The Forrester Family

By Morag T Fyfe

On the 29th May 1857 a mother and two children were buried together in one coffin in common ground in the Necropolis. Since the start of 1855 the cause of death is no longer routinely recorded in the burial register but in this case the circumstances were so tragic that it was – ‘Burned to death’. The accident was widely covered in the press appearing in at least twelve Scottish newspapers and thirty-five English, Welsh and Irish ones. The report which appeared in the Glasgow Herald on Monday 1st June is below:

A WOMAN AND TWO CHILDREN BURNED TO DEATH.  -On Friday morning, about two o’clock, a family residing on the second floor of a tenement, 550 Dobbie’s Loan, Port Dundas, Glasgow, were awakened by the smell of smoke. They rose, but not perceiving any appearance of fire, retired again. Shortly after five o’clock the inhabitants of a house on the ground floor of the tenement in question were awakened by a portion of the roof, which was on fire above their bed, falling in. The alarm was immediately communicated to the Cowcaddens police station, and the fire brigade turned out with all haste, and in a short time extinguished the fire, which had broken out in the house of a boatman on the Forth and Clyde canal, named David Forrester, adjoining the dwelling of the people who first perceived the smell of smoke. On the firemen entering the room, a sad spectacle met their view. The wife of the boatman lay on the floor, and near to her a boy about three years of age, both of them burned almost to cinders. On proceeding to the house below, into which a portion of the burning floor had fallen, the firemen found the charred remains of an infant about fifteen months old, who had fallen through the floor along with the burning timber. Forrester’s family had only removed into the house the previous day, and it is said they had not built in their grate and had lighted a fire on the hearthstone; but, from the fact of the fire having broken out in a concealed bed, it is supposed that some light must have communicated with the bed clothing, and ignited it. The unfortunate woman must have been suffocated, as no cries of distress were heard by any of the neighbours. The remains of the three bodies were interred in one coffin on Friday afternoon in the New Necropolis. The husband was from home when the occurrence took place.

Other newspaper reports seem to be based on different witnesses and give extra details. Thus the report in the Caledonian Mercury, also on Monday 1st June locates the Forrester home as being on the first floor of a building at the corner of Ann Street and Dobbie’s Loan, Cowcaddens. This report supposes that a candle had been left burning which set the bedding on fire. We also learn that David Forrester was at Bowling when the accident occurred.

The newspaper report does not name the mother and children, they are simply identified as the family of David Forrester. However the Burial Register names them as Margaret Forrester aged 22, Thomas Forrester aged 3 and Catherine Forrester aged 2.

Baby Catherine may be the baby born to David Forrester and Margaret McMaster on 11th March 1856 in the Milton Registration District of Glasgow. In the newspaper reports her age is estimated as fifteen months which would fit this Catherine very well. Assuming these are the correct parents, marriage banns for a couple of that name were proclaimed in Blackford, Perthshire on 7th August 1853. After that the trail goes cold.



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