The Herbertson Tragedy

herbertsonJanet Herbertson was born in Blantyre in 1818. As she entered her twenties, she married local man Andrew Jackson and they settled down at their family home at Spittal, on the outskirts of Bardykes, Blantyre. Like others of the time, they planned a large family.

So, in 1846, at the age of 28, Janet fell pregnant and gave birth that year to little Ann. Three years later a boy James arrived. In 1856 Isabella a daughter was born, another boy James in 1859 and finally when Janet was at the ripe old age of 43, produced another daughter Agnes.  Now, you’ve probably already noticed the same thing that attracted my attention. Of the five children Janet and Andrew had, two of the boys were called ‘James’. I decided to investigate a little further or at very least clarify if a mistake had been made on the birth record. What I found was both shocking as much as being remarkable.

On the 10th December 1850, at only 4 years and 11 months, little Ann had tragically died. Her illness had spread to little James, and only two days later, 11 month old James also died, leaving the couple childless at Christmas 1850. I cannot imagine the heartache of losing a child, but losing two in the same week and being help-less as they lay ill, must have been the most horrible kind of pain. The family took several years to decide to try again. Isabella was born 6 years later, quickly followed by James (named in memory of his deceased brother) and Agnes in 1861. Eleven years had passed since the tragedy of losing two children and the family was complete with 3 beautiful children. My story though isn’t finished.

During September 1872, Isabella fell ill. Fearing the worst, doctors were fetched but there was nothing that could be done. On 22nd September 15 year old Isabella died in her mother’s arms.

The strain of these tragedies took it’s toll shortly after and Andrew Jackson died of a heart attack, at his Spittal home on 20th May 1873, aged 62. This left 55 year old Janet, alone at the family home with grown up daughter Agnes and son James now both grown up and out in the wide world making their own living.

Away from the family home, daughter Agnes was just 25 years old when she fell ill and died on 16th May 1887. Then, incredibly fate dealt the most severe blow when second James was killed in a tragic accident at 34 years old. His body was brought back to Blantyre and to his mother on 30th May 1893. On this date, Janet was 75 years old and was now completely alone. Her husband and all five children were dead.

The tragic story is told as it remembers the children of this brave woman and the emotional turmoil in her life. Infant mortality was very high in those days but losing all children must have been horrific. It’s possible that prior to Blantyre’s water supply being installed in 1880, the first three children may have died due to poor sanitation. This is only speculation though and history does not record the specific illness, if it was common to them all or if it was genetic. I’m left thinking had this been a modern story, the authorities would have intervened after the death of two children in the family, and certainly wanted to know more by the death of the third, let alone five. Sadly, I cannot find trace of any other children who may have lived and prospered by this family, but I sincerely hope this was the case.

Janet Herbertson died on 1st November 1901 at the grand age of 83. If the facts uncovered are accurate, her last 8 years of her life must have been spent alone. I’m sure with much time to reflect on her life. She was buried along with her husband and in the same lair as all her children in the Kirkton graveyard (about 20 yards after the entrance steps veering off to the right, behind the cairn)

Today, opposite the West End Bar in a new housing estate, Herbertson Grove is named in her memory and is the approximate site of their old family home.

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  1. Sandy Henry on Facebook uncovered a link that may show a happier ending where a missing daughter existed and went on to have a family of her own. That would be nice. 😉

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