Francis Hay (1855-1872)

24.11.2011 | 19:44

Andrew Hay was a fisherman, born in 1828, and he lived and fished and married Jane Findlay in a small hamlet in Aberdeenshire by the coast, in Cruden Bay. Jane was four years older than Andrews, and she too worked at the fishing. They had ten children, the ninth of whom was Catherine, my great-grandmother. Piecing together the Hay household in that little hamlet, new members arriving with births, reaching adulthood and leaving, I’d find the household expanding then contracting then expanding again. With each new arrival for Andrew and Jane, I set out to find another life history.

Andrew’s first son was named Andrew, and as others were born, they were named by the usual convention that honours grandparents. The third child, a boy, was Francis MacPherson Hay, and he was born in 1855. I first encountered him in the decennial census snapshot of 1861, as a boy of about six, and again ten years later, as a teenager, following in his father in fishing in the north-east coast waters. I lost track of him after that. It was by a piece of remarkable serendipity that I found him again, whilst browsing a collection of 19th century newspaper archives.

I discovered from an old copy of the Glasgow Herald, dated September 24th, 1872, an unexpected report of an accident at sea. Andrew had taken his son, Francis, to Peterhead to take a new fishing boat, and they planned to sail her down the coast from Peterhead back to Cruden Bay. They set sail on Saturday, 22nd September, 1872. As they approached Whinnyfold and home, the boat capsized near a dangerous point known as the Scares of Cruden, and father and son were both thrown into the sea. The old man held himself afloat by clinging to the broken mast, but the young Francis was washed away and drowned. His body was never recovered.

In 1873, Francis’s older brother John, and his wife Jane, had a son. They called him Francis.

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