23 November 2008

Auchenblain, and the family legend

Robert Hughes posts on his family history:

My great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Robert Nimmo the Younger of Auchenblain had at least nine children, of whom perhaps the first was Thomas, born 21 February 1758, who later became an apothecary in Greenock.

Thomas was the father of at least eight children himself, the youngest daughter being Elizabeth Nimmo, my great-great-great-grandmother, and the great-grandmother of Lionel Britton, the ‘lost genius of the nineteen-thirties’, who is now receiving renewed attention.

Auchenblane, (which seems to be the preferred modern spelling, another alternative used in the past being Auchinblain), is a property at GB Grid ref. NS 261 079, a mile or so east of Kirkoswald, Ayrshire, in the direction of Maybole.

A Google Earth image shows the property today unchanged from its appearance on a map of 1859, so some things have endured in 150 years of turbulence!

Thomas Nimmo died at Greenock on 3 August 1834, according to the Greenock Advertiser of 7 August 1834, by courtesy of the Watt Museum, Greenock.

Fowler’s Commercial Directory of 1831–32 mentions him as a ‘druggist’ at 63 Dalrymple St, Greenock, with a house in Ann St.

His wife was Elizabeth Harding, although a birth record for one of their children gives her as ‘Hardy’.

Looking at the site Scotland’s People, it would seem that in the eighteenth century ‘Harding’ was almost invariably rendered as ‘Hardie’ or ‘Hardy’, while later the form ‘Harding’ emerges more commonly; or Scotland was invaded by Hardings around the turn of the century, and someone needs to show evidence of that before I would believe it.

My great-uncle Lionel Erskine Nimmo Britton used to assert that he was a fourth cousin of the Earl of Mar and Kellie, so was he?

His grandmother Catherine Erskine Smith was the daughter of Elizabeth Nimmo, and almost certainly named for Elizabeth’s elder sister Catherine Erskine Nimmo.

The Erskines are the family of the Earls of Mar and Kellie, but where is the connection?

It does not seem to be on the Nimmo of Auchenblain line, as none of the likely parents of Thomas Nimmo seem to trace back to the Erskines, but these Ayrshire burial records from Kirkoswald are interesting:

'Robert Nimmo, formerly residing in Auchenblain, died 11th May 1786, Junior/Younger.'

'Robert Nimmo, formerly residing in Auchenblain, died 3rd April 1806, Old/Elderly man'.

Did Robert Nimmo the Elder outlive Robert the Younger by twenty years?

Where then is the elusive Erskine connection?

Elizabeth Harding herself is a complete mystery, as there appear to be no records of her marriage to Thomas Nimmo, or of her birth. She died in Greenock on 19 July 1841, but the 1841 census was taken a few weeks earlier, and there is no trace of her. Furthermore, her daughter Catherine Erskine Nimmo died apparently unmarried on 28 July 1848 at 19 Brougham St, Greenock, but there is no trace of her either. There are some known issues with the 1841 census, but they do not affect this area at all. What does happen very frequently with the census and indeed other records, is that there is a mistranscription; or alternatively people are just not called what we expect, e.g. Thomas Nimmo’s eldest daughter Jean married John Nicholson in 1804, but her marriage record makes her Jane.

(On the other side of my family there is a record of a Jane McCallum, who was my Auntie Jean!).

Could anyone shed light on the mystery of Elizabeth Harding?

There remains the small chance that the link to the Erskines is through Auchenblain, but in any case the story of this property is interesting in itself.

It appears to have once belonged to the Fergussons, but the testament of Thomas Nimmo, recorded on 11 Dec 1834 at Paisley Sheriff Court, suggests that he owned a good part of it at that date.

He leaves, to his son Robert Nimmo, M.D., (who in fact tragically died at Messina, Sicily a mere two years later):

'the forty shilling land of Easter Auchenblain, the ten shilling land of M[---?] and the thirty shilling and fourpenny land of Rottonmiss and Mosside presently possessed by John Nicholson with the Mansionhouse of Auchenblain and h[aile?] houses, luggings, yards, Parks, P[arks?], mosses, muirs, meadows, ...'

He also leaves a hundred pounds a year to his wife Elizabeth Harding, (interesting that she should be named in this fashion: but I have examined the notion that she was in fact married to someone else, and doubt if there’s anything in that), stipulating also that out of the estate his daughters should each be paid a thousand pounds, (and there are four named), apart from the eldest, Jean, who is separately provided for as she is married to John Nicholson, who ‘possesses’ part of Auchenblain.

Without hearing from a Scottish property lawyer who wishes to wade through the eleven pages of the will itself, I surmise that Thomas conceived himself to be a man of substance, even if he wasn’t.

This account of the parish of Kirkoswald from 1837 is interesting.

Note that ‘Dr Nimmo’s heirs’ have property worth about 80 pounds a year, which doesn’t seem much in relation to the disbursements required by Thomas’s will; but perhaps those very provisions depleted the resources of the estate?

I would love to hear from the present owners of Auchenblane, (are you relatives?), and from anyone who can shed light on the issues raised here.

Are there any Erskine anoraks who can tell us how Elizabeth Nimmo was descended from that family?

Other families associated with Auchenblain besides Fergusson (William Fergusson is said to have inherited the property by marriage to the daughter of a John Kennedy), are Leggat or Legat, Hendry, and of course Nicholson.

Note also the Burns connection in the Kirkoswald link. The old Scottish Bard was at school in Kirkoswald in 1786, and knew a Miss Erskine Nimmo in Edinburgh. We suspect Robbie Burns knew the Nimmo family; can anyone corroborate this?

1 comment:

Dr Tony Shaw said...

Robert Hughes tried to make a comment, but for some reason couldn't make it, so here it is:

'When Robert Nimmo, the son of Thomas Nimmo of Auchenblain, died in Messina, Sicily in 1836 just a couple of years after his father, it seemed reasonable to suppose that he had never had the time to produce a family of his own.

It now emerges that this was an unwarranted assumption! There is a record in the IGI, kindly pointed out to me by my distant cousin Sheena, of a marriage between Robert Nimmo, born at Auchenblain, Ayrshire, and Isabella Rose. They married in Naples, and there is nothing apparently in the IGI about children.

However, on the 1881 UK census there is a record of a Thomas Robert Nimmo, born in Messina, Sicily in about 1831. Thomas' two children at that time were Henry Robert Arthur Nimmo and Isabelle Rose Nimmo.

He was married to Roseann Jane, from Plymouth. She seems to have died in Kensington, London, in 1932, and her daughter Isabelle (or Isobel) unmarried in the same district in 1958.

Thomas Robert himself was a Colonel in the Bombay staff corps, and although he was resident in Bath and one child had been born there, they all disappeared again from the census record, and probably went back to India or somewhere of the sort.

Any information about any of these people will be gratefully received!'