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Janet 'Jessie' Matheson MacKeddie (1843-1902)

Grandmother of Ellen Ann Fraser MacNiven Michie - Generation 4.

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Janet more usually known as ‘Jessie’ was the sixth of eight children born to her parents in Cromarty, a town in the Scottish Highlands located 455 miles (732 kilometers) north west of London. At the time of her birth, Janet’s father was employed in the Mercantile Marine as a ship master (captain) in charge of cargo vessels sailing in British and international waters. On renewing his Master’s Certificate on 4 May 1853 it was stated that he had been with the service for 32 years, and had started out as an apprentice mate. Simple maths indicates that he joined up in 1821 when he was 18 years old.


Janet’s father had worked as a ‘boatman’ for most of his life, and had ‘salt in their veins’. His was a well-respected but perilous occupation, as evidenced in the drowning of her only brother John James MacKeddie on board ‘S.S. Sea Queen’ when it ran aground on Scroby Sands in the Great Yarmouth Approaches, Norfolk, England. A similar fate befell her brother-in-law William Brander, who was a ship master with the Coastguard in Cheshire, England.


By the time she was 13 years old, Janet had lost both of her parents who died 12 months apart. It was her sister Joanna MacKeddie who took her under her wing until was able to stand on her own two feet. She married Charles 7 years after her parents’ untimely deaths, which led to a lifetime of heartache for her. Charles was an experienced chemist when she married him in 1863, and the pair settled in Cromarty, where Charles plied his trade on the High Street. By the time her son Charles Mitchell Michie was born, her husband had become bankrupt, as reported in the Inverness Advertiser and Edinburgh Gazette:


  • 30 December 1870: “INQUESTRATIONS: Charles Michie, Chemist and Bookseller in Cromarty. Charles moved into the Temperance Hotel in Cromarty on 31 January 1871. James Gregor, Solicitor, Cromarty agreed”.


Her husband’s move into this hotel under the direction of a solicitor, suggests he may have lost his way through the ‘demon drink’. 10 years later, he was working as a druggist (compounder of medicines) in Rosemarkie, Fortrose, Ross and Cromarty, Scotland, where he died on 14 November 1882 aged 49 years.


The loss of her 2-year-old daughter Mary Matheson Michie and 10-day-old son William Brander Michie, from whooping cough and convulsions, must have been heart-breaking, but the loss of her husband was devastating and left her struggling to make ends meet.


Her family had mixed fortunes:


  • James Michie (1864-1930): Was a druggist and member of the 1st Inverness Royal Volunteer Rifles, before enlisting with the Royal Army Medical Corps (R.A.M.C.) on 24 April 1883. After serving in Egypt and Gibraltar, he was tried and convicted of negligence, and shortly after marrying Ina Sommerville in 1894, he was tried and convicted of embezzlement. As a result of these convictions, James was demoted from Sergeant to Private. While serving in South Africa between 1899 and 1903 he redeemed himself, and was discharged on 25 April 1904 with the rank of Corporal. It’s not known in what occupation James was employed between 1904 and 1919, however, between 3 November 1919 and 19 August 1929 he’s known to have served with the Mercantile Marine as a steward on board Atlantic passenger liners. He finally retired after making 112 voyages, and died 8 months later aged 65 years.


  • John MacKeddie Michie (1866-1920): Was a grocer, before enlisting with the Highland Light Infantry on 20 October 1891. After serving in Britain, India and South Africa he was discharged to the Army Reserve on 18 October 1903. Although he achieved the rank of Sergeant, he was demoted after being convicted for drunkenness, absence and the conduct of a fugitive in 1898. On 14 December 1908, he emigrated to Australia, and working as a grocer settled in ‘Cromarty’, Nottinghill Road, Lidcombe, Sydney, New South Wales. After marrying Australian native Kate Spencer in 1913, he volunteered for service with the Australian Imperial Force on 25 January 1916. Aged 49 years and 11 months, he was restricted to home service with the Pay Corps, Victoria Barracks, Sydney, New South Wales. Despite this, he attained the rank of Staff Sergeant, and having done his bit for ‘King and Country’ during World War I (1914-1918), he died at home from heart failure on 10 August 1920 aged 54 years.


  • Charles Mitchell Michie (1868-1930): Was working as a railway engine fireman within 3 years of his father’s untimely death, and had assumed responsibility for his mother and younger brothers George Begg Michie (1875-1901) and Alexander Robertson MacKenzie Michie (1879-1894). Sadly, Alexander died 15 months before Charles married Barbara Isabella MacNiven. Charles further endured the deaths of his daughter Jane Metcalf Michie, from pneumonia in 1904; his son Thomas John Michie, from pneumonia in 1909; and his daughter Jessie MacKeddie Michie, from tuberculosis in 1910. Although Charles was employed by the Highland Railway Company as an engine driver for most of his working life, after he and Barbara had been married for 35 years, he died from heart failure while working as a railway wagon examiner in the goods yard at Perth, Scotland. Having lost her husband and three children, Barbara suffered the loss of her son Charles Michie, as the result of a railway accident in 1943; and her daughter Ellen Ann Fraser MacNiven Michie, from breast cancer in 1947. With no surviving kin in Scotland, Barbara moved south to London to live out the rest of her days close by her last remaining child, Margaret Smith Michie (1906-1973).


  • George Begg Michie (1875-1901): Worked as a railway engine driver, until he was involved in a fatal accident, as reported in the Forres Gazette on Wednesday 21 August 1901: “George Begg Michie a young engine driver in the employ of the Highland Railway Company came by his death on Saturday in a somewhat mysterious manner. He was in charge of one of the two engines that left Inverness at 10:10 am for the south via Forres. When the train was going at full speed between Dunphail and Dava stations, Michie it is conjectured, slipped from his engine while moving about it or while stepping onto the other engine. His body was found lying on the line by surfacemen and was conveyed back to Dunphail Station. Dr. Petrie Hay, Forres, stated that death must have been instantaneous. Michie who resided at Waterloo Place, Inverness was 27 years of age and is survived by a widow and child. A brother of the deceased is also an engine driver in the Highland Railway Service. The spot where George’s lifeless body was discovered is commemorated to this day (more than a 100 years’ on) by those taking part in the bi-annual Dava Way Train Walk, as highlighted in the Davaway Association companion leaflet: “R.I.P. George Michie d 17 August 1901: As you walk between Dava and Dunphail, please pay your respects to George Begg Michie, a young engine driver who died mysteriously on the Dava Railway line.” Through this tragic accident, George’s pregnant wife was left on her own without the means to support her young daughter and unborn child. Although a Board of Trade investigation was undertaken and presented to Parliament, it was help from her birth family, rather than financial reparations, that enabled this courageous lady to raise her children.


  • Alexander Robertson MacKenzie Michie (1879-1894): Was a 15-year-old scholar, when he suffered from peritonitis (most often associated with a ruptured appendix) and died 14 days later from heart failure. His brother Charles was with him at the end, so he didn’t die alone.


By the time of her death on 4 January 1902, Janet had lost her parents, four sisters, a brother, her husband, a daughter and three sons. Furthermore, her first and second born sons were serving with the military in South Africa, and she had no way of knowing whether or not they would survive the Boer War (1899-1902) in which they were fighting.


Janet died from asphyxia (oxygen deprivation caused by the inability to breathe normally, usually from inadequate ventilation, smothering or choking) in the Northern Infirmary at 7, Bridge Street, Ness Walk, Inverness, Scotland. Since this was an isolation hospital, it’s probable that she was stricken with tuberculosis. Having said this, her death must have been sudden, unexpected or suspicious, since it was investigated by the Procurator Fiscal (a role unique to Scotland, but similar to that of a coroner in other legal systems).


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

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