Ann’s People

Elizabeth Mackay Sinclair Wemyss (née Sutherland)

West Yorkshire Archives, Calderdale  WYC: 1150/74/38 Elizabeth Wemyss signature

West Yorkshire Archives, Calderdale WYC: 1150/74/38 Elizabeth Wemyss signature

The Middle Child

Elizabeth Mackay was the third child of George and Elizabeth Sutherland. She was born on 21 October 1832 in Resolis, Ross and Cromarty, Scotland. (1)

Early Life and in Ann’s Letters

Elizabeth was christened in November 1832 and there is a sense in a letter to Elizabeth, her sister, that Ann is slighted that she did not know about the christening in time:

“I am rather disappointed that I did not hear of the christening in time to send you some lines which I copied some months ago, with the intention of presenting on the baptism of your little pet, tho that is over I send them on the other side”

West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale: Nov. 1832, CN:103/4/18 – Transcription by Leila Straub

In the same letter, Ann also sent a poem for Elizabeth’s christening.

A Mother’s Prayer

at her Infant’s Baptism

My Saviour! in thine arms I place

This silent suppliant for Thy grace,

Suasive, tho’ voiceless, is her prayer, –

Her weakness supplicates thy care;

Thy bounteous love has made her mine.

Lord! I would have her wholly Thine; –

A precious, but a sacred, loan

I dare not call the gem my own –

Accept it Lord! enough for me

In life, in death, secure with Thee”

Hugh Stowell – The Pleasures of Religion and Other Poems, 1832

Elizabeth was called “baby” until her brother John was born. Ann referred to baby Elizabeth in letters to her sister below. Ann also referred to her as “little fussy” in a letter written on 21 June 1834.

“I long to hear how you all are, and if little fussy can walk.”

West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale, CN:103/4/26 – Transcription by Leila Straub

Ann enjoyed sending clothes to Elizabeth.  On 1 September 1834 she wrote:

“It is rather hard I think to deprive poor little baby (for baby I suppose she must be till another supplants her) of her tippet and sleeves, I expected the tippet would nearly fall to her ankles, it was intended in some measure as a substitute for a little cloak –”

West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale, CN:103/4/27 – Transcription by Leila Straub

Elizabeth’s second birthday was an occasion for much joy. Ann wrote to her sister on 5 November 1834:

“I am delighted to hear all the little ones were so highly amused and so happy on Elizabeth’s birthday I am sure Hannah‘s presents would please and be very much valued.”

West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale, CN:103/4/31 – Transcription by Leila Straub

Hannah Heap was the Sutherland’s much cherished housekeeper. Read more about her here.

Ann showed concern for a poorly Elizabeth in a letter written 2 February 1835 when she was teething.

“poor little Elizabeth must be rather dull when Mary and Sack are in the school room – I hope she will soon get over the troublesome business of teething” 

West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale, CN:103/4/35 – Transcription by Leila Straub

Was Elizabeth a strong or sickly child?  It’s difficult to say. Ann’s letters demonstrate concern on medical matters for all her nieces and nephews .  Measles, colds and whooping cough are enquired after in her correspondence.

In January 1844 George Mackay Sutherland and his family were living in Merton, Surrey. A letter to the solicitor Robert Parker in Halifax reveals a father concerned for the health of Elizabeth and older sister Mary. He has decided to take Elizabeth with him on a visit to Shibden Hall.

West Yorkshire Archives, Calderdale FW120/51, 8 Jan 1844

“I take my second daughter with me as I doubt not the change will do her good. I lament to say my eldest has been very far from well.”

FW:120/51 GMS TO RP 8 Jan 1844 from Merton – Transcription by Diane Halford

By the age of fourteen, Elizabeth had tragically lost both parents (her mother in 1844, her father in 1847) and three of her siblings, John (1836), Sackville (1842) and Mary (1845). (1)

In 1847, following the death of their father George M Sutherland, Elizabeth, along with her surviving siblings, Evan Charles and Ann were now under the personal care and supervision of their stepmother Mary Elizabeth Haigh, who married George in 1846 and had a newborn, Mary Elizabeth at the time of his death. (2)

Marriage

Elizabeth married David Sinclair Wemyss in Bower, Caithness on 22 August 1850, aged eighteen.  David was nineteen years her senior. (1)

Marriage certificate of Elizabeth Sutherland and David Wemyss

22/8/1850 Sutherland, Elizabeth (Old Parish Registers Marriages 098/140 320 Inverness) Page 320 of 401 ©Crown copyright, National Records of Scotland.

The wedding was hosted at the home of Elizabeth’s grandmother, Mrs Jean Sackville Sutherland. Elizabeth was described in the John O’Groat Journal as an “amiable and accomplished bride”. She was given away by one of her guardians, Henry Edwards M.P. who was her mother’s cousin.

This article also shows that David Wemyss was a universally popular landlord, with tenants vying to prove their attachment to him. The happy couple would spend their honeymoon on an excursion to the west coast of Scotland. (2)

Newspaper article on the wedding of Elizabeth and David Wemyss

26 August 1850 Caledonian Mercury©The British Library Board

The Southdun Estate near Wick, Caithness had been held by the Sinclair family since the sixteenth century. David inherited the estate after the death of his father in 1831. (3)

The couple lived in Ackergill Tower near Wick, Scotland.  The tower was built in the early 16th century and is a category A listed building.  (4)

The tower is reputed to be haunted and was transformed into a hotel in the 1980’s with celebrities such as Billy Connelly visiting. (5) US philanthropist Dr. Betsee Parker bought the tower as a private home in 2019. It was used as a backdrop in series 4 of Netflix hit TV series – The Crown. (6)

Ackergill Tower, Caithnesshire by William Daniell 1822 photo ©Tate. CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported)http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T02877

Ackergill Tower, 2011, Sian AbrahamsCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sinclair Weymss Children

Elizabeth and David had eight children between 1851 and 1870. (1)

William

Their first child, William, was born in 1851. (1)

A grand party took place in late August to celebrate William’s baptism. The newspaper cutting below gives colour to a considerable event on the estate to welcome the infant heir.

Estate celebration at the birth of first born William Weymss on 29 August 1851 Elgin Courier©The British Library Board

29 August 1851 Elgin Courier©The British Library Board

Elizabeth was to fall pregnant again a few months later.  However, in a tragic twist, William was to die aged 14 months on 27 August 1852 only three days after his younger brother David was born. (2) William is buried in the famous Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh. (3)

David

Named William David Sinclair Wemyss at birth, he went by the name of David. He grew up to be a naval cadet and after 15 months transferred onto HMS Warrior where he was considered a first rate seaman. He was on the Warrior in August 1868 when she accidentally ran into HMS Royal Oak in bad weather.  David was one of the five midshipmen doing the duty of fifteen, and for ten days he was on and off duty every four hours without dry clothes. After a burst blood vessel he came home to Ackergill Tower where his condition deteriorated. (1) Over the coming months David’s parents would take him to the English south coast and a milder climate in a desperate attempt to ease what was clearly a dangerous pulmonary condition. But to no avail. David died in June 1870.

Death announcement of David Sinclair Wemyss Jr on 30 June 1870 Northern Ensign and Weekly Gazette©The British Library Board

30 June 1870 Northern Ensign and Weekly Gazette©The British Library Board

George

George was born in 1854. He left home at a young age to join the Navy and was based at the Australia Station for nearly 4 years. (1)

The Australia Station was the British, and later Australian, naval command responsible for the waters around the Australian continent. (2)

Photo of the Royal Navy squadron moored in Sydney - 1880

Photograph of the Royal Navy squadron on the Australia Station moored in Sydney – 1880. (Wikipedia)

In 1879 George resigned his commission due to ill health and returned to Scotland with his wife and two daughters.  His father had died two years earlier and George took control of the family Southdun Estate. He was also Justice of the Peace for the county of Caithness. He died in 1882. (3)

Henrietta

Henrietta was the first daughter, born in Ackergill Tower in 1856. (1)

In September 1875, at the age of 19, Henrietta married James Smith, a major in the Caithness Artillery Volunteers, in the parish church at Wick. (2)

Image of Henrietta Wemyss

Image of Henrietta used with kind permission of Meryl Smith

Although both Henrietta’s parents were already dead, the newspaper article below paints a vivid and charming picture of a special day for the young woman, supported by family and friends.

16 September 1875 John O’Groat Journal©The British Library Board

21 September 1875 London Standard ©The British Library Board

After the service, the newlyweds would take the train south en route for their bridal tour to Egypt. The guests would give “three hearty cheers” at the station to set them on their way (3)

Henrietta and James had a lucky escape on this first stretch of their honeymoon. The train derailed in Caithness near the village of Helmsdale, and their scramble to safety through a window is captured in the article below.

16 September 1875 The Glasgow Herald ©The British Library Board

The couple went on to have three children. (4)

Henrietta died in London, 1885, at the age of 29. (5)

Robert

Robert was born in 1859. He was married with 3 children and died in 1923. (1)  He was a major in the British army and served in Burma and India. (2) 

Photo from Find a Grave website taken by Thomas Hunter Brown and used with kind permission

Evan

Evan was born in 1864 and educated at Clifton College, Bristol.

Photo of Evan Sinclair Wemyss

Evan Sinclair Wemyss – Photo Credit – thepeerage.com

In 1886 at age 22, Evan joined the British army’s Seaforth Highlanders as a Lieutenant. In 1890, at age 26, he was promoted to Captain. He left the military sometime between 1891 and 1894, when records show he was appointed Deputy Lieutenant in the Magistrates Office in County Caithness.

In 1899, Evan rejoined the British Army in 1899 and served in the Boer War as a Trooper in the bodyguard of the Commander-in Chief. He is known to have gone through the siege of Mafeking when the British forces, under the command of Col. Robert Baden-Powell, were isolated for 217 days (October 1899 to May 1900). The Boer War ended in 1902. Evan returned to Scotland, and in 1903 was reappointed as a Deputy Lieutenant in the Caithness Magistrates Office.

Evan returned to Johannesburg, South Africa in the early 1920’s, perhaps to pursue a financial venture, and he died there at age 65 on 17 November 1928. He was buried at New Cemetery in Johannesburg. (1)

Janet and Mary

The two youngest children, Janet – born 1866 and Mary born 1870, were very young when their mother died in 1872. After their father died in 1877, the 1881 census shows they were living at Green Head, Flockton with their governess Mary Parker. Janet was 14 and Mary 11 years old.

Image of 1881 England Census

1881 England Census (ref: Ancestry.com #RG11/4570)

Green Head was a house located on the Flockton Estate, owned by H W Stansfeld, the husband of their Aunt Ann Walker (née Sutherland), approximately 14 miles south east of Halifax.

The 1891 England Census indicates that the girls were then living in the Manor House with their Aunt Ann. (1) Janet married her cousin, Ann’s son Francis Stansfeld in 1892. Mary married her cousin, Logan, another son of Ann’s in 1901. You can read more about Janet, Mary and about their Aunt Ann Walker Stansfeld here.

Elizabeth’s Death

Elizabeth died at home in Ackergill Tower on 10 March 1872 with her husband by her side.

Newspaper article of the death of Elizabeth Wemyss

20 March 1872 Aberdeen Press and Journal ©The British Library Board

According to her death record, Elizabeth died from Bright’s Disease, a type of kidney disease.

Image of Elizabeth Wemyss death certificate

Elizabeth Wemyss death certificate
General Register Office ©Crown Copyright License: Open Government License

David’s Death

David died on 10 December 1877 at the age of 64.

Newspaper article of David Sinclair Wemyss

20 December 1877 John O’Groat Journal©The British Library Board

Below are details of David’s probate. The estate value of £14,460 equates to approximately £1,414,590 in today’s money. (1)

Image of the value of David Sinclair Wemyss estate

In Conclusion

It’s difficult to know what Elizabeth was like as there is limited information and no known portraits to date, to help make an appraisal of her character. However, what we do know is that her children did not stay in the UK and live out a life of relative comfort. They pushed out through to the empire and beyond. Perhaps Elizabeth and David instilled a sense of courage and adventure in their brood.

Resources

The Middle Child

  1. Ancestry.co.uk Scotland, Select Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950

Early Life and in Ann’s Letters

  1. Ancestry.com ISAW Family Tree
  2. England and Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837-1915 for George Mackay Sutherland

Marriage

  1. Ancestry.com. Scotland, Select Marriages, 1561-1910 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA
  2. John O’Groat Journal – 30th August – 1850
  3. University of Aberdeen – MS 3203 – Sinclair Wemyss family of Southdun, Caithness: papers
  4. Historic Environment Scotland (LB14072)
  5. Scottish Field Magazine – 9 April 2019
  6. The Press and Journal Newspaper – 16 January 2021

Sinclair Wemyss Children

  1. Ancestry.com – ISAW Family Tree

William

  1. Ancestry.com. Scotland, Select Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
  2. Scotland, Parish Births & Baptisms 1564-1929
  3. Find A Grave Memorial ID 152255542, Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh, Scotland

David

  1. Northern Ensign and Weekly Gazette – 7th July 1870

George

  1. University of Aberdeen – MS 3203 – Sinclair Wemyss family of Southdun, Caithness: papers
  2. Wikipedia
  3. University of Aberdeen – MS 3203 – Sinclair Wemyss family of Southdun, Caithness: papers

Henrietta

  1. Ancestry.com. Scotland, Select Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
  2. James Smith of Olrig (rootsweb.com)
  3. 16 September 1875, John O’Groat Journal
  4. Ancestry.com – McDonald Harris Family Tree
  5. England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1837-1915

Robert

  1. Ancestry. com – ISAW Family Tree
  2. The National Archives – Ref. WO 76/445

Evan

  1. Evan Sinclair Wemyss (1864-1928) | WikiTree FREE Family Tree  Profile Manager – Mark Sutherland-Fisher

Janet and Mary

  1. 1891 England Census (ref: Ancestry.com #RG12/3742)

David’s Death

  1. Inflation calculator | Bank of England

Other Resources

General Register Office (GRO)
https://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/

The British Newspaper Archive – a paid service
https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/

Ancestry.com – a paid service
https://www.ancestry.com/

Special Thanks

Diane Halford – Archival Research

Leila Straub – Transcriptions

Deb Woolson – Editing

Erin Quillam – Research

In Search of Ann Walker’s research into Ann’s life is ongoing, therefore new discoveries may change the way we chronicle her life in the future.

How to cite this article:
Catriona Findlay (2023) “Elizabeth MacKay Sinclair Wemyss ”: In Search of Ann Walker [Accessed “add date”]

Catriona Findlay

Scriptwriter from Scotland with a keen interest in female protagonists. I'm full of admiration for Anne and Ann in how they forged their own path. It's a pleasure to have the opportunity to help honour their story.