CONTENTS of this section:
- Mary FYFFE (1848-1940) & John CAMERON (1843-1932)
- Their five CHILDREN in order of age with spouses
- Mary Ann CAMERON (1874-1931) & James MILLAR (1870 -1941)
- Jeanie Thompson CAMERON (1876-1962) & James SELLAR (1874-1946)
- Donald Duncan CAMERON (1878-1941) & Isabella BROWNLEES (1874-1958)
- Violet Elizabeth CAMERON (1881-1970) & Arthur WOOD (1885-1956)
- John CAMERON (1883-1920)
MARY FYFFE (1848-1940) & JOHN CAMERON (1843-1932)
My great-grandparents Mary Fyffe and John Cameron were born and raised in the north-east of Scotland, Mary in the parish of Peterculter, Aberdeenshire, and John in the parish of Maryculter, Kincardineshire. After their marriage they lived in Berwick-upon-Tweed, a town on the English side of the border between Scotland and England.
Mary FYFFE ( 1848-1940) & John CAMERON (1845-1932)
Both pictures were taken at the W.B. Anderson photo studio at 255 Union Street in Aberdeen. They are undated, but probably taken some time between 1910 and 1925, possibly during the visit in June 1919 that John mentions in a letter. Although they moved to Berwick-on-Tweed in England while they were in their 20s, both Camerons had many family ties in and around Aberdeen, brothers, sisters, cousins and John Cameron’s mother Ann (m.s. Watson) Cameron (1818-1908). They must have had these photos taken while on a visit.
John Cameron, the eldest child in his family, was born on March 31, 1845 in the parish of Maryculter, Kincardineshire.
John’s father, Donald Cameron (1813-1867) was born further north, in the parish of Auldearn, Nairnshire on 12 November 1813. Donald was a blacksmith who moved south to Maryculter, probably for work. There, on December 2, 1843, he married Ann Watson who was born at Durris, Aberdeenshire. Over the next couple of decades, Donald Cameron (1813-1867) and Ann Watson (1818-1908) had a family of seven: John (1845-1932), James (1848-1925), Margaret (1851-1935), William (1853-1923), Elizabeth (1855-after 1870), Janet (1858-1939), Ann (1862-1954). [In another section of this narrative there will be a bit more information about the six younger children.]
In the April 7, 1861 Scottish census, John , age 16, is living with his parents, working as an apprentice blacksmith to his father Donald Cameron, Master Blacksmith, at the Kingcaussie Blacksmith’s House, Maryculter, Kincardineshire.
By the time of the April 2, 1871 census, John Cameron, age 27, has graduated from the Dick Veterinary College in Edinburgh (now part of the University of Edinburgh) and is working as a veterinarian in Berwick-on-Tweed, England. He is boarding at 20 Bridge Street at the home of a Mrs Hogarth, whose late husband owned the veterinary practice that John took over.
Mary Fyffe/Fyfe/Fife (spelling varies but “Fyffe” was more commonly used in earlier records) was born on March 3, 1848, in the parish of Peterculter, Aberdeenshire, virtually “next door” to the Cameron family’s parish of Maryculter, Kincardineshire. The parishes lie side by side, separated only by the Dee River, which formed the boundary between the two shires. They are both located only a short distance outside the city of Aberdeen.
Both sides of Mary’s family had lived in Aberdeenshire for generations. Her mother Ann Mellis (1821-1856) was the second in a family of eight children born to William Mellis (1790-1866) and his wife Ann Gill (1794-1879). William Mellis farmed a property called Gairn. A look at the website ScotlandsPlaces.gov.uk reveals that Gairn was “a very large farmsteading dwelling house, 2 storeys, slated, with a large court of offices thatched, all in good repair.” owned by a Major Gammell of Drumtochtly. Another online resource provided by Googlebooks, “The Highland Sportsman”, notes that Major Gammell was one of the principal land owners in Aberdeenshire. He owned 3,946 acres, a substantial amount, but dwarfed by the holdings of various titled individuals and the more than 25,000 acres (including Balmoral Castle) owned by Queen Victoria. Aberdeenshire was reputed to be the best cattle raising county in Scotland but most farmers had to rent or lease their land. It was the opportunity to obtain land of their own, through homestead or purchase, that drew thousands of young men to places like Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States in the 1800s and early 1900s.
In 1841 Ann Mellis married Duncan Fyffe (1819-1865) who was employed on her parent’s farm. The Fyfes had three children – Ann, William, and Mary, the youngest. In 1856 when Mary was only nine years old her mother drowned. The death record did not provide any other details.
When visiting William Wood, son of Mary’s daughter, Violet (m.s. Cameron) Wood, in England in 1990, he showed me a framed sampler, sewed by Mary Fyfe, age nine, dated 1856. I noticed that she had not quite completed all the stitching and guessed that perhaps she was still working on it when her mother died so suddenly and no one insisted that she finish. [This sampler was inherited by Jon Wood in England and I had hoped to be able to include a photo of it – perhaps later.]
In April 1865 Mary’s father Duncan Fyfe, age 46, died of diphtheria after a two-week illness. This bacteria-borne respiratory disease is quite contagious and others living on the family farm, including Duncan’s brother-in-law George Mellis, with two of his children, also died of it. Although diphtheria, thanks to modern vaccination programs, is rare now in the United Kingdom, outbreaks of it were once common. Even one of Queen Victoria’s daughters, Princess Alice, died of diphtheria in 1878.
An orphan now at age seventeen, Mary probably continued to live with her maternal grandparents but after her grandfather William Mellis died in 1866 her grandmother, Ann Mellis, moved from the farm to live with her son, Thomas Mellis (1836-1914), a veterinarian working in Inverurie, sixteen miles northwest of Aberdeen. In the census taken two years earlier the town’s population was 2,856 people. Built at the junction of the rivers Ury and Don, Inverurie was primarily a service centre for the surrounding agricultural area. Thomas Mellis was a graduate of the Veterinary College in Edinburgh, like John Cameron (1845-1932), and although he was nine years older, they may have been acquainted through their common profession.
From the Scotland’s People website I was able to get a copy of the will of William Mellis, Mary’s grandfather. They were not primary heirs, but the Fyffe grandchildren were left £5 to be divided equally amongst the three of them. Although this does not sound like much money today, according to the website MeasuringWorth.com, in 1866, £5 was the equivalent of £417 to £9,493 in 2015. The interesting reasons for the range in assessing the value of this sum can be found at that website.
Mary’s brother William Fyfe (1843-1885) moved to Aberdeen where he married Emily Davidson (b.1845) in 1865. He became a Master Hatter who, by 1881, was employing five men and three women in his hat shop. He died of pneumonia in December 1885 at their home, Gleniffer Cottage on King Street Road, Aberdeen. They had no children.
At the time of the 1871 census, Thomas Mellis, his wife, his mother, and niece Ann Fyfe, were living at 13 Market Square, Inverurie. Although I could not find Mary in that census she was probably living in the vicinity or was away from home on the night of the census (April 2/3, 1871) because on her marriage record in 1873 she has given Market Square, Inverurie, as her home address.
Only two weeks before Mary’s marriage, her sister, Ann Gill Fyfe, (1841- 1873), age 31, drowned in a water butt at the back of their uncle’s house. Her death was ruled a suicide.
After such a sad event Mary may have been happy to start her married life many miles away in the border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, England.
This small scanned photo of Mary Fyfe (1848-1940) is from Rod Cameron’s website rodcameron.co.uk. It was taken in Aberdeen, probably in the 1860s or 1870s when Mary was in her 20s. Rod’s great-grandmother Mary Henderson (1849-1934) who married James Cameron (1848-1925) had a photo album containing many pictures from her husband’s family including this one of her sister-in-law.
Marriage and Move to Berwick-upon-Tweed
On June 11, 1873, John Cameron (1845-1932), age 28, and Mary Fyfe (1848-1940), age 25, were married at Inverurie, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. As John Cameron had taken a job in Berwick-on-Tweed, England, as the Veterinary Officer to Berwick Town Council and had also opened his own veterinary practise in the town, the young couple settled in Berwick and raised a family of five children.
The map above shows Berwick-upon-Tweed and some of the surrounding communities where many members of the Cameron, Brownlee, Allan, and Short families lived and worked. Wark-on-Tweed, where Isabella Brownlee lived for many years with her grandparents, is about fifteen miles from Berwick.
In 1990 I visited Berwick and took these snapshots:
When John and Mary Cameron moved to Berwick it was a prosperous town of about 12,000. By 1891 it had over 13,000 residents.
The English census for Berwick-on-Tweed records the following about the Cameron family:
On April 3, 1881 the family is living at 9 Bridge Street – John 37, Veterinary Surgeon, Mary 33, wife, children – Mary A, age 6, a scholar, Jeannie T, age 4, Donald D, age 2, Violet E, age 3 months, and Elizabeth A Gibson, age 17, a general domestic servant.
On April 5, 1891 the family was living at 11 Bridge Street. I think this is really the same house as number 9 where they lived ten years earlier as now there is no #9 in the census of their street. John, Veterinary Surgeon is age 46 and wife Mary is 40. [Adults sometimes lop a few years off their actual age when giving this information to the census-taker.] Mary 16, Donald 12, Violet 10, and John 7, are all still at school, their occupations recorded as “scholar”. Jean, age 14, is not listed so must have been elsewhere on the day of the census.
On March 31, 1901 the family is living at 11 Bridge Street. John, age 56, Veterinary Surgeon, Mary, age 53, wife, daughters, Jeannie T, age 24 (no occupation given) and Violet E, age 20, a dressmaker’s apprentice. Donald is living fourteen miles away at Cornhill, boarding with a family of Allans, working as an apprentice farmer. John junior is boarding in Edinburgh as he has started his veterinary studies. Mary, age 26 is not at home.
On April 2, 1911 John Cameron is age 66 and his occupation is Veterinary Surgeon Inspector. Mary, his wife, is age 63. Only two children remain at home with their parents, John junior, age 27, also a Veterinary Surgeon Inspector, and Violet age 30 (no occupation listed). This is the first English census where the return is completed by the head of the household instead of by the census-taker so it is possible to see John Cameron’s handwriting and signature. By this time Donald is in Canada farming at Woodnorth, Manitoba. Mary, now age 37 is probably in Canada as well but could not be located in the Canadian census. Jean, age 34, could not be found either.
A note on Census records: All the English census returns can be viewed online for free at many public libraries which subscribe to Ancestry.com (in the United States) or Ancesty.ca (in Canada). You can view them at home as well if you have a personal subscription to Ancestry.ca. The Scottish census returns are also available through the Ancestry sites but in most cases you can view only an extracted record not the original. You can, however, view the original Scottish census returns online through ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk on a pay-per-view basis. The Canadian census returns are available on the Ancestry site but also for free at the Library and Archives Canada website bac-lac.gc.ca.
A family photo, probably from the early 1890s:
The Cameron Family of Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, England. From left to right: Jean (1876-1962), John junior (1883-1920), John (1845-1932), Mary junior (1874-1931), Mary (1848-1940), Violet (1881-1970), Donald (1878-1941).
Donald Cameron (1878-1941) and his brother John Cameron (1883-1920) at the W.H. DeLam studioin Berwick-on-Tweed. Another undated photo but given how small John is I would guess that it was around 1892.
Cameron sisters: Left to Right – Jean Cameron (1876-1962); Violet Cameron (1881-1970) seated; Mary Cameron (1874-1931) at the Herriott Studio on Castlegate, Berwick-on-Tweed. This photo is also undated but since it is from a different photographer it may be a different year from the ones above. From the style of the dresses I would say that it was still in the 1890s. . This one is not in very good shape, faded and with lots of fly spots and stains, so I expect it was kept out on view in the Cameron home at Woodnorth. Mary visited Donald in Canada but I don’t think he ever saw Jean or Violet again after he left England in March 1905 at the age of twenty-six.
Life in Berwick-on-Tweed
John Cameron seemed to have a busy professional life in Berwick with his work for the town and his own veterinary practice. Most of his “patients” would have been animals living on farms in the surrounding countryside, even as far away as Holy Island which is forty-nine miles from Berwick, quite a distance when travelling by horse. Holy Island is accessible by natural causeway when the tide is out but is an island at high tide. Apparently, there was great concern in the Cameron household one day when John did not return home as expected. It turned out that he had made a call on Holy Island but as it took longer than expected he was forced to remain there until low tide the following day.
The picture below is an intriguing one. Like so many of the photos I have, it has no date or other information on it. It must have been an important occasion in Berwick-on-Tweed, given the crowds watching the procession, possibly a visit, or a funeral, of some prominent person. There are even people watching from the second floor windows in the light coloured house on the right. However, this was one picture that Mum knew a little about: the man on the far right of the picture, the one with a white beard, wearing a dark suit and a black top hat, mounted on a dark horse with a white face, is her grandfather John Cameron (1845-1932).
Young John Cameron graduated from his veterinary studies in about 1906 and joined his father’s practice, just a year after Donald emigrated to Canada. Violet, the youngest daughter was the one who remained at home to help her parents, while Mary and Jean seem to have worked away at least part of the time.
After World War One started John joined the Army in September of 1914. More on his career in the individual sections below on each of the children. John’s unexpected death in 1920 was a severe blow to his parents and may have led to their decision to visit their remaining son and grandchildren in Manitoba and their daughter Jean who was living in Saskatchewan with her husband, James Sellar, a Presbyterian Minister. John and Mary Cameron left Glasgow on May 19, 1922, arrived in Quebec on May 22. They stayed in Canada for over a year, visiting both Donald and family at Woodnorth and Jean and James Sellar who were at either Dummer or Kinkaid in Saskatchewan.
While they were in Canada they received the news from their daughter Violet that she had become engaged to be married to Arthur Wood of Berwick, an old friend of their son John.
They left Montreal on October 14, 1923, arriving in Glasgow a few days later and were back in Berwick in time for the wedding. Some time after they returned to Berwick they moved to Whitadder School where they lived until at least 1927 as there is a rare dated snapshot showing them there.
John and Mary Cameron July 1927. Taken at The School House Whitadder, Berwick-on-Tweed
A birthday card sent to their son Donald in November 1930 is postmarked Creaton, Northamptonshire, so it seems likely that they had moved from Berwick sometime between that date and the photo above. (But, the picture on the card is one of the Berwick lighthouse and pier during an easterly gale rather than a Northampton scene.) They spent the rest of their lives at Hollowell Grange, the home of their daughter Violet, her husband Arthur Wood (1885-1956) and son William Wood (1924-2006). Mary died in June 1940. Both John and Mary Cameron are buried in the cemetery at Creaton, as are the Woods.
From the newspaper “The Berwick Advertiser” of March 24, 1932:
“DEATH OF MR JOHN CAMERON
OVER 50 YEARS’ CONNECTION WITH BERWICK
The death took place at the age of 86 on Sunday of Mr John Cameron, Veterinary Surgeon, who spent over 50 years of his life in Berwick. Mr Cameron retired from practice in 1921 and for some time now has been resident at Hollowell Grange, Creaton, Northamptonshire, with his daughter and her husband, Mr and Mrs A.R.Wood. He has been in failing health for some months.
A native of Aberdeenshire, Mr Cameron came to Berwick in the early seventies to take up the veterinary surgeon’s practice held by the late Mr T. Hogarth, father of Messrs George, W.T.and John Hogarth, Berwick. He was quite a young man, fresh from college. That was in the days when riding on horseback was the only means of getting about the district, and Mr Cameron was early and late in the saddle in response to calls for his services. For a long number of years he was a regular rider on horseback at the annual ceremony in Berwick of the Riding of the Bounds on 1st May. He rode the Bounds for the first time in 1870 and was seldom absent after that.
When the sheep disease “Scrapie” was rather prevalent on the Borders, Mr Cameron wrote several papers on the subject which were very helpful in combating the disease.
Mr Cameron retired from his practice in 1921 when he also gave up his appointment as Veterinary Officer to Berwick Town Council, being succeeded by Mr A.B.Kerr, now Veterinary Inspector to the West Riding County Council in Yorkshire.
In 1922 Mr Cameron, at the age of 76 went out to Canada on a visit to his son and daughter, and returning to Berwick, he lived for some time at Whitadder Schoolhouse. He is survived by a widow, a son and two daughters. The son, Mr Donald Cameron, is a farmer in Manitoba, Canada.
The younger son, Captain John Cameron, M.R.C.V.S. died in 1920 of blackwater fever at Lumbwa, British East Africa. For some years he assisted his father, and during the War he served as a Veterinary Surgeon to an artillery unit in the East. In 1919 he took up an appointment in British East Africa.
The eldest daughter of Mr and Mrs Cameron married Mr J.E. Millar, Hide Hill, Berwick, and she died last year. The second daughter is married to the Rev. J.F. Sellar, B.A., St. Margaret’s Hope, Orkney, and they were for a time in Canada. The youngest daughter is married to Mr A.R.Wood, farmer at Hollowell Grange, Northampton, and the youngest son of Mrs Wood, Highcliffe, Berwick, and a brother of Mr J.R. Wood, Castle Heaton, Cornhill.
Mr Cameron is being buried at Creaton, Northampton.”
Note: If you Google the addresses mentioned and look at “street view” you will be able to see that some of the buildings where the family lived still exist. e.g. 11 Bridge Street in Berwick-on-Tweed, Northumberland, and 13 Market Square, Inverurie, Aberdeenshire. When I visited Berwick in 1999 the Bridge Street address was a real estate office and it still looks to be that. There is an apartment on the second floor which may be where the family lived, with the veterinary office on the main level, but I cannot be quite sure about that.
THE FIVE CAMERON CHILDREN
The amount of information that could be located about each of the five children in the family, all born in Berwick-upon-Tweed, is limited but below is what I have found or deduced:
MARY ANN CAMERON (1874-1931).
Mary Cameron is in the group pictures above but my third cousin Rod Cameron also had this small photo of her with an unnamed, but obviously favourite pet, so I have copied it, with thanks, from his website. rodcameron.co.uk
Mary Ann, the eldest child, named after both her mother and her maternal grandmother, seems to have been an adventurous woman who wanted to travel and did so on her own, unusual for women at that time. My mother, Sarah Cameron, told me that Mary had visited the family at Woodnorth and that she was a favourite with my grandmother. From postcards sent to the family I knew that her visit was when Duncan (1909-1977) and Sarah (1910-1992) were just toddlers but I did not know how she afforded such a trip. It did not seem likely that her parents had funded her.
Searching the passenger lists to and from the United Kingdom and Canada for “Mary Cameron” revealed that a lot of women by that name had travelled back and forth between the two countries. Eventually, I found one that looked right. Mary Cameron, age 35, arrived in Quebec on July 3, 1910, on the ship Southwark. Her destination was Winnipeg, her occupation “domestic”. This was the correct age for our Mary and fitted with information given to me by our second cousin Jon Wood in 2006. He had an old snapshot of Mary Cameron in Winnipeg. One of the others in the photo was identified as a Judge. Probably, Mary had travelled to Manitoba to work at his home and while there she was able to take the train out to Woodnorth to visit her brother Donald and his family. So, it seems that Mary had earned her own money to travel.
She also had the opportunity to visit California, perhaps with the family she worked for, and sent a postcard from Ocean Park, California, postmarked Feb 22, 1912, to “Master Duncan Cameron, Post Office Box 11, Woodnorth, Manitoba, Canada.” It was date stamped as received at Woodnorth on Feb 29, 1912.
“Hope all are well and that it is not so cold now. It is lovely down here. We have been bathing in the ocean several times. Thank mother for sending papers. I will write her soon. Love from M.C.”
Printed on the front of this post card, picturing two men in an orange grove: “Greetings from California. I’ll eat oranges for you and you can throw snow balls for me.” It must have seemed the perfect card to send back to Manitoba in February!
At the same time she sent a very unusual postcard to my mother Sarah Cameron, (1910-1992), pictured here at the farm as a young child.
The post card is in the form of a small leather doll, about seven or eight inches long, with space for the postal address on one side.
Photos courtesy of Brenda Cameron, Virden, Manitoba. Although the words “Post Card” are just visible the name and address must have faded out and were retraced by my mother when she lent the doll to a display for Virden’s centennial celebrations in 1982.
Mary was a kind and thoughtful aunt who knew how pleased and excited two small children would be to receive mail adressed to them personally, from a far-away place.
It seems that she stayed in North America for about three years. From Montreal she sent another card , postmarked June 5, 1913, of the ship she was taking to return to England:
To “Master D.F. Cameron Woodnorth Town Farm, Woodnorth, Manitoba”. “This is my boat, Duncan & I am just on board. Found my room & luggage all right. Got to Montreal this morning at ten. Some day you will be going to the Old Country too. Hope all are well. Love to all from Auntie Mary. 4.6.13. We sail at 2:30 tomorrow morning.”
R.M.S. “Victorian” Allan Line. [R.M.S. stands for Royal Mail Ship – any ship that was under contract from the British Royal Mail to carry mail]
In Ancestry.ca in a listing of passengers arriving in Liverpool, England on the ship “Victorian”on June 13, 1913, I found “May Cameron”, aged 38, occupation, nurse and domestic. If it had not been for finding her post card with the name of her ship and its departure date I would never have been able to sort her out from all the other Mary/ May Camerons travelling in those years!
In the Fall of 1913 she married James Elliot Millar (1870-1941) in Berwick-upon-Tweed. They lived at number 8 Bridge Street, just across from her parents who were at number 11 Bridge Street. James was from Langham in Dumfriesshire, Scotland but had moved to Berwick where he owned and operated a stationery shop with Bookshop & Library on Hide Hill. Below is an advertisement for their store from a copy of the local newspaper, The Berwick Advertiser.
Many books from their shop were sent to the Cameron children at Woodnorth. Even after Mary’s death her husband continued to send calendars to the family at Christmas.
The cause of Mary’s death on Nov 6, 1931 is given as Thromboangiitis obliterans and cerebral thrombosis. Thromboangiitis obliterans is also known as Buerger’s disease. It is defined online at the Mayo clinic website as “a rare disease of the arteries and veins in the arms and legs… your blood vessels become inflamed, swell and can become blocked with blood clots.” It is also referred to as an autoimmune kidney disease and a common cause of kidney failure.
James died in May 1941, survived by several nieces and nephews. The Millars had no children.
They must have enjoyed walking as they were photographed here in the countryside or in a park, complete with walking sticks.
James Elliot Millar (1870-1941) & Mary Cameron Millar (1874-1931)
2) JEANIE THOMPSON CAMERON (1876-1962)
The Camerons’ second child, Jean was born in 1876. With Jean, I encountered the problem, common in genealogy, that not much is recorded about women. While men are in the public sphere and have professions, or serve in public offices, the armed forces, or in community organizations, women often did not have these opportunities.
Looking at the census, in 1881, I found Jeannie T, age 4, at home with her family. In 1891 she was missing from the family group but in 1901, at age 24, she is living with her parents on Bridge Street in Berwick. In 1911, when she was 34, I could not find her. In both cases she may have been visiting family or friends on the day of the census, or she could have been working away from home.
This undated photo of Jean Cameron Sellar (1876-1962) was taken at the studio of “Jas. Dickinson, Dial House, Northumberland Street, Newcastle-on-Tyne. An online source (in Rootsweb) says that the photographer operated at this address from 1885-1900. If that is accurate (and I have not checked further to verify that) it would mean that Jean could be no more than 24 years old, and possibly much younger, when this picture was taken. Newcastle is not very close to Berwick, where there seem to have been lots of photographers, so I wonder if she might have been in Newcastle for work or education.
A friend who noted the unusual hair style in this photo said, “It looks like she had curly hair and has tried straightening it.” Another photo, that I have borrowed from the website of our third cousin, Rod Cameron, rodcameron.co.uk , does show her with very curly hair so it might be that she was trying out a new look. Also from Rod’s site is the photo below of her husband, James Sellar.
In 1919 Jean came out to Saskatchewan to marry a Scot, James Forrester Sellar (1874-1946). James was the son of a Presbyterian Church Minister, John Sellar and his wife Garden (or Gordon or Govaise) Harper, and he too became a Presbyterian Minister.
Passenger lists show that James came to Canada in 1909. In the 1911 Canadian census he was still single and working as a clergyman at the Presbyterian Church in Vonda, Saskatchewan, northeast of Saskatoon. I was not able to locate him in the 1916 or 1921 Canadian census although he is probably there. Thinking that he might have joined the armed forces in Canada or Britain after the War started in 1914, I took a look at some military records, without success. However, I did find his brother, William Harper Sellar, a barrister, who came to Canada in 1912, served in the militia in Calgary, and enlisted in the Canadian army on May 13, 1916, in Edmonton. By the 1921 census William Sellar is back in Calgary working as a lawyer, while James and Jean, according to information on a snapshot taken later that year, are in Dummer.
A photo labelled, “Mrs J.F. Sellar, Dummer, Saskatchewan, Taken at farm house, December 1921”, shows the couple in an open carriage with two horses. James was the Minister at Dummer at that time. They were also, for a time, at Kincaid, Saskatchewan.
Later, they decided to return home to Scotland and on June 20, 1925 they disembarked from the ship Saturnia at Glasgow. James accepted a position at the church in St. Margaret’s Hope, South Ronaldsay, one of the Orkney Islands. They remained there for the rest of their lives.
My father, Wilfred Forsyth, visited them in 1943 and again in September 1945 while he was on leave from the Canadian Army. Below are a couple of postcards he sent to my mother.
“Orkney 6 Sep 45
Dear Sally – Spending today in Kirkwall with your Uncle and Aunt this is the Cathedral. Will tell you all about it soon maybe. Love Forsyth”
When I was first interested in family history I asked Dad to write up what he knew about all sides of the family. This is an excerpt, written in 1977, regarding the Sellars:
“Mrs Wood [Violet Cameron] and Mrs Sellar [Mary Cameron] were products of the Victorian age. They existed for their husbands and families, made that the whole reason for their existence. Both Rev. Sellar and Mr Wood were very strong-willed, self-sufficient sort of men, and the women accepted them as Lord and Master. They were well treated but of secondary importance in the conduct of the family. The Sellars had no children. The Reverend was a tremendous character, one of the most outstanding men I ever met. Aunt Jean was so nice to me. We went up to Kirkwall for a day. The Reverend, who was a large man, marched ahead of her and me. He was like Bill Bones in “Treasure Island”, would take out his handkerchief from time to time, and blow his nose with a loud roar that could be heard a block away. Aunt Jean and I trotted along behind. One time when he had disappeared around a corner, she stopped and gave me a fancy lace handkerchief to give to Sal. The next time we got a break she handed me a five pound note for Sal. She knew that I would spend it more than likely but she was too much of a lady to suggest any such thing, or embarrass me by making me a gift of money. Pretty hard to embarrass me with money.”
James Sellar died suddenly on June 4, 1946 at age 72. On July 22, 1946, Jean, now aged 70, sent the following letter to her niece, my mother, Sarah (Cameron) Forsyth. I have transcribed it but will also scan it to show her handwriting.
“July 22, 1946, The Manse, St.Margaret’s Hope, Orkney, Scotland
My dear Sarah, I hope you won’t be offended at me sending you an old tartan skirt & sash. My idea in doing so is that you might get as much good out of it as fix up a little skirt or something for Patsy. There is always duty to pay on new goods that it makes it not worth while – Cameron tartan of course. You would have my sad news and I am missing my dear husband more and more as time goes on – and still trying to be brave & do the best I can. Hope to go to Edinburgh as soon as possible but hardly think I will go as far as Vi’s at the present time.
I remember when we were in Sask, the people did not like old clothes being sent out from Ontario. However this World War has surely taught us all many lessons – and now world famine. Hope all the crops are promising well in Canada, also that your Mother, Brothers, and Wilf, Patsy & yourself are well. With love, yours Jean T. Sellar
Shall be glad to have news of you sometime.”
[insert scanned letters]
Jean and my mother continued to correspond until Jean died in Orkney in 1962. In a kindly gesture she left my mother a legacy of £100.
3) DONALD DUNCAN CAMERON (1878-1941)
Early days: Donald was the third child and first son born to the Cameron family in Berwick-on-Tweed. The official copy of his birth certificate which I purchased from the General Record Office gives his birth date as November 19, 1878. However, within the family it was always recognized and celebrated as November 18th so perhaps his father, who registered the birth on November 28th, 1878, made an error at the registry office.
I have little information about Donald’s life in Berwick but assume that he took his early education at one of the local schools. Education in England was not free until 1891 so it is likely that Donald and the other Cameron children attended a private school, at least in their younger years. Their education must have included the study of French as both Jean and Violet occasionally used it on postcards that they sent to their brother. They may have done this to make their messages a little more private, hoping the postman did not read French, or even just for fun or practise.
Although his younger brother decided to follow in their father’s footsteps and become a veterinarian, Donald wanted to be a farmer like so many of his ancestors. At the time of the 1901 census he was employed as an apprentice farmer with an Allen family living about fourteen miles from Berwick in the community of Cornhill-on-Tweed. There he met Isabella Brownlees.
Emigration to Canada: In the early twentieth century the Canadian Government was advertising heavily in Britain and other parts of Europe to encourage people to immigrate to Canada to populate the West so that may have been a factor in Donald’s decision to strike out for Canada at the age of 26.
An item he brought with him was a portable writing desk. It looks like the sort of thing his family may have given him in the hopes that he would write to them often and let them know how he was faring.
He left from Glasgow on the ship Sarmatian on March 3, 1905, one of 274 passengers on board, plus crew. Also on board, was his friend John Matthewson who was heading to Virden, Manitoba with his wife Christina (m.s. Johnston) and son Adam. After a stormy voyage they arrived in Halifax on March 18th. On March 21st Donald sent this postcard to his future wife in England to announce his safe arrival.
Donald’s immediate destination was Toronto as he planned to work for about a year in Ontario to get some Canadian farming experience. His wooden steamer trunk with his name and the destination “Toronto” painted on the front is still in the family, in the possession of his grandson, another Donald Cameron. From July 1905 through January 1906, a number of postcards are addressed to Donald Cameron, care of Mr. Arthur Burnett, at Galt, Ontario, who owned the farm where he was getting his Canadian experience and earning some extra money to assist in the purchase of his own farm. By August 1906 his mail was being sent “care of John Matthewson, Esq, Box 538, Virden, Manitoba”.
Marriage: Donald and Isabella may have been engaged before he left England or he may have proposed and been accepted by mail. In any case, on May 25, 1908 she set sail for Canada from Glasgow aboard the Hesperian, with her final destination listed as Virden, Manitoba. It was a large ship with over five hundred passengers. Some 294, like her, travelled in 2nd Cabin while 211 were in Steerage and a much smaller number were in first or “Saloon” class. They arrived in Quebec on June 1st where passengers went through immigration. The boat continued on to Montreal and from there she travelled on to Virden by train.
On June 30, 1908 Donald and Isabella married at Daybreak Church (also known as St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church) at Laggan, about eight miles from Woodnorth, where he had purchased a farm (the northeast quarter of 9/9/27) from H. C. Simpson, a land dealer in Virden.
Marriage Certificate of Donald Duncan Cameron & Isabella Brownlee, June 30, 1908
There was no wedding portrait but the photos below were taken just a few years earlier in England.
The two photos of Isabella Brownlee (1874-1958) were taken at the McGregor studio in Kelso which operated from 1903 until after 1914. Since both photos were taken before she left England in late May 1908 she must be between the ages of 28 and 33 in these pictures. Kelso is a town in southern Scotland about seven miles from her grandparents home at Wark-on-Tweed, England. After her grandfather’s death Isabella lived and worked at Tweedbank House in Kelso which was owned by the Laing family for whom her grandfather had worked. In both these photos she is wearing a gold locket which contains a photo of Donald Cameron.
Family Bible: The newly married couple were presented with a copy of the Holy Bible by the congregation of the St. Andrew’s Church, Daybreak.
Children: This Bible was used to record the births of their five children:
Duncan Fyfe Cameron was born on June 25, 1909. He was named after his mother’s father, Duncan Fyfe (1819-1865).
Sarah Short Cameron was born October 30, 1910, named after her great-grandmother Sarah Short (1824-1902).
Donald Ian Cameron was born on September 4, 1912. The name Donald was the same as his father and great-grandfather while the name Ian may have been a new name to the family although his father had a cousin named Frederic Ion Cameron (1895-1968). Ian is also the Gallic version of the name John, so in that way he was named for his paternal grandfather.
Kenneth Brownlee Cameron was born September 14, 1914. Brownlee was his mother’s maiden name but there do not seem to be any other relatives named Kenneth.
Leonard Allan Cameron was born January 26, 1917 and may have been named for his mother’s brother Leonard Allan Brownlee (1884-1944) or his mother’s uncle Leonard Allan (1849-1903), or both.
There is a photo studio portrait of the three oldest children, probably taken in 1913 or the first part of 1914 but there is no portrait of all five children. World War One started in August 1914 and continued until November 1918. Perhaps the war, combined with the difficulty of getting five small children, dressed in their best, travelling by horse and buggy over fourteen miles of rough country roads, to the photo studio in Virden was just too much effort and expense.
Family Visits to Woodnorth: The couple enjoyed visits on the farm from Donald’s sister Mary Cameron while she was working in Canada from 1910-1913 and from his parents. John and Mary Cameron left Glasgow in May 1922 on the ship Cassandra and visited in Canada until October 1923, spending time at Woodnorth and with their daughter and son-in-law Jean and James Sellar, in Saskatchewan.
Uncle Ken was only eight or nine years old when his grandparents visited. Although his brother Len was two years younger they were both red-heads and must have been almost the same size because he told me that his grandmother could only tell them apart by their clothing. One had a shirt with a pattern of sail boats while the other had a shirt with a pattern of anchors.
On his return to Berwick-on-Tweed John Cameron (1845-1932) was interviewed by the local newspaper about farming life in Canada and he gave an extensive report of his opinions on the topic.
“The Berwick Advertiser November 2, 1923
Mr John Cameron, V.S., Gives His Impressions of Canada
Mr John Cameron, V.S. who has returned to Berwick after having spent some time in Canada, has given us a few notes on his impressions of Canada, which should be of interest to readers. Mr Cameron, however, does not speak of the industrial districts which in common with other areas in Europe have had the unemployment problems to face.
My main impression of Canada, said Mr Cameron, is its size and great variety. It is a very big place. Ontario is not very different from here. The climate, judging from the condition of the grass and flowers, is very much like the old country, and the style of agriculture is also much the same, but when you go to the Middle provinces you are in a different world altogether. To begin with, to a certain extent they do have four seasons in the year, but the Spring and the fall of the year are two short periods, very nice in their way, because they are very different from the other two main periods of the year. The summer is very hot, but nothing to distress one if it were not for the mosquitoes, but they do annoy you very much and they punish you very much. One of the doctors this past summer, who had come 20 miles to attend a patient, who had got bitten so much that his system was poisoned, said that he had a number of cases in hand at that moment which were exactly the same. I forget the exact date, but when I was in Saskatoon I bought a piece of mica, such as they use for windows in motor cars, with the idea of replacing the gauze cloth I had for keeping out the mosquitoes. But when I got back the mosquitoes were away. They seemed to have vanished as quickly as they came. After that we had no bother with them, and up till the middle of October, when we came away, the weather was delightful.
LATE FROST PREVENTS SOWING.
One drawback to the climate in Canada is that there are sometimes late frosts in the Spring which practically prevents them from seeding Indian corn as soon as it should be sown, and potatoes also get frosted. When the Autumn goes there is a constant danger of narrow stripes of country being disastrously affected by hailstorms which you never can be sure of avoiding.
When you come to the Autumn you get sometimes very severe frost snaps. If a pail of water is left outside the house at night, in the morning the ice in the centre of the pail will be at least three-eights of an inch thick. In one night potatoes, tomatoes, Indian corn, and sunflowers are all doubled up. There may be only this one night’s frost, but it has done its work, and you may have a long spell of good weather after that. The year before the weather was beautiful, and then in one night you had hard frost, which never let go its grip till the middle of January. There was a thaw for a day and a good bit of snow, and the next day after that everything was covered with solid ice which held till late in the Spring.
OUR WINTERS NOTHING LIKE CANADA’S
Some of us can remember a severe Winter in this country some forty years ago. After my experience of that I thought I would be able to stand even a Canadian winter, but all my experiences in this country vanished into nothing when I got up against 15 to 30 degrees below zero.
From the 1st of January to the 31st of December there is one thing that there is no doubt about in Canada, and that it that it enjoys a wonderful quantity of beautiful sunshine. The sunsets every evening, night after night, are something wonderful to behold. But on the other hand the rainfall for the 12 months is too little, and when you get it you often get too much at one time, and then long periods of nothing but sunshine. You get any amount of wind, and very trying winds too. There violent winds with great drying powers leave vegetation and everything else in a very unsatisfactory condition. You don’t get anything like the quantity of growth in wheat or anything else that you would get if the moisture were more evenly distributed.
DEEP CULTIVATION IS NOT PRACTICED
The farmers in the Middle provinces make every effort when they are ploughing and cultivation the ground to have as much of it turned over and made “black” in a day’s time as possible. They do little or nothing in the way of deep cultivation which would provide a reservoir to retain the larger portion of this moisture for use throughout the summer. Thus they do not get anything like the return per acre that they ought to get.
The quantity of snow that falls is comparatively little. It holds in the stubble that is not ploughed and in the uncultivated prairie, but the wind blows the “black” land bare, and it lies bare all winter, and the frost gets down into it, and many tons of black soil are blown away from the cultivated land on to the roadside and the prairies where it remains.
WOULD NOT ADVISE THE SUCCESSFUL FARMER TO GO TO CANADA
I would not advise the man who’s got a good farm here, said Mr Cameron, and can pay his way, especially if he is getting up in years, to go out there. The tiller or the ploughman in a good job here I also would not advise to go to Canada, unless he had got a good deal of money. There is any number of farmers there who have been on the same farm for years – nominally it is their farm, but it is encumbered with such a large amount of borrowed money that they have not been able to redeem, that the interest is a heavy burden, and if the interest is not paid every year it is raised 10 per cent. The stores which supply them with provisions and everything else they need, get to know the man’s position and they stop his credit, with the inevitable result. This is demonstrated in a vast number of cases, as anybody can see from the derelict small holdings and small farm premises which settlers have left behind them, and the fields which they once cultivated now grow only noxious weeds. All because they had two or three bad years in succession which so crippled them that they could not pay up their interest. The moneylenders in many cases are driving the land out of cultivation. Also the farmer when he is behind with his interest cannot see his way to employ the hired labour that he needs to get the best out of his land. The farmer’s wife again has to work as she never worked in all her life before. She has all the household cares on her shoulders, as well as the poultry, pigs, etc., and unless her family is sufficiently grown up to help her she has a very hard time.
On the other hand, said Mr Cameron, I would advise the ploughman out of work to go to Canada. There is plenty of work there, and if he is prepared to work hard and is not afraid to rough it he will do well. He will get plenty of good food – the same as the farmer himself – but it is not a case as in England of attending to only two horses. I once saw a two-horse plough standing still near an agricultural college in the province of Ontario, and when I was coming I did see a man ploughing with a two-horse plough. These are the only occasions that I ever saw a one-furrow plough. They never use less than two-or-three furrow ploughs in Canada, and never less than four horses. Five and six horses are quite common, though I have never seen more than six. One man has to look after all these horses. The ploughman going out from England has to accustom himself to these conditions, but of course in Canada he does not have to plough the same depth. If he had to do that it would be a difficult matter.”
How does the interview above relate to the Cameron Family in Woodnorth?Although no specific mention is made of his son’s family and their circumstances it seems likely that some of the difficulties John Cameron mentions in this newspaper report are ones that Donald’s family were experiencing on their farm at Woodnorth. But, we have no diaries or letters written by Donald or Isabella to indicate their thoughts and feelings about life on the Canadian prairie. I think it must have been a shock for them both, compared to their life in England, on prosperous farms or in well-established towns and villages, surrounded by an extensive network of family connections – brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, parents – to be completely on their own to establish a farm and raise five children in a place fourteen miles from the nearest town – Virden. Woodnorth in those early days had almost no services. A store operated out of a boxcar in about 1906 with a building including a post office coming in about 1910. Both a school and a Methodist church opened in 1910.
The treeless prairie is evident in the picture below which shows the Cameron farm house and my mother Sarah Cameron feeding chickens in the back yard. She was born in 1910 so this picture was probably taken about 1916-1920. There are not many photos of the family from this time so I don’t know who may have taken the picture.
Donald was never able to make a return visit to England and Scotland but Isabella, thanks to a legacy from her sister Sarah Jane Brownlees (1873-1931), made one trip back. After twenty-five years in Canada she was able, in November 1933, to travel to London where she probably visited her brother Tom but then went north to spend most of her visit in Scotland. She stayed with her aunt Sarah Allan (1858-1941) at 15 Leet Street in Coldstream. She still had other aunts and many cousins in the towns and farms nearby, and in Edinburgh. She also had three brothers in the Newcastle/Gateshead area. After a visit of five months she sailed from Glasgow arriving back in Canada on May 1, 1934.
The couple continued to farm at Woodnorth, participating in the life of the community and raising their children until Donald’s sudden death from a heart attack in April 1941.
Obituary from The Virden Empire Advance, Virden, Manitoba, of April 23, 1941.
Woodnorth Community Suffers Loss By Death of Donald Duncan Cameron
“In the midst of life we are in death”, was brought home in a sad and forceful manner when relatives and friends learned of the sudden death of Donald Duncan Cameron, prominent in all worthwhile activities and held in highest respect, who passed away with tragic suddenness on Friday, April 18th. He was at his farm home, engaged as usual, when he collapsed as a result of a heart attack, and died almost at once.
Mr. Cameron was born at Berwick-on-Tweed, Scotland, [actually it is in England] November 18, 1877 [actually 1878]. He came to Canada in March, 1905, locating at Galt, Ontario, where he remained for a year before coming to Woodnorth to engage in farming and create a home.
A fellow citizen, referring to Mr. Cameron’s death, says: “Our district has lost one of its most active citizens. A man who took his citizenship seriously and worked diligently for the furtherance of all good causes that affected the district.”
He leaves behind a record of community service that will not soon be forgotten. His life and service shows the sincerity of purpose which dominated all his activities. In the home he was a good husband and father and in the community he was esteemed as a good neighbour and friend.
Mr. Cameron has an unbroken record as a trustee of Woodnorth School District since 1910, most of that period serving as secretary-treasurer and later as chairman of the board up to the time of his death. It was largely die to his influence and efforts that Woodnorth has one of the finest and best-equipped three-roomed schools in the Virden inspectorate.
He was a charter member of the Woodnorth Rink Co., and thoroughly enjoyed curling during the winter months. It is said by a friend that “no greater enthusiast ever threw a rock”.
He was one of the first shareholders of Woodnorth Pool Elevator and served as a director from the first. He was also a charter member of the Woodnorth-Cromer St. Andrews Society. In fact he was associated with all organizations whose objects were to help make the community a happier place to live in.
While he will be missed in his various public activities, his passing will be felt most in the home and among those with whom he was most closely associated.
Besides his wife he is survived by one daughter, Mrs. Wilfred Forsyth, Barrie, Ont., and four sons, Duncan Cameron, assistant principal of Elkhorn school; Donald Ian, grain agent, living at home; Kenneth and Leonard, both at home; also by two sisters, Mrs Rev. J. S. Sellars of Orkney Islands; Mrs. A. W. Wood, Creaton, England, and an aunt, Miss Anne Cameron of Aberdeen, Scotland.
To all these bereaved the deep sympathy of everyone in the community is extended.
The funeral took place Sunday afternoon from Woodnorth Church, where Rev. W. A. Osborne, minister of St.Paul’s United Church, Virden, conducted an impressive and sympathetic service. The church was filled to capacity and many others attended the funeral to pay a last tribute to a friend.
The casket was banked with lovely floral tributes of esteem and sympathy, among them being noticed wreaths and sprays from Woodnorth-Cromer St. Andrew’s Society, Woodnorth W.A., Woodnorth Pool Elevator, Woodnorth M.F.A. and many others from relatives and friends.
The remains were laid to rest in Virden cemetery. The pallbearers were Messrs. G. A. Mooney, John Matthewson, Donald Munro, Chas. Ritchie, Jas G. Cochrane and J.P. Richardson.
Letter of April 23, 1941 from Donald Ian Cameron (1912-1998) to his sister and brother-in-law, Sarah & Wilf Forsyth, re the Death of his father, Donald Duncan Cameron (1878-1941)
My parents were living in Ontario, Dad in the Canadian Army at Camp Borden and Mum over seven months pregnant, when Mum’s Dad died so they were not able to come home for the funeral.
Ian wrote this letter to tell them all about the death and funeral. Ian had such lovely handwriting that I plan to scan his letter when I sort out my scanner problems but have transcribed it below:
“Woodnorth, Man April 23/41
Dear Sarah and Wilf,
Just a line to let you know that the dad is layed away to rest in the Virden Cemetery on Sunday, April 20th. There was a very large crowd out although the day was not very bright a very heavy snow in the early morning the roads were pretty wet.
I guess none of us realized just how sick he was, but it sure makes us feel now that he sure must have been very bad. He was up that morning as usual, helped to milk, fed calves, did the separating, put a sack of potatoes down the cellar. And was back out around the stable doing something. The boys were also at the stable at the same time when he died. Kenneth was with him less than five minutes before. Kenneth had gone into the stable for something and when he came out dad was lying just out in front of the stable granary door. They carried him to the house and put him on the sofa, but he never spoke at all. When J.P. and I got over about 20 minutes later he was just lying on the couch. I could see that there was no sign of life at all. Clingan did not get out until about 1 o’clock, but was not at all surprised to know what had happened as he was fully expecting it sooner or later. But we never seemed to think for one minute that such a thing could happen so you can imagine what a scare we all got. Mother is very much worried, doesn’t look very good. Elizabeth has been here since Sunday night, but she is away home tonight.
Duncan and I went to Virden on Friday and picked out a casket. It was not a very extravagant one, but was the best we thought we could afford. The funeral and everything will be around $200.00. That is less than I thought we could do it for. We also had the body embalmed ($25.00). We bought a plot in the cemetery. It cost $20.00, room for eight, and $5.00 for digging the grave. You will possibly get the Virden Advance before you get this letter and you will see who the pallbearers were and other details of the funeral.
The Rev W.A. Osborne conducted the service. They sang “Rock of Ages”, “The Sands of time are sinking”, and “Thy times are in thy hand”. There was a wreath from us and one from the Woodnorth School and sprays from G Mooney family, Matthewson family, Finlays, Munro’s. Sojecki’s, Shoemakers, Richardsons, Women’s Auxiliary, M.F.A., Woodnorth-Cromer St. Andrew’s Society, Pool Elevator, J.B. Cochrane’s.
The coffin was not opened at the church, just old friends were invited to the house on Sunday. Carscadden came out for the body on Friday afternoon and brought it back on Sat afternoon at 4 o’clock and came out on Sunday at 2:30 with the hearse and took it to the church at 3 o’clock and from there to the Virden Cemetery. We got back home about quarter to six.
Things are not left in very good shape but I guess they could have been worse. I guess I’ll close now. You will be getting a letter from mother some time I expect, but right now she don’t feel much like writing, although she always looks for your letters every week so be sure and write at least once a week even though you don’t get one from her as you know she doesn’t like writing at any time.
I guess Wilf is training severely now. The War sure don’t look good. I’m afraid it’s going to take many more years yet to finish. I am sending you a card. We have sent out 2 dozen that’s what I have been doing tonight. There is not much more news to tell you. Everything is much the same. Murry S. is back in the Elv again since April 1st. Well I guess I close this hoping you will write to mother soon.
As ever, Ian”
This is the funeral card that Ian enclosed with his letter. The age listed is actually one year off. Donald Cameron was born in November 1878 so his age at death was 62 years and five months.
The correct year of 1878 was used on the gravestone. The bill to “Mrs D.D. Cameron, Woodnorth from B.N. Roddy, Virden”, dated November 21, 1945, was “Monument $310.00 plus Foundation $2.50” for a total of $312.50, a pretty substantial sum for those days. It was paid on November 26, 1945. As a point of comparison – Grandma started to receive the Old Age Pension in July 1946 at the rate of $25.00 per month so it would have taken more than a year of her pension to pay for her husband’s gravestone.
Isabella continued to live on the family farm until after WWII. In about 1946 she moved into the village of Woodnorth to live with her daughter and son-in-law, Sarah and Wilfred Forsyth. Toward the end of her life she suffered a stroke and had to move to a nursing home in Souris. She remained there until her death in 1958.
FOR a section devoted to ISABELLA ALLAN BROWNLEES CAMERONand her brothers and sisters click here Grandma’s Family -Isabella Allan Brownlees Cameron (1874-1958)
FOR a section of photographs of Isabella & Donald’s 5 children & 15 grandchildren click here: Cameron Wedding Pictures & others
FOR a section on the village of Woodnorth & the Cameron farm click here: Woodnorth, Manitoba, Canada
4) VIOLET ELIZABETH CAMERON (1881-1970)
Violet, born in early January 1883, was the fourth child in the Cameron family. Unlike her sisters, who seem to have gone travelling or working outside the family home, she is listed with her parents at their Bridge Street address in all four census returns – 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911. At age 20, in the 1901 census, her occupation is listed as dressmaker’s apprentice but in 1911 no occupation is noted.
She appears to have been a keen cyclist as a post card to her mother in July 1903 or 1904 (postmark is not quite legible) states that she and her sister Jean were going to cycle from Yetholm to Morebattle, a distance of six or seven miles, including an ascent of more than 350 metres.
When her parents travelled to Canada in May 1922 to visit her sister Jean and brother Donald she remained in England. In 1923 she became engaged to Arthur Wood, also of Berwick. Her parents arrived back in Berwick in October 1923 just in time for her wedding which took place on Oct 23, at the Wallace Green Presbyterian Church in Berwick. Arthur’s family had a long history in Berwick. The men of the family were entitled to join the hereditary Guild of Freemen of Berwick-upon-Tweed, a group which dates back to the 12th century when Berwick was still a Royal Burgh of Scotland, not a part of England.
Arthur Wood (1885-1956) had been a friend of Violet’s brother John, possibly from school days in Berwick, from service in the Border and Lothian Horse (pre-war militia), or from Veterinary School in Edinburgh which both attended. Arthur, however, did not complete his veterinary studies and struck out for adventure in Argentina in October 1911. His son William told me that he might have remained there but for the outbreak of World War I in 1914 which brought him back home to enlist in the Army. During the War he served as a Corporal in the Army Service Corps in France. He intended to return to Argentina where he had worked as a rancher and was approved for repatriation there, at government expense, in 1919, but for some reason he changed his plans and remained in England.
Arthur Wood became a farmer in England. He and Violet lived for a time at Blackstock Farm, Greenstead, Ongar, Essex. This is where their son William John Wood was born in September 1924. In November that year Mary and John Cameron visited to see their new grandchild. Later the Woods obtained the tenancy of a farm at Creaton in Northamptonshire. Their house there was called Hollowell Grange, a substantial two-storey brick house which is still viewable via Google.
From about 1930 until John Cameron’s death in 1932 and Mary’s in 1940, they lived in Northamptonshire with Violet and her husband.
In about 1951 William Wood (1924-2006) married Hilda Wells. They had two sons, Richard and John. After Arthur’s death in 1956, Violet continued to live at Creaton House in Creaton where they had moved when they retired from farming. Her son and his family lived only a mile and a half away.
Some letters from Violet to my mother have survived so I have included one below as it gives a sense of her personality and her handwriting :
“Creaton House, Creaton, Northampton, Dec 2nd, 1956
Dear Sarah – Altho I have not written you for a long time you are not forgotten. You sent us such a lovely card last Xmas (or I think it was the beginning of this year when I received it.) I kept it on on our sitting room mantlepiece for a long time, and think I still have it.
This has been a very sad year; after leaving the farm – we came here & hoped to have a more restful time – but since before last Xmas Arthur was more or less ill, & got gradually worse & “passed away” in June. Perhaps Jean has already told you – if so pardon the repetition: but it is just ever uppermost in my thoughts. There is a great blank as we just always worked together.
Your two girls – especially Patsy – will be big now – don’t our lives pass quickly. Our little grandson will be five next year (school age). He gave us & still gives us great pleasure.
The world is in a terrible state of unrest – it makes one almost afraid to hear the news & look at the papers. It is to be hoped that another War will be avoided.
I hope Wilfred & you keep well. Have you still got he Store? How is your Mother. I hope she keeps going.
With love & kind thoughts to you all.
Yours lovingly Auntie Violet E. Wood “
My mother corresponded with her aunt Violet until Violet’s death in 1970 with then kept in touch with her son William. In a visit to England in 1990 I met William and Hilda Wood at their home, Standhills, in Northamptonshire.
A candid shot of William and Hilda Wood outside their house in August 1990. On the right is the ladder for their cat Thomas so he could get in and out at the window.
They took me to the cemetery where John and Mary Cameron are buried as well as Violet and Arthur Wood. William noted that his mother did not want her age to be put on her gravestone so he did as she wished. Was this a typical Victorian lady’s wish for privacy about her age?
Hilda died in 1995 but I visited once again with William in 1999, just after my six-week trek on the Camino in Spain. William had kindly agreed to let me mail him some of the items that made my backpack too heavy for walking and I picked them up when I visited.
On a trip to England in 2006, shortly after William’s death, I met their son Jon (a builder and renovator) in Bath, Somerset, but I was not able to meet their older son Richard who was a painter (artist) in the Lake District.
5) JOHN CAMERON (APRIL 7, 1883 – JULY 28, 1920)
John Cameron in 1906
Youth and Education
John, the fifth and youngest child of the Cameron family, was born on April 7, 1883 at Berwick. In the 1891 census he was a scholar, age 7, living at home with his parents. By the 1901 census he was a lodger at 20 Haddington Place in Edinburgh, age 17, a veterinary student.
A notice in the Berwick newspaper in May 1905, presumably from his proud parents, announced that he has passed his third professional examinations. A postcard sent by his sister Jean in July that year is addressed to him, care of A.Spreull, F.R.C.V.S., in Dundee, so he may have done a practicum there over the summer. In May 1906 he graduated from the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. He became a Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (M.R.C.V.S.) like his father. By the time of the 1911 census, when he is 27 years old, he is living with his parents at 11 Bridge Street, and has joined his father’s veterinary practise. Both John and his father were qualified Veterinary Inspectors.
World War I
For some years John was an active member, a Corporal, in “A” Squadron of the Lothian and Border Horse, an Army Reserve or militia whose members had regular full-time civilian jobs but who could be called up if needed. When the War started he immediately applied for a commission in the Army Veterinary Corps. His enlistment information states that he was 5 feet 6 inches tall but gives no other physical details. He was appointed a Lieutenant on September 3, 1914 and promoted to Captain September 3, 1915. He served at home until being sent to Egypt on May 23, 1915. He served in Egypt, Palestine and Syria until being shipped back to England on May 16, 1919. He arrived in the U.K. on May 28, 1919 for three weeks leave.
Peacetime Service in Africa
John had the opportunity to re-join the Army for peacetime service in British East Africa (now Kenya) where there was need for veterinary officers. The appointment was to be for “a tour of not less than 20 months, and not more than 30 months, with the attendant leave”. The salary was attractive at 400 pounds a year with quarters provided free of rent, or an allowance to be given in lieu of quarters. If appointed to the permanent staff after this period the salary would rise in annual increments to 500 pounds a year.
He was sent to Africa after a truncated period of leave in the U.K. to see his family and friends. He served in B.E.A. for about fifteen months until his unexpected death from Black water fever on July 28, 1920.
It was a great shock to his parents to receive the news that their son had died suddenly of black water fever. The Colonial Office followed up with a letter detailing his fatal illness and death:
Captain John Cameron veterinary officer, died at Lumbwa B.E.A. of Black water fever 28th, July 1920.
First contracted malaria in Palestine on active service. Servants of the patient state that he often suffered from fever for which he used to treat himself and lie up for a day or two. He had recently been at Mumiss on duty, a place with a bad history of black water. His servants state that he did not use a mosquito-net while he was at Mumiss.
History and treatment his last illness:
Mr. Cameron first felt unwell when at Fort Seman on July 23rd. He had no dinner that night. He got back to Lumbwa on Sat July 24th and took to bed. He took no food but drank copiously of water. He was conscious and able to give orders. On Sunday 25th morning he was slightly better and had a bath and dressed himself. He had breakfast consisting of porridge and tea. He went back to bed at 12 noon and was delirious had no food but only water.
Stock inspector Woods called on him on Sunday evening but found him asleep so did not think anything was wrong. He called again on Monday morning, 26th and found him not quite conscious and owing to his yellow colour and general condition suspected Black water fever and wired for Dr. DeBoer at Kisumu. He however started treatment giving the patient barley-water, soda and milk and champagne. He also wired for the sub-assistant surgeon at Kericho who arrived that evening. Dr. DeBoer arrived on Monday night and found the patient semi-conscious. A specimen of urine contained blood. The patient was being treated on proper lines being given as much fluid as possible.
On Examination: – skin somewhat yellowish. Lungs clear. Heart normal. Abdomen nothing abnormal. Temp 100. Pulse 115. Treated with intravenous infusion of saline about 2/3 pint. All through the night the patient was given as much fluid as he could take. In the early morning 27th patient seemed to be better and slightly less delirious. He got worse at 11 a.m. and became less conscious.Temp 101. Pulse 120; after this there was suppression of urine. He was given subcutaneous saline infusion and sips of champagne and barley-water. Towards evening became quite unconscious. Respiration laboured; he could take no fluid by the mouth and was given intravenous saline. Jaundice more marked. Towards morning he was given 1/50 gr. Strychnine hypodermically. Patient died 9 a.m. July 28th. No Post Mortem. Burial took place at Kisumu. (compiled from report by Dr. DeBoer and also principal medical officer C.L. Chevallier)
I am directed by Viscount Milner to transmit to you the above copy of report which has recently arrived from B.E.A. on the death of your son Captain J. Cameron. The governor of Kenya states that the interment took place at the cemetery at Kisumu at 10 a.m. on the 29th of July, service conducted by Rev J. Britton church missionary society. A number of members of the European community at Kisumu, including numerous brother officers of the deceased were present at the grave side.
• In the Deaths section of the Berwick newspaper: CAMERON – At Lumbwa, British East Africa on 28th July, of blackwater fever, Capt. John Cameron, M.R.C.V.S., beloved younger son of John Cameron, M.R.C.V.S. and Mrs Cameron, Berwick-on-Tweed.
• In the August 21, 1920 issue of The Veterinary Record, the weekly scientific journal to which most members of the British Veterinary Society subscribed:
Captain J. Cameron late R.A.V.C. [Royal Army Veterinary Corps], Veterinary Officer, British East Africa. Graduated Edin: May 1906. Captain Cameron who was the son of Mr. J. Cameron M.R.C.V.S., Berwick-on-Tweed, died of Blackwater fever on 28th July. He was in practice with his father at Berwick. A keen yeoman, he trained regularly with the Lothian and Border Horse, with which he mobilized in 1914. A month later he was granted a commission in the Army Veterinary Corps and did four years service with the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. He commanded the Convalescent Horse Depot for two years, and thereafter was D.A.D.V.S. of a Cavalry Division. He was twice ‘Mentioned in Dispatches’. Captain Cameron joined the Veterinary Staff of the East African Protectorate 15 months ago and has been supervising veterinary duties in Lumbwa district.
• In the Berwick Advertiser of August 6, 1920, the following article:
“SAD DEATH OF CAPT JOHN CAMERON ” Succumbed to Blackwater Fever – The sad news reached Berwick on Saturday of the death at Lumbwa, British East Africa on July 28th, of blackwater fever, of Capt John Cameron M.R.C.V.S. the younger son of Mr & Mrs John Cameron, Bridge St, Berwick. Sincerest expression of sympathy will be expressed on all hands with Mr & Mrs Cameron & family in their sudden shock of bereavement.
Educated at Berwick Grammar School, Jack Cameron proceeded to the Veterinary College at Edinburgh to qualify as a veterinary surgeon. For some time he assisted his father in Berwick and from the time of leaving the college up to proclamation of war, he put in his annual training with the Lothians and Border Horse.
The day after war was proclaimed he joined up and assisted one of the regimental officers in purchasing horses for the regiment. After a few weeks he got his commission as Veterinary Surgeon to an artillery unit, then at the New Barracks Edinburgh. He was there until the day before the Gretna railway disaster, being an hour in advance of that fatal train on transit for the Dardanelles.
From there he went to Abakir and then to a veterinary hospital in Alexandria. Later he went to a veterinary hospital in Cairo, when he was second of a staff of four and had charge of the surgical ward. His next move was to Maadi, where he had full charge of the Convalescent Depot of 1,400 or more animals and over 50 attendants, British & native.
Again a change was ordered, this time to the battle field, soon after Jerusalem was taken. After Palestine was cleared up to proceed to Syria and after the special unrest in Egypt was modified he got leave home for the first time, arriving in Berwick on June 1, 1919. Ten days later he was summoned to the War Office, who gave him leave and sent him to the Colonial Office, who were in urgent need of veterinary officers for British East Africa, and wished him to sail very soon. He had a very short holiday and left in the same boat as General Botha and 500 returned South African soldiers went home in.
He had then about 12 months service in British East Africa, when, according to letters received from him a few days ago he passed in review his experience of excellent health and active interesting and pleasant veterinary service. Then on the 30th came the lightning stroke of his death amidst hopeful, pleasant plans for the future.
During his period of service, Captain Cameron was mentioned in dispatches by General Sir A J Murray in 1917 and again later in Lord Allenby’s dispatches.
An incident showing the kindness of heart and good qualities of Captain Cameron is related by a Berwick man (now the Berwick postmaster) who also saw service in the East during the war. In hospital in Cairo, with a badly wounded arm and in critical condition, Gunner Robert Campbell was told by one of the Sisters, a North Berwick lady, that another Berwick man was in the neighbourhood and sending word to Captain Cameron who at that time was stationed about 30 miles out of Cairo, the Sister told him of Campbell. Captain Cameron rode into Cairo to visit the wounded man, who he stated that from that day onward he took fresh heart and began to recover. Each week for months Captain Cameron rode into Cairo to visit Campbell and renew an acquaintance formed when the latter was driving on the Hutton, and had valued the services of Captain Cameron, as a veterinary surgeon. Gifts of invalid dainties were also sent up and kindly letters written to Mrs Campbell in Berwick. Other local fellows stationed in and around Cairo were also told, and eagerly did the invalid look forward to their cheering visits. Curiously enough, one of the doctors in the hospital was also a Berwick man, Dr J Inglis, elder son of the Rev R Inglis of Chapel St Church. While in Cairo neighbourhood, Captain Cameron attended the funeral of the late Captain Andrew McCreath of Wellington Terrace, Berwick.”
After John’s death:
An envelope from England, addressed to Donald Cameron, edged in black as was the custom at that time when sending news of a death, arrived at Woodnorth. Uncle Ken noted that his mother immediately carried the envelope out to the field where his father was working. Probably, they assumed that the news would be about one of Donald’s parents as both were in their seventies, so it must have been a terrific shock when he opened the letter and read of his 37-year old brother’s death.
When I visited William Wood (son of Violet Cameron) in England in 1990 I asked him to tell me some of the things he knew about the Cameron family. One thing he mentioned was that, at the time of his death, John Cameron had been engaged to be married to a nurse from South Africa whom he met in Egypt during the War. It seemed likely that he would have stayed on in Africa where there may have been more opportunities than in the United Kingdom in the 1920s.
In a sad coincidence, John’s first cousin, Otto Edler Cameron (1883-1920), who was born the same year as John, died in Hankow, China on August 1, 1920, only four days after John died. Both cousins were taking advantage of the opportunities offered by the British Empire but both suffered early deaths due to the unexpected perils that came with those opportunities. Otto was the son of William Cameron (1853-1923), younger brother of John Cameron (1845-1932). Although his family lived in London, Otto did visit his cousins in Berwick on Tweed and it seems that the children of the two families maintained contact throughout their lives.
In a visit to the National Archives at Kew, London, in 2008 I obtained a copy of John Cameron’s military records which contain a great deal of detail about his service at various places in Egypt and Syria (Alexandria, Cairo, Maadi, Abbassia, Port Said, Beirut, Haifa, etc.) and various letters. Of special interest are two letters written by John Cameron, Senior, who was attempting to get some reparation for his son’s possessions which were lost in a ship’s fire while being transported from Egypt to British East Africa. Although they are rather long I am including them because they give such insight into John Cameron (Senior)’s personality and to the impact their son’s death had on his parents. The first letter I photographed from the file but the second one I transcribed.
Letter of August 1, 1920 from John Cameron, Senior, to the Colonial Office in London
Letter of July 28th, 1921 from John Cameron, Senior to the Colonial Office in London
“11 Bridge Street, Berwick-on-Tweed, July 28th, 1921.
To The Colonial Office and The War Office, London
Although it is almost a year since we got the sad intimation that our son Captain John Cameron, M.R.C.V.S., Lumbwa British East Africa, had just died there from Blackwater Fever, we still feel the shock and other effects very very keenly. I am very sorry to trouble with this rather long letter, but it is real necessity and I hope you will favour us by reading it and giving us your sympathetic help.
My son was a member of the Lothian and Border Horse when war was declared and joined up the next day. He was on home duty until the day in 1915 when the terrible railway disaster to a troop train took place at “Gretna”. He was then on his way to the Dardanelles and then to Egypt. He was never on the sick list all the time. He was off duty for a day on three separate occasions in Egypt. The third time he was suspicious of Malaria and had blood examined and found it was so. Of course, he was on quinine treatment at once and only had some slight turns of the trouble after that, that I ever heard of. In a letter he sent us a few days before we got notice of his death, he said he had had good health since he left us last year and did not regret going to British East Africa. He was never home on leave from the time he left until summer (1919). On his way home he left most of his belongings in Egypt, to be handy when he returned to duty in Syria. When he arrived here June 1st 1919, I asked how long leave he had got? He said he did not know. He was told it might not be very long. On the 6th I went to see my relatives at Aberdeen and have a little change. I was away a week and on return was astonished to hear that John had just arrived home from London from the War Office and then from the Colonial Office, and was expected to be ready to sail from Southampton on the 28th (the ship General Botha and others went home in). Of course, he wanted 2 or 3 days in London before sailing. This was all new and very different from what I expected. The length of leave was unreasonable to begin with. I was told that after two years in British East Africa, he would get leave home and much longer time and would get married then, also that the agreement was only binding for 2 years. In 1915 I had to undergo a serious internal abdominal operation in Edinburgh, but had got over it very well, so I thought well I will perhaps be able to hold on to duty 2 years longer and my son would see and learn other items of Veterinary experience in British East Africa, which would be a benefit to him. So I made no objection. Near the end of 1919 I chanced to meet Mr. Carter Veterinary Officer British East Africa (whom my son relieved at Lumbwa), and from converse with him and from the tone of John’s letters I was beginning to think he would decide to make British East Africa a permanent situation. I then looked at it from another point of view. I have been over 50 years in practice here and with food and raiment I have had to be content. The income never gave any opportunity to make provision for old age, so I was beginning to think that if John could get more income in British East Africa than in practice at home then he would perhaps be able to spare a little to help us in the last years of our life.
Then about this time last year the terrible stroke came and so sudden. Well we have done all we could for the Nation and the Colonies and what is the finish up? The Colonial Office wants me to believe that some person in Egypt forwarded John’s belongings and said or did nothing in the way of them being insured against loss in transit. No person would expect the owners of the Berwick Castle ship to say they were insured and we will pay for them. I have not yet been able to find out who the person was in Egypt who gave them to the Berwick Castle, and to find out if he really was so thoughtless as to send them away without insurance. And now we are wanted to believe that all that and the loss of his belongings are nothing to the Colonial Office. Surely any person would decide that the War Office and the Colonial Office were responsible for my son’s effects which were left in Egypt according to ordinary procedure. Had we been able to bear the loss I would not have said a word, but when you have served the Nation faithfully for 76 years and then get treatmen like this – how would you like it? I have always had great faith in our Colonial possessions and I shall try and not let this sad experience warp my better judgement, but I shall hope and expect that the Colonial Office will make good this loss. It will only be a small decimal fraction compared with our loss. I don’t want to have any reason to say to any one that besides the irreparable loss of our son whom we were depending on to help us in our old age; we even lost a lot of his belongings in trying to help and accommodate the Nation, and got no redress compared with vast numbers who have made money by the War – what contrast. It is very unpleasant to write all this, very sorry necessity compels me to do so. I hope you will forgive me and help us all you can and we will be very thankful.
I am glad to say that we have 3 items which are a comfort to us in our great sorrow viz: Two big cards from the War Office certifying that he had been mentioned in despatches – No.1 by General Sir A.J. Murray – when on duty in Egypt, No.2 by General Sir E.H.H. Allenby, for duty in Palestine and Syria. No. 3 a most beautiful letter from the Acting Chief Veterinary Officer Nairobi expressing appreciation of his services rendered in British East Africa and sympathy to us in our great loss.
Yes and we feel very grateful to the Colonial Office for their expressions of sympathy sent us.
Notwithstanding all these the loss is very hard to bear especially when you have no pecuniary resources to bear you up in old age. AgainI say forgive me taking up your time. I hope you will be able to get us this little help and we will be very thankful.
I am etc.
(Sgd) John Cameron M.R.C.V.S.
It does not appear that any compensation was granted to the family by the Colonial Office or the War Office for John’s belongings which he had valued at £118 (which was more than a quarter of his annual salary in British East Africa). He died without a will. Letters of Administration were granted to his sister Violet Cameron. His estate was valued at £1430. I think that the law governing intestacy at that time would have meant that most or all of this would go to his parents. What happened to his fiancée, and even her name, is not in any letters or documents that I have found, although I think that William Wood said her first name was Lorna. However, I cannot find any notes that I made at the time confirming this. Perhaps someone else knows?