The Nicoll Talisman

Just to remind you, in case you are just joining us here, I’m speaking of my 3x Great Grandfather’s manuscript I discovered at the National Library of Australia.

The Life and Adventures of Mr George Robertson Nicoll.

I don’t know how to describe it without sounding so trite but holding the manuscript, it is a magical experience, that is the definition of a Talisman so I will stick with that.

I’m not sure it would have the same power if I wasn’t directly linked to the Author. This is my clan and his words are my family history. George inspired me to start this blog, I can only hope that some GGG Grandchildren of mine stumble upon this blog 150 years from now and have the same experience as me with George’s manuscript. I know it will be a digital experience rather than a physical one but hopefully that will ensure that it survives and hopefully jam packing it with photos and documents will make up for the lack of a tactile experience.

I just had a thought, imagine if this post is them finding out about the manuscript, your welcome GGG Grandkids. It will be 300 years old by your time, check it out at the National library, if is still standing. (Hey it is the age of Climate Change, Pack Ice dying and Trump potentially getting a 2nd term, just saying.)

To say that I am loving George’s manuscript and the level of detail he has packed into it, is a bit of an understatement. I’m dishing it out to myself in small amounts to make it last as long as possible. Reading what I have so far has really whetted my interest in George’s world and to really discover as much as I can about him and the family. So, I started digging around online and wait till you see what I have come up with.

I’m just going to jump straight in from the beginning and see what I can find digitally to go with George’s words and build upon the amazing context he has already set out. I’m seeing this like one of those renovation shows where the couple are renovating a Grade 2 listed ruin and the new extension has to sit along side the ancient structure and enhance it, that is my hope here anyway.

Below is a copy of George’s opening paragraph from the manuscript.

The Life and Adventures of Mr George Robertson Nicoll.

Below is a copy of his birth and baptism record from Scotland’s People website confirming these details. The third column interestingly records in this case, who George was named after.

Well, I paid for this one, so it’s courtesy of me, via the Scotland’s People website.
https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/

Now look what I found, Campbell’s Close in the High Street is still standing.

Figure 1: Courtesy of Douglas MacKenzie/Alamy stock photo. https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-the-sadly-neglected-campbells-close-on-the-high-street-in-dundee-is-137790233.html

“The sadly neglected Campbell’s Close on the High Street in Dundee is a typical Scottish “close”, 1.2 metres wide at the entrance, is a passageway giving access to entrances of several buildings. It features a decorative iron gateway.” (Alamy.com)


High Street, Dundee, showing Campbell’s Close entrance on the right under the awning with the 77 on it.
Figure 2: Courtesy Google Maps 2017

This following map is from 1857 confirming the actual position as in the photo above.

Figure 3: Courtesy National Library Scotland

The following photo shows the position in a 3D view. How lucky are we in 2019, 3D? Thanks Google.

Figure 4: Courtesy Google Maps 2017

To plot it correctly, it’s the 5th building from the left hand corner of this row of buildings above. The corner curved building being 1. I confirmed on the Scottish Heritage site called Canmore that the building was built in the early 1800’s obviously sometime before Sept 1824 when George was born. The building immediately to the left of it with the raised yellow chimney in the center of the facade is actually dated from the 1400’s. It is the Dundee Backpackers at the moment.

I had the great fortune of finding this amazing site that has lots of historic photos of Dundee uploaded to it called, Photopolis. After lots of scrolling came across these gems.

High Street, Dundee
Figure 5: Courtesy Photopolis.

I can’t find a specific date for this photo, but I’m guesstimating it is in the 1890’s sometime. Campbell’s Close is the entrance way just to the left of the J in J.P Smith sign. Interesting note, you can just make out the writing on the top rim of the building it says, “The Garden”, this is reputed to be Dundee’s first full vegetarian restaurant. (I would credit this info but I can’t remember or find where I read this, flying by the seat of my pants people!)

High Street, Dundee, showing Campbell’s Close entrance under the & between Wilson and Co.
Figure 6: Courtesy Photopolis.
http://www.leisureandculturedundee.com/photopolis

This photo is from 1896.

High Street, Dundee, showing Campbell’s Close entrance to the left of the J .P. Smith banner.
Figure 7: Courtesy Photopolis.
http://www.leisureandculturedundee.com/sites/default/files/wc0216.jpg
High Street, Dundee, showing Campbell’s Close entrance to the left of the Kidd & Wallace banner.
Figure 8: Courtesy Photopolis.
http://www.leisureandculturedundee.com/sites/default/files/wc3327.jpg

Again, no specific date on this but I wonder if it is early 1890’s, J P Smith and Sons have not expanded into the Kidd and Wallace premises as they are in the previous photos.

Figure 9: Courtesy Google Maps 2010

I think this shot is a great one for comparison with the one above in the 1890’s.

Hoping I’ve been successful in showing, how a handful of photos and a couple of maps gives so much depth and colour to George’s first 2 sentences. As an old Irish Friend of mine likes to say, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph”, 2 sentences. At 300 odd pages of Manuscript hope you are all in for the long haul? Well what a great way to spend the next couple of years, for me anyhow.

Next section of the manuscript:

The Life and Adventures of Mr George Robertson Nicoll.
Dundee Directories listing for 1809.
Figure 10: Courtesy of National Library of Scotland
https://digital.nls.uk/directories/browse/archive/84956398

1809! The age of these records and the fact that they are so readily available is phenomenal. The Fifh-market as you can see from the map below runs off the Green market. From my reading it is also known as Shore Terrace. All the listings in the Dundee Directory that I have been able to find place the Nicoll businesses around this area, Green market, East Shore and King William 4th Dock.

Dundee City Docks and Markets 1846,
Figure 11: Courtesy of National Library of Scotland
https://maps.nls.uk/view/74400068
Figure 12: Courtesy Photopolis.
http://www.leisureandculturedundee.com/sites/default/files/wc1077.jpg

Fish Market runs out to the right at the bottom of this picture. The alleyway between the two buildings at the back of the square is Crichton Street and leads up to High Street and then across to the left hand side of the road and Campbell’s Close.

The photo below is looking in the opposite direction from the photo above, towards the Earl Grey dock, to the left you can just make out the Victoria Arch, (which is facing the Fish Market) built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s visit on the 11th September 1844 (George’s 20th Birthday) and on the other side of this is the King William 4th Dock.

Figure 13: Courtesy of Dundee City Archives.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/dundeecityarchives/29112229782

This photo above from another fantastic site, Dundee City Archives on Flickr.

Figure 14: Courtesy Photopolis.
http://www.leisureandculturedundee.com/sites/default/files/wc1073.jpg

This photo above is from the edge of the Earl Grey Dock (shown in in the previous photo) looking up the Green market and Shore Terrace/ Fish Market going to the right.

Photo below is the other end of the Shore Terrace/Fish Market at the corner of Castle Street. The left of this picture joins the right of the previous photo.

Figure 14: Courtesy Photopolis.
http://www.leisureandculturedundee.com/sites/default/files/wc1056.jpg
Figure 15: Courtesy Photopolis.
http://www.leisureandculturedundee.com/sites/default/files/wc1081.jpg

And here we are back at the Green market end, somewhere down that alley to the right of this picture which is Shore Terrace/Fish Market is Thomas Nicoll’s workshop and then James Nicoll.

After all that just found a photo of the whole area.

Figure 15: Courtesy Photopolis.
http://www.leisureandculturedundee.com/sites/default/files/wc0600.jpg

Of course, we have to keep in mind that the photos are probably around the 1890’s – early 1900’s, so 50 to 70 years after James and Thomas’s time, so there could have been any other number of structures or buildings in the area that they were housed in. But it still gives us a pretty good idea of where they were living and working.

Dundee Directories listing for 1819.
https://digital.nls.uk/directories/browse/archive/91203810

James is mid 20’s in 1819 and obviously out in his own workshop.

Dundee Directories listing for 1822.
Pigot & Co listing from 1837
https://digital.nls.uk/directories/browse/archive/85589728

Looking at the above listing you can see the entry for James, George’s Father, block, mas and pump maker at King William’s dock. I wonder if the George listed above him is our George as he was aged 14 at that time and 14 is listed at the end of his line. James is in his early 40’s now and Thomas, his father is now 80.

Dundee Directories listing for 1846.
https://digital.nls.uk/directories/browse/archive/85266323

Note that the James R, iron merchant, listed under James in the 1846 listing above could be George Robertson’s elder Brother, James Robertson as he was in the iron trade at this stage. James is mid 50’s now and Thomas, his Father has been dead for 5 years.

Heading back to the manuscript now.

The Life and Adventures of Mr George Robertson Nicoll.

Here is a copy of Margaret and James’s marriage record from 5th June 1817. I love these original source documents that lock in so many details, blockmaker and watchmaker so we can be certain we have the correct information.

I paid for this one as well, so it’s courtesy of me and again via the Scotland’s People website.
https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/

Here is a copy of James’s birth details below. This was an amazing find as it confirms not only James’s birth details but also confirms the names of George’s Grandparents and his Great Grandfather on his Dad’s Mum side of the Family.This was just fantastic.

As above in last.
https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/

When you read the next section of the manuscript below you will also see why the info above is so important to us.

George, doesn’t actually refer to his “…Grandmother Nicoll” by name, so we now know that she was Jean Chalmers and her Father who was Butler to the Earl of Strathmore, was, James Chalmers, who George’s Father was named for. Isn’t that just brilliant. (That’s rhetorical by the way.)

And here is Glamis Castle. The ancestral home of the Queen Mother (Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyons) and the work place of my 6x Great Grandfather, James Chalmers.

Figure 16: Courtesy The Castles of Scotland.
https://www.thecastlesofscotland.co.uk/the-best-castles/grand-castles/glamis-castle/
Figure 17: Courtesy The Castles of Scotland.
https://www.thecastlesofscotland.co.uk/the-best-castles/grand-castles/glamis-castle/
Figure 18: Courtesy The Castles of Scotland.
https://www.thecastlesofscotland.co.uk/the-best-castles/grand-castles/glamis-castle/
Figure 19: Courtesy Shahbaz Majeed
https://www.flickr.com/photos/ajnabee/127189096/in/photostream/

What a place to live and work and now I have a direct link to this ancient place on the other side of the globe to me. All because George wrote those few lines in his manuscript.

The Earl in 1890 when George was writing the above, was:

Claude [Lyon-Bowes later Bowes-Lyon], 13th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

Which would make his Grandfather:

Thomas [Bowes later Lyon-Bowes], 11th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne,

This is the Earl that “Grandmother Nicoll”, (Jean Chalmers) Father, (James Chalmers) was butler to. The problem with this is that Thomas didn’t become Earl until 1820 when James was 90 years of age, if still alive. (I haven’t been able to confirm a death date for James as yet) So I suspect that James was working for the 10th Earl, Thomas’s elder Brother and perhaps his Father the 9th Earl.

Figure 20 Courtesy Insiders Scotland Guide
https://www.insiders-scotland-guide.com/ScotlandGlamisCastle.html

Pictured above: John Bowes, 9th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne (17 July 1737 – 7 March 1776)

This fine looking gentleman below, his Son.

Figure 21 Courtesy Glamis Castle
https://www.glamis-castle.co.uk/the-castle/timeline/

Pictured above: John Bowes, 10th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne (14 April 1769 – 3 July 1820)

I emailed the Archivist at Glamis Castle (Ingrid) to inquire if they had any details on James and his service. Ingrid very kindly confirmed that I had the Earl’s correct but unfortunately the names of staff were rarely recorded individually in the Factor Accounts (Wages Book).

She did go through the information that she had as she said being butler meant there was a greater chance of James being mentioned but again no luck. Apparently, there is a big hole in the Factor Accounts, for 1785-1863. Still great to now have the name of my ancestor confirmed.

Figure 22 Courtesy of Glamis Castle
https://www.glamis-castle.co.uk/

I found this wonderful picture in the Castle’s online archives of this staff wedding party in front of the castle entrance. It’s roughly 100 years after Jame’s time so imagine them in Georgian clothing instead of Victorian.

David Allan’s “The Highland Wedding” 1780
Figure 23 Courtesy of Wikimedia
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Allan-highlandwedding1780.jpg

This portrait below was painted around the same time that James was working at the Castle and depicts the style of clothing he might have been wearing at that time.

Young Man in a Fawn Coat, c.1772-3, by Tilly Kettle.
Figure 24 Courtesy of Tate Museum
https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/kettle-young-man-in-a-fawn-coat-n03962

On another interesting note, James was 15 when the second Jacobite rebellion started in 1745. The final attempt by “Bonnie Prince Charles” to reinstate his Father and the Stuart line to the throne of England and Scotland. And James was living right in the path of the advancing and retreating Jacobite’s and English troops. Imagine the manuscript he would have written.

I find it fascinating that those 5 lines from the manuscript about the castle and George’s Grandmother and Great Grandfather has enabled me to find so much information about them and the time that they were living in. Talk about context.

I know there are no photos of them but to see how they most likely would have been dressed and to read about the times that they were living in and to actually see the places that James and presumably Jean were at, just brings them to life for me.

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