Farmers and Craftspeople:

Jenny Blain.
Copyright © J. Blain 2005-09
New findings: My father's family: Return to table of contents for further sections

My father's family

Renton, Fairlie and Haldane in East Lothian, Leith and Edinburgh

Catharine Renton, her parents, and her brother Robert's family

Catharine Renton, who married firstly John Philip, ship carpenter in Leith, secondly Allan McLean, cooper in Greenock, seems to have been born in Newbattle, the daughter of Agnes Douglas and John Renton. At the record of her first marriage she is described as 'residing in Leith, and daughter of the late John Renton, workman, in Newbattle'. The marriage was on 19th March 1832, and Catherine would then be aged 22, John Philip 18.

We do not know how she came to be resident in Leith - possibly staying with her sister Mary (on whom see below) or she may have been in domestic service there. The birth of her eldest child, Catharine Philip - around 1832 - does not have a record that I have found.

Catharine Renton was the youngest child for whom I have records in the family of John Renton and Agnes Douglas. While she and most siblings were born in Newbattle, her parents' marriage was in Gladsmuir, East Lothian, and their eldest child, James, was born there. Catharine's siblings, with their baptism dates, were:

James 29 Aug 1794 Gladsmuir, East Lothian
Robert 26 Mar 1797 Newbattle, Midlothian
Jean 3 Jun 1798 Temple, Midlothian
Catharine 20 Apr 1800 Newbattle
Mary 21 Feb 1802 Newbattle
Agnes 3 Jun 1804 Newbattle
John 1 Feb 1807 Newbattle
Catharine 21 May 1809 Newbattle

Birth records show John Renton as workman or labourer. The birth of Robert, in 1797, is witnessed by John Wilson and James Renton.

I have not found evidence for most of these children in later records. An exception is Robert, whose household is found 1841 and 1851 Edinburgh census records. His wife was Isabella Paterson. (Her name is given as Elizabeth in 1851 - these names are often interchangable). Several children are named: in 1841 there are John aged 5, Robert aged 3, and Isabella 4 months, at 32 West Port in St Cuthberts Parish, and in 1851 Robert aged 13 and George, 10, now at 4 Dickson's Close, Tron Church parish. In the 1841 census the household includes a painter named Daniel Sutherland, aged 70[1]. In both cases Robert senior is a journeyman blacksmith, and his age and birthplace given in the 1851 census (Newbattle) match those for the Robert Renton who is the elder brother of Catharine. Blacksmithing seems to have been one of the family trades.

I have not found the records of the marriage or for registation of baptisms of Robert's children.

By 1861 there is no trace of Robert senior: his son Robert, aged 23, is in Edinburgh, married to Ellen Leslie, the marriage taking place on 6 July 1860. In 1861 the couple are living at 41 Bristo Street. By 1871, however, Robert has died, and Ellen is living in Newington in her father's household (Alexander Leslie, aged 73) with her 9 year old son, another Robert Renton. The second Robert's death record reveals that he died in 1863, aged only 25, of Phthisis Pulmonaris - consumption or tuberculosis - from which he had suffered for 'some months'. The death was reported by his father-in-law, Alexander Leslie.

What is particularly interesting to me about this second Robert Renton is his occupation. In the 1851 census he is, at 13, an 'apprentice goldsmith'. In 1861, journeyman goldsmith, on the birth of his son (18th Sept. 1861, at 4 David Street, Edinburgh), journeyman jeweller, and the final description on the death record is 'working jeweller'. Clearly he has taken a trade that is not that of his family, who were labourers and blacksmiths.

I would welcome any clues as to where he served his apprenticeship. There are several family links in the records of goldsmiths and apprentices and if would be interesting to know which 'line' of Edinburgh jewellers young Robert was in. His death at only 25 seems sad - and is also unfortunate for trying to pursue how and where he had his introduction to the world of these jewellers - somewhat different to that of his immediate ancestors.

Isabella Paterson, the widow of the first Robert Renton, died in 1885, aged 84, her death being reported by her grandson, the third Robert. Her death record shows her to have been daughter of weaver Robert Paterson and Jane Dickson, born in Glasgow Barony. Her son Robert's early death must have been a dreadful blow to the fortunes of this family. The child Robert born in 1861 appears to have become a tinsmith in Edinburgh and possibly later a silver plate polisher in Dundee.

Catharine's sister Mary Renton and her family

The fifth child of John Renton and Agnes Douglas was Mary, born in 1802. She survived to bear one illegitimate daughter, then was married twice, first to Robert Jardine on 8th April 1825, in South Leith where he was a dock porter, then twenty years later to James Gowans on 28th August 1845. Her daughter Mary Renton was born around 1822, in Edinburgh or possibly Leith, but I have not found the birth record. This young Mary later moved to Dundee where she married George Boyack.

Mary Renton the elder and Robert Jardine had several children who included John born 1826, Agnes Douglas in 1828, Catharine in 1830, William 1835, Robert in 1838 and James in 1841. Catharine was married twice, firstly to Richard Veal on 28 December 1847, then to Robert Kirkham, general labourer, on 18 February 1853, both times in North Leith, and it was she in 1869 who registered her mother's death. In the 1861 census this Catharine and Robert Kirkham are shown with a daughter, Murray (or Mary?), aged 8 and apparently born in America. It's possible that she was the child of Richard Veal, and that Catharine may have emigrated with her first husband, returning on his death [2].

The younger Mary Renton's marriage was in Dundee, on 30th December 1838. Goerge Boyack was a flaxdresser, part of the mill-working community, and their family of at least nine children grew up there to become millworkers in their turn, though not all survived to adulthood.

Antecedents of John Renton

John Renton, father of Robert, Mary and Catharine, was from a Gladsmuir family, although his parents seem to have moved to various nearby parishes. His parents, James Renton and Catharine Fairley had married around 1766 - I have not found the record. Baptisms records for the children show:

Isobel 23 Mar 1767Pencaitland
John 6 Mar 1769Gladsmuir
JanetTemple, Midlothian 16 Jun 1771
James 29 Nov 1773Gladsmuir
William 13 Oct 1776Cockpen, Midlothian
Robert 29 Aug 179Cockpen, Midlothian
Isabel 6 Feb 1784Cockpen, Midlothian
Christian 6 Feb 1784Cockpen, Midlothian

John's baptism record shows 'Renton James, Labourer in Longnidrie and his wife Catharine Fairley had a son born March 6th baptized 12th ditto by Mr Francis Cowan Minr. of Gladsmuir and named John Witnesses James Renton Labr in Penston and James Fairley Labourer in Longnidrie'. There were several families of Rentons in the Gladsmuir area, which includes part of Haddington and Tranent along with Penston and Longniddrie, and also in Inveresk and Musselburgh, quite nearby in Midlothian. James Renton's father might be another James, or more likely a John. Clearly these farmworkers moved from place to place, where there was work.

Catharine Fairley's baptism was on 25th July 1742 in Gladsmuir, and she was daughter of Elizabeth Haldane and John Fairlie. John is described as a labourer, and the witnesses were ' William Haldane Smith in Longnidrie & William Fairlie labourer in Tranent'. There is clearly much that can be done, here, to sort of the repeated names in these areas. What is however clear is that Catharine Renton's people, for several generations (and probably as far as records go) were farm workers in East Lothian and Midlothian, before some of their children, notably Catharine and Robert, headed for the city around the 1820s.

I do not, as yet, have material on the background of Agnes Douglas.

[1] Might there be some relationship to the wife of Catharine's brother-in-law, James Philip? There seems some doubt as to whether she was named Elizabeth Broom (or Brim) or Elizabeth Sutherland.
[2] I've viewed only an Ancestry transcription and so do not know if 'America' is accurate here.

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