v 7.00.00
23 Jan 2024
updated 23 Jan 2024

The Muir the merrier

It's abundantly clear in retrospect that from at least the mid-18th century onwards, our corner of the Findlay family had been involved in the manufacture and sale of woollen cloth, initially on a local scale, but from William Rennie Findlay #1 onwards on an Imperial basis, importing raw wool from Australia rather than 'home-growing' it.

The Donaldsons and the Muirs were also involved in one aspect of this trade or another, and so it's not surprising that all three families became amicably entwined, and that so many young Findlays and Muirs, for example, sought their fortunes in Australia, though increasingly in the goldfields rather than the sheep-pastures.

Once again I'm deeply grateful to the researches of Jen Guerin, this time to unveil the details of M E M Donaldson's maternal aunts and grandparents, and thereby establish not only the real source of family funds that became available to young MEMD for her Sanna Bheag venture, but also (and to me even more importantly) to discover the family connection – an unsuspected additional maiden aunt Christina Paterson Muir – that most probably introduced MEMD and my grandmother Hannah Findlay to one another.

MEMD's maternal grandfather John Muir was an immensely successful entrepreneur, as was William Renny Findlay #1 (until the City of Glasgow Bank crash in 1878), and it's of great interest to compare their time-lines.

  • In the 1841 Census (the very first), and in a Post Office directory of 1846/7, the WRF#1 family live at 6 Ure Place, Glasgow, though by the 1851 Census, they have moved to Provan Place, 128 Melrose St, Glasgow.
  • In the 1851 Census, John (37) and Mary (37) Muir live with their three daughters (11, 9 & 2) at 12 Ure Place, Glasgow, and his occupation is listed as a "Whole sale clothier shop & shirt manufacturer."
  • And as Jen Guerin observes, it is not unrealistic to assume some overlap in Ure Place between the Findlays in the 1841 to 1846 period (or at least until 1851) and the Muirs who were there by the 1851 census - her further delving into the PO Directories has in fact established this for a period of at least two intervening years.

By the 1861 Census, John (47, born Mauchlin, Ayrshire) and Mary (47, born Campsie, Stirlingshire) live with their eldest and youngest daughters (21 and 12) at 111 Douglas Street, Glasgow, and are listed as the owners of a business described as "manufacturer of export clothing employer of 300 hands". Wow, 300 employees.

At the 1871 Census they have moved to New Kilpatrick, Dumbartonshire, just west of Glasgow. John is listed as a "merchant [of] cloths". His wife Mary and all three daughters (26, 24 & 18) are also there, plus a large number of servants. Evidently they have done well for themselves!

John died at his house Beechwood, New Kilpatrick in 1874, probate 1 Sep 1874. At the 1881 Census, Mary senior and the two younger daughters are still there, Mary junior having married Alexander Donaldson in New Kilpatrick in March 1874, and now living in Lambeth with her family.

The two younger daughters never marry, and in the end all the Muir family wealth cascades down to Mary minima (ie MEMD) and her two brothers. So much for the auntly theory that MEMD's mazuma was thanks to her 'ship-owning' father Alexander Donaldson!

But there's another issue that needs attention – where was John and Mary's 19 year old middle daughter Christina Muir at the time of the 1861 Census?

She was in fact boarding at an Edinburgh finishing school, at precisely the same time and same school as WRF #1's 16 year old daughter Isabella Findlay. So there is every likelihood that they became 'bestest friends'; though girls do sometimes becomes 'worstest enemies' these days, this was of course long before internet social media made that possible.

  • Isabella Findlay was the immediately elder sister of Jessie Smith Findlay, and aunt of Hannah Findlay, my grandmother.
  • Christina Muir was the immediately younger sister of Mary Isabella Muir, and aunt of M E M Donaldson.

Commercial connections, family propinquity, and individual affections all make it overwhelmingly likely that the link between the two aunts-to-be (Christina and Isabella) was naturally passed down in due course to the two nieces-to-be (MEMD and Hannah Findlay), and thereby became the longest-enduring family meme of my own lifetime. Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine!