Monday, 18 June 2012

Going ape in Aberfoyle

It was Father's Day yesterday, so my son Calum and I did the Go Ape course at Aberfoyle in the Trossachs (  My arms are now killing me, but it was well worth it - nothing beats doing a zip slide over a valley and singing the James Bond theme as you go! I should add, it also reminded me that I was approaching 42 and not 22...! :)

As a professional genealogist, my only work related thought after a day's tree climbing, zipsliding, tunnel crawling and midge dodging was the following - thank goodness we evolved beyond the monkey stage! :)

Here, for your delectable pleasure, is a ten tonne genie hurling himself across the void...

Now - back to work!


Monday, 11 June 2012

Church of England disestablishment

I am fascinated by the news headlines in tomorrow's Times newspaper - Gay marriage law could divorce State from Church (also the BBC at Apparently the issue which has festered within the Anglican communion could lead to a religious armageddon - the article states that "senior church sources warned that if the legislation goes ahead as proposed, the only way forward will be to cut an important tie between Church and State. Divorcing the Church from its role as religious registrar for the State would not amount to total disestablishment, but it would be a significant step in that direction..."

The idea of the monarch being the head of the state church, which still exists in England, is one that baffles me. To me, the monarch is not in that position because of any divine appointment, but instead because one of his or her ancestors, Henry VIII, simply decided he was going to get a divorce and the Pope didn't agree with him! The absurdity of it to me is up there with the absurdity of maintaining a monarchy in the first place. Of course, here in Scotland it is not an issue, as the monarch is no longer the head of the state church, and has not been for centuries. As a non-Anglican with a Scottish and Ulster based Presbyterian background, I don't understand the logic behind maintaining the link. Other branches of my family though were, and still are, Anglican, and one member in particular is certainly an authority I am happy to draw inspiration from on the matter!

My second cousin once removed is the Venerable Michael Paton, former archdeacon of Sheffield Cathedral, and a man with whom I have in the past had the great honour to speak with and to receive correspondence from. Way back in 1958, Michael's brother David, later to become a chaplain of the present Queen, pulled together a publication (as editor of SCM Press) entitled Essays in Anglican Self-Criticism. Michael made a magnificent contribution entitled Can we Ignore the Establishment? in which he was highly critical of the link between state and church. He pointed out the arguments of critics - for example, "there is no constitutional reason why the Prime Minister should be a member of the Church of England, or indeed a Christian at all; yet even if he were a bitter enemy of the Church of God, he would still have virtually the final say in the choice of bishops for that Church". Against this he also outlined arguments in support - sure the PM would consult the Archbishop of Canterbury first, and disestablishment would lead to the Anglican Church merely becoming a sect. After comparing such arguments and many more on each side, Michael's opinion was that in fact most arguments work against the idea of Establishment, "for the hard fact is that in practice it works badly".

Amongst the many reasons he then discusses about why the Church was happy to establish the status quo was that concerning one of its greatest fears - the fear of splits: "this is the deepest of our fears, and the least acknowledged". He then stated that if the church did disestablish, it was assumed by many that all hell would break loose - "it seems to be assumed that the parties in the Church would instantly burst asunder: the Anglo-Catholics presumably to Rome, the opposite wing perhaps to one of the Free Churches, whilst the centre would be left, a pathetic remnant, to bear the sectarian name of Anglican".

Michael's final take on disestablishment was nevertheless very much in favour of it: "no doubt there would be some losses, at either end, of extremists: but what gains!" and "What new life it would give to our Church to recognise... the hypocrisy and falseness of our present position! We could then set about composing our differences under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (including common sense), instead of relying on the artificial constriction of an Establishment fashioned for quite different needs".

I am no Anglican - I am not even religious - but it strikes me that much of what Michael was writing about seems almost prophetic. His father William Paton was in fact a Presbyterian minister before him, and I do wonder if some of his father's impressions may have influenced his own opinions! Whatever the reason, what I read in Michael's writings from over half a century ago make as much sense to me now as it seemed to him back then - and far be it for me to argue with any member of my family described as 'venerable'...!


Sunday, 3 June 2012

An old photo album & the Comrie family

I received an extraordinary email a couple of years back from Susan Barnett in Dundee. I had picked up on a post that she had written on the Perthshire Rootsweb list concerning a photo album that she had discovered whilst clearing out the attic of the house in which she was residing. The album was not hers, but one that had lain forgotten in the attic from some previous owner. There were few details other than the fact that it involved a family by the name of COMRIE.

My five times great grandmother was a Janet McEWAN (1781 - bef 1851) from the Perthshire parish of Madderty, and she had a brother called Andrew McEWAN, who married Ann REID. One of their daughters, Annie McEWAN (1821-1873) married an Alexander COMRIE in 1843. As such, on a whim I contacted Susan and asked if she might send some more details. She kindly emailed me a few names mentioned inside, and several seemed familiar. I asked if it might be possible to see a scan or two of the images - instead, she offered to send me the album!

A few days later the album arrived, but as I worked my way through the pages I nearly jumped out of my seat - I had seen one of the images before! The Scottish Cultural Resources Network (, better known as SCRAN, has a series of images on its site from later generations of the COMRIE family at Drummie Farm in Fowlis Wester, as held by the National Museums of Scotland. Most of the images were from the early 20th century, with some that were from the late 19th Century, depicting both family gatherings and work based images from around the farm.

The following is a quick screengrab of some of the thumbnails:

One photo in particular, however, would confirm the link between the album and my family. It depicted the family of Alexander COMRIE and Mary PATERSON, from Perth, Scotland, alongside their children, Annie McCowan COMRIE, David Paterson COMRIE, Jessie Paterson Copeland COMRIE, Peter William  COMRIE, Helen Hardy COMRIE and Alexander COMRIE. Alexander COMRIE (snr) 1847-1913 was Janet McEWAN's great nephew. An almost exact copy of the same image appears on the SCRAN website, although was clearly taken as a separate photograph a minute or two before or after the other, as the hand positions and expressions are just slightly different, but the family is arranged in the exact same pose.

The family of Alexander Comrie and Mary Paterson

As I worked through the album several other images began to click into place - the family of John KINLOCH and his wife Annie COMRIE, the Reverend William COMRIE who emigrated to New Zealand and more. The images are truly superb, but some of them still remain unidentifiable. As such, I have now scanned them all and placed them onto a Flickr gallery at, with as much information as I have been able to glean from them.

If you have a connection to the family, feel free to use the images for your own research - and of course, if you are connected to my McEWAN line and its descendants, including the COMRIE line, do drop me a note! The information I have on the family so far can be viewed at

The Reverend William Comrie and his wife in Auckland, New Zealand


Friday, 1 June 2012

Jubilee - and winds of change

This weekend is the present British Queen's jubilee, where she celebrates 60 years of queening, a feat only previously matched by Queen Victoria. At a time when Britain is in its worst financial state for decades the national media - even lots of the Scottish media - is stuffed to the brim with coverage on how wonderful the institution of monarchy is, with extravagant and expensive celebrations in London and more to commemorate the event.

Yet all is not quite as it seems. In England and Wales some 6500 applications for street parties were made to local authorities to close streets off to have parties for the jubilee weekend - in Scotland, however, there were just a paltry 97 applications received. Of the 33 applications received in Edinburgh, only twenty were agreed, and in Glasgow, Scotland's largest city, just seven were agreed. In North Ayrshire, where I live, there is not a single official street party, a situation matched by 13 other local authorities across the country - Aberdeen, Argyll and Bute, Clackmannanshire, Dundee, East Dunbartonshire, Falkirk, Moray, North Lanarkshire, Orkney, Renfrewshire, West Dunbartonshire and the Western Isles. (Scottish Television has the story at (UPDATE: BBC Scotland news tonight claimed 9500 street parties in England, less than a hundred in Scotland - "Figures suggest the Scots haven't embraced the Diamond Jubilee as much as the south")

The Scottish independence campaign kicked off last week, but independence will not see a change to the status quo with regards to the monarchy. In this regard I actually disagree with the campaign, as I have always perceived the institution to be undemocratic. Yes campaign supporter Patrick Harvie of the Scottish Green Party has argued for the institution of monarchy to be consigned to history north of the border, and in this I am with him one hundred per cent. It's ironic that Alex Salmond and the SNP make the case that maintaining the Queen as the head of state in an independent Scotland would help to cement a social union with England, when the evidence of this weekend would seem to suggest that the majority of people living in Scotland just can't be bothered to actually celebrate what is certainly a historic occasion for the institution  itself. As with many other issues, on this there would appear to be an equal wind of change north of the border.

There are many ties that will forever unite us with England, even if and when we go our separate ways, not least of which the fact we share a small island together. But a democracy with an imposed head of state is not a true democracy. I certainly have nothing against the Queen on a personal level - as Billy Connolly once said "if anyone is going to save the Queen, God's the very chap!" - but if I cannot vote for her, I personally cannot view her as my head of state, despite the state imposing that on me. She is only my queen because I am told she is - it would appear to be a view shared by many across Scotland.

UPDATE: Looks like the First Minister is trying to apologise on behalf of Scotland with some interesting excuses! I suspect it will take a bit more than a few Lion Rampants, Alex, to get us to bite at the royal pie - but at least the chimps in Edinburgh are having fun! See

For a republican perspective on the jubilee, here's an interesting post also -

And see for how America views it all...