James and Janet

                                               (30 October 1777-30 January 1827)                 (21 July 1777-1851<)

    David         Alexander        Janet         James          Isabella         James        Alexander          Janet

    (1800-1875)         (1802-<1812)         (1804-<1812)     (1808-<1812)          (1811-<1812)       (1813-1881<)          (1816-1887)              (1819-1897)

James was named for a James Cable rather than for an ancestor. It is likely this was master mariner, James Cable, because James' sister, Margaret, was named for her maternal grandmother, Margaret Webster, and Margaret Myles, wife of James Cable, shipmaster. James Cable was a mariner of some renown and may have sponsored Alexander Anderson when the latter applied for master mariner status towards the end of the C18th. I say 'may' because I did read this in an official record which I now can't find.

James (CR) and Janet Lownie (CR) married on 22 December 1799. Janet was from Kilmany, Fife, where her parents, David Lonie/

Lownie and Isabel Couts had married on 4 January 1772. James and Janet had eight children but I was unaware of that before discovering that in 1812 he had erected a headstone in the Old Howff graveyard, Dundee, in memory of four children who didn’t survive their infancy. They were Alexander, Janet, James and Isabella. This was the same year his father, Alex, dedicated the headstone to Isobel and some of their children. Perhaps Isobel's death triggered a need for commemoration in both Alex and James.


Birth records of the time made provision for recording who a child was named for.

Because I hadn’t gone to the original source (one of the first things drummed into the first year psychology student that I was several lifetimes ago: always go to the original), I accepted the information about Janet Lownie’s parentage on the CR site was correct – that it isn’t is another good reason to doubt that register’s authenticity. The birth record of James and Janet's firstborn, David, makes it clear he is named after his maternal grandfather, not the Alexander Lownie CR offers. The children born after 1812 were named for the family members for whom their earlier siblings had been named, not the siblings themselves. That is, James for his father, Alexander for his paternal grandfather and Janet for her mother. Isabella had been named for her maternal grandmother, Isabel.

James père was a wright (a joiner or carpenter) and house builder in Dundee. It

seems he was very good at his trade because the records show he was a man of wealth. A register of assessments for poor support levied on well-off Dundee residents has his annual contribution at £1/5/- the year he died, significantly higher than many other wrights (e.g., 3/-, 9/-, 18/-) and on a par with that of merchants, professionals, and brewers. His estate continued to contribute a similar amount over at least the decade after his death from consumption in 1827. (“Consumption” was likely to be tuberculosis however could also be other conditions that “consumed” the body, such as cancer.) We know he was buried in Dundee's Howff graveyard but there is no headstone to mark the spot. This rather desolate space corresponds to where his remains may be, according to records of the Howff's interments.


The twenty handwritten pages of James' will (above right) are difficult to read. So much so that I commissioned their transcription which confirms James' estate to be substantial. To put the will in context, Scotland's inheritance law was quite rigid until the second half of the C20th. It was based on rules of primogeniture whereby the eldest son is the principal beneficiary. James' preference was to decide for himself how estate was distributed and to this end he created a trust disposition and settlement in which was specified who would receive what from his estate. This meant he legally owned nothing when he died so sidestepping the rigid legal inheritance framework.

In essence, the trustees were instructed to provide Janet with an annuity of £70 plus expenses at a time when the average annual

wage was around £11 and the elderly poor were allocated £4-6 for the year. After a lifetime of child bearing, raising and grieving, this seems a just reward. The children were left shares and any income left over after their mother’s annuity was paid each year was to be distributed among them. Given that eldest son, David, was a trustee (as was Janet, to be fair), this provided a certain motivation, over and above filial affection, to ensure wise investment and management of the Trust’s resources. Further, the annuity was to be paid at Whitsunday and Martinmas, two of four days across the year when accounts in Scotland were settled. If the trustees were tardy with the payments, an amount equal to a fifth of what was due was added to her income, presumably deducted from any surplus their children might enjoy. James appears to ensure tenants and colleagues were not disadvantaged by his death. Property, including his tools of trade (valued to be worth £98/14/1), is disbursed and references to places outside Dundee, e.g., London, imply his interests were widespread. It may be that Janet was charged with continuing James' philanthropy, certainly her annuity was to be used in part to ensure their children's education. As a wright, James was a member of Dundee’s Three United Trades: masons, wrights and slaters. The wrights were the most numerous of these trades, comprising joiners, cabinetmakers and glaziers. The Three Trades regulated associated practice standards and costs. They joined the Nine Trades in contributing to Dundee’s governance. The Trades also cared for the poor and sick amongst their members’ families, which may explain his continued poor support after James’ death.

The will detailed James' real estate portfolio, the rents from which contributed to Janet's annuity. The properties were at the heads of

Murraygate and Seagate in the heart of Dundee and "at the side of the field commonly called the seamens' acres", which a member of the Real Dundonian History Facebook community said is where there is now a street named Anderson Place. The "1" on the map marks the Howff graveyard. Six months after her death, the properties passed to their children and heirs. I think the Murraygate property was the family home because it was specifically left to mother Janet to either live in or rent out, as she saw fit.


David is my great-great grandfather.


It seems that Alexander may have been the first of our Dundee Andersons to emigrate. Two family trees on ancestry.com have him marrying Irishwoman Sarah Jane Knox in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada in December 1838. The couple had eight children, five of whom predeceased him and another died the same year he did, in 1887, in Brooklyn New York. On the other hand, one ancestry.com hint gives him the middle name of "Wark" which, while we do have that name in our family, it is not in the Anderson twig so ancestry.com may be leading us astray.


The only possible sighting of James is in the 1881 census where a James Anderson, retired seaman aged 68 (therefore born in 1813), is staying in the house of (presumably) his brother David’s daughter, Maria. His status in the census is Maria’s brother, which is wrong on two counts: Maria was David’s eldest child and she was aged 54 at the time, and her brother James as we will see was not a seaman.


Janet married James Robertson in 1840. James was an Edinburgh baker, confectioner and grain merchant. I am inclined to believe they were the couple in several censuses (James and Jessie Robertson) where he is described as a master baker with several staff including, in 1851, two apprentices. The reason I am suggesting this is because his mother-in-law, Jessie Anderson, aged 75 (therefore born around 1776), born in Kilmany, Fife, is living with them and I soooooo want this to be our Janet Lownie/Anderson. That mother and daughter are named Jessie can be explained by it being commonly used as an alternative to the given name, Janet, although I admit I have seen only “Janet” for both of them in official documentation such as wills. Still, “Jessie” does appear in subsequent family names, which may indicate it was a traditional option. (Further, Jessie was also the name used by my paternal grandmother, Janet Proudfoot/Wilson.) When James died on 6 March 1878, probate of his £3,746/8/7 moveable estate was granted to Janet. In today’s money, that is a minimum £324,800 or $Aus726,125. Given her annuity, it suggests he had a considerable investment portfolio.

The details of Janet's death were a revelation. She died in 1987, at Gray House, Liff, which, Wikipedia tells me, is a listed building

and, at the time, was leased to the Dundee Lunatic Asylum “for the accommodation of 'the higher class of Private Patients'". Another  member of the Real Dundonian History Facebook community told me Gray House closed in the early C21st. He said the complex that comprised the Asylum and Gray House was in a rural setting, beautiful and peaceful. So it looks as though Janet was suffering from a mental condition when she died of heart disease. This will become relevant as we move through the generations and find others of our family with mental health issues.

I have written about Janet Anderson/Robertson’s will elsewhere. At the time, I had not realised she was the second daughter to be

named Janet by her parents so had her age wrong. I also had not seen her will, just the newspaper report of some of her bequests to local Broughty Ferry family. It was an emotional experience to read in her will that she had remembered every single one of her brother's daughters and granddaughters, in Scotland, England, South Africa, and New Zealand, in her bequests as well as her late husband's nieces. Her only male beneficiaries were her executors: nephew James Anderson, nephew-in-law George Hunter Ferrier, and close friend, Andrew Gowan.