Monday, 8 July 2013

John Buchannan and the Isle of Skye

In 1840 John Buchannan was thirty years old, a widower with a little girl aged three.  His parents and his sister had died more than twenty years earlier.

In that year, he applied to the Court of the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh for a Grant of Arms.

Was he looking for a more secure social status?  Did his immediate family seem a little too ordinary for a young man who was rubbing shoulders with people from more privileged backgrounds?  His mother’s sister Jane Ayre (Arr/Aar) was married to the sailor James Pyman; they lived with John’s much younger cousins in the industrial hamlet of Sandsend.  His father’s sister Esther Buchannan had married master mariner William Hawksfield and had a large family; they lived in Church Street, Whitby.

Perhaps his imagination had been caught by the romance of his grandfather’s Scottish origins.  John was a man of a romantic turn of mind, a poet since his teens.  A connection with the world of Sir Walter Scott may have been irresistible.

Or possibly he was spurred to make contact with his father’s family because of the rumours of illegitimacy that seem to have dogged his life, fuelled by his physical resemblance to the family of the Earl of Mulgrave.  His mother’s fidelity to her marriage vows is guaranteed by her membership of the Silver Street chapel, which dismissed the banker John Holt jnr “for bad conduct,”  but gossip persisted; it seems very likely that rumours derive from her own birth.

John’s search for his Buchanan roots produced details of Buchanans living on the Isle of Skye in the 18th and 19th centuries, which may be of interest …

In John’s application for a Grant of Arms in 1840, he described himself as the only son of John Buchannan "who left England and died abroad" by his wife Sarah Ayre, daughter of Alexander Ayre sometime of Renfrew.  He explained that as his father and mother died during his infancy he had not been able to trace his father's family to a more remote degree, but it was understood that his grandfather left the Highlands of Scotland in early life and settled in England.

John’s interest in his Scottish origins was later shared by his eldest son George.  The later 19th century was a time when Cleveland ironmasters and businessmen sought status as gentlemen, looked for connections with landed families and applied for coats for arms.  Proclaiming one’s origins in the Highlands was an attractive option, especially given the Queen’s own love of Scotland and the continuing romance of the novels of Sir Walter.

John and George were able to make contact with relatives in Scotland who provided them with information about their family.  They both joined the Buchanan Society, made contact with other members of the clan and established their coat of arms.

George subsequently went to some pains to follow the family tree, carry out more research and keep in touch with the researches of others.  He was in correspondence with Martin McPherson of Tarbert, North Morar, Arisaig, Fortwilliam, and with A W P Buchanan of Montreal, who in 1910 was engaged in writing The Buchanan Book: the Life of Alexander Buchanan, QC, of Montreal, followed by an Account of the Family of Buchanan (pub 1911). The result of their contact can be seen in the chapter,  The Buchanans late of Miltoun.

In 1872 John made a second recording of Arms, supplying further details.

As I understand it, the Lyon Court accepted his descent from the family of Buchanan of Miltoun; the Arms of Patrick Buchanan, son of Duncan Buchanan of Miltoun, had been recorded in the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland in 1672.

John stated that his grandfather Peter Buchannan was born in the Highlands of Scotland and settled at Whitby, and that Peter was the fourth son of Archibald Buchannan who left Miltoun in Inverness-shire and settled in the area of Dunscaith on the Isle of Skye
as shown by letters from relatives and other persons in Skye … which are corroborated by a statement in the Essay upon the family and surname of Buchanan by William Buchanan of Auchmar published in the year 1723.  
Buchanan of Auchmar had stated [p266]:
As for the family of Miltoun neither I, nor any other of the name of Buchanan I had ever Occasion of conversing with had the least knowledge of, or correspondence with any such family …
and [p 267]

    The Buchanans of the isle of Sky seem to be descended of Miltoun.

There are more details of the family on Skye in papers left by John and George Buchannan:  two sketchy family trees drawn up from the “letters from relatives and other persons in Skye” and projecting the family history back using the information in the book by Buchanan of Auchmar.

Unfortunately, they differ slightly one from the other; their main interest must lie in the fact that they were compiled in the mid 19th century.

According to one family tree, Buchannan of Miltoun had two sons:
  • Colin? and
  • Duncan Buchannan (of Miltoun).  He had a son:
    • Patrick Buchannan (of Miltoun).  (Arms matriculated at the Lyon office in 1672).  Patrick is described in the Lyon Register as son of Duncan (of Miltoun).  He had a son:
      • Norman Buchannan (of Miltoun?).  He had a son:
        • Archibald Buchannan.  Married Katharine daughter of Ranald McDonald of Scalpa.  Left Miltoun and settled at Dunscaith in Skye.  See Buchannan of Auchmar and family letters.  Their children:
          • Norman (“called Tormad mac Gillespie  vick Tormaid”)
          • Malcolm
          • Duncan
          • Peter married Miss Richardson.  Left Skye and settled near Whitby Co: York.  Had children Esther and John
          • a daughter
The second begins the family tree with Archibald Buchanan, who is described as "a farmer near Dunscaith Castle" and notes that he was descended from Buchanan of Miltoun.

Archibald Buchannan and Katharine McDonald are described as having three sons, not four:
  • Peter, who went to Whitby
  • Norman "commonly called Norman Roy Buchanan.  Buried at Kilmore in Skye".  Norman had a son:
    • John, who had a son:
      • Duncan "commonly called Duncan Bane Buchannan".
  • Malcolm "buried in Kilmore in Skye".  He had a son:
    • Norman "commonly called Tormad Aumock ie. 'coming in the twilight'.  Norman’s son was:
      • Duncan.
According to notes by George Buchannan, Peter Buchannan was born in 1740 and died in 1803, and was buried at Lythe.  A letter from George to his son Archibald states that Peter quarrelled with his father Archibald and left home on that account:

He found his way to this out-of-the-way neighbourhood, probably because there was a trade between Whitby and the Western isles, from which kelp was brought for use in the manufacture of alum, an important industry now extinct here.

Unfortunately, no dates are given on either family tree, but a rough idea of the dates can be gathered from the generations, which are as follows:
  • Peter Buchannan later of Whitby (1740-1803) was the brother of Norman Roy Buchanan and Malcolm Buchanan (and possibly Duncan) of Skye
    • John, son of Norman Roy Buchanan, and Norman (Tormad Aumock), son of Malcolm Buchanan of Skye – were first cousins to John Buchannan and his sister Esther Hawksfield (born 1784) of Lythe
      • Duncan Bane Buchanan, son of John, and Duncan Buchanan, son of Norman (Tormad Aumock) of Skye – were second cousins to John Buchannan (1810-91) of Whitby 
As George pointed out, there was a trading route between western Scotland and the Yorkshire coast and there was a thriving industry here in which to find employment.  Many Scottish names can be found in the parish registers here – including Buchanans from the early decades of the 18th century.  It must be remembered that until the railways came, the sea was the most important means of travel and communication.

Alum was produced in Cleveland from about 1600 until the mid 19th century.  There were alum works along the coast from Lingberry (Loftus) to Ravenscar, and as far inland as Carlton Bank.  Some of these works lasted only a short time, because this was an industry extremely vulnerable to fluctuations in price.

This was not a mining operation – it was Cleveland’s first chemical industry.  It was more of an art than a science, and for more than half the life of the industry, the nature of the chemical produced and the processes used to create it were not understood.

Alum was an extremely valuable commodity.  From classical times its main use was as a 'mordant' or fixative for dyes, but it was also useful in making leather more supple and in improving the quality of parchment.

Governments since the time of Henry VIII had tried to establish a home-grown alum industry.  It was not just a question of finding the right geology, but also of employing the experienced workmen who knew the secret of the creation of alum.  George Young in his History of Cleveland  describes how Sir Thomas Chaloner, after a visit to the Papal alum works in Italy, took a short cut to success and smuggled some of the Pope’s workmen on board his ship and away to Yorkshire.  He established the first works in Cleveland near Guisborough in about 1600.  In return, it is said that the Pope called down on him a most tremendous and terrifying curse – Young, however, could find no evidence for this enjoyable local legend.

For a full (and technical) description of the processes, see here but I will set out below a brief account – and as you read, imagine how destructive, disruptive and downright smelly this industry actually was.

First, vast quantities of alum shale had to be dug up.  They would start work at the top of a cliff or bank, so that the surface layers could roll down to the beach below.  100 tons of alum shale would yield about 3 tons of alum.

The shale was then burnt in large pits for many months.

Then it was washed several times, at first using the most concentrated liquor from the last operation, and finally in fresh water.

It was then taken to the "Boyling House", where it was boiled in lead pans over coal fires.  When the liquid was ready, lees of kelp were put in, and the liquor transferred to a settler.

From the settler it was taken to the cooler, into which was put 20 gallons or more of urine.  The alum taken from the sides and bottom of the cooler was washed and roached and then put into a great cask, where it stood for ten days until they could drain off the liquor and pack the alum crystals for market.

The greatest art lay in judging the state of the alum liquor before beginning the boiling.  The workers needed to know its specific gravity – one (now well-known) secret of the craft was the discovery (when? how?) that hot alum liquor was at exactly the right specific gravity when a hen’s egg could float in it.

The alum industry brought prosperity to Whitby and was enormously important to the Cleveland area.  It left its mark across our landscape – the Cleveland Way passes 10 different alum works, as the Cleveland Way Alum Sites Guide explains.

For the remains of buildings, visit the old Peak Alum Works at Ravenscar – there are photographs and an account of the works here.

One of the most successful coastal alum mines was that owned by the Earl of Mulgrave family at Sandsend.

In 1735 a statement on assets at Sandsend stated,
The hands employed in this work are: 100 to 150 labourers, some by the Great (piece work) and some at 8d a day.  30 to 50 labourers at different wages from 16d to 8d per day, besides coopers, carpenters, smiths etc constantly employed.
In control of this army of skilled and unskilled men was a manager, assisted by clerks.  He needed a London agent and a fleet of alum ships to bring in the coal, urine and kelp, the lead, iron and timber, and to export the final product.

There was therefore plenty of work for Peter Buchannan, newly arrived from the Isle of Skye.

Peter married firstly Sarah Fletcher, on 9 Feb 1768 at Lythe.  They had a daughter
  • Sarah, baptised at Lythe on 15 December 1768. 
Peter Buchannan remarried on 19 Jan 1774 at Lythe, his second wife being Alice Richardson.  They had two children:
  • John Buchannan, master mariner, who married Sarah Ayre (Arr/Aar).  Their children were:
    • John Buchannan (1810-91) 
    • Jane Elizabeth Buchannan, born 1812 died in infancy
  • Esther Buchannan (1784-1844), who married William Hawksfield.  Their children were:
    • Alice Hawksfield, born 1806
    • William Hawksfield, born 1808
    • John Hawksfield, born 1811
    • Peter Hawksfield, born 1812
    • Matthew Hawksfield, born 1815
    • Mary Hawksfield, born 1818
    • Thomas Hawksfield, born 1821
    • Margaret Hawksfield, born 1826
John Buchannan had five children. 
He and his first wife Sarah Margaret Holt (1810-37) had one daughter:
  • Sarah Margaret (1837-1925).  Sarah went to boarding school in Chipping Wycombe with three other Whitby girls (see note below).   She lived in Whitby with her father, and later her brother Charles.  She did not marry.
John and his second wife, Anne Langborne (1817-49) had four sons, three of whom survived to adulthood – all three became solicitors.  Miss Jane Weatherill, a relation of the artist George Weatherill, was the boys’ governess – they called her "Ebbie". 
  • George Buchannan (1843-1920), solicitor, Baxtergate, Whitby. He married Marianne Croft (d1906) in Richmond, Yorkshire.  John lived with George and his family in Union Place towards the end of his life.  George and Marianne had three children, none of whom married: 
    • Lilias Mary Buchannan (1869-1947)
    • Archibald John Buchannan (1872-1938), solicitor, Whitby
    • Margaret Hilda Buchannan (1874-1940)
  • Charles Buchannan (1844-1919), worked on a sheep run in New Zealand, was disabled by an accident while in the Colonial Forces during a war with the Maori, became a solicitor, in Middlesbrough, Guisborough and then in Whitby.  He married the artist Sarah Ellen Weatherill.  They had three sons:
    • Alexander Buchannan (1878-1917), solicitor, Thirsk.  He married Mary Wynyard Haynes, daughter of Lt Col Jonathan W Haynes of Sowerby.  They lived 144 Front Street, Sowerby.  He died in Flanders in 1917, with the 6th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment.  His name is on the Sowerby War Memorial 
    • Malcolm Buchannan (1880-1954), clergyman (see this post) 
    • Charles Buchannan (1881-1955), bank manager.  He was commissioned in the West Yorkshire Regiment and was severely wounded in WWI.  He married Florence Barugh at Driffield in July 1918.  Bank manager in Scarborough, then Helmsley.  He died at Gristhorpe near Filey.
  • Hugh Cholmley Buchannan (1846-57).  Buried at Lythe.
  • Arthur Buchannan (1848-95), solicitor, Guisborough.  With his first wife, Katharine Elizabeth Weatherill, he had three children:
    • Averil Mary Buchannan (1874-1954), married William Richardson
    • Margaret Isobel Buchannan (1876-1958), married Thomas Duncan Henlock Stubbs
    • George Herbert Buchannan (1878-1947) married Lilian Walker
Arthur Buchannan married his wife Kate on 22 April 1874.  The house they built in Albion Terrace, Guisborough was named 'Miltoun House' in honour of Arthur's family origins.  This mock-Tudor house was evidently the product of a great deal of loving attention.  Considerable care and expense went on the design and decoration of such features as the ceilings, the tiling of the chimney breasts and the design of the staircase.  The furniture complemented the internal decoration, so that even their portraits were in frames that echoed the woodwork.  Their years together in the house were few, as Kate died ten years after their marriage.  Their daughter Averil and her husband lived in the house until the 1920s; it is now a care home.

John Buchannan converted to Roman Catholicism on his deathbed.  It is possible that his son George married into Catholicism; he was certainly an ardent convert.  An article in the local press in 1909 on the Silver Jubilee of the Whitby convent ends,
Mr G Buchannan thanked Father McCabe on the part of the Rev Mother, and referred to the good work done by the Sisters during the past twenty-five years.  He was present when the sisters first came to Whitby, and he had watched with pleasure the success of their grand and noble work.  They had reason to be proud of St Hilda's Convent – (hear, hear) – and he hoped that when the next jubilee took place the dear old town of Whitby would be Catholic once more as it was in the time of St Hilda.  (Hear, hear.)
Buchannan family memorial at Lythe


Sarah Buchannan at boarding school:
1851 Census: at The Priory, Church Lane, Chipping Wycombe (boarding school run by Miss Maria Stevenson).  Sarah Buchannan aged 14 is one of four Whitby girls (the total number of boarders was 19) at the school.  The other girls were Eleanor Stewart, 16, Mary Taylor, 16, and Elizabeth Frankland, 13.

For more on alum in Cleveland, see

Alan Morrison’s book Alum: North East Yorkshire’s Fascinating Story of the First Chemical Industry (now only available secondhand)

and Roger Osborne's The Floating Egg: Episodes in the Making of Geology

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