3rd International Coubrough/Cowbrough Reunion - Home Again at Last

The first ever Coubrough/Cowbrough Reunion, held in Kingston, Ontario, Canada in August 2001, was followed, in April 2003, by one in Katikati, New Zealand. Both locations are home to modern Coubroughs, but on August 8, 2005, the tribe returned to its roots with the 3rd Reunion, held in the city of Stirling, Scotland. 

The earliest available record of any owner of our name is from Campsie, Stirling, where Euphame Kessane, daughter of Jonat Colbrough and James Kessane was christened in 1651. Other early records are from Falkirk, where John of Ellrig and Helen Stevenson christened their first known son, John, in February 1683, and the parishes of Strathblane, Slamannan and Airth, all in the county of Stirling. 

The cemetery at Clachan of Campsie, which has graves dating from 1606, was closed in about 1820, when the new church at Lennoxtown was completed. The city of Stirling was home in thThere is very little left of the Clachan itself, and the closest place big enough to actually accomodate the reunion is the city of Stirling.

Readers of these pages will recall that the first ever International Coubrough Family Reunion took place in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, in the middle of a heat wave and the accompanying drought.  Things could hardly have been different for the second edition. Held this past Easter weekend in Katikati, New Zealand, this year's reunion was accompanied by two days of cold, driving rain--that didn't manage to dampen anyone's spirits. We had a great party.

The third Coubrough International Family reunion was another huge success. On Monday, August 8, 2005, about 40 people got together at the Lesser Albert Hall in Stirling, Stirling, Scotland. Some were old friends who have been to all the reunions, and some were new cousins we hadn’t met before. We were about 45 people, all told, but several only came for one day, and some for only a few hours. With only a half-dozen local Scots in attendance, nearly everyone was from somewhere else. The largest group was probably Canadian, though with about 10, the English ran a close second. We were also four from the US, three from New Zealand and one from Australia. The New Zealanders and our lone Aussie were all in Scotland, either working or visiting family, for some time before the reunion; no one came from that far away especially for the party. Once again, three of the four big branches were represented. No one from the "calico factory" line managed to attend.

The party itself went very well. Jim Coubrough of Highcliffe, in England, along with his wife Angela and his sister Juliet McCaffery, kept us well-fed and well-entertained. Everything went off without a hitch, including several side trips. On the first afternoon, we went to a building called Cowane's hospital (in Stirling), which was built in 1639, or thereabouts, and was originally meant to be a hospice for poor men. In the 19th century, the hospital's trustees turned it into a guild-hall for themselves, and the poor men were out of luck. In those days, the wealthy local merchants ran the city, with the dean of guild acting in the capacity of (unelected) mayor. In 1855, one James Cowbrough, son of Henry Cowbrough and Mary Wood, was the Dean of Guild, was the de facto mayor of Stirling. His portrait in Cowane’s hospital was the objective of our visit.

For the second day, Jim arranged for two local historians to meet us in Strathblane, home of more than two centuries worth of Coubroughs. The ladies gave us a nice little tour of the village, including a hairdresser's shop which was once the Coubrough company store. In the manner of such establishments everywhere, the printworkers bought goods on credit. The weekly total would be deducted from the workers’ wages before they were paid. There was no word as to whether the Coubroughs followed the then-common practice of inflating the prices so that the workers were virtually bondsmen. There is no reason to suppose the Coubroughs were better or worse than their peers, but they do seem to have been among the more benevolent owners, so perhaps they ran a straight operation with fair prices. Other highlights of the tour were the Free Church building, now a private home, where the calico Coubroughs once worshiped, and, in the local primary school, the plaque placed by Anthony Park Coubrough's sons in his honour. A.P had been the chairman of the local school board at the time of his death in 1883.

The Strathblane churchyard holds a number of tombstones marking the last resting place of the families of Malcolm Coubrough and Jean Buchanan, their sons Malcolm and James, and the elder Malcolm’s brother, John. Nearby is the huge red granite monument to Anthony Park Coubrough’s family. There are several others at the other end of the churchyard.

On the same day, we stopped by the Campsie cemetery, in Clachan of Campsie. The cemetery is well-kept, but it is very old, and no longer in use. The outer wall has a date of 1627, but there is also a crypt dated 1606. Most of the stones are sandstone or marble, both of which, besides being much easier to carve than, say, granite, were also available locally. Unfortunately, both weather very badly, and most of the inscriptions are completely obliterated. The only legible Coubrough stone was one erected by Jane Coubrough (daughter of Malcolm Coubrough & Catherine McFarlan), in memory of her husband, John Shanks.

The parish church is a ruin. The walls are mostly still standing, but the roof has been gone for a long time and there are trees growing inside the walls. As for the rest of the village, there is a small teashop near the cemetery and a few homes, but nothing like what it must have been when Coubroughs lived there.

Mornings were mainly spent at the Albert Hall, visiting and studying the books, pictures, family trees, and other items that party-goers had brought along. The most unusual item was a tiny tape measure advertising EYO Whisky and Cowbrough’s Nourishing Ale, generously donated by Louise McQueen.

Among the interesting documents were Anne Cruickshank’s accounts of the psychiatric assessment, and subsequent trial, of William Cowbrough, for the attempted murder of his wife, Jane Bryson. William, a printer by trade, was the youngest son of William Coubrough, surgeon, and Margaret Aitken.

He and Jane had been married in 1859, and lived in Falkirk for a couple of years. William seems to have been unstable from the start and the marriage was not a happy one. At the trial, a lawyer was to say of William, "From his childhood upwards there was no doubt that he was of weak intellect. He was weak not only in mind, but in body." William always felt his wife was gossiping behind his back and alienating him from his business contacts. He also seemed to think she was unfaithful to him. William and Jane had moved often, including several years spent in New Zealand and Australia.

Jane returned to Falkirk in about 1873 or 74 with her girls Jessie and Margaret, both born in Scotland, her sons William (1869) and John Archibald (1871) and her baby, Emma Jane, who was born at sea on the way home! William appears not to have returned to Scotland until about 1877, when he bought himself a printing and bookselling shop in Glasgow. He sold it only a couple of years later. It was around this time, about 1878 or 79, that he was fined 30 shillings or 30 days for assaulting his wife. He seems to have travelled frequently from Glasgow to Falkirk, to visit his sister, Ellen. He was very upset when she died in 1894. He had bought himself a ticket to go to "America," but changed his mind. For reasons known only to himself, he also bought himself a gun.

Jane had been unsuccessfully trying to get arrears of aliment from him, especially after he said his sister left him money. (Ellen’s will showed she and her sister Margaret had left everything to one another. Did Margaret give William some of the £380 Ellen had left?) He offered to give his daughters £200 to set up a milliner’s business. Jane travelled to his lodgings in Glasgow to demand settlement. The landlady later said she hadn’t even known he was married! She also reported that William seemed to get into a ‘frenzy when he thought of her [Jane] and had threatened to shoot her.’

Jane and her family in Falkirk had not seen William for some time when, on June 10, 1895, around 11 AM, he suddenly appeared at the house in 46 High Street. Jane rand a "servants’ agency" and her girls did dressmaking from their home. Jane was dealing with clients, when he entered the parlour and began talking about a settlement. He wanted Jane to go to Glasgow to sort things out. Their daughter Emma remained with her mother as Jane was, understandably, a little afraid of her husband. From under the coat he carried folded over his arm, he produced his pistol and fired twice at Jane, wounding her on the chest and back. He turned on Emma, but there were other people in the house, and at the sound of the shots, they rushed in to help and called the police.

Meanwhile, William put his gun in his mouth and shot himself. He dramatically laid down as though dead and imagined he and Jane would ‘appear together before a judge with whom perjury was impossible’. When the police arrived, he and Jane were both taken to the Cottage Hospital. They both recovered and Jane went home. Held in Glasgow Prison until the trial, William was assessed to see if he was insane.

His special defence pleaded in court in Glasgow on 29 Aug 1895 was that he was insane at the time of the attack. He was found guilty, but court reduced his sentence from hanging to eight years’ hard labour at Peterhead Prison, in Aberdeen, where we found him in the 1901 census.

Daughter Emma married George Clark, a commercial traveller living at 27 Alma Street, Falkirk, in 1898. There were no known children. Emma’s sister, Helen Dawson C., married Frederick Ninian Hunt, a draper from Crieff, on April 2, 1905, in Falkirk. They had four children, but I don’t know their names.

William died September 8, 1915, in Larbert Assylum, of arteriosclerosis. He was 81. We don’t know how much contact William had with his family during or after his prison term, but when he died of arteriosclerosis, on September 8, 1915, aged 81, in Larbert Assylum, it was his daugter Emma who reported his death.

Jane Bryson evidently went to live with her youngest daughter, Emma. When Jane, aged 83, died November 21, 1923, it was in Crieff, Perth, probably at Emma’s.

Another of Anne’s interesting booklets dealt with the failure of the Falkirk Union Bank. William Coubrough, one of the bank’s principals, lost everything he owned in the collapse. I have known about William for quite a while, but I didn’t know which one he was. After much effort, and no little expense, Anne figured out who his family was, and told us all about his involvement with the bank.

William, second son of John Coubrough and his wife, Jean Cowbrough*, seems to have been a bit of a maverick. He and his partners had been warned that, since they had insufficient capital and knew nothing of banking, the ventur would almost certainly fail. They paid no attention to the naysayers—it couldn’t happen to them, after all. But it did.

In those days (1850s), anyone who set up a bank was personally liable for all its assets. Inventories made by the bank’s creditors show that William lost everything, including his Ellrig estate, and all personal property. For a man who had inherited land from his father and been able to buy more, it must have come as a shock to realise he owned nothing more than the clothes he stood up in. His sister Jean had managed to claim a few of the family’s heirlooms as her own, but when the creditors were done, it was a pitifully small hoard.

William’s only known family was a son by Margaret Riddell, to whom he was not legally married. The son, another William grew up to marry Agnes Turnbull and raise a large family of his own in Selkirk. Agnes Turnbull’s younger daughter, Eliza Jane, moved to Ontario before 1881. She was married to a James Bertram, in Ottawa, on October 28th of that year.

William the printer and William the banker were both of the Ellrig line.

For the third day of the reunion, Jim arranged a road trip which included both Ellrig and Falkirk. Being mainly of interest to those of that line, not everyone went. The supper and ceilidh on the Wednesday evening went well. The Ceilidh band gave lessons in the country dances that went with the music, and everyone had a great time. Unfortunately, we were just getting warmed up by the time we had to be out of the hall at 11 PM. Amid hugs and promises to meet again in Detroit, in 2007, we said our hurried goodbyes. Then, just like Christmas, the long-awaited third international reunion was all just a great memory.

*John and Jean were 1st cousins once removed; i.e., John’s father & Jean’s grandfather were both sons of Henry Cowbrough & Christian Wright.


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