52 Ancestors #1 – It’s all his fault.

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series 52 Ancestors

I’ve decided to join Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge this year so, to kick things off, I’m re-publishing an article I wrote back in 2009.  Since it’s about the man who triggered my interest in genealogy over 25 years ago I think it’s appropriate that he should be number one in the series…

I got interested in family history because of this man.

Robert Dunlop
Robert Dunlop

I never met him – he died in 1921 – but I’d always been aware of him because his portrait was propped against a wall in my parents’ bedroom and he was the only member of the family I’d ever seen who shared my red hair.  His name is Robert Dunlop, he was born in Ayrshire in 1848, the oldest of seven children born to a colliery engineman and his wife, and he was my great-grandfather.

In 1988 my mum received a letter from someone who had come across his papers in the National Museum of Scotland.  She had written an article about Robert and thought that his family might be interested in reading it before it was published.  My father had died two years before this and we knew very little about his side of the family, so that letter was the trigger that set me off.

Robert’s mother didn’t want him to follow family tradition and go down the mines so, when he was 14 she had him apprenticed as an iron moulder in Kilmarnock.  Five years later, in 1867, the iron master had the existing apprentices locked out and took on some new ones.  A disgruntled Robert persuaded the foundry clerk to show him his indentures and promptly burnt them.  He then ran away to the big city and a couple of months later his new foreman in Glasgow told him that “a lame man with a tall had and a policeman” were waiting to see him.  Robert jumped over the wall and fled.

He moved to Airdire and, on 1 March 1870, he married my great-grandmother, Ann Hunter.

Ann Hunter
Ann Hunter


Robert took up photography and fossil collecting, started going to chemistry evening classes and even won the Queen’s Prize for Scotland, later teaching evening classes himself.  By 1884 Robert had been appointed manager of the Stanrigg Oil Works in Airdrie.

Between 1872 and 1882 Robert and Ann had had nine children, including a set of twins, unfortunately only three of these children survived to adulthood.

In 1899, Robert was employed by the Pumpherston Oil Company – a forerunner of BP – to set up a new oil shale plant in New Zealand.  Some time round about then, this family photo was taken.

The Dunlop family about 1899
The Dunlop family about 1899 Robert and Ann (seated centre-left), daughter Elizabeth (left), sons David and Walter (right), Walter’s wife Janet and their three children – Robert, Agnes and Annie. The youngest child in this photo – Annie – was born on 31 January 1898.

Robert was to set up this oil shale plant in Orepuki, in New Zealand’s Southland and on 8 February 1899 the family left London aboard the SS Kaikoura for the 90-day trip to New Zealand.

From local accounts, the oil shale work seems to have had a huge impact on the area.  Robert obviously had faith in the new works as he bought 260 shares in the New Zealand Oil & Coal company which had been set up to finance the enterprise.

However the oil works was not a commercial success and in 1902 it closed suddenly with very little notice.  The official reason given for the closure was the government’s removal of the import duty on kerosene – locals blamed it on a conspiracy by the American oil companies.

Robert and his family returned to Scotland in 1903.

In 1911, when he was 63, Robert was appointed caretaker of the Pittencrief House Museum in Dunfermline.  He died on 21 April 1921 and his will shows that he had kept his shares in the New Zealand Oil & Coal Company until his death.

Robert Dunlop as an old man
Robert Dunlop as an old man

This is the last photo I have of Robert and we don’t know when it was taken.  If anyone knows anything about old scooters – I’d be grateful for your help.



#52 ancestors No 2 – why rent when you’ve already bought?

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series 52 Ancestors

The second of my 52 ancestors – and my other paternal grandfather – is Robert TEMPLETON, the sixth child of Kilmarnock postman William TEMPLETON and his wife, Agnes McCUTCHEON.

Robert was born just before Christmas 1849, on 23 December, in Kilmarnock in Ayrshire where he lived for the rest of his life.

In 1872 he married a girl from just over the river in the parish of Riccarton.  Robert married Jane DUNLOP on 29 November 1872 in Riccarton, Ayrshire when he was 23 and she was 20.  The young couple set up house in Kilmarnock and had two sons: William born on 26 February 1873, and Walter born on 4 November 1874.  Unfortunately, Jane didn’t long survive the birth of her son and died on 1 December 1874.  Her death certificate states that she died of fever which had lasted 14 days – possibly this was puerperal fever.  Wee Walter died 10 months later, on 6 October 1875, of an inflammation of the bowels.

1878 Certificate of Banns for Robert Templeton and Elizabeth Young
1878 Certificate of Banns for Robert Templeton and Elizabeth Young

Three years after this, on 30 August 1878, Robert married a 29-year-old domestic servant Elizabeth YOUNG.  Robert and Elizabeth had one son, George, who was born on 5 August 1880.  They had been married for almost 22 years when Elizabeth died on 13 July 1900 aged 52.

Robert Templeton, Elizabeth Young and son. George
Robert Templeton, Elizabeth Young and son. George

Robert lived on to see his youngest son George marry in 1912, and died of acute pneumonia on 11 March 1913 aged 63 – just one month before the marriage of his eldest son, William.

Throughout his adult life, Robert worked as an iron turner and lived in a series of rented tenement flats in a small area in the south of the town bounded by the Kilmarnock Water, the River Irvine and London Road (now the B7073).  However, his will shows that he also owned property at numbers 67 and 69 Robertson Place in Kilmarnock.  Tracing these properties backwards through the online copies of the Valuation Rolls, Robert appears to have bought them at some time between 1895 and 1905; as in 1905 they were rented to various members of his extended family.  I need to do more research in the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh, but the question remains – why rent when you’ve already bought?