In historic Scottish newspapers, these notices are usually fairly brief, and generally only mention the great and the good - either national figures, or prominent local figures. Ordinary people usually didn't get a look in. One instance in which ordinary people would be mentioned was if they lived to a ripe old age. Even today, centenarians are relatively uncommon, but in the 19th century, they were sufficiently rare as to be reported in newspapers often far removed from where they lived.
Our first centenarian is Isobel Taylor or Alice/Ellis, whose death was reported in 1818:
Died in Old Assembly Close on 23d ult, Mrs Isobel Taylor, aged 105. She was born in the parish of Crieff, county of Perth, on the 4th of March 1713, in the reign of Queen Anne. Her memory remained nearly unimpaired, and she would converse on the events of 100 years since, with surprising correctness. Her hearing and sight were good to the last day of her life, and her recollection continued till within an hour of her death.
Aberdeen Journal, 6 May 1818 p. 4
Old Widow Ellis
This print was taken from a painting by Mr William Donaldson of this city, by whom it was exhibited and sold to the late Earl of Buchan. From a card, in the hand-writing of his lordship, we observe in addition to the information conveyed by the inscription on the Engraving, that Widow Ellis was married in 1745 to Francis Ellis, shoemaker in Keltie, Kinross-shire, who died next year of an iliac passion.
At the time the portrait was executed (December 1816), Widow Ellis lived in Rose Street, where she had resided for many years. The particulars of her life are few and uninteresting. She was a sensible, shrewd person; had been active in her youth, and retained even in old age an unusual degree of freshness and vigour.
Kay, John. A Series of Original Portraits and Caricature Etchings. Edinburgh, 1877. New Edition. p. 154
Pittenweem. Longevity. Thomas Adamson, weaver in Pittenweem, died on Saturday week at the advanced age of one hundred years, five months, and two days; having been born on the 1st of May 1746. Throughout the whole course of his lengthened pilgrimage, Thomas was never peculiarly distinguished as an instrument by whom the simple denizens of earth were excited to wonder or admiration. In the literary world, he was only characterised by the “noiseless tenor of his way”. In the commercial world, by means of his industrial apparatus, he made as much noise as any other wabster of the last century. In the political world, he was merely a silent observer of the election hubbubs, for which his burgh was so eminently distinguished in days of yore, having never been invested with the franchise, either under the old or new system. In the religious department of society, he created considerable stir and noise, having for many long years occupied the precentor’s desk in the Old Kirk, where he conducted the sacred music, and gave the people line upon line according to the fashion of the good old time. In this he always aided the devotion of the sincere, and sometimes supplied fuel to the fire of waggery that through all ages has been found smouldering even in the kirk itself. Through all the vissicitudes [sic] of the commercial horizon to which this nation has been subjected, Thomas managed to rear a numerous family, and keep himself beyond the pale of starvation by tossing the shuttle, harmonising the kirk, and polishing the cheeks and chins of his fellow mortals who could not perform that duty for themselves. Being a member of a respectable society in Pittenweem, called the Trades’ Box, he in his latter years derived much benefit from the funds thereof, when the infirmities of age began to cramp his energies. We are not aware, now that Thomas has departed from the stage of time, that he has left his equal in age on this coast.
Fife Herald 15 October 1846 p. 3
Death of Thomas Adamson, the patriarch of Pittenweem - This event took place on Saturday morning last, October 3, at ten o'clock. He was born on the 1st of May, 1746, and on the 1st of May last, had completed the extraordinary long life of one hundred years. Mr Adamson was a weaver, and continued to ply the shuttle until within a very few years back. He was what most long livers are, an early riser; six o'clock scarcely ever found him in bed; he was generally up and at work by five. He had a strong clear voice, and was for many years precentor in the parish church. He had a perfect recollection of seeing Paul Jones sail past Pittenweem, on his way to Leith, about 70 years ago, and of the tempest which providentially arose and drove the pirate out of the Firth. He never was what may be called really sick, and never complained of a head-ache. For the last six months he was confined to bed, but felt no pain or sickness. He retained his senses to nearly the last day of his life, and during harvest he was every day inquiring about how far the different farmers had got in their crops. The failure in the potato crop gave him much uneasiness. During the whole of his long life, he was only three weeks absent from Pittenweem. His fortune was not chequered with ups and downs; he always continued to plod away at work. Perhaps the most remarkable event in his whole life was the meeting which was held in the Town Hall on the 1st of May last, in commemoration of his having on that day completed his hundredth year. His body was laid in Pittenweem Church-yard on Wednesday last, and the attendance at his funeral was numerous and respectable.
Dundee Courier 20 October 1846
Our third centenarian was the daughter of a soldier, apparently born in Edinburgh Castle. Her death was reported in Dumfries, where she'd lived most of her life:
At Maxwelltown, on the night of Sabbath last, Catherine M’Donald or Hutchison, at the extraordinary age of one hundred and four years. She was born in the castle of Edinburgh early in the ’45, a year memorable for the last attempt of the Stuart family to regain the throne which they had so long tilled. Her father, a private soldier, was stationed in the garrison at the time, and being ordered to repair to Dumfries, brought his daughter along with him. Soon after her father obtained his discharge, and with his wife and child settled in the Brig-end, and thus became one of the early colonists of the now thriving burgh of Maxwelltown. Here Catherine, best known as Mattie Hutchison, resided as girl, wife, and widow, for a hundred and three years, during which she lived under seven British Sovereigns. Through her long life she conducted herself with propriety, and showed great respect for the ordinances of religion. She was somewhat eccentric in her manners, and her dress to the last was of the primitive cut, fashionable eighty or ninety years ago. She was a little deaf, but with this exception, retained the full use of her faculties up till the day of her death. She was a widow for thirty years, and had one son, who died a few years before her. Latterly she was partly dependent for her support upon parish aid, but the path of life’s decline was smoothed by the benevolence of several charitable ladies, who were very attentive to the grateful centenarian.
Dumfries and Galloway Standard 24 May 1848 p. 4
Death of a centenarian - On Sunday night last, Catherine M'Donald or Hutchison, residing in Corbelly Hill, Maxwelltown, departed this life, in the one hundred and fourth year of her age. She was born in Edinburgh Castle in the early part of 1745, when her father, a private soldier, was stationed with his regiment. Part of the force was ordered to Dumfries at the time of its occupation by Prince Charles Stuart in the ill-fated rebellion of the '45. Catherine, then a child at the breast, was brought by her parents to this town, and her father, having obtained his discharge, settled at the Brig-end, in which, now become the burgh of Maxwelltown, she has resided, girl and woman, for fully one hundred and three years. She wore her dress in the same fashion which prevailed when she was a young woman, and indeed, in all things was a thorough Conservative. With the exception of a slight deafness she preserved her faculties unclouded to the very last. Dumfries Herald.
Reprinted in the Dundee Courier 14 Jun 1848
Records of some of the payments from the parish that Catherine received are recorded in the Troqueer Kirk Session Accounts (NRS Reference CH2/1036/20):
On the 16th current, in the Old Fleshmarket Close, Canongate, William Wilson, commonly called Mortar Willie, at the advanced age of 106 years. He was taken from the plough in the rebellion of 1745, to serve in the Royal army, where he remained for several years. After being on the Continent he came home to this country, where he has since been employed in the capacity of druggist-man, 40 years of that time in this town. He has left an infirm old widow, aged 73, to whom he has been married 50 years, in very poor circumstances.
Caledonian Mercury, 31 July 1815 p. 3
William Wilson, or Mortar Willie
This venerable personage was a native of Perthshire, and born in 1709, to use his own words, “within a bow shot of Castle Huntly”, parish of Longforgan. The first thirty years of his life were devoted to agricultural employment. He then enlisted, fought against the Pretender, and afterwards served for nineteen years in the army – the greater portion of which was spent in the German and American wars. (1) After obtaining his discharge, he wrought for nearly twenty years in a bark mill in the neighbourhood of London.
About 1778 he returned to his native country, and settling in Edinburgh, found employment in the capacity described in the Print. He was a long time in the establishment of Dr Burt of this city, who generously continued to pay him his usual allowance of two shillings daily for his labour, after he had attained the long age of a hundred years, and although unable to work more than a small portion of the day. Willie was gratefully sensible of the Doctor’s kindness in this respect – “Eh, man,” he would remark, on occasions when he had done little, “ye’ve got a bad bargain the day.” He was remarkably honest and attentive. He occasionally nursed the children; and as he sat by the fire, used to tell them amusing stories. He always rose about four in the morning; and, at this early hour, seldom failed to rouse the domestics of his employer, in order to gain admission to the laboratory. He lived in the Old Hard-Well Close, Canongate, where he died on the 16th July 1815, in the hundred and sixth year of his age. It is supposed that, but for a hurt he received by a fall, he might have lived several years longer. He left an infirm old widow, aged seventy-three, in very poor circumstances, to whom he had been married fifty years.
(1) He was for many years servant to Lord John Murray, eldest son of the Duke of Atholl, who in 1745 was appointed Colonel of the 42d Highlanders, and fought at the battle of Fontenoy.
(2) He had previously been in the employ of Mrs Macdonald, who kept a laboratory shop in the Lawnmarket, with whom Dr Burt served his apprenticeship, and to whose business he afterwards succeeded. Indeed the labours of Mortar Willie were not confined to one or two employers, his important services having been rendered, at various periods, to almost every drug establishment of any extent in town.
Kay, John. A Series of Original Portraits and Caricature Etchings. Edinburgh, 1877. New Edition. p. 101