Category Archives: john sinclair

Sinclairs of Orkney & Tyneside: Scottish naming customs

Robert and John Sinclair went from Scotland to Newcastle Upon Tyne in the mid 19th century.  They had families, and homes in Beverley Terrace, Cullercoates.

In my last post I outlined the evidence I had for my Sinclair family history line going back to Stronsay in Orkney.  This evidence is largely from Parish and official marriage records.


I then looked at Scottish naming customs to see if that would add any support for my (somewhat tentative) conclusions. These naming patterns are in keeping with the evidence pointing towards John (c1826-1895) and Robert (c1836-1890) Sinclair’s parents being James Sinclair (c1799-1867) and Janet Millar (c1798-1850s).  The naming practices don’t add much support for to the notion that the parents of James Sinclair  (c1799-1867) were Edward Sinclair and Barbara Fotheringhame.

I therefore matched up John Sinclair’s children against the naming patters.  Some, like the blog post on the Find My Past site, say that the naming patterns were widespread enough to be useful for family history research. However, they weren’t always strictly followed by all families.

I have taken the names of the children of John Sinclair and his wife Margaret (nee Wrightson) from England census in the 19th century. These are thee children that lived to adulthood. These same names match with those in John Sinclair’s will, and the 1938 letter by Marion Margaret Skelton (née Sinclair), who was John Sinclair’s granddaughter, and my grandmother.

While there were some fairly standard variations of the naming pattern, the FMP ones are the ones usually reported.  Marion Margaret’s letter says that some of Margaret and John Sinclair’s children died as babies, but that she didn’t know their names.

The children of John Sinclair & Margaret (née Wrightson)

Here’s how some of John Sinclair’s surviving children match with Scottish naming patterns:


  • The first son would be named after the father’s father (variation is after the mother’s father) –

John Sinclair’s oldest son was James Sinclair bn c1861-1927

  • The second after the mother’s father (variation is the father’s father)

John Sinclair’s second son was John Sinclair bn c1866

It’s possible the second son died as a baby.

  • The third son would be named after the father…

The third son was named Robert bn c1871

  • The fourth son would be named after the father’s oldest brother (variation is after the father’s paternal grandfather)

[The father’s oldest brother was probably James, while Robert was likely his younger brother]

The fourth son was Stephen Edward bn c1874 – [Stephen was the name of Margaret Wrightson’s father and a brotherit’s possible that Edward was the name of the father’s grandfather]

  • The fifth son would be named after the mother’s oldest brother (variation is after the mother’s paternal grandfather)


  • First daughter named after the mother’s mother (variation is after the father’s mother)

first daughter was Anne Lindsay bn c1865 [her mother’s mother was Ann Wrightson]

  • Second daughter named after the father’s mother

Second daughter was Janet Millar bn c1867

  • Third daughter named after the mother

Third daughter was Margaret bn c1870

  • Fourth daughter named after the mother’s oldest sister (variation is after the mother’s maternal grandmother)
  • Fifth daughter named after the father’s oldest sister (variation is after the father’s maternal grandmother)

The rest of John and Margaret’s known children were:

Ellen Moria; Isabella; Grace; Evelyn; Edith (in order of oldest to youngest).  Grace is a name in the Wrightson family. Isabella is a name that could come from either side of the family.

The children of Robert Sinclair & Isabella (née Knox)


  • The first son would be named after the father’s father (variation is after the mother’s father) –

Robert Sinclair’s oldest son was James Sinclair bn c1859

  • The second after the mother’s father (variation is the father’s father)

Robert Sinclair’s second son was Robert R bn c1863

  • The third son would be named after the father…

The third son was named John bn c1870

  • The fourth son would be named after the father’s oldest brother (variation is after the father’s paternal grandfather)


  • The fifth son would be named after the mother’s oldest brother (variation is after the mother’s paternal grandfather)


  • First daughter named after the mother’s mother (variation is after the father’s mother)

first daughter was Isabella bn c1861

  • Second daughter named after the father’s mother

Second daughter was Janet bn c1866

  • Third daughter named after the mother

Third daughter was Alice bn c1869

  • Fourth daughter named after the mother’s oldest sister (variation is after the mother’s maternal grandmother)
  • Fifth daughter named after the father’s oldest sister (variation is after the father’s maternal grandmother)

The rest to Robert and Isabella’s surviving children were Allie May (bn c1869); Laura, Ethel and Isabella.


Thus the Newcastle Upon Tyne, tobacco manufacturer brothers have largely conformed to Scottish naming practices in naming their children.

Both Robert and John named their oldest son, James, and their second daughter Janet (Janet Millar for John’s daughter). Thus the evidence pointing to Robert and John’s parents being James Sinclair and Janet Millar is in keeping with Scottish naming patterns.

The naming patterns only weakly support John and Robert’s paternal grandfather being Edward Sinclair. The middle name of John’s youngest son is Edward: a name I haven’t seen elsewhere in John Sinclair or Margaret Wrightson’s family.  There is no support for their paternal grandmother being Barbara Fotheringhame.


Leave a comment

Filed under john sinclair, Millars, newcastle upon tyne, Orkney, Robert Sinclair, Sinclairs

Restless Sinclairs of Orkney: southward ho!

The Sinclairs are part of my much-travelled family line, including people who traversed the globe during the last couple of centuries. In my family history, some Sinclairs were living in Orkney, most likely based in Stronsay, in the 18th and 19th century.  Some of their descendants migrated first to Newcastle Upon Tyne mid 19th century, then to New Zealand in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Papastronsay.jpg ‎

Aerial view, Papa Monastery, Stronsay: Photo: Lis Burke,

After a long break, I’ve recently started searching again to try to find some evidence of the Orkney connection to the brothers, Robert and John Sinclair.  They moved from Scotland to Newcastle Upon Tyne in the mid 19th century. John Sinclair was my great grandfather.  His son, James, and his granddaughter Marion Margaret Skelton (née Sinclair, and my grandmother) eventually immigrated to New Zealand. 3 of James’ siblings (Stephen Edward, Evelyn and Isabella), plus one of his other 3 children (William John Sinclair), also migrated to New Zealand.

The evidence available is pointing towards a family based largely in Stronsay, but fairly mobile around Scotland.  However, I cannot find some crucial birth records.

The Evidence so far:

Census, newspaper articles and a family letter mention that Robert Sinclair (c1836-1890s) and John Sinclair (c1826-1895) came from a Sinclair family in Orkney.

The 1861 census has John Sinclair, born about 1827 in Midlothian,  and a tobacco manufacturer resident in Newcastle Upon Tyne, as head of the household. The 1881 census has John Sinclair, Tobacco Manufacturer 54 yrs, born in Scotland, Edinburgh; in 1871 Robert Sinclair Tobacco Manufacturer 35 yrs was listed as born in Scotland, Orkney; an 1881 census record has Robert Sinclair 45 yrs listed as being born in Scotland.

Robert’s marriage certificate (22 yrs old to Isabella Knox 20 yrs on 24 December 1857) says his father was James Sinclair, shoemaker. John’s marriage certificate (32 yrs old to Margaret Wrightson on 23 August 1859) says his father was James Sinclair “leather dresser”.

The Evening Telegraph of 5 November 1895 [misprinted as 1859 at the top of the page] has an obituary for John Sinclair, which says:

Mr Sinclair, who was in his 70th year, was a native of Edinburgh, but spent his youthful days in the Orkney Islands. At the age of 19 he took up residence in Newcastle, where he served his time in the tobacco trade.

Having done some research on the ScotlandsPeople website, I have concluded that Robert and John Sinclair’s parents were most likely James Sinclair (shoemaker, born about 1799) and Janet (born about 1793, aka Jennett, aka Jannet) Miller (aka Millar).

I cannot find birth records of John or Robert. However, there is a parish marriage record for James Sinclair and Janet Millar on 21st May 1824, in Canongate, Midlothian [OPR685_30_280_0194Z]. It announces the coupling of,

James Sinclair Shoemaker No3 Leith [indecipherable] Canongate and Janet Millar residing there, Daughter of the late Robert Millar of Stronsay, Orkney, gave up their names for proclamation, Certified by [indecipherable] are the Elders of the Parish.

File:Stronsay pier - - 213399.jpg

Stronsay pier: photo by Lis Burke, from CC attribution license

See some great images of Stronsay here…… and here.

Some of these family members also appear in the census records for Stronsay in 1841-61.

The 1841 census record for Lady Kirk, Stronsay [031/2/7], lists
James Sinclair 40 yrs, Shoemaker
Jannet Sinclair 45 yrs
John Sinclair 14 yrs [typed transcript says 14 yrs, looks like 16 yrs to me]
Robert Sinclair 6yrs
Jane Scott [14?] yrs, pauper.

Another 1841 census record for Kirkwall includes two children of about the same ages as recorded in a later census in Newcastle Upon Tyne. In this 1841 record [021/6/13] there is a household at Long Wynd, Kirkwall, which includes the following:

Barbara Fotheringham 70 yrs Ind [Independent means]

James Sinclair 12 yrs

Margaret Sinclair 10 yrs

John Craigie is the Head, and there are some of his family, plus some others. Some of the other names on the same page are: There are some other Millers and a couple of Sinclairs on the same sheet.

The 1851 census for Stronsay, has the following at property 15, Souhall,

James Sinclair, Head, married, 52 yrs, Shoemaker Master employing 2 men, born Orkney, Stronsay
Jennett Miller, Wife, Married, 58 yrs, born Orkney, Stronsay.
Robert Sinclair, Son, 15 yrs, Shoemaker Ap., Born Orkney, Kirkwall.

at 16 Souhall is Thomas Brock, Head, married, 64 years, Weaver of cloth, born in Orkney, Stronsay
Eliza Chambers, Wife, married, 50 years, born Orkney, Stronsay;

at 17 Souhall are a Millar family: Parents William and Barbara; children William, Edward and Jennet, all born in Orkney, and all but the mother born in Stronsay.

The Orkney census records match with the ages of John’s siblings in an 1851 England Census record.  In this, John Sinclair, tobacconist, 24 yrs, born about 1827 in Scotland, is listed as head of the household. The following people are listed in his household at 21 Blenheim Street, Westgate, Northumberland:

James Sinclair, brother, grocer, born in Scotland 22 yrs

Margaret Sinclair, sister, housekeeper, born in Scotland 20 yrs

The 1861 census for Stronsay [031/2/10] has

James Sinclair at 56 Souehall, Widower, 62 yrs, Shoemaker Master, born Stronsay: at 53 Souehall are the Millar family, the head William being an Ag Lab.

This fits with some details in my grandmothers letter to her nephew, written in 1938. After a bit about the Sinclairs in Orkney, she wrote:

The names of Hercus, Millar, Lindsay, were connected with the Sinclairs in some way.

John Sinclair had a daughter named Janet Millar Sinclair. Robert Sinclair also had a daughter named Janet.

I have not found conclusive evidence of the parents of James Sinclair (bn c.1799). They could be Edward Sinclair and Barbara Fotheringhame – but I have no strong evidence And, as far as I know, none of their children or descendants have the names Barbara or Fotheringhame.

There is a parish record for James Sinclair, son of Edward Sinclair and Barbara Fotheringhame, baptised in February 1799 in Stronsay [031/10]. There is also a parish death record for James Sinclair 69 years, son of Edward Sinclair in 1867 [031/7].

There are other James Sinclairs born in the same or nearby areas in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. I would welcome any information on this family line.

Thanks to the person who messaged me to say many online family trees are incorrect.  John and Robert Sinclair’s father was not John.  Their marriage records gives a different name.

The name Stronsay is derived from the Norse name, given to the island when the Vikings were living there.

Featured image: by Lis Burke

1 Comment

Filed under john sinclair, Millars, newcastle upon tyne, Orkney, Robert Sinclair, Sinclairs

A life too short: Fanny Jane Brignal 1863-1888

My great grandmother, Fanny Jane Brignal, like many women in the 19th Century had a short life, dying in child birth.  Nevertheless, she played a very important role in giving life to 4 children, 2 of whom migrated to New Zealand.

The 1861 Census shows that Fanny Jane’s parents were living with her younger brother, George Dodds Brignal (2 yrs) in the All Saints Parish at Newcastle Upon Tyne.  Fanny’s father William Anthony Brignal was born in Durham, and his occupation at this Census is “Wholesale Druggist”.

Fanny Jane was born in March 1863, in Newcastle Upon Tyne. [ England and Wales free BMD Index 1837-1915].

Fanny was 8 years old at the time of the 1871 UK Census.  She was living in the St Andrews Parish, Jesmond Ecclesiastical Parish in Newcastle Upon Tyne, with her family:

Father: William A Brignal 34 yrs  – Newspaper Publisher & registered (?) chemist.

Mother: Mary A. Brignal 33 yrs

Brother: William J Brignal 5 yrs

Servant: Kate Richardson 18 yrs

In the 1881 Census, William Brignal (45 yrs) and his wife Mary Anne Brignal (44 rs) are in the household of her parents (possibly visiting from Liverpool), George and Francis Dodds (both 70 yrs) and the Dodds’ grandson, George R Allison (16 yrs) at 51 Beverley Terrace, Tynemouth.  Also in the household are servants, Annie (21) and Mary (18) Richardson. George Allison is listed as a Commercial Clerk.

Curiously, at the time of the same census (1881), Fanny Jane’s husband-to-be James Sinclair (20 yrs) is living in his father’s household at 26 Beverley Terrace. Meanwhile, Fanny Jane Brignall (two Ls), 18 years old, appears on the 1881 Census record as living at 16 Low Hill in West Derby (Liverpool). Also in the household were Fanny’s brothers,

George Brignall (22 yrs) – Estate Agent

William Brignall (15 yrs) – Draper

Fanny’s cousin,

Isabella Brignall (20 yrs)

and a servant, Rhoda Adams (20 yrs)

This was likely to be the home of the parents, William and Mary Brignal.

Church Street, Liverpool, c.1880

Church Street, Liverpool, c.1880: from Streets of Liverpool.

In 1882, Fanny Jane returned to Tynemouth to marry James Sinclair. The marriage notice in the Newcastle Daily Journal, Wednesday June 7, 1862 says:

North Shields, Primitive Methodist Chapel on the 6th inst., by the Rev Vian Williams, asisted by Rev John Stoddard, James, eldest son of John Sinclair of Cullercoates, to Fanny Jane, only daughter of W. A. Brignal of Liverpool.

The marriage certificate records that the chapel was in Saville Street, that the witnesses were John Sinclair and Isabella Ella Marshall, and that James Sinclair’s Rank or Profession was “Tobacco Manufacturer”.  It also records that Fanny’s father, William Anthony Brignal’s occupation was “Journalist”.  It gives James age as 22 yrs and Fanny Jane’s as 19 yrs and states that both Fanny Jane and James were residing in Beverley Terrace.

The Newcastle Daily Journal of Thursday 12 October 1882, reports celebrations for the recent marriages of James Sinclair (bn 1861 son of John Sinclair) and his cousin, James (bn 1959 son of Robert Sinclair), who married Sarah Jane (née Brewis) in September of that year.

MARRIAGE CELEBRATIONS:  – On Tuesday evening, about 40 of the male employees of the firm of Messrs John and Robert Sinclair, tobacco manufacturers, of this city, were entertained to an excellent dinner at the Crown Hotel, Clayton Street, in celebration of the recent marriages of the Messres James Sinclair. After dinner, various toasts were given and duly honored, the toast of the evening, “Long life, happiness, and success to the newly married sons of the respected heads of the firm,” being admirably put by the Chairman (Mr Joseph Davidson), and enthusiastically received by the company. – Last night, about 200 employees of both sexes, including several invited friends, were further entertained to tea in the Temperance Hall, Nelson Street.  After tea, an adjourment was made to Northumberland Hall, Grainger Street, for the convenience of the unexpectedly large company, when Mr James Taite, jun., was called to the chair. A lengthy and exceedingly entertaining programme of songs, glees, violin solos, &c., was gone through, to the great delight and satisfaction of all present.  Mr John Sinclair, jun., ably presided at the piano on both occasions.

Grainger Street, Newcastle Upon Tyne poscard, posted 1902.

Grainger Street, Newcastle Upon Tyne poscard, posted 1902. [see more about this image, and the history of Newcastle at the Island Guide website.]

Sadly the newly wed Fanny Jane Sinclair only lived for just under 6 more years. Fanny Jane’s death notice:

NEWCASTLE, 17. Stratford Grove, Heaton, on the 20th inst., aged 25, Fanny Jane, the dearly beloved wife of James Sinclair, and daughter of W.A. and M.A. Brignal of Liverpool, and grand-daughter of the late Geo.Dodds of Cullercoats.

Above that on the same page in the BIRTHS section,

NEWCASTLE, 17. Stratford Grove, Heaton, on the 20th inst., the wife of James Sinclair of a daughter.

[See the Heaton History Group website for information about, and images of Heaton’s history]

Fanny Sinclair (22 yrs), as this daughter was named, was in the household of her aunts, Ann Lindsay (46 yrs), Jane Miller Sinclair (42 yrs), and Margaret Thompson (née Sinclair, 41 yrs) at 26 Beverley Terrace during the 1911 census.  Margaret’s husband Frederick William Thompson (accountant, 43 yrs) was also in the household, along with their children and some servants.

Fanny Jane’s older children were Marion Margaret (bn 1 Aug. 1883), William John (bn 1884) and Stephen/Stewart/James (bn c.1886)


Filed under biography, fanny sinclair, james sinclair, john sinclair, liverpool, marion margaret sinclair, newcastle upon tyne, primitive methodist, tobacco, william anthony brignal, william john sinclair

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.


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.


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”.


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