4. BARR of Renfrewshire: 1674–1876

Parishes of Edinburgh, Renfrewshire & Islay

The story so far:

The Galt family originated in the North Ayrshire parishes of Kilwinning, Kilmaurs, Dreghorn and Beith, with the earliest records going back to 1683. With the birth of Gabriel [3] Galt in 1793, the scene was set for the Galt family to merger with the Howie family. As the Galt and Howie lines were flourishing in Ayrshire, other branches of Robyn’s family were emerging in different parts of Scotland. This chapter is about the Barr family of Renfrewshire and the Morrison family from the Island of Islay.

N.B. — Throughout this text, all of Robyn’s direct ancestors are marked in purple. All blue text [inside brackets] represents additional information or corrections, and did not form part of the original documents. Copies of the original birth, death, marriage and census records are held by me and stored in the Cloud, and can be made available to interested parties. When reproducing the baptismal and marriage entries below, I have kept the original archaic spellings and text, and also laid them out to reflect how they appear in the parish records.


7G- & 8G-Grandparents

The earliest record we can trace back to in the Barr family tree was the marriage of Robert Dobie and Margaret Findlayson in Edinburgh, in 1674:

1674 SCOTLAND O.P.R. MARRIAGES: Parish of Edinburgh, Midlothian 1Source: DOBIE, Robert & FINDLAYSON, Margaret; 1674 Scotland O.P.R. Marriages; 685/1; Edinburgh.

                        21 Jūnij 1674
Robert Dobie Baxter Margaret Findlayson

This very simple record uses a Latin form of ‘June’, and the old Scots word ‘baxter’, which was originally a female ‘baker’, but eventually became used for both male and female. Robert and Margaret are Robyn’s 8g-grandparents, and we have records for six of their children: Helene (1675); Anna (1677); Chrystine (1678); Isobell (1680), Geils (1683) and Margaret:

1684 SCOTLAND O.P.R. BAPTISMS: Parish of Edinburgh, Midlothian 2Source: DOBIE, Margaret; 1684 Scotland O.P.R. Births; 685/1; Edinburgh.

Robert Dobie Baxter Margaret Findlayson a D.N. [daughter named]
Margaret. William Brune Stabular, John Bining

Vintiner, Kenneth Jackson merchant, William Dobie

The witnesses were a mixture of merchants, and all of Margaret’s siblings had a similar line up for their baptisms; some were obviously grandfathers or uncles (e.g. William Dobie and Robert Findlayson), but I have no way to determine which. We have no other information about the Dobie family until Margaret was to marry in 1703:

1674 SCOTLAND O.P.R. MARRIAGES: Parish of Edinburgh, Midlothian 3Source: SMEALE, William & DOBIE, Margaret; 1703 Scotland O.P.R. Marriages; 685/1 450 144; Edinburgh, Midlothian.

[?] 30 May 1703
William Smeall Gardiner at [Greenock] and Margaret Dobie
Servt. to John Mcfarline wryter to Her Majesties

The original entry is difficult to read, but we can work out a couple of details. William’s place of work is likely to be at ‘Greenock’, because his children’s baptismal records have him as a “Gardiner to Sir John Schaw”, the 3rd Baronet of Greenock, Renfrewshire. Sir John was instrumental in the development of Greenock Harbour, and he also fought against the Jacobites at the Battle of Sherrifmuir in 1715. Margaret was a servant to John McFarlane, a “wryter ”, who sat as a Whig in the House of Commons between 1708 and 1734. A ‘Writer to the Signet’ was a member of a private society of Scottish solicitors, who had special privileges in drawing up documents that required to be signeted.

We have only been able to find two children for William Smeal and Margaret Dobie, and both were born at Greenock West Parish in Renfrewshire: Marion (1704) and John (1705).

1704 SCOTLAND O.P.R. BAPTISMS: Parish of Greenock Old or West, Renfrewshire 4Source: SMEAL, Marion; 1704 Scotland O.P.R. Births; 564/3 10 41; Greenock West or Old, Renfrewshire.

Marion lawll Daug to William Smeal gardiner to Sir John Schaw, and
Margaret Dobie was born March 17 and baptised March 19 as witness
John Warden & James Love merchants

When she was 25, Marion Smeal married a sailor at Greenock:

1729 SCOTLAND O.P.R. MARRIAGES: Parish of Greenock Old or West, Renfrewshire 5Source: ANDERSON, George & SMELIE, Marrion; 1729 Scotland O.P.R. Marriages; 564/3 40 39; Greenock West or Old, Renfrewshire.

                                        Register of Marriages A.D. 1729
July 4 George Anderson Sailor in Gr: [Greenock] and Marion Smelie
Daughter to William Smelie Gardener there were booked
in order to proclamation of Banns

Here the surname ‘Smeal’ has been spelt ‘Smelie’, and these are known variants of the name. We have only found two children of this marriage: William (1733) and Helen (1737) — it seems likely there should be more, but none have come to light. In William’s baptismal record, his father is given as a “Mariner”, but when Helen arrived, he had stepped up a notch or two:

1737 SCOTLAND O.P.R. BAPTISMS: Greenock Old or West, Renfrewshire 6Source: ANDERSON, Helen; 1737 Scotland O.P.R. Births; 564/3 10 403; Greenock West or Old, Renfrewshire.

Febry | Helen Daughter lawll to George Anderson Shipmaster
             in Gr. [Greenock] and Marion Smelie his spouse was born the 17th and baptized
             the 20th.

Her father by then was the master of a ship that worked out of Greenock harbour. We know nothing else of this family, but we do find that George Anderson had crossed the River Styx by 1761.



Helen Anderson was 24 years old, and fatherless, when she married John [1] Barr:

1761 SCOTLAND O.P.R. MARRIAGES: Parish of Greenock Old or West, Renfrewshire 7Source: BARR, John [1] & ANDERSON, Helen; 1761 Scotland O.P.R. Marriages; 564/3 40 126; Greenock West or Old, Renfrewshire.

April 10th John [1] Barr Cowper in this Parish and Helen
Anderson Indweller there Lawful Daughter to the Deceast
George Anderson Shipmaster in Greenock booked in order
to proclamation of Banns.

This marriage introduces one of the major branches of Robyn’s line, and a name that was still in use in her mother’s generation. We have no reliable information about the birth of John [1], but he is given here, and in later records, as a “Cowper”, which is an old spelling of ‘cooper’ (a barrel and tub maker). The word “Indweller” just means an ‘inhabitant’ . This couple were to have five children, all born in the same parish: John [2] (1762); Marion (1765); Thomas (1767); Grisel (1769); and Adam (1772).

1762 SCOTLAND O.P.R. BAPTISMS: Parish of Greenock Old or West, Renfrewshire 8Source: ANDERSON, Helen; 1737 Scotland O.P.R. Births; 564/3 10 403; Greenock West or Old, Renfrewshire.

Jany | John [2] Lawful son to John [1] Barr Cowper in this parish &
          Helen Anderson his spouse born upon the 26th Baptized
          the 30th.

Again, all we know about these 18th Century families comes from what was recorded in the parish records — so the next event was when John [1] and Helen’s eldest child married in 1761:

1790 SCOTLAND O.P.R. MARRIAGES: Parish of Greenock Old or West, Renfrewshire 9Source: BARR, John [2] & SIMPSON, Henrietta; 1790 Scotland O.P.R. Marriages; 564/ 3 40 213; Greenock West or Old, Renfrewshire.

                  Booked and Married in 1790
                  John [2] Barr weaver | Old  [parish]
Decr. 17 | Henrietta Simpson  | New [parish]

John [2] Barr was a weaver when he married Henrietta Simpson, but what is with the ‘old’ and ‘new’ parish information? Greenock Parish began in 1589 by Royal Charter but, by the 1760s, the population had grown so much that additional churches were needed; so, a ‘New or Middle’ Kirk was completed in 1761 about 1.5 km (1 mile) east of the old kirk, and an ‘East Kirk’ was erected in 1774 a few hundred metres further east again.

LEFT: The Old or West Kirk as it was between 1700 and 1841, situated close to the harbour at the end of the Esplanade;
RIGHT: The New or Middle Kirk which was completed in 1761, with a view of Greenock Harbour on the Clyde River.

John [2] and Henrietta (Robyn’s 4g-grandparents) were to have 10 children, and each one was born in Cartsdyke, which is at the eastern end of Greenock; however, all the children were baptised in the ‘Old or West’ parish. There were six girls and four boys: Jane (1791); Mary (1792); Elizabeth (1794); Thomas [1] (1798); John (1796); Jean (1800); Matthew (1802); Henrietta (1805); Adam (1809); and Ann (1811). In all records bar one, John [2] is described as a “weaver”, but in Matthew’s record he is given as a “day labourer”.

We know little else of this family, but we have information about the marriages of four of the boys. John married Elizabeth McAdam in 1829 at Greenock East Parish; Adam married Jean Miller in 1831 at Kilmacolm; and Matthew seems to have moved to Chester in England where he married Margaret Bellis in 1837. However, the first to marry was Thomas [1] and he married a lass from the Island of Islay in 1826.

Two old views of Greenock, Renfrewshire. On the left is looking west towards the Rosneath Peninsula in the Clyde estuary; the right is looking east along the Clyde River.

Thomas [1] Barr & Jean Morrison


Kilmacolm was a village about 10 km (6 miles) south-east of Greenock, and we know that at least Thomas [1] and his brother Adam had moved there.  The first we hear of Kilmacolm is when Thomas [1] married Jean Morrison in 1826.

1826 SCOTLAND O.P.R. MARRIAGES: Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire 10Source: BARR, Thomas [1] & MORISON, Jane; 1826 Scotland O.P.R. Marriages; 569/ 20 130; Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire.

Thomas [1] Barr and Jane Morison both in this Parish have given
for proclamation in Order to Marriage at Kilmacolm this
10th. Day of Novbr. 1826

Thomas [1] Barr and Jane Morison both of Kilmacolm having pro-
-duced Certificate of Proclamation of Banns of Marriage and no
Objection Offered were Married at Kilmacolm Mance this 22nd Day
of Novbr. 1826 By Mr Robert Cameron Minister of Kilmacolm.

In several records Jean’s name appears as “Jane”, and these two names are virtually interchangeable in Scotland; many ‘Jeans’ in our family tree used both at times throughout their lives. This couple were to have six children by 1840, but we have no baptismal records for two of them. However, from the records we do have, and in formation from various censuses, we know of these offspring: John (1827, Kilmacolm); Jean (1831, Kilmacolm); Thomas [2] (1832, Kilmacolm); Mathew (1834, Kilmacolm); Angus (1836, Clune Brae); and Adam (Kilmacolm).

‘Clune Brae’ is 4 km (2½ miles) north of Kilmacolm on the eastern side of Port Glasgow on the Clyde. Given that all the rest of his brood were born born in Kilmacolm, we can guess that Thomas [1] must have been working there when Angus was born in November 1836. However, the one that was in our family’s direct line, you will have guessed, was Thomas [2]:

1832 SCOTLAND O.P.R. BAPTISMS: Parish of Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire 11Source: BARR, Thomas [2];1832 Scotland O.P.R. Births; 569/ 20 44; Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire.

    1832     | Thomas [2] Lawful son to Thomas [1] Barr in
June 28th | Kilmacolm and Jane Morrison his Spouse.

Allsix children appear with their mother in the 1841 census — but not Thomas [1]

1841 SCOTLAND CENSUS: Kilmacolm Village, Renfrewshire 12Source: BARR (Morison), Jean; 1841 Scotland Census; 569/0 4/ 11; Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire.

Widow Jean Morrison or Barr; 38; Pauper; born Scotland
John Barr; 13; born Renfrewshire
Jean Barr; 10; born Renfrewshire
Thomas [2] Barr; 8; born Renfrewshire
Mathew Barr; 6; born Renfrewshire
Angus Barr; 4; born Renfrewshire
Adam Barr; 2; born Renfrewshire

After only 13 years of marriage, it appears that Jean was now a widow and declared a “pauper”, and the poor soul was left with six children to support. Looking at the youngest, if Adam was two in 1841, then he was born in 1839 — therefore, his father must have died between Adam’s conception and the 1841 census taken in June. Most deaths for ordinary people went unrecorded before the advent of statutory records in 1855, so I searched the parish records with little hope of finding any mention of his passing — but this showed up:

1840 SCOTLAND O.P.R. DEATHS: Parish of Neilston, Renfrewshire 13Source: BARR, Thomas [1]; 1840 Scotland O.P.R. Deaths; 572/ 60 249; Neilston, Renfrewshire.

                                       Deaths in 1840
March | 10 | Thomas [1] Barr  Mossneuck aged [blank]

Now, we know Thomas [1] had moved for work at least once to Clune Brae, so perhaps he was working at Mossneuk, near Barrhead, when he died. This entry doesn’t record an age or cause of death, and Mossneuk is 15 km (9 miles) south-east of Kilmacolm. Thomas [1] had only ever been described as a ‘labourer’, and would have found work wherever he could to feed his family. Given it is the right name at the right time, I’m inclined to believe this is our Thomas [1].

Years 1851–1876

When the 1851 census came around, we were to find a very different family to the one from ten years previously:

1851 SCOTLAND CENSUS: House in Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire 14Source: BARR, Jean (Morrison); 1851 Scotland Census; 569/ 4/ 15; Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire.

Jean Barr [Morrison]; Head; Widow; 49; Washerwoman; born Islay, Argyllshire

For Jean, now a washerwoman, it seems she has gone blind and all her family has left home — and we also find out for the first time that she was born on Islay, an island at the southern end of the Hebrides (and a home to some marvellous whiskies!). From here, four of her children disappear from our records, and we can only follow two of them after this. Angus was 14, and working as an “errand boy” at the farm of a Mary Holm in Nittingshill, about 3 km (2 miles) south of Kilmalcolm. Thomas [2], however, was only a few hundred yards north working at a farm called “Old Place” (‘Old Hall’ on some maps):

1851 SCOTLAND CENSUS: Old Place, Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire 15Source: BARR, Thomas [2]; 1851 Scotland Census; 569/ 6/ 2; Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire.

Alexander Gibb; Head; 28; Farmer (50 acres, 2 employees); born Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire
Isabella Gibb; Wife; Mar; 25; Farmer’s Wife; born Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire
Thomas [2] Barr; Servant; Unm.; 18; Farm or agricultural worker; born Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire
Catherine Blue; Servant; Unm.; 20; Farm or agricultural worker; born Argyllshire

Two years after this census, Thomas [2] Barr was to marry Ann McColl of Mull (see page 5), and we find their nuptials recorded in a parish just south of the Glasgow metropolis:

1853 SCOTLAND O.P.R. MARRIAGES: Parish of Eaglesham, Renfrewshire 16Source: BARR, Thomas & McCOLL, Ann; 1853 Scotland O.P.R. Marriages; 561/ 20 308; Eaglesham, Renfrewshire.

Thomas [2] Barr & Ann McColl
both residing in this parish were
proclaimed 12th June

It is possible that Ann was already pregnant with their first child, Jane, but will leave this couple for now, as they will soon become part of the Glasgow story (see page 6). However, Thomas’ mother was to remain in Kilmacolm for the remainder of her life, and her son Angus was to move back home by 1861:

1861 SCOTLAND CENSUS: Townhead, Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire 17Source: BARR, Jane [Morrison]; 1861 Scotland Census; 569/ 1/ 7; Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire.

Jane Barr [Morrison]; Head; Widow; 59; Washerwoman; born Kilcoman, Argyllshire
Angus Barr; Son; Unm.; 24; Shoemaker; born Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire

This census gave the parish Jean Morrison was born in, and ‘Kilchoman’ is on the western coast of Islay. Also, there is no mention of her being ‘blind’, as in the 1851 record. A decade later, and things look much the same for Jean and Angus, except for one startling piece of information:

1861 SCOTLAND CENSUS: Townhead, Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire 18Source: BARR, Jean [Morrison]; 1871 Scotland Census; 569/ 1/ 1; Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire.

Jean Barr [Morrison]; Head; Mar. [Widow]; 71; Retired Farm Servant; born Islay, Argyllshire
Angus Barr; Son; Unm.; 32; lunatic; born Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire

This census confirms that Jean was from Islay, and had obviously been working as a ‘farm servant’ for at least some of the time since the previous survey — and once again she is not marked as “blind”. Our Thomas [2] was married and living in Glasgow at this time, but we can see his story in the final chapter. However, it is the note that Angus was a “lunatic” that gets our attention. The 1871 census had introduced a column which asked if someone in the household was one of four categories: “Deaf and Dumb”; “Blind”; “Imbecile or Idiot”; or “Lunatic”! No doubt your eyes have widened with shock at this point. The first two categories seem straightforward enough, but you would have to wonder how relatively illiterate people would be able to give the enumerator any reasonable medical diagnosis of a family member’s mental capacity. Nevertheless, there were guidelines, and authorities used these vague definitions at the time:

  • Lunatic: a mentally ill person with periods of lucidity;
  • Imbecile: persons who have fallen in later life into a state of chronic dementia;
  • Idiot: persons who suffer from a congenital mental deficiency.

So, I guess Angus had ‘periods of lucidity’, which is why he could function as a shoemaker! Whatever his actual condition, his mother was to abandon him to his fate when she departed this world in 1875:

1875 SCOTLAND STATUTORY DEATHS: Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire 19Source: BARR (Morrison), Jean; 1875 Scotland Statutory Deaths; 569/ 7; Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire.

Jean Barr
Widow of Thomas [1] Barr, Labourer

died: 5th January 1875  (6:00 pm)    age: 75 years    at: Low Shells

father: Angus Morison, Farmer (deceased)
mother: Flora Morison M.S. McLean (deceased)

cause: Bronchitis Acute      doctor: John Wm. Taylor M.D.
informant: Robert Know, Inspector of Poor, Kilmacolm

From this document, we discover her parents’ names, but we have never found her baptismal record. From all her other records throughout life, we know Jean was born about 1802, and we were lucky enough to find a probable sister. Mary Morrison was born at Laggan, Islay, in 1803 — she went on to marry an Archibald McDonald, and had seven children. These would have all been native Gaelic speakers. 

LEFT: Main St, Kilmacolm looking west towards the Kirk. ‘Low Shells’ would have been in the street going right at the lamp post. RIGHT: Bridge Street, Kilmacolm; looking west from behind the Kirk.

We know “Low Shells” was a house in the main part of Kilmacolm Village, in a street running between Main Street and Market Place, just south of the Church. It’s now just an empty space with a park bench, but you can read a little about it in this blog post: It Was Always Sunny by Chris Mitchell.

But what became of Angus? Well, the very day after his mother’s death, he was admitted to the Abbey Asylum in Paisley, 12½ km (8 miles) south-east of Kilmacolm. He died there 15 months later of “inflammation of the lungs”. He was given as a shoemaker, single, and 38 years of age — but the asylum clerk did not know his parents’ names. Sadly, none of his siblings had come to speak for him. > NEXT PAGE: 5. McColl & McLean

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