The Fergusons of Old Cumnock

by Alan Craig

(I am grateful for additional research into this family by Walter’s descendant James Ferguson of Tasmania, and by Kay McMeekin of the Cumnock Family History Group. James is my wife’s second cousin once removed, and Kay’s husband, David, is related to me via the McKay family.

I have also relied on information from the book: Historical Record of the Seventy-Second Regiment, compiled by Richard Cannon Esq., publ. London 1848 by Parker, Furnivall & Parker.)

Of all the people in our family tree who lived before what we might describe as ‘living memory’, Walter Ferguson, Robyn’s g-g-g-grandfather, stands out as one of the more intriguing. This is not because he was famous or wealthy; he was neither a landowner nor a merchant, and is not written of in the histories. Indeed, he was a simple weaver from Cumnock in Ayrshire whose story becomes alive because he was, for 20 years, a soldier in the 72nd Highland Regiment of Foot — and we have his army service record. Very few of our ancestors have left many clues about their daily lives, but Walter rose to be a sergeant in a noted regiment, and his good conduct during his service was recorded in his discharge papers, which are still available at the British National Archives at Kew, London. Without this document, Walter would have comfortably sat in the family tree as most others do: a name with only birth, death and/or marriage records to give us hints to the lives they led. Although Walter was a weaver by trade, his parents were perhaps a cut above the ordinary. His father, James, was recorded at times as being an “inn-keeper”.

Walter’s grandparents

Our story, however, can actually start with Walter’s grandparents, John Ferguson and Elizabeth Campbell. Scotland’s Presbyterian Kirk minutes make fascinating and mind-boggling reading. The Kirk Sessions in those days acted as semi-judicial courts, keeping a close eye on ‘moral lapses’ within the parishes throughout the country. These ‘Sessions’ adjudicated over things like “being with child in uncleanness“ and “ante-nuptial fornication” — and these charges always led to the sinners being “exhorted to repentance”, and “publicly admonished and rebuked” several times before they could be “absolved of the scandal” and returned to the “privileges of the Church”. Some malfeasants were even ordered to wear sackcloth as they were publicly humiliated! Well, Walter’s parents, grandparents, and four of his children were all, at one time or another, amongst these sinners!

We have far too many individual Session minutes that involve this family to detail them all here, so I’ll offer a summary of the cases instead. Our family’s earliest ‘minute’ was on 9 November 1735,  and involved  John Ferguson, messenger in Cumnock, who was cited by one Janet Caldow as the father of her unborn child. Very sportingly, he “owned the guilt”, and after several appearances at the Session, and “satisfying the Session as to his knowledge, and appearing serious and grieved for his said sin”, was eventually absolved in March 1736. The child of this affair was Jean Ferguson, born around August that year — and, in the years to come, she was to break all records for Session appearances! (More about her later.)

Three years after his ‘first’ affair with Jean Caldow, John Ferguson was again cited — this time as the father of an unborn child to a Jean Fisher. John, unchivalrously on this occasion, denied the accusation, and after a lengthy case with several witnesses being called, the Presbytery, on 30 December 1739, having found “no appearance of presumption against John Fergusson,” ordered him to be “assoilzied” [i.e. acquitted] — but at this very same hearing that declared him innocent of the Jean Fisher affair, the Session was advised that Jean Caldow was once again “… with Child in uncleanness, and gave up John Fergusson in Cumnock as the father of her Child.”  😮  Another lengthy case was tried before the Elders, with at least three witnesses being called at various times. John persisted with a denial of this charge at several hearings, and since none of the witnesses were able to provide definitive evidence of “unlawful conversation” or “any thing indecent”, the Presbytery, in June 1740,  ordered him to be given the Oath of Purgation (i.e. risking ‘eternal damnation’ if he lied) to be absolved — he originally refused to take this oath!

An old illustration of an Ayrshire home in the 1700s.

Next, just three years before Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobite Rebellion, Walter’s grandmother walked into the pages of Kirk history when, on 18 April 1742: Elizabeth Campbell, daughter to James Campbell in Cumnock compeared this day before the Session & confessed she was with child in fornication to John Ferguson, messenger in Cumnock …”. Egads! Did Scotland have its own Lothario?  😳  Well, this time, John honourably “… confessed guilt with Elizabeth Campbell, declared he had married her on the 23rd day of Aprile last, produced a certificate of the same subscribed by one John Smith and two witnesses, and both of them declared they were willing to adhere to their marriage …”.  Yet, still, the Session was unwilling to let him off the hook, declaring, “… he could not be absolved till he satisfied the Presbytery anent [about] the Caldow affair”, and if he did not “free himself of the guilt by oath, an account of the affair is to be read publickly, and he to lye under the scandal …” — so, there; cop that!

Unsurprisingly, then, on 25 November John Fergusson came voluntarily before the Session and owned that he was guilty of fornication with Janet Caldow, which he had before denied, and is ordered to appear next Lord’s day to be rebuked and absolved for his guilt with Janet Caldow and his wife [Elizabeth Campbell] before marriage.” John was finally absolved of his multitude of ‘sins’ on 5 December 1742, and there is no record of Jean Caldow having a second child. Throughout this affair, John had also been a witness for the Session at another case involving paternity, mainly because those events seemed to have taken place in or near his home! However, John and Elizabeth had four children that we know of: James (1742);1Source: 1742 Scotland O.P.R. Births; 610/ 10 81; Old Cumnock, Ayrshire. William (1746);2Source: Fergusson, William; 1746 Scotland O.P.R. Births; 610/ 10 102; Old Cumnock, Ayrshire. Joanna (1754);3Source: Ferguson, Joanna; 1754 Scotland O.P.R. Births; 610/ 10 113; Old Cumnock, Ayrshire. and Grizzal (1758).4Source: Fergusson, Grizzel; 1758 Scotland O.P.R. Births; 610/ 10 162; Old Cumnock, Ayrshire.

1742 SCOTLAND O.P.R. BIRTHS: Parish of Old Cumnock, Ayrshire

James Fergusson son to John
Fergusson & Elizabeth Campbell
in Cumnock was baptised June 24th 1742

Walter’s grandparents are buried together in the old cemetery in Barrhill Road, Cumnock, and their flat gravestone reads:

To the memory of John Ferguson. Messenger. Cumnock.
Who died 23rd [April] 1780 aged 60 years.
Here lyes the body of his wife Elizabeth who died [May] 1780.

This gravestone is well over 240 years old, very weathered and quite difficult to read, so our transcription is not guaranteed; and John’s age would be closer to 68.

Walter’s parents

As it was to turn out, the path to marital bliss for Walter’s parents was only slightly less rocky than that of his grandparents, but it was his mother who first came to the attention of the Kirk. Katharin Goldie’s baptismal record has not been found, but from a well-researched knowledge base of those living in the Old Cumnock Parish at that time (thanks to the tireless work of the Cumnock History Group), we can be fairly sure her parents were John Goldie, miller, and Janet Hemphill. She had at least seven siblings (see the chart below). However, on Hallowe’en 1756, we find this snippet in the Cumnock Kirk minutes: Katherine Goldie daughter to [John] Goldie late in Bridgend, being cited to this Dyet upon a report of her being with child. She compeared & being interrogated acknowledged she was with child and declared that George Murray … in Cumnock, was the father of it. …” Shocking! She would have been about 20.

Katharin (ignore the various spellings) and George missed a couple of appearances (i.e. ‘failed to compear’) before the Session, but on 14 November: “Parties being called compeared when the said George Murray Judicially acknowledged the accusation laid by Katherine Goldie to his Charge  …”. There were a few other procedural appearances (being further “rebuked and exhorted”, etc.) before, on the 20th of March 1757, Kathrine Goldie appeared twice in public & was rebuked & absolved …”  — just in time, because Elizabeth Murray natural daughter of George Murray Junior in Cumnock and Katherine Goldie was Baptized at Cumnock the 31st March 1757.”5Source: Murray, Elizabeth; 1757 Scotland O.P.R. Births; 610/ 145; Old Cumnock, Ayrshire. — George, however, was a soldier with General Holmes’ 31st Regiment of Foot, so wasn’t available to be finally absolved of the scandal until December 1758. Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet, was born less than a month later, and only 23 km (14 miles) to the west in Alloway, Ayrshire..

But scandal for this family was not yet at an end. In January 1765 we see this entry in the Kirk minutes: “Compeared James Ferguson and Katrine Goldie both in Cumnock. She judicially acknowledged that she was with child to James Ferguson in fornication, and that he was the father of it. (signed) James Fergusson. She judicially declared that she could not write.” She was about 28, and her new beau 22.

1765 SCOTLAND O.P.R. MARRIAGES: Parish of Old Cumnock, Ayrshire 6FERGUSSON, James & GOLDIE, Katrine; 1765 Scotland O.P.R. Marriages; 610/ 30 23; Old Cumnock, Ayrshire.

James Fergusson indweller in Cumnock
and Katrine Goldie were allowed the privilege
Febry 2d 1765 married 19th

Having confessed, they were allowed to marry, and their discreditable ‘fornication’ could now be construed as the simple impropriety of ‘ante-nuptial fornication’: “It was represented to them by the Moderator that James Ferguson (who according to minute of 20th January last, judicially acknowledged the sin of fornication with Katrine Goldie) having since that time married the said Katrine Goldie begged to be taken on profession of his repentance for it, as ante nuptial fornication. The Session agreed to his request, and appointed him to be rebuked publicly on Sabbath next 31st instant and absolved.” This matter was finally at an end, and their first-born arrived 38 days later: William, Son Lawfull to James Fergusson, innkeeper in Cumnock, and Katrine Goldie his spouse, was Baptized Aprile 28th 1765.”7Source: Fergusson, William; 1765 Scotland O.P.R. Births; 610/ 10 208; Old Cumnock, Ayrshire.. This couple had had at least three boys and two girls over the next nine years, and our Walter was the last of these:

1774 SCOTLAND O.P.R. BIRTHS: Parish of Old Cumnock, Ayrshire 8FERGUSSON, Walter [1]; 1774 Scotland O.P.R. Births; 610/ 10 278; Old Cumnock, Ayrshire.

Walter lawful Son of Jas. Fergusson
& Kathne Goldie in Cumnock was
born 17th & baptised 24th Aprile 1774

James Ferguson was an innkeeper, and we can imagine his inn might look like this illustration from the period.

It can probably be presumed that Katharin Goldie’s illegitimate daughter, Janet Murray, was brought up in this family. However, James and Katharin only make a few other appearances in the records, and they all involved Jean Ferguson, James’ illegitimate half-sister (daughter of Jean Caldow) we mentioned earlier. It would need a book to detail all her travails in front of the Kirk Session, but to summarise: between 1759 and 1772, Jean Fergusson, “natural child to John Fergusson, confessed to having five children by five different fathers. James and Katharin were called as witnesses to two of the trials: one in 1766 (with John Boswell cited); and again, in 1773, when William Clarke was the guilty party. Little else is known about this family. A simple entry in the parish records shows that James Ferguson died on 25 March 1792,9Source: 1792 Scotland O.P.R. Deaths; 610/ 30 281; Old Cumnock, Ayrshire and his burial cost 2/6¾ (2 shillings, 6 pence and 3 farthings) — he was 49 years old.

My arrangement of the Scottish fiddle tune “Stool of Repentance” — an appropriate choice for this family, I think! 🙂

However, we’re not done with the Ferguson family yet because, in November 1799, the drums beat the arrival at Cumnock of a recruiting officer for Lord Elgin’s Fencible Highlanders.

Walter Ferguson and the 72nd

Anne Phillips

They say that behind every great man is a great woman, and this is certainly true of Walter [1] Ferguson, so we’ll start this part of the story with some background on his wife, Anne Phillips. A recurring impression I have gleaned from my studies of our ancestors is that women are the unsung heroes of our family tree. Our forefathers worked very hard, often in terrible conditions, but it was the wives who gave birth to and raised virtual tribes of bairns in very challenging situations. For their efforts, our womenfolk were regularly forgotten, their contributions ignored, and their names, very often, omitted from the records. So, too, for Anne Phillips.

There is little we directly know of Anne; most of what we do can only be inferred from her husband’s chronology of service. Sadly, the only time she effectively spoke for herself was when she died in 1855. This was the first year that the statutory recording of births, deaths and marriages occurred; it was also, fortunately for us, the only year that Scottish death certificates contained information about a woman’s offspring (living and dead), her place of birth, and her burial. These details were omitted from 1856 onwards.

Anne’s father, we learn from her death certificate, was Samuel Phillips, a “revenue boatman”, and she was born in Crosshaven, County Cork, Ireland. The revenue boatmen were customs officers, and were charged with levying imported goods coming in by sea. Her mother’s maiden name was given as “Hornebrooke”, but the first name is not recorded (‘Elizabeth’ is a good guess, for reasons I will explain later). Phillips and Hornebrooke are not traditional Irish names, though both seem quite common in County Cork at that time. I thought we would never find anything about Anne’s parents — but, by a stoke of luck, two records have popped up recently. First was in the Vestry Book Transcripts for the Church of Ireland, Crosshaven, 1784–1799: the baptism of a daughter, Margaret, on 10.4.1794, father Samuel Phillips, Revenue boatman (the mother’s name was not recorded). At least Anne had one sister we know of! The Church of Ireland is part of the Anglican Communion. The second record I found came from a completely unexpected source, The Kentish Gazette, a newspaper founded in 1768 in Canterbury, England. On 23 October 1776, this newspaper reported the following:

❝ IRELAND Corke, Oct. 7. Last Saturday, a cause was tried in the County Court, before the Hon. Mr. Justice Henn, wherein Mr. Gedfreid Gerard Fehrman, was plaintiff, and Mr. William Falkiner, surveyor of Robert’s Cove, Charles MacGarthy, and Samuel Phillips, revenue boatmen, were defendants. The action was brought for unlawfully detaining at Kinsale, last January, Mrs. Fehrmann, the plaintiff’s wife, three hours under pretence of her having some India goods about her, she refusing to admit herself to be searched, and after a full hearing, the jury brought in a verdict for the plaintiff of sixty guineas damages, and full costs of suit.
Mr. Fehrman last summer assizes, obtained a verdict for sixty pounds from another Revenue Officer, for unlawfully entering his cellar, under a pretence, of his having unlicensed beer contained therein.❞

This will almost certainly be our Samual Phillips, and the mention of “Kinsale” and “Robert’s Cove” shows he worked along the Cork coast for the Revenue Service. A further tantalising possibility is the undated burial record for a “Samuel Phillips” at the old graveyard of St. Mary’s Collegiate Church in Youghal, County Cork. This is another Anglican church, and Youghal is a harbour town 40 km (25 miles) east of Crosshaven. However, going back to  Anne’s death certificate,10Source: 1855 Scotland Statutory Deaths; 610/ 51; Old Cumnock, Ayrshire. it most importantly, records that she had ten children, four of whom died in infancy, and six who survived till adulthood:

(1) Catharine dec. at 6 mths in 1799; (2). James dec. at 16 mths in 1802;  (3) Margaret dec. at 18 mths in 1804;
(4) Elizabeth dec. at 2 years in 1805; (5) Janet dec. at 23 years in 1829; (6) William 47;
(7) Catherine 44; (8) Walter [2] 40; (9) Elizabeth 39; and (10) Thomas 37.

As we will see, most of these dates and ages seem accurate with just one problem: the age and death dates for Janet, which I think is a scribal error (more on that later). So, where and when did she marry Walter?

The Elgin Fencibles

From this point, we can largely rely on Walter’s service record for his life-story, and we need to match it with what other information we have to create the overall picture. To help, I have posted a facsimile of the main part of his service record on a separate page (click here).

Walter volunteered for the Lord Elgin Fencibles on 1 Nov 1799 at Cumnock in Ayrshire. Fencibles (which comes from the word defensible) were British Army regiments first raised as a form of defence during the Seven Years’ War and the American War of Independence. These were usually temporary units of local volunteers, whose main function was to perform garrison and patrol duties to free up the regular army units for larger operations — they were not liable for overseas service. A number of Highland fencible units were created from about 1759 (e.g. Argyle, Sutherland, Gordon), but the Lord Elgin Fencibles were not raised until November 1794 and were disbanded in 1802, having served mostly in Ireland.

Walter was 25 when he volunteered, and it was around then that his first child, Catherine, died. As we saw from Anne’s death certificate, Catherine was six months old when she died in 1799, so her birth date can be no earlier than July 1798, and no later than June 1799 — she must have been conceived in Cumnock, which indicates that Anne and Walter were likely married in 1797 or 1798. A handwritten note in the margin of the service record reads: “The said Walter Ferguson [transferred] from the  Elgin Fencibles in which Corps he Enlisted at Cumnock in the County of Ayr.” This shows that Walter was still in Cumnock until at least November 1799, but it is possible that Catherine died in Ireland if the regiment had shipped (with wives and family) to Newry before Christmas, but this seems unlikely. Anne must have been living in Ayrshire from at least 1798, but no record has been found of her marriage to Walter or the birth of Catherine.

His Majesty’s 72nd Regiment of Foot

The 72nd had already gone through a few number and name changes before Walter transferred from the Elgin Fencibles to the regiment, as a private, on 4 July 1800, at Newry in County Down. The Earl of Seaforth raised the ‘Seaforth Highlanders’ in 1778 as the 78th (Highland) Regiment of Foot, but it was not the first regiment to bear this number — the first was the 78th (Highland) Regiment of Foot, known as ‘Fraser’s Highlanders’, which was raised as the 63rd Foot in 1757, renumbered the 78th in 1758, and disbanded in 1763. The ‘Seaforths’, raised as the 78th, were renamed the 72nd (Highland) Regiment of Foot in 1786; however, there were three previous regiments to bear this number, none of which had any connection with Scotland. In 1782, the regiment (then the 78th) was in India assisting the Army of the East India Company in its campaign against Tippoo Sahib, the Sultan of Mysore, and had earned the honour to bear the word ‘Hindoostan’ on its colours.

Ireland (1800–1805)

Matching Walter’s service record with the information we have from Anne’s death certificate, we can see that over the next few years the couple travelled with the regiment around Ireland while having (and losing) three more children. The first year, from July 1800 to August 1801, the 72nd appears to have been in barracks at Newry, and this is when their second child, James, was born. We have no record of his birth, but it is likely that the parents followed the Scottish tradition of naming the first boy for his paternal grandfather.

The regiment moved to Tullamore in County Offaly in September 1801, and by now it is obvious that Anne was travelling with the regiment as an ‘on service’ wife. This practice will seem strange, even harsh, to modern sensibilities but, in the nineteenth century, a limited number of soldiers’ wives and families were able to travel with their husbands’ regiments, usually on half-rations. We know that soldiers were actively discouraged from marrying, and to do so required the express permission of their commanding officers, which was rarely granted. This is another reason why it seems Walter and Anne were married before his enlistment. Even then, only a small proportion of the wives could be put ‘on service’, usually around six per company, and less when the regiment was posted overseas. The ‘lucky’ wives were generally selected by ballot. This policy no doubt caused much grief, particularly for those left behind with only parish relief to look after deserted wives and children for years — perhaps life.

Thankfully, for our line, Anne must have ‘won’ a ballot, for she travelled with Walter for the rest of his career in the army. Anne would have shared his bed in barracks, with only a blanket thrown over a line for privacy; she would also have shared his swag when camping under canvas. On service wives, ‘camp followers’, were expected to do chores for the company, like laundry, cooking, scrounging and nursing. Military discipline applied as equally to these women as their husbands, and they would face the lash for breaches of military rules (like stealing). Babies were generally born in the barracks unless an officer’s wife provided an alternative — we can imagine how this might have been a challenge for the single men trying to get a night’s sleep! I take my hat off to you, Anne Phillips.

Baby James, sadly, died sometime in 1802 aged 16 months, probably at the regiment’s next posting in Clonmel in County Tipperary. The 72nd had arrived in the county around August 1802 and was active in both Clonmel and the neighbouring county of Kilkenny. Sometime during the early part of this posting, Walter and Anne’s third child, Margaret, was born. The regiment remained based at Clonmel for about 18 months and, during 1803, Elizabeth was added to what then looked, at last, like a growing family.

The regiment, however, was on the move again and, in 1804, had posted to Fermoy in County Cork, Anne’s home county. There was activity for the 72nd in Fermoy and Mallow, and further afield at Rathkeale in County Limerick. Although they were moving around a bit, it is likely that the regiment’s duties at this time were largely a form of policing, and perhaps recruiting — showing the ‘colours’, so to speak! We know from the Regimental Books of 1804 and 1805 that Walter’s company commander was Captain Ronald Campbell. Walter is described as being 5′ 9¼”, with a fair complexion, a long visage, blue eyes and brown hair. He is recorded as being, respectively, 24 and 25 years of age; in fact, he was closer to 30 and 31. Interestingly, the 1805 Regimental Book has the date 19th April 1803 entered for Walter under the column “Casualties > Desarted” — I presume desarted is an old spelling of deserted. If so, it cannot have been a serious offence, as it did not affect his honourable discharge in 1819.

The wars with the French were still raging in Europe and, in May 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned Emperor of France. For Walter and Anne, though, their battles were happening closer to home — because, sometime that year, Margaret died aged only 18 months. This was their third child to die in four years.

Farewell to Ireland

With the French wars appearing to be headed towards some climax, and the threat of a French invasion looming, the 72nd Regiment of Foot was expanded to include a second battalion. On Christmas Day, 1804, Walter’s regiment was renamed the 1st Battalion, 72nd (Highland) Regiment of Foot, and they were sent to Cork. Anne was now close to her birthplace at Crosshaven. Overseas service now seemed inevitable for the battalion and, indeed, they were appointed by the war office for a secret mission under Lt-Gen Sir Eyre Coote in early 1805. However, the plans for this particular operation, whatever it might have been, were shelved.

The regiment remained in barracks for a few more months in Cork, and it is likely that the Grim Reaper called again during this time, taking their fourth child, Elizabeth. Walter and Anne were left with no surviving children, and we can only imagine their agony. That Anne was to persevere (thankfully) and have six more children is a testament to her toughness, mentally and physically.  However, it is far from certain that Elizabeth died in Cork, for we know only that she died in 1805 aged two. On 31 Jul 1805, the 1st Battalion embarked at Cork on a ship bound for yet another secret mission — Elizabeth could easily have died at sea anytime before they reached their final destination.

My arrangement of old fiddle tune originally called “The Highland Watch’s Farewell to Ireland”.

Expanding the Empire (1806)

When the regiment sailed from Cork, it was commanded by Lt-Col Colquhoun Grant, and it formed part of a large expedition that was under the overall control of Maj-Gen Sir David Baird. Soon after departure, the ships carrying the regiments from Cork joined with a fleet carrying troops of the East India Company who had sailed from Falmouth. In all, there were over 6,600 troops, and their objective was to wrest control of the Cape of Good Hope from the Dutch.  At that time, the Cape was in the possession of the Dutch Batavian government who were united with the French against Great Britain. The Dutch colony, and the French base at Mauritius, threatened Britain’s maritime connections with its newly emerging trading ports in India, and it was vital to protect them against marauding French frigates.

Near the end of September 1805, the grand fleet stopped at Madeira for about 6 days. This tiny Atlantic island was a Portuguese possession, and it lay about 1,100 km (700 miles) southwest of Gibraltar. Here the fleet would have picked up fresh supplies and water. The force then set sail for St Salvador in Brazil but, while en route, a number of major events occurred in the European wars. First, the Austrian army collapsed at the Battle of Ulm, and Napoleon’s troops entered Vienna. Second, and more important strategically, Admiral Nelson defeated the French navy at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October. Suddenly, the mission to take the Cape became relatively insignificant.

Nonetheless, the fleet carried on across the Atlantic and arrived at the Brazilian port of St Salvador (now known as São Salvador da Bahia) on November 12. Whatever Walter and Anne thought of this strange and exotic place is not known, but Walter’s company commander, Captain Campbell, wrote in his diary: “The town was opening as we approached the inner part of the bay, and displayed the most gay and romantic scenery … The hills are enclosed as gardens, and whichever way one turns, the eye is equally gratified with the variety and luxuriance of the scenery.” The logbooks showed that the 72nd had no men sick on report, and the fleet was able to resupply, and even buy horses. The ships could now use the westerly trade winds to sail back across the Atlantic and departed for the final leg on the 28th. In the early morning of 3 January 1806, the fleet of 61 ships sighted the mountains above Cape Town — and, the following afternoon, they anchored between Robben Island (of Nelson Mandela fame) and the Blueberg shore, around 16 km (10 miles) due north of the town.

Battle of Blueberg (Blouberg), January 1806

General Baird had organised the 71st, 72nd and 93rd Regiments into the Highland Brigade, under the command of Brig-Gen Ronald Ferguson (no relation, I’m sure). Before sunrise on 6 January, the brigade took to the landing boats in Lospard Bay. One boatload of soldiers from the 93rd went under in the turbulent waters with the loss of 36 men, but the rest made it to shore, and our Walter Ferguson was in the vanguard of one of the defining events in the creation of the British Empire. Perhaps Anne and the other wives were looking on from the ship’s deck as their menfolk stormed ashore, but there was little resistance from the company of burgher militia who were doing reconnaissance for the defending army. Word was sent to General Janssens in Cape Town reporting the British landing, and a considerable force marched north to meet the invaders.

This is a stylised version of the map that Commodore Sir Home Popham attached with his contemporary report on the battle. It shows the main places mentioned, but is clearly the Navy’s view of events. I have also included textual notes (in blue) that were appended to the margin in the original document.

On the first day, the 72nd (about 600 men, including Walter) drove the Dutch sharpshooters from the heights above the beach. The regiment gave pursuit to the retreating enemy, but stopped near the Blue Hills (Blouberg) and bivouacked for the night. Next morning at dawn, the 72nd, with a single six-pounder, forced the remaining Dutch burghers to retreat as they consolidated their position. At 3 am on 8 January, the bugles called the men to arms. The Highland Brigade was formed into the left flank of General Baird’s force, and the troops marched over the shoulder of the Blue Hill towards Cape Town. They were faced with the Batavian army equipped with 23 pieces of cannon in order of battle in the valley before them. The brigade fixed bayonets and the Highlanders charged into grape and musketry, but were too swift for the enemy who began to take flight. Walter’s grenadier company, under Captain Campbell, were sent forth to clear Dutch marksmen from the high ground on the flanks, and the brigade pursued the enemy for nearly 5 km (3 miles) through deep sand.

By the 9th, the British had taken post on the south bank of the Salt River, and realising the hopelessness of his position, Lt-Col Von Prophalow brought out a flag of truce and met with General Baird at Craig’s Tower to discuss the terms of surrender. The Cape Colony now effectively passed from Dutch to British hands, and a new chapter in the history of the Empire was about to begin.

Cape of Good Hope (1806–1810)

With the Batavian surrender in hand, the battalion marched into Wynberg Barracks, just south of Cape Town in the shadow of Table Mountain on 10 January. General Baird was appointed Acting Governor of the Colony and a detachment of the 72nd was sent to secure Hout’s Bay. Now that the Dutch batteries along Table Bay were silenced, the fleet moved to anchor close by the town and, no doubt, Anne and the other wives were landed and reunited with their husbands — but their time at Cape Town, for now, was to be short-lived as, by the middle of January, the 72nd was headquartered at Simon’s Town on False Bay. The regiment also occupied Stellenbosch about 50 km (31 miles) east of Cape Town. On the 18th of the month, General Janssens, the Dutch commander in South Africa, formally ceded the colony to British rule.

Sometime in 1806 or 1807, Janet Ferguson was born to Walter and Anne (their fifth child). However, we can’t be certain whether she was born at Cape Town or Simon’s Town because, in September, the 72nd was appointed to garrison duty back at Cape Town. Here there they remained for the next three-and-a-half years, as the acting governor was busy trying to settle the colony and deal with fractious Hottentots, Xhosa (then called Kaffirs), and Dutch burghers. It is likely that Walter’s regiment was mainly involved in policing during this time, and the more settled life may have contributed to Janet being the first of their children to survive infancy.

In March 1807, the British parliament abolished the slave trade throughout the Empire, but dealing with the slaves held by the Dutch colonists was to be a major problem for the new administration at the Cape. General Baird returned to England in May of that year and was replaced by the Earl of Caledon who became the first appointed Governor of the Cape Colony. Walter’s company commander, Captain Campbell, was promoted to major in November and, on Christmas Day 1807, Walter was promoted to corporal — his daily pay rate would have risen from 1/- to 1/3d. Mind you, Major Campbell’s pay rate had gone up from 9/5d a day to 14/1d!

Early in 1808, a squadron was sent from England to help with the blockade of the French possession at Mauritius. Walter, Anne and Janet must have been settling into their new home at Cape Town because, sometime that year, their son William Ferguson was born. A last, they were a growing family once more. The following year saw much of the same as far as the 72nd was concerned, except that on 7 April, the unit was re-designated as the 1st Battalion, 72nd Regiment of Foot — they had lost their ‘Highland’ status, and were no longer able to wear their highland costume. No doubt, this would have been an unpopular development with the troops and their officers. The news wasn’t all bad for Walter, though, because he was promoted to serjeant (the way foot soldiers spell ‘sergeant’) on 25 June, and the extra 4d a day would no doubt have been welcomed by Anne who now had two young mouths to feed.

Mauritius (1810–1814)

In February of 1810, Walter and his regiment marched under the command of Lt-Col Monkton from Cape Town to Stellenbosch, 50 km (31 miles) to the east. The 72nd had been selected to join with a force from India to invade the island of Mauritius, then known as the Île de France. Planning took several months, and the 800 troops embarked on the navy transports on 22 September; however, a number of factors meant they could not sail for yet another 5 weeks. The Indian forces landed at Grand Bay (top end of the island) on 29 November, and the French governor, General De Caen, began negotiations for a possible surrender. When the 72nd and 87th regiments finally landed at Port Louis on 7 December, the French commander immediately surrendered to British arms. The French flag had now disappeared from the Indian Ocean.

After successfully securing His Majesty’s latest acquisition, the 72nd were picked to garrison the island, and there they stayed for another three-and-a-half years. Later reports seem to indicate that this was to be a fairly easy posting for the regiment, and there is little to say about their activities during that time. In July 1811, the Earl of Caledon resigned his post, and Lt-Gen Sir George Grey took over as Acting Governor of the Cape Colony until his replacement, Lt-Gen Sir John Craddock, arrived in September of that year to fill the position. Also in September, the 1st battalion of the 72nd was augmented with 1,000 additional rank and file taken from the 2nd battalion, at that time serving in Ireland. Clearly, the government was concerned that the French might seek to retake Mauritius. The following year was more of the same, except that Major Campbell, Walter’s previous company commander, was promoted to lieutenant-colonel and appointed as the deputy adjutant-general in Jamaica. This move did not turn out that well for Ronald Campbell, as he died of disease on 14 December 1814 at Portsmouth.

Also in 1812, Walter and Anne had their seventh child, a daughter, Catherine. You will remember that their first-born was also a Catherine, who died aged 6 months. A common practice for Scottish families was to name the first four children in honour of their paternal and maternal grandparents. If any of those children died young, their names usually passed to later children, and it is likely that Catherine ‘the second’ was the replacement to retain the ‘honour’ for Walter’s mother, Katharin Goldie (the spelling can be ignored). Thankfully, the new Catherine was to survive her childhood, and we now had Walter, Anne, and three children: Janet, William and Catherine. This is how it stayed through a seemingly uneventful 1813 on the island of Mauritius.

On April 6 1814, Lt-Gen Lord Charles Somerset replaced Sir John Craddock as Governor of the Cape Colony, just a few days before Napoleon Bonaparte abdicated as Emperor of France. Napoleon was exiled to the Mediterranean island of Elba, and it appeared as if the war on the Continent was finally at an end. However, the war between Great Britain and the United States of America — which had started in 1812 — was still raging, and the 72nd was ordered to sail for North America via the Cape of Good Hope. Sometime around this time, Anne gave birth to the couple’s next son (eighth child), Walter [2].

Walter [2], named for his father, is Robyn’s g-g-grandfather, and his year of birth is difficult to calculate. An aggregate of young Walter’s ages — as given in census, migration, and death records — would indicate a birth in 1816; but this is not possible, as the known birth dates for the next two children would preclude him being conceived and delivered in that year. For this reason, it was always assumed he was born in 1815, particularly as this tallies with the information on Anne’s death certificate. The 1851 census says he was born in the “East Indies”, and this is confirmed in 1861 when he gives his birthplace as “Port Louis, East Indies” (Cape Town was regarded as ‘Africa’, while Mauritius was always given as ‘East Indies’ on official documents). However, the regiment sailed from Port Louis on 27 June 1814 and was next there only briefly for a short stop-over in January 1816. If Walter [2] was born on Mauritius, he could only have been born in 1814.

Cape Town–Calcutta–Cape Town (1814–1819)

By the time the 72nd reached Cape Town in July 1814, their forward orders to North America were cancelled, as the War Office had decided that since the war in Europe was over, other units were now spare to go to there instead — so Walter [1] and Anne, with their four children, were once again back at The Cape. Just when everything seemed to be settled, news arrived that Napoleon Bonaparte had escaped from Elba in February 1815, and had called his loyal army to his standard. On 26 April, Lt-Gen Roland Lord Hill became the 72nd’s new colonel, and after only 10 months back at Cape Town, the regiment was ordered to India to fight the Rajah of Nepal (a conflict known as the Anglo–Nepalese War, 1815–16). Before they left, however, the Battle of Waterloo had been fought and won (18 June 1815), and Napoleon was once more exiled — this time to the South Atlantic island of St Helena, where he died a broken man in 1821.

The regiment’s headquarter staff left for Bengal on 29 June and prepared for the arrival of the rest of the regiment, including Walter [1] and his family, in early September. But, this particular little war was already at an end, and the 72nd had no sooner arrived at Fort William in Calcutta (now spelled ‘Kolkata’), then they were ordered to return to Cape Town. What a five-months pregnant Anne thought about all this to-ing and fro-ing is anyone’s guess, but Walter and his family were loaded onto the troopship “Lucy and Maria” (hired from the East India Company and under Captain Innis) and headed off to return to Cape Town. The following snippet from the Edinburgh Literary Journal in 1830 gives us some clues to the life on board for the men and families of the 72nd:

 ❝ I avail myself of this opportunity of mentioning another instance of voracity of the shark, which came under my own observation in 1814 [actually, 1815–16 —ed.], when in command of the ship Lucy and Maria, engaged by the Hon. East India Company to convey his Majesty’s 72d regiment from Calcutta to the Cape of Good Hope. On the passage, during a calm, one of the privates was sitting in a port of the lower gun-deck, eating peas-soup out of an English quart tin pot; and, by carelessness, let the pot, with a portion of the soup, fall from his hand overboard; almost immediately after this, it was intimated to me a large shark was caught by the hook; a rope was got over his body, and he was hauled on deck. As he was considered a very large one, most of the officers (sixteen in number) of the regiment, with myself, attended to examine the contents of the stomach, and, to our surprise, the tin pot entire, which the man had dropt overboard, was taken from the shark. Major-General Monckton, who commanded the regiment, was present; Captain Moses Campbell, now on the retired list, and Lieut. Gowan, on the recruiting-service, at present at Glasgow, were likewise witnesses to the circumstance.❞

Sometime in January, the “Lucy and Maria” called in to Port Louis, but there was a major epidemic on the island, so the ship continued on its journey — and, on 14 January 1816 while still at sea,11Source: 1816, St George’s Cathedral, Military Baptisms, Cape Town, FHL microfilm 1295055. Anne gave birth to her ninth child, Elizabeth. As with Catherine, Elizabeth was the second of Walter [1] and Anne’s children to bear this name, the first born in 1803 in Clonmel, Tipperary, and dying in 1805 (aged 2) somewhere between Cork and Cape Town. That Walter [1] and Anne re-used this name is a strong clue that it was an ‘honour’ name for Anne’s mother, whose first name is missing from the records. Of course, there were two other girls who could have borne that honour name: Margaret and Janet. However, the re-use of Elizabeth points to a deliberate choice and is, therefore, the strongest contender.

The “Lucy and Maria” arrived at Table Bay on 14 February; but, because it had been at epidemic-riddled Mauritius, the 800 members of the 72nd were forced to remain on board in quarantine until 3 March. Two weeks after finally disembarking at Cape Town, Walter [1] and Anne took baby Elizabeth to St George’s English Church and, on 17 March, had her baptised — it is the extant record of this “military baptism” that gives us the only confirmed birthdate for any of Walter [1] and Anne’s children.

Kaffir Wars

Activity for the 72nd over the next three years seems largely restricted to dealing with various insurrections and raids by the Xhosa, in what is generally called the ‘4th Kaffir Wars’. In October 1816, a company of the 72nd was sent to the “frontier” (likely to mean north of Grahamstown) to relieve a company of the 83rd, but it is not known if Walter [1] was involved in that deployment (the 72nd would have had several companies, most of which would have remained in barracks in Cape Town). In February of the following year, the commanding officer of the 72nd, Lt-Gen Lord Hill, transferred to the 53rd Regiment, and his place was taken by Maj-Gen Sir George Murray, who was to command the regiment for the remainder of Walter’s service. (Sir George was in no way related to Kathrin Goldie’s lover back in 1757!)

On 10 Jun 1817, four more companies of the regiment embarked at Simon’s Town for Algoa Bay in Eastern Cape (this is where the town of Port Elizabeth now stands), and headed up country to Grahamstown to relieve the 21st Light Dragoons. These companies of the 72nd were distributed along the Great Fish River and living under canvas. At this time, the military forces at the Cape of Good Hope were being reduced, with several units sent to India and Ceylon, while some native regiments were disbanded. Whether Walter [1] was at the Great Fish River is not known, but Anne was likely pregnant again by the end of 1817.

Sometime in 1818, Thomas, the tenth and last of Walter [1] and Anne’s children, was born somewhere in the Cape Colony. From our knowledge of the deployments of the 72nd, he could have been born at either the Great Fish River or Cape Town — but we have no definite details for the regiment during 1818. We do know that in February 1819, Captain Gethin and two soldiers of the regiment were killed by Xhosa near Grahamstown, and this prompted the authorities to start construction of Fort Willshire, about 50 km (30 miles) northeast of Grahamstown. We also know that almost all the engineers in the colony were involved in the construction of that fort, and we know that Walter [1] lost the use of his right hand while working with the engineers sometime in October or November 1819. It seems reasonable to assume that he was deployed with that operation.

Return to Cumnock

After 19 years and 143 days of service since he volunteered for Lord Elgin’s Fencibles, Serjeant Walter [1] Ferguson was honourably discharged from His Majesty’s 72nd Regiment of Foot at Cape Town on 9 November 1819. For more than half that time, he had been a sergeant (spelt serjeant in foot regiments of the time), and only experienced and steady men could fill that role. His duties would have included training for his men, maintaining their discipline, acting as a leader for smaller units, and liaising between the officers and the troops. A sergeant was always expected to provide a good example in his conduct, dress, and care for equipment. In battle, he would have calmly stood behind his section or company to provide moral fibre, monitor the men’s weapon and action drills, and to re-organise his squad in the event of casualties where an officer was not available to do so. It was not a role for the nervous or weak-willed — enemy officers often wrote that they never saw a cowardly sergeant in the British Army. This is the type of man Walter [1] Ferguson must have been.

There is no information of when the family was transported back to Great Britain, but Walter [1], Anne and their six surviving children — Janet (14), William (12), Catherine (8), Walter [2] (6), Elizabeth (4), and Thomas (2) — would likely have arrived in Cumnock, Ayrshire, sometime in 1820. The only other sources we have about Walter [1] and Anne are the 1841 and 1851 census records from Cumnock — and, of course, their death certificates.

1841 SCOTLAND CENSUS: Cumnock Village, Ayrshire 12Source: 1841 Scotland Census; 610/ 1/ 3; Old Cumnock, Ayrshire.

Walter Ferguson; 60; Army P. ; born Ayrshire
Anne Ferguson [Phillips]; 55; born Ireland
William Ferguson; 30; Ag. Lab.; not born Ayrshire
Catherine Ferguson; 20; not born Ayrshire
Thomas Ferguson; 20; not born Ayrshire
William Crawford; 9; born Ayrshire
Joseph Marshall; 5 months; born Ayrshire

By 1841, Walter [1] and Anne were living on an army pension in the main part of Cumnock village, somewhere in the triangle formed by the two rivers and the Square. As with most census records for 1841, the adult ages are mostly haywire, and only the ones for the two children in the household can be trusted. Their oldest son, William, was actually 33, unmarried, and working as an agricultural labourer. Catherine was 30 years old at this time, and it would be another 16 years before she entered marital bliss. Likewise, Thomas was still single, no occupation is given for him, and he was, in fact, 23.

None of this really gives us much insight into their lives at this time, but the two children in the household provide some interest. William Crawford turns out to be the illegitimate son of the daughter Janet and a snuff-box maker called Alexander Crawford — more about them later. Joseph Marshall remains a mystery, as he has not been found in the records. Given that the 1841 census was taken on the night of 6 June, he was almost certainly born in January or early February of that year — but this census does not give relationships to the head of household, so he could easily be a neighbour’s or friend’s child.

1851 SCOTLAND CENSUS: Skares, Old Cumnock, Ayrshire 13Source: 1841 Scotland Census; 610/ 1/ 3; Old Cumnock, Ayrshire.

Walter Fergusson; Head; Mar; 76; Chelsea Out-Pensioner; born Ayrshire, O.Cumnock
Ann Fergusson [Phillips]; Wife; Mar; 73; born Ireland, Cork, St Bridgets
Catharine Ferguson; Daughter; U; 39; Agricultural Labourer; born Mauritius
William Crawford; Grandson; U; 19; Tailor; born Ayrshire, O.Cumnock
James Fergusson; Grandson; 9; Scholar; born Ayrshire, O.Cumnock

Ten years later, we can see that Walter [1] and Anne have moved to a small hamlet not quite 5 km (3 miles) southwest of the village centre (see the map here). Skares was little more than a workers’ ‘row’, and it lies near the corner of what is now the B7046 and the road that runs north past the old Whitehill Colliery up to the A70. Walter [1] was recorded as being a “Chelsea Out-Pensioner”, which describes a retired NCO who was eligible to collect a cash payment from the Royal Chelsea Hospital (London), rather than living as an “in-Pensioner” at the hospital. Those eligible for a Chelsea pension had to have served 20 years, or been injured in service (as was Walter). Even today, the Chelsea Pensioners can be seen in London wearing their scarlet frock-coats and tricorne hats!

For the first time, we discover that Anne was from St Brigid’s, a parish located in Crosshaven on the banks of the Owenboy River. Crosshaven is on the western side of Cork Harbour about 15 km (9 miles) southeast of the City of Cork, and here her father had been a revenue collector for boats entering the harbour. The last of Walter [1] and Anne’s children still living at home was the 39-year-old Catherine, who was working as an agricultural labourer. The now 19-year-old grandson, William Crawford, was a tailor and still living with his grandparents — and there was a second grandson living with our now ageing Walter [1] and Anne: the 9-year-old James Ferguson.

Again, we have a mystery. The only recorded birth of a James Ferguson for 1840–1842 in Ayrshire was the “lawful” son of William Ferguson and Elisabeth Walls (Wales) on 13 June 1841 at Kyle in Auchinleck Parish. It is unlikely this William is a son of Walter [1] and Anne — but there is another possibility, and we’ll read more about that later.

The Choir Invisible

After a lifetime of trudging around the world following her soldier boy and delivering him 10 children, Anne Phillips passed away at 7:15 am on 13 May 1855, aged 77 years. She died at Skares where she had been living since at least 1851. No cause of death is given (exhaustion would be a good guess!), but she was buried in the Cumnock Churchyard in Barrhill Road by the undertaker William McLatchie (who we will see later may have an interesting connection with the family in Queensland). All this information was given by her unmarried son William.

1855 SCOTLAND DEATHS: Old Cumnock, Ayrshire 14Source: 1855 Scotland Statutory Deaths; 610/ 51; Old Cumnock, Ayrshire.

Anne Fergusson   age: 77 years
born: Crosshaven, Cork, Ireland — Thirty-five years in this Parish

father: Samuel Phillips, Revenue Boatman (deceased)
mother: Phillips, M.S. Hornebrooke (deceased)
married to: Walter [1] Fergusson, Weaver, formerly Sergeant in the 72nd Regiment of Foot

issue in order:
1. Catharine dec. at 6 mths in 1799
2. James dec. at 16 mths in 1802
3. Margaret dec. at 18 mths in 1804
4. Elizabeth dec. at 2 years in 1805
5. Janet dec. at 23 years in 1829   [probably 29 in 1835 —ed.]
6. William 47
7. Catherine 44
8. Walter 40
9. Elizabeth 39
10. Thomas 37

died: 13th May 1855 (7:15 am)  at: Skares  cause:  [not recorded —ed.]
burial: Churchyard of Cumnock  certified: William McLatchie & Son, Undertakers
informant: William Ferguson, son

Without even a birth or marriage record to herald the milestones in her life, Anne Phillips could easily have slipped through the pages of history with barely a whimper. However, the extra information recorded for deaths in 1855 (but not thereafter) means that those details of Anne’s life can be merged with her husband’s extraordinary army service record to provide her descendants with a reasonably complete picture of their lives. Had Anne died 5 months earlier or 8 months later, this story would have been decidedly less colourful.

1861 SCOTLAND DEATHS: Old Cumnock, Ayrshire15Source: 1861 Scotland Statutory Deaths; 610/ 17; Old Cumnock, Ayrshire.

Walter [1] Ferguson Formerly Serjeant in H.M. 72nd Regt. of Foot
(Widower of Anne Philips)
died:  22nd February 1861 (1:20 pm)   at: Townfoot Cumnock   age: 88 years

father: James Ferguson, Shoemaker (deceased)
mother: Catharine Ferguson M.S. Goldie (deceased)

cause: Senile Bronchitis, Some Years   doctor: James Laurence M.D.
informant: Walter [2] Ferguson, Son, Townfoot Cumnock

Walter [1] had been a widower for five years, nine months and nine days when he took his last salute. By this time he had moved from Skares and was living with his namesake son, Walter [2] (Robyn’s g-g-grandfather), at Townfoot in Cumnock  — a street in the village that then ran from the southwest corner of the Square down to the River Lugar, and is today a bus parking area. He had been ill for some years with senile bronchitis, and it is a testament to his toughness that he reached the ripe old age of 86 (the death certificate was out by two years). Not many survived to that age in those days, and none of his children would match it. Walter [1] must have been a towering figure in his family for, in the next two generations, another eight boys were to bear the name “Walter Ferguson” — a fine tribute to a man who had lived and served during the reigns of George III, George IV, William IV, and Queen Victoria.


Walter [1] and Anne may have passed on but, of course, their children still had stories to tell. After his father’s death, Walter [2] left Cumnock with his own large family to forge a new life in the Colony of Queensland — that story is largely told on other pages (start here). However, here is a summary of the lives of the six ‘regimental brats’ who were born in South Africa and Mauritius while Walter [1] and Anne served with the 72nd Regiment of Foot.


Janet was the first of Walter [1] and Anne’s children to survive childhood — she was also the first of them to die. As we know from above, she was born soon after the conquest of the Cape of Good Hope in 1806 or 1807, and would have travelled everywhere her mother went as an ‘on service’ wife. Janet returned with the family to Cumnock in 1820 when she was aged 14, and almost nothing is known of her from that time, except that she had two illegitimate children: an unknown child to Robert Taylor around 1826; and a son, William Crawford (see the 1841 and 1851 censuses above). Two Kirk Session entries for the Parish of Old Cumnock tell the story – the first on 1 May 1826:

❝ Thereafter appeared voluntarily by Janet Ferguson in the village, confessing herself with child in fornication; and being seriously cautioned and admonished to tell the truth in delating16“delate” or “delating” in law is: to bring a charge against, denounce or impeach. the Father of her child, she declares that it is Robert Taylor, Potter in Cumnock, and no other, who is the father of her Child. She was rebuked and summoned, apud acta,17“apud acta” is a Latin term meaning “among the record or written facts”. to appear before the Session here, at their next meeting on the [blank] of [blank], and they order their Officer to summon the said Robert Taylor to compear18“compear” in Scots law is to appear in court personally or by attorney. also, at the same time. Concluded with prayer.❞
    In the margin:
Janet Ferguson confesses herself with child in forn[ication] and accuses Robert Taylor as the father. They are both cited to next Meeting of Sess[ion].❞

Nothing much seems to have happened for the next seven years — until, on 27 August 1832:

❝ Appeared also voluntarily Janet Ferguson in Townfoot of Cumnock craving to be purged of the Scandal of fornication with Robert Taylor of the Pottery (Session minute of the 16th April 1826) and also with Alexr Crawford, Boxmaker in Cumnock, to each of whom she had brought forth a child. The Session having considered the same, cite her apud acta, to appear before them the 1st of October next and order their officer to summon Robert Taylor to compear with her.❞
    In the margin:
Janet Ferguson accuses Robert Taylor and Alex Crawford of Forn[ication]. Janet Ferguson & Robt. Taylor cited to next Session. Janet Ferguson failed to appear. her case is suspended.❞

And on 29 October 1832:
Ferguson was called, but compeared not — The Session, in consideration of her laxity of conduct, and her vacillant behaviour in this matter, having also failed to appear to the summons of 16 April 1826, unanimously agree to delay farther proceedings in her case, for the present and debar her from Church priviliges till she be purged from the Scandal.❞
    In the margin:
❝ Janet Ferguson failed to appear. Her case is suspended.❞

Janet, as we see, was a wild one. You will have noticed above that William Crawford was living with his Ferguson grandparents in 1841 and 1851. It is possible Janet died shortly after William was born, but there is no record of her death in the parish records — however, in the Old Cumnock Graveyard records we find an entry for the burial of a Janet Ferguson who died 3 Sep 1835 (no other information is provided).19; Memorial no. 187062407; Old Cumnock Cemetery, Cumnock, East Ayrshire. If this is her, then she would have been only 29. When her mother, Anne, passed away in 1855, her brother William informed that Janet died aged 23 in 1823, but this date must be wrong given the Kirk records for 1826 and 1832.

Janet was the fifth of Walter [1] and Anne’s children, and can only have been born in 1806 or 1807, meaning she could be no younger than 26, even if she died soon after William’s birth. She was certainly not in Old Cumnock for the 1841 census, and would be 33 if she died early that year. There is no other information on the graveyard record, but it is a very likely candidate to be our Janet given the date. Her lover, Alexander, a snuff-box maker, never married and died at Pottery Row in Cumnock in 1887, aged 87. The son, William, became a tailor and married a widowed Helen Miller in 1862; he recorded his mother as “Janet Crawford M.S. Fergusson (deceased)” — his death certificate in 1915 says almost the same.20Source: 1915 Scotland Statutory Deaths; 610/ 17, Old Cumnock, Ayrshire.


The second surviving child of Walter [1] and Anne was born in Cape Town around 1809, and it seems he never married. He was only 12 when he arrived in Cumnock and was living with his parents in the village and working as an agricultural labourer in 1841. His parents had moved to Skares by the following census, but William remained at Townfoot, living by himself, and working as a “flesher” (i.e. butcher). As we saw earlier, he was the informant for his mother’s death certificate in 1855, and, the same year he was also the informant for his sister Elizabeth (see below).

However, we have another interesting entry in the Kirk Sessions for 28 September 1851:

❝ Compeared also Agnes Matthieson confessing herself to have been guilty of fornication with William Ferguson, and producing an acknowlegment of the paternity of her child. After being duly rebuked and admonished she was absolved from the Scandal. Sederunt21“sederunt” : (in Scotland) a sitting of an ecclesiastical assembly or other body. closed with prayer.❞

If this is our ‘William Ferguson’, then we may speculate that the James Fergusson living with Walter [1] and Anne in the 1851 census is this child of Agnes Matthieson. That there is no matching baptism may not be an obstacle, as the child was not “lawful” — but none of this can be substantiated by other facts, so is merely conjecture. William managed to die of a “haemorrhage” on 15 December 1858 — over two years before his father — aged around 50;22Source: 1858 Scotland Statutory Deaths; 610/ 68; Old Cumnock, Ayrshire. he was buried in the churchyard where his mother, sisters Janet and Elizabeth, and his grandparents were all interred. William McLatchie & Son (again) did the burial, and his younger brother Walter [2] was the informant.

Catharine (ii)

There were two daughters named Catherine born to Walter [1] and Anne. The first was born and died at Cumnock in 1799, probably before Walter [1] volunteered for the Lord Elgin Fencibles. It is likely the name was re-cycled when the second one was born on Mauritius in 1812 as an ‘honour’ name for Walter’s mother, Katharin (spelling was totally fluid in those days). The second Catherine would have been about eight when the family arrived in Cumnock in 1820, and she was to live in Ayrshire for another 73 years. As we saw in the 1841 and 1851 censuses above, she was living with her parents and was eventually working as an agricultural labourer. The second census confirms her birthplace as Mauritius.

In 1857, after her mother and two sisters had died, Catherine married widower John Fullarton, an “iron labourer” (ironstone miner) from Auchinleck, a village just a couple of kilometres (1½ miles) northwest of Cumnock.23Source: 1857 Scotland Statutory Marriages; 577/ 3; Auchinleck, Ayrshire. She was 45 at the time, and heading for spinsterhood. Both John and Catherine were illiterate, and she was working as a domestic servant. John had two children by his Irish-born first wife, Mary Johnson: Elizabeth (1850) and William (1853). Mary’s death is not recorded, so it is likely she died before 1855, sometime after the birth of her second child.

Catherine and John had no children of their own, and both were living at Main Street, Auchinleck for the four censuses 1861 to 1891; both died at Townfoot, Auchinleck in 1893. She died aged 81 from “senile debility” on 23 March,24Source: 1893 Scotland Statutory Deaths; 577/ 1  6; Auchinleck, Ayrshire. and the informant was her stepson William; John departed this life on 25 November from the rare St Anthony’s Fire, aged 67.25Source: 1893 Scotland Statutory Deaths; 577/ 1 30; Auchinleck, Ayrshire.

Walter [2]

Like Catherine before him, Walter [2] was born on Mauritius, probably in 1814 (see above), and was around six years old when the family arrived back in Cumnock. This Walter is Robyn’s g-g-grandfather, and his life in both Cumnock and Queensland is largely covered in separate stories (start here). Briefly, for now, he was the first of Walter [1]’s brood to marry when, at 22 years, he tied the knot with the 21-year-old Margaret McKerrow of Auchinleck.26Source: 1836 Scotland Statutory Marriages; 610/ 40 378; Old Cumnock, Ayrshire. 27Source: 1836 Scotland Statutory Marriages; 577/ 20 290; Auchinleck, Ayrshire.

In 1841, the young couple were living in the village not far from his parents, and he was working as an agricultural labourer.28Source: 1841 Scotland Census; 610/ 1/ 11; Old Cumnock, Ayrshire. They had two children living with them: John (3); and William (8 months). There was, however, an older child, the five-year-old Walter (I call him Walter [3]), who was on that census night living with his mother’s widowed father, John McKerrow (Robyn’s g-g-g-grandfather).29Source: 1841 Scotland Census; 610/ 4/ 1; Old Cumnock, Ayrshire. They lived at Woodhead Row (with two of Margaret’s sisters), which was just a few hundred meters over the railway line to the northwest, next to the Rose Burn and by Broad Wood.

Ten years later, Walter [2] was a miner and his growing family were living in the rows at Mid Changue, an ironstone mine about 1½ km (1 mile) southwest of the village.30Source: 1851 Scotland Census; 610/ 5/ 6; Old Cumnock, Ayrshire. The 1851 census shows there were now six children living with Walter and Margaret: John (12); William (10); Jane (8); Agnes (6); David (2); and Marion (7 days) — and young John was already working down the pit; David is Robyn’s great-grandfather. Again, the eldest child, Walter [3], now 14, was still living at Woodhead Row with his grandfather John McKerrow.31Source: 1851 Scotland Census; 610/ 4/0 4; Old Cumnock, Ayrshire. This youngest Walter, a tailor, married Agnes Wilson in January 1861,32Source: 1861 Scotland Statutory Marriages; 610/ 5; Old Cumnock, Ayrshire. had four children (including yet another ‘Walter’!), and died a widower in March 1891 aged 54.33Source: 1891 Scotland Statutory Deaths; 610A 31; Old Cumnock, Ayrshire. Sadly, his son Walter (Walter [4]) only survived him by eight months, dying that year aged 30.34Source: 1891 Scotland Statutory Deaths; 578/ 480; Ayr, Ayrshire.

By the 1861 census, old Walter [1] had died, and by now Walter [2], Margaret and five children were living at Barrhill Rows, just 500 metres to the east of Cumnock village (William 20, David 12, Marion 10, James 7, and Helen 3).35Source: 1861 Scotland Census; 610/ 2/ 29; Old Cumnock, Ayrshire. He was now working as an “ironstone miner” at the Barrhill Pits, as was his son William. Walter [3], as we see above, had just married, but the second son, John, had married Elizabeth Pollock in 1859.36Source: 1859 Scotland Statutory Marriages; 610/ 5; Old Cumnock, Ayrshire. John and Elizabeth had eight children (yes, including another ‘Walter’!) and he died on April Fool’s Day in 1900 at Motherwell in Lanarkshire.37Source: 1900 Scotland Statutory Deaths; 639/ 225; Dalziel, Lanarkshire.

By 1861, Walter [2] Ferguson had lost both parents, his older brother and two sisters — so, at age 47, he took his wife and the seven youngest children to Plymouth in England, where they embarked on the S.V. “Jessie Munn” and headed for Queensland, Australia. But that is another story.

Elizabeth (ii)

Like her sister Catherine, Elizabeth was the second of Walter [1] and Anne’s children to bear the name of a previous sibling. The first Elizabeth was likely born in Clonmel, Tipperary in 1803, and died at Cork (or at sea) in 1805. Again, the re-use of a name is a strong clue to indicate an honour name for a grandparent, but this is not certain. The second Elizabeth was born at sea on 14 Jan 1816 aboard the troopship “Lucy and Maria” as it sailed towards Cape Town from Calcutta.38Source: St George’s Cathedral Military Baptisms; FHL 1295055; Cape Town. She would have been just four when the family arrived in Cumnock in 1820.

Elizabeth was not with the family in 1841, and was working as a female servant in the home of spirit dealer James Boyd and his small family; however, in December that year, she married James Douglas,39Source: 1841 Scotland O.P.R. Marriages; 610/ 40 403; Old Cumnock, Ayrshire. a coal miner — but, in keeping with family tradition, this minute is recorded by the Kirk Session on 25 April 1842:

❝ Compeared […] James Douglas and Elizabeth Ferguson, confessing themselves to be guilty of antenuptial fornication. They were rebuked, exhorted to repentance and absolved of the scandal.❞

James was the illegitimate child of James Douglas snr. and Jean Craig (no relation). He was born in 1820, but had himself baptised in 1839 at Old Cumnock; he was living with his mother at Pluck Row in 1841. Elizabeth and James had five children between 1842 and March 1854, losing one of them in 1850.

In 1851, James and Elizabeth and their three surviving children were living at Wee Rigg, about halfway between Cumnock and Auchinleck. A fifth child was born to the couple in 1854, but James seems to have died sometime shortly after that; he would have been about 35. However, things were about to get worse for their four little children: Elizabeth died of Phthisis (TB/consumption) at Townfoot in Cumnock in 1855,40Source: 1855 Scotland Statutory Deaths; 610/ 59; Old Cumnock, Ayrshire. aged 39 — just 47 days after her dear mother passed away. It is possible that TB also killed Elizabeth’s husband and mother.

William McLatchie and Son did the burial honours once more, and William, her brother, was again the informant for another family tragedy. The four children were now all orphans and, by 1861, some of them were registered as paupers. The youngest child, Janet, went to live with Elizabeth’s younger brother, Thomas.


The baby of the family, Thomas, was born sometime in 1818 somewhere in Cape Colony. Thomas would have been no more than two when he arrived on Scottish soil in 1820, and was living with his parents in the village in 1841. However, by 1844 he had moved to the parish of Monkton and Prestwick, (closer to the coast, just north of the town of Ayr) and there, at 26, he married Mary Orr.

1844 SCOTLAND O.P.R. BIRTHS: Parish of Monkton & Prestwick, Ayrshire 41Source: 1844 Scotland O.P.R. Marriages; 606/ 30 369; Monkton & Prestwick, Ayrshire.

Thomas Ferguson and Mary Orr both in this
parish gave in their names to be proclaimed
in order to marriage 6th January 1844 and
after being three times proclaimed were married
on the 19 of the same month by the Rev. John McFarlan

Thomas and Mary were to have at least seven children between 1844 and 1863, and the first of these was called … you guessed it: Walter! By 1851, the couple (with their first three children) were living back at Townfoot in Cumnock, and he had become a tailor. Ten years later they were still quite nearby — at the not quite identified “Long Causay” — with five of their children (the eldest, Walter, had now left home). Also living with Thomas and Mary was their orphaned niece Janet Douglas (daughter of sister Elizabeth),

A picture of Thomas Ferguson in the USA

A picture purported to be of Thomas Ferguson in the USA.

In 1871, Thomas and Mary Orr, with four children, had moved to Kinholm Place, just north of the village square.42Source: 1871 Scotland Census; 610/ 2/ 5; Old Cumnock, Ayrshire. The eldest daughter, Mary, had married Joseph Tosh at Kinholm Place in 1869,43Source: 1869 Scotland Statutory Marriages; 610/ 28; Old Cumnock, Ayrshire. but they had moved to Glasgow and had four children by 1874. Tragedy struck this young couple when Joseph, at only 31, died of the dreaded TB in March 1878.44Source: 1878 Scotland Statutory Deaths; 644/ 11 283; Hutchesontown, Glasgow. By 1881, the four Tosh children were living with Thomas and Mary at Kinholm Place, where they would all be for the next seven years.45Source: 1881 Scotland Census; 610/ 2/ 3; Old Cumnock, Ayrshire.

With his parents and most of his siblings dead or emigrated, Thomas and Mary (probably with their widowed daughter, Mary, and her four children) left for the USA in 1889 aboard the S.S. “Waldensian” — they were following their son William who had taken two of the Tosh orphans to Pennsylvania in 1887. They arrived at Boston, Massachusetts,  on 13 Jun 1889 when Thomas was 70 years old. Although they all seem to have moved to Braddock, Pennsylvania, little is known of their lives in the New World, and no record of their deaths has been found.



1. Walter & the 72nd — 4 Comments

  1. What an amazing story and I can only salute your research in putting this together! I am sure there will be many family members who will be grateful for your diligence in recording them for many generations to come. As always, you have retold their remarkable life beautifully.

  2. Thanks for those kind words, Nicola. 🙂 We are so lucky to have the information to build this story – most of our ancestors end up just being a date or two in the family tree – though census records help to create an image of the lives they led. Good luck with your Pinkertons, and perhaps we will find a connection to our “Goudie” side.

  3. Thank you for all the time and effort that you have put into this. Wonderful to read the history of this family.
    All the Best to Alan.

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