THE BURN FAMILY

Victorian Studio Photos
Victorian Studio Photos


Introduction

As the name implies, the Burn family was of Scottish origin, but we are not heading back into the mists of time. The man we need is a Robert Burn who was born in 1764 in Forgan, Fife, the son of James Burn (died 1800), a non-conformist minister, and his first wife, Agnes Hamilton (died 1768).

Painting of Robert Burn Senior
Painting of Robert Burn Senior
Photograph by Cuthbert John Hopkins, courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Robert's first wife was Elizabeth Galdie and they were married at Westminster on 16 April 1796: all of the children were by her. Elizabeth seems to have died soon after the birth of her youngest child in 1814. As far as I can tell, the offspring were as shown below (the Burns were originally Presbyterian, so that the relevant information is hard to find). In any event, all of them seem to have been born in London and most were baptised at the Scotch Church, Crown Court, London, which still stands.

Name                 Information
William ForsythBorn 8.2.1797.
Died 1823 and buried at Bunhill Fields, Islington.
AnnBorn 14.4.1799.
Nothing further known.
JamesBorn 20.11.1801.
See later.
GeorgeBorn c.1803. Major-General, Madras Army.
Died 1893 London.
Married 1831 at Ootacamund Violette Campbell (c.1815-84).
RobertBorn 16.9.1804.
See later.
John ForsythBorn 1.8.1806.
Commander of the ship Caledonia.
Married 15.6.1844 in Singapore Isabella Spencer.
See later.
Andrew HamiltonBorn 1808.
See later.
Catherine ForsythBorn 13.7.1812.
Nothing further known.
Isabella ForsythBorn 19.4.1814.
See later.

Crown Court Church, Westminster
Main entrance of Crown Court Church (Church of Scotland), London WC2
Photographed by Matthew Ross in 2007, (Public domain) via Wikimedia.org

Robert remarried soon after his wife's death, the bride being Mary Allan; the wedding took place on 4 June 1816 at St Giles, Camberwell. Since Mary outlived her husband by some years she can be located in censuses, so we know that she was born about 1772 in Elgin, Morayshire. She died in Epsom in 1859.

As with many of the articles in this series, we have a conundrum. There is another photo of a painting, labelled 'Mrs Burn'. I think she must be one of Robert's two wives, although Robert Junior's wife had also died before the series of glass negatives began, so it is probably either Elizabeth (died roughly 1815) or a fairly early representation of Mary (died 1859), with the latter perhaps being more likely.

Painting of 'Mrs Burn'
Painting of 'Mrs Burn'
Photograph by Cuthbert John Hopkins, courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Robert Senior, then of Church Street, Epsom, died at the age of 71 and was buried at Bunhill Fields on 16 January 1836. Before we proceed, it's interesting to note that he was an official at the London headquarters of the Honourable East India Company (HEIC). As I've researched the people in the Victorian Studio Photos series I have found many who were at the other end of the operation but I never really thought about 'Mission Control', so here is our first little detour.

East India House was, in Robert's time, located in Leadenhall Street, City of London and it was the powerhouse of HEIC operations. It no longer stands but the two pictures below show the scale of it.

East India House
"East India House," by Thomas Malton the Younger (1748-1804).
Courtesy of the Paul Mellon Collection,
Yale Center for British Art, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.

Sale Room of East India House
Sale Room of East India House
Drawn by Thomas Rowlandson & Augustus Charles Pugin, c.1809

James Burn and family

James probably never lived in Epsom, as he seems to have died in the 1860s (I can't establish exactly when) and in the 1861 census the family was in South Hackney. James was a clerk at East India House. I assume, but don't know for a fact, that his wife and daughters moved to Epsom shortly after his death. Mrs Burn is in the 1867 Kelly's Directory as a resident of 'Parade Fields' (the 1871 census has them in Worple Road): she was Emma Whitling (born 23 June 1809) and the marriage took place at the Old Church, St Pancras on 13 September 1831. The children I have found are shown below.

Name                 Information
James WhitlingBorn 21.2.1835;
died 1836 (1yr 3 months).
EmmaBorn 1838;
possibly died in the mid-1850s (was alive in the 1851 census).
EllenBorn 1840;
see later.
Augusta ElizabethBorn 1846;
see later.
IsabellaBorn 1848;
see later.

By 1881 Emma Senior was in Church Street, described as living on 'income derived from India'. Ellen and Augusta were still at home and Isabella was presumably off on a visit somewhere, although she reappeared in due course. Emma Senior died in 1882 and was buried in Epsom Cemetery on 18 May (Grave B74A).

In the 1891 census Isabella was visiting her Uncle George in London and I finally unearthed Ellen and Augusta in Penarth, Glamorgan at an institution called The House of Mercy, which was accommodation for 'fallen women'. As far as I know, they hadn't fallen themselves but they were running the show. I am far from clear whether or not they were nuns (the census enumerator had written 'nun' beside Augusta, who was the 'Lady Superior'), but there were around a score of fallen women in residence. It is likely that this place was a 'Magdalene Laundry' where most of the inmates were described as being in training as laundry maids and domestic servants. These institutions were more common in Ireland and considerable scandal has been uncovered. I cannot find anything to suggest that the establishment in Penarth abused inmates in any way, but the local newspapers of the day had plenty to say about it. Some of the townspeople thought the inmates should be in prison, there was theft and trouble on the premises and 'fallen women' were reluctant to commit to training and discipline in an institution. The place closed in 1893 through lack of willing clientele.

It was in the 1891 census that Ellen and Augusta began to get ever younger: both women had aged just 5 years since the previous census. I assume that in the next decade, between the 1891 and 1901 censuses, the Burn sisters had been brewing up potions to discover the secret of eternal youth, as Augusta moved on by just one year, to 40, and the reappeared Isabella, born in 1848, was just 31. They were now living in Scarborough and Ellen was missing from home at the time, but she could have been the Matron of an orphanage in Ledsham, Yorkshire, aged 45. (I grew weary of searching for these ladies, as they gave a different place of birth in London every time and the ages seemed to have emerged at random from a Bingo machine - I got the distinct feeling that they were winding me up, and the one in the photo below does look something of a minx). However, Ellen was probably back in Scarborough in 1911 as visitor to a family named Freer and she had advanced to age 60, so she must be the same person as the Ellen Burn who died in 1915 at 65 years old. Maybe.

I have no idea when Isabella died, but I do know a bit more about Augusta from a 1926 newspaper obituary.

SOUTHAM - DEATH OF MISS A. E. BURN
The funeral of Miss Augusta Elizabeth Burn, who died at Henley House, Coventry Street*, on Tuesday week, at the ripe age of 80, took place on the following Thursday afternoon. Miss Burn was the daughter of the late James Burn of the India Office, and came to reside at Southam from Yorkshire about four years ago. The mourners were: Miss Wood (Long Itchington), Dr Clague (Long Itchington), Mr and Mrs J Plummer, Mr and Mrs L Gyselynck, Miss Cartwright and Miss O M Jones.

* Southam is near Stratford-on-Avon and Henley House looks to have been a place that let out rooms.
Finally, we have a photo which dates from a time when the Burn girls were their correct ages. Unfortunately, we do not know which girl it is, the negative being labelled 'Mrs James Burn's daughter', so you can take your pick here. I think she looks too young to be Ellen, but she could be either of the others. The picture would have been taken around 1863 and if you know which one it is, please contact the webmaster.

'Mrs James Burn's daughter'
'Mrs James Burn's daughter'
Photograph by Cuthbert John Hopkins, courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

John Forsyth Burn

As mentioned earlier, this man was a mariner. I couldn't find the end of him, so decided he must have died overseas or at sea and was superfluous to requirements. As it turns out, I fell into a trap with one of Robert Junior's daughters and, when I realised the mistake, JFB suddenly became very relevant. I'll tell you about the trap when we get to Eliza Galdie Burn of Epsom, but meanwhile here is what I've found on JFB's family.

It seems that he and Mrs JFB (formerly Isabella Spencer, born 1825 Bombay) had three or four children, being John Spencer (born c.1844), Isabella Jane (born c.1848 Mauritius, married William South), Elizabeth Hutchinson (born 16 June 1850) and possibly Robert Nathaniel (c.1853 Bombay). Mrs JFB was certainly widowed by 1881 and returned from overseas to live in Gloucestershire; she died on 22 May 1892. John Spencer Burn is the man we want for later.

Isabella Forsyth Burn

This Isabella was the youngest child of Robert and Elizabeth Burn, but she would barely have known her mother, if at all, and was brought up by her step-mother, Mary, although she lived with her brother Robert and his family in Epsom High Street for much of her adult life. Robert died in 1878 and she then moved to South Hornsey, where she died on 26 December 1882. She looks to have been living in rented rooms with one of Robert's sons, James Stuart Burn, at the time, which brings us round to 'Miss Burn's nephew'.

'Miss Burn's nephew'
'Miss Burn's nephew'
Photograph by Cuthbert John Hopkins, courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

I am assuming that the Miss Burn in question is Isabella Forsyth: however, if he is Isabella's nephew then he is also Robert's nephew - or Robert's son. We have pictures of Robert and one of his sons, so I feel that he is unlikely to be another son or the labelling would say so. However, at a pinch he could be the James Stuart Burn just mentioned.

My best 'suspect' is Andrew Maitland Burn, who was born and lived in Chatham, but in 1861 he was on a visit to Epsom, so it may be that he came quite often and on one occasion Isabella had his photo taken to send copies to his family: this may explain why the wrapper refers to Miss Burn. Anyway, I thought it safer to put it in this section rather than go out on a limb and put it in the next one!

Andrew Hamilton Burn

Andrew was originally an ironmonger, in partnership with his brother Robert, but in January 1854 they went their separate ways. Andrew moved away from Epsom and became a tea dealer/grocer. I don't know if they fell out or he felt like a change of occupation and scenery, but by 1861 he was living with his wife and children in Chatham.

Mrs A H Burn was Harriet Hooper Stone, daughter of a grocer in the City of London. The wedding was at St Mary, Aldermanbury on 14 April 1842. The children were approximately as shown below.

Name                 Information
Mary EyreBorn 1843 Epsom; married 1863 Rev. Joseph Pearse. Died Tamatave (now Toamasina), Madagascar 18.5.1864. See more later.
Harriet AllanBorn 1845 Epsom; died 17.2.1927 Bournemouth.
Isabella GaldieBorn 1847 Epsom; married 1853 Edward Smith. Died 22.4.1912 Highbury, then widowed.
Andrew MaitlandBorn 1855 Chatham; died 1876 Islington.
Fanny ShirleyBorn 1858 Chatham; died 1867 Chatham.

Poor Mary Eyre Burn was born in Epsom and spent her early years there. As mentioned above, she married the Rev. Joseph Pearse, who was newly ordained, and they sailed for Madagascar under the auspices of the London Missionary Society on 11 June 1863, arriving at Tananrive (now Antananarivo, capital of Madagascar) on 7 October. Joseph took charge of a church in the capital in November and just six months later Mary died. He remarried in November 1865 and you can view his potted biography at https://missiology.org.uk.

Andrew and his wife ultimately moved back to London, where he died on 20 September 1876; Harriet survived until 1892.

Robert Burn (the Epsom ironmonger)

An Advert for Robert Burn's business
An Advert for Robert Burn's business

Robert Burn
Robert Burn
Photograph by Cuthbert John Hopkins, courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Mrs Burn was Eliza Stuart Christie and the marriage took place in Dundee on 10 August 1840. I think she was a granddaughter of James Burn the Forgan preacher, so she would have been Robert's cousin.

The children, all born in Epsom, were as follows.

Name                 Information
Agnes HamiltonBorn 1841
Mary AllanBorn 1842
RobertBorn 1845
Eliza GaldieBorn 1846
Isabella ForsythBorn 1850; died 1862 Chatham. Buried at Norwood Cemetery.
Elizabeth StuartBorn 1851; died 1873 Islington.
James StuartBorn 1855; died 1890 Hendon. Buried at Norwood Cemetery.

Robert's shop was in High Street, Epsom (number 24 in his time). Originally, Robert was in partnership with his brother, Andrew Hamilton Burn, but by the time this photo was taken the business was R Burn & Son, the son being Robert. (The other son, James, became an accountant.)

Robert Burn's Ironmongers
Robert Burn's Ironmongers, High St. Epsom
Photograph courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Mrs Eliza Stuart Burn died in December 1858 and Robert on 5 January 1878: they were buried in Norwood Cemetery on 24 December 1858 and 11 January 1878 respectively. None of the children survived to a great age; Robert was the longest living and even he lasted only until 1910.

Agnes Hamilton Burn

Agnes married James Wicks at Epsom on 9 October 1860. James was born in Colchester in 1835 and in the 1851 census he was an apprentice chemist in the High Street. No principal was resident at the premises on census night, but, given the location in relation to other businesses, I think this must have been what became Keeling Brothers. I don't know if James completed his apprenticeship but he went home to Colchester and became a wine and spirit merchant, like his father, also James Wicks. James and Agnes appeared together in only one census - 1861 - when they were living in Colchester and young Isabella Forsyth Burn was with them, aged 10.

James was heavily involved in local Liberal politics and became a councillor in Colchester. He also stood as a candidate for Harwich in the 1886 General Election, being soundly beaten by the incumbent Conservative. Apparently he had a 'combative style' but toned himself down sufficiently to be appointed the Mayor of Colchester in 1895/6. He died in 1905. I can find no evidence that there were any children of his marriage to Agnes, whose death was registered in Epsom in the first quarter of 1870.

Mary Allan Burn

Oddly, we have two photos of Mary, wearing two different dresses, so I've picked out the sunnier frock for you.

Miss Mary Allan Burn
Miss Mary Allan Burn
Photograph by Cuthbert John Hopkins, courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Mary married architect and artist Ernest George at Kingston in 1866 and they settled at Crown Hill, Croydon/Norwood. Mary seems to have been almost perpetually pregnant, until she eventually died in childbirth in February 1877, aged 34.

The children are shown below.

Name                 Information
Ernest Stuart1867-1941 (Vancouver)
Cecil Denham1869-72 (3 yrs)
Ethel Agnes1870-72 (15 mnths)
Wilfrid1872-?
Allan1873-1961 (Toronto)? Partner in George, Moorhouse & King, architects, Toronto.
Cecily1875-1946. Married Rev. Charles Henry Robinson.
Margaret Burn*1877-? Died after 1921.

*It was Margaret's birth that caused her mother's death - Margaret was born on 12 February 1877 and Mary was buried on 16 February.

Sir Ernest George
Sir Ernest George
by Bassano Ltd whole-plate glass negative, 15 July 1919
© National Portrait Gallery, London (NPG x32150) (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Most of Ernest's fame as an architect came after Mary's death, but just to pick out a few works of interest, he designed Limnerslease at Compton as a home and studio for George Frederick and Mary Watts, Southwark Bridge, the Royal Academy of Music and Golders Green Crematorium. He was also an accomplished watercolourist and etcher and a Royal Academician; he was knighted in the 1911 Coronation Honours and died in 1922, his cremation taking place at Golders Green. After Mary's death, Ernest's sister had moved in to look after the children.

Southwark Bridge
Southwark Bridge
Photograph by Linda Jackson © 2018

Robert Burn III

Robert Burn Junior
Robert Burn Junior
Photograph by Cuthbert John Hopkins, courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

This is Robert Burn III, also an ironmonger for a time - the '& Son' in the photo of the shop. However, if Robert II had hoped that his ironmongery dynasty would be perpetuated in Epsom, he would have been disappointed, as Robert III disposed of the business to William Dorset and upped sticks to Stoke Newington with his growing family. According to the 1881 and 1891 censuses he was Secretary of the YMCA in Aldgate, but in 1901 he was a mechanical engineer.

Robert married Mary Elizabeth Chivers at the Congregational Church, Surbiton on 19 October 1867 and they had eight children altogether.

Name                 Information
Robert Christie1868-1933. Schoolmaster. Married Annie Amelia Thorp.
Henry Bidgood1870-73 (2 yrs)
Elizabeth Agnes Hamilton1872-1947. Unmarried.
Alfred Kirkup1874-? Engineer.
Dugald Stuart1877-1951. Official at Indian State Railways 1901-33. Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire.
Eric Mackenzie1880-1945. Married Violet Emily Lorimer. Official at Indian Railways.
Elsie Campbell1881-1958. Unmarried.
Colin Forsyth1883-1965

Note: In the 1911 census Colin and Elizabeth were living in Finsbury Park and had an 18 year old visitor, born in Johannesburg - he was Basil Rathbone, then an insurance clerk, but destined to become a big Hollywood star.

Robert III died on 30 June 1910, followed by his wife on 13 August of that same year: both were buried in Norwood Cemetery.

Eliza Galdie Burn

I said earlier that I had fallen into a trap with this lady and that was because she died in 1894 at Whitchurch, Hampshire as Eliza Galdie Burn, age 48. I assumed originally that she was unmarried, but I was wrong - she was married and her husband was John Spencer Burn, son of John Forsyth Burn the mariner, Robert the ironmonger's brother. The wedding took place at St Thomas' Cathedral, Bombay on 11 November 1876. JSB was an assistant at the Bank of Bombay. There were three children that I can find - Robert Hamilton (1879), Margaret Allan (1881) and John/Jack Forsyth (1882), all born in Bombay. I have suggested before in another article (see The Dyers) that India was a serious health hazard back then and so it proved to be for this family. Robert Hamilton died of meningitis on 29 March 1880, aged just over six months, and was buried in Sewri Christian Cemetery, Bombay, as was his father, who died of 'Heat Apoplexy' on 27 June 1896. In the meantime Eliza had returned to England with the two younger children and was staying with her brother Robert in Stoke Newington. Then, Margaret Allan Burn died in 1885, aged only four, and was buried at Norwood Cemetery. Jack was still with Eliza at Robert's in the 1891 census but he went back to India, presumably after she died in 1894 and no doubt to rejoin his father, who didn't survive for long. Sadly, nor did Jack: he became an Assistant Traffic Superintendent on the Great Indian Peninsula Railway and died of heat apoplexy on 25 March 1904, he was buried in Sewri. Two generations of an entire family had been wiped out in less than a quarter of a century.

Note: Christian cemeteries in India, unless under the auspices of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, are in a variable state; the CWGC removed the military graves from Sewri to Kirkee War Cemetery, to be sure they were cared for, but Sewri itself was saved from dereliction and, by all accounts, is a very tranquil and decently kept place.

Sewri Christian Cemetery in Sewri, Mumbai
Sewri Christian Cemetery in Sewri, Mumbai
Photograph by Pinakpani (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Wikipedia

The Mystery Child

We have a photo (conundrum alert!) of a toddler and, presumably, a nursemaid, but perhaps a grandmother : the wrapper says it is a copy, which means Cuthbert didn't take the original, and that it is Mr Burn's grand…. The writing after 'grand' is very indistinct - in other words we are not sure what gender this child is. It looks like a girl, I grant you, but many small boys were dressed like girls back then.

Photograph of Mr Burn's grandchild
Photograph of Mr Burn's grandchild
Photograph by Cuthbert John Hopkins, courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

The identity of this toddler hangs crucially on the date the original photo was taken, which we don't know. Assuming that Agnes Hamilton Wicks had no children, it is likely to be a child of Mary Allan Burn or Robert Burn III. One thing that seems fairly certain is that the original was taken somewhere other than Epsom, which mitigates against Robert, since he was still in town until around 1880, so that the offspring could have been taken to Cuthbert in person. As usual, if you can identify this child, please let us know.

Linda Jackson 2018