and maps we decided to visit the flat area of land which appeared to be the prime suspect in terms of location and grid lines. So we took a minor detour on the road from Crinan to Kilmartin to get a look at what was currently there: a (later) farm, some very flat fields and a big sky.  It was a working farm so I didn’t get too close and intrusive.

Kilmartin Church with Donald Dewar’s gravestone in foreground

We were staying at the Kilmartin Hotel and wandered round Kilmartin Churchyard with its old and ancient stones, directly over the road, soon after we arrived.  However the sun was so bright on the Saturday evening that we needed to go back on the Sunday morning to make reading inscriptions easier.  I also took photos of a couple of other stones specifically mentioning Experiment to see if I can see the names on the census records next to the Dewars’ entries, perhaps. 

On a tourist note, we crammed in as much as we could into 48 hours, all of which I would recommend visiting if you’re in the area:

  • Kilmartin Glen Neolithic site, a valley of cairns, standing stones and stone circles,
  • Crinan where the Canal opens up to the west coast
  • Duntrune Castle Gardens and the ‘Port of Tears’[1] beach next to it, where local Ardifuar emigrants, towards the end of the 18th century, bound for the New World (because of landlord policies) would leave the parish to join the bigger ship at Crinan.
  • Tayvallich, where Donald McCalman, a different ancestor, taught in the 19th century and which is now village with a big yachting community,
  • Tayinish National Nature Reserve and
  • Keills Chapel  with its carved cross and gravestones and the jetties round the corner where the drovers landed the cattle from Jura.
Photo of Nether Largie Stones, Kilmartin Glen, Argyll
Nether Largie Stones, Kilmartin Glen, Argyll

So back to the family history…

When we got back home I remembered a web page I discovered randomly through an academic’s tweet: the News Literacy Project site: Eight tips to Google like a pro.  I followed the tips in this and was able to accurately narrow down the search results relating to Experiment.  I already knew that Donald Dewar had not only worked on Experiment Farm but had been a game keeper on the tiny Island Macaskin (Eilean MhicAsgain) in Loch Craignis. The sources turned up in the search results gave further information about the farm, about how lime kilns were found not only in Experiment but had been built on the island, and how Island Macaskin tenants had to ferry lime annually to Malcolm, their local Laird, at Duntrune [2]. Another result gave background info to the construction from c1796 of Experiment following the arrival of James Gow from Perthshire[3].

One aspect of the story of the local area I hadn’t anticipated were search engine results referring to how Neil Malcolm’s estate and works had been funded by plantations in Jamaica[4] I also discovered that an Experiment Farm Cottage exists in NSW, Australia.  It turned out to be unrelated; however a few clicks later I found reference to a Poltalach south-east of Adelaide, South Australia, in the Hundred of Malcolm.

This tied in with a reference I found in a Highland Clearances: The Ballad of Arichonan blog post[5] about clearances by Neil Malcolm 3rd in 1848 in the village of Arichonan (north of Tayvallich, just south of Crinan and Experiment).  This lead to riots, and later to trials at Inverary after months of imprisonment in Inverary Jail.  That blog refers to Malcolm’s offer of deporting people to Australia, which ties in with the South Australia reference above and the ‘Port of Tears’ deportation reference for Ardifuar next to Duntrune.  None of our Dewars of Kilmartin or McCalmans of Tayvallich are listed as being involved but I’m entirely sure that both families would have been following developments avidly.

So Arichonan is now on the list of places to visit next time we’re in Argyll.

Maybe I’m a bit creaky with my internet searching techniques, but perhaps I’m not the only one.  So I hope that the suggestions on the News Literacy Project site: Eight tips to Google like a pro leads to as many discoveries of ancestors’ context and stories for you as it has for me.

© Text and photos copyright Lynne Black 6 August 2021
First published: https://starryblackness.wordpress.com/2021/08/06/searching-tricks-and-hidden-histories/


[1] Allan Begg’s Deserted Settlements of Kilmartin Parish

[2] Prehistoric Monumentality in the Kilmartin Glen, Mid Argyll by Duncan Houston Abernethy.  University of Glasgow Masters thesis.  September 2000, pp17-21

[3] Kilmartin Graveyard Dalriada Project, Desk Based Assessment, May 2009

[4] Country houses and the British Empire, 1700–1930. Stephanie Barczewski. Manchester University Press, 1 Feb 2017. P78.

[5] Highland Clearances: The Ballad of Arichonan.  ImagineAlba website, accessed 3 August 2021 https://www.imaginealba.com/single-post/the-anatomy-of-a-highland-clearance-the-ballad-of-arichonan

#52Ancestors #32 Sandy McVicar, fishing off the shores of Loch Fyne

Report of the 'Late Hurricane in the Glasgow Herald on 13 March 1846 British Newspaper Archive

Report of ‘The Late Hurricane’ in the Glasgow Herald on 13 March 1846 © British Newspaper Archive

Niven ‘Sandy’ McVicar, my husband’s great-great-grandfather , was born in Kames, Lochgair, to Archibald McVicar and Margaret Muir on 23 March 1838.

I found this report of a hurricane in the British Newspaper Archive.  When he was just 8 years old, a terrible storm hit the west of Scotland, uprooting trees and damaging buildings, including part of the spire of St Andrews Church in Glasgow.  In just-round-the-headland Ardrishaig it was particularly severe, with one poor boy having to be treated by leeches to help him recover from a head wound(!) so it must have been terrifying for the McVicar family, right on the shore. [I believe the Kames Bay the story refers to is a different one, on Bute.]

His future wife Jane was born on 11 December 1841 and christened on 19 January 1842.  She was born in Taysiloan, North Knapdale and her parents were Donald Dewar and Janet MacCallum.

Kames Bay, Argyll

Kames Bay, North Knapdale, Argyll

Sandy and Jane married at Bridgend, Glassery, on 18 January 1870 when he was a 30-year-old fisherman.   She was working as a domestic maid, and was living in Dunamuck.

Like his father Sandy worked as a fisherman in the tiny fishing community of West Kames.  They had a private house with one room with a window.  His father was nearby at the castle at the Point of Lochgair, and there were many other McVicar families in East, and West Kames.

'The Castle' - Point House, Kames, Lochgair

‘The Castle’ – Point House, Kames, Lochgair

They had nine children:  Janet, Margaret, Jane, Sarah, Archibald, Christina, Mary, John and Peter. By 1881 they had five schoolchildren at home.

In 1891 their second daughter Margaret and her baby daughter Elizabeth were living with them; Margaret was working as a general domestic servant.

In 1902 Sandy was still fishing, but very soon after that life as a fisherman must finally have proved too hard or unpredictable, for he started working as a road surfaceman, possibly for the Council.

52ancestorsSandy died on 13 December 1905 from a bowel problem at home at East Kames.  After Sandy died, Jane moved through to Greenock, possibly to be near their daughter Christina, and lived at 12 Chalmers Street, where she died of old age on 6 January 1926. I’m going to have to wait 7 years to find out where she was in 1921.  In the 1911 census I have an entry for a Janet McVicar of the correct age in an asylum in Lochgilphead, but there are discrepancies in her name and the maiden surname provided so I suspect it may not be Janet. Something still to track down.

© Text and photos copyright Lynne Black 11 August 2014
First published: https://starryblackness.wordpress.com/2014/08/11/sandy-mcvicar/