Tag Archives: infant mortality

The Allen Family of Glasgow & Inchmartine

Fortiter-Henry Howard Allen

Arms granted to John Allen in 1779 and matriculated to Henry Howard Allen in 1878
(Crown Copyright) Courtesy of Jonathan Allan

It has been some time since I last uploaded a family tree, and last week I added an extended and updated version of the Allen family of Glasgow, whose details can also be found along with the associated Scott, Dehany, Gregory and Welch families.

I revisited the Allens following a query I received, and it occurred to me that they provide a good model of what happens to a particular kind of middle class merchant and professional family during the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Looking at them may provide clues if you are researching a similar family of your own.

John Allen, who was the business partner and close friend of Robert Cooper Lee, came from a Glasgow merchant family and probably went to Jamaica about 1750 or thereabouts, like so many young men in search of fortune. Lucky enough to survive the unhealthy conditions there, he returned to Britain with his wife Favell Dehany in the 1770s, and two sons were born to them in London. John Allen was godfather to Robert Cooper Lee’s son Matthew Allen Lee while in Jamaica, and Robert Cooper Lee and his wife Priscilla named their last child Favell after John Allen’s wife. John Allen’s first son was named John Lee Allen.

The_Allen_Brothers sized 256

There is a delightful portrait of this boy with his younger brother James, painted in the 1790s by Henry Raeburn and now housed in the Kembell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas (source: Wikimedia Commons).

John Allen suffered badly from asthma and in January 1795 Margaret Grant, a mutual friend, wrote to the Lee family:

With the deepest concern I take up my pen to inform you, that our dear friend Mr Allen is no more.  They returned from a short excursion they had made to Glasgow on Saturday last; that night he was seized with a severe attack of the Astmah which though alleviated by medical aid did not yield to it and joined to some internal malady, which the force of medicine, or human skill could not reach, at ¼ past eleven yesterday morning proved fatal.

His disconsolate Widow and her dear Boys are with me, she wonderfully calm and collected under her severe loss, the more so as so unexpected, at least by her.  May the Almighty support and protect her and her Boys.  [A Parcel of Ribbons, p.318]

The family were left very well off, for John Allen had bought the Inchmartine and Errol estates in Perthshire on his return from Jamaica. Sadly the house that John Allen knew was destroyed by fire in 1874 and the current Errol Park dates from 1875-7. John Lee Allen worked to improve the estate.

The farm-buildings have been much improved, and draining has been carried to a considerable extent; embankments have been also constructed for protecting the low lands from the inundations of the Tay. The principal of these was completed by Mr. Allen in 1836, when about 100 acres were reclaimed from the river, now forming some of the richest land on his estate; the embankment is forty feet wide at the base, and two feet on the summit, and is eleven feet high; the lower portion of the bank, to the height of four feet, consists of a wall of dry stones, and the upper of earth and reeds intermixed with stones. A second embankment has been more recently constructed by Captain Allen, R.N., on a similar plan, to the east of Port-Allen, and of greater extent than the former to the west of the port; and in process of time, by continuing these embankments, a very large portion of most valuable land will be added to the farms contiguous to the river.  (source: http://perthshire.blogspot.co.uk/2007/12/errol-perthshire-scotland.html)

Two of John Lee Allen’s sons went into the Royal Navy and the youngest appears to have migrated to Canada. The nineteenth century saw many families bidding farewell to members who sought fortune overseas, but now instead of the West Indies eyes turned either to India or to the new colonies in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

John Lee Allen’s brother James, who was a Lieutenant Colonel in the 23rd Lancers, married the daughter of a Colonel in the East India Company. It was their son Henry Howard Allen who completed the matriculation of the family coat of Arms, and who by then was resident in England at least as much as in Scotland. His eldest brother James Vaughan Allen had died young, in Brussels of cholera, leaving a young widow Barbara Elrington Douglas who married twice more, but separated from her third husband possibly because she blamed him for the death of her epileptic son following an argument with his step father. She settled in Norway where she led a very interesting life farming, writing books and cohabiting with a translator called Oluf Endresen. However towards the end of the nineteenth century the money that paid her annuity from the Inchmartine estate was running out and sadly she ended her life in poverty.

The line from James Allen dies out by the end of the nineteenth century, with all his descendants either unmarried or childless, but the descendants of John Lee Allen were more numerous and by the late nineteenth century he had grandchildren and great grandchildren in Australia, where three of the children of Commander Henry Murray Edward Allen had settled.

The pattern of descent and settlement from John Allen and his Jamaican wife Favell Dehany shows many features common to similar families of the period. First successful colonists return home from Jamaica and invest their acquired wealth in their mother country, often with property in several places. Their sons have careers in the Army or Navy and marry well, into upper class or aristocratic families. Some of their children die young (but not nearly as many as in previous centuries) and some do not marry or are childless. A few carry on the family line, but seek to make their fortunes in the newly developing colonies and eventually settle there.

My mother’s family followed a similar pattern with sons in the Indian Army and Indian Army medical Corps during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, then others who tried for new lives in America and South Africa before settling in Australia and New Zealand. Such migration was often driven by the need to provide for the larger families resulting from reduced infant mortality, and from periods of agricultural depression in the UK.

So if you cannot find your family members where you expect them to be, look away from their geographical origins. If you are searching online widen your search terms to include other geographical areas. Look at records from India held by the British Library, check passenger lists for ships travelling between Britain and her expanding Empire, above all do not be surprised by the degree of geographical mobility of our ancestors.

The Allen family, who began as Glasgow merchants, had members who made a fortune in the West Indies; they settled in Canada, Norway, Australia and New Zealand, and have descendants still in the UK today.

Infant and child mortality in Jamaica

Mourning scene

A late 18th Century embroidered mourning scene for a young child worked on an ivory silk ground. The stylized scene includes a central tombstone with the inscription written in ink on silk: ‘In memory of Mifs Betsey Thomson who died Jun 29 1794 aged 4 years’*

I recently took some time off to look after a grandchild with chickenpox, and it was borne in on me how much things have changed even during my lifetime. A mere half century or so ago all children in the UK could expect to catch measles, mumps, whooping cough, German measles, chickenpox, and possibly scarlet fever or rheumatic fever, and to be vaccinated only against smallpox and diptheria. Many would die from polio and meningitis. Only when I was almost out of primary school did the Salk vaccine arrive from America to immunise against polio, which my sister had caught as a baby and I too had probably suffered from. In secondary school I was vaccinated against TB and tetanus, and already antibiotics were available to fight bacterial infections and pneumonia, saving many lives. My Scottish great grandmother lost only one of her twelve children – little Catherine died at eleven months of Cellulitis, Septicaemia of the arm an infection probably resulting from a small scratch or insect bite, which now would be easily treatable.

Now every child in the West, and many in the developing world, can expect to be vaccinated against virtually all of these childhood diseases and new vaccines are coming on stream all the time. However we should beware of becoming complacent since antibiotic resistance is becoming more and more common, and if it becomes entrenched we may find ourselves in a similar position to the parents of small children in 18th-century Jamaica.

There was for a time a strand of academic thought that claimed that because infant mortality in the past was so high, and so many pregnancies and infants were lost, that parents were inured to it and did not care for their small children unprepared to make any ‘investment’ in them until they grew up and were likely to reach adulthood.

I really do not believe this. Take for example the death of little Charles MacKay, which was mentioned recently on the Facebook group of the Jamaica Colonial Heritage Society, following the discovery of some marble tomb fragments from a site that had been bulldozed. The gravestone had sadly been lost but it had previously been recorded and so we know that so precious was little Charles Mackay that he was not recorded as being simply two years old at his death but precisely two years five months and twenty-seven days.

Here lies Interred

The Body of Charles MacKay

The Son of

Hugh MacKay by his Wife Frances

Born on the 14th of November, 1751, Dyed on the 21st of May, 1754

Aged 2 Years, 5 Months and 27 Days

Oh! Early loss. Like some fair Flower, the pleasant Spring supplies, That gayly Blooms, but even in blooming dies. Memento Mori. O Death, all Eloquent you only prove, What Dust wee doat on when tis man wee love

Browsing through Philip Wright’s Monumental Inscriptions of Jamaica (Society of Genealogists 1966) shows that many children were commemorated with their ages given to the day in this way.

It is hardly surprising that parents, faced with the repeated loss of children born in the British colonies, sent them back to Britain in the hope that their chances of survival would be greater. This was a practice not only among 18th-century Jamaican parents, but one which continued throughout the nineteenth and into the early twentieth century. My own grandfather and his siblings were sent back from India to school in England, not because the schools were so much better but because their health was likely to be improved.

More heartbreaking was the position of Lady Nugent, whose diary of her Jamaican experiences is well known[1]. Having apparently lost several pregnancies she had two children born in Jamaica with whom she returned to England. When they arrived her health had been so debilitated that she weighed a mere six stone, and when subsequently her husband was posted to India she left her four surviving children including a five week old baby behind in England for the sake of their health.

She wrote of her pleasure at her husband’s new appointment, But alas! I cannot help thinking of my children; and, while I am going through all the bustle of dinners, to meet East Indians, etc and while I am fatigued in both body and mind, with writing and various preparations, my whole heart is at Iver and at Westhorpe; for ten days ago, my dear little girls returned there, under the care of dear good Miss Dewey. I am impatient to get out of town to them…

And later she wrote, This book I shall seal up, and send to Westhorpe to be put into the desk, that is in the little breakfast room, where my dear children may find it, one of these days, should I not return; and along with it various little articles, as keepsakes, which they will value, I am sure, as relics of the father and mother, devoted to their interest and welfare.

The Nugents did return safely to England  and spent the rest of their lives with the four of their children who survived to grow up. Because of their social position and Lady Nugent’s Journal we know more about them than about many of Jamaica’s colonists and their children.

Often we can only deduce the deaths of children when we read a Jamaican Will that leaves an estate to nieces and nephews, distant cousins or friends, from which it can be assumed that no immediate heirs had survived. Such children were often buried on the planter’s estate in a family plot and it was not uncommon for the grave to be unmarked, the grave marker lost or the death and burial to have gone unrecorded in the parish register. This makes it difficult to estimate levels of child mortality. How much more difficult is it to estimate mortality among Jamaica’s slaves and their children, particularly in the earlier part of the 18th-century for which fewer plantation records survive.

What can be said with certainty is that malaria, smallpox, yellow fever, measles and other infections killed adults and children alike. Poor hygiene and a lack of knowledge of how infection was spread, or understanding of the role of mosquitoes in transmitting malaria and yellow fever, meant people were unable to take preventive measures and survival was often due to luck rather than a strong constitution.

 

 


[1] Lady Nugent’s Journal of her residence in Jamaica from 1801 to 1805. New and revised edition edited by Philip Wright, Institute of Jamaica, Kingston, 1966.

* from http://locutus.ucr.edu/~cathy/dress/mourn.html