We are grateful to Moya Dewar, a descendant of 19th century Ardentinny residents, who has provided us with the following fascinating research on her ancestors who lived at Glencairn Cottage and Glefinart in the late 19th century.
When Euphemia McKellar died in March 1898, the local paper wrote, under the heading of ‘Death of old Glefinart inhabitants,’ that she was ‘much respected in the district.’ The other death was that of her neighbour, William MacFarlane. So, who was Euphemia McKellar?
She had been born c1824 in Greenock to John McKellar and Eupham Whyte: John McKellar was a ship’s carpenter whose origins are uncertain, but Eupham Whyte had been born at Inverchaolain and had then lived at Rashfield from the age of about 10. Orphaned by the age of 15, Euphemia McKellar appears to have stayed on in Greenock for a year or two, after which she might have joined her two younger siblings who were being brought up by their maternal grandparents, Donald Whyte and Mary Campbell at Rashfield.
Meanwhile, Joseph Cairns (born in Glasgow) had married Margaret Thomson (or MacGlashan)* and was living in Ardentinny, initially working as a shoemaker and then on the Glenfinart estate as a saw miller. By 1841 they had four young children, but Joseph was widowed sometime after the birth of their fifth child in 1843. A widower with five young children clearly needed help in the home – did he engage Euphemia McKellar as his housekeeper? He married her in 1846, they went on to have another 12 children and, remarkably, all 17 children survived childhood, although one died aged only 19 of peritonitis, and several others predeceased Euphemia.
Inevitably, most of the children moved away from the area, mostly to Glasgow (although one enterprising son emigrated to New Zealand in the 1860s, went gold prospecting and bought a farm there with the proceeds!). After putting an appeal in an NZ newspaper a couple of years ago, we are delighted to be back in touch with one of his great granddaughters. That it was a close-knit family is evidenced by two anecdotes: even the children from Joseph’s first marriage took their own children to visit Euphemia (Joseph had died in 1882), and the eldest of the 17, Margaret, was at the side of the second youngest, Catherine, when the 19-year-old died in Glasgow in 1885. Also one of Margaret’s daughters sailed to New Zealand in 1909 and married a cousin there.
The photograph of Euphemia (above) was probably taken a year or two before her death, and she was sitting outside Octagon Cottage (so named because of its half-octagon roof), now Glencairn.
On a visit to Ardentinny in 2006, we brought an enlargement of the photo and were excited to see this confirmed – apart from the fact that it was the only property we could find with such narrow door jambs, all these years later the nicks in those door jambs match up exactly with the ones in the photo!
Two Cairns families were still living in Ardentinny/Stronvochlan in 1901 and Octagon Cottage was at that time the home of Euphemia’s daughter-in-law Joan and her five children – Joan’s husband, Alexander, had died ten months before his mother.
By 1911, however, only John (aka Jake) and his family were left, living at Glenfinart. A tragedy sadly occurred in this family in 1913 when John’s 16 year old son, Joseph, died: it seems he had fallen into the River Finart after suffering an epileptic fit. John, widowed just three years later, remained in the area until after his youngest daughter, Jenny, married in 1935. The late Alistair Maclean of Ardentinny remembered that his own sister was bridesmaid at Jenny’s wedding . He recalled Jake as a small quiet man who had been the beadle at the local church. At the time of his death in 1944, Jake was living in Carluke in south Lanarkshire.
Several gravestones linked to Euphemia’s family can be seen in the kirkyard at Kilmun, including this quite imposing one for the Cairns family. Another gives details of Euphemia’s parents and siblings, yet another those of her Whyte grandparents.
*Margaret Thomson (or McGlashan) was a daughter of Dugald Thomson (or McGlashan) and Margaret Bannatyne. If anyone can explain why both Dugald and Margaret appear to have had two surnames, we would be pleased to hear from them.
Submitted by Moya Dewar, descendant of Christina, a daughter from Joseph’s first marriage, and Marion Lewis, of family descended from Joseph and Euphemia’s son Daniel.