This is the story of Thomas Stuart, a man who rose far above his humble origins in Balblair, Parish of Resolis, to become a distinguished merchant of Belize, British Honduras (since independence in 1981 known simply as the country of Belize). He married a daughter of Mackenzie Ross of Aldie, in Easter Ross, and had many children, although few survived the challenging conditions of Belize. He did not forget his origins, and would send back each year a sum of money to be distributed amongst the poor of the parish. He returned home on several occasions – some journey! – but died far away in Belize in 1857.
Thomas Stuart (1803 Balblair – 1857 Belize)
Isabella Balfour Mackenzie Ross (1820 Tain – 1873 Bath)
Close to the north dyke of Kirkmichael is a sturdy gated enclosure within which several Stuart stones lie. Immediately adjacent to the enclosure is a small group of Stewart stones, associated with Cromarty stonemason, geologist and writer, Hugh Miller. The relationship between the Stuarts and the Stewarts will be explored in a future story (if it can be figured out).
photo by Jim Mackay
The tablestone which attracts the eye in the enclosure was erected by Thomas Stuart, Merchant in Honduras, to the memory of his father, Charles Stuart. Thomas is well recorded in the newspapers of the time, although thus far I have been unable to locate any paperwork associated with his enterprises in Scotland or Belize.
This high quality tablestone, inside the Stuart enclosure, bears the inscription:
To the memory / of / CHARLES STUART / of this Parish, / who died at Balblair / on the 3rd day of Sepr. / MDCCCXXI / in the 49th year of his age. / deeply lamented by all who knew / him and especially / by / his sorrowing widow and by his / only surviving and affectionate / son / THOMAS STUART / Merchant Glasgow / and now residing in Honduras / 1841
The legs of the tablestone are supported by a full-length foundation slab. In 2019, the Trust straightened up the headstone in the enclosure as it was at risk of falling over, and while there cleared the soil below the tablestone to show off the foundation slab. The Stuart tablestone is now the smartest in Kirkmichael. The enclosure holds another tablestone in poorer condition, this one commemorating Stewart of Newmills and Alness Ferry. We have to assume this Stewart was a close relative. But I imagine the Enclosure itself was erected as instructed by, and with the finance of, the Merchant of Honduras.
The earliest member of the family identified in the records is one John Stuart, a tailor in Balblair. He and his wife, Margaret Holm, had several children baptised in the 1770s.
24 May 1772 John Stuart taylor at Belblair & Margaret Holm – Charles
2 December 1774 John Stewart taylor in Balblair & Margrat Holm – Isobel
29 December 1777 John Stewart taylor in Balblair & Margaret Holm – Sipphina
The “Holm” resurfaces a thousand miles from the Black Isle as the middle name of a great grand-son! Before John, in the Newhall Estate rentals (1755 to 1772), there was an earlier Charles Stuart in Easter Balblair, whose tenancy was in fact taken over by John Stuart by 1776. However, without confirmatory evidence we cannot conclude that this Charles was in fact John’s father.
In the Consolidated Tax records of 1798, there are two tailors, John Stuart and Charles Stuart, present in Balblair. These would be father John (who had married Margaret Holm) and son Charles (who was born in 1772 and is commemorated on the Stuart tablestone in Kirkmichael).
There are four records relating to the baptisms of children born to Charles Stuart tailor in Balblair. The first and second entries have Charles Stuart’s wife as “Janet Fraser”, the third and fourth entries originally had just “Janet” followed by a blank for the surname. However, the third entry at a later date had the surname “McIntyre” inserted in the blank space. Given that there was an announcement carried in the northern papers in 1853 of the death of “Janet Fraser”, widow of Charles Stuart of Balblair, I think it safe to assume that the “McIntyre” was incorrect. I mention this as the few references on-line to Charles Stuart the merchant of Honduras state that his mother was one Janet McIntyre which appears to be an error. Several families in the Resolis baptism and marriage records at this time are recorded as “Fraser alias Macintyre” or “Macintyre alias Fraser” so the usual alias confusion appears to have arisen.
The strange insertion of “McIntyre”
The four baptism entries and the newspaper announcement are:
February 6th 1798. Charles Stuart Taylor in Balblair and Janet Fraser his Spouse had a Daughter baptized named Cathrine.
1800 … July 14th … Charles Stuart Taylor in Balblair and Jannet Fraser his Spouse had a Child baptized named – John
March 14th 1803 Charles Stuart Balblair and Janet McIntyre his spouse had a Child baptized and named – Thomas
1814 … Charles Stuart Tailor Balblair and his spouse Janet [gap] had a child born the 1st and Baptized the 4th day of February – named – Janet
John O’Groat Journal 25 March 1853
DEATHS: … At Balblair Cottage, Resolis, on the 4th ult. Mrs Janet Fraser, relict of the late Mr Charles Stuart, aged 79.
I have gone into some detail here as those following up on the origins of Janet Fraser/Macintyre need to examine both sets of names. Given she was born about 1774, for instance, this could be she:
15 December 1773 Thomas Fraser ferrier in Balblair and Katharin Scot – Jannet
and it can be seen that this is one of the families with McIntyre as an alias:
26 October 1770 Thomas Fraser al. McIntyre mealer in Belblair and Katharine Scot – Thomas
It would be nice if this were the correct family as it links to another Story behind the Stone on the Scott family of Resolis!
There would probably have been more than the four children, Cathrine, John, Thomas and Janet. By 1841, though, the only son still alive was Thomas for the inscription at Kirkmichael, dating from that year, refers to Thomas Stuart as the only surviving son. Brother John, born 1800, and any other brother, must have died before 1841. The wording of the inscription, though, suggests that there were still sisters around. Anyway, discounting siblings, the early family tree for the merchant of Honduras, supplemented by information on his marriage, is:
John Stuart tailor in Balblair=Margaret Holm
Charles Stuart tailor in Balblair (1772–1831)=Janet Fraser (c1774–1853)
Thomas Stuart merchant Honduras (1803–1857)=1841=Isabella Balfour Mackenzie Ross (1820–1873)
We know little of the early life of the merchant. His father, Charles Stuart, tailor and tenant, had become relatively well-off as evidenced by his ownership of property at Balblair. He had died in 1821, when Thomas was still a teenager. The family had been sufficiently affluent to send Thomas to the new Academy at Fortrose, and his aptitude for arithmetic obviously would have helped his later career as a merchant.
Inverness Journal 31 Dec 1818
Academy of Fortrose. … the Prizes for superior merit and proficiency … Mathematical Class … Thomas Stewart, from Resolis, for Arithmetic.
Thomas Stuart thereafter established himself as a merchant in Glasgow. When he had the tablestone erected belatedly to his father in 1841 he had already departed Glasgow for Honduras, as it reads that Charles Stuart was mourned “by his sorrowing widow and by his only surviving and affectionate son Thomas Stuart Merchant Glasgow and now residing in Honduras 1841”.
The handsome tablestone erected by Thomas Stuart in honour of his father, Charles Stuart of Balblair
He was a foreign merchant as early as 1837. We know this because when he returned to Resolis, he wished to prove himself eligible to vote. The electoral register shows his entitlement claim for voting:
1837 … No. 2d. … Thomas Stuart Esquire Merchant lately of Buenos Ayres, and now residing at Easter Balblair– as Proprietor of those 6 houses with the Gardens thereto attached and pertinents thereto belonging Situated in Easter Balblair of Newhall … as Heir of the late Charles Stuart Farmer in Easter Balblair my Father [Cover] Admit JJ/GM
This indicates that his first ventures abroad were in fact much further south than Belize as he had been active in Buenos Aires, Argentina. What is surprising is that the entry suggests that his father by the time he had died had become proprietor of six houses and gardens at Easter Balblair, so was a substantial local land owner in his own right. There must have been something going on more than simply tailoring! Further investigation of the sasines between 1821 and 1837 no doubt will reveal more information on the property.
Thomas must have departed for Belize shortly after this, as we know that he was already established in Honduras in 1838. How do we know this? Because that year he sent money back to be disbursed to the poor of the parish. This is from the Kirk Session records:
At the Schoolhouse of Resolis the 11th day of December 1838 years / The Minutes of the meeting of last year held here for a similar purpose were read coram & the meeting thereafter having called for the Treasurers accounts the following state of money received & disbursements made on various occasions during the currency of the year was submitted to the meeting & approved of.
To Weekly Collections – £22.-.-
To Donation from Thomas Stewart Esqr. of Honduras – 1.-.-
I confess that the location of Belize in my mind was always a bit shaky; hopefully this clarifies the geography!
It took several months for communications from Honduras to reach the UK. Note the “Esqr.” indicating that Thomas was now of some status! Business was clearly good, as a much larger sum was forthcoming in 1841:
At the Church of Resolis the 21st day of December 1841 years / The Minutes of their meeting held on the 21st day of December, 1840 were read coram and the following State of Money received and Disbursements made during the currency of the year was drawn out and submitted to the Meeting and approved of as under,
To Donation from Thomas Stewart Esqe of Honduras 11th July 1841 – £5.-.-
Five pounds sterling was equal to the greatest contributions made by the lairds of the parish, and more than several of them. Thomas Stuart was doing well. Further evidence of the family fortunes comes from the 1841 Census return for Balblair where we see:
Balblair … Widow Stewart 60 Ind
Janet Fraser (“Widow Stewart”) is thus recorded as of Independent means, undoubtedly being maintained by son Thomas the Merchant. Ages in the 1841 census were rounded so the “60” is not particularly useful, but fortunately Janet survived through to 1853 and hence appears in the more accurate 1851 census. This is she:
Betty McLennan head m 40 housekeeper Kincardine
Janet Stewart lodger w 77 house proprietor Resolis
This gives an approximate year of birth for Janet of 1774, and confirms she was born in Resolis. She was the only woman in Resolis at this time to be the proprietor of a house!
There are no more records in the Kirk Session minutes of contributions from Thomas Stuart. I think this may have been that he was an adherent, when in Scotland, of the Free Church, which was established in 1843. Certainly when his son Thomas was baptised in Resolis in 1853 it was in the Free Church baptism records that he appeared.
Thomas Stuart returned to the UK on several occasions. We can see he was back in 1837 when he registered as a voter. But he was back again in 1841 for a more important event, and one which demonstrates just how the family had moved up the social register. He married a daughter of Mackenzie Ross of Aldie. Many newspapers carried the news, including the Inverness Courier of 24 November 1841:
At 16, Warriston Crescent, Edinburgh, on the 29th ult. Thomas Stuart, Esq., Merchant, Belize, Honduras, to Isabella Balfour Mackenzie, fourth daughter of George Mackenzie Ross, Esq. of Aldie, Ross-shire.
I can’t find a record of their marriage in the Edinburgh marriage registers, but it was recorded in Isabella’s home parish, Tain:
Thomas Stewart Esqr. & Miss Isabella McKenzie Ross res Daughter of Geo. McKenzie Ross Esqr. of Aldie were married at Edinburgh on the 29th. Octr. 1841 by the Revd. Thomas Chalmers D.D.
The name of the minister gives a clue as to why the marriage can’t be found in an Edinburgh church register. Thomas Chalmers was the greatest religious leader in Scotland of the nineteenth century. A former Moderator of the Established Church, by this time he was immersed in the struggle to prevent lairds imposing ministers upon congregations against their will. That struggle would lead a couple of years later in 1843 to the formation of the Free Church, with Chalmers as the first Moderator of the new church. Thomas Stuart clearly sympathised with the views of Thomas Chalmers to have him consecrate his marriage.
Reverend Thomas Chalmers by Thomas Duncan (1840)
Isabella was the daughter of George Mackenzie Ross of Aldie and Catherine Balfour, daughter of the Tain minister. Her brother George Balfour Mackenzie-Ross (1809–1875) was born in the parish of Tarbat in Easter Ross and owned land in Berbice, so the family were well used to the colonial life.
Having married Isabella in Edinburgh in 1841, Thomas Stuart returned to Belize. The first step of the journey was from Glasgow to Liverpool, and we have a record of the very ship he sailed on, as he crops up as a signatory to one of frequent endorsements of vessels that were used as favourable publicity at the time:
Liverpool Standard and General Commercial Advertiser 22 June 1841
THE PRINCESS ROYAL, IRON STEAM-SHIP. / To the Owners of the Princess Royal, Steam-ship. / We, the undersigned passengers on board the Princess Royal, on her first voyage from Glasgow, have great pleasure in expressing our admiration of her extraordinary speed, unaccompanied by the usual tremulous motion; the distance from Greenock to Liverpool having been completed in the unprecedented period of fifteen hours and twenty-five minutes. / We have further to express our high satisfaction with very commodious and elegant manner in which the vessel is fitted up [etc.] / (Signed by) / … Thomas Stewart, Honduras … Liverpool, 19th June, 1841.
We have not as yet traced any record of his activities as a merchant in Belize. The first product exported from the area back in the 1600s was the highly desirable logwood, used to make dyes, and the shipping records in the 1800s are still filled with cargoes of logwood being carried to Europe. When manufactured chemical dyes supplanted natural dyes, this trade diminished, and the export market focused on mahogany and cedar. Sugar cane plantations were also established. A dreadful trade in slaves from Africa kept all these industries going. I don’t know which industries Thomas Stuart was part of (his son Charles Holm Stuart became a sugar planter) but they all carried the legacy of slave labour.
Logs on the Belize River show how Mahogany was shipped from forest to seaport
Mayan temple Belize; the Mayan culture died out for reasons unknown
Timber working in Belize
The parish registers and census returns of Belize are being published in series by a lady called Sonia Bennett Murray, but unfortunately at present they reach only to 1841. In the absence of a baptism or birth register, we must rely upon newspaper announcements for their children. Sadly, quite a number of them died in their infancy. The first two we know about were born in 1844 and 1846.
Inverness Courier 2 October 1844 (daughter Catherine Stuart)
At Belize, Honduras, on the 15th of July last, the Lady of Thomas Stuart, Esq., of a daughter.
Greenock Advertiser 14 July 1846 (son Charles Holm Stuart)
At Belize, Honduras, on the 21st May, the lady of Thomas Stuart, Esq., of a son.
They were soon back in the UK again, and their children were alive at that time.
Gore’s Liverpool General Advertiser 20 May 1847
PASSENGERS PER SHIP SIR ROBERT PEEL.– (Arrived yesterday, from New York.)– Hon. and Rev. Matthew Newport, child, and servant; Mr. Thomas Stuart, lady, two children, and servant, Mrs. Grey, Miss Skelton, all of Honduras; …
Further children were born at Belize subsequent to their return to the Honduras:
Glasgow Herald 28 July 1848 (daughter Isabella Balfour Stuart)
At Belize, Honduras, on the 31st May last, the lady of Thomas Stuart, Esq.; a daughter.
John o’ Groat Journal 7 February 1851 (son George Mackenzie Ross Stuart)
At Belize, Honduras, on the 4th of December, the Lady of Thomas Stuart, Esq., of a son.
Sadly, young George, named after his maternal grandfather, died a young boy:
Inverness Courier 15 April 1852,br>DEATHS … At Belize, Honduras, on the 5th day of February last, George Mackenzie Ross, youngest son of Thomas Stuart, Esq., Merchant there, aged 14 months.
George was buried in Yarborough Cemetery in Belize, and sadly was joined just a few months later by his sister Isabella Balfour Stuart:
North British Daily Mail 6 July 1852
DEATHS … At Belize, Honduras, on the 28th of May, Isabella Balfour, youngest daughter of Thomas Stuart, Esq., merchant there, aged 4 years.
Memorial to George McKenzie Ross Stuart; courtesy of Find A Grave
Memorial to Isabella Balfour Stuart; courtesy of Find A Grave
To / The Memory of / GEORGE McKENZIE ROSS / Son of / THOMAS STUART ESQ. / Merchant of this Settlement / who died on the 5th day of / February 1852, / aged 14 months. / Suffer little children to come / unto me and forbid them not: for / of such is the Kingdom of God.
To / the memory of / ISABELLA BALFOUR / daughter of / THOMAS STUART / Merchant in this settlement / who departed this life / on the 28th of May 1852 / aged 4 years.
The Handbook of British Honduras for 1888–89 by Lindsay W. Bristowe and Phillip B. Wright (William Blackwood and Sons of Edinburgh and London, 1888) states:
The Old Cemetery, Yarborough, was given to the Government by a Bayman of that name [James Dundas Yarborough], on the condition that it should be set apart as a place of burial. This was done at a public meeting of the inhabitants, on the 25th July 1787, and its entire management and control were placed in the hands of cemetery trustees. / The ground was consecrated by the Bishop of Jamaica in 1826. / For nearly one hundred years, or until 1877, when the management of public cemeteries was transferred to the Government, this was the only public cemetery in Belize…
Thomas Stuart himself would be buried in due course in Yarborough Cemetery. Following the death of two children in Belize in 1852, his wife returned to the Black Isle, and their next child, a son, was born there:
Inverness Courier 5 January 1854 (son Thomas Stuart)
At Balblair, Resolis, by Invergordon, on the 31st ult., Mrs Thomas Stuart (of Honduras), of a son.
That son Thomas crops up in the Resolis Free Church records as the very last entry for 1853:
Thomas Stewart, Esq. Belize Honduras and Mrs Isabella Balfour his wife had a son born 31st December 1853 and baptized [blank, but in baptisms for month of March 1854], named Thomas.
But, alas, the environment of Scotland proved to be just as hostile to young Thomas as that of Belize:
Inverness Courier 24 May 1855
DEATHS … At Broomhill, Easter Ross, on the 11th instant, Thomas, youngest son of Thomas Stuart, Esq., Merchant, Honduras, aged 16 months.
I’m not sure where Broomhill in Easter Ross was, but I assume it was associated with Isabella’s parents’ family. Isabella must have been pregnant at this time, for on her return to Belize, she was delivered of another child:
Inverness Courier 20 December 1855 (William Charles Stuart)
At Belize, Honduras, on the 27th October, the Lady of Thomas Stuart, Esq., of a son.
Alas, eventually the Merchant himself succumbed.
Inverness Courier 6 August 1857
At Belize, Honduras, on the 20th June, after a short illness, Thomas Stuart, Esq., Merchant, native of Resolis, Ross-shire, Scotland – deeply regretted by a numerous circle of acquaintances. Friends will please accept of this intimation.
Isabella had a memorial to commemorate her husband erected in Yarborough Cemetery where several of their children were already buried.
Lower section of the Thomas Stuart tablestone in Belize; courtesy of Find A Grave
Upper section of the Thomas Stuart tablestone in Belize – the slab is in fact similar to the tablestone he had erected in honour of his father back in Kirkmichael; courtesy of Find A Grave
Sacred / to the memory of / THOMAS STUART, / a native of the Parish of / Resolis, Ross-Shire, Scotland; / and for many years a merchant / in this settlement, / who departed this life on the 20th of / June 1857, aged 54 years. / This Stone / is placed over his remains by his / disconsolate and sorrowing wife / ISABELLA BALFOUR STUART. / “Watch therefore, for ye know neither / the day nor the hour wherein the / Son of Man cometh.” / MATTHEW 25 : 13.
I must thank the volunteers behind the Find A Grave website who have made their images of gravestones in Yarborough Cemetery publicly available. The citation for these photographs is:
Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 17 October 2019), memorial page for Thomas Stuart (1803–20 Jun 1857), Find A Grave Memorial no. 142314071, citing Yarborough Cemetery, Belize City, Belize, Belize; Maintained by Scooter T (contributor 48110330).
Isabella was pregnant at the time of her husband’s death. She returned to Scotland and gave birth in Glasgow. Civil registration of births had commenced in Scotland by now:
Thomas John Stuart born 23 August 1857 at 5 Moray Place Glasgow, parents Thomas Stuart West India Commission Merchant (deceased) Isabella Balfour Stuart ms McKenzie
As fortune would have it, Thomas John, the last born, was one of the few children to survive to adulthood. Isabella moved back north with the four surviving children, and in 1861 can be found, describing herself as “Fund Holder” in a house in Tain with Catherine B., Charles H., William C. and Thomas J. and two domestic servants.
Charles Holm Stuart (1846–1921)
Charles Holm Stuart became a sugar planter in Demerara, but I know little of his life. He was in Demerara in 1886, anyway, as in the meeting on 11th February of that year of the agricultural improvement society (much of whose time seemed to be spent on how to maximise sucrose production) “Charles H. Stuart” was elected member (page 134, of Timehri, being the Journal of the Royal Agricultural & Commercial Society of British Guiana, Volume 5). By 1911 he had retired to Suffolk, where he was recorded in the 1911 Census:
1911 Homeland Lyndhurst Road Lowestoft Suffolk 12 rooms
Charles Holm Stuart head 64 widower 26 years present marriage has lasted [so married about 1885] total children born alive 7 children still living 4 children who have died 3 Retired sugar planter born Belize British Honduras B. subject by parentage
Catharine Balfour Stuart daughter 18 single housekeeper Berbice British Guiana do.
Cecilia Beaton servant 36 widow 18 years marriage lasted 1 child born alive 1 child died cook Berbice British Guiana do.
Christobel Sharman servant 15 single housemaid domestic Suffolk Lowestoft do.
He died ten years later:
The Scotsman 28 February 1921 (also in The Times, etc.)
STUART – On the 25th Feb., at 42, Beehive-lane, Ilford, Charles Holm Stuart, late of Demerara and Croyden Lodge, Lowestoft. Funeral private.
Catherine Balfour Stuart (1844–) who married a doctor, one George Cowie, in 1865. in New Zealand; her brother Thomas John also resided for a long time in New Zealand.
Inverness Courier 27 April 1865
MARRIAGES … At Grassmere, Otago, New Zealand, on the 3d February, by the Rev. D.M. Stuart, George Cowie, Esq., M.D., son of George Cowie, Esq., of Groveside, Lanarkshire, to Catherine Balfour, only daughter of the late Thomas Stuart, Esq., Honduras, West Indies.
I see that a Catherine Balfour Cowie in 1872 married a Sidney Griffiths Brandon in New Zealand, and I imagine this has to be Catherine already on her second marriage.
William Charles Stuart (1855–)
I see 15-year-old William Charles was present in the household of his re-married mother in Dawlish, Devon, in 1871, along with his younger brother Thomas John. I have not tracked him thereafter.
Thomas John Stuart (1857–1951), who died in Surrey.
And I see 13-year-old Thomas John was present in the household of his re-married mother in Dawlish, Devon, in 1871, along with his elder brother William Charles!
Thomas John emigrated to New Zealand, although in his old age he returned to the UK. He married Sarah Catherine “Ally” Wallis Smith. I see a newspaper account of his passing:
STUART.– On Dec. 12 1951, THOMAS JOHN, beloved husband of ALLY STUART, of Bealeswood Cottage, Dockenfield, Surrey, and late of Tutira, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, in his 95th year. Funeral Private.
Thomas John Stuart (1857–1951) and Sara Catherine (“Ally”) Wallis Smith (1876–1959)
The above are images of the couple on the net, and I apologise if I have used these inappropriately– there was no contact information available on the site where I found them.
We last saw Isabella in Tain with her four surviving children. Isabella herself remarried in the same year as her daughter married for the first time, 1865. She married in London, quite a jump from Tain. Her husband was a solicitor and widower.
Glasgow Herald 10 October 1865
MARRIAGES … At the Parish Church of Bromley, St. Leonard’s, Middlesex, on the 5th inst., by the Rev. R. Warren, Sydney Pearson, Esq., of Dawlish, Devon, to Isabella Balfour, widow of Thomas Stuart, Esq., of Belize, Honduras. – No cards.
They lived at Dawlish in Devon and at Bath, and it was at Bath that they both passed away.
Lansdown Cemetery (Bath)
Isabella Balfour / the beloved wife of Sydney Pearson / daughter of George Mackenzie Ross / of Aldie Ross Shire / passed into the Spiritual World / December 16th 1873 / Aged 53. And on March 11th 1884 / the above-named Sydney Pearson / Entered His Eternal Home / in the 78th year of his Age
“Blessed are the dead which died in the Lord” / Rev: XIV.15 / “And there shall be no night here.” / Rev: XXII.15
Back in Resolis, nobody is aware of the Stuart of Belize story. The descendants of Thomas Stuart have long departed the parish and have not returned. All that is left is a substantial enclosure built by the son of the tailor in Balblair, the Merchant of Belize, British Honduras.
Apart from the Charles and Thomas Stuart tablestone in the Stuart Enclosure there is a headstone and another tablestone. Curiously, the sandstone blocks below part of the eastern railing have dropped considerably, and there must be an earlier grave below where the enclosure was built. Is this the grave of an even earlier representatives of the Stuart family?
The east wall of the Stuart Enclosure showing the suspicious settlement of the sandstone blocks
Angular headstone with no inscription
The sandstone headstone is sharply angular and bears no inscription. From careful inspection, it is clear it never bore an inscription – on both sides right down to the mason’s line well underground all it bears are the mason’s working marks.
Soil being removed from behind leaning headstone to allow it to be straightened up
Soil being sieved to retrieve porcelain shards
Mix of funeral ornament and porcelain plaque being sieved out
Kirsty working at a novel form of jigsaw; photos by Jim Mackay
We did find in front of the headstone (i.e. to the east) 45 pieces of thin porcelain material. When placed together like jigsaw pieces, most of two ceramic plaques were formed, one reading “In affectionate & loving remembrance of our dear daughter” and the other “In affectionate & loving remembrance of our dear brother”. It may be that these were attached in some way to the bare headstone, perhaps as a temporary measure until a mason could carve a proper inscription, an intention that was never realised. Certainly they are far too thin to have been considered a permanent marker. Presumably hundreds of these porcelain plaques were once manufactured for precisely this task. At the same location we found remnants of curved glass and broken porcelain floral arrangement once popular with the Victorians. The headstone is unusual and very well made, but for whom it was erected we cannot at present tell.
Stewart of Newmills and Alness Ferry tablestone
The other tablestone is not in as good condition as the Merchant’s memorial. The foundation slab under the west support is, we think, broken, so the tablestone is beginning to tilt over. It is, however, one of the few slabs to carry a poem, a variant of an epitaph found in several graveyards.
Placed here by / THOMAS STEWART / and HENRETA SIMPSON / to the memory of their / daughter HENRETTA / who died an infant
Remember thus as you pass by
As you breathe now so once did I
Death is a debt to nature due
Which I have paid and so must you
Thomas Stuart, sometimes Thomas Stewart, was a tailor in Gordon’s Mills when his and Henrietta’s children were baptised in 1811, 1814 and 1815, a tailor in Balblair in 1819 and 1822, farmer at Alness Ferry in 1824 and tacksman at Alness Ferry in 1827. In the Newhall rentals, he is at Alness Ferry in 1831. And in the 1825 Militia records he is described thus:
Ferrie of Alnes
… Thomas Stuart farmer >30 years 7 children Superannuated Exempt
I think what is meant here is that he is disqualified for active duty by advanced age. Henrietta was a devout lady, and I see in the Kirk session minutes of 8 August 1832:
… added to the Communicants Roll. Henrietta Simpson wife of Thomas Stuart Ferry of Alness who about two years ago had been admitted a member of the Fellowship meeting also applied & the Moderator stated that from a private conversation he had with her he was satisfied with her views. Her character conduct being also found to be consistent Her name was added to the Roll.
The tablestone erected to the daughter of Thomas Stuart and Henrietta Simpson is on the right; photo by Jim Mackay
It is one of the few memorials in Kirkmichael to include a poem
Henrietta continued on the Communicants Roll for some years until, I assume, her death. For a child of Thomas Stewart and Henrietta Simpson to be commemorated by a tablestone, and one bearing a poem (the longer an inscription, the more it cost), indicates the family were comfortably off at this time at least. And clearly for this tablestone to be included within the Stuart enclosure confirms that the Merchant of Belize and Thomas Stewart of Newmills and Alness Ferry were closely related. It is interesting to note that both Charles Stuart of Balblair and Thomas Stewart of Newmills started out as tailors, but both moved up in the world. Were they brothers?
Further investigation is required, and a Story behind the Poetic Stone will follow.