Testimony of Margaret Jane Carswell

courtesy of J. K. Lochridge


My name is Margaret Jane Carswell, I was born on 15 January 1826, at Loanfoot, Neilston, Renfrewshire. I had four older brothers and two older sisters. Before long I had two younger brothers and a wee sister too. I don’t have many recollections of living at Loanfoot. It wasn’t a big farmhouse, and with a big family to look after my father took over the tenancy of another farm, Thorterburn. It was still in Neilston, but it was nestled way up in the Fereneze Braes. We moved there about 1829. My wee sister, Janet was born there on 21 February of that year, then my brother Thomas was born in 1831 and in July of 1833 my youngest brother, Alexander, or Sandy as we called him, was born. At the very end of December in that year, when I was only seven years old my father died, how awful that was. It was just as well my mother was from farming stock, and could take over the running of the farm, otherwise I don’t know what would have happened to us. And we were lucky that my oldest brother, Allan was nearly twenty and could share the burden of running the farm with my mother. In fact, all my older brothers and sisters did their share at that time.

Tragedy struck again on 7 February 1836 when wee Janet died, just before her seventh birthday. In many ways we were fortunate that the rest of us enjoyed good health. I don’t really remember the funeral, but I am sure it would have been in the parish church, and all my aunts and uncles would have been there. There’s a family lair there, and a headstone with my Granny and Grandfather Carswell’s name on it. I see it every time I go to the church. They died when I was just an infant, and I don’t remember my Granny or Grandfather Stevenson either. They had lived out at Caldwell in a farm called Auldbarn. My Uncle Allan Stevenson farmed there when I was growing up. Exactly a month after Janet’s death, my Uncle James died. He was a Spirit Dealer in Neilston, but he died out at my Uncle Robert’s farm at Craighall. Some of my cousins were left without mother or father when he died. He had a second wife, but she couldn’t look after all the family. I remember some of them went up to the Craig to live with the uncles. That was where my father had been born, and the family had been there for a long time. It was a fine farm, situated just at the foot of the Neilston Pad. I always liked going there to visit. When I climbed to the top of the Pad I thought I could see the whole world. I had a lot of aunts and uncles, and quite a few cousins too. My uncle Alexander went away to Australia, and we never heard from him again. My aunt Agnes moved away to a farm in Ayrshire, but the rest were around Neilston when I was young. In fact my Aunt Margaret had married Hugh Stevenson, who was my Mother’s brother, so the families were always very close.

A few years passed and the first wedding in the family took place. In 1838 Jean, my oldest sister married Tomas Craig. He was a farmer at West Arthurlie. I liked that farm, it sat right on the main road. The road we called the Low Road to Neilston. The next year, Allan married Jean Gemmell, a farmer’s daughter from Commore, up by the dam on the road to Dunlop. I was getting big and strong by then.. None of us had much schooling, but we could all read and write and worked hard. When Allan married he took over the tenancy of Thorterburn, and we moved to Woodneuk. Now that was a nice place. Nearer Barrhead, you went up Gateside Road, on up Hillside Road and the farm sat right on the Braes. For a while my brother William stayed on to work with Allan at Thorterburn, and my cousin Janet, Uncle James’s daughter worked there too. When I was fifteen Jean had her first baby, a boy called Thomas. I went to help out at West Arthurlie. I did a lot of outside work on the farm, but helped with the baby as well. My wee cousin Janet Stevenson, came to work there too. She was one of Uncle Hugh and Aunt Margaret’s daughters. She was only nine then, so mainly did the housework. My mother got on fine at Woodneuk She had Agnes, or Nannie, as we called my other sister, John, Robert, and even Thomas and Sandy to help out. Things were alright for us, there was never much money, but we were a lot better off than many others at that time. But Allan saw an opportunity to better himself. He was offered a position away down in Cheshire, in England. It was on a big estate south of Manchester. It was called Lyme Park and was owned by a family who went by the name of Leigh. He gave up the tenancy at Thorterburn and off he went with his young family. I missed him and so did our mother, but that was only the start. He got on well there, and could see how you could prosper in farming there. It wasn’t long before he had my next oldest brother, John inspired to follow him south. John was married to another Stevenson girl, Margaret, and they went south to Cannock in Staffordshire where they farmed for many years. And it wasn’t long before Margaret’s father, mother and family followed.

The next big event was when Nannie married. She was twenty eight when she married John Young. He was a young widower with children, but frankly I was beginning to wonder if Nannie would ever marry. She moved in to his farm at Parkhouse. It is on the outskirts of Barrhead, towards Househillwood. They had a big family, nine boys and a girl, not counting the children from James’s first marriage. Their first born were twins. I hadn’t known of any other twins in the family, and I was tickled with my two baby nephews. As my brothers got older, William went into the business as a butcher/ flesher along with young Sandy. Robert was a grocer, and sadly Thomas died before his twentieth birthday. My mother and I stayed on at Woodneuk, but had to employ a couple of farm hands, to do the heaviest of the work. I had my twenty first birthday there, my mother gave me a set of silver spoons, engraved with my initials. They have become very precious to me. If you always keep a little piece of silver, you will never want.

By 1851 I had met a young man, not a local, but he was doing well for himself, and seemed hard working. His name was John McKay, he was born in Ayrshire, but his father was a Highlander, his mother was from Ayrshire but they had settled eventually in Barrhead when John was quite young.

On 15th March of that year there was a terrible disaster in the area. There was a massive explosion deep within the workings of the Victoria Pit. I was so worried when I heard the news. John had a coal carting business at Tower Raiss, and they were back and forth to the pit carrying coal. He had a good business, employing 14 men, and luckily none of them were involved in the accident. But a lot of men lost their lives.

I don’t know if it was the thought of what might have been, or that he was now over thirty years old, and time he had a wife. You never could tell with him, he had a lot of the dour highlander in him. Whatever, we were married in December 1852. He had taken tenancy of the farm at Cross Arthurlie, it wasn’t much, only 18 acres, not a great deal of land, but it was a start for him. We had seven children, at fairly regular intervals, I have to say. My own mother moved out of Woodneuk and went to live with Robert, who wasn’t yet married then

My mother had a lot to contend with, One night in June of 1853 my youngest brother got himself into terrible bother. He was living in Main Street at the butchers shop with William. He was only nineteen years old. It was a Monday night, he had been up at Broom, at the Mearns and returned to Barrhead about eleven at night. He said that he was trotting along the street, when Andrew Easdon, whom he knew by sight came out of Wilson's public house, and struck his horse on the face with his bonnet. The horse was a young animal and started back. He ran at the horse again and tried to get my brother off and fight with him. My brother got past him at last and rode home. He put the horse into the stable and went into the house. He was going to bed when he heard a noise in the street. He opened the door to see what it was. He saw Easdon and another man rolling about on the road as if they were drunk. A man who was passing lifted up Easdon twice, but he fell down again each time, as if unable to stand. He said he was just looking at them and was joined by William Garroway, the baker from next door, and my other brother, William. The two men rolled to about the middle of the street. Garroway said to them that the best way to send them home would be to give them a good beating. Easdon looked up and asked if he thought he could do it. Garroway said he thought he could, upon which Easdon jumped up and rushed at him. Garroway stepped back and Easdon ran at Sandy, and struck him with his fist on the side of the head. He, of course, retaliated and struck him about the face. He came against Sandy again, this time with his head and tried to throw him over his head. Sandy gave him another blow which knocked him down, and he went into the house leaving him there. That was his story, and he assured everyone that he did not kick Easdon. That was bad enough to upset our mother, but the next day, tragically Easdon died. My brother was initially accused of murder. How awful it would have been if he had been found guilty. I am sure he would have been hanged. None of us would ever have gotten over it. He was the youngest of the family. Our father had died when he was only a few months old, so he never had a father’s discipline, but he would never have killed anyone. I was pregnant with Jane at the time, it was such a worry, it’s no wonder she wasn’t strong. Anyway, when the case went to court, the judge cleared Sandy of the charge, he was a very lucky boy indeed.

William got married to Margaret Mitchell in 1853, and for a while things went quite smoothly. One of John’s brothers, Alexander married and emigrated to America with his wife. John’s older brother, Gabriel, had been a soldier. He married a Catherine McFarlane from Stirlingshire when he was quite young. They have travelled about quite a lot. He worked in the Railway for a while, and then before he died suddenly in 1859, he ran his own carting business in Glasgow. He did a lot of work in connection with the canal that was being built in Glasgow at that time. He died in November, just months after his younger son, Gabriel, was born. I felt so sorry for my sister in law – lost her husband, new baby to look after, and her oldest daughter had just emigrated to the other side of the world the year previous. Agnes was just eighteen year old when she left this country, never to return. I remember at the time, it was Janet, the oldest daughter left at home, who took on the burdens of the family for a while. Janet married a freen’ of ours, Robert Carswell, he was another Carswell from Neilston. They settled in Barrhead, eventually. She died and Robert married again. They are a nice family, and are living in one of our houses in Carlibar Road now.

My brother Sandy had settled down a bit after his ordeal. He married Elizabeth Purdon in 1859. They had a big family, growing up with our children and William’s children. The cousins were all quite close, and we always kept in touch with the family in England. As their children got older, they were often sent up to see their Granny in Barrhead.

My sister Jean took ill and died in 1861, her youngest was only 4 years old. The boys all went into the drapery business, and ended up south of the border. The girls all stayed at home and were a great comfort to their father in his old age. They had spent most of their married life in Beith, but latterly before he died, Thomas was Baron Officer for Mure of Caldwell. Janet his daughter was a teacher at the Madras School in Neilston, she was a bright girl, and had received good schooling herself.

I could never understand the desire people had to travel. My cousin William Stevenson, Aunt Margaret Carswell’s young son left Scotland, bound for New Zealand, on the Sir William Eyre in 1862. How I prayed my family would stay close to home, but it just did not turn out the way I hoped. William did very well in New Zealand. He eventually bought his own farm and called it Carswell. Some of his brothers had followed the clan to Cheshire and farmed there. Even Isabella, the youngest of the family settled south of the border and married John McQuie. He was a land steward in one of the big estates down in Cheshire, but also a Scot.

I was glad John was doing well in Barrhead, he was still farming, and running his contractor’s business, and had bought some land for property development. There was such a need for decent houses for all the families who were coming from all over to work in the mills. Some also came to work on the farms. It was a better life on the farms here than in the crofts in the highlands and islands. John built the property at 130 Cross Arthurlie Street, and another at 101 Carlibar Road. They were good houses and as it turned out provided me with a good income from the rents. As my boys got older, only Robert and Allan showed an interest in farming, the other loved animals, horses in particular, but also had their sights set on other occupations. John wanted to teacher and Alexander became a civil engineer. Jessie always helped in the house, she was a gentle girl, and did her share by collecting the rents for me. She loved clothes and the fashion of the time, and always took care of her appearance. I think we allowed her the life of a lady, she wasn’t cut out for hard work. I was very lucky that John had a good business head on him. Nannie wasn’t so fortunate. James Young was doing well in the dairy business at Parkhouse, and when one of his brother’s asked him to back him in business, he agreed. It wasn’t a good propsition. The business failed and James was left with the debt. He had to sell up, and there was nothing to start them off again here. With very good fortune, my cousin George who was called after a good friend of James’s had been left a few pounds by his namesake. The family used that money to take them to Canada for a fresh start. In the end they prospered and as far as I know the money was repaid to George. But Nannie was never back in Scotland. I had lost all my sisters.

In the early seventies our young Jane died. She was never strong, and passed away in March of ’71, when she was only seventeen years old. She had had bronchitis for about 3 months. Then she took a nose bleed, nothing would stop it. It bled and bled for days. We had the surgeon, Mr Mackinlay look at her, but there was nothing anyone could do. John’s health began to cause me some concern. Like all the rest of them, he liked the whisky a bit too much. He died in on 27 January 1876, he was only 55 years old, but had outlived Gabriel, by a good fifteen years, and his mother and father had also died before old age. There was maybe a weakness in the family. He must have known for a while that he was dying, as he had made his will and set his affairs in order. He left us in a good financial position. His estate being worth nearly two thousand pounds. My mother had been living with us since Robert got married. He was a strange one. Nearly fifty when he and our cousin Agnes Stevenson from Cannock in Staffordshire decided to get married. She was quite a bit younger than him, but being about forty, a bit old to start bearing his children. They didn’t get married in the parish church either. Went through to Renfrew and married in the United Presbyterian Church at Kirland Neuk. Maybe he already had the brain disease that killed him two years later.

As my mother got older she became more frail, but when she died in 1877 she was 88 years old. The family, that could, travelled home for the funeral. It was good to see everyone together, even although it was in sad circumstances. My mother was a Stevenson you know. Not that long ago a young writer, who had made a big name for himself came to Neilston to seek out his ancestors. He went by the name of Robert Louis Stevenson, but that wasn’t the name he was baptised you know. Apparently he was Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson. He had traced his family back to Nether Carswell in the 17the century. My mother may have descended from that same family, as her father farmed at Auld Barn. Land that was owned my Mure of Caldwell, as was Nether Carswell. Young Stevenson was not like us. He was a sickly soul, and travelled the world as a struggling writer. How he afforded his lifestyle, I don’t know, but he had a few books published. I heard about his death a couple of years back. He died in Samoa in the South Pacific. He has become more reknowned since his death. More famous now than he was when he came to Neilston.

My mother’s family was just as extensive as the Carswells. She had nieces and nephews around Beith, Dalry, Lochwinnoch and Paisley. Some I knew, but there were so many that I am sure there were others I never knew. My cousin David, who was married to Grace Winning from Neilston headed for New Zealand around the same time as our cousin William went. They were even more adventurous, there whole family went, and as far as I know, all survived the journey. That cousin David was son of my mother’s brother, Andrew. Another cousin David and his brother, Robert, sons of her brother Allan, have a good bacon curing business up at Burnhouse.

Shortly after my mother died, I had a nice windfall. My Uncle Thomas Carswell from Wraes Mill died. He had married a farm servant, late in life, and left her well provided for. He also left a nice sum of money to me and some of the cousins. After providing for his wife, the remainder of his estate was divided between me, my brothers Allan and John in England, William and Sandy at home. Five Stevenson women, daughters of my late aunt Margaret Carswell, two Kirkwood women, dughters of my late Aunt Agnes, four Carswell girls, and Alexander, family of my late Uncle John. It was strange, some cousins like Hugh Stevenson who farmed in Islay got nothing. I suppose he had his reasons. I think my brother Sandy was lucky to be included, when he had gotten into debt he borrowed money from Uncle Thomas, and hadn’t been able to pay it back. He was in court more than once because of his inability to manage his financial affairs. Uncle Thomas probably always had a soft spot for him, just as he had for our cousin Alexander up at Kirkton.

Before Uncle Thomas’s bequests were finalised another terrible tragedy struck the family. My brother down in Cheshire was involved in a fatal shooting accident and died as a result. It was a November morning, and he had gone out to shoot rabbits in the land next to the house. He had fired some shots, and my nephew, Robert, had gone out to assist. He spoke briefly with his father who was setting off to go into the next field. Robert said that as he was in the stable, he heard a shot and looked out. He saw his father lying by the hedge. When he got to him, he was able to say that the gun had gone off and shot him. There was a hole in his skull about the size of a shilling. He was in and out of consciousness until the Saturday, but could not be saved. He died about eight o’clock on Saturday morning. As soon as word reached us, my brothers William and Sandy set off for Cheshire to attend the funeral. They told me all about it when they came home. Allan was a very well respected member of the community down there. Mr Leigh of Adlington Hall followed the remains in his private carriage, and at his own special request was one of the chief mourners. My brother John was there, and my sister Jean’s boys, John and Allan Craig were also able to attend - they were both drapers in Manchester, and John McQuie, Isabel Stevenson’s husband was there too, as well as Allan’s sons, of course. It was good that the family could be well represented. His remains were interred in the family grave at Prestbury Church.

My boys tried various things, John was a ham curer for a while, William a grain merchant and Robert, an apprentice law clerk, but he never stuck at that. They were all keen on breeding horses. Allan sadly died in 1884. But before he died he had bred a fine Clydesdale mare Nancey, sired by Prince Charlie-Dunmore. After Allan’s death John bred Nancey with his sire, St Lawrance, and he had another fine mare, called Jane Shore. By that time we had moved to Crossmill. It was a grand house, and John took on the running of the farm. Although they were grown men they didn’t act as responsibly as they should. Often they would settle there differences by the fist instead of the word. I was glad Jessie was a quiet girl. I was happy when she met James Sharp. He was from a good family. His father was a manager of the Levern Mill. James was a very fine looking young man, with quite an eye for the girls. I hoped he would settle down when he married Jessie in 1886. They moved into one of the houses at 130 Cross Arthurlie Street, and in July of the following year Jessie had twins. A boy and a girl. The boy was too weak to survive, but my grand daughter, Margaret Jane, after me, was strong. Jessie didn’t cope well with the loss of her first son. I wish she had a sister to give her support. Strong or not, it wasn’t long before I had a grandson, James, and then another, John. I do have another grandson, one we don’t talk about. William had a son by a local girl. He was far too young to get married and I certainly did not want to see him ruin his life. His older brothers agreed that it would be folly to marry. They concocted a plan, William would take one of their stallions to Australia. I didn’t want that, but he was keen for adventure. I was heart broken when he left. He said he would be back, but I just knew, I won’t see him again.

I am feeling very old now. The only brother I have left alive is William. Sandy died in 1892, but not before he had remarried. Give him his due it was a few years after Elizabeth died. He had become the licensee at the Traveller’s Rest, at the top of the Kirkhill Brae in Neilston. He met his new wife, Helen Hutcheson in Glasgow. She was a Spirit Dealer as well, so they had that in common. Although she was forty, and had been married before, they had a son, very soon after they married. He was called James, and he was only six when Alexander died. He had been ill and Helen thought that some good sea air would help him get his strength back. They took a trip to Rothesay in 1891, sadly his condition worsened and he died there. Helen is a capable woman and has taken over as licensee at The Travellers Rest.

Nannie had died in Canada, without ever returning to Scotland.

I can’t do much now, getting awkward on my pins. The grandchildren live here at Crossmill. They are too much for Jessie. The boys, especially Jimmy, enjoy helping their uncles on the farm. John is a bit more like his mother, he is a gentle type. A good artist too. I think he takes that from his father’s side though. Margaret Jane, Maggie we call her is as strong as I was when I was young, but she has a caring nature. They are all getting a good education, I just hope they have good health and prosper.

I am writing now, as I have no energy for hard work. The news has come that Queen Victoria has died. She reigned for sixty four years. I wonder if the Prince of Wales, as king, will be as well regarded as she was. I also worry about my own sons. None of them have married yet, although Robert seems quite keen on one of the maids. She is Marion Crawford. She’s a farmer daughter from Dalry in Ayrshire, and seems a good sensible type of woman. She’s about thirty now so will be looking for a husband. I am sure she will make a good farmer’s wife. Alexander’s health is not great. John is strong but more interested in breeding his dogs and hens. He has some very fine Minorca cockerels. He makes periodic trips to Islay, to buy cattle, but I often wonder if he has a woman there. He is like his father, so I would not think in questioning him. I seldom hear from William in Australia. He did send me a gold pin. He hopes to make his fortune out there, but I know I will not live long enough for that to happen.

Margaret Jane died at Crossmill on 7 September 1902.