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Why my Robertsons Wandered so far from Dundee

What is about to follow, must be so typical for many Scottish Families, from the last two or three Centuries. It is all about the drift from the Country into the Town, the ups and downs of the Jute trade in Dundee, the ups and downs of Shipbuilding on the Clyde, and the opening up of fresh opportunities and challenges in the world far away from the Tay.

My travel story starts with my Great Grandfather, James Cooper Robertson, the elder son of a family from Kincaldrum, outside Forfar, who's Father Alexander, had moved in to work in Baldovan bleach fields , just outside Dundee, and then in to the jute mills of Dundee. His eldest son James was one of the lucky ones. He was trained as an Engineering Apprentice, and became a journeyman Machine Fitter, rising to become Erection Shop Foreman of Baxter Bros, one of the major Jute manufacturing concerns in Dundee.

!875 was a paricularly bad year for jute in Dundee, and along with many others, JCR sought a new challenge in the emerging jute mills around Calcutta in India, where much of the jute processed in Dundee was grown. This was the start of a continuing drift of Managers and Engineers from the Dundee mills out to seek better, and more secure jobs in the Indian Sub-Continent. This migration continued after the end of WW II. Very many Dundee families had what became known locally as "Anglo- Indian" connections, through family members having worked for years in Calcutta and surrounds. Many of my school pals were amongst those who's parents were in Calcutta, and who were cared for by an Aunt, during this separation.

My Great Grandfather rose to become Manager of Works of the Serajgunge Jute Co. Ltd. Tragically he died in London in 1891, on his way home on leave. He was never at home on Census nights in 1881, and 1891, which was something of a problem for me until I discovered his Will in Somerset House. Then I found his obituary in the Dundee Courier, , when all became clear. He died in England by sheer chance! Not in Scotland, or even in India!! He was waiting for a train to Scotland at Euston Station.

My own Grandfather was next to go overseas, this time to Camden, near Philadelphia, in the USA. Alexander Robertson had trained as an Engine Fitter Apprentice in Dundee, and then he moved across Scotland to train as a Marine Draughtsman at John Fairfax's shipyard on the Clyde. He married in Dundee in 1898. His wife Alice gave birth to Alexander, my Father, in Partick, Glasgow in 1899.Then a daughter,Dorothy, was born in 1900 whilst they were in Dunbar, and Astley was born in London in 1904. By then my Grandfather had become a Marine Engineer, and he decided that he would have a "Go" at shipbuilding in America. So as a family they emigrated to the USA in 1905, but at the last moment were obliged to leave my Father Alexander behind, who had developed measles, and was not allowed to travel. My Grandfather established himself well in the shipbuilding industry of Newburgh, and Camden, near Philadelphia, eventually becoming Chief Engineer of the Newburgh Shipyards Inc..

My Grandparents raised their family in Merchantville, New Jersey, and in due course my two American cousins came along in the 1920s. Grandfather retired in the early 1930s from Newburgh, and then practised as a Consulting Marine Engineer , returning to the UK on his final retiral.

My own Father broke the mould, and did not become an engineer, nor did he leave Dundee. He was raised by a Great Uncle and Aunt, James and Elizabeth Anderson. Elizabeth was the sister of Alexander's maternal Grandmother. He was trained as a Pharmacist, and Optician, and on the death of his Uncle, he took over the reigns of James Anderson (Chemist) Ltd, for many years. He sold the business and moved into his Optical practise during WW II, to give him more time for his great interest in playwriting and the Theatre, when it was clear that I would not be entering the family business.

I had opted to study Engineering, and after graduation from University College Dundee, part of St Andrew's University, and a spell as a Sapper Electrical & Mechanical Engineer in the army, I made a move to Manchester. There I undertook a Graduate Apprenticeship at the Trafford Park works of Metropolitan-Vickers. It was at that time that I met my wife, and married in Cheshire. This was the start of my slide southwards, which took me to London for nearly thirty years, and latterly further south down to Queensland, Australia. This was really in pursuit of the warmer climate we had come to love on our frequent visits down under to see our daughter in Sydney.

My wife and I finally took the plunge,shortly after my retiement, and moved "Down Under" at the end of 1985. We have now been settled on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland for nearly nineteen years. Our daughter Jill and her family have very recently moved for Sydney's North Shores up to join us nearby. Our son Ian continues to live and work in Munich, deep down in Bavaria, having married a local high school teacher.

To learn more of the background to our lives in the UK, and in Australia, go to "Oceans of Stories", and click on "Jim from Scotland". This will open up a new web page created jointly by the Queensland Government Families Dept, and by our local Noosa Library. This was created following a series of talks given to local children about life in Norway, Denmark, and Scotland.

On to more Robertson wanderings - My sister went out to Calcutta also for a time. She trained as a missionary for the Church of Scotland, and taught Mathematics at the Scottish Church College, Calcutta. Sadly the climate took a heavy toll on her health, and she was not able to return after a furlough period.

This story would not be complete without mentioning the two sisters of my Grandfather, Elizabeth and Margaret, both of whom acquired Australian connections . Elizabeth married a gentleman farmer from Adelaide, South Australia, Charles Horace Wilkinson,and then lived in Cambridge in England for many years. Margaret married a Naval Officer,Charles William Nicoll McCulloch, from a Dundee family. They travelled extensively during his Naval career, mostly in the Mediterranean and the UK, but on health grounds, after he retired as a Captain, they moved to Perth in Western Australia in the 1930s.

This page last revised and updated 31st July 2004