The Watt Family from Angus in the Scottish Highlands

Watt is a very common family name in the north-east of Scotland. “In some rural districts it used to flourish almost to the exclusion of all others”. Scottish Surnames: David Dorward 2003

The family of James Watt and Helen Miln

(the eighteenth century)

Let us begin with James Watt b.1749 in Kinnell, 8 miles east of Forfar, and Helen Miln b.1750 in the parish of Rescobie, a hamlet 3 miles out of Forfar in the same general direction.  I have been unable to find a record of their marriage, but James and Helen had at least six children, one of whom, Robert, died in infancy. The others were Janet b.1771; David b.1773 see below; John b.1775; James b.1778; Robert (no.2) b.1783. These children were born variously in Kinnell, Lunan and Inverkeilor - indicating that the family moved around, but only within a very small area.  Lunan and Inverkeilor are very close to the coast - Lunan Bay is locally famous for its expanse of fine sandy beach.

Because all of these good souls lived out most of their working lives long before census-taking was thought of, the Scottish Old Parish Records are all we have to go by, for a glimpse of their lives, until census-taking began in 1841. The Watts would appear to have worked on the land, either as agricultural labourers or as tenant farmers. David, the eldest son, continued this tradition, but the next son, John (1775-1867) became a master wheelwright (1851 Census).

John was born in the hamlet of Lunan, near the coast, and spent most of his long life working in the village of Inverkeilor, just two miles away. When he died, aged ninety-two, this was a very great age, at a time when most people died in their 40s and 50s. I have only been able to find records of two children born to John and his wife Ann Middleton - they were William Watt (1806-1887) and Ann Watt (b1811).

William married Sarah Gordon in 1835, but they do not appear to have had a family. Ann married James Deurs in 1832. In the 1841 Census this couple lived at Myneside Farm, Inverkeilor, where James worked on the land ,and they had two children;  after that I could find no further record of them.

James Watt (b1778) the third son - no further information.

Robert Watt (b1780) the fourth son - died in infancy.

Robert Watt (b1783- d before 1851) the fifth son - also born in Lunan; worked as a teacher (1841 Census) and married Agnes Dempster from Inverkeilor in 1818. Like his elder brother John, Robert only appears to have had two children : Ann (b1818) and Joseph (b1820). I was unable to find out anything more about these two. In the 1851 Census, Robert’s wife Agnes is listed on her own, as the head of a household. She is presumably widowed, and there are no other persons living with her.

Into the Nineteenth Century

The family of David Watt and Betty Langlands

Betty Watt (1808-1888), who married into the Kinnear family (link) in 1832, came from a family of nine siblings, all born to David Watt and Betty Langlands in the parish of Forfar.

David Watt (1773 -before 1851) was born in the hamlet of Inverkeilor - the first son born to James Watt and Helen Miln.  Betty Langlands (1770-before 1851) was born in Forfar. Her father was a weaver.

With the invaluable help of the Scottish Old Parish Records I have been able to trace the Watt family’s growth from the early eighteenth century. But for anyone born in mid-eighteenth century, like David Watt and Betty Langlands, these records are the only ones we have, to mark the milestones of their lives. All else is conjecture.  So it is as well to remember, when looking at the 1841 Census, that this couple were then approaching, or in their seventies. This is the first inkling we shall get, of where and how they had lived all their lives.

In the 1841 census, David Watt’s occupation is recorded as ‘Agricultural labourer’ working at Carseburn Farm, just outside the County town of Forfar. But I suspect that for once this is an understatement, because the 1851 Census records his youngest son, John, still at Carseburn Farm, as a farmer of twenty acres. He could still be a tenant farmer rather than the owner of the land; his unmarried sister Mary is recorded as a domestic servant, but in reality she was probably keeping house for him. I could not find David Watt or Betty in the 1851 Census, and therefore presume they both died sometime in the 1840’s. Neither John nor Mary appear in the 1861 Census, and Carseburn Farm has a new tenant, David Watt b.1826 ( not, apparently, a member of this immediate family). The 1881 Census: Carseburn [Farm] has Robert Watt b.1849 as a tenant

Jean Watt (1798-before 1841): the first-born child - no more information.

David Watt (1802-1866) the first son, born in Forfar, and married to Betty Nicol from Monikie in 1724; settled in Arbirlot, a hamlet just outside Arbroath, 12 miles east of Forfar. David and Betty raised a family of eleven children, nine girls and only two boys. Like his father, David Watt (2) was a farmer.

James Watt (b1804) the second son - no more definitive information, despite a great deal of research; a list of possible marriages in Forfar, offspring from those unions, and two good leads from the 1841 Census. I still found it impossible to match up these details with complete certainty.

Robert Watt (1806-1878) the third son, was born in Forfar, like his elder brothers David and James; married Mary Kinnear from Monikie in 1836 and settled in Broughty Ferry by Dundee. Robert Watt worked as a harbour porter. They raised a family of six children, three boys and three girls. Mary Kinnear died in 1860, aged 48, and in 1863 Robert remarried. He and his second wife, Margaret Grant, had one son Robert (b1865) - which must have come as something of a surprise to Margaret, who was then aged 49, and Robert senior, who was soon to turn 60.

Alexander Watt (b1810) the fourth son - no more information.

Ann Watt (b1812) twin sister of John, mentioned above - no more information. Possibly she died in infancy, while her twin brother survived.

So that leaves us with John (b1812 - before 1855) the fifth son, and Mary Watt (b1814 - before 1855) fourth daughter and the last child of this family. John and Mary both continued to work on Carseburn Farm after their parents died, and for the rest of their lives.

New directions

Every once in a while one member of an otherwise unremarkable family does something different - it could be good (as in this case) or it could be bad. But my point is - they step out of line - show some special aptitude or talent perhaps, like Charles Kinnear Watt (1837-1867) the first born child of Robert Watt and Mary Kinnear.

Robert Watt spent his working life in a succession of manual labouring jobs: this doesn’t mean that he was necessarily unintelligent, but he may never have had the opportunity to further his own education, and he had a growing family to support.  Perhaps that made him especially keen to do the best he could by Charles - who at the age of thirteen was living (in Brook Street, Dundee) with his maternal uncle George Kinnear, and his maternal grandfather Charles Kinnear (1851 Census). The uncle was  a Master Flesher - that is a butcher - employing three men, so from that we can presume a successful butcher’s business. The grandfather was a ‘proprietor of houses’ - a Landlord to you and me - and the image of a property owner is also of someone who is comfortably off. Before his retirement, Charles Kinnear was also a master flesher.

Not far away in James Park, the Watt household  contained four more younger children, and there was soon to be another baby on the way. Perhaps they thought that Charles had a better chance of studying in a quieter adult household; another possibility is that they could not afford to keep Charles at school, and that his uncle or his grandfather offered to pay for the schooling of a bright scholar.

The making of a Minister

Whatever the reason, Charles must have stayed on at school until he was eighteen (in an age when that was a luxury, out of reach for most ordinary families of the working class) because in the 1861 Census he is to be found lodging in Edinburgh, pursuing his studies as a student of theology.

Charles was educated first at the Free Church School in Broughty Ferry, and by 1851 he was already a pupil-teacher. At the end of his term of apprenticeship in 1856, when he was nineteen, he entered the United College in St Andrews University. It would seem that he was an outstanding student. On leaving the United College, he studied for some time at the Free Church New College in Edinburgh (1861 Census) but he soon returned to St Andrews for a further year of academic study, to gain his MA. For a short while after this, he edited the Perthshire Courier. This was just an interlude in a life which was soon to be dedicated to the service of the Church of Scotland.

In 1863 he entered St Mary’s College (St Andrews University) for another two years of Divinity studies, and he was at last licensed to preach in the summer of 1866. Not long after, he was appointed assistant curate at North Leith, Edinburgh. The sermons he preached there were very highly thought of.  Over the following winter Charles’s health suddenly deteriorated - a period of convalescence in the spring of 1867 failed to revive him, and he died in July 1867, two months short of his thirtieth birthday.

As a tribute to a promising young life cut short by illness, a little book of the sermons he preached was published a year later, with a preface by one of his tutors at St Mary’s College. Sermons by the late Rev Charles K Watt, MA.  Blackwood & Sons, Edinburgh, 1868. I have a copy of this book in my possession, with a small photographic portrait of Charles Kinnear Watt pasted on the fly-leaf.

And those who stayed behind…

To return to the family of Robert Watt:- Charles’s younger brothers, George and David, both married and raised families where they themselves grew up, in Broughty Ferry, by Dundee.

George and Annie were married in 1865, and had seven children over the next fifteen years. George spent his working life in commerce: he started out as a grocer’s assistant (1861 Census) and ended up as a commercial traveller (1881 Census) . Both parents died relatively young, at 47 and 46 respectively, and because this family is not really central to my researches, I have not pursued them any further.

David married Margaret Petrie in about 1880, although I have not yet been able to find a record of their marriage.  David’s occupation is given as factory machine fitter (1881 Census) and ten years on, rather more grandly, as marine engineer (1891 Census) . They had six children over the next twelve years.

The eldest daughter, Bertha (b1880) married Daniel Cumming in 1906, but their marriage was short-lived, because Bertha died in 1910.  Nellie, the second daughter (b1882) was married in London, aged 34, to James Wood.  This was of course, a wartime marriage, and something, somewhere went wrong. Two years on, Nellie returned to her family home in Scotland, and died in tragic circumstances.

Mary the third daughter (b1886) did not marry.  Unlike her older sisters, she had a long life, and died in Sussex, England, in 1967.

Jeannie (b1888) daughter number four, died in infancy.

Agnes May (b1890) the fifth and last daughter, remained unmarried, like her sister Mary.  Also like her, she had a long life, and died in Hampshire, England in 1968.  I think it very likely that these two sisters spent their adult lives together, and at some point retired to live in a more clement climate in the south of England. I still treasure the silver coffee spoons that they gave me as a wedding present in 1964, which were family heirlooms.

That leaves us with David, the only son in this family (1892-1969) who spent all his life in Dundee. And that for the time being is where my research into this family stops. 

Looking for more details? Try the Family Groups page, where you will find Census references, birth, marriage and death records.