We are fortunate in having birth, marriage and death records for James. He was born on 9th and baptised on 19th of December 1791. His baptism entry in the Irvine, Ayrshire Old Parish Records (OPRs) reads 'James, son to Robert McIlhaggert, Shipmaster & Elizabeth Jamieson'. He was baptised on the same day as a Jane Boyd. I wonder if the McElhago and Boyd families were related? Some years later an Elizabeth Boyd was to become James' niece by marriage. Often later in life people either do not remember their date of birth or they falsify it to gain some kind of advantage. In both the 1851 and the 1861 Censuses when James was really 60 and 70 respectively, he knocked two years off his age! In the 1841 Census he had knocked 6 years off!! Sometimes an age discrepancy was to hide the fact that a man was younger than his wife, but this is not the case with James. At the age of twenty-eight he married Jane Harvey at Irvine Parish Church on 27th March, 1819. The entry simply reads 'James McElhago & Jane Harvey parishioners'. According to the 1851 Census her birth year was 1793 and according to 1861 it was 1801! The '61 Census spells their surname McIllhago.
Robert, James' father, recorded in his baptism entry, was a 'Sea Master'. James followed in his father's footsteps, however unsteady they would have been on board ship in the Firth of Clyde or the North Channel. There is a 'travelogue' entry which for a time I have suspected as being ficticious despite James being named and his ship being 'Jane', the name of his wife. However with the corroboration of the recent Ayrshire archive information I am persuaded it must be based on fact. It's an excellent piece of writing by David Yates which conjures up a dock-side atmosphere. It concerns Liverpool Waterfront in 1825 when James would have been thirty four:
'After the last two days of thick fog, when I was confined to exploring the "cavernous" interiors of both the Custom House and the Excise Office, this evening is bright and crisp with a nearly full moon glistening on the water in the Docks and Basins and on the River Mersey beyond. The change in the weather seems to have lifted the spirits of the seafaring men because nautical duties and some fiddle music fill the air around the multitude of Sailing Coastal vessels. Tallow lanterns shine like a thousand stars the full length of the waterfront, and men are getting ready to cast off at first light for the various ports around the British Isles. As time is short, I had better get a move on and list all the vessels going to ports starting with the letter "D".' After Dartmouth and before Dublin he lists 14 ships going to Drogheda (Agents: Liverpool - James Found, 19 Cooper's Row; Drogheda - William Appleyard), including the ship 'Jane', whose master was James McElhago.
The destination port of Drogheda is of course in Ireland, north of Dublin. The Ayrshire Customs and Excise Records and Lloyd's Shipping Register present us with evidence of James at a later date part-owning and captaining a Collier vessel between Ayrshire and Ireland. The Air Advertiser of 1822 and 1823 had Shipping Intelligence columns recording sailings from Irvine to Dublin, Dundalk and Newry with coals and returning 'in ballast'. The vessel was called 'Nancies' and had been built in 1798 in Saltcoats. It was registered as a Brigantine, Official Number 12001. It had one deck, two masts, a standing bowsprit, a square stern, and was carvel built (ie without overlap of planks). Its dimensions were 61ft.0ins x 17ft.9ins x 8ft.6ins, of Tonnage 81.2/94. The picture presented to us is surely of our very own Clan 'Para Handy'! There are seven references to the vessel's ownership:
1834 Oct 15: James McIlhago has become master. He remained Master until 31 Aug 1838. He was part-owner of the vessel. Shares in the vessel were calculated in 64ths.
1836 Oct 10/12: Hamilton Campbell, Robert Rankin and William Wilkie each sold 4 shares to James McIlhago, Shipmaster, Irvine. His total 12/64ths.
Oct 11: John Porteous sold 6 shares to James McElhago. Total 18/64ths.
1837 Jan 18: Jas. McIlhago sold 12 shares to John Jamieson, Merchant, Dublin. Total 6/64ths.
Jan 27: Thos. Garven sold 6 shares to Jas. McIlhago. Total 12/64ths.
1838 Mar 7: Jas. McIlhago sold 4 shares to Chas. Samson, Shipbuilder, Irvine. Total 8/64ths.
Sep 29 Jas. McIlhago sold 8 shares to Cath. Murdoch or Samson, Irvine. Total 0/64ths.
So, on 31st August 1838 James ceased to be Captain and a month later he had sold his last shares in the 'Nancies'. The Lloyds Register for 1838 records, Name: Nancies; Type: Brig; Master: M'ell'age (!); Tons: 81; Built: Saltcoats 1798; Home Port: Irvine; Voyage: Lly, Dundalk; Lloyds Class: AE1; Owner: Captain & Co.. We may note that in 1837 James sold shares to a John Jamieson. His mother's maiden name was Jamieson and it is not impossible that he was selling to a relative, indicating perhaps that his mother was a native of Dublin.
James was to live another twenty-six years. He died on 4th September
1862 at the ripe age of 70 years, at 2hrs.18mins, pm, in Friar's Croft, in
the parish of Dundonald in the Burgh of Irvine. His daughter Eliza
was the informant. She signed the death register on 8th September at
Irvine, countersigned by William Orr, Assistant Registrar. Strangely
James is recorded as a widower, though his wife Jane did not die until
two years later on 17th December 1864! The word 'widower'is in the
Registrar's handwriting and we must assume the mistake was his.
There are two final pieces of Shipping Information which probably
show us that James continued to work until the end of his life. The
Scotsman Newspaper in its Shipping News on 11th August 1862, page
4, records the ship 'Nile' arriving at Alexandria from the Clyde on 20th
July and on 25th August, page 4,records the 'Nile' leaving for the Clyde
on 12th August, with Captain McElhago. 'Para Handy' had become an
International player! If however this was James, then we have a record
of him making his last voyage.