John Sinclair

Sunday, January 14th, 2024

By Morag T Fyfe

In April 1863 several newspapers reported the death of John Sinclair on board the steamer Islay.

MAN KILLED – Yesterday afternoon, a man named John Sinclair, labourer, residing at 79 M’Alpine Street, while employed in stowing goods in the hold of the steamer Islay, lying at the north quay, met with an accident which cost him his life. He was receiving some bags of meal which were being lowered in slings from a stage over the hatches, when two of the bags slipped out of the slings, and falling down the hold a depth of about 12 feet, struck him on the back of the head while in a stooping position, whereby his neck was broken. The unfortunate man died almost instantaneously. The body was removed to the receiving house at Windmillcroft. Deceased was a widower, 45 years of age, and has left 2 of a family, grown up.
Glasgow Herald, Friday 24 April 1863.

John’s death certificate recorded his parents as Daniel Sinclair and Margaret Wright and showed Daniel as registering his son’s death. Daniel gave his occupation as a labourer in a printfield and his son’s occupation as a quay labourer, both menial poorly paid jobs. His wife is named on his death certificate as Ann Young.

When John was buried in common ground in compartment Eta on 25 April 1863 his age was given as 54 not 45 – is this a simply transposition of the digits?. He has proven difficult to identify in the public records as have so many of those buried in common graves. A John Sinclair was born to a Daniel Sinclair and Margaret Wright in Dunipace, Stirlingshire in 1814 but this date does not match either of his given ages exactly. Similarly there is a marriage for a John Sinclair to an Ann Young in Mearns, Renfrewshire in 1835 followed by a census record in 1841 for what is possibly the same couple still living in Mearns. Those are the only official records that have been found for John Sinclair until his death in 1863. When searching for birth and marriage records in the Scottish church records prior to civil registration which started in 1855 it has always to be borne in mind that these records are incomplete and one may have found the wrong person.

The paddle steamer Islay on which John Sinclair lost his life had been built by local yard Tod & MacGregor in 1849 for the Islay whisky trade. A half hull model of the ship is one of the earliest steamship models preserved in the collection of Glasgow Museums.

It can be difficult to find out much about people in the unmarked graves of the Glasgow Necropolis. However we feel it is important to publish what we have been able to discover to date. We would be grateful if anyone with further information on any of these people would contact us.


The Scotts

Sunday, November 12th, 2023

by Morag T Fyfe

Readers may recall the loss of the car ferry Estonia during a storm in the Baltic in 1994 and the capsizing of the Herald of Free Enterprise off Zeebrugge in 1987 while those with particularly long memories may recall the loss of the Princess Victoria in the North Channel between Scotland and Northern Ireland in 1953. Just over 100 years before the loss of the Princess Victoria the SS Orion ran on to rocks off Port Patrick and sank with a substantial loss of life.

At 1.35am on Tuesday 18 June 1850, on a fine calm night, the Orion struck the Outer Ward Rock off Port Patrick resulting in a large gash in her hull which caused her to sink within fifteen minutes. It is not known exactly how many passengers were onboard as recording the number of passengers travelling was not compulsory at that date but it estimated to have been between about one hundred and sixty and one hundred and eighty in total.

James Scott, his wife Lillias Ure and their only child Marion, and a widowed sister in law, Janet Ure, Mrs William Smith, had arrived in Liverpool by the Cunard steamer RMS Europa from New York a day or two previously and were continuing their journey to Glasgow. The two sisters had married their respective husbands in a double wedding on 12 April 1831 and seem to have spent most of their married lives in Canada as their husbands were both merchants based in Montreal. All four were lost in the disaster and a stone in compartment Omega commemorates them:

In memory / of / JAMES SCOTT / Merchant, Montreal, aged 55. / LILLIAS URE, his wife aged 46. / And MARION, their only child, aged 7. / Also of JANET URE, aged 40, sister of Mrs SCOTT, and relict of / WILLIAM SMITH, Merchant, Montreal, / who all perished in the wreck / of the steam ship Orion, / off Port Patrick, / 18th June 1850, / and are here interred / except the child MARION / whose body was not found.

James Scott and family monument

James Scott and family monument

According to newspaper reports James Scott’s body was found quickly and sent to Glasgow. Janet Smith, his sister in law’s body was found by a diver in the wreck at the foot of a companion stair and brought to Glasgow on Friday 21st on the ss Admiral. Both James and Janet were buried in the Necropolis on Tuesday 25th June one week after the tragedy. On Friday 9th August a female body, presumed to be that of Lillias Ure, was washed ashore at Ballywater near Dondghadee, Ireland and her funeral took place on 12 August. By this time fifty five bodies had been found. The same newspaper report that tells of the discovery of Lilias’s body also reported that a silver tea and coffee service belonging to the Scotts had been recovered. The inscription on the coffee pot said ‘Presented to Mr and Mrs Scott on their leaving Canada, by a few sincere friends’.

Robert Stewart (1810-1866)

Thursday, November 9th, 2023
Robert Stewart

Robert Stewart

by Colin Campbell

He was born in 1810 to William Stewart and Helen Miller.

After training in Accountancy, he took over his father’s mineral business at Cleland in Lanarkshire.

He became a Councillor in Glasgow in 1842 and held several posts before becoming Lord Provost from 1851-1854.

Inspired by the 1848 Public Health Act, the City in 1852, under Stewart’s leadership, purchased 66 acres of land to the west of the City which was to become Kelvingrove Park. He brought Sir Joseph Paxton to Glasgow to commence design the layout of this park (completed by Charles Wilson and Thomas Kyle) and Queen’s Park on the south side of the City (completed by John Carrick).

His other great contribution to the City was the passing of the Water Act through Parliament in July 1855 under which authority a public fresh water supply was brought to the City from Loch Katrine 35 miles away. He was assisted in this by his friendship with the then Prime Minister Lord Palmerston and was accomplished in the teeth of particularly fierce local opposition. Work commenced in 1855, was completed by 1859 and was opened at Loch Katrine by Queen Victoria. The Chief Engineer was John Frederick Bateman.

During his tenure of office as Lord Provost, he married Isabella King of Leverholme, Renfrewshire on 29th June 1852, they were to have a daughter and two sons.

Robert retired from the Council in 1855 and bought the estate of Murdostoun near Shotts in Lanarkshire in 1856. He died on 12th September 1866.

In 1872 a Memorial Fountain to him was erected in Kelvingrove Park.

(Ack: One Hundred Glasgow Men (image), Glasgow City Council, ScotlandsPeople, NLS Maps)

Robert Stewart monument

Robert Stewart monument

Scotland National Rugby Players

Thursday, February 4th, 2021

There are five Scotland national rugby players buried within Epsilon section of the Necropolis.

Sir Allan Arthur
Charles Chalmers Bryce
James Howe McClure
James George Walker
Alexander Woodrow

Read their story in this profile prepared by Ruth Johnston.

Scotland National Rugby Players Buried in the Necropolis – Epsilon

Joseph Swan

Friday, September 8th, 2017

Joseph Swan: engraver and publisher

Joseph Swan was born 11 November 1796 in Manchester England to Thomas Swan and Janet Russell.

He started his career in what had become his hometown of Edinburgh as an apprentice to engraver John Beugo and worked with other engravers. In August 1817, he married Margaret Thomson in Edinburgh before setting off to Glasgow. There he took over the engraving business established by Charles Dearie, who died 28 November 1818.

Swan was one of a number of engravers and printers in Glasgow whose business encompassed pictures, portraits, maps, bookplates, plans, invoices, bills, bank notes, and silver work. One of his commissions was to illustrate rare plants in the collection of the Royal Botanic Institute of Glasgow.

In 1836 Swan was one of the first to apply steam to the lithographic printing process. He employed staff who specialised in a particular area such as pictures, letter and seal engraving. They included Robert Charles Bell who, like Swan, had worked with John Beugo in Edinburgh and Thomas Annan, later known for his photographic work.

Swan’s reputation was established by his engraved illustrations of Scottish towns and landscapes which were based on pictures by contemporary Scottish artists such as John FlemingJohn Knox,  Andrew DonaldsonJames Stewart and William Brown.

The first major work, Views of Scotland and its environs, appeared in 1826 with accompanying text by John Leighton and sold at five shillings and sixpence for fine proof impressions on India paper and four shillings and sixpence for common impressions.

To ensure the commercial success of such a project, subscribers were required to make payments in advance of publication to ensure that the work could proceed. Subscribers for the Views of Glasgow included the Duchess of Montrose, the Lord Provost of Glasgow and Archibald McLellan, a founder of the civic art collection. The engravings were made from pictures produced by Greenock based John Fleming, Glasgow’s John Knox and Swan himself. The thirty-three plates include views of the city from different vantage points, the leading thoroughfares, buildings, and districts. Contemporary newspapers praised the work both for its choice of subjects and the quality of workmanship.

Following the success of the Select Views of Glasgow, Swan published part one of the Select Views on the River Clyde in February 1828. The engravings for the series were taken from pictures by John Fleming and Andrew Donaldson. They were larger than the Glasgow set and the price rose accordingly. By February 1830 the series was complete and included views of country houses such as Blythswood, Carstairs, Erskine and Hamilton Place plus Helensburgh, Greenock, Rothesay, and Campbelltown.


Joseph Swan - View of Glasgow

Joseph Swan – View of Glasgow


Then followed Views of the lakes of Scotland, the first part of which was published in 1830. Swan was keen to point out to potential subscribers and purchasers that the work was of national importance as it was the first to group together Highland and Lowland lochs and included many of the lesser known ones. He attracted well over 1000 subscribers from throughout Britain. All the engravings were based on pictures by John Fleming and the text was by Leighton with an introduction by Professor Wilson. From 1832 to 1836 Swan’s entry in the Post Office Directory shows him as ‘engraver and publisher of the Lakes of Scotland’.

Two works by Charles Mackie, Historical Description of the Abbey and Town of Paisley, 1835 and Historical Description of the Town of Dundee, 1836, contain Swans engravings. The Paisley views were all based on Swan’s own artwork while the Dundee volume contains both his work and that of James Stewart.

Stewart provided the artwork for the History of the County of Fyfe (1840), Sir William Hooker’s Perthshire Illustrated (1843), also has Swan’s engravings after Stewart, William Brown, Andrew Donaldson and D. MacKenzie. Swan’s engravings appear in further works including Strathclutha; or the Beauties of Clyde (1839), which combines views from the Glasgow and Clyde series; The Topographical, Statistical and Historical Gazetteer of Scotland (1845); and the new edition of James Browne’s, A History of the Highlands and of the Highland Clans.

Joseph Swan was a committee member and for some time treasurer of the Glasgow Mechanics’ Institution which was founded in 1832. From January 1824, the institution published a very successful magazine which included many of his engravings such as portraits of James Watt and John Anderson, founder of Anderson’s institution, and the numerous mechanical inventions and improvements discussed in the text.

A key figure in Glasgow’s art world, Swan co-founded the Glasgow Dilettanti Society in 1825 to promote interest in the fine arts among the city’s artists, art collectors and connoisseurs. He was an honorary member of the West of Scotland Academy of the Fine Arts, founded in 1841, to which his firms supplied printed material. In the same year, he was on the management committee and treasurer of the newly founded Glasgow and West of Scotland Association for the Promotion of the Fine Arts, an art union.

Swan operated his business from a number of locations through his career. These included different addresses in the Trongate between 1818 and 1841 when he relocated to St Vincent Street, adjacent to the Western Club. Other premises were at Exchange Square, Bothwell Street, Buchannan Street, and Parliamentary Road where the renowned Swan’s Universal Copy Books were manufactured for use in schools worldwide. He was listed in the Post Office Directory as an engraver and lithographer into the 1860s.


Joseph Swan in later life

Joseph Swan in later life

He lived with his family at various locations in the city between 1818 and his death in 1872. Some survive such as the villa at 114 Hill Street, Garnethill and 21 Sandyforth place, Sauchiehall Street, where he died 22 September 1872. His first wife with whom he had eight children, Margaret Thomson, died in 1836 and he later married Helen Gourlay Cumming with whom he had seven children.

He was buried at the Glasgow Necropolis where his monument stands. The monument is a valuable record of his family including nine of his children who predeceased him. It does not include the names of four daughters who survived him.

The marriages of three of these daughters are recorded in the Glasgow Herald.

14th June 1850 – marriages

At 114 Hill Street, Garnet Hill, on the 13th instant, by the Rev. Thomas Swan of Birmingham, Mr William Ker, grain merchant, Glasgow, to Margaret Thomson, eldest [surviving] daughter of Joseph Swan Esq.

At 114 Hill Street, Garnet Hill, on the 13th instant, by the Rev. Thomas Swan of Birmingham, Mr Alexander Penman, marble-cutter, Glasgow, to Janet Russell, second daughter of Joseph Swan Esq.

The sisters were married on the same day in their home by Rev. Thomas Swan who had travelled from Birmingham for the event. Rev. Swan was born in 1795 of Scottish parents, resident in Manchester. He returned with his family to Edinburgh when he was six years old. It is possible he was a close relative of Joseph, possibly a brother. Thomas studied at the Bristol Baptist Academy from 1821–24, ahead of missionary service in India. This reflected Joseph’s support for overseas missions, something which was a strong interest of his daughter Margaret and her daughter and son-in-law Claud Bald.

11th March 1853 – marriages

At 114 Hill Street, Garnet Hill, Glasgow, on the 9th instant, by the Rev. Andrew Arthur, Edinburgh, Mr Charles Arthur, Verrefield Pottery, to Isabella, third daughter of Joseph Swan Esq. 

Again, the minister may be a relative. He was based in Edinburgh and was a member of the dissenting churches.


Comments and corrections are welcome.

September 2017


Hunnisett, Basil. Steel engraved book illustration in England, (Scholar Press, London), 1980

Smith, George Fairfull, ‘Joseph Swan (1796-1872) engraver and publisher’, The Private Library Fourth Series Vol 10:2 Summer 1997, pp 81-92

‘A Glasgow Octogenarian [Swan’s daughter]’, The Glasgow Herald, 7 November 1911 p 1

David Thomson Simpson

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

Duncan John Stewart

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

James Howie Frederic Stephen

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

James Campbell Steel

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

William Hannah Smith

Thursday, July 24th, 2014
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