From Geanies to Grafton

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An interesting account of the family of Andrew Ross and Ellan Galley of Geanies, written by his grandson also Andrew Ross.


On the east coast of Scotland between the Dornoch firth on the north and the Moray Firth on the south is a neck of land jutting out into the North Sea, the extremity of which is known as Tarbat Ness. This is the eastern part of the county of Ross and Cromarty. One hundred years ago a considerable portion of this fertile tract of land was owned by a Kenneth Murray spoken of as the Laird of Gaines. Andrew Ross my grandfather was a tenant farmer on this estate and his farm was spoken of as Balaklava. On this, farm to Andrew Ross by his first wife Ellen Galley were born their children Alexander, Ann, Helen, James, Andrew and Johanna.

In the early 30's of last century the Duke, of Sutherland decided to turn the croft land (small farms) of his large estate into sheep runs and forthwith proceeded in heartless fashion, to evict on short notice all his tenants with their families who for weeks had no spot to rest on except the Public roadsides Sutherland and the graveyards surrounding the parish churches. When ships could be secured these evictees emigrated to Australia, U. S. A., Canada or to other parts of the British (Empire) colonies where they took no small part in laying the foundations of what is now spoken of as the British Empire or the British Commonwealth of Nations. When I was in Edinburgh during the college session  of 1898-99 I visited a Roderick Ross a man well up in the seventies at least who told me that he remembered clearly being taken when a small boy to see these Sutherland evacuees as they left Scotland and embarked on ships lying off the west coast. He recalled seeing old men carrying little boxes of earth taken from their native glens where for many generations past their fathers had lived. These tiny portions of Scottish earth sacred to them were being taken with them to wherever their new homes might be. He also told me that he saw men and women go down on their knees and kiss the ground ere they stepped into the small boats waiting to convey them to their ships. The story of this shameful eviction is told with vividness and feeling by Dr Fraser Smith in his "Autobiography".

Shortly after Sutherland's eviction had been effected Murray, the Laird of Gaines decided to merge his small holdings into a few large farms. My grandfather Andrew Ross made application to tenant one of these larger farms but this was not favourably considered by the Laird. My cousin James Munro, still living in this part of Cromarty, writes as follows:- "Murray a tyrant who evicted poor people from their homes to go where they would, so that is how all our uncles and aunts went to Canada." Murray and other large land owners evicted their tenants throughout the Highlands to make farms or sheep runs or deer forests. And now these large farms have been bought by the government and divided into farms of 40 or 50 etc. acres and each farm with a house built on it the whole let out to tenants who on reasonable terms may acquire possession of the same."

In consequence of such action, my grandfather's family with Canada one exception joined the stream of British Emigration turning their thoughts to Canada.

But first Alexander my father learnt the trade of blacksmith, Andrew that of carpenter and Helen married a shoemaker, William Fraser. My father served his apprenticeship at Invergordon where he married Betsy? Ross, but the wife died when their son Donald was just an infant and he was brought up by his Aunt Bella Ross.

On reaching early manhood this son Donald turned his face to the West and eventually established a flourishing commission business in San Francisco, Cal. where I visited him and his wife and family of four boys and one girl, in the spring of 1894. My father on leaving Invergordon went as a journeyman blacksmith to Edinburgh and used frequently to tell us of Edinburgh Castle having a good story about Mons Meg an ancient cannon still mounted on the Castle Rock in 1899 and is likely there to the present day an interesting relic of warfare in past centuries.

Father used to tell us of the Scots Greys and during my stay in Edinburgh I made a visit to the headquarters then at Musselburgh, of this famous cavalry regiment.

In 1854 Alexander, William Fraser and wife, sailed for Canada on the Tadmore. During a terrific storm at sea the vessels name board was carried away and being picked up and reported, it was concluded that the sailing ship had gone down at sea and all on board lost. The passengers had indeed been confined below decks for many days on account of the heavy seas.  

Arrive at Cobourg.  

In due time the four immigrants landed at Cobourg, Ontario from lake-boat. They sought the home of Dannie Ross in Grafton but being wrongly directed they walked as far as Coldsprings (5 miles to the north) before they became aware of their mistake. Returning to Cobourg, they walked along the first concession road north of the highway. We got the impression from Aunt Fraser that their reception in Grafton was not quite as cordial as they had hoped for. However, father started work with Dannie Ross, William Fraser opened shoe-repair and shoe-making shop and James eventually took up land for farming. Grafton was then a small village but the centre of quite a numerous Scottish settlement there being a Presbyterian Church built some years before our folks arrived.

Father Marries  

On February 12th, 1863 the marriage of my father and mother was celebrated. The certification of marriage is as follows.

Grafton 12 Feb. 1863. 

These certify that Alexander Ross blacksmith of the village of Grafton county of Northumberland Canada West aged thirty-six years son of Andrew Ross and Ellen Galley his wife: and Grace Carruthers of Haldimand said county and Province aforesaid, spinster aged twenty-eight years daughter of James Carruthers and Helen Moffat his wife, were united in marriage by license on the twelfth day of February one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three years in presence of the following witnesses Charles Fraser - witness John W. Smith Donald Fraser - witness Minister Canadian Presbyterian Church.

Father and mother started housekeeping and home-making in the house which still stands on the corner immediately north of the Grafton Manse. Here were born their five children Ella, Andrew, Elizabeth, James and Grace. This house was well and truly built. It is now over eighty years since its erection and its lines are straight still and it is kept in good repair.

Grandfather - Andrew Ross  

I have no knowledge of when Grandmother Ross died but sometime thereafter grandfather married again his second wife being Eliza Munro and these two made a visit to Canada and Grafton sometime after the arrival of the party of four already referred to. I have no recollection of this. Leezie as she was spoken of by her step-children could not endure this new country, so though not to grandfather's liking the two shortly returned to Scotland. Their children were, David whom I visited at Christmas '98 and who had a farm at Tarbat Ness, George who went to California and worked for years with Donald my half-brother and Liza "a bonnie girl with fair flaxen hair" who died at the age of seven.

Grandfather Ross must have been a man of character and standing in the community where he lived. His farm was about three miles west of Portmahomack. He was prepared to tenant the larger farm composed of the one he worked with three possibly four other farms of similar size. It was his intention to take up land in Canada but his wife being unwilling he returned to Scotland and spent his remaining years at or near Portmahomack. Father always spoke kindly and at times with considerable admiration of his father.

Grandfather was popularly known as "the Colonel" though not to my knowledge or by hearsay had he any connection with the regular army: and the little black pony he was accustomed to ride when going about his farm and the neighbourhood was called "Captain." He was I fancy a very strong man of sturdy physique. Father told of his being able to bite a pin in two with his teeth. His sons and daughters in the first family, were men and women of rugged stature all of them attaining to the age of eighty or thereabouts.

Sic transit gloria mundi.


I haven't a single memory of father being cross or angry with us children while mother was alive and I have no remembrance of ever hearing a profane word from his lips though in his shop he had many provocations to anger. "Plague on it" or "Confound it" would be his strongest expressions of wrath. He asked a blessing at every family meal and every Sunday morning he read a chapter from the Bible taking them in course and omitting such as were composed of lists of names etc. His hired help of which there was always one and sometimes two, always sat with us on these occasions.

He was an undemonstrative Scot but of his deep and sincere love and affection for his family, I have many assuring remembrances. I recall sitting on his knee one winter evening after supper while he rested in his armchair beneath the dining room clock. It must have been a rather rare experience for me at my then very early age, for the sense of complete happiness as I sat there while he played the Jews harp for me I have ever remembered most vividly down through the years. On the occasion of Mother's death, I remember seeing him sitting, in the corner of the darkened room where the remains were laid out in a plain coffin it seemed for hours, alone, a sorrowful desolate figure.

After this we just bumped along as a family in a very precarious way. Father did his best but the hired help he secured was far from satisfactory, neither old Jessie Munro nor Mrs. Kelley nor Kate Lockhart seemed to be able or interested in making home a pleasant place. At length after four or five years of this indifferent management and when Ella was about 14 she began to take hold of things and with Tootie's increasing assistance, conditions commenced to improve and our home soon became the centre of true family affection and social joys.

Father was proud of his daughters and justly so for they brought him much comfort and rarely a worry: and Grace my youngest sister kept house for him for years in the old Grafton home. And after her marriage, she, with her husband received him into their own home, cared for him and ministered to him most tenderly until one morning being confined to bed apparently with a slight indisposition only, he just quietly slept away at the good age of 88 years. His remains were buried in the old Grafton church cemetery. His death occurred in Galt, Ontario on January 25th, 1912.


Mother was Grace in name and grace in nature and character. I have only the loveliest memories of her. I think my father was very proud of her and her own brothers and sisters were very fond of her. To my eyes, she looked very beautiful always and especially so when dressed in her black silk with ample skirt and wide flowing sleeves. I think it was Tootie who liked to run her fingernails over the skirt to hear the rustling sound it made.

New Years Day and Communion Sundays in Grafton were high days with us, and aunts and uncles and cousins assembled in our in home. My memory picture of the dining table on such occasions was that of bountiful and tasty promise and mother the centre of the social feature. I remember very distinctly, and yet when very young, kneeling at mother's knee and repeating after her the 23rd psalm in metre and there was so much of wooing charm in her voice and much in the poetry that on one occasion at least, I asked her to repeat it again tope which of course she gladly did.

According to my recollection, her sickness was very brief. Ere we went to bed one night we children were told that mother was so sick that she could not come to us and we couldn't see her. In the morning we were told that mother was dead. I had seen death and so knew something of what it meant for the feeling of awe and loss and desolation that came over me I can remember most vividly still. It was blossom time in May. The day of the funeral came with sunshine warm and bright and the spring glow of beauty was everywhere but a drab depression weighed heavily upon all our spirits. Something in us jangled out of tune with the brilliance of nature about us. She died on May 27th, 1874 aged 40 years.

For years after I frequently dreamed that mother was not dead: she was alive and with us in the home again. And as these dreams recurred over and over again I decided that I must test them if they were true or not, and the joy that thrilled me as I became assured that her lovely presence was with us again was something of more exquisite happiness than ever came to me in waking moments. Later would come the awakening to the sad black fact that death had indeed claimed her.

Aren't dreams like these a guarantee that in the spirit world, not so far removed from this, she and others of our dear ones still live. The possibility of meeting my memory-sainted mother in that spirit world, sometime, is almost too great a joy to contemplate or cherish.