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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Update on Possible Parents for Sophia Watt: Now We Know

Way back in 2014, I wrote this post speculating that Sophia Watt's parents might have been William Watt and Jane Bond, whose first husband was John Powis.  My guess was based upon knowing Sophia's birth date and place from the obituary written by her son David Oliphant Jr. and published in The Christian Banner, Volume 11, No. 4, April 1857.   I could only find one birth record for a child named Sophia Watt in London in late March of 1782.   However, finding a record for a Sophia did not prove definitively that this was our Sophia.  

 However, another researcher has recently and very generously sent me an 18-page history of the Oliphant family written by Edith Kilgour, who was a great granddaughter of David Oliphant and Sophia Watt.   Edith tells us that she had access to many old family letters and other documents when writing her family history, so she was relying on more than oral history to create it.  And it is truly a goldmine of information!  I'm so excited and happy to have seen it.

First of all, Edith tells us of a rumour that Sophia was "closely related to James Watt the inventor of the Steam Engine", who was born on January 19, 1736, in Greenock, to another James Watt (shipwright and merchant) and his wife Agnes Muirhead.  James Watt Senior's father was Thomas Watt, mathematics teacher.  At the moment I can't find any relationship between these people and Sophia, and Edith doesn't know what it was precisely.

She does, however, know the names of Sophia's parents and her paternal grandparents.  Hooray!  Now we can go back two generations, which is very good news.

"The first Watt of whom we have record is William Watt of St. Andrews and his wife Agnes Wallace. They had a son William born 17th August, 1759.  The latter married in London "Jean" Bond, an English woman, and they had a son James born on March 26, 1786 and registered in St. Andrews, and a daughter Sophia born March 26, 1783 in London. After the birth of Sophia they evidently returned to St. Andrews to live."  

It's kind of strange that both children were born on the same date, three years apart.

Edith also confirms something that I'd already discovered in the records, that Jane Bond's marriage to William Watt was a second marriage for her.  Her first husband was named John Powis.  

Edith has a lot to say about Sophia's other relatives.  On her mother's side, "not much is known except that her [Sophia's] great grandfather was one Percival Bond and that she had two aunts, Frances and Phyllis, the latter of whom, unmarried, left her a legacy...Sophia Watt had an aunt Isabella (Taddie) who died in 1841 and left her a legacy.  She also had legacies from two other aunts, Anne Turner and Phyllis Bond.  She had at least two uncles, one of whom was  Thomas Watt who was wealthy and travelled to the West Indies.  There he married the daughter of the Governor of Guadeloupe, and afterwards returned to Edinburgh where they lived "in style" in Claremont Crescent...This Thomas Watt had several children.  A daughter, Isabella, married a Mr. Anderson of Jamaica, W.I.  The son, Edward, lived in Trinidad.  Another son, William, also lived in Trinidad and a son, Henry, went as A.D.C. to the Governor of Domenica.  His father [Sophia's Uncle Thomas] wrote to Sophia Watt that this son had been given a handsome establishment and later accepted a judgeship."

And finally, Edith provides us with a Watt-Bond family tree:

There's even more here, mostly about Sophia and David Oliphant's life, but this is enough information to get started with.  First of all, one of the reasons I was so happy to learn that Sophia was indeed the daughter of William Watt is that I have a biography of a William Watt of St. Andrews. This turns out to be a biography of Sophia's grandfather, William Watt Senior.  It was published in 1839, well after his death, in "The Gardener's Magazine, and Register of Rural and Domestic Improvement".

The archives of St. Andrews University were able to give me some supplementary information.  From the book "Biographical Register of the University of St. Andrews 1747-1897" by Robert Smart:

"Watt, William.  Cook and gardener to St. Mary's College 1757-1786 (retired).
 Previously gardener to the Earl of Buchan.

Watt, William.  Cook and gardener to St. Mary's College 1786-22.4.1800 (died aged 83). 
Also worked as a surveyor. 
Born c. 1717 son to William Watt, cook and gardener to St. Mary's College. 

Watt, William.  Cook and gardener to St. Mary's College.  
Son of William Watt, cook and gardener to St. Mary's College."

I think the author incorrectly attributed the death date of the elder William Watt to his son.  It is probably the elder William Watt who died in 1800, age 83 (although to add to the confusion, his biographer in the "Gardener's Journal" has him dying in 1798).  

The librarian at the archives pulled out several relevant entries from the Minutes of St. Mary's College. According to these records, the first William Watt began work at the College on November 24, 1757.  On 16 June 1786, the minutes mention a gratuity awarded to "William Watt Younger" for "extraordinary work" in the gardens, and says that Watt Sr. was retiring due to "age and infirmity".  On 22 July 1800, the minutes report:

"The meeting considering that the offices of Cook and Gardener to the College had become vacant by the death of the late Mr. Watt Senior on the day of _____ last, agreed to nominate Mr. Watt Junior to officiate as a cook for the next session of College."  

On April 3 1801, there is an entry that records the full appointment of William Watt Junior.

By the way, in case it's not clear, St. Mary's College is part of St. Andrew's University in the town of St. Andrews.  

This information is both very helpful and a tiny bit confusing.  It makes it seem as if there are three William Watts, but I think there are only two.  Sophia's father, William Watt, was born in 1759.  He would have been 27 years old in 1786, when the first William Watt retired and the second took his place, which makes sense, especially since it seems as though he was already gardening there in some capacity anyway.  The part about him also working as a surveyor is unexpected.  I think it was the elder William Watt, Sophia's grandfather, who was born circa 1717.  This would make him 22 when entering the Earl of Buchan's service, and 34 when his first child was born.

I don't have a marriage record for William Watt Sr. and Agnes Wallace, but I do have birth records for seven of their children, three more than Edith's family tree contains.  William and Agnes had:

  • Henry, born May 6, 1751, in the parish of Liberton (parish record says the family lives in "Goodtrees").  In the family history Edith refers to this child as Henry David. Apparently Liberton is a parish in the county of Edinburgh, 2 miles outside the city of Edinburgh.   Fun fact:  "Liberton" derives from "Leper's Town", due to a leper hospital the area once containted.  
  • Cardross (male) born September 29, 1754, also at Liberton.  Cardross is a name associated with the Earl of Buchan's family.  
  • Isabelle (on the birth record) or Isabella (on the family tree).  Born December 6, 1757, in the parish of St. Andrew's.  This makes sense, as William Watt the elder began working at St. Andrew's University that year.  From here on in, all the birth records refer to William as being a "Gardener at New College".  According to the St. Mary's College Minutes, St. Mary's College was sometimes referred to as New College at this time.  
  • William, born August 17, 1759, St. Andrews.  This is Sophia Watt's father.  
  • James, born February 28, 1761, St. Andrews.
  • Jean, born January 7, 1763, St. Andrews. 
  • Thomas, born January 31, 1765, St. Andrews.  
It is possible that not all these children survived.

There are two different death records in the St. Andrew's parish records in the name of William Watt.  It makes sense to me that the first William to die would have been Sophia's grandfather, who would indeed have been 83 years old if he was born in 1717 and died in 1800.  His son, Sophia's father, who died in 1803, would have been a relatively young 44 years. 

"William Watt Gardner to St. Mary's College St. Andrews died 27th of April 1800".  

"William Watt Gardner to the New College died here 6 of May 1803". 

Additionally, the book "Monumental Inscriptions pre-1855 in East Fife" by John Fowler Mitchell and Sheila Mitchell records this gravestone inscription in the churchyard of St. Andrew's Cathedral:

"Wm Watt gardner and surveyor here 27.4.18(0)(0 or 6) (83)".   

There are still clues to the Watt and Bond families to explore, and next I am going to look into the family of Sophia's globe-trotting uncle Thomas Watt.