As mentioned in a previous post, for many years Kirk Sessions had responsibility for maintaining the poor of their parish. As well as administering financial support – often referred to as outdoor relief, in the sense of providing support outwith a poorhouse – some sessions also maintained records of visitations. These involved representatives of the Kirk Session periodically visiting the poor of the parish. Not many of these records survive, but where they do, they can be extremely interesting.
One parish where they do survive is Scone, in Perthshire. Included at the end of the Parochial Board letter book are a series of Notes on visits to the poor. There are 93 entries, so we thought we'd index them.
One entry – or rather series of entries – in particular, caught our attention. The entries start in 1846:
Isabella Whitelaw’s children, Lethendy Moar
Isabella Whitelaw had been arrested and brought before the Police Court, as reported on 23 April 1846 in the Northern Warder and General Advertiser for the Counties of Fife, Perth and Forfar:
Janet Gall or Cochrane, and Isabella Whitelaw, charged with several separate acts of theft some of which were committed beyond the bounds of Police, were handed over to the Sheriff.
Her conviction was reported a few months later:
All seemingly goes quiet for the Whitelaw children for a couple of years, but then we find some more entries in the poor visitations:
Isabella Whitelaw’s two children
This time, Isabella’s conviction is reported in the Montrose, Arbroath and Brechin Review
Isabella Whitelaw, Perth, accused of theft – aggravated by previous convictions, was sentenced to seven years’ transportation.
The National Records of Scotland’s 19th century solemn database adds a few more details: that Isabella also went by the name of Helen Panton, that her address was c/o Robert Mills, cadger, Coupar Angus, Perthshire, that she could not write.
We next hear of Isabella as she is transported to Tasmania on board the Aurora, on 22 April 1851. Her arrival in Tasmania is recorded in the Register of Convicts, on 10 August 1851. She is described as a Country Servant, 5 feet 4 inches, age 31, with a ruddy complexion, dark brown hair, brown eyebrows, hazel eyes, and medium facial features. She was a wart on her left arm at the bleeding place.
Her conduct record suggests she wasn’t entirely a reformed character. She was charged for being drunk on October 25 1852. On November 2nd, she was sentenced to 6 months hard labour for being absent without leave. On December 3rd 1852 she was “delivered of an illegitimate child (Mary) at the Cascade Factory”. On 2 October 1854 she was sentenced to 12 months hard labour for absconding. 11 August 1855 saw her being sentenced to 3 months hard labour for being drunk on her master’s premises. A few months later, on 5 November, she was sentenced to another 12 months hard labour for absconding when on a pass. Once more, on 29 June 1857, she was sentenced to one month’s hard labour for being out after hours and absconding.
Shortly after the birth of her daughter, Isabella was granted permission to marry Michael McDermott on 14 December 1852. We have not however been able to find a record of them actually marrying. Things however do appear to have eventually improved for Isabella, as she was again granted permission to marry on 2 December 1856, to William Way, a freeman. They were married at the All Saints Schoolroom on 23 December 1856. William was a cabinetmaker. We have not found any more records of Isabella Whitelaw, and do not know if she ever returned to Scotland or saw her children again.
Isabella Whitelaw's story is an interesting illustration of how one record can lead to another, and can end up telling a fascinating story.
There have long been links between Scotland and Jamaica. As early as 1656, 1200 prisoners of war were deported to Jamaica by Oliver Cromwell. Later, many Scots migrated to Jamaica in search of their fortune. Famously, Robert Burns was set to sail for Jamaica before the success of the Kilmarnock Edition of his Poems Chiefly in a Scottish Dialect persuaded him to remain in Scotland.
Many Scots became plantation owners and wealthy merchants in Jamaica, frequently based on the exploitation of slaves. Often they would return to Scotland, having made their fortune. Others would leave money to the poor in their home parishes. One such was William Duffes (or Duffus), from Deskford in Banffshire.
The Kirk Session records of Deskford include a list of the recipients of £15 left to the poor of the parish:
List of the Poor of the Parish of Deskford nominated by the Revd Walter Chalmers Minister of Deskford & George Duffes in Knappycawset in terms of the will to receive the Legacy bequeathed by the late Mr William Duffes of Jamaica 17th November 1826
You can find more information on the records of Deskford - including nearly 700 heads of families from 1834 to 1840 - here.
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