07 August 2011

Frasers Part 16: Robertson Connections

Speaking of John Fraser’s FAN Club (friends, associates, neighbours of my Inverness-shire farmer in St Andrews East, Quebec—related posts here and here—a previously unmentioned neighbour in the 1851 census raised a green flag (gentlemen, start your engines). Dear readers, it should have been the yellow flag (drivers, do not change positions) but let me explain. 

The neighbour was Dr. William Robertson (ca.1800-1871) from Perthshire, Scotland, who took his medical training in London, England.[1] After emigrating about 1834, he practised in Williamsburg, Ontario, then Lachute and Montreal, moving permanently to St. Andrews in 1847. Dr. Robertson died there 6 March 1871. Local history compiler Thomas mentions a half-brother, Colin Robertson, “who represented the people of this County [Deux-Montagnes] in Parliament.”

Brenda liked the green flag aspect for two reasons. The doctor struck a chord because my Perthshire John Fraser (the blacksmith) had Robertson connections: namely, his mother Katharine Robertson (perhaps the female baptized 29 May 1791). And he happened to have a brother William Fraser (1810-1872), a doctor who emigrated about 1834 to live in Montreal. What are chances of the two doctors from Perthshire being cousins? Secondly, a good friend of mine by the name of Robertson experienced a mystical connection when viewing the portrait of a Robertson in the Argenteuil Museum—sort of a Hank Z. Jones moment. How cool would it be if we were related by blood?

Information about Colin Robertson (1793-1842) is greatly expanded in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.[2] He was born 1793 “in Perth,” son of weaver William Robertson and Catherine Sharp. Colin became a rather flamboyant, extravagant, and sometimes controversial figure in the North West [Fur] Company. In 1832 he suffered a stroke that left him incapacitated for several years, but by 1841 he was recovered and elected as an MLA. His legislative career was short lived; he died in February 1842 after a fall from a carriage.

The DCB entry cites for Colin’s birth: GRO (Edinburgh), Perth, reg. of births and baptisms, 27 July 1783. The first time around, I did not locate this entry in the old parish registers (OPRs) so conveniently available on ScotlandsPeople. Granted, Robertson is hardly an uncommon surname in Scotland. Even I knew that. The word weaver (Colin’s father) reminded me that Chris Paton of the popular blog Scottish Genealogy News had created a major study of Perth weavers between 1770 and 1844. His kind assistance led me in the right direction; as I’d learned before (I thought), it’s wise to consult more than one database, e.g. FamilySearch as well, in this case. Moreover, Robertson was the most common name in the burgh of Perth!   

Colin’s birth and baptismal dates are indeed recorded in the Perth OPRs, son of William Robertson and Cathrine Sharp. The parents’ marriage is also duly recorded on 9 March 1770, followed by a string of children. This is one parish where the Church of Scotland minister fortunately recorded baptisms and marriages by “non-conformist” (dissenting) ministers. The marriage and various baptisms were performed by clergy of either the Associate Congregation or the Secession Church. Paton already knew from his study that over 55% of the weavers’ group were non-Church of Scotland.
A son appropriately named William was born 18 August 1785, baptized 21 August 1785, to the same parents. He appears to be the last child of this couple. It’s clear this child was not a “half” brother of Colin. It’s not clear if this son became the doctor in St Andrews. The doctor’s age (51) in 1851 indicates a birth year of ca.1800, a wide discrepancy even by the sloppiest of census enumerations. Deep suspicion enters when ten years later Dr Robertson’s age miraculously reversed to 48!

Either “half-brother” was a loose term of the day, or the father married again and had another son William—a tentative matter complicated by the abundance of William Robertsons in Perth. Or could be the local historian and his sources confused the brother issue.

The Perth weaver in question, William Robertson and his wife, did not have a daughter Catharine or Katharine, therefore my potential connection disintegrates. What a shame. As a distant relative, Colin Robertson would have provided immense colour for family stories. His biographer states “... his favourite maxim was ‘When you are among wolves, howl!’ ... a striking man, six feet tall, with a long aquiline nose, a crest of undisciplined red hair, and a fondness for quoting Shakespeare and drinking Madeira.” 

So much for mystical experiences: my friend’s ancestors settled in Halton County, Ontario, many miles and years away. Here’s a throw-away line: Dr William Fraser, brother of my Perthshire John, married Quebec-born Miranda Robertson Charles. Here comes an extra Robertson headache!

[1] Cyrus Thomas, History of the Counties of Argenteuil, Quebec and Prescott, Ontario, 101.
[2] George Woodcock, “Robertson, Colin,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online (http://www.biographi.ca/index-e.html : accessed 2 July 2011).

© Brenda Dougall Merriman 2011

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