Taken from
Issue Number 59 Spring 2006


The Holmes Family of Campbeltown
by Marjorie Heggen

The Holmes family originated in Ireland and its earliest recorded member is an Archibald Holmes, born c. 1775, with a father possibly called Hugh. Archibald married in Ireland, about 1800, to an unknown woman, probably called Elizabeth. There were at least two children from this marriage, Elizabeth and Hugh, and possibly a John and a Mary. Some time after 1810, Archibald and family migrated to Campbeltown.

The first definite date in the Holmes family is the marriage, on 27 December 1831, in Campbeltown, of Hugh Holmes, mason, to Ann/Agnes McNeil, youngest daughter of John McNeil and Mary Brolochan. (The names Agnes and Ann were often interchangeable.) Her great-granddaughter, Elizabeth 'Bessie' Holmes Drysdale, told me, when I visited her in 1960, the story of their elopement and the estrangement of mother and daughter. There was parental disapproval because Hugh Holmes was an Irishman and about nine years younger than the bride, who was also pregnant! When Ann Holmes returned home, her mother, Mary Brolochan, spied her coming up Main Street with a new babe (her daughter Elizabeth) in her arms. All was forgiven and mother and daughter reconciled.

Hugh and Ann had six children in all: Eliza, the eldest and my great-grandmother; Ann McNeil; Archibald; John; Mary Brolochan and the youngest, Hugh. The second and third child must have died early, as neither is recorded in the 1841 Census. Only the births of the three eldest children were recorded and possibly because of these early deaths the three youngest children were not baptised. However, in 1841 Hugh and Ann Holmes were living in Argyll Street, Campbeltown, with their four remaining children, and Hugh Sr. was again described as a mason. Also recorded in 1841 was Archibald Holmes, a 66-year-old handloom weaver and his daughter, Elizabeth, aged 30, living at Back Court, Campbeltown. Both were born in Ireland and were the father and sister of Hugh Holmes.

By the time of the 1851 Census, Hugh Holmes was a master mason employing six men, and the family had moved to Back Walk. Eliza, so baptised, was always recorded, from the 1841 Census on, as 'Elizabeth'. In the 1851 and 1861 Censuses, and on the record of her marriage to John Stewart, she is also recorded as a dressmaker. For many years, there was a beautiful bronze taffeta wedding-dress at the home of my grandmother, Annie McNeil Stewart, Elizabeth Holmes's elder daughter, in Dennistoun, Glasgow, which Elizabeth Holmes had made for her wedding, and which was shown to her three great-granddaughters. However, it was not there when the house contents were sold in 1974 after the death of Bessie Drysdale, my aunt.

After the death of Hugh Holmes on 8 February 1852, at the early age of 42 years, the family moved to Glasgow. For several years, Ann Holmes kept a boarding-house at 24 Robertson Street. It was there, on 20 February 1857, that Ann died of asthma, of three months' duration. She was buried in Kilkerran Cemetery, Campbeltown, with her husband.

The Holmes family had moved to Glasgow for the greater opportunities provided for employment. The four siblings were recorded as living together at 230 Holm Street, BIythswood, in 1861. The next few years were to see three of them married. Mary Brolochan Holmes, the younger daughter, was the first one. On 9 June, 1863, at her own home, she married William McTaggart, the well-known Scottish painter, who was born at Aros, near Campbeltown, in 1835. Interestingly, also recorded on their marriage certificate was the maiden name of William McTaggart's mother, Barbara Brolochan. Thus, William McTaggart's first wife, my great-grand-aunt, was related to his mother.

William and Mary were descended from two brothers, Duncan and Neil O'Brolochan (both mentioned in the Kintyre rentals of 1709) who emigrated from Ulster 'early in the reign of Queen Anne' and settled at Barr and High Barr on the west coast of Kintyre. William was descended from Duncan and Mary from Neil. They were fourth cousins once removed.

Sir James Caw does not mention this in his biography of William McTaggart, only that William and Mary had known each other as children in Campbeltown and did not meet again until they were both visiting New Orleans Glen, to the south of Campbeltown, in the summer of 1860. William's address at the time of his marriage was 13 Pitt Street, Edinburgh, and his witnesses were Archibald McTaggart, his brother, and Peter MacKell, a friend.

Mary and William were to have six children, one dying early, before Mary herself died on 15 December 1884, still in her forties. It was a double blow for William, because his mother, Barbara Brolochan (Brodie), had also just died. Elizabeth Stewart, Mary's elder sister, was known to be very upset at Mary's death and worried about her sister's children. However, William remarried to a Marjorie Henderson, and had another family, and happier times were to come for both families.

Elizabeth, the eldest in the family and my great-grandmother, married next, to John Stewart, on 2 June 1865. She also married at home, in BIythswood, her witnesses being her brother, John Holmes, and brother-in-law, William McTaggart. Rather unusually for those times, John and Elizabeth Stewart were to have only two children, both girls: Annie McNeill, my grandmother, and Jessie, who never married.

The following year, on 8 June, 1866, the younger son, Hugh, married Christina Craig at 48 North Frederick Street, Glasgow, with John Holmes again a witness. They had a family of three sons and two daughters.

Hugh Holmes Sr. and his two sons, John and Hugh - particularly the former - were all said to have had beautiful baritone voices and to have sung at weddings and other choral occasions.

The elder son, John Holmes, never married. He did, however, leave behind a wonderful family heirloom in the form of a hand-written parchment document presented to him on the occasion of his retirement from the presidency of the Kenmore Choral Union, Perthshire, in May 1881. It is now in the possession of Louise Elizabeth Heggen, my second daughter. The twenty-nine members of the Choral Union signed it. After being president for four years, John was returning to Glasgow. Another possession of John Holmes's was a small snuffbox, which is also in the family.

Yet another family heirloom, in the possession of my son, lain Heggen, is an oil painting by William McTaggart. It has come down the years in the possession of, first, Elizabeth Stewart (nee Holmes), then her younger daughter, Jessie Stewart, then her granddaughter, Bessie Holmes Drysdale, then to Bessie's niece and my sister, Anne Drysdale, and, finally, to my son lain in Australia. It is thought in the family today that the painting, 'By a loch, harvest time', signed 'W. McTaggart', but not dated, might have been a wedding present to Elizabeth Holmes and her husband John Stewart, in 1865, from William and Mary McTaggart. The painting - which measures 12 by 9 inches and is still in its original gilded frame, overall size 21 by 17 inches - depicts children in a field of corn-stooks on the Kilkerran shore of Campbeltown Loch, with a backdrop of MacRingan's Point and the Arran mountains.

The career of John Holmes can be traced from the various censuses during the nineteenth century. He was recorded as aged seven, in 1841, in Campbeltown with his parents, younger brother and two sisters. In 1851 he is described as a 'Mason's apprentice', no doubt working with his father, a master mason. In the 1861 Census, after the family had moved to Glasgow, he is recorded as a warehouseman and clerk. Unfortunately, his whereabouts in 1871 have not been found, but in 1881 he was living in Kenmore as a boarder and was recorded as a bookkeeper. The last record of John Holmes's life, apart from the four years as president of the Kenmore Choral Union, is his death certificate, in which he is described as an accountant, aged 48 years. He died on 8 August 1882, at 20 Armadale Street, Glasgow, the home of his eIder sister, Elizabeth Stewart. Sadly, Elizabeth also outlived her two other younger siblings, for Mary McTaggart died in 1884, and Hugh Holmes, a ships' chandler, in 1887, as a result of an accident at the Glasgow docks. So, Elizabeth Stewart lost her younger sister and two younger brothers all within the space five years, and died herself in 1901, aged 69.

The talent for singing continued into the next generation. Grandsons William ('Willy') and Robert, sons of Hugh Homes Junior, the youngest in the family, also had beautiful voices. The oldest son, Hugh, went to sea at an early age, gaining his master's certificate at Glasgow in 1891. His career thereafter can be traced through Lloyd's Captains' Register, which shows him as commanding eleven ships between 1891 and 1923.

On 13 February, 1909, while commanding the Glasgow-registered Denaby, Captain Holmes was involved in a collision with another steamer, the Grenadier of Newcastle, 35 miles north-west of the Hook of Holland. The Grenadier, from the reports, suffered only slight damage: two plates dented and an anchor carried away. The Denaby, however, after some repairs at Hamburg, headed for the Barry Graving Dock at Cardiff for further repair. She reported 'having experienced heavy weather during the voyage and [receiving] severe deck damage'.

There is a gap in the register between 14 September, 1914, and 10 August, 1923. Hugh Holmes would have been serving his country at sea during and after the First World War. He died at Hamburg on board the Rose Marie on 5 October, 1923.

The second son in the family, William, was, according to my father, a 'wanderer'. He worked in the South African gold mines for a time. He gave my grandmother, Annie McNeill Stewart, a beautiful, translucent Indian china tea service as a wedding present in 1894. It was subsequently given to my sister, Anne, by her aunt, Bessie Drysdale. It is not known where, or when, he died. The youngest son, Robert, a physiotherapist, emigrated to America in the early 1900s.

The two daughters of Hugh and Christine Holmes are thought to have married, the elder, Annie, to one Miller. They had at least one child, a daughter Marion - called 'Madge' - who was a nursing sister in Campbeltown and lived with her mother. In the mid-1930s, my grandmother visited her cousin Annie, accompanied by my father, my aunt Bessie, and we three children, Marjorie, Anne and Rhoda. When sent outside to play, we chased the ducks into the hen-run, where they were found the next day ... some of them lame! We stayed in the Argyll Arms Hotel, Bellochantuy, on the west coast of Kintyre, our choice of accommodation during several other holidays - always at Easter - in the 1930s.

Contact between the families of Elizabeth Stewart and Mary Brolochan McTaggart continued into the next generation, particularly between the two eldest cousins, both called Annie and closest in age. Annie Mary McTaggart, born in June 1864, married James Lewis Caw in October 1909 'in the McTaggart studio'. He had been appointed the first curator of the National Galleries of Scotland two years earlier. He was later knighted for his services to art, and, as already mentioned, wrote a biography of his father-in-law, William McTaggart, published in 1917, as well as other publications. A copy of this book was given by the Caws to my grandmother in 1935 and I have inherited it from my father.

The younger cousin, Annie McNeill Stewart, born in 1867, married Robert Steel Drysdale in 1894 in Glasgow, and had a family of four sons and one daughter. The eldest surviving son, Archibald, was my father, and the only one in that family to have children.

I met the Caws on two occasions in my youth, once as a six-year-old in 1935. They stayed with my parents, near Manchester, while they attended the opening of William McTaggart's exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery - it had opened earlier in Edinburgh - on the centenary of his birth. The Caws had given my parents a lovely, delicate water-colour painting of Machrihanish - by Sir James - as a wedding present in 1927, which is also in the family out here. My younger sister, Anne, stroked Sir James's beard! He was amused, but I, being the elder, was most embarrassed!

The second meeting was at Easter 1946, when my Father and I were visiting my Grandmother and Aunt Bessie in Glasgow, and the four of us motored over to Edinburgh to have afternoon tea with the Caws. A vivid memory of the visit was of a house filled with beautiful paintings! As far as I am aware, it was the last time the cousins met. Lady Caw died in 1949 and my Grandmother and her younger sister, Jessie Stewart, who lived in Dunoon for many years, both died within two months of each other in late 1950. Sir James Caw also died in the same year.

NOTE ON THE AUTHOR. Marjorie Heggen (nee Drysdale) is the eldest of three girls, born near Manchester of a Scottish father and an English mother. She married an Australian engineer, who was working in England, in 1955. She worked for more than forty years in libraries, both in the U. K. and in Australia, and retired from Melbourne University Library in 1991. She published a book on her husband's family history in 1999 and is soon to publish another on her own family history. Ed.

Copyright belongs to the authors unless otherwise stated.

The Kintyre Antiquarian & Natural History Society was founded in 1921 and exists to promote the history, archaeology and natural history of the peninsula.
It organises monthly lectures in Campbeltown - from October to April, annually - and has published its journal, 'The Kintyre Magazine', twice a year since 1977, in addition to a range of books on diverse subjects relating to Kintyre.

CLICK HERE for Correspondence and Subscription Information.

ISSN 0140 0762

To visit some of my index pages,
choose from this drop down list, and click GO:
HTML-Kit Button 183