Chapter 1


Figure 1.1: The White Family line.

1.1 White

1.1.1 John White and his Forbears

“John White was born in Peebles on September 8, 1772”. Thus, Ida G. White began her story of my grandfather White and his forbears – in “Ninety Years”. She gave no source for this information. It was probably handed down through the family, by word of mouth or written on the flyleaf of a family Bible. She had no access to Parish Registers.

The Parish Registers of Peebles, date from 1620. When I searched the Register of Baptisms for 1772, I was dismayed to find no record of a baptism of a John White – but found the following entry – “On September 20, 1772, the child born on September 11, John Whittie, son to William Whittie and Christian Stewart, his spouse, was baptized by William Dagleish.” [W1]

Was this John Whittie my great great grandfather John White? After gaining some understanding of the processes of taking and keeping records at that time, I was convinced that he was.

Firstly, the date of his birth in the Register differed from that given by I.G.W, by only 3 days. Such mistakes were often made by informants, by Church Wardens and Parish Clerks, and in family records, written perhaps some time after the event.

Secondly, at this time in Scotland (1700-1875), the naming of children followed a traditional naming pattern – the names of the father’s parents and the mother’s parents, and of the father and mother being given to the children in a definite order. (see Figure 1.2)

Our John White and his spouse, Mary Wilson followed this pattern (See Fig. 1.3). Their first son and first daughter were named James and Catherine after Mary’s parents. Their second son and second daughter were named William and Christian after John’s parents. So John White’s parents, and John Whittie’s parents had the same given names!

Angus Baxter in “Tracing Your Origins”, outlines The Naming Pattern
traditional in parts of Scotland between 1700 – 1875
The first son was named after the father’s father
The second son after the mother’s father
The third son after the father
The fourth son after the father’s eldest brother
The first daughter after the mother’s mother
The second daughter after the father’s mother
The third daughter after the mother
The fourth daughter after the mother’s eldest sister
For example, if the fathers of both parents had the same name.
Another break in the pattern could be caused by the death of a
child, and it was not unusual for at least half the children to die
in infancy. The name of the dead child would be given to a later
one. The order was sometimes reversed if one family was more
respected than the other. A child might be called after a very res-
pected friend of the family instead of a grandparent. There were
exceptions to the pattern.

Figure 1.2: The Naming Pattern.


Here there is a reversal of order, the Wilsons probably being more
highly respected than the Whitties. John’s father and brother were
servants, where several of Mary’s brothers were well educated – a
doctor, a minister and poet.

Figure 1.3: The Naming Pattern as used by John White and Mary Wilson.

Lastly, I.G.W. wrote in “Ninety Years” that John White and Mary Wilson were married in Edinburgh in 1801 or 1802. Recent research by M.R in Old Scottish Church Records in Edinburgh found the marriage recorded, on 27 July, 1802 as that of John Whitie to Mary Wilson.

So, John Whittie born and baptised in Peebles in 1772, John Whitie married in Edinburgh in 1802 and John White our forbear in “Ninety Years” are one and the same!

Peebles is a quiet country town of Peebleshire, in Scotland, beautifully set among wooded hills at the junction of Eddleston Water and the River Tweed. Its name goes back to Roman times. It was created a Royal Burgh in 1367. The old cross still stands in the High Street, about 30 miles south of Edinburgh.


Figure 1.4: Shop – front “ W.J Whitie, Bookseller and Newsagent.” in High Street, Peebles.

Alan and I visited Peebles in 1987. We found graves of Whites and Whitties in the cemetery, but none dating back to the 1700’s. We drove slowly up the High Street, and there, just as the shops were closing, the last rays of the setting sun lit up a shop – front “ W.J Whitie, Bookseller and Newsagent.” (Figure 1.4) Behind the counter were three generations of Whities – William J, William D and Adam, aged 1 1/2 . I felt so excited – as our John Whittie had a younger brother Adam! They quickly produced their family tree which showed them descended from Thomas Whittie [W1] a shoemaker in Peebles. Thomas Whittie’s name was recorded as witness at the baptisms of William’s children; so he was almost certainly the brother of the William from whom we are descended! William Whittie was a servant to David Grieve, a tenant farmer, at nearby Jetherfield, who also acted as witness at these baptisms. As with the Naming pattern, so the names of witnesses at baptisms and marriages are helpful in confirming family relationships and occupations.

The present day William and his son (their name spelled Whitie, with one “t” and pronounced the same as Whittie) were very proud and seemingly knowledgeable about many of their forbears on the Tree. But when I pointed to John, son of William, born in 1772, they shook their heads. They didn’t know what had become of him! According to I.G.W., our John left Peebles as a young man, and his son emigrated to New Zealand. This would explain why the Peebles Whities had lost track of him and his descendants!

Mr. William Whitie told us that the names White and Whitie, or Whittie were used interchangeably. But in my study of the Parish Registers, I found that generally the same spelling was recorded consistently in families, the Whits and Whites being tenant farmers in the surrounding districts, and the Whities and Whitties more likely to be servants and tradesmen in the town. Perhaps this was the reason for John Whittie to change his name to White when he left the district hoping to better himself.

I.G. White recorded that the young John White left Peebles to seek his fortune. She wrote that “he found work in Kirknewton, a village about 15 miles to the northwest of Peebles, where he was apprenticed to a Mr. Wilson, a builder , and later married his only daughter, Mary” [W2].

1.2 Wilson

1.2.1 James Wilson and Catherine Boak

Ida G.White wrote that Mary Wilson was born in Kirknewton on September 9, 1782, and that she had three brothers – James, who had become a minister, William, a doctor, and George, a landowner in Tasmania. She should have added a fourth, Robert, because she had inherited a copy of his poems.


Figure 1.5: Entry in the Parish register of Kirknewton recording the baptism of Mary Wilson.

I searched the Kirknewton Parish Registers of Baptisms – and found a Mary, baptised on September 30, 1782 – so the right Mary, but with five brothers – not three as I.G.W. recorded, James baptised in 1784, William in 1787, a David who must have died in infancy 1788 – David in 1790, Thomas in 1792 and Robert in 1795, but no George. They were born to James Wilson, of Corston, and Catherine Boak, his spouse.

However, twenty years after my searches for George, another descendant of James Wilson and Catherine Boak – wrote from Australia – with well-documented information – that James and Catherine had moved from Kirknewton to the nearby parishes of Currie and Uphall, and in the Registers of these parishes are recorded the baptisms of three more children, Margaret in 1798, John in 1801 and George in 1803! So I.G.W. was wrong in that Mary was not an only daughter – but a much older daughter – and right, in that Mary did have a brother George!

Margaret Rackham is this descendant – she is the great great granddaughter of Margaret Wilson – as I am the great great granddaughter of Mary Wilson. She has furnished us with fascinating and well documented information about the Wilson family, copies of excerpts from books and articles written by them and about them (filed in my working papers)

James Wilson – the father, was described in the Kirknewton Parish Registers at the baptism of his children as “plowman in Corston”.

The Parish of Kirknewton – in the 1790’s – was described in “Statistical Account of Scotland” – as being level and fertile towards the north and with green rolling hills in the south – “good for sheep pasture and crops of potatoes and turnips, if properly cultivated for the purpose.”

The Earl of Morton was a patron of the village at this time. He owned large estates, divided into about twenty farms of around 100 acres each. Corston was one of these. He was anxious to promote and encourage cultivation and a plan of rotation of crops among his tenants – the tenants leased the farms for long periods, paying yearly rents. All the villagers who were able to work in the fields could generally find employment, especially in the summer months, and live comfortably on their wages.

The Dalmahoy Papers in the National Archives of Scotland, contain farm reports and Workmen’s Account Books, which show the types of work done on the Earl of Morton’s farms, the hours of work, payments made and to whom, sometimes with receipts and signatures. The men worked a 6 day week – at ploughing, cutting and carting wood, planting – oaks, elms, spruce and chestnuts – clearing moles and molehills and making roads and drains. Women, too, were employed, pulling nettles, hay-making, hoeing turnips – and in the months of April and May, Lord and Lady Morton offered 6 pence a day for killing breeding wasps!

Among the tenants and farm workers named in the reports of 1740 to 1814 – are several generations of Wilsons and Boaks –

In1746a George Wilsonsigned an account for a lime kiln
1740William Boak in Corston, “Four loades of coalls for the use of the family”
– perhaps Catherine’s father?
1790Alex Wilson carter
Robert Wilson cutting wood and making drains
John Wilson quarrying stone at Dalmahoy
David Wilson “or his brother James acting as a cautioner to a tenant farmer”
- these probably Mary’s father and uncle?
in 1811James Wilson cutting hay for 8-11-7halfpenny, and
James Wilson at harvest – work at 6d an hour
- probably Mary’s father and brother
In the book of Farm Servants Wages –
In1811William Wilson received from the Earl of Morton 10-10-0 sterling
for wages for half a year.
James Wilson 7-5-0 for driving a pair of horses for
half a year – these perhaps Mary’s brothers?
in 1811John White four days on drains at Addiston park 8
and leading the measure chain 2 days at 4
– certainly Mary’s husband
in 1811Margaret Wilson19 days at hay at 10 pence a day – signed for by James Wilson
(her father)- Mary’s young sister who was then aged 13 years.


Figure 1.6: Receipts with signatures of James Wilson and John White.

There is no evidence to show that James Wilson was a builder, with John White apprenticed to him, as I.G.W. wrote – but evidence enough that James Wilson was a plowman and forrester on the Dalmahoy farms and plantations owned by the Earl of Morton, and that John White worked for him too, for periods, as a labourer. It seems as shown above that some of Mary’s brothers – and her younger sister – also worked for periods for the Earl of Morton

1.2.2 The Children of James Wilson and Catherine Boak

Mary was the eldest of the family. When she was 21 she married John White. They were my great great grandparents. What little is known of their lives is written in the next section.

Most of the information about her brothers – and younger sister – has come from their Australian descendants. It is well referenced and shows where I.G.W.’s information was often not correct. The Wilson/Boak Family History (Figure 1.7), compiled by Margaret Rackham, gives a compact account of the family’s lives.


Figure 1.7: Wilson- Boak family history from Margaret Rackham.

Least is known about the three eldest brothers. James lived, worked, married and died in villages around Kirknewton. His occupation is given as “servant to Mr. Calder of Burnbrae” at the baptism of a son in 1817 and in 1826 as “an overseer at Selms” which was one of the farms belonging to the Earl of Morton . A census return describes him as a farmer. After his death, his widow, Agnes Patterson, and five of her family emigrated to Tasmania.

About William Wilson – nothing is known – A rumour had it that he emigrated to Canada. He is not mentioned in Thomas’s will of 1842 – as are all the other siblings who stayed in Scotland and there is no record of him in Tasmania.

David and his wife, Jane Crawford, are known – from their gravestone – in the cemetery at Ecclesmachan, a parish just a few miles from Uphall. Most of their children went to Tasmania, after their parents’ deaths.

About Thomas, the middle son of the family, a great deal is known. His Australian descendants claimed that he was named Thomas Braidwood Wilson, after a Thomas Braidwood, who was born in Lanarkshire in 1715, educated at Edinburgh University and became a mathematician and teacher. In 1760 he founded an institution near Edinburgh for the teaching of the deaf, the first of its kind in Great Britain – and later “The Braidwood Academy for the deaf and dumb” – in Hackney, London.

And now we have learned from a Braidwood descendant, who has traced his family back to Lanarkshire – and is now settled near Canberra – that a Margaret Braidwood married William Boag in 1753. Their daughter Catherine – married James Wilson – whose son Thomas, therefore was given his name from his grandmother, who was indeed a cousin of the Thomas Braidwood famed for his teaching of the deaf.

Thomas Wilson, graduated MD from Edinburgh Univirsity, and was appointed a surgeon in the Royal Navy in 1815. His name is recorded as Thomas Braidwood Wilson in the records of these institutions. (Figure 1.8)

Between 1821 and 1840, he made nine visits to Australia as surgeon superintendent on convict ships. He became known for his humane management of prisoners – avoiding punishments and caring for their spiritual, mental and physical well being on the long sea voyages. He conducted regular church services, taught the convicts to read and write, and gave each a daily issue of lime juice and wine.


Figure 1.8: Engraving – Thomas Braidwood Wilson.


Figure 1.9: The wreck of the Governor Ready. Engraving from Dr. T. B. Wilson’s “Narrative of a Voyage Round the World.”

On one return journey to England, the Doctor was shipwrecked in the Torres Strait. He wrote a book about his experiences – entitled “Narrative of a Voyage around the World” – published in London in 1835. In 1829 – he was the surgeon of the “Governor Ready” and was again shipwrecked (Figure 1.9) in Torres Strait, and with some of the crew, rowed 1000 miles or more to Timor. Wilson Inlet in Western Australia was named after him – as also a new variety of plant, named “Grevillea Wilsonii” . In 1831 he brought to Hobart Town many European plants and the first hive of bees to survive in Australia.

In 1822 Dr. Wilson was granted land in Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania) – which he named “Janefield” – after his fiancee, Jane Thompson. He later transferred this grant to New South Wales – where he was given an additional 5000 acres, for his explorations in East Timor. Part of this land he called“ Braidwood”. Here he settled in 1836, with his wife Jane and two children – Mary and James. He became a benefactor and founder of the town , also named Braidwood (about 90 Km south east of Canberra) Here his life was tragically short. Worn down by grief following the death of his wife and infant son in 1838, and by financial ruin, he died in 1843. His grave is on the hill overlooking the township. His life is well-documented – in the Braidwood Museum and in “A Colonial Woman” written in 1986 by Patricia Clark – based on the diaries of his daughter Mary, written after her marriage. Thomas Wilson was described in later years – as a splendid, upstanding man, generous, kindhearted – well-liked and highly respected by his employers and fellow colonists.

Thomas made his Will in 1842, before there were any indications of his pending financial ruin and tragic decline in health.

In it, he named his younger brother, Robert as one of the trustees, bequeathing to him 200. To each of his brothers and sisters still in Scotland_naming them – James, David, Mary and Margaret 100 and to Jane, daughter of George, who had been named after his wife, 300. The remainder of the Estate, after paying for his son’s education in England – was to be divided equally between his two children.

Alas, Mary aged 15, and James 10, were left penniless – with no money for any of the bequests. They were rescued by their Uncle George – and sailed back to Tasmania with him. Stewart Mowle who had asked Thomas’s permission to marry his daughter, bought back the family carriage and piano for Mary!

Robert was the fifth son, and the poet whose “Book of Poems in the Scottish Dialect” I have inherited. The copy was first owned by Mary, his older sister – and perhaps after Mary’s death sent by her daughter Christian to her brother James in Dunedin, New Zealand. Their names are written in different hands, and blotchy ink, on several fly leaves. (Figure 1.10)


Figure 1.10: Fly leaves of “Robert Wilson’s Poems”.

After leaving the Kirknewton Parish School, Robert worked as a mechanic. Later he aspired to being an architect, so moved to Edinburgh , where he was soon drawn to the Ministry. He became a student at Edinburgh University, graduating Master of Arts – and published the book of poetry mentioned above, in 1822.

He then studied at a Theology College – and in 1828 he was licensed as a preacher. He became minister, first at Kendal and a few years later, at the Greenoch Presbyterian Church, where he remained for the rest of his life. He won great affection and respect – speaking out on all subjects – scientific, literary, political and religious – and was always tolerant of the opinions of others. Some of his speeches were published in pamphlet form. He was of a scientific and mechanical turn of mind, in his later years inventing a novel steam engine and patenting the “Wilson Wheel” which was put to use in the Greenoch Foundry.

He had a gift for expressing his ideas in poetry, publishing many poems on a range of topics. His greatest work “Pleasures of Piety” describes in 10 volumes, the pleasure of considering God in nature, and of contemplating the works of creation, as the sea, the sky and the seasons and the immortality of the soul in which he sincerely believed.I.G.W in “Ninety Years” describes it as a long work “in imitation of Milton”.

In 1854, Rev. Robert Wilson – had the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Divinity conferred on him by the University of St. Andrews.

Robert, suffering ill-health, died soon after in 1858. An entry in Mary Mowles diary, dated 25 January1855; “[I] Had the gratification of receiving a letter from Uncle Robert – dated October 2 – the first he has written since I was married. In the postscript – he mentions he received the honorary degree of D.D. – I’m glad I wrote to him again for he was my poor father’s favourite brother”. This letter – and Thomas’s will – which mentions so many family members – in Scotland – and in Australia – shows that the family must have kept in touch – and makes me wonder the more – why so little information about the Wilsons was handed on in New Zealand, to my grandfather and I.G.W.

Thomas must have returned home to Scotland from his first voyages with glowing accounts of Tasmania – stirring the imaginations of his younger brothers – George and John.

The lives of these two are described in the first chapters of a book “So Long Forgotten” written in fascinating detail by Don Norman, a great grandson of George Wilson. A copy of these chapters is in my Wilson File.

The following is a summary of these chapters to end my Tale of the brothers and sister of my great, great grandmother.

George, the youngest of Mary’s brothers, arrived in Tasmania sometime before 1831. After he had obtained a grant of land at Mt. Seymour in the midlands north of Hobart Town, as it was called then, he returned to Scotland to wind up his affairs, sailing back to Tasmania in 1832.

Shortly after his return, George married Marion Brock. They had a fine stone house, which they called “Ceres” (see Figure 1.11), built on their land by convict labour. More than 40 convicts, working under the watchful eyes of soldiers, quarried the stone, while others cleared the land and planted English trees and hawthorne hedges.


Figure 1.11: George Wilson, his Gravestone, and home “Ceres”.

George and Marion had six children.

Brother John arrived in the colony in 1833, and helped by George, established the Springfield property. His homestead was erected in 1850. Little is known about him and his unsuccessful marriage. He had no children. His tombstone in the Presbyterian graveyard at Oatlands simply states that he came from Ratho, in Scotland, and died at the age of 75 in 1877.

By 1845, George had increased his holding to 8000 acres, laid out with well cultivated fields and comfortable homesteads. He became a very prominent member of the agricultural fraternity in the developing colony. He was strong physically, attributing his healthy condition to his habit of pouring whisky on his porridge instead of milk! He was more at home speaking Gaelic than English, and was known to one and all in the Oatlands and Mt. Seymour districts, as “The Maister”. Although the homestead “Ceres” was on the route from Fort Arthur to the north of the Island, George was never molested by bushrangers who were a very real threat in the early days of the colony. He was kind to aborigines, often leaving out food for them. A number of assigned convicts worked for him. When one was granted his ticket of leave for good behaviour, George gave him 40 acres of land, on which to build a hut, plough and plant potatoes, and gradually make a living and a family, as a free man!

George was well known for his generosity – he died a much poorer man than when he arrived in the colony in 1832!

He and John were fine examples and gave much encouragement to the migrants they persuaded to come from Scotland to settle. It is almost certain that they paid for the passages of many a Wilson family, including those of their older brothers and sisters!

In the mid 1850’s, came Agnes, widow of James, and 5 of their children, for whom George built the homestead “Crichton”. Most of David’s children sailed out, Margaret, her husband and family and, most relevant to my family history – Mary’s son, James White was sponsored, with his wife Agnes and six children, one of whom was David, my grandfather, a boy of 8.

The Wilsons were staunch Presbyterians – a large room at Ceres – was used for meetings before the first church was built – and when it was destroyed in a storm – George paid for the building of a new church at Oatlands – and a fine manse as a wedding gift to his eldest daughter when she married the Scottish minister!

In 1857, there were sixty to seventy worshippers at the church, over half of them were Wilsons!

George Wilson died in 1874, at the age of 77, his obituary notice was published in a local paper under the heading “Another Old Colonial Gone”.

1.2.3 John White and Mary Wilson

Of Mary’s life we know very little. Scottish Church Records show the marriage of “John Whitie and his spouse Mary Wilson at Canongate, Edinburgh on 24 February 1802”. I.G.W. wrote that they went to live in Ratho, north of Kirknewton and that three children were born to them. Recent searches of Parish Records have found five children – named according to the naming pattern (Figure 1.3) – Catherine at Carrington in 1802, Christian and Mary at Kirknewton in 1803 and 1808 – James and second son William – in Ratho – in 1811 and 1819.

Ratho is eight to nine miles west of Edinburgh – bounded on the south and west by Kirknewton. It consisted of a single street – the houses of stone, roofs of tile or slate. It is interesting to note that Mary’s brothers George and John Wilson – who emigrated and died in Tasmania – have “from Ratho” on their gravestones, though that is not where they were born.

Perhaps John and Mary moved in search of work – We have found evidence of John as a labourer in Kirknewton – not as a builder as I.G.W. claimed, but working for the Earl of Morton on his estates. On one daughter’s death certificate he is described as “flour-miller”.

Later, the White family moved to Edinburgh, where James attended Fountainbridge school. I have his exercise book – a large oblong work book, with thick parchment leaves, full of examples of different kinds of arithmetical problems, addition and subtraction, multiplication and division worked at by James, when he was fourteen, in 1825 (Figure 1.13. My grandfather had it bound in leather (Figure 1.12) and displayed in the Education Court at the Dunedin exhibition in 1925.


Figure 1.12: Cover of James Wilson White’s exercise book, subsequently leather bound and submitted as exhibit in the Education Court at the Dunedin exhibition in 1925.


Figure 1.13: Page from James’ exercise book when he was fourteen (1825).

After leaving school, James went to Paisley to work – We know no more of John White and Mary Wilson – not even where or when they died.

In Paisley, James was a member of a famous church choir – known as the Paisley Abbey Band. A good voice and musical ability were needed to qualify for membership. On his certificate of membership, his voice was described as double-bass!

In Paisley James met and married Agnes Renfrew, daughter of a David Renfrew, a blacksmith [W3]. Thus the name Renfrew became one of our family names. It has been given to many sons and daughters, through four generations of Whites.

1.3 Renfrew

The name Renfrew, according to Basil Cottle’s “Dictionary of Surnames”, was derived from that of the Shire of Renfrew in Scotland, and it was in Paisley, Renfrewshire, that my great-grandmother Agnes Renfrew was born.

The 1852 Gazetteer of Scotland describes Paisley as a town “set in the upper – and finest district of Renfrewshire” – the cross of Paisley being about 8 miles to the South-West of that of Glasgow. Until the year 1736, Paisley formed one parish, and contained only one church, the Abbey. Then the burgh was separated from the original parish, which was then distinguished by the name of Abbey Parish, or more properly, the parish of Abbey, Paisley.

The earliest Parish Registers of Abbey, Paisley date from 1670. The pages are narrow, darkened with age, brittle and torn at the edges, the entries written in the old script at the time, with even some insertions in Latin. They are often difficult, some even impossible to decipher. However, the name Renfrew stands out, and many Renfrews there were in Paisley in the late 1600’s and 1700’s – being born and baptised, “booked for proclamation in order to marriage”, and buried – the cost of the mort cloth used, little or big, plain, velvet or plush, recorded in shillings and pence, alongside the name and date of burial.

I.G.W. records that Agnes Renfrew was the daughter of David Renfrew and Margaret Blackburn. [R1] A search through the old Parish Registers of Baptisms in Abbey, shows that only two David Renfrews were born between 1670 and 1790! One of these, born in 1767, died in infancy. The other, born in 1780 to John Renfrew, Smith of Kaimsthorn, and Agnes Drover – and later described as a “blacksmith in the Hurlet”, is certain to be our forbear, my great-great-grandfather.

There were so many Renfrews who were smiths at Kaimsthorn, going back to the beginnings of the registers, that it was impossible to tell from which ones John, father of David, was directly descended, but it is certain that Agnes, our great-grandmother came from a long line of blacksmiths! And one of John’s great-grandsons, another John Renfrew, who also emigrated to New Zealand, was a blacksmith at South Dunedin in the late 1800’s – making over 200 years of Renfrew-blacksmiths!

Kaimsthorn and the Hurlet were outlying districts, two or three miles from the cross of Paisley. In Crawford and Semples’ “History of the Shire of Renfrew”, printed in 1732, Kaimsthorn is described as “ in the Hawkshead Estate, wherin are a corn miln and a large printfield and a miln for scouring cloth. . . ” and the Hurlet, “in which there are 24 families, where a great coal and lime work are carried on by the Countess of Glasgow. About 1700 “a copperas was used in the dying of wool and hats black, in making ink, in tanning leather and in making oil of vitriol” Many smiths would have been needed for these industries. Listed as subscribers to this history are three John Renfrews! – one a merchant at Causewayside – and two smiths, one at Old Smithills, and one at Kaimsthorn, the latter, probably Agnes’s grandfather, being one of them.

1.3.1 John Renfrew and Agnes Drover

The Parish Registers of Abbey, record that John Renfrew married Agnes Drover in June 1765 and that they had four sons and four daughters. [R1] David was their seventh child, born in 1780, and he lived to be an old man, dying at the Hurlet in 1867, aged 88, as reported in the Paisley Gazette. The name David, unusual as it was among the early Renfrews, was passed down through the next two generations of Renfrews – and the combination of David Renfrew was given to the next three generations of Whites!

The name Drover was very uncommon, too. In the I.G.I. microfiche for Renfrewshire, Agnes Drover’s name has been extracted as “Drown”. Her name, as written in several entries in the Parish register of Baptisms certainly looks like “Drown”, but fortunately John and Agnes had eight children – over 16 years- and in this time the clerks and their handwriting changed. The later entries clearly show the name to be “Drover”.

There is one other Drover in the I.G.I. microfiche for Renfrewshire. This is Robinna Drover, daughter of William. [R1a] She married in Abbey, Paisley in 1773 and had two children baptised Agnes and William.

Agnes and John Renfrew also named their first daughter and son Agnes and William. Therefore Agnes and Robinna were probably sisters, their children being named according to the naming pattern, after their parents, Agnes and William Drover. I was unable to find records for the marriage of William and Agnes Drover, or the baptisms of the children Agnes and Robinna.

The name Drover clearly derives from the occupation of cattle-drover or driver of a team of oxen in ploughing (Penguin Dictionary of Surnames – Basil Cottle), and there are still Drovers today – five listed in the Glasgow Telephone Directory in 1985 – none of whom could tell me where their forbears came from when I wrote to them in 1988!

1.3.2 David Renfrew and Margaret Blackburn

David Renfrew of Abbey, Paisley, married Margaret Blackburn of Kilmalcolm – a village about 10 miles to the Northwest of Paisley. The proclamation of the banns was recorded in the Marriage Registers of both Abbey and Kilmalcolm, in July 1812. A month later, in the same year, and in the same Registers is the proclamation of James Blackburn, school master of Kilmalcolm and Elizabeth Maitland of Abbey. It seems likely that the Blackburns were sister and brother, both being of Kilmalcolm, though this James seems younger than the one I.G.W. wrote about. She remembered that a faded daguerrotype hung in the dining room of her old home in Dunedin, of an old minister, the Reverend James Blackburn. He was born, she thought, about 1770. There was a family story which claimed that he was also a school teacher, and that David Livingstone was one of his pupils.

The only Blackburns I found in the Parish Registers who were living in Renfrewshire with a daughter Margaret born at the right time are shown in [R1b]. This Margaret was born in 1780 at Lochwinnoch – a village as far to the Southwest of Paisley as Kilmalcolm is to the North. Further research is needed to ascertain the birth date of James – and to confirm that this is “our” Blackburn family.

Two children were born to David Renfrew and Margaret Blackburn[R1] – John in 1813 and Agnes in 1815. This John, and his mother, must have died before 1819 as David Renfrew is recorded in that year as marrying Agnes Lock.[R1] They had six children- the first being christened John, to replace the first John, both being named after David’s father.

All that our family has left of the Blackburns, is a silver spoon engraved M.B. (in the possession of Sylvia Shores), and a letter written to Agnes after her marriage to James White, from two Blackburn cousins, Agnes and Margaret who were probably daughters of the Reverend James. One lived in Kilmalcolm with her father, the other was married with small children in Paisley. The letter was written in 1842. It is full of family news of journeying from one place to another – to see father, to a happy night at the Hurlet, of marriages and deaths among relations and acquaintances – a little James ill with teething, and the loss of a friend’s cow!

The letter was written on thin paper, folded and sealed with wax, with space for the address and stamp and was sent to “Mrs James White, Wright, Colington, near Edinburgh” (The letter is among my working papers in the Renfrew File).

The name Lock, of David Renfrew’s second wife, lived on for several generations, handed on not only to a daughter and a grand-daughter of David Renfrew and Agnes Lock, but also to the first born daughter of Agnes and James White!, who was baptised Agnes Lock White. This confirms that the David Renfrew, father of Agnes Renfrew is indeed the one who married Agnes Lock. It shows, too, that Agnes Lock was a very loved and respected step-mother, for her step-daughter to name her first child after her.

Agnes and James White named their third daughter Margaret, after Agnes’s birth mother – but this baby was still-born. No wonder my grandmother felt the name Margaret was an unlucky one in our family, and disapproved of my being given it!

Mary Wilson and Margaret Blackburn, in marrying John White and David Renfrew handed on more than their names! Mary’s brothers – one a minister and poet, and one a doctor were well educated – as also Margaret’s brother, who was a school teacher and minister. It is not surprising that their grandson, David Renfrew White, was highly motivated to educate himself. He became the first Professor of Education at Otago University, and was followed by three generations of university graduates – some of them bearing as their middle names Wilson and Renfrew!

1.3.3 James Wilson White and Agnes Renfrew

In Scotland, Civil Registration did not begin until 1855. Before this date the Parish Registers of Marriage recorded the proclamation of Banns. The marriage itself was not specifically recorded – one assumes it did actually take place! If the prospective bride and groom came from different parishes, the Banns were often published in the Registers of both parishes.

This was the case for James and Agnes. Their Banns were proclaimed at Bothwell, Lanark on May 13, 1838 and at Colinton, Midlothian on June 1, 1838 – quite a distance from Paisley, where the baptism of their first child, Agnes Lock White, was registered on May 24, 1838 [W3].

I.G.W. wrote that after their marriage they moved to Colinton, which at that time was a town midway between Ratho and Edinburgh – now is a suburb on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Here three more babies were born – John in 1840, Mary Wilson in 1842 and Margaret, stillborn. The family then moved to Rose street, Edinburgh – a narrow service street of stone tenement houses, occupied by tradespeople and spirit dealers and situated between Princes and George Streets, just below Edinburgh Castle.

Here, two girls and a boy were added to the family, Catherine, called Kate, in 1844, Jessie in 1852, with my Grandfather David Renfrew born in between on the 21st June, 1847. I.G.W. reported in “Ninety Years” that he was born just as the great gun at the Castle fired for mid-day. It became a family joke that the salute hailed the arrival of a great man!

I.G.W wrote “Ninety Years” to chronicle the life of her father, David Renfrew White. The sketches of Edinburgh Castle and the University of Otago’s Clock tower on the cover symbolise the beginning and ending of his long life. In 1913, when he had retired from his professional life in Dunedin, he visited Rose street and in a letter to his sons in Dunedin, he wrote that No. 19, the tenement house where he was born, was no longer there. In 1973, Alan and I found Rose street. Still the narrow and dingy service street, behind Princes street, the spacious, elegant, main thoroughfare, lined with shops, Hotels and Clubs, and fringed in part with gardens, the Castle perching on its great volcanic rock behind.

David had two vivid memories of his early years – one of crying on his way to his first day at school, being led by older brother John, under the shadow of the Castle – The other of batheing with the Simpson children. His Aunt Kirsty was nurse maid to the family of Sir. James Simpson (Chapter “The sisters of James Wilson White”) for many years. They owned a summer residence on the Firth of Forth. I think these memories may have influenced David’s choice of the site for the home he built in Dunedin (Figure 1.20) , overlooking the north end of the city. He named it “Tiro Katoa” – which means “I see all around”, like the Castle on its great rock – and for the family holiday home down the Otago Peninsula at Broad Bay, where his children could bathe, like the Simpsons!

When David was 7 years old, James and Agnes and their six children, emigrated to Tasmania, sponsored by Uncle George Wilson , as written in my Wilson tale. They sailed from Liverpool on the “Flora MacDonald” , arriving in Launceston , in February, 1855. The shipping list describes them as
James White, Joiner, age 43
Agnes, his wife, age 38
Agnes 16, John 14, Mary 12, David 7, Catherine 4, and Janet 2
Religion – Baptist

I.G.W. said that the family was invited to stay at Mt. Seymour, to help Uncle George with the running of his estate. She thought that George had no children, but as we now know from his descendants, he and Marion , had six children. In the mid 1850’s, their ages would have ranged from 13 – 25 years, the White children from 2 – 16 years. It would indeed have been a full house! though as George Wilson’s great grandson wrote, “Ceres” was large enough for more than one family. But many more families sponsored by George and John – came from Scotland on different ships, all arriving around the same time.

I.G.W described James Wilson White as a proud and independent man. He was trained as a carpenter, not a farmer. He was a Baptist, whereas George and the Wilsons were staunch Presbyterians. He took life very seriously – had little sense of humour. For whatever reason, the Whites did not settle with the Wilsons at Mt. Seymour, and handed down almost no information about his mother’s brothers and sister to his descendants. How interested Auntie Ida would have been in Dr Thomas Braidwood Wilson, The Rev. Robert Wilson, Doctor of Divinity and George the colourful landowner! There is so much information about their lives, stored in my Wilson File, which is fascinating and moving, and which I would love to have shared with her.

The Whites moved to Hobart, and James soon found work there. His first contract was for the Wharf Buildings on the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, off Bruni Island. My grandfather used to talk of rowing out in a boat with his father, to collect the mail. This is where David’s love of the water sprang from – to be passed on to his children at Broad Bay on the Otago Peninsula.

In Hobart, the family lived in a terraced house in Bathurst Street. One more child was born there, Christina, in 1856.

The Whites attended the Baptist Church, David singing in his boyish soprano at the meetings of the Band of Hope, and winning a prize at the Sunday School. He was a pupil at Chalmers School, a Presbyterian Church School, and in 1859 and 1861 was awarded prizes which are now in the Van Diemen’s Land Folk Museum in Hobart.

I.G.W. reports that after 10 years in Hobart, James White decided to try a second new life, in New Zealand. Dunedin was his choice, and in 1861, he and his elder son John, then aged about 22, crossed the Tasman, and after arrival, looked round for a suitable piece of land on which to build a house. They settled on a small section in Great King Street in the block between Albany and Union Streets in North Dunedin. It was directly opposite the present Museum grounds and was to prove a convenient place to live – in the developing city – as near the schools, and later the University.


Figure 1.14: The “Auld Hoose”, in Great King St, Dunedin, built by James Wilson White and son, John.


Figure 1.15: James Wilson White and Agnes, his wife.

In “Ninety Years”, I.G.W. described the modest wooden house, with it’s roof of Tasmanian shingles (Figure 1.14), built within a few months by father and son, to be ready for the arrival of “Mrs White and family, passengers on the S.S. Tamar from Hobart Town”, as reported in the newspaper of June 9, 1862. This was the last voyage of theTamar to land passengers safely. On its next voyage, it was wrecked at the Otago Heads!

The eldest daughter Agnes, had married Charles Penman, a widower, in Tasmania, and followed later to live in Dunedin. The arriving family were Mary, who was helper in the home, Kate, Jessie and Christina still of school age, and David, aged 15. It is hard to imagine how they all fitted into the little home, where James and Agnes were to live for the rest of their lives.

I.G.W. also described in great detail, the characters of James and Agnes. James, an honest builder, was serious and impatient, never heard to laugh, but often to whistle and sing. He was surprisingly unambitious, rigid in his thinking, though a keen reader, especially interested in the study of religion and some aspects of medicine (Figure 1.15).

Agnes was a small woman, in contrast to her tall husband. She was wise and gentle but firm, and could manage her husband’s more unbending nature. She had a strong influence over her children, even after they married, and they loved her deeply.

John soon went off to the goldfields, to Gabriels’ Gully, in South Otago. Here he had no luck, but 3 years later he struck gold in Hokitika and sent for his brother David to join him. They returned with a goodly sum of over 1600 pounds, and wisely invested in a section of land, stretching from a George Street frontage through to Great King Street, a block further north from the family home, on which they built three houses (Figure 1.16).

John married, and lived in one of these. Mary and Kate married, and lived nearby. Jessie married Alexander Thomson, of Thomson’s soft drinks fame. They lived in Ferntree House, Wakari, which was one of the first houses built in Dunedin, in 1849. It was restored and greatly added to, for the Thomsons, by John White, a builder like his father. It still stands, to be written about and photographed by Lois Galer in her book “Houses and Homes” of Dunedin.


Figure 1.16: John White – Son of James Wilson White, House built by John White in Great King Street.


Figure 1.17: Sisters of David and John White: Jessie White – “Auntie Jessie” – and Christina White.

David and Chris were the last two to remain at home with their parents. They were very united in their interests, their love of music and their ambitions to be teachers. Christina played the piano and they both sang. They attended together all the performances of visiting musicians and opera companies. Christina became an Infant Teacher, and an artist of considerable ability, a pupil of L.W. Wilson for some years. She did not marry. She spent many summer holidays on Stewart Island and in Central Otago, and her water colour paintings of these places are greatly valued by her many great-nieces and nephews. Ida G. White presented one, “Dart River, Whakatipu” to the Hocken Library in Dunedin, and a large painting of the Cathedral Peaks is still in the possession of the Murrell family, descendants of the Murrell’s in whose guest house Christina stayed – and died of a heart attack aged only 45 in 1902.

1.4 David Renfrew White and Ida Spedding

David now had the money and the opportunity to train as a teacher – and to prepare himself for the Entrance Examination for the newly established University. He matriculated at the age of 28! and did not marry until he had graduated with a BA at the age of 37, in 1884. He and his bride, Ida Spedding [W4], also a teacher, made their first home in George Street, in the bigger of the two houses he had built with his brother so many years before. Additions were made, and David’s beloved sisiter Christina came to live and greatly enriched the life of the growing family.



Figure 1.18: Above: David White and Ida, below: David (46) and Ida (37) – in 1893.


Figure 1.19: Ida and brother “Dim” (Jim).


Figure 1.20: The third White home, “Tiro Katoa”, built about 1902.


Figure 1.21: David, Ida and family – Ida, Jack, Jim and David, 1907.


Figure 1.22: David White – after his retirement – 1914., Ida White.


Figure 1.23: Grandma (Ida White) –1921- with grandchildren David, Margaret, Joan (back), and Valerie.


Figure 1.24: First lessons – 1923 – Grandpa (David White) and Margaret in washhouse in “Tiro Katoa”.


Figure 1.25: Mother (Kathleen White) – 1924 – with Margaret and Joan.


Figure 1.26: David and Ida on their 50th Wedding Anniversary, on the steps of “Tiro-iti-Katoa” (April 2nd, 1934). back: Jack, Alice, David, Kathleen, Rene, James, middle: Grandpa (David), Ida, Grandma (Ida), front: Margaret, Joan, Alan, Valerie, David.


Figure 1.27: Kathleen and James White in 1935.

I.G.W. wrote a “Life of Christina White”, “The Second Home”, “Sundays”, and “Broad Bay”, pieces that lovingly and faithfully portray the life of this family – her parents, David Renfrew and Ida White – the children Ida, James, David, and Jack (copies of these are in my White file). In “Ninety Years” she wrote of her father’s career, devoted to Education. He taught at several Dunedin schools, became headmaster at several, then lectured at and became the Head of the Dunedin Teacher’s College and later was appointed Professor of Education at the University of Otago. He was considered to be one of the greatest authorities on Educational matters, not only in Otago, but in New Zealand. (“Ninety Years” Pt I and Pt II)

David and Ida had five children (Figure 1.21) – the first being still born . Ida was a most devoted daughter, who didn’t marry, and lived with her parents until they died. As a young woman she attended some lectures at the university, took lessons in singing at the Royal College of Music in London, when she travelled there with her parents in 1913. Later, and much against her father’s will, she opened a studio in Stewart Street, in Dunedin, gave singing lessons, and trained a choir of women’s voices, the Oriana Choir. Later still, she was appointed head of the music department at a private girls’ school, Columba College. Here, as Directress of Music, she taught the history and appreciation of music – solo and class singing and will long be remembered for the high standard of school productions, the annual Easter Service and St. Mathew Passion, and Schubert and Brahms “evenings”.

I believe that my grandparents influenced their sons in their choice of careers. James, my father, to medicine; David, to law; and, Jack to be an accountant.

I have told something of James’s early career and marriage in my Tale of the Chisholms. A special chapter devoted to him as a special father, I intend to add!

David became head of the Public Trust in Wellington, and Jack, an accountant in Gisborne. Trees [W5a], [W5b] and [W5c] show the White descendants.

I remember my grandfather as a very lovable little man, with twinkling eyes and a prickly beard. When I was 3 years old, my sister Joan and I lived at Tiro Katoa with our grandparents and Auntie Ida, for 9 months, while our parents went to America. I had my first lessons with Grandpa, in the wash-house (Figure 1.24). Grandma seemed rather forbidding and moralistic. I think I was in awe of my grandparents. I think I can see a strap hanging over the light fitting in the dining-room! – I’m sure it was never used, so perhaps it is only in my imagination.

When Grandpa was 80, he realised that Tiro Katoa was too big for Grandma and Auntie Ida, so he planned and supervised the building of Tiro-iti Katoa – “a little view all around” – on the north side and below the big house. The big house, which was eventually bought by Arana Hall, and used as a student hostel, is now called “White House” and the smaller house bears a plaque “Renfrew House”.

Grandpa had about ten years in the new home. Here, in April 1933, he and Grandma celebrated their Golden Wedding It was Easter – golden with Autumn colours and sunshine. All the family gathered in Dunedin. David, the eldest of the grandchildren, was already in residence at 114 St. David St., living with Grandpa, Grandma and Auntie Ida, while studying medicine at the University of Otago. Uncle Jack and Aunt Rene came from Gisborne. Uncle David, Auntie Alice and the younger cousins, Valerie and Alan came from Wellington and stayed with us at Cannington Road, which was fun! A highlight for me was hearing my mother say to Auntie Alice – “Call the boys in for tea” – the “boys” were my father and uncle!

There was a recital in honour of the great occasion. Uncle Jack read a sonnet which he had written to mark the anniversary, the other brothers sang to Ida’s accompaniments, and the grand children recited poems or played piano pieces. I rather think one of my father’s earliest compositions was given it’s first performance. There was a family picnic at Broad Bay, a family attendance at the film “Little Women”, and a private organ recital in the Town Hall, by the city organist, Dr. Galway, which ended with the playing of the Wedding March. Photographs were taken of us grouped on the front porch of Tiro-iti Katoa – my grandparents seated in the middle, looking serene and happy (Figure 1.26). For nearly five more years, Grandpa enjoyed the new home and garden. I remember the short pieces of hose, lying in wait, to shelter earwigs – and his daily rounds to rid the garden of these pests.

His 90th birthday, June 21, 1937 was another special occasion, shared with many relations and visitors, and including members of one of his early primary school classes, now old men, too. I remember that Grandpa and I, the oldest and the youngest present, stood at the piano, and sang to Auntie Ida’s accompaniment, the sad beautiful Scottish song – ‘The Rowan Tree’. I.G.W. does not mention this in her account of the birthday. So it is, with family memories.

Grandpa was a wonderful old man. He was reading Gibbons “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” in his last months. He died on October 28, 1937.

1.5 The Sisters of James Wilson White

James Wilson White had 3 sisters, born in or around Kirknewton – Catherine in 1803, Christian in 1805 and Mary in 1808 [W2b].

1.5.1 Catherine White

Catherine White, the eldest, married John Morgan, a quarrier in Colinton, in 1823. She was the only sister to marry. The marriage was recorded in Scottish Church Records, with the births of their 4 children – John in 1822, Mary Wilson in 1827, Christian in 1829 and Margaret in 1832.

Christian Morgan, their second daughter, had 4 children – with 3 different fathers. The first, John, was born about 1853. No record of his birth has been found. He named his father on his marriage certificate as William Dickson, grocer, to whom Christian does not seem to have been married, as the 1861 Census of Colinton records her as an “unmarried laundress” – and at her marriage in 1862, to John McLaren, she is registered as “spinster”.

Catherine, Christian’s second child – was born in 1863, so probably John McLaren was her father. The marriage, however, was not a happy one, and did not last long.

Christian gave birth to twin boys in 1867, registered as “George and William Morgan or McLaren”, declared to be “illegitimate, their mother a pauper, their father not John McLaren, she not having seen him for 5 years”.

The 1871 Census of Edinburgh, lists the family at 61 Rose Street, Edinburgh – all named McLaren, despite their different fathers.

Christian McLaren, head, married, age 40, laundress
John McLaren, son age 18, unmarried, confectioner
Catherine McLaren, daughter, age 8, scholar
George McLaren, son, age 3

William, the second twin, probably died in infancy, as he was not listed with his family in this, or any subsequent census return. John and George both adopted the names “Dickson McLaren”, as shown on their marriage and death certificates, at the births of their children, and in George’s case, when signing as informant at his brother’s and his mother’s deaths.

John Dickson McLaren was a confectioner, when he married Mary McCowan in 1874. His grand-daughter Mary, when aged 19, emigrated to Tauranga, N.Z., to live with her Uncle George. There she adopted the name McLaren until her marriage to Michael Redshaw.

Catherine, a domestic servant, aged 19, married her cousin Robert McLaren, a tailor, in 1881. So she was a McLaren, by both birth and marriage and the name was handed down through 4 generations to the present day.

George Dickson McLaren, married Christina Morland in Edinburgh in 1890. They emigrated to Tauranga, N.Z. sometime after the death of his mother, in 1905. Their first son, George Dickson McLaren, died in infancy and their second son, William White McLaren was killed in action in France, in 1918. He is listed on the N.Z. Roll of Honour – as “soldier from N.Z., native of Scotland”.

And the name “McLaren” lives on, near Tauranga, N.Z. The Government bought George’s farm, and built a dam for the production of hydroelectricity. The area is now called McLaren Falls Park and the adjoining lake – Lake McLaren.

1.5.2 Christian White

Christian White, the second sister of James, was talked about with pride, among her relatives in Dunedin and Edinburgh. I.G.W. often recounted to her nieces, the story of her Great Aunt Kirsty, who became nurse to the children of Sir James Young Simpson, of Edinburgh, a pioneer in the use of anaesthetics and famous for the first use of chloroform in 1847. His first child was born in 1840, and presumably Christian became nurse at that time, to what grew to be a large family of seven children over the next fifteen years. In the 1851 census, the household at 52 Queen Street, Edinburgh, is listed under the Head, Professor James Young Simpson, his wife and 5 children, a butler, a cook, 2 housemaids, a tablemaid and an under-housemaid – then Christian White, Nurse, with under her, a Nursery Maid! The house had 27 rooms, with one or more windows.

The Simpsons also had a holiday house of 12 rooms – “Viewbank” – on the shore of the Forth, near the fishing village of Newhaven. Sir James wrote of the location “The shores of the Forth are most beautiful and soothing” – and it was probably here that my grandfather, David White, remembered being taken as a little boy to bathe with the Simpson children. His “Auntie Kirsty” gave each child a “shivering bite” – a ginger biscuit, before vigorously drying them with a rough towel. This custom was handed down to my father, and his sister and brothers, when they bathed at Broad Bay on the Otago Harbour, on their family holidays.

The Simpson family must have had an affection for Christian White. Many years later, one of the daughters of Sir James visited New Zealand and called to see the brother of her old nurse, at his modest little home in Great King Street, Dunedin. And when Christian died in Edinburgh, in 1885, she was described on her death certificate as “Annuitant”, aged 79. It seems likely that her pension came from the Simpson family, in whose household she had lived for so many years.

Christian was the one who kept up a correspondence with her brother and his family in Dunedin. She it was who sent their mother’s copy of “Poems in the Scottish Dialect” (Fig 1.10), to “James, Great King Street, Dunedin”, probably when Mary died. And when James’ wife Agnes Renfrew died in 1882, their youngest daughter Christina wrote to “My Dear Aunt Christian” in Edinburgh to send the sad news. This letter has survived. In it, Christina tells of many letters and photographs exchanged, of Miss Simpson’s visit to Dunedin, which Agnes had greatly enjoyed before she died, and it includes messages to “poor Aunt Mary, suffering from rheumatism”.

1.5.3 Mary White

Mary, the third sister of James, was born and baptised in January 1808, as recorded in the Kirknewton Parish Register. I.G.W. did not mention her in “Ninety Years”. It seemed she might have died in infancy, but her niece Christina’s messages to “poor Aunt Mary” in the above letter, showed that Mary was indeed alive in 1882 – an old lady of 74 years.

This tale of the Sisters of James Wilson White is a convoluted one. In the late 1930’s it turned full circle when descendents of Catherine, her grandson George, his wife and their adopted great niece Mary visited Dunedin, and are still remembered by descendants of James.

In 2006, a Danish exchange student came to N.Z. for a year, anxious to find relatives of her Scottish grandmother. Both had the names “Catherine” and “McLaren” among their given names, and this has been the key to proving them to be descended from Catherine White’s grand-daughter, Catherine McLaren. Thus, the gaps and connections between the McLarens of Tauranga and the Whites of Edinburgh Dunedin have been filled and pieced together, enabling the corrected Tree [W.2b] and Tale to be written in 2007.


Figure 1.28: Christian White – Aunty Kirsty – nursemaid to family of Sir James Young Simpson.