I have recently broken through a brick wall in my genealogical research and have found out what happened to my great-grand aunt, Laura Jane Williams. Join me in the final chapter, Part Five: James and Laura Mackie as I research the social history of the Mackie family and uncover the breakdown of the Mackie family and Laura’s unfortunately and untimely death.
Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders to South Africa
On 5 January 1900, seven militia battalions, the 4th Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders among them, were ordered to South Africa to join the Reserve Forces there. James Mackie, along with 27 officers and 800 men and a large quantity of ammunition and stores left Queenstown for South Africa aboard the City of Rome transport on Thursday, 18 January.
The City of Rome arrived at Cape Town on Tuesday, 13 Feburary 1900 and the 4th Battalion joined the war with the Boers. They fought not only the enemy, but battled with disease and the elements in equal measure.
The cold in Orange River Colony was cold that July, with the thermometer dipping to 15 degrees below freezing. It was so cold that two of the men of the Paisley Militia were found dead, frozen on duty, although it was suspected that they had hastened their demise by drinking a tremendous amount of whiskey the previous night.Orange River Colony, 13 July 1901
In all, the Highlanders spent 18 months at the front in South Africa, returning aboard The Canada on Monday, 5 August 1901. After landing in Southampton to a cheering crowd, they left the same night for Paisley. Their numbers had dwindled to 16 officers and 570 men under the command of Colonel Dick.
THE RETURN OF THE PAISLEY MILITIA. The Paisley Militia (4th Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders) arrived in Paisley today, and met with the most enthusiastic reception from all classes of the community. Representative gentlemen from the county and burgh welcomed them at the station, whilst dense crowds assembled in the vicinity, and lined streets leading to the barracks. On the march to the barracks several affecting scenes took place through intense joy of mothers, wives and children in meeting relatives after the the long absence. Before being disbanded, the men will be generously entertained at the barracks from the fund inaugurated by Lord Blythswood. The Paisley Militia, under the command of Colonel Dick, of Clerkington, had 18 months’ active service at the front. They went to Africa 800 strong, but only 600 returned, the remainder having been either killed, succumbed disease, transferred to the regulars, or invalided home. Edinburgh Evening News - Tuesday 06 August 1901
Laura Mackie: A Life Unraveling
Laura left Scotland and James in April of 1899, taking Dorothy with her when she returned to Ryde on the Isle of Wight to live with her parents on St. John’s Road but this arrangement apparently did not work out well. Her brother Arthur, who had been discharged from the Army for medical reasons in 1894 had been arrested in February for forging a cheque and had been sentence to gaol. Now in their seventies, and still raising Laura’s 13-year-old illegitimate daughter Florence, perhaps George and Harriet were just too old to cope with Laura’s shenanigans and they asked their daughter to leave. Just before Christmas 1899, on 6 December, Laura, homeless and destitute, admitted herself and Dorothy to the Portsmouth Workhouse and both were sent to the workhouse infirmary for a time before being discharged again on 17 January 1900.
It was on a Monday, on 27 March 1900, not long after James had left for the Boer War, Laura Mackie’s life, already unraveling, seemed to hit rock bottom. Separated from her husband, living in the street and convicted of neglecting her 8-year-old daughter Dorothy, Laura Williams was sentenced to a fortnight in gaol. At the trial, her sister-in-law Kate Mackie told the judge that James, who was currently fighting in South Africa, had requested that his daughter be cared for by a Mrs. Wells of Dodnor near Newport where she would be well looked after. After asking a few questions about the Wells family, the judge agreed that young Dorothy Mackie be placed with Mrs. Wells until she was 16 years of age and that James would pay for her support.
On 14 April, Laura was again brought before the court, again arrested by Sergeant Ryall for drunkenness. She had been found rolling about the street and when he approached her, she said that she had just come from Portsmouth and had a drop too much to drink. She had also been charged with indecent behaviour in St. John’s Place that same evening and was sentenced to a month imprisonment. No longer responsible for Dorothy and no longer having the benefit of James’ support, Laura occasionally worked as a barmaid and alternated between prison, the workhouse and the hospital in Portsmouth.
In March 1901, Laura Mackie was a patient in St. James Hospital, possibly suffering from venereal disease. 1“1901 England Census,”, database on-line and digital images, Ancestry UK (http://www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 4 September 2016), Class: RG13, Piece: 999, Folio: 163, and Page: 6; Census Returns of England and Wales, 1901. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1901. Once discharged from the hospital, she returned to the Portsmouth Workhouse and was placed in the imbecile ward. After succumbing to an attack of melancholia, Laura was admitted once more to the Portsmouth Asylum as a pauper patient on 22 November 1902. 2Commissioners in Lunacy, 1845–1913. Lunacy Patients Admission Registers, Series MH 94. The National Archives, Kew, England., “UK, Lunacy Patients Admission Registers, 1846-1912,” database, Ancestry (http://ancestry.co.uk : accessed 4 September 2016), Laura Mackie admitted 22 nov 1902; The National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; Lunacy Patients Admission Registers; Class: MH 94; Piece: 38. On her admission, it was noted that she was rather stout, suffered from anemia, had the marks of old syphilis and an enlarged spleen. 3An enlarged spleen can be caused by cirrhosis. She was discharged four months later on 23 March 1903, apparently recovered.
During the early twentieth century, the link between syphilis and mental disorders was suspected but not clearly understood. In a medical volume written by the Quaker physician Daniel Hack Tuke in 1892, the possibility of such a link was discussed.
Syphilis may produce mental disorder by causing loss or destruction of nerve tissue, such as organic dementia; it may cause sensory troubles leading to mental disorder; or it may cause disorder of nutrition and function, which may lead to ordinary insanity or epilepsy.
A Dictionary of Psychological Medicine: Giving the Definition, Etymology and Synonyms of the Terms Used in Medical Psychology with the Symptoms, Treatment, and Pathology of Insanity and the Law of Lunacy in Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 1
In the same book, Tuke also discussed the newly recognised disease of alcoholism and wondered:
Is there a peculiar mental state which predisposes an individual to indulge to excess in drinking? Is everybody liable to become a drunkard? These are psychological questions the solution of which not only interests us from a clinical point of view – properly speaking – of alcoholism, but also from a forensic standpoint.
The effects of alcoholism, however, were well known.
The consequences of alcoholism are well know: degradation of the intellectual faculties and mental degeneration with regard to the individual; for the descendants they are, the tendency to drink, epilepsy, insanity, physical sufferings, idiocy, and lastly extinction of the race. From a social point the consequences are: increase of mortality, diminution of the number of births, diminution of moral energy and of the rate of intelligence; in all weakening of the life power of the population.
By the end of the nineteenth century, about half of the county and borough asylums and registered hospitals in Great Britain and Ireland did not allow alcohol other than for medicinal purposes. Certainly while in the workhouse, the hospital or the asylum, Laura’s binge drinking would have been curtailed. She would have been fed an adequate diet and most likely improved for a time but on resuming her old lifestyle when discharged, would have continued her downward spiral. Finally committed to the Portsmouth Asylum and the locked imbecile section, she would have been housed in the newer lunatic ward constructed in 1883, although like the rest of the workhouse, the wards were generally devoid of light and air. Linoleum would have lined the floor and an open fireplace would have heated the ward. Her bed would have been of flock or straw bedding and there would have been little space for her meager belongings. When in St. James Hospital, the conditions were somewhat better. The female wards had a piano and electricity had been installed in 1896, although despite these improvements, it was unlikely to have been a pleasant stay.
During the same period, Laura’s brother Arthur was facing his own battle with the after-effects of venereal disease contracted while he was in the army. He too was admitted to the Southampton Asylum, once on 6 June 1904, when he remained until 28 December and again on 8 Jan 1906 remaining until 30 March when he was discharged, not improved.
Not long after Arthur’s discharge in 1906, Harriet Williams, mother to Laura and Arthur, died at the age of 80 of senile decay on 2 Jun 1906. 4Isle of Wight, Certified Copy of an Entry of Death (long form), Harriet Williams, 1906; Isle of Wight Register Office, Cowes, IOW, Hampshire, England. R41/E334. Their father George followed soon after, dying on 19 December 1907 at the age of 84, also of senile decay. 5England, Certified Copy of an Entry of Death (long form), George Williams, 1907; General Register Office, London, England. I[sle of] Wight vol 2b: 507. A few years prior to the deaths of George and Harriet, Laura’s 21-year-old illegitimate daughter Florence had been sent to stay with her aunt Jessie, sister to Laura and Arthur, who was living in Montreal, Canada.
The Wells Family
Dorothy Mackie went to live with the Wells family at Dodner Cottage at the end of March 1900. Her foster father was 48-year-old Thomas Wells, a gardener at the West Medina Cement Works in Northwood and her foster mother was Mary Wells (formerly Roberts). The two had been married for nearly twenty-five years. Their oldest son Earnest was twenty-two and their youngest son George was twenty. Both boys still lived at home and were mariners.
Henry Francis, who ran the West Medina Cement company where Tom Wells was employed, was the former captain of the Isle of Wight Rifle Volunteers from 1881 to 1884 and would have been the commanding officer of James’ father David Douglas Mackie and this was likely how James knew the Wells family. Dorothy stayed with the Wells throughout her teenage years until she married Archibald Port in Kent in 1916.
On his return to Scotland from South Africa on 5 August 1901, James Mackie decided to resume the proceedings to obtain a divorce from Laura.
Divorce in Scotland at the turn of the century was less expensive than in England and could be obtained for as little as £12 but the stigma of divorce was strong and it was still quite an uncommon event with only abut 175 divorces recorded in 1901.
And yet, on Wednesday, 23 July 1902, with Mr. Forbes as his attorney, James Mackie began the proceedings to divorce Laura. He testified that as a Scotsman, it was his intention to make his home in Scotland and that Laura had chosen to return to the Isle of Wight, establishing his residency in Scotland, an important requirement for the court, since James and Laura had married in England. Laura’s infidelity was testified to by Richard Watson, the police sergeant from the Isle of Wight who had arrested Laura on the beach and his testimony was collaborated by James Eames, a porter who had also witnessed Laura’s behaviour that day in 1899.
The divorce, Mackie vs Mackie, was duly granted on the grounds of adultery.
On 6 January 1903, James Mackie married 24-year-old Wilhelmina Tough in the parish church in Crieff, Perthshire. Their first child, Wilhelmina Mackie, was born on 13 March 1903, only a little more than two months after their marriage. Their daughter Jessie Isabella was born on 6 March 1905 in Paisley, shortly before they moved to Liverpool. Another daughter, Maggie McLeod, was bor on 9 June 1906 shortly after their arrival in Lancashire. Their fourth child was finally the son that James no doubt had longed for. James Alexander Mackie was born on 7 May 1908 and his younger brother David was born in 1911.
James was discharged from the Army on 5 June 1909 and setup a tobacconist shop in Liverpool but at the outbreak of the First World War, he joined the King’s Liverpools to fight for his country. He was killed in action at the age of 44 on 10 April 1916.
LIVERPOOL OFFICER KILLED. Official intimation was to-day Mrs. Mackie, of 49, Esher-road. Kensington, the death in action her husband, Lieut. James Douglas Mackie. The late Lieutenant. Mackie, who was forty-four years of age, after twenty-one years’ service in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, received his discharge. He joined the Liverpool Corps of Commissionaires, and was for some years commissionaire at the Junior Conservative Club, where he was highly regarded by the members. On the outbreak of war he joined the King’s Liverpool’s regimental sergeant-major, and after distinguished service, was given his commission. He had the Egyptian and South medals. Lieutenant Mackie leaves a widow and five children to mourn his loss.Liverpool Echo - Thursday 13 April 1916
Laura Mackie died on 24 February 1909 after a gumma in the brain from tertiary syphilis caused her to go into convulsions. 6A gumma is a soft, non-cancerous growth resulting from the tertiary stage of syphilis. She died at 6 St. John’s Place in Ryde, attended by her cousin George William Day and was buried in Ryde Cemetery in an unmarked grave. 7England, Certified Copy of an Entry of Death (long form), death of Laura Mackie, 1909; General Register Office, London, England. citing Isle of Wight March [quarter] 1909, vol 2b: 508.
Her brother Arthur was admitted to the Isle of Wight Union Workhouse 8“1911 England Census,”, database on-line and digital images, Find my Past (http://www.findmypast.co.uk : downloaded image 17 January 2009), Isle of Wight Union Workhouse Parkhurst Carisbrooke, Isle of Wight, Enumeration District 19, Hampshire, Newport, WILLIAMS ARTHUR (RG14PN5714 RD93 SD2 ED19 SN9999); Data imaged from the National Archives of the UK (TNA). and died at the age of 75 of heart disease at St. Mary’s Hospital in Newport. 9Isle of Wight, Certified Copy of an Entry of Death (long form), Arthur Sydney Williams, 1937; Isle of Wight Register Office, Cowes, IOW, Hampshire, England. N60/E29.
“1901 England Census,”, database on-line and digital images, Ancestry UK (http://www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 4 September 2016), Class: RG13, Piece: 999, Folio: 163, and Page: 6; Census Returns of England and Wales, 1901. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1901.
Commissioners in Lunacy, 1845–1913. Lunacy Patients Admission Registers, Series MH 94. The National Archives, Kew, England., “UK, Lunacy Patients Admission Registers, 1846-1912,” database, Ancestry (http://ancestry.co.uk : accessed 4 September 2016), Laura Mackie admitted 22 nov 1902; The National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; Lunacy Patients Admission Registers; Class: MH 94; Piece: 38.
“1911 England Census,”, database on-line and digital images, Find my Past (http://www.findmypast.co.uk : downloaded image 17 January 2009), Isle of Wight Union Workhouse Parkhurst Carisbrooke, Isle of Wight, Enumeration District 19, Hampshire, Newport, WILLIAMS ARTHUR (RG14PN5714 RD93 SD2 ED19 SN9999); Data imaged from the National Archives of the UK (TNA).