Monthly Archives: November 2013

Edge of Tyne: border crossings in the industrial age

Now the whole river began to boom. Coal-based, this prosperity took in iron and later steel, shipbuilding, chemicals, light and heavy engineering.  This was the era of invention, and the Tyne was at the forefront.  From her banks came the first railways, the first electric lamp, the first big guns, the first Dreadnoughts, the first life boats, the most daring bridges … Now on both banks Tyneside filled with windmills and pits and factories.  The gaps between, and the long sweeps up the hillsides behind, were crammed with terrace rows of brick to house the thousands of workers who were streaming in from all over the kingdom to get richer than all but a few of them ever really did.  The salmon twitched in liquid poison and gave up the ghost.

[David Bean’s Tyneside: A Biography (1971), cited in Tyneside: A History of Newcastle and Gateshead from Earliest Times, by Alistair Moffat & George Rosie, Mainstream Publishing: Edinburgh and London, 2005: pp. 281-2.]

This came a couple of pages after Moffat and Rosie began their chapter, entitled “Workshop of the World”, on Tyneside in the first decade of the 20th Century  (Moffat & Rosie: p. 279), with this:

It’s a venerable saying, but it’s worth repeating: in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was not Queen Victoria and her son King Edward who ruled over Britain, it was Old King Coal.

The period between 1850 and 1905 was when part of my family history shifted from Scotland to Tyneside, prior to my great grandfather (James Sinclair) and my grandmother (Marion Margaret Skelton, née Sinclair) immigrating to New Zealand. Many Scots have a long history that shifts between the Scotland and the border territory north of Tyneside.  For many centuries, there was not a clear demarcation between the two countries.  Hadrians wall was built from along the banks of the River Tyne across to Bowness-on-Solway (east of Carlisle, on England’s north east coast).

Between Benwell and Newcastle City Centre Hadrian’s Wall more or less ran along the course of what is now the Westgate Road.

“Between Benwell and Newcastle City Centre Hadrian’s Wall more or less ran along the course of what is now the Westgate Road.” (Going Glenn blog)

Hadrian’s Wall was a defence built to help keep the borderland and Scottish clans out of England.  Some of my other ancestors originally lived and fought in that border territory (the Skeltons and the Nobles) at least as far back as the 16th Century. The Scottish clans ceased their attempts to annex Northumberland and Tyneside after their defeat by James IV at Flodden Field in 1513 (Moffat & Rosie, p. 153).  Following this, bandits (or “Border Reivers”) raided and terrorised others in the border territory and Scotland.  The Nobles were bandits that terrorised many families, including the Skeltons.

Later, in the 19th Century, with Scotland part of Britain, many Scots travelled to the Tyneside area to participate in the acceleration of industrialisation in the region.  My great great grandfather, John Sinclair (1826-1895), and his brother Robert Sinclair (1836-?) migrated to Tyneside in the mid 19th Century, where they began getting experience in the tobacco industry.  They opened a small tobacco shop in Newcastle Upon Tyne in 1856.

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Robert Sincalr Tobacco Factory (c.1919), top floor of the Westgate Road building.

Robert Sinclair Tobacco Factory (c.1919), top floor of the Westgate Road building.

The coal industry developed early in Tyneside because coal was relatively close to the earth’s surface and easily mined.  As industrialisation gathered steam, the ship building industry developed around the Tyne. This provided a context out of which associated industries and commercial activities developed. With the relatively quick rise in population, activities arose that supported urban living and city life: arts and education for instance.

Migration from places like Ireland and Scotland and other places contributed to religious diversity. The Anglican Church was dominant, with a significant amount of political/social “dissenters” in Presbyterian, and non-conformist churches such as Congregationalist and Methodist churches (Moffat & Rosie: p. 268).  Working classes tended to be associated with non-conformist churches such as the Primitive Methodists (A New England? Peace and War, 1886-1918,  G.R. Searle, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 2004: p. 104).

Industrial development, urban rural shifts, and the rise of the popular press in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries (Searle p110-111), resulted in a shift from local towards more nationally focused politics.  From 1885 to the mid 90s, the (Gladstone) Liberal Party supported Home Rule for Ireland (Searle: pp. 119-169).  This was a signficiant issue which at times split Liberals.  The very active Temperance movement also was associated with the Liberal Party.

It was into this context that James Sinclair was born (1861) and married (1882) at a Primitive Methodist Church in North Shields, Tyneside.  This evangelical church was associated with the Temperance movement and working class culture.  It adopted the popular culture practices of “Chapel”, as opposed to the more classical style of the Anglican Church.  It is not surprising, then, that my grandmother, (born Marion Margaret Sinclair in 1883) was teetotal throughout her life, and advocated an abstemious lifestyle along with strict observance of Sunday as a religious day.  Nevertheless, perhaps reflecting the context of religious diversity on Tyneside where she grew up, she also supported middle and upper class culture in the form of music, literature and the arts.

The Newcastle band, Lindisfarne, achieved popular success in the 1970s, drawing on the Celtic culture that was, by then, an important part of the Newcastle heritage.

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Filed under heritage, history, james sinclair, john sinclair, liberal party, marion margaret sinclair, newcastle upon tyne, temperance

Matakana Mystery Man: James Sinclair’s (incomplete) story

Until earlier this year, I didn’t know the name of one of my great grandfathers (my father’s mother’s father).  The more I have investigated him, the more I have become intrigued about his life and why he came to New Zealand.  I have been surprised by some of the details I’ve learned of his life and family background.

James Sinclair seems to have been an accepted part of some circles, and made positive contributions to the community in which he lived.  Nevertheless, there seems to have been a rift between him and my grandmother as well as with other members of his family.  He was possibly a “Remittance Man”, sent regular remittance cheques by his family on the condition that he leave England and never return.  However, so far, I have not found any evidence of criminal activities, moral failures or socially unacceptable practices.

Newcastle Upon Tyne: 1860-1891

Little is known about him amongst living members of my extended family.  James’ daughter (my grandmother) seemed to have said very little about her parents, other than that her birth name was Marion Margaret Sinclair, that she was from a fairly well-off family in Newcastle Upon Tyne in England, and that she had been brought up by relatives in a household with servants.  I have recently discovered that she was born in Newcastle Upon Tyne in 1883.  Her parents (according to Marion’s marriage certificate) were James Sinclair and Fanny Jane Brignal.

Victorian Newcastle Upon Tyne, 1880s: The Guardian, 29 March 2012

Victorian Newcastle Upon Tyne, 1880s: The Guardian, 29 March 2012

I have also learned that James Sinclair was born in 1860 or 1861 in Newcastle Upon Tyne: father John Sinclair (successful Tobacco Manufacturer) and mother Margaret Wrightson.  He was the oldest child of a large family.  At the 1881 UK Census, James was living in his father, John Sinclair’s household at 26 Beverley Terrace, along with several of his siblings.  At the same time Fanny Jane’s parents, were living at 51 Beverley Terrace, Cullercoats, Tynemouth. On his 1882 marriage certificate, James’ occupation is given as “Tobacco Manufacturer”, his age as 22 years, and the residences for both James and Fanny is “Beverley Terrace”.

In June 1882 James married Fanny Jane Brignal at the Primitive Methodist Chapel in North Shields, Tynemouth.  This church was possibly connected with Fanny Jane’s father, as it stressed the Teetotal lifestyle, and was associated with the working classes. The rest of the Sinclairs seem to have been more connected to Presbyterian Churches, while Marion Margaret was married in an Anglican church.

The Primitive Methodist association suggests that James’ in-laws may not have been acceptable to the Sinclairs on the grounds of religion and/or politics. Fanny Jane’s father (William Anthony Brignal) was a campaigner for Temperance and railway working men’s causes, which were linked to the Liberal Party.

Fanny Jane and James seem to have been a happy and devoted couple, appearing at social occasions in the Tyneside area as mentioned in newspapers of the 1880s.  They had four children: Marion (the oldest), William John, Stephen (possibly also referred to as James or Stewart?*), and Fanny.  Their mother Fanny Jane died on the same day that her daughter Fanny was born: 20 December 1888.  When she died Fanny Jane was just about 25, and James would have been about 28 years old. This could possibly have been a sad turning point in James’ life.

Sandhill, Newcastle Upon Tyne, c. 1880s: Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums Photostream (flickr)

Sandhill, Newcastle Upon Tyne, c. 1880s: Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums Photostream (flickr)

So far I have not found James in the (5 April) 1891 UK Census, while Edward and James’ 2 year old daughter were living at John Sinclair’s house at 3 Hawthorn Terrace, Westgate, Newcastle Upon Tyne.  James’ 3 other children seem to have been boarding in Hudleston Street, Cullercoats with Mr and Mrs Ralph/Relph. This was in the same area as John Sinclair’s Beverley Terrace house. The younger son is named as “Stewart”, while in John Sinclair’s Will he is named “Stephen”.

Beverley Terrace is a coastal street with houses that look out on the North Sea.

The mystery years: 1889 – 1900s

However, James Sinclair (aged 31 years) does appear on a passenger list for the ship La Gascogne that arrived in New York on 1 June 1891.

There is a slight possibility it could have been my great grandfather’s cousin, also called James Sinclair (born 1858/9), who was the son of another successful Tobacco Manufacturer, Robert Sinclair. However on La Gascogne’s passsenger list, immediately under James Sinclair, is  S.E. Sinclair, 17 years old. Both he and James are listed as “Tobacconists”.  This must surely be James’s youngest sibling, Stephen Edward Sinclair (born 1874).

La Gascogne passenger list: arrival New York 1 June 1891. From the Ancestry Library: James & Edward #50 & 51

La Gascogne passenger list: arrival New York 1 June 1891. From the Ancestry Library: James & Edward #50 & 51

About 15 years later James was living with his brother Edward, and Edward’s wife Jessie, at a boarding house in Matakana, north of Auckland in New Zealand.

The curious thing about this passenger record is that the departure port for La Gasgogne was Le Havre, the port nearest Paris in France.  Was James therefore living in the south of England, or France, or elsewhere in Europe earlier in 1891?  Or were James and Edward trying to sneak out of England relatively unnoticed?  Only one other passenger is listed as being English. The rest are Americans or Europeans: mainly Swiss, German and French.

In 1893 James and Edward’s father John Sinclair drew up his Will, giving them both an “annuity” (annual allowance) to be paid quarterly for the rest of their lives.  The second oldest son John was given most responsibilities for the tobacco business, with his brother Robert in support, and to be overseen by the nominated trustees.  This is curious because James, as eldest son, would have normally been the first in line to inherit John’s business.  John Sinclair died in 1895, and the Will was officially probated in 1896.

NZ: Matakana, Auckland. 1900s – 1927

Edward arrived in Auckland in 1894 (‘Obituary’, Rodney and Otamatea Times, Waitemata and Kaipara Gazette, 28 June 1911, p.4), he married Jessie Campbell of Matakana in 1897, and they were both resident in Matakana by about 1903. In his Obituary Edward is identified as the son of a cigar manufacturer and merchant in Newcastle on Tyne, and in the notice for his marriage he is identified as the son of the “late John Sinclair” of Newcastle on Tyne (NZ Herald 9 Dec, 1897).

AT THE HEADQUARTERS OF NAVIGATION: THE S.S. KOTITI LYING AT MATAKANA WHARF, ON THE MATAKANA RIVER, AUCKLAND. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19091223-3-2 [Taken from the supplement to the Auckland Weekly News 23 DECEMBER 1909 p003 ]

Matakana Wharf, 1909.

At the Headquarters of Navigation: The S.S. Kotiti Lying at Matakana Wharf, on the Matakana River, Auckland.

–  Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries,                            AWNS-19091223-3-2 [Auckland Weekly News Supplement, 23 December 1909 p. 3 ]

According to his death certificate, James took up permanent residence in New Zealand in 1900. It is most likely my great grandfather who is listed as “James Sinclair: Gentleman” in the Matakana electoral role of 1905-6.

Both James and Edward (probably known as Jim and Ted) seem to have both made a positive contribution to life in their community, with Edward taking a particularly strong role.   They lived at the “Tyneholme” Boarding House at Matakana, possibly owned and managed by Edward’s wife Jessie. James had roles on various committees: the Matakana Cricket Club, Library Committee, president of the Rodney Cricket Assoc., auditor for the Matakana show. He probably also helped Jessie and/or Edward out working in the Matakana Post Office.

The Matakana 28082013

The Matakana Boarding House where Jessie, Edward and James lived is now a pub, 28 Aug 2013

James and Edward seem to have been strongly involved in the local social life, as well as singing and playing the piano.  James’ daughter Marion, who continued to live in Paparoa (not so far from Matakana these days, though a bit of a trek in the early 20th century), was a music teacher there. So it’s curious that there seems to have been little or no contact between them. James does seem to have been at the centre of a couple of community disputes that spilled over into the letters sections of the local newspaper.

Jame’s second child, William John also immgrated to New Zealand.   There is a report in The Observer (15 June 1912, p.8) of the marriage of W.J. Sinclair of Gisborne to Mildred Cruickshank in 1911, identifying W.J. as the son of James Sinclair of Matakana, formely of Newcastle On Tyne.

Edward seemed to be developing a promising career via various activities, including being the secretary of the Matakana Dairy Board.

Matakana Butter Factory 1902

Group of directos and officials of the Matakana butter factory 1902

 Image from Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19021218-12-1. [Auckland Weekly News 18 December 1902]

Sadly Edward died of pneumonia in 1911 at the age of 37 years.  His wife Jessie and brother James continued living at “Tyneholme” in Matakana for a few years.  Newspapers reported on their role as witnesses in a burglary trial, the accused having stayed at Jessie’s Boarding House immediately after the burglary.  (For instance NZ Herald, 23 November 1912, p.5). Eventually Jessie and her 4 daughters moved away to Auckland’s North Shore.

The notice in the NZ Herald (18 October, 1927, p.1) of James Sinclair’s death in Auckland on 17 October 1927,  identifies James as being “formerly of Matakana” and the eldest son of John Sinclair of Newcastle on Tyne. His death certificate puts his age as 67 years.  Prior to his death at Auckland Hospital, he had been living in the Knox Home, Tamaki West, a charity home for poor people suffering from incurable diseases”. He had been suffering from “senility” in the last year of his life, and “senile gangrene” for the final 2 months, but eventually died of “cardiac failure”.

James’s New Zealand grandchildren and great grandchildren have subsequently led successful lives.

It remains a mystery as to how, having been born and raised in Newcastle Upon Tyne, the eldest son of a successful and well-heeled Tobacco Manufacturer ended up dying, seemingly alone and destitute, in New Zealand.  James was buried at Purewa Cemetery in Meadowbank, Auckland, in an unmarked grave.

James Sinclair's unmarked grave, Purewa Cemetery, Photo, 2013

James Sinclair’s unmarked grave, Purewa Cemetery, Photo, 2013

* Edit 24.10.2014: I have since learned that James Sinclair’s younger son was called James George Sinclair, and was known as “Steenie”.

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Filed under biography, history, james sinclair, jessie (campbell) sinclair, john sinclair, marion margaret sinclair, matakana, newcastle upon tyne, stephen edward sinclair, william john sinclair