William Ross 1859 – 1902 & Barbara Hogg 1862 – 1937

Following on from my last genealogy post about my great-grandmother, Barbara Ross, this blog is about her parents, my great-great grandparents, William Ross and Barbara Hogg.

William Ross was born in the ancient fishing port of Nairn, in Scotland on the 13th of June 1859, the illegitimate son of Elizabeth Ross, who preferred to go by the name of Betsy. On his birth entry her occupation has been initially entered as an “agricultural labourer” but the “labourer” has a firm, neat line through it, to be replaced with the word “servant” – obviously the distinction was very important to young Betsy Ross. Betsy was 23 years old when her son was born at her parent’s home, Moss Side, in an area of Nairn known as Tradespark. William is clearly entered as illegitimate on the birth entry, and his mother was illiterate, as she made her cross on the entry.

William Ross’ Birth Entry 1859

I have not been able to uncover the merest hint as to who William’s father was. In 1851, 8 years before William’s birth, the 15-year-old Betsy had been working a mile or so away from her parent’s home at Crook Farm, which was owned by bachelor William Malcolm, a 21-year-old farmer, who employed Betsy, alongside Janet Fraser, 23, and John Macpherson, 16, this is probably the same farm Betsy was working on when she gave birth to William, eight years later.

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Soldiers of the 78th Highland Regiment

On the 9th of January, 1860 Betsy married John Sullivan, a soldier from Kinsale, Ireland. He was 13 years older than Betsy, and had risen to lance corporal after 21 years in the army, serving in the 78th Highland Regiment – having served with them in India, he was one of the Heroes of Luknow, he also served in Persia and Canada in his illustrious, long army career. It seems that John Sullivan was not William’s father, as Betsy soon moved to Aberdeen with her new husband, leaving William with his grandparents in Nairn. In 1861 William’s half-sister Elizabeth was born and sometime between 1862 and 1865 his mother moved back to Nairn to live close by, as both of William’s next half-sisters, Mary Ann and Henrietta, were born in Nairn – Betsy and her family living at Moss Hall, and William and his grandparents living next-door at Moss Side, described below in a town survey of around that time.

“Moss Side – Applied to a number of Cot houses all of which are one storey high, and mostly composed of wood, in middling repair, the property of the burgh of Nairn.”

1869 Poor Report of the area.

“Moss Hall– this name is at present applied to two small dwelling houses, one of which is 2 storey’s and slated, the other one storey & thatched, both in bad repair The property of Earl of Cawdor.”

1869 Poor Report of the area.

The Sullivans moved to Inverness in 1870, where John Sullivan became a police constable. Around the same time William was placed, aged 11, at Stonewells Farm, Bog Hole, Auldearn, to work as a farm servant. He was the servant of William Petrie and his wife, living with them and their four children aged from 30 down to 15.

Scottish farm servants of the period

The farm was described in a parish report of the time:

this is a large farm house two storeys high with offices attached, the former slated and in excellent condition the latter nearly all slated also in good repair. A short distance to the north of this house, and between the road, and the River, there is a cairn of stones, entirely grown over with whins, and on the top of which, there is a stone coffin. It is about 5 feet long, and about 2 broad, and is now full of loose stones It is not known when it was discovered, or if it contained any human remains or not, The cairn has no name…”

We know that William became a ploughman, as that was his profession in 1876, when he joined the army. On the 16th June, 1876 – 3 days after his 17th birthday, William took the Queen’s shilling, claiming he was 18 years and 3 months old. He joined the 78th Highlanders, his step-father’s old, heroic regiment, but soon after he enlisted the regiment was merged with the 71st Glasgow Highlanders, as part of the army reform at the time, to form the 55th Brigade of the Highland Light Infantry. From William’s army records we know he was 5ft 6” upon enlistment (though he grew 2 more inches in the coming years, as at 20 his height is recorded as 5ft 8”), with a chest measurement of 32”, his complexion was dark, as was his hair, and he had hazel coloured eyes. It appears obvious that John Sullivan had been part of William’s decision to join up as he joined this regiment specifically, and there is mention of a letter of recommendation attached when he enlists, sadly the letter is no longer with his records, but I would make a small wager it was from the highly regarded, retired Lance-Corporal Sullivan. John Sullivan was also listed as William’s next of kin, along with his mother and three half-sisters, so it seems he had a fair relationship with them. William was to serve 7 years in the army, in that time he was stationed first in Malta, then Cyprus, as part of the British occupation after the Anglo–Turkish Cyprus Convention. The Highlanders were poorly prepared for the sweltering temperature, being dressed in their “red woollen doublets and thick trews”.Here is a description of the conditions William would have encountered:

“The first fatality occurred on that day; Sergeant Sam McGraw VC, who was 40 years old, collapsed and died of heat apoplexy during the 3 mile march to Chiflik Pasha camp sited near a stream leading into Larnaca Salt Lake. He was buried where he fell, his grave marked with a simple wooden cross. The camp at Chiflik Pasha was next to the stagnant water of the Salt Lake, infested with mosquitoes and sand flies. They remained there for a hellishly hot month before being moved to the north coast on 21 Aug to a camp on a treeless plain near Kyrenia. Three men died of fever at Chiflik, and a quarter of the regiment had malaria at any one time. Five more men died at Kyrenia and four more in Paphos. Two more died on the way home, making 14 deaths in all. Garnet Wolseley commented repeatedly on the devastating effects that illness was having in his journal. On 4 Nov 1878 he wrote:

“Visited [Kyrenia] Camp and went round the hospital. The men are listless and weak and evidently most depressed in spirits. I never saw a Corps so utterly demoralised… The men have no strength. They tumble down when in the ranks at early church parade on Sunday.”

The effects of illness on these soldiers alerted the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary of State for War so that they went out to Cyprus in November 1878. They immediately ordered the removal of the regiments from the island and drastically altered their plans to use Cyprus as a station for troops to rendezvous for potential deployment to Asia Minor and Egypt. Apart from malaria many of the Highlanders came down with a debilitating and sometimes fatal prolonged feverish illness with rheumatic symptoms. This illness went by the term remittent fever. It would be nearly 30 years before it was found to be caught from drinking infected goats milk and later called brucellosis in honour of the scientist Sir David Bruce.”

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Edinburgh Castle in 1865

William seems to have been made of sturdy stock, or it may have been purely luck, but his medical sheet does not record him being struck down by any of the above during his time there. He was on Cyprus from July 1878 to March 1880. Upon being shipped home, William’s regiment was installed at Edinburgh Castle, soon to become the 1st Battalion of the Highland Light Infantry, as part of the ongoing military reforms. William’s rank is now bugler, and it would have been around this time that a certain young lassy caught his eye. Barbara Hogg, had been born on the 10TH October 1862 to tinsmith John Hogg and his wife Elizabeth neé Hay. She was the 2nd youngest daughter of her father’s second marriage. In all he had 13 children, 6 in the first, and 7 in the second marriage. Although her father had been a successful tinsmith, John Hogg died in 1875, leaving the family fairly destitute, his wife Elizabeth having to work as a washerwoman after his death. It would seem that Barbara’s mother was not best pleased when her daughter announced that she was pregnant and marrying a soldier, as the 1881 census was taken few days before her marriage to William Ross – we find Barbara living with her elder brother and his family on the other side of town to her mother. It is interesting to note that the woman who would later be quoted in the newspaper as saying “it is the first stage of ruin” about her own daughter, out and about with gentlemen till all hours in 1911, was no angel herself in her youth. (see below)

“First stage of ruin” report from 1911

On the 18th of April 1881, William Ross, bugler with the 78th Highlanders (as entered on his wedding certificate – it seems however much the powers that be renumbered the regiments, they clung proudly to their origins) married 18-year-old Barbara Hogg, of 312 Lawnmarket, Edinburgh, daughter of James Hogg, army pensioner (deceased) and Barbara Hay… the address she gave was neither her mother’s or her brother’s, her father’s name was John, not James, and he was a tinsmith, and her mother’s name was Elizabeth. It would seem that Barbara was trying to cover her tracks a bit, but I am not sure why, because at the time Scotland’s law allowed a girl to marry at 12, without parental consent. Four months later, on the 3rd of August, John William Atchison Ross was born. There must have been a reconciliation between mother and daughter, as Barbara’s address on the birth certificate is just along the road from her mum’s house, at 17 Simon Square, Edinburgh – her mother living at number 9. It is impossible to know if William was around for the birth of his son, as his regiment were barracked in Glasgow a month after the wedding. A year later, William was being shipped out to Egypt with his regiment amid the eruption of the Egypt and Sudan war of 1882. William saw action at the battle of El Tel Kebir, for which he was awarded the Egyptian Medal with clasp  – a fabulous account of this battle can be read here https://www.britishbattles.com/war-in-egypt-and-sudan/battle-of-tel-el-kebir/ William was in Egypt from August 1882 to March 1883. Shortly after his return, William resigned from the army, the reason given is “traumatisation after his first period of engagement”, he continued in the Seaforth Highlander reserves until 1892.

I am 90% certain that Pte Ross pictured here is our William Ross – it is right regiment, right place, right time – taken just after El Tel Kebir

The couple had three sons before moving to London around 1888, John William Aitchison Ross(1881 – 1941), William Ross (1886 – 1949), Andrew Hogg Ross (1886 – 1941) They settled in the St Pancras area and William took a job as a furniture packer for the upmarket furniture shop, Maples of Tottenham Court Road. He must have been very well regarded there as my grandmother, his granddaughter, got her first job with Maples in around 1938 on the strength that her grandfather had worked there over 35 years before. They seem to have moved around the area a lot, I have found seven different addresses for them around St Pancras between 1888 and 1901. The rest of their children were born in London – Henry Frank Ross (1889 – 1956), Frank Hogg Ross (1891 – 1956) 1956), *Barbara Ross (1894 – 1940)*, Charles Ross (1896 – 1963), Maggie Sullivan Ross (1897 – 1974).

William died at University College Hospital, London of “Acute Lobar Pneumonia (8 days) and Asphyxia”, he was 43years old.

It must have been a huge shock to the family to lose William in such a terrible way, and relatively young at 43. Barbara was now on her own after 21 years, I think Barbara’s feelings for her husband can be summed up by her own hand nine years later, on the 1911 census entry – under completed years of present marriage she wrote 30. That life suddenly became rather tough for Barbara can be in now doubt, I have no records as to if she still received William’s army pension, after his death, but having never worked at all while William was alive, she had to work as a charwoman after his death. From the 1901 census, a year before William died, we can see that all eight of the children are still living at home, ranging in age from 19 down to 3. Ten years later only the youngest, now teenagers, Barbara, Charles and Maggie are still living with their mother. It appears that from about 1914 and through the 1930s she lived at 22 Drummond Street with Barbara initially, and Maggie for a while, we also know that Frank Ross, her grandson lived with her from his birth in 1914. In the mid 1930s Barbara was moved into St George’s Flats, on the Somers Town Sidney Estate, where my nan’s family and other family members also lived after the Jellicoe slum clearances.

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My grandmother had a very clear memory of her strict Scottish grandmother and namesake, and she could still mimic her fine Edinburgh brogue, even as an old lady herself, it was so ingrained in her. Barbara Hogg Ross would have been 62 when my nan was born. She clearly remembered her big half-brother, Frank, living with their nan. Even when he was a grown man, and a burly, tough boxer my nan recalled her ‘little’ nan regularly chasing him around the flat bashing him hard with her walking stick for some misdemeanour or another. My nan also remembered being sent regularly to her nan’s flat with money from her mum. Her nan would say that she would see her safely back home, but she would always stop off the corner of my nan’s street and tell her “I can see you well enough from here, I’ll wait till I see you get down there safely, no need to look back, I’ll be here.” Of course when my nan got to the door of her flats she would look back, but her nan would always be gone, as if by magic. It wasn’t till years later that my nan realised there was a pub door right on that corner and once her nan saw her get safely to the flats, she would slip in there for a tipple. Barbara had the joy of grandchildren several times over from her own large brood, and the family seemed to have been very close in my nan’s childhood memories. From things my nan told me I think her ancestors get their creativity and canniness from this woman, in buckets. She was a neat, tidy woman who believed clean hands and nails, and clean shoes were of paramount importance. I also think, as evidenced from my last blog in the article about her daughter Barbara’s late night antics, we can see she was a strong, feisty woman who would brook no nonsense from anyone, and that certainly has come down through the women in my side of the family too!

Barbara Hogg Ross died in June 1937, aged 75.

** Denotes my direct ancestral line.

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