History magazine features tale of Eyemouth fishing boat lost in 1864

On October 11, 1864 the Eyemouth fishing boat Gleaner was run down by a Dundee to Newcastle steamer, with the loss of four of the six crew.

Thursday, 23rd January 2014, 4:32 am
Old Eyemouth harbour - picture courtesy of Kevin O'Brien

One of the crew members who drowned was Paul Fairbairn, the great-great-great-grandfather of Clare Richardson who recounts the sad tale of the life of Paul’s wife Julia in next week’s issue of the ‘Discover Your History’ magazine.

In her quest to find out more about her family history Clare, whose mother came from Reston and father from Cockburnspath, discovered how hard life was for Eyemouth fishermen and their families. She uncovered tragedy, loss, difficult relationships and unusual family connections - her great-great-great-grandmother Julia married her step-father’s brother!

For the magazine article Clare focuses on Julia, born in Cockburnspath in 1841. She married Paul in 1858 and when he died in the fishing accident six year later Julia was left a widow with three children, having already lost a 19 day old son to smallpox.

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In the article in ‘Discover Your History’ magazine Claire said of her ancestor Julia: “I often wonder how she coped with so much death and upset in her life.

“She lost a son, her husband, a half-sister, her stepfather, a half-brother, two more sons, two half-brothers, her mother and a grandson by the time she was in her early forties. As I myself approach 40, I cannot begin to comprehend how she dealt with all this loss.”

The Scotsman reported on the collision that cost the life of Paul and three others, saying that the two survivors reported shouting and waving lanterns to attract the attention of the crew of the Dalhousie steamer. Their efforts were in vain and the steamer did not alter its course, resulting in the two vessels colliding.

The Scotsman describes how “the calamity has produced deep gloom in Eyemouth, and a strong feeling of indignation has been roused by the carelessness which it is alleged, was exhibited by those in charge of the steam vessel,” adding that the authorities were investigating.

Julia remarried in 1868, at Lamberton Toll, this time to a merchant seaman, John Fisher. It does not seem to have been a match made in heaven and on discovering that John and Julia went on have five children together, Julia’s great-great-great-grandaughter Claire uncovered some interesting additions to the birth certificates of three of those children.

“In the parents’ section of the certificate it states: Julia Paterson married 26 May 1868 to John Fisher, Seaman, who she declares is not the father of the child and further that she has had no communication with him since they ceased to live together about 8/10/14 years ago,” said Clare.

“Why would she mention John Fisher’s name but then go on to dismiss him as the father?”

By the early 1870s Julia had lost her husband, stepfather and half brother and as that decade progressed she also lost two more of her children to illness.

Clare adds: “On the 1871 Census Julia was recorded as residing in Eyemouth, Berwickshire, with four of her own children as well as her mother, Joan, and four of her mother’s children, who are stated on the census as being nephews of Julia. They were, of course, her nephews, as well as being her half-brothers – all very confusing!”

Clare’s ancestors didn’t escape the Black Friday disaster of 1881 - 12 members of the Fairbairn family were among the 189 men who died - and she continues her account in the magazine’s March issue.