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An Anderson Abroad: A Walk Through The Past

In this section, Tom Anderson writes from Australia regarding his family’s historical connection with Penicuik. Last month we commenced the journey with an introduction to the Anderson family tree. This month he tells of walking amongst that history.

Last month I introduced myself as thus: 

‘My name is Thomas Anderson (b 1962 – Greensborough, Victoria, Australia), I am the grandson of Thomas Anderson (b 2-7-1883 – Digby, Victoria, Australia) and I am the great great grandson of Thomas Anderson (b 25-1-1825 – Penicuik, Midlothian, Scotland) who was the husband of, Janet Jesse Blamyre (b 8-4-1823 – Penicuik, Midlothian, Scotland). Together they left Penicuik to travel to a faraway British Colony on the other side of the world, Australia, in 1852.’

On the 15th August, 2011, one-hundred and fifty-nine years after Thomas Anderson departed, his direct descendant, his great great grandson Thomas Anderson returned to Penicuik, Midlothian, Scotland.

So there I was, Thomas Anderson from Australia, over 17,000 kilometres from home, stepping off a bus In Penicuik on the 15th August 2011. Alone in a foreign country with a packed suitcase and armed with family history notes. But they were no longer just notes, I was no longer dreaming about my past and my family history, I was stepping into it. I was now going to walk amongst it.

I was overwhelmed; where to start?

The first thing I decided to do was to set up a ‘home base’ in Penicuik. Walking around the town one of the first places I came across was the Royal Hotel.

The plaque out the front read as follows: “Built in the 1790’s on the site of an old inn & brewery to accommodate travelling horse drawn coaching passengers”. It seemed only logical that it could serve the same purpose for me in 2011. Also, I had the romantic idea that that other Thomas Anderson may very well have had a drink in that very same establishment prior to leaving Penicuik in 1852.

So the bar at the Royal Hotel became my central base for the week I was to be in Penicuik in 2011. I sat down and ordered what was to be the first of many pints of Tennent’s.

I wrote at the time:

Having a pint in the birthplace of my Great Great Grandfather Thomas Anderson in a hotel that was built in the 1790’s. I would like to think that I am sitting at the same bar that he and his family visited.

The next day I paid a visit to the St Mungo’s church Cemetery. As I walked around the cemetery I remembered the time as a child growing up in Greensborough, Australia, I used to visit an old dilapidated rundown overgrown cemetery located a few kilometres from where I lived. I used to wonder who the people buried there were and if anyone remembered them. St Mungo’s in Penicuik was the same kind of cemetery. On that day I found ten different grave monuments listing details of the final resting place of twenty different Anderson’s.

As I discovered each one, I stood before it quietly. I removed my hat. I held my hand over my heart and I remembered them individually and vowed to find each of their places on my family tree. Since that day I have been able to place over half of them on my family tree. I had been standing before the resting place of great aunts and uncles and distant cousins that I never even knew existed.

Of all the monuments I discovered that day, the most significant was the grave site of a Thomas Anderson who died in 1908 at age 56.

A quick calculation showed him to have been born in 1852, the very same year that my Great Great grandfather had left Penicuik to travel to Australia.

With the help of my cousin, Richard Greene back in Australia, I was able to learn that this Thomas Anderson, who had died in Howgate in 1908 after living in Templevale, was a nephew of Thomas who came to Australia. He was the son of David Anderson (Thomas’s brother) who lived at Old Wall Tower Cottage. The romanticist in me would like me to believe that this Thomas Anderson, having been born after his Uncle Thomas had left for Australia, was named after his Uncle Thomas.

I felt a very emotional connection to this grave site and made a point of returning to lay some flowers on his grave site before leaving Penicuik.

All up that day I spent over five hours exploring the St Mungo’s cemetery. I left to cross the road back to the Royal Hotel in a very sombre mood and a wee bit emotional. There were five other people drinking at the bar of the Royal Hotel when I returned. I shouted everyone a drink, explained what I had been doing that day, and we all drank a toast in memory of those that had gone before us.

Later that evening and night I was researching another forefather in relation to my family connection to the Penicuik Estate and Penicuik House that I was planning to visit the next day.

I was looking through extracts I had with me of ‘The Annals of Penicuik’ (John J Wilson) in reference to a James Fairbairn (b. About 1683, D. About 1744/45).

James Fairbairn was my great x 6 grandfather. He worked as the Factor (Accountant) for Sir John Clerk (1676-1755), the 2nd Baronet of Penicuik. I imagine he rode a horse around the Penicuik area visiting lots of Estate Tenants to collect rents and deal with numerous other issues. From 1720-40 (approximately) he also held the office of parochial schoolmaster. What I found of incredible significance was at that time the school was located on what was to become the site of St Mungo’s.

Not only had I spent the day exploring the grave monuments of St Mungo’s cemetery, I had also spent the day walking on the very site that my forefather James Fairbairn had taught school on some 290 years earlier.

I had visited a very special place indeed.

Next month I will further explore the Penicuik Estate and Penicuik House connection. Look out for it on the first Monday/Tuesday of November.

[Image: © Tom Anderson. Left – The sign outside the Royal Hotel. Right – The gravestone in St.Mungo’s graveyard of Thomas Anderson (1852 – 1908)]