I got interested in family history because of this man.
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 on my father’s side of the family.
I never met him (he died in 1921 – long before I was born!) but I’d always been aware of him because a portrait of him 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.
In 1988 my mum received a letter from someone who was researching for a PhD and 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 realised that we knew very little about that side of the family, so that letter was the trigger that set me off.
Apparently 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 must have run away then to the big city, because a couple of months later when 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.
Robert seems to have settled down then as he 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.
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.
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 if you could help.