HAMILTONS of CLOSEBURN
The Hamilton branch of the family lived in the Closeburn and Morton parishes of Dumfriesshire in the 18th and 19th Centuries. During much of the 18th Century, various Hamilton families, mostly headed by men called John or William, lived at the farmtouns of Auchenleck and Laught.
There is a tenuous connection with the previous century: when a List of Inhabitants of Morton Parish was sent to the Privy Council in 1684, a married man called Hamilton was registered at East Morton “with the family of Laught” as a recusant – that is to say, as a likely Covenanter.
Please use the links below to access the histories.
References (for all documents)
1 1684 Parishioner Lists for Morton & Durisdeer
2 1691 Hearth Tax records for Morton & Durisdeer
3 Introduction to the Derivation of Scottish Surnames by William L. Kirk
4 Closeburn Statistical Accounts 1791-99 & 1834-45
5 Closeburn Hearse Society Book 1826-1884
6 A History of the Scottish People by T C Smout, 1998
The earliest confirmed reference is to James, who married Isabella Strachan in early 1775, although no record of the marriage has been found. He may have been born in Auchenleck in 1747 to John Hamilton and Kathrin Munsie, though there is no hard evidence to confirm links either to the place or to the parents.
John and Kathrin married in 1737 and had at least 7 children. John was born in 1715 to John Hamilton and Margrat Gibson.
If these were indeed James Hamilton’s grandparents, then his line can be traced back to around 1690.
James and Isabella Strachan had 8 children between 1775 and 1790, six of them boys. The first three - John, Alexander and Margaret - were born at the hamlet of Croalchapel, next to the Closeburn Limeworks. The remainder - William, Thomas, Catherine, Thomas and Abraham - were all born at Laught, a farm on the north side of the Water of Cample, in Morton Parish.
The landlord of Croalchapel was listed in 1770 as the Heirs of Thomas Kirkpatrick and two years later, Sir James Kirkpatrick opened the first of three lime quarries there. However, by 1780 he was bankrupt and James Hamilton at Croal Chapel was listed among his many creditors, being owed £50. It is not known how this rather large debt originated or whether it was redeemed. It may be that according to custom, James was able to live for a time rent-free on the Croalchapel holding.
James and Isobel, together with their son, John, are named in a Testament dated 23 January 1793. This document is an inventory of James’s assets and debts, compiled after his untimely death on 23 September 1791. He had only just become a tenant at Clauchrie, a large holding in Closeburn Parish containing several farms. In the same year, a poet called Robert Burns was selling off the farm stock, crops and implements he owned at Ellisland, the poor farm he rented in Nithsdale. Ellisland is only 4 miles from Clauchrie on the west bank of the Nith. During his 3 years there Burns would have visited Closeburn and Morton on Excise business (he was also the local exciseman), to meet friends and to exchange information with the local farmers. He might well have supped with them at the Brownhill Inn on the main road to Closeburn. It is just conceivable that he and James Hamilton met there and shared a dram.
There were three farms at Clauchrie, each worth around £50 pa (in 1770). The Testament of 1793 does not say which of the three James worked, but it seems to have included at least 35 acres of arable land. His total debt was a substantial £76 7s 1½d, being rents, interest and expenses owed to the proprietor, William Copland. By contrast, Robert Burns contracted to pay £50 for the first 3 years of his tenancy of Ellisland. James Hamilton's debt was to be paid by selling the crops in the corn fields. The fields were measured and the value of each crop estimated. The crops were then sold to various bidders, including the proprietor and also, surprisingly, to Mrs Hamilton herself - she purchased around 3½ acres’ worth costing some £13 in 4 separate lots. Where Isabella found the wherewithal to purchase her late husband’s crops is not known. She lived to the grand age of 87, dying at Cample Bridge in 1838.
James Hamilton’s children
John was christened at Croalchapel in 1775 but nothing of any certainty is known about him.
Alexander was born two years later and probably married Mary Shankland who bore him 6 children between 1804 and 1816.
James, his second-born, died in 1807 and is commemorated on a headstone in Durisdeer Churchyard, along with his mother and father.
Margaret, born in 1779, may have had an affair with a Thomas Brown, being called to account before the Kirk Session in 1802. “She was rebuked for his (sic) sin and debarred from Church Privileges till she shall have made satisfaction according to the Rules Of the Church”.
The fourth child, William, was baptised in 1781 in Laught. There is circumstantial evidence to indicate that he married Margaret, the 15 year-old daughter of William Fraser of Park around 1801 and had a son, William, the following year. Margaret is recorded as dying in April 1802, possibly in childbirth. It is not clear who looked after the young William but, by 1830, he had married and settled in Lochmaben, where he managed to purchase a small plot of land at Gilmoorpark. He died there in 1860, just two years before his father.
Thomas, the fifth of James Hamilton’s children, was born in 1782 and probably died in infancy.
Catherine, the sixth child, was born in 1785 at Laught. She was an Agricultural Labourer and House Servant who seems never to have married. In 1841 and 1851 she was living with her brother James. She died in 1857 at Cample Bridge and was buried in Durisdeer Churchyard.
Thomas, born a year later, has left no trace.
James is the only child for whom there are no birth records. At the time of the 1851 Census, he was aged 63, giving a birth date of 1787 or 1788. He married Jane Waugh, a native of Closeburn, around 1815. They had at least six children: John (b 1815), Isabella (b 1817), James (b 1819), Jane (b 1824), Margaret (b 1825) and Jannet (b 1827).
Jane Waugh died in 1827, possibly in the process of giving birth.
A year later, James married Margaret Murdoch in Sanquar. When Margaret died in 1855, the only child to be listed on her death register entry was William, who was born around 1830 and died in infancy.
By 1841 James was a Farmer at Cample Bridge, just west of the A76, near the crossing of the River Cample. The farm has an interesting history: Elspeth Buchan, the founder of a fanatical religious sect known as the Buchanites built a cottage on the farm and lived there with her followers between 1784 and 1787.
James died in November 1851 and was buried in Durisdeer churchyard. His eldest surviving son, James, took over the Cample Bridge tenancy.
Abraham, the last of James’s and Isabella’s children, survived for a little over a year after his birth in 1790. He appears on the same page of the Closeburn Parish Death Register as his father.
William (b 1781) seems to have married Mary Alexander after his first wife Margaret Fraser died.
Their first child, Isabella, was born in 1806. She married Walter Little, a Farmer from the Parish of Hutton & Corrie, around 1831. The Littles had 5 children: John (b 1832), James (b 1834), Mary (b 1838), William (b 1843) and Mary (dob not known), all of whom were listed on Isabella's death certificate. Walter died before 1851, in which year Isabella was described as a Widow. She emigrated to Melbourne on the Champion of the Seas in 1861, accompanied by her firstborn child, John Little. Isabella died in 1895 at 25 Victoria Parade, Fitzroy. The Informant was stated to be her grandson James Little, who lived at 32 Fitzroy Street. James could have been John's son, possibly an illegitimate one - there is no evidence of John ever marrying. When John died in 1900 of heart failure, he was a Grocer who owned premises at 32 Fitzroy Street. In his hastily drawn up Will he stated that his brother James, who had died in Dumfries in 1895, was deceased and that the balance of his estate should pass to James's children. James had eight known children, five of whom were probably alive in the 1900s, living in Scotland and New Zealand. They were unlikely to have received anything from their uncle's estate.
Nine more children followed, 8 of them boys. During the next six or seven years, the family moved from farm to farm, though always on the Closeburn estate of Sir Stuart Mentieth.
By the time James, their second child, died in 1813, the family had taken up the tenancy of a small farm at Park, called Hollandbush. The extent of the farm is listed as 25 Scotch acres in 1845, although the 1851 Census gives it as 42 acres. The Census also shows William as the head of an extended family comprising his son Alexander, with his daughter-in-law Jane and four grandchildren. His bachelor son, Charles, was also there. Ten years later, the farm had diminished to only 23 acres.
William died in 1862, aged 82. He left no Will, but his estate was valued at £81 4s 6d. He and his wife, Mary Alexander, are commemorated on one side of a headstone in Closeburn Churchyard, along with seven of their children - James (b 1807), John (b 1809), Mary (b 1811), James (b 1813), Robert (b 1819) Grizel (b 1821), and Thomas (b 1825). Sadly, the last six all died of TB before the age of 30. On the other side of the headstone - the later Hamiltons were evidently not inclined to waste space - his daughter Isabella is noted, having died in Melbourne at the age of 89. Also inscribed are the names of Charles (b 1815) and Alexander (b 1817), the only two sons to survive into old age.
Charles (b 1815) lived with his brother at Hollandbush for most of his life and worked on the farm until the 1860s. In 1850 a railway line had been built through Nithsdale and Charles established himself as the Coal Agent at the station for the next 25 years or so. There is still a firm of coal merchants near the old station, called Hamilton & Hall. He died in 1893, leaving no Will. His estate was valued at £87 11s 10d.
When Alexander (b 1817) married Jane Jackson at Gatelawbridge in 1842, he described himself, perhaps with an eye to impressing his new wife’s family, as a Farmer. But by 1851 he was described as a Farm Servant on the farm run by William, his father. By 1861 he had become a Ploughman. He would not have been able to take over the farm until William’s death in 1862, though he probably held it until his wife Jane died in 1898. Approaching his 80th year, he then moved to Helensburgh to be with his daughters Elizabeth and Jane. He died there in 1902, aged 84. The farm at Hollandbush was taken over by his son-in-law, Joseph Brown. Alexander and Jane had eight children, half of them girls.
Alexander Hamilton’s children
Mary was born in 1842 and worked as a Dairymaid on the farm before marriage to Joseph Brown in 1864. The couple moved to Winscales Farm, near Egremont in Cumberland and had 5 children before Mary died around 1875. Although it was illegal under the Marriage Act of 1835 for a man to marry his dead wife’s sister, Joseph did manage to marry his sister-in-law Ann (b 1851) in Whitehaven in 1877, producing a further 5 children. The couple moved back to Dumfriesshire and Joseph eventually took over the farm at Hollandbush.
William, born in 1849, married Margaret Dick in 1887. He was a Hammerman at the docks. There were probably no children. Of James, born in 1852, little is known.
Elizabeth, born in 1859, married John Barr, a Gardener, and went to live in Helensburgh, dying there in 1936.
Robert, born in 1861, married Mary Halliday and remained in Closeburn with his four children. He took over the Coal Agency business when his Uncle Charles died in 1893.
Jane, born last, in 1865, married James Burgess and followed her sister to Helensburgh, where she died in 1913.
Thomas was born in 1846 at Hollandbush. Being the first born son, the farm was his to inherit, but he never wanted to become a farmer. Instead, on a winter’s day at the end of 1867, he was to be found marrying Ann Eliza Cooper at St John's Parish Church in Manchester. His wife was the daughter of an official in the Parish Office, a man who had crossed the Pennines from his birthplace near Harrogate and married a Manchester woman. His ancestry on his mother's side can be traced back to the 17th Century through the Skaife and Cooper families.
Alexander, Thomas’s first child, was born in 1869 at Hollandbush, but that was the last time Thomas ever lived in Dumfriesshire. Two years later, he was working as a Boatman on the Paisley Canal. He had a variety of labouring jobs until Ann died, of a stroke, in 1883. At that time he was a Bread Vanman, but a year later had become a Drapery Traveller.
Ann’s sister, Hannah Skaife Cooper, had already left Manchester to become a Telegraph Clerk at the Glasgow Post Office. It took Thomas Hamilton only 6 months after his wife’s death to persuade Hannah to move in and look after her sister’s four boys. And she bore him 6 more children, all of them boys. Hannah had taken the Hamilton surname by the time of the 1891 Census, but it is unlikely that the couple ever married. Either they did not think it worthwhile, or the Scottish Marriage Act of 1567, which prohibited the practice, put them off.It is quite likely that none of the boys were aware of their illegitimate status.
It had always been supposed that during this second phase of his life Thomas worked for the Scottish Cooperative Society’s Drapery Department. However, at various times up to 1912, he was described as a Jeweller and as an Insurance Agent. In the early 1900s he seems to have established his own businesses, as a Shirt Manufacturer (in 1901) and as an Underclothing Manufacturer (in 1903); they may have been good-going operations - the flat in Bedford Lane had 8 rooms and Thomas was listed in the 1901 Census as an Employer, working at home.
Thomas died on 10 February 1913, aged 66.
Thomas Hamilton’s children
Thomas had 4 children by Ann Cooper and 6 by her sister Hannah. Remarkably, they were all boys.
Alexander, born in Closeburn in 1869, married Mary Johnston in 1893 and had 4 children. He went to live in Millport, working as a Warehouseman. He died there in 1957, aged 88.
Thomas Cooper, born in Rutherglen in 1872, married Robina Tough in 1899 and had 6 children, 5 of them girls. He had wanted boys, so he gave them variations on boy’s names, such as Hectorina, Robina and Thomasina. Originally a Blacksmith, Tommy opened a tobacconist cum snooker hall at Paisley Road Toll. When Robina died in 1916, he married Catherine Urquhart two years later. He died in 1923 in Edinburgh, although he was still living in Paisley Road, Glasgow.
Joseph Ernest Greaves was born in 1878 in Nitshill. Greaves was the name of his Aunt Polly’s first husband. Before marrying Martha Lustie in 1904 he worked for his father as a Shirt Ironer. Later, he became a Railway Brakesman, and he was probably at work when he had a fatal accident and died in 1914.
Little is known about James except that he was born in 1881 at 13, Keyden Street and survived at least to the age of 18.
William Francis was born to Thomas’s second ‘wife’, Hannah, in August 1884 at 20 Rutland Crescent. Francis was the name of his great grandfather from Yorkshire. He went into the Coop as a Grocer’s Assistant, but soon - by 1910 - became a manager in the Grocery Department, the youngest in the Coop’s history.
Also working there, as a cash girl - she used to receive the customers’ cash in a tube on a string - was Jane McAinsh Stewart. They married in 1914 at the Wheatsheaf Rooms at Paisley Road Toll - it was a large wedding with at least 50 guests - and spent the first years of married life in a small flat at 29 Carfin Street, Govanhill. William was a teetotaller - Jane would not have married him otherwise. But he was a smoker and this led to the bronchitis that afflicted him in his later years. The family moved up the social scale a little when they moved from Govan / Gorbals to Pollokshields, occupying a room-and-kitchen there. This was just round the corner from Jane’s family home in upmarket St Andrews Road and she must have felt that she had come back to her rightful place in the world. William became a local pillar of the community - rising to Right Worshipful Master of a Masonic Lodge. He was called up in 1916 and received the leg injury that gave him a permanent limp. Returning from the War in his thirties, he was turned down for promotion to Area Manager. Thereafter, he became bitter and withdrawn, an unsociable man who retreated to his plot - allotment - whenever he could.
He died in 1960 at the age of 74.
Arthur was born in 1886. Starting off as a Message Boy, he was a Grocer’s Assistant when he married Catherine Cumming in 1912. Kate was a Catholic, while he was Presbyterian and the pair of them often argued because he wanted his children to go to a Presbyterian rather than a Catholic school, even though it was the custom for girls to go to the school of the mother's religion. Arthur eventually became a Grocer, owning two shops, although when he died in 1951, he was described as a Dairyman. He was wealthy enough to own a car, a vehicle chiefly remembered for its rattles and leaks.
Charles was born in 1889 and followed his brother into the grocery business - he was a Grocery Salesman when his second child Hazel was born in 1922. He had married an Englishwoman, Eva Moore, in Harlesden, Middlesex, in 1920, but set up home back in Glasgow. He was said to have owned a Tobacconist’s shop, but that was probably just a sideline. When his son Wilson Marshall Thomas was born in 1929, he was described as a Newsagent. During and after the Second War he was a Police Officer in the War Dept and, until his death in 1957, an Ordnance Work Pump Attendant.
Robert was born in 1890 and nothing further is known about him.
Benjamin was born in 1892 and followed his father into the drapery business, starting off as a Warehouseman. He married a French Polisher called Sarah Fyfe in 1912. After the War he became a Miner, spending the rest of his life in grimy Blantyre. Because of this, he was considered to be rather beneath the Hamiltons of Pollokshields. He died in 1966 of heart failure and pneumoconiosis.
Frederick was the last born, in 1896. He began his working life as a Railway Porter and was just old enough to be called up, entering the War as a Private in the Royal Scots. He is reputed to have come back from the War with syphilis. Yet, before the War ended, he married Helen Baskerville in Glasgow in 1917. He followed his brother to Blantyre, becoming a Miner.
Notes on the
The name Closeburn is thought to
derive from the 12th century Kylosbern, meaning the '
The origin of the
It is quite possible
that the town was the origin of the Scottish Hamiltons. If this is the case, it would mean that not
all families named
A William Hamilton,
possibly the Auchinsell man, was found at
There were two other women
registered in Morton parish in 1684: Agnes Hamilton, the probable spouse of
William Ferguson, at
The Old Parish Records also show two Hamilton wives who were not listed in the 1684 and 1691 records, suggesting they may have come to live in the parish of Morton after 1691, when their reverend husbands took up appointments there: Helen Hamilton is listed as the Relict of Mr Patrick Flint who would have died in late 1691 or early 1692, while Christian Hamilton probably arrived early in 1692 with the replacement minister, her husband, Rev John Pasley.
A probable offshoot of this family was later to occupy Park and Cairn in the south.
Closeburn economic history notes
It is not known for certain where our Hamiltons lived in the first 75 years of the 18th Century but they were likely to be found in Auchenleck, in the north of Closeburn parish, and in Laught, just across the Water of Cample in Morton parish.
These were tough years for anyone trying to make a living from the land - prices were stagnant and sometimes fell; soils, arable and pastoral, were exhausted from overuse; tenants had no security and little incentive to improve their husbandry; holdings were generally small and inefficient; implements were rudimentary; frequent bad weather events disrupted agriculture and caused temporary famines: for example, the summer of 1781 was cold & dry - grass & corn failed to grow properly - the following year the season was 'cold & backward' such that unripened corn was buried by the snow that fell in October.
Living conditions were primitive - in many places, houses were described as hovels, built of stones and mud, thatched with sods or straw, with damp earthen floors, having low doors and windows without glass.
It was not unusual for several households to live under one roof, sometimes with the cattle occupying one end of the building. In a typical ‘but and ben’ longhouse, the tenant farmer would occupy the ‘but’ or living room while his servants would sleep in the ‘ben’. Ploughmen, labourers and other farm servants often slept in the farm kitchen where food was prepared and eaten; butter and cheese making and other processes also took place there. Surprisingly, given the moral climate of the time, both male and female servants would often dress, undress and sleep in the same room, resulting, according to an official report, “in an amount of “immorality and illegitimacy”.
Otherwise, female servants might lodge in the rafters and be exposed to the smoke from the hearth, yet be free of insect pests and parasites.
The final 25 years of the 18th
Century saw big improvements in the living standards of ordinary folk over
large parts of
The reasons for this remarkable
turnaround were largely to do with the agricultural improvements that were
slowly filtering up from
Yorstoun reported that from 1755 to 1791, the population had increased by 50% and that “This great increase has been occasioned by extensive lime works in the parish, the division of farms, making of roads and other improvements”.
Living standards improved
markedly, despite rents increasing, due in part to wage rates going up and in
part to the creation of new employment. Because
many farmers only had small plots to tend, “during the rest they find abundance
of employment in carting lime from Closeburn, and coals from Sanquar to the limeworks and to the town of
Wages in the 1770s were around £4 pa for a labouring man kept in the house - a Farm Servant - and half as much for a woman. By 1792 they had risen to 6 - 8 guineas for a man and up to 4 guineas for a woman.
Concerning housing, the good reverend had mixed views: “…… there is a great number of houses lately built in the parish. Some of these indeed, being built by subtenants at their own expense, are but indifferent; and it is a little unfortunate that these poorest houses are built along the great road which passes through the parish. Travellers, from the mean appearance of these houses, are apt to form an unfavourable opinion of the country. But the principal farmers are generally lodged pretty comfortably.”
Forty years later, Rev Andrew Bennett wrote, “Such miserable dwellings [of the 18th Century] have been succeeded by comfortable and commodious dwelling-houses, generally of two stories, and in every way fitted for the convenience and accommodation of the respectable tenantry that inhabit them.”
Isabella Hamilton in Australia
William and Mary's
first child, Isabella, was born in 1806. She married Walter Little, a Farmer from
the Parish of Hutton & Corrie, around 1831. The Littles had 5 children: John (b 1832),
James (b 1834), Mary (b 1838), William (b 1843) and Mary (dob not known), all of whom were
listed on Isabella's death certificate. Walter died before 1851, in which year Isabella was
described as a Widow. She emigrated to Melbourne on the Champion of the Seas in 1861, accompanied
by her firstborn child, John Little. Isabella died in 1895 at 25 Victoria Parade, Fitzroy.
The Informant was stated to be her grandson James Little, who lived at 32 Fitzroy Street.
James could have been John's son, possibly an illegitimate one - there is no evidence of John ever marrying.
When John died in 1900 of heart failure, he was a Grocer who owned premises at 32 Fitzroy Street. In his hastily drawn up Will
he stated that his brother James, who had died in Dumfries in 1895, was deceased and that the balance of his
estate should pass to James's children.
James had eight known children, five of whom were probably alive in the 1900s, living in Scotland and New Zealand.
They were unlikely to have received anything from their uncle's estate.
William and Mary's first child, Isabella, was born in 1806. She married Walter Little, a Farmer from the Parish of Hutton & Corrie, around 1831. The Littles had 5 children: John (b 1832), James (b 1834), Mary (b 1838), William (b 1843) and Mary (dob not known), all of whom were listed on Isabella's death certificate. Walter died before 1851, in which year Isabella was described as a Widow. She emigrated to Melbourne on the Champion of the Seas in 1861, accompanied by her firstborn child, John Little. Isabella died in 1895 at 25 Victoria Parade, Fitzroy. The Informant was stated to be her grandson James Little, who lived at 32 Fitzroy Street. James could have been John's son, possibly an illegitimate one - there is no evidence of John ever marrying. When John died in 1900 of heart failure, he was a Grocer who owned premises at 32 Fitzroy Street. In his hastily drawn up Will he stated that his brother James, who had died in Dumfries in 1895, was deceased and that the balance of his estate should pass to James's children. James had eight known children, five of whom were probably alive in the 1900s, living in Scotland and New Zealand. They were unlikely to have received anything from their uncle's estate.
Little family in Australia and New Zealand
This is a link to the Little family tree:
Walter and Isabella Little's eldest child John was born in Kirkmahoe in 1832. When he emigrated to Melbourne on the Champion of the Seas in 1861, accompanied by his mother, he was described as a Labourer. Mother and son settled in Fitzroy - John can be found in the local directories at 24 and 28 Fitzroy Street. By 1873 he was an established Grocer. There is no evidence that he ever married or had children. When he died of heart failure in 1900, he was described as a Grocer who owned premises at 32 Fitzroy Street. His Will was drawn up on 6 October 1900, the same day his death, from heart failure, was registered. His solicitor stated that he "was fetched from my office by a special message from the said testator to make the said will owing to the testators belief that he had not long to live". The Will stated that the balance of John's estate should pass to the children of his deceased bother James, who had died in Dumfries in 1895. However, although John had assets totalling £1151, mortgages on his grocer's shop in Fitzroy Street exceeded its valuation by a substantial margin. After all debts were paid, John's net estate came to a modest £17 13s 8d. His brother James had eight known children, five of whom were probably alive in 1900, living in Scotland and New Zealand. They were unlikely to have received anything from their uncle's estate.
Walter and Isabella Little's second child, James, was born in Kirkmahoe in 1834. By 1851 he was working in a grocer's shop and had set up on his own as a Grocer and Spirit Dealer by 1860, when he married Mary Oliver Little.
A grandson, James, was born in 1863. He also became a Grocer. He married Mary Neil in Dumfries in 1897 and emigrated to New Zealand onboard the RMS Paparoa with his two baby sons, Walter and James, in 1901. The family settled in Lower Hutt, near Wellington, where a third son, John, was born in 1911.
John became a Schoolmaster and died in Horeke, Northland in 1952.
James was a Draper and Caretaker who died in Takaka, South Island in 1962.
Walter was a Draper and died in Hamilton City in 1984.
This is a link to the Little family tree: