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Charles Mitchell Michie (1868-1930)

Father of Ellen Ann Fraser MacNiven Michie - Generation 3.

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Charles was the third of seven children born to his parents in Cromarty, a town in the Scottish Highlands located 455 miles (732 kilometers) north west of London. Shortly after Charles was born, his father, a chemist and bookseller, was declared bankrupt. This event was widely reported in the Inverness Courier, Edinburgh Gazette, London Evening Standard and a number of other newspapers in December 1870. By 31 January 1871, his father was separated from his family and living in the Temperance Hotel in Cromarty, suggesting he may have lost his way through the ‘demon drink’.


There is little doubt that this situation caused a great deal of hardship for Charles’s family, however, his father was not idle for very long. In the census enumerated on 2 April 1871 (two and a half months later) he was employed as a chemist, and living with his family at 5, High Street, Cromarty.


Even though things were looking up again, he lost two siblings:


1874: His sister Mary Matheson Michie, died from convulsions and whooping cough. She was 2 years and 6 months old.

1874: His brother William Brander Michie, died from whooping cough a month after his sister Mary. He was 10 days old.


The overwhelming grief of burying a new born baby and a toddler within a month of each other, is unimaginable, and almost certainly broke his parents’ hearts.


5 years later, his father was working as a druggist (compounder of medicines) in the village of Rosemarkie, Fortrose, Morayshire, 7 miles (11 kilometers) south west of Cromarty, where he died on 14 November 1882 aged 49 years. After all he had been through, there is something unjust about his father dying so soon after getting back on his feet.


Although Charles was only 14 years old when his father died, soon afterwards, he had little choice but to assume responsibility for his widowed mother and younger brothers. His eldest brother James Michie had left home in 1883 to serve at home and overseas with the Army Hospital Corps; and his second brother John MacKeddie Michie had left home in 1884 to work as a barman and grocer in Edinburgh, before enlisting in the Highland Light Infantry in 1891, and emigrating to Australia in 1908.


From 1884, aged 16 years, Charles was employed by the Highland Railway Company as a locomotive fireman. From 1896, aged 28 years, he worked as an engine driver before becoming a railway wagon examiner in later life. Charles supported his mother and younger brothers George Begg Michie and Alexander Robertson MacKenzie Michie, until his brother Alexander died from peritonitis and heart failure aged 15 years, after which he married Barbara Isabella MacNiven.


Charles’s birth family had endured much loss and hardship, so when his brother George died in mysterious circumstances while in charge of one of two railway engines travelling between Inverness and Aviemore in 1901, it is hardly surprising that his heart-sick mother died less than 6 months later.


Charles and Barbara were known to have been a devoted couple, even more so, in the face of the many tragedies they endured:


1904: Their daughter Jane Metcalf Michie died at home from pneumonia. She was 1 year and 5 months old.

1909: Their son Thomas John Michie died at home from pneumonia. He was 10 days old.

1910: Their daughter Jessie MacKeddie Michie died alone from tuberculosis in the Isolation Hospital in Perth. She was 12 years old.


Their children first became sick, while Charles and Barbara were living in a Railway Cottage, Railway Terrace, Duthil near Aviemore. In the harsh environment of the Scottish Highlands, this poorly appointed house was riddled with damp and an unhealthy environment for these youngsters vulnerable to the pulmonary conditions from which they died. Notably, this was the couple’s first family home, and was likely to have been what they could afford after living with Barbara’s parents at the start of their married life. It did not take long for Charles and Barbara to move into a larger, better appointed home in Perth, where they lived for the remainder of their life together.


After 35 years of marriage, Charles died from heart failure while inspecting railway wagons at the Perth goods yard, and mercifully, was no longer alive to witness two further tragic losses suffered by his family:

1943: His son Charles Michie was on the footplate of an early morning goods train travelling from Aviemore to Perth, when during the act of picking up the signal tablet near Blair Atholl, his head came into contact with the wall of a tunnel. Without regaining consciousness his son died later the same day at Perth Infirmary. He was 43 years old.

1947: His daughter Ellen Ann Fraser MacNiven Michie died at home from breast cancer. She was 51 years old.

Although Charles’s wife Barbara lived to the goodly age of 81 years, she moved south to London after Ellen’s death to be near her only surviving child, Margaret Smith Michie. This move also allowed her to stay in touch with Ellen’s children who had been moved to Reigate, Surrey, by their father. Against the laws of nature, Barbara outlived all but one member of her family. Fortunately, Ellen’s children and grandchildren are close-knit, and many fun-filled ‘clan gatherings’ have taken place over the years!


Charles’s legacy is the strength of his descendants who are thriving around the world. Slowly, through social media, far-flung cousins are becoming acquainted with one another.


Energetic Engine Driver


After losing his dad

Charles was who his mother had

to support her through life

until he married his wife.


Working for the Highland Railway

he earned his living every day

as an engine driver

and canny survivor.


With his wife so fair

for six children he did care

until only one remained

leaving his wife deeply pained.


© Mel Hamson, 2016


Note: If you’d like to know more, or have information that improves this history, we’d love to hear from you.

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