WATSON, Janet (1856-1935)


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[see WATSON Family under heading ‘WATSON’]

[this post last edited, new information and / or images added 01 June 2013]

Janet WATSON was born on 7 February 1856 on Peebles Street, Ayr, Ayrshire, Scotland to Thomas WATSON and his wife Mary HUNTER. Thomas and Mary were tenant farmers on Mosshill Farm, Dallmellington Road, outside Ayr. Thomas also worked as a ‘carter’, probably to supplement the family income, and he was not present at the time of Janet’s birth. Perhaps he was away on a carting job. Or perhaps, as a farmer, Thomas may have had a strong “draught” horse which, when it wasn’t used for ploughing would be hired out. Thomas may have been away delivering or picking up the horse.

Whatever the situation, since her husband was away, Mary went into Ayr, to a home on Peebles Street to have her baby. She may have gone to the home of her in-laws William and Isabella (McCREATH) WATSON who lived on Peebles Street. Mary’s own parents, William and Janet (McCALL) HUNTER, also lived in Ayr, likely on Clunes Street. Perhaps the Hunter home was not large enough to accommodate Mary and the new baby, or perhaps Mary’s father, who worked as a weaver, needed the available space for his weaving equipment and looms. Weavers cottages were  basically just ‘but an’ bens” so likely there would be no place or  privacy for a visitor in labour. [A ‘but an’ bens’ is a class of worker’s house which had a main room where work and daily life went on and then through to a bedroom. This type of home was a step up from a single room, but had no place for cattle or barn for storage. No kitchen or bathroom either! The word ‘ben’ still exists in Scots today and is used to refer to other rooms in the house e.g. “working at the computer Ben the house”.]

WATSON1930-000aPhoto: Janet, about 1930 in Ellisboro, Saskatchewan, Canada. Photo from the author’s collection.

At Mosshill Farm baby Janet joined two older brothers, a half-brother William [William WATSON] born in 1847 and a brother Thomas [Thomas WATSON] born in 1854. A sister Isabella [Isabella WATSON] born in 1858, completed the family. In an age of large families the Watson family of four children would be considered small. In 1861 Janet, 5, was a ‘scholar’ the term used for children who attended school. The census that year also tells us that Mosshill Farm had ’60 acres’.

Sometime after the 1861 and before 1871 census, the Watson family moved to Mount Oliphant Farm just outside Ayr. The farm had some renown as the previous home of Robbie Burns during the poet’s childhood. Mount Oliphant was a larger farm, here Thomas was able to rent 71 acres.

The 1871 census showed the Watsons as a farming family; as well as her farmer father Thomas, Janet’s mother Mary also listed her occupation as ‘farmer’. As was done from all the working farms in the area, Mary and possibly her daughters drove  the ‘jig’ [horse and cart] into Ayr to a market where she sold her butter and cream to the townspeople. Janet’s 16 year old brother Thomas is listed as ‘farmer’s son’. Her half brother, William, was away from home. Janet, 15 years old, who would have finished school, gave her occupation as a ‘general servant’ an indication that she may have been employed elsewhere, likely to bring in some money and supplement the family income.  If she had been working on the farm her occupation would normally be described as ‘farmer’s daughter’ or ‘farm servant. Perhaps she worked at a nearby farm, walked to work each day, and returned home in the evenings. The day of the census she was at home with her parents, brother Thomas and sister Isabella. A 14 year old ‘farm servant’, Charles Blackley also lived and worked on the farm.

On 2 Mar. 1878, Janet’s life changed dramatically when her father Thomas, only 50, died of ‘paralysis of the brain’ at Mount Oliphant Farm.WATSON1878-000c Janet’s mother Mary, herself only 50, was left a widow with three children and together the family helped run the farm. The 1881 census shows that Thomas’ son Thomas had taken over the rental of Mount Oliphant, and his mother Mary and sisters Janet and Isabella continued to live on the farm. (Right: Death memorial card from the collection May Wood, of a descendant of Thomas Watson who still lives in Ayrshire)

Two years after her father’s death, on 22 November 1880 Janet, 24 years old, married Gilbert SPEIRS, aged 22. The wedding took place at Janet’s home of Mount Oliphant farm; Janet listed her occupation as ‘dairy maid’ and her usual residence as Mount Oliphant Farm. Gilbert, a farm servant, listed his address as Mount Ferguson Farm which is the farm next to Mount Oliphant. It is likely that Gilbert and Janet met as they were neighbours, or Janet may have even been a dairy maid at Mount Ferguson; the farms still exist and are within easy walking distance of each other. Gilbert was born on 10 October 1858 in Balichmorrey, Barr by Girvan, Scotland, a son to Ivie Alexander SPEIRS, a ploughman, and his wife Euphemia SIMPSON. WATSON1930-000b

Photo: Gilbert, about 1930 in Ellisboro, Saskatchewan, Canada. Photo from the author’s collection. Family stories recount that Gilbert “Always had a corn cob pipe in his mouth.”

Janet and Gilbert did not stay long in the Mount Oliphant Farm / Mount Ferguson Farm area; perhaps there was not work or accommodation for a young married couple. Within six months, by the April 1881 census Janet, 25, and Gilbert, 28, were on the Rankinson Farm in the parish of Coylton, where Gilbert worked as a dairyman. In this census Janet has become 3 years younger than Gilbert; perhaps this was more socially acceptable? Mary Thomson, 14, lived with them as a servant. Perhaps Janet and Gilbert had ambitions of running a dairy together, as dairyman he may have had a little  autonomy, and the reason for the servant was to assist in the dairy (unskilled) as well as their house?

That same 1881 census showed Janet’s brother Thomas (26) had taken over responsibility for renting Mount Oliphant Farm, and her mother Mary (53), sister Isabella (23) also lived and worked there; perhaps Janet visited whenever she could as Rankinson Farm was not far away. The siblings and their mother stayed close all their lives; a bond that would support them over the years and the three countries of Scotland, Canada and USA.

One trip that Janet may have made to her family home of Mount Oliphant was for the marriage of her sister Isabella, 24, to John McCONNELL on 5 October 1882. John was a 27 year old gamekeeper, the son of quarry master John McConnell and his wife Mary MORTON. At the time neither Janet nor her family had any idea of how much support the future McConnell family would need from the extended Watson family. [see posts 19 April  – 28 April 2013 for story of Isabella and John’s family]

The Watson family extended again when, on 20 January 1887 Janet’s brother Thomas married Jane MUIR, the daughter of James MUIR and Helen McNAB. Thomas and Jane continued to live at Mount Oliphant for some years, before moving to several other farms in Scotland and eventually immigrating to Saskatchewan. Their immigration and the start of a new life were also to change that of Janet and her family. [see posts 14 May – 22 May 2012 for story of Thomas and Jane’s family]

In 1888, Janet’s and Gilbert’s only child, Janet, was born. Although I have not been able to locate her birth registration her Saskatchewan death registration listed her birth as 22 December 1888. Scottish census records indicated that she was born either in Saltcoats, Ayrshire, Scotland (1891 census), or Kingarth, Buteshire, Scotland (1901 census). The 1911 census adds to the confusion as Janet, 22, listed her birth place as ‘Argylshire Inellan’. Whichever is correct it appears that Gilbert and Janet frequently moved, itinerant tenant labourers always looking for work or a better opportunity.

By 1891 Gilbert, 33, was a shepherd and Janet, 35, a housekeeper for a farmer named Mitchell, on Overton Farm, Killearn, Stirling. As was the practice, Gilbert likely had taken a year’s contract to work as a shepherd on the understanding that his wife Janet would keep house for the combined household of the Speirs family, plus the farmer Mitchell and a 39 year old ploughman James Ewing. Janet, their daughter, was two years old in this census.

By 1901 Janet and Gilbert had moved again (and there may have been several moves in between census years); Gilbert was a farm servant and Janet worked as a dairymaid at Rankinston Farm, Ayrshire. Their daughter Janet attended school in the area. Rankinston Farm is where they had lived in twenty years earlier in 1881.

In the early 1900s Watson family experienced many changes. In 1904 the tragic and unexpected death of Janet’s younger sister Isabella  left a family of young children motherless. Janet’s brother-in-law John McConnell was not able to look after all the children by himself. Isabella and Gilbert lived in the area and no doubt spent time helping the McConnell family cope. Around this time, Janet and Gilbert moved to Chapeldonan Farm, near Girvan in Ayrshire which was not far from the McConnell family.

The extended Watson family had grown: Janet and Gilbert Speirs and their daughter Janet; Isabella and John McConnell’s seven children; and Thomas and Jane’s seven children. The period in Scotland from 1904 to 1913 for the extended family is not clear. What is clear from the postcards, shared photographs and existing records is that the three families were in close contact, visited when possible and continued to help and support one another.

In the early 1900s the Canadian government mounted an advertising campaign to attract settlers to western Canada. Land agents, who traveled throughout England and Scotland, extolled the virtues of emigration with the promise of free land and the opportunity for advancement. Newspapers carried advertisements, and in some cases letters from those who had already emigrated who encouraged others to follow. It was a lure that many young men could not resist.

In 1906 the extended Watson family began to move to the ‘new world’. The first of Janet’s nephews to leave Scotland was 17 year old Jim [James Muir WATSON], second eldest son of Janet’s brother Thomas and his wife Jane. After Jim arrived in Montreal in June of 1906 he travelled to Winnipeg, Manitoba by train and worked for a farmer as an agricultural labourer.

In 1907 an important family tie to Scotland was broken with the death of Janet’s mother Mary, age 81. Mary died on 07 July 1907, of bronchitis, at Chapeldonan Farm, Scotland. Gilbert was the informant of her death which suggests that Mary lived with her daughter Janet and son-in-law before her death.

In June 1909 another of Janet’s nephews, John McCONNELL, son of Janet’s deceased sister Isabella emigrated to the United States; his ship docked in New York City on June 21, 1909. John was a carpenter and may have been attracted to the opportunity to use his trade in the building boom on the eastern coast of the United States. He eventually settled in New Jersey, however he may have made at least one trip to Saskatchewan, perhaps with a thought of moving to Canada and farming.

The summer of 1909 saw another of Janet’s nephews leave Scotland. Bill [William Watson Muir WATSON], 17 years old, third eldest son of Janet’s brother Thomas and his wife Jane, sailed from Glasgow on the ship ‘S. S. Hesperian’ and arrived in Quebec City on 19 July 1909. Like his brother Jim, Bill’s eventual destination was Manitoba to work as an agricultural labourer.

By 1909 Janet’s brother Thomas and his wife Jane had decided to join their sons in Western Canada. In Janet’s Christmas post card to her nephew Bill that year indicated their decision. The post card below, in Janet’s handwriting was mailed to her nephew William [Bill] Watson who worked on a farm near Stockton, Manitoba. The post card was mailed 9 December 1909, and delivered in Canada 23 December 1909. The postcard is from the author’s collection.



 Wishing you a Merry Xmas all well hoping you are well had a letter from your father they were all well you will be having them out next will write about the New Year Aunt Janet

As Janet predicted in her Chritmas post card, on 2 April 1910 her brother Thomas (56 years old), sister-in-law Jane (45 years old), and four of their children left Glasgow, Scotland on the ship ‘S. S. Hesperian’. The ship docked in Halifax on 11 April 1910. The Watson children that accompanied their parents were Nell [Helen McNab WATSON], (20 years old), Alex [Alexander Hunter WATSON] (15 years old), Jean [Jane Muir WATSON] (11 years old), and John [John McConnell Muir WATSON] (7 years old).

Janet had misgivings about moving to Canada, as can be seen by a postcard  [not shown here, see post 12 May 2013] sent 9 September 1910, by her daughter Janet to Janet’s cousin Nell (“Write and give me all the news about the paces you can. I am still on the notion to go our but mother thinks I am just as well where I am but I will see“). However, perhaps jobs were becoming scarce for Janet and Gilbert, or family were encouraging them to come to the ‘new world’ which had opportunities for advancement.

On 2 November 1912, Janet, her husband Gilbert and their daughter Janet boarded the ship S.S. Cassandra in Glasgow. With them was Elizabeth Wyllie McCONNELL, 17, Janet’s niece [see post 26 April 2013]. The group disembarked in Montreal, Quebec on the 12th of November. The ship’s passenger list showed that their destination was Wolseley, Saskatchewan. Gilbert gave his age as 57 and his occupation as ‘labourer’, Janet, 54 (who continued to shave a couple years off her age) was a ‘housewife’ and Janet, (their daughter), 23, was a ‘domestic servant’.

A train journey took them to Wolseley, Saskatchewan, where no doubt they were met at the railway station by members of the Thomas and Jane Watson family. Christmas 1912 Janet, her husband and daughter would spend with her brother Thomas and his family.

WATSON1918-007Photo: Left to right – Thomas Watson, his sister Janet (Watson) Speirs, his brother-in-law Gilbert Speirs (with the ever-present corn cob pipe). Taken about 1918 in Saskatchewan, Canada, photo is from author’s collection.

[‘Life in Saskatchewan’ a story yet to be posted.]

Janet and Gilbert lived on and rented several farms in the Rosewood – Ellisboro area. WATSON1930-000For their last few years, during the first half of the 1930s they lived in Ellisboro in a rented home. This was the time of the Depression and a family story relates how, “while everyone was poor and in experiencing desperate times, the Speirs lived in extreme poverty. The story teller went on to say, “I don’t know what they lived on, or how they ate.”

Photo right; Janet and Gilbert Speirs, at their home in Ellisboro, about 1930. From the author’s collection.

Some time before her death Janet moved the home of their daughter Janet who had married John INGLIS. [see post 12 May 2013] where she died McConnell1-0002on 19 February 1935.

Death memorial card right was sent by Janet’s daughter Janet (Speirs) Inglis to her cousin William Watson McConnell in the United States. This card is now (in 2013) in the collection of William McConnell’s daughter, Mary Smith, who lives in Tennessee, USA.

Ellisboro, Saskatchewan Feb 21 – Tuesday morning, Mrs. Janet Spiers, 79, died at the  home of her daughter Mrs. John Inglis of Abernethy. Mrs. Spiers was born in Ayr, Scotland and with her husband, Gilbert Spiers, and her daughter came to Canada in 1912 and until the past few months had made their home in Ellisboro. The remains were interred in the cemetery here Friday afternoon in the presence of a large number of relatives and friends. The service was conducted by Rev. E. C. Cuming. The pallbearers were James, William and John Watson, Joseph Acton, J. W. Tubman ; and Kenneth Campbell. (Source: Regina Leader Post, Feb 21, 1935, Evening Edition, p. 20)

For the next while Gilbert lived with his nephew James (Jim) WATSON and his wife Agnes (Nancy) ACTON on their farm in the Qu’Appelle Valley. Jim Watson’s son Samuel Acton WATSON remembered that, as a boy growing up on the farm, one of his jobs was to take a plate of supper out to the shed or shack that had been fixed up for Gilbert to live in.

Gilbert died, at the home of his daughter Janet and son-in-law John Inglis on 19 April 1941. McConnell1-0003Gilbert’s daughter Janet also sent notice of her father’s death to her cousin William Watson McConnell in the United States. As with Janet’s death memorial card, this card is now (in 2013) in the collection of Mary Smith, William McConnell’s daughter.

IMG_1625Janet and Gilbert were buried in the Ellisboro Cemetery, beside the grave of Janet’s brother Thomas Watson and his wife Jane Muir. Photo from the author’s collection.

ORMSBY, Robert Lamont (1892-1937)


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[this post last edited, new information and/or images added 24 February 2013]

Robert Lamont ORMSBY was born at 19 Regent Place, Shawlands, Glasgow, Renfrew, Scotland on 5 March 1892 to Henry ORMSBY and his wife Mary Jane LAMONT. His mother died five days after his birth and Robert went to live with his maternal grandmother Isabela LAMONT in Lockfoot Village, Kirkcudbright, Scotland for the first few years of his life. The 1911 census found Henry, 19, a medical student, at Gibbsyard, Ayr with his father Henry, brother James [James Henry ORMSBY], Uncle Andrew [Andrew ORMSBY] and grandmother Helen Ormsby [Helen STEEL]. Three months after the census was taken his brother James went to Singapore to where he worked for the Heap Eng Moh Steamship Company, a large operation which provided cargo and passenger services to Malaysia and the South Seas area. It is likely that James wanted Robert to join him.

About 1912 Robert left his medical studies and enlisted in the Officers’ Training Corps (OTC) at Glasgow University. He also heard from his brother James, in Singapore, about the opportunities for work and advancement in that area of the world. WATSON1913-020

[Right and below: Photo believed to be Robert Lamont Ormsby. The uniform is that of the Officers’ Training Corps (OTC) at Glasgow University. Photo taken about 1912. From the author’s collection.]


Robert became interested in the rubber industry and saw that as a potential career in Southeast Asia. The growing popularity and mass production of the motorcar, such as the Model T, created a significant demand for tires. Bankers and wealthy industrialists, including those in Scotland, were keen to exploit this demand. ‘Rubber planters’ usually educated men, were hired by estate owners to manage the rubber plantations in Southeast Asia, particularly Malaysia. Newspapers of the time reported on the new industry and no doubt the opportunity for financial reward was discussed in the pubs and among the OTC students. And Robert’s brother James was already in Singapore.

Robert made his decision – he would leave Scotland’s damp climate and limited job opportunities, join his brother and become a rubber planter. He booked his passage to Singapore for June 1913. But first he attended to a personal matter.


[Photo believed to be Robert Lamont ORMSBY and Isabella Thow TURNER, about 1913, from the author’s collection]

On 10 June 1913, three days before he sailed, Robert, 21, occupation listed as ‘rubber planter’, married Isabella Thow TURNER, 25, a governess from Mauchline, Ayrshire. Isabella had grown up in St. Quivox the same parish as Robert; likely their families had been neighbours and they had known each other in childhood. They married in Glasgow, using a Sheriff’s Warrant license rather than go through the slower process of posting marriage banns. Perhaps they wanted to be married before Robert emigrated so that it would be easier for Isabella to join him once he was settled.

On June 13, 1913 Robert sailed from London to Singapore on the P&O ship Mongolia. In August 1914, little more than a year after Robert left Scotland, World War I (WWI) broke out. Britain and her colonies were at war and thousands of patriotic men and women enlisted; Robert was one of these. Isabella did not see Robert for another four years.

On January 1, 1915 five months after the declaration of war, Robert enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) at Blackboy Hill, Western Australia. It is not known whether Robert went to Western Australia purposely to enlist, or whether he was on leave after a spell in the tropical regions of Malaya as Western Australia has a dryer Mediterranean climate. There is no evidence that there were any rubber estates in Western Australia where he could work as a rubber planter. In his attestation papers he cited his previous service with the OTC from Glasgow University. Robert named his father Henry as next of kin, an indication that the Australian army did not recognize his marriage to Isabella since it was conducted outside the church.

Shortly after Robert enlisted he sailed for the Middle East where he served with the ‘Unit 4th Reinforcement to the 16th Battalion’ in the Gallipoli Peninsular campaign – a campaign that was a disastrous failure. Of the estimated over 250,000 allied casualties at Gallipoli, approximately half were due to sickness, chiefly dysentery, diarrhoea and enteric fever. Improper hygiene, poor sanitation and a breakdown in supply lines were exacerbated by the terrain and close fighting which did not allow for the dead to be buried. Flies and other vermin flourished in the heat, which caused epidemic sickness. Robert was one of the casualties of disease and was declared unfit due to enteric fever. He convalesced on the Royal Navy hospital ship ‘Somalia’ and military hospitals at Alexandria and Cairo, Egypt.

Robert returned to the Blackboy Hill military camp by August 21, 1916. Declared ‘temporarily unfit’, he served on home service duties in Australia, address Forest Street, Freemantle, Western Australia.

After five months Robert recovered. The war was going badly for the allies and there was a great need for men for the battlefields of France. On January 15, 1917 again at Blackboy Hill, Robert joined the 1st Anzac Corps Salvage Section, a group that recovered equipment from the battlefield. Robert listed Isabella as next of kin, although identified her as ‘a friend’ another indication that the Australian Army did not recognize the marriage. In order to ensure Isabella’s widow’s pension if Robert was killed in action the marriage needed to be formalized.

Robert arrived in the UK by March 1917. He was posted to Darrington, Salisbury Plains, Wiltshire, England. In early March he went ‘absent without leave’ for ten days. It seems likely that he travelled to Mauchline to see Isabella and arranged to be married in church to ensure the legality of Isabella’s position as his wife. As a penalty for his absence without permission Robert was sentenced March 21, 1917 to eleven days detention and forfeited 22 day’s pay. Although planned in March the marriage did not occur for five months as wartime marriages of military personnel were time consuming to arrange, particularly in this situation. First Robert spent his ten days in detention and possibly some time being confined to barracks. Then Robert requested permission to marry from his Commanding Officer and then requested leave to do so. Arrangements with the church took time as the banns had to be read on three successive Sundays. On August 17, 1917, the formalities completed, Isabella and Robert married in Mauchline, Ayrshire. In the eyes both of the church and AIF “Mrs I. Ormsby (Wife), Ayrshire, Scotland” was Robert’s next of kin.

In early October 1917 Robert sailed for France and carried out his duties of battle field equipment salvage. He did not return to the UK until March 1919 when he was admitted to King George’s Hospital in London as an Influenza casualty. He was discharged from the AIF in London on May 14, 1919.

For his war service Robert was issued three medals: the 1914/15 Star; the British War Medal (BWM); and the Victory Medal (VM).

There is no sign that Robert returned to rubber planting or southeast Asia after the war. Neither Robert nor Isabella appear in the records of passengers leaving the UK. He may have turned to a career as a journalist. At the time of Isabella’s death on February 15, 1947 she was ‘widow of Robert Lamont Ormsby, journalist’. Death information for Robert has not been found in a search of the Scottish records. A death record for a ‘Robert L. Ormsby’, in Pancras, London in 1937 requires further research.

Robert and Isabella may have had a daughter in 1928. Hopefully a family member or descendent will see this and help add more information so that Robert and Isabella can continue to tell more of TheirOwnStory.

ORMSBY, James Henry (1890-about 1956?)


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[this post last edited and / or new information added 1 January 2013]

James Henry ORMSBY was born 18 January 1890 in McLellan St., Dumfries, Dumfriesshire, Scotland to Henry ORMSBY and his wife Mary Jane LAMONT. After his mother’s death in 1892, he lived with his father, Uncle Andrew Ormsby [Andrew ORMSBY] and paternal grandmother Helen Ormsby [Helen STEEL] at Gibbsyard in Ayr. He attended a four year Mechanical Engineering course at Glasgow Technical College. Upon completion of five years apprenticeship in mechanical engineering (steam, internal combustion, gas) by 1911 James, 21, was a Marine Engineer. At some point he also took a seven month ‘aeroplane construction including aero engines’ course.

In September 1911 James went to Singapore in the Straits Settlements, a separate Crown colony, directly overseen by the Colonial Office in London. At the time Singapore had established itself as an important trading port and developed into a major city with rapid increase in population. In Singapore James worked for the Heap Eng Moh Steamship Company owned by Chinese millionaire Oei Tiong Ham known as the ‘Java Sugar King’ but his business was far more diverse than the title suggested as his ships traded rice, sugar, rubber, opium and other supplies throughout the region. It was a time of rapid expansion for the company which later was described as a ‘vast business empire’. James no doubt saw the potential for work and progress and likely encouraged his younger brother Robert [Robert Lamont ORMSBY] to join him in the region.

James spent nearly three years in Singapore. During the time he also learned the local language as his military service records noted that he spoke “Malay, Chinese (Coolie)”. In July 1914, just a month before WWI broke out, James returned to Britain.

In April 1915 James joined the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). He was appointed an Acceptance Officer at the Admiralty where he acted as an Observer and Inspector. He moved to Ealing, a borough of London, England and worked at the Admiralty office in Hotel Cecil, The Strand, London. Ealing was about a twenty minute ride from the Hotel Cecil where James was posted.

On 18 December 18, 1915 James married Agnes Anderson DRUMMOND in Edinburgh according to a Sheriff’s Warrant. Agnes, born about 1889, was from Cupar, Fife, Scotland, the daughter of retired Marine Engineer David DRUMMOND and his wife Georgina DAVIDSON so it is likely that James met Agnes in Scotland through his work and social connections. James’ address at the time of his marriage was 41 The Avenue in Ealing, a building with flats or apartments. After their marriage Agnes moved to Ealing with James.

On April 1, 1918 James transferred from the RNAS to the newly formed Royal Air Force (RAF). Service record phrases “NI”, ‘Section Air Dept”, “housed/working at the Hotel Cecil / HMS President” have led to the conclusion that James was in Naval Intelligence (NI) based at the Admiralty. The Hotel Cecil was requisitioned for the war effort and served as the headquarters for the newly formed RAF and ‘HMS President’ was used to designate the Admiralty.

A daughter [still alive?] was born to James and Agnes in Dundee, Scotland March 23, 1918. Agnes’ address on April 1, 1918 was still in Ealing so it is likely she had returned to Scotland to her family or friends for the birth.

Sometime toward the end of WWI, James was posted to Dundee, Scotland. On January 1, 1920 Captain James Henry Ormsby left the RAF. He was awarded a British War Medal for his WWI efforts. Generally this medal was awarded only to those who had served outside the UK, however exceptions were sometimes made for particular services.

After James left the RAF he and his family lived at 1 St. Johns Wood Terrace, Park Rd, Dundee, Scotland. Post war work may have been difficult to find and he looked for overseas opportunities. He sailed from London for Sydney, New South Wales (NSW), Australia on September 7, 1922 on the P&O ship S. S. Bendigo. He arrived in Sydney November 2, 1922. Agnes and her five year old daughter followed him to Sydney June 19, 1923. Their address when they left Scotland was 3 Gowrie St., Dundee.

NSW Electoral Rolls, 1930 to 1980, provide a picture of the family in Australia. James and Agnes lived at 14 Clifford St., in Parramatta, NSW from 1930 – 1954. James is listed as ‘engineer’ with no indication whether he used the ‘marine’ aspect of his qualifications, however the Paramatta River is the main tributary of Sydney Harbour so it would have been natural for him to do so. James died in 1956, presumably in Parramatta. From 1958-1963 Agnes lived at Taylor Street, West Pennant Hills, Castle Hill, Mitchell, NSW with her daughter and son-in-law. Agnes died in 1964. It is not known whether any children were born to James and Agnes in Australia.

Hopefully this blog will reach descendants of James and Agnes Ormsby and information can be added to their story.

ORMSBY, Henry (1859-1924)


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Henry ORMSBY, born on 19 February 1859 at Brickrow Farm St. Quivox & Newton, Ayrshire, Scotland, was the youngest of James ORMSBY and his wife Helen STEEL’s seven children. His father, James, was not home at the time of his birth, although there is no indication where he was; perhaps in Ireland, or at a cattle sale elsewhere in Scotland. The decision about a career or job was important and Henry watched the choices made by his four older brothers. Like his older brother Richard [Richard Steele ORMSBY] (and maybe James [James ORMSBY]), Henry decided that farming was not for him. He chose a life at sea and had ample opportunity for apprenticeships and training in the seaport town of Ayr. By 1881 Henry, 22, lived in Tynemouth, Northumberland, England as an unemployed marine engineer, perhaps still an apprentice. By 1887 at the time of his marriage Henry had attained his Master’s Engineering ticket.

On 02 September 1887 in Kirkbean, Kirkcudbright, Scotland, Henry married  Mary Jane LAMONT.  Mary Jane was born May 26, 1863 in Bankhead, Dalry, Ayrshire, Scotland to Robert LAMONT and Isabella HOWIE.  Henry and Mary Jane had two sons, James Henry ORSMBY (born in Dumfries 18 January 1890) and Robert Lamont ORMSBY (born in Glasgow 5 March 1892). On 10 March 1892, five days after Robert’s birth, Mary Jane died at 19 Regent Place, Shawlands, Glasgow. She is buried in St. Quivox, Ayrshire churchyard in one of the Ormsby family graves.

After Mary Jane’s death Henry moved home with his sons where he had family to help raise them. His work as a marine engineer likely required him to be away for extended periods. In the 1911 census he lived at Gibbsyard with his mother (89), his brother Andrew (63) and his two sons. This census identified that at age 52 Henry had retired.

WATSON1911-ORMSBY family

Photo left, standing, left to right is Henry and Thomas WATSON. Sitting left to right is Henry’s niece Helen (Nellie) McNab Steel ORMSBY and an unknown woman, possibly another niece, a MUIR cousin. This is the only known photo of Henry. The photograph was likely taken in Ayr, Ayrshire as there is no record of Nelly having travelled. The date is prior to 1912 as Thomas Watson, a chauffeur, immigrated to Canada in 1912. Photo is from the collection of Donald Slater, (for Donald’s other family photos see www.flickr.com/photos/palaeoecogeek).

On 4 June 1913, at 121 High Street in Ayr, widower Henry married Katherine MUIR, the daughter of Thomas MUIR and his wife Jeanie CRAWFORD.

Henry died at Bingham House in Richmond, Surrey, England on September 24th 1924. The reason he died in England is not known. Perhaps he and Katherine were visiting?

Hopefully someone who sees this story will have more information on Henry and is family.

ORMSBY, Henry (Harry) (1911-1983)


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[for Harry’s parents and siblings see page ‘ORMSBY’ at top of screen]

[this post last edited, new information added and / or images added  02 December 2014]

Henry (Harry) ORMSBY was born on 10 June 1911 in Brickrow Farm, Ayrshire, Scotland, the eighth and youngest child of John ORSMBY and his wife Helen Ramsay MUIR. Harry, as he was always known, was named after his uncle Henry ORSMBY and was a benificary in his uncle’s will. Family events provide a glimpse of Harry’s life. Only 16 when his father died in 1927, responsibility for the farm and family fell to him as he was the only surviving son. Harry made the trip to the Registrar’s Office to register his father’s death. Three months later, Harry again made the trip to the Registrar’s office; this time to register the death, at Brickrow Farm, of his uncle Andrew Ormsby.

Harry lived with his mother Helen and sisters Helen (Nellie) McNab Steel ORMSBY and Margaret (Peggy) Wilson ORMSBY at Brickrow Farm. In 1929, two years after his father died, he was the informant of the death of his 85 year old grandmother Helen MUIR (maiden surname McNAB) at Brickrow Farm. Cause of her death was ‘senility’ and she had been cared for by the Ormsby family for some years.

Harry was close to his Muir cousins, the children of his uncles Gilbert MUIR and George Kennedy MUIR. On December 16, 1931 Harry, 20, was witness to the marriage of his cousin Annie Clement MUIR to James COLVILLE at 11 Maybole Road (‘Dean Cottage’) in Ayr. (for Muir family cousins see page ‘James and Helen (MCNAB) MUIR Family’ under heading ‘MUIR’ top of screen)

On January 3, 1940 Harry was again a witness to the marriage of a Muir cousin, this time when James Douglas (‘Douglas’) MUIR married Phyllis HEATH, at North Church in Prestwick, Ayrshire.

Harry and James appear to have been close cousins since, when Harry (36) married Annie Young SPROAT (40) on 29 January 1947 Douglas was a witness to their marriage.

Photo below: left to right; ________, Harry, Annie, and ‘Douglas’ Muir. Photo from the collection of E. H. of South Africa.

Henry Ormsby's Wedding

Annie was born on 27 December 1907 in Skerrington Mains, Hurlford, Ayrshire, Scotland to John SPROAT and Isabella NELSON. Annie’s father had a small land holding just across the road from Brickrow Farm so she and Harry had known each other for years. Annie moved to Brickrow Farm, where her rather formidable and domineering mother-in-law Helen lived. Peggy, Harry’s sister Margaret, took a housekeeping job in East Kilbride and took their mother Helen with her to give the newly married couple more space to themselves at Brickrow Farm.

Harry and Annie continued to farm at Brickrow until Harry’s retirement, aged 65, in 1976. Throughout this time, family from Canada stayed in touch and visited whenever they were in Scotland.


Photo left: Annie, Harry and Margaret Ormsby, taken Alloway, Ayrshire Scotland in 1977 by Elsie (Watson) Slater from Winnipeg. Brig’O’Doon in the background. See Donald Slater’s Flickr site http://www.flickr.com/photos/palaeoecogeek for this an other family photographs.

WATSON1983-006-Annie-HarryPhoto left: Harry and Annie Ormsby in Ayr, about 1982

WATSON1984-004-Tom-Peggy-Annie WATSON1984-005-Annie

Photo left, L to R: Thomas (Tom) Watson ACTON, Margaret (Peggy) Wilson ORMSBY and Annie

Photo lower left: Annie, Both photos taken 1984 in Ayr, Ayrshire, Scotland.

Harry and Annie continued to farm Brickrow until they retired when they moved to 18 Duchvay Place, Coylton in Ayrshire. After Harry’s death on 20 January 1983 in Heathfield Hospital, Ayr,
Ayrshire Annie contined to live in Coylton. She died July 8, 1993 in Ballochmyle Hospital, Mauchline, Ayrshire, Scotland.

ORMSBY, John (Johnnie) Muir (1906-1924)


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[for John’s parents and siblings see page ‘ORMSBY’ at top of screen]

John (Johnnie) Muir ORMSBY was born on 26 June 1906 in Brickrow Farm, St. Quivox, Ayrshire, Scotland. He was the seventh child and second son born to John ORMSBY and his wife Helen Ramsay (MUIR) ORMSBY. While not much is known about Johnnie, it is likely that great expectations were placed on him by his parents, who had already lost their first son James Muir ORMSBY [see post 23 November 2012] four years before Johnnie’s birth.

Unfortunately, their hopes were not to be realized. Johnnie, aged 17, died at Brickrow Farm of tuberculosis on 17 May 1924. He was the fourth child of John and Helen’s to die.

His death cast gloom over his sister Jane (Jean’s) Muir ORMSBY marriage to James (Jimmy) Crawford MCGUIRE five months later [see post 16 November 2012]. Family stories indicate that the wedding was conducted in a  ‘sombre fashion’ by the grieving Ormsby family.

There are no known pictures of Johnnie.

ORMSBY, Margaret (Peggy) Wilson (1904-1992)


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[for Margaret’s parents and siblings see page ‘ORMSBY’ at top of screen]

[this post last edited, new information and / or images added 01 June 2013]

Margaret (Peggy) Wilson ORMSBY was born on 14 September 1904 in Brickrow Farm, St. Quivox, Ayrshire, Scotland, the sixth child and fifth daughter born to John ORMSBY and his wife Helen Ramsay MUIR. Two children had already died by the time Margaret arrived. I have not been able to determine the source of her middle name ‘Wilson’, although James WILSON was the parish minister at St. Quivox for at least thirty years and had married Margaret’s parents John and Helen Ormsby in 1894. It is possible that James Wilson was a close family friend as well since on October 24, 1924, he officiated at the marriage of Margaret’s sister Jane (Jean) Muir ORMSBY to James Crawford MCGUIRE. [see post 16 November 2012]. Margaret, 20, (photo below) was witness at the marriage.

The photo right [Margaret, October 24, 1924] was sent by Margaret’s mother Helen to her sister Jane (Jean) (MUIR) WATSON who lived in Saskatchewan, Canada. The photograph is now in the collection of an Ormsby family descendant who still lives in Ayrshire, Scotland.

Margaret never married. She worked as a live-in housekeeper / cook for many years, primarily for a well-to-do elderly bachelor. Apparently it was a position that financially allowed her to indulge in her enjoyment of fashion as family stories indicate that she “had a sense of style and always wore lovely clothes”. When the elderly bachelor died he left Margaret a bequest sufficiently large that she was able to buy or build a small home for her retirement.

About 1947 when her brother Henry (Harry) ORMSBY married, Margaret decided that it would be best if Harry and his bride Annie Young SPROAT had Brickrow Farm to themselves without the presence of their mother Helen who had become domineering and overbearing woman. Margaret took a housekeeping job in East Kilbride and took her mother with her. After her mother’s death in 1951, Margaret continued to work as a housekeeper.

On her retirement Margaret lived at her home at 3 Allenfield Road in Ayr. Family ties were important to her and Margaret was a letter writer. From family photos and letters I know that, although she never travelled to Canada, she maintained contact with her Saskatchewan cousins [children of Jane MUIR and Thomas WATSON] and they visited her whenever possible. She may also have been in touch with her cousins in New Zealand (children of Richard Steele ORMSBY), and Australia (children of James Henry ORMSBY), unfortunately no records or letters have been found to indicate this was the case.

Family members from Canada did stay in touch and visited whenever they were in Scotland.


Photo left: Annie, Harry and Margaret Ormsby, taken Alloway, Ayrshire Scotland in 1977 by Elsie (Watson) Slater from Winnipeg, Manitoba. Brig’O’Doon in the background. See Donald Slater’s Flickr site http://www.flickr.com/photos/palaeoecogeek for this an other family photographs.

Photo left: Margaret (left) and her sister Jean Muir (ORMSBY) McGUIRE (right) at 3 Allenfield Road, Ayr, with Canadian cousin Samuel Acton WATSON, from Victoria, British Columbia. Sam’s father, James Muir WATSON, was a 1st cousin of Margaret and Jean. This visit occurred about 1982. Photo above and below are from the author’s collection.

Photo left: Thomas (‘Tom’) Watson ACTON, from Saskatchewan, visited Margaret in 1984, the visit referred to in the letter below. Tom’s mother Helen (Nell) McNab (WATSON) ACTON and Margaret were 1st cousins.

3, Allenfield Rd., Ayr, 17.1.85

Dear Jean & Tom,

I am sure you must think I have departed this world! I am so late in saying ‘thank you’ for your lovely Christmas card and a previous letter.

I am only now starting to write. I had a week in hospital in early December, and had the cataract removed from my right eye. The op. has been a success, but on returning home I took a very lazy fit. They say “Some people sit and think”, but I just sat. I am told that I had left it too late having my first experience of an anesthetic at eighty!

I feel more active now but am plagued with a bad cold.

We are having our first snow of the winter and it is bitterly cold, though nothing like in the south of England.

[page 2 of the letter, not shown here, continued…]

It has been quite a year. This miners’ strike has caused such an upheaval. Luckily, I had decided to finish with my coal fire and will not use it again though I do miss it.

Ann [Annie ORMSBY, Harry ORMSBY’s widow] has had another spell of backache and confined to the house. I have not been able to visit her for two days but we have long chats on the phone. In late summer she had treatment from a specialist near Edinburgh and was happy to think she had been cured but alas! I think she will return for more treatment when the cold season ends. I do hope too that she can find a home in Ayr during the year.

I have nice kindly neighbours here and I would be tempted to go house hunting myself. I have no quarrel with my present house but the garden is just a bit too much nowadays. However will give it another summer and find out if I can manage.

I do hope you both keep well and you are coming to terms with retirement! Perhaps you will fancy another long holiday as you had last summer.

Sorry my writing is so poor – I have still to get new spectacles.

My thanks and good wishes to both.

Sincerely Margt

Letter above is now in the collection of an Ormsby family descendant who still lives in Ayrshire, Scotland.

Margaret, 88 years old, died on 11 June 1992 in Biggart Hospital, Prestwick, Ayrshire, Scotland.

ORMSBY, James Muir (1901-1902)


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[for James’ parents and siblings see page ‘ORMSBY’ at top of screen]

James Muir ORMSBY, born on 06 June 1901 at Brickrow Farm, St. Quivox, Ayshire, Scotland was the fifth child and first son born to John ORMSBY and his wife Helen Ramsay MUIR.  The choice of the name ‘James’ easily satisfied Scottish naming traditions as the baby’s father’s father was James [James ORMSBY] as was his mother’s father [James MUIR]. Finally a son – the heir apparent!

Little less than a year before James’ birth, on 30 July 1900 at Brickrow Farm, his three (3) year old sister Mary Manson Muir ORMSBY died of scarlet fever, a contagious childhood disease.  At the time of James’ birth, the Ormsby household was filled with four young children under the age of six (6), likely the parents were concerned that more of their brood would be felled by the dread disease.

Unfortunately James’ life was cut short, although not by scarlet fever. He died on 26 July 1902 at Brickrow Farm when he was just over a year old. Cause of death was ‘tabes mesenterica’ (duration two months) and meningitis (duration three days). The Orsmby family was without an heir.

Right: Cause of death from James’ death registration.

Tabes mesenterica is a wasting disease of childhood, accompanied by fever, which can be caused by drinking milk from cows that have been infected by tuberculosis. Mandatory pasteurisation laws were not passed in Scotland until the 1980s.

Why had James died, probably from drinking infected cows milk, when the other Ormsby children escaped this fate? Was James the only one to drink cow’s milk? Or just from that particular cow, although it is highly unlikely that only one cow in a herd would be infected. Was James not being nursed by his mother? Perhaps his mother Helen was not able to nurse her baby James? This situation could have added the emotion of personal responsibility as well as grief to a young mother who in the space of two years had lost two babies.

ORMSBY, Jessie Ross (1899-1921)


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[for Jessie’s parents and siblings see page ‘ORMSBY’ at top of screen]

Jessie Ross ORMSBY was born on 21 June 1899 in Brickrow Farm, St. Quivox, Ayrshire, Scotland, the fourth child and daughter born to John ORSMBY and his wife Helen Ramsay MUIR in the first five years of their marriage. I have not been able to determine the source of her middle name ‘Ross’.

She was born into the family during a tumultuous time. In 1900 Jessie’s sister Mary [Mary Manson Muir ORMSBY], not yet 4 years old, died of the contagious disease scarlet fever. In April 1901 a nurse lived with the family, to help the young mother Helen cope: with three young children under the age of 6; the aftermath of Mary’s death in 1900; and the impending birth of another child in June 1901.

Jessie became a beautiful young woman whose life was cut short tragically by tuberculosis at age 22 after a five month illness.

On the back of the photo below:
On Loving Memory of Jessie Ross Ormsby,
Born June 21st 1899, Died December 11, 1921”
in her mother Helen’s handwriting.

These photos of Jessie Ross were sent by her mother Helen to Helen’s sister Jean (MUIR) WATSON who lived in Saskatchewan, Canada. Both photographs are from the collection of an Orsmby family descendant who still lives in Ayrshire, Scotland.

ORMSBY, Jane (Jean) Muir (1897-1983)


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[for Jane’s (Jean’s) parents and siblings see page ‘ORMSBY’ at top of screen]

Jane (Jean) Muir ORMSBY was born on 05 October 1897 in Brickrow Farm, St. Quivox, Ayrshire, Scotland, the third of John ORMSBY and Helen Ramsay MUIR’s children and daughters.

On 30 October 1924, at Brickrow Farm, 27 year old Jean married James (Jimmy) Crawford McGUIRE, 30, an engineer in the Merchant Marine. Family stories relate that the wedding was a relatively “sombre affair” as Jean’s brother Johnnie had died of consumption five months previously, and her uncle Henry ORMSBY had died the previous month.

Photo left: Jean, the bride seated, her husband James (Jimmy) McGUIRE in uniform. The witnesses of the marriage were Jane’s sister Margaret (Peggy) Wilson ORMSBY and Robert MUIR, a friend of Jimmy’s. Robert, although his surname was Muir does not appear to have been related to the Muir family of Jean’s mother. The photograph is from the collection of an Orsmby family descendant who still lives in Ayrshire, Scotland.

Jimmy spent much of his career as the Chief Engineer of the ‘Queen of Bermuda’. This ship, completed in the early 1930s by the Furness Bermuda Line, sailed the lucrative New York to Bermuda route. The ‘Queen of Bermuda’, and her sister ship ‘Monarch of Bermuda’, were the elite luxury ships of that time. They were known as the ‘millionaires’ ships’, favourites of movie stars and other prominent people.

The weekly run between New York and Bermuda took only forty hours in each direction, which allowed four days to be spent on the island. For Jimmy, as a senior officer, it was a glamorous route and lifestyle on a luxurious ship.

Jimmy was seldom at home in Scotland with his family since his route lay between New York and Bermuda. Passenger records show that Jean had one opportunity to join Jimmy and they lived in Bermuda from 1952 to 1957. Jean returned to Scotland for a short visit in 1956. Jean loved tropical Bermuda, particularly the garden she grew.

In September 1957 both Jean and Jimmy returned to Scotland. Jimmy was 63 and perhaps he had retired?

Jean and Jimmy had a home in Mauchline (5 Weldon Road), Ayrshire where Jimmy died in 1969. After Jimmy died, Jean continued to live in Mauchline. She died in 1983, aged 86. She is remembered as a “lovely person, she looked after her sisters and never complained”.