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Mini Biographies of Scots and Scots Descendants (M)
Murison Family of Gamrie

Our thanks to Chris Duff for sending this in.


As far as we know, it all started with my 5gt-grandfather, John Murison (c1695-c1760), who was a crofter on the lands of Alexander Garden of Troup in the parish of Gamrie, Banffshire. A family document dated 3 October 1732 shows a “Tack by Alexander Gairdon of Troup to John Murison as tenant of Crossford for life, reserving to the granter power to enclose, improve or resume the land.” We know very little of this gentleman, except he married twice, was said to be illiterate and that he made sure his sons had an education. He was thought to be comfortably well off and able to afford to do this. John’s descendants generally were countryfolk and remained in the Gamrie and Alvah area as crofters and blacksmiths until the mid-1800s.

One of John’s sons, Andrew Murison (1730-1809), got itchy feet and made his way to Edinburgh, where he became a Writer of the Signet. He had studied law under Lord Gardenstone of Troup, a prominent lawyer and second son of his father’s landlord, Alexander Garden. He wrote many letters back to Gamrie and one to his father in 1752 gave news of developments in the city, including “the building of a large street.” A couple of years later he was in London and reporting back on the sight of troops embarking for Virginia, as the French were making encroachments there, and complaining of the cost of living in England.

Back in Edinburgh, he got into importing/exporting business, mainly wines and spirits, and was advising his brother, James, on his business as a merchant in Troup. James was getting into trouble for evading customs duties and not paying his bills. In 1758, his brother William, had apparently joined a militia and been sent to the East Indies on the ship ‘Lennox’. Upon his return, he deserted. Andrew procured his freedom without punishment, but as William showed no gratitude, he decides to have no more to do with him.

Andrew tells of cases he is involved with on the West Lothian Circuit, such as the trial of Mungo Campbell, an Excise Officer, for shooting the Earl of Eglinton, and the trial of a horse-stealer. In a letter to his brother in 1764, he tells of the very public death of a prominent lawyer, Lord Edgefield, who took his own life by jumping off the pier at Leith and drowning. Brother William is still a cause of embarrassment, having gone completely off the rails and regarded as “a beggar and common vagabond.” He was taken up by the Sheriff of Jedburgh on one occasion and only escaped imprisonment when the judge discovered he was Andrew’s brother. Andrew tries to persuade him to go to America and offers to pay his passage, but William refuses.

Brother James is not much better. His business methods leave a lot to be desired, with unpaid bills and imported goods seized as contraband. Andrew advises him to give up smuggling. James continues to lose money and thinks he must marry a rich woman to keep him the rest of his days. He does marry later, in 1775, having decided to go straight and enter the brick-building business. Whether he did is not clear, but it is known he was not a happy man when he died in 1803.

In another letter, Andrew tells of half-brother, Peter, who had become a gentleman’s servant, having the “misfortune to get a venereal disease” and so having to leave the service of Lord Prestongrange. He soon finds a place at Troup with Mr. Garden and in 1759 marries the daughter of James Bell, a stabler. Lord Gardenstone’s younger brother, Peter Garden, buys the estate of Delgaty in 1762 for 21,000 Pounds. James’ son, James, marries a lawyer’s daughter from Leith and had been appointed Sheriff’s Officer for Gamrie by the time he dies at Newtack in 1833. His son, Francis, marries a blacksmith’s daughter from Inverness and is a tenant on a Protstonhill croft in Gamrie. Francis’ son, Francis, runs the smithy at Itlaw in the parish of Alvah, and has married the daughter of a Fueur in Dufftown.

Another of Francis’ sons, James, in 1872 decides to make a new life for his family in Canada and finds his way to St. Thomas in Elgin County, Ontario, where he gets a job on the Great Western Railway. He writes back to his blacksmith brother telling him drunkenness is common, as drink is cheap, and sends news of former employees of the Great North of Scotland Railway who have also emigrated to Ontario. Food is plentiful, but James prefers his porridge and thinks others would do well to eat such food. He eventually becomes a successful farmer and his children and grand-children spread out west into Manitoba, British Columbia and south into America.

In 1765, Andrew reports having bought Anchorfield, a house in Leith, north of Edinburgh. Here, he and his wife, Mary Herdman, bring up their children, all of whom had been registered at birth with the patronym Morison. One son, Alexander, becomes a well-known doctor and specialist in mental diseases, and is knighted in 1838 for his medical services to the Royal Family (he was physician to Charlotte, the Princess Royal). A grand-son of Sir Alexander’s, Dr. Alexander Morison discovers that great-grandfather Andrew, in marrying Mary Herdman, had married into the Blackhalls of that Ilk through a Forbes line, so changed his name to Blackhall-Morison. Andrew’s daughter, Margaret, marries into the McCraes and one of her sons, Andrew Murison McCrae, marries an illegitimate daughter of the 5th Duke of Gordon, Georgiana Huntly Gordon. The family immigrates to Australia, where they become famous as artists, poets and writers.

Alexander Morison, The Blackhallf of that Ilk and Barra: Hereditary Coroners and Foresters of the Garioch. (New Spalding Club, 1905).
Alexander Morison, A Manuscript Genealogy of the Morisons of Anchorfield, Hetland and Johnsburn, 1877 onwards from the “Alexander Blackhall-Morison Collection” in the archives of the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh.
Letters and Assorted Papers, National Archives of Scotland Ref: GD1/808/1-9, “Murison (Morrison) Family, Troup, Banffshire and Canada, dated 1732-1881.
Sundry email correspondence (always gratefully acknowledged) and much researching by your poster.

Chris Duff, Ontario, Canada (whose mother was a Murison)

University of Guelph
Scottish Studies
5 December 2015

Dear Sirs,

Through the auspices of Alastair McIntyre and his Electric Scotland web-site, I’ve been following his promotion of the Scottish Studies Department at the University of Guelph. This week’s issue gives a link to your home page which I have found to be of great interest.

In 1872, a forebear of mine, James Murison, beat me to arriving in Ontario by 110 years. I didn’t know this until I started carrying out research on the Murison family history in 2004. Since then, I’ve been down to St. Thomas and Elgin County to see the Murison memorial inscriptions on the many cemetery gravestones.

The Murisons originally were crofters on the land of the Laird of Troup in the Parish of Gamrie, Banffshire. They moved on to be blacksmiths at Alvah Smithy in the mid-1800s, with Francis Murison (1837-1901) at the anvil, and his brother, James (1833-1908), working on the railway at Portsoy. James married Jane Ewan, who gave him a son and daughter before dying young. He married again, to Isabella Garrow (1833-1908), in 1857 and he sired three more children before they all emigrated in 1872. Other Garrows followed.

James worked on the railway at St. Thomas initially, and then went farming. He wrote a number of letters back to his brother, Francis, at the Alvah Smithy. These letters are most interesting, in that they give an excellent account of life in St. Thomas and then moving on to farming topics. Prices of land and produce and wages are discussed and it is evident James was making a great success of his life in Ontario. I have barely readable copies on file.

My Murison family had the foresight to keep correspondence and documents relating to the lives of various family members going back to the 1700s. These were kept at the family home in Edinburgh until the last of my aunts and uncles died. They were then deposited with the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh on some sort of permanent loan arrangement. A brief outline of their contents, including all the letters from Canada, can be read by referring to the NAS file “GD1/808/1-9: Murison (Morrison) Family, Troup, Banffshire and Canada”.

Yours truly,

Christopher Duff

Note: takes you to NAS – Simple Search Screen.  Click onto this and a window called Search Catalogue Records comes up. Go to the second choice – Reference - and type in GD1/808 and select Exact match. Click to get the 77 pages of the GD1 catalogue.  Scroll down to page 42 for GD1/808.

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