Saturday, 10 September 2011

Scandal in Irvine

A 19th Century Mariner

I have cooperated with a descendant of the 18th Century McElhago family from Irvine which I have mentioned several times recently in relation to the 1797 shipwreck at Drogheda, Co. Louth, Ireland, in which Sea Captain Robert McElhago died. I have also mentioned his grandson Richard turning up in Australian waters. It has been uncertain how many siblings Richard had. Was it three or four, for there are references to both an Elizabeth and an Eliza. My correspondent in Scotland who is in fact a descendant of Elizabeth recently wrote her 'frustration' about the lack of information about her ancestor to the national magazine called WDYTYA (Who do you think you are?). Did Elizabeth marry? Was she married once or twice? We have the names of two men, but no marriage documentation has been found. She had a response in the magazine published September 2010, pages 46/47 in a short piece by researcher Rosemary Bigwood, entitled 'Scandal'. The magazine illustrated the comment with the fine oil painting The Mariner by the 19th Century Scottish artist Erskine Nicol.

The Kirk Session records of Irvine Parish Church produced two references to her, summarised as follows: 'On 2 May 1848, it was reported that Eliza, a member of the Church, unmarried, had borne a child and her church membership was suspended but, after a favourable report on her, she was readmitted in July. However, on 26 March 1851, Elizabeth was again accused of fornication'. It would be interesting to know who produced a 'favourable report' on her. Probably a Church Elder or the Minister had visited her and her parents with whom she lived, James and Jane (nee Harvey) McElhago. James was a local Master Mariner and maybe their good standing in the community had stood Eliza in good stead. Eliza called her daughter Jane, who was known as Jane Martin. In 1851 she was staying with her grandparents in Dundonald, listed in the Census as Jane Martin, aged two. It looks as if one Philip Martin, also a Master Mariner, had taken responsibility as the father of the child, and hopefully had supported her as she grew up.

By 1851 Eliza, now called Elizabeth, had apparently 'taken up' with another Master Mariner, one Alexander McCallum, with whom it appears she had another daughter who was known as Elizabeth (familiarly 'Bessie'). It is uncertain whether Bessie became known with the surname McElhago or McCallum, though perhaps she used both. There is an Elizabeth McElhago aged 20 in the 1871 Tradeston Census, and in 1877 an Elizabeth McCallum married a William Wylie.

Irrespective of what happened to Eliza(beth)'s two children, it seems that she remained a single mother, supporting herself as a Muslin Sewer. She died at the comparatively young age of 40 on 13 May 1866 at Dundonald. Doubtless her parents undertook the task of bringing up her children. The upshot of what we have learned to this point of Eliza(beth) leads us to the conclusion that 'Eliza', daughter of James and Jane, and 'Elizabeth', daughter of James and Jane, were one and the same person. It also leads us to the conclusion that the date references in the Kirk Session Minutes accord with the times of birth of the two children Jane and Elizabeth (Bessie) providing strong evidence that Eliza(beth) did not marry either Philip Martin or Alexander McCallum. I say 'to this point' for I have to add that there is a high probability that Eliza had a third daughter who we find in the 1861 Census. She is aged 2 and listed as the granddaughter of James and Jane McElhago. Eliza is also living with them so we may presume that 'Jameson' is also Eliza's child.

There is an interesting little addendum we can make to the Eliza(beth) story. In Dundonald there was an Isabella McCallum who married a John McIlhague, and who had a daughter Jean born 8 March 1824, baptised 13 October 1824. I think John McIlhague must fit in to our clan somewhere. The likelihood is that Isabella and Alexander McCallum were siblings. A speculation is prompted by the fact that only a few months later a John McIlhague married a Jean Glen in Greenock. Did Isabella die in childbirth and if so was her daughter Jean brought up by her father and his new wife?

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