The Crislich Mystery

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Alexander Melville of Crislich Descent ]


On 15 December 1813 at Golspie Inn Donald Matheson offered £56 and Sergeant Melville £52 for the yearly rent of the tenancies of Sutherland Estate property at Crislich, Foick and Coppernusgach.  Those tenancies were situated in the parish of Clyne, Sutherland, Scotland in an area to the north west of Loch Brora on a tributary of the River Brora called the Black Water.  It would appear from the records that Sergeant Melville was allowed to remain at a yearly rent of £60.  The suggestion that he could remain indicates that he had the tenancies before 1813 and there is evidence in the 1815 records that he still held the lands in then at a rent of £60 per annum.

Above Lands on the Estate of Sutherland set at Golspy Inn 15 December 1813

Below 1815 Tenants and Rent


Above a map of the area around Crislich (Crioslach), Foick and Coppernusgach/Coupernahoul and, below, the Black Water running through Strath Skinsdale at Crioslach/Crislich.

There were many Melvilles in the parish of Clyne and some in the parish of Golspie throughout the latter part of the 18th century and the 19th century.  Those Melvilles were all inter-related and possibly descended from a single ancestor or family resident in the area in the late sixteen hundreds or early seventeen hundreds.  Alexander of Crislich was from the lines of Melvilles in which I have a principal interest though there may still be a little doubt as to his exact position within this family.

It is clear for the various records that Sergeant Melville and Alexander Melville were one and the same person mentioned in the 1813 and 1815 tenancies.  He was quite possibly the son of John Melville of Doll and his spouse Helen MacDonald though Alexander Melville and Sarah Mackay are also an outside possibility.  A further indication that the period of tenancy was more than just a few years is the fact that Alexander Melville of Crislich was married to a Margaret Graham and of their five children born between 1806 and 1816 their third and fifth children were noted as born at Crislich.  The Old Parish entry for the fourth child was less specific just indicating Clyne.

The family disappeared from the area around 1820 and despite much searching only one clue to their possible whereabouts came to light.

In response to an article I had published in the Highland Family History Society Journal entitled ‘The Melvilles of the Doll’, correspondence was received from Dr Bangor-Jones, an authority on the Clearances in Sutherland, that the Melville family had left for Dundee .  I have no proof, as yet, that they did indeed go there and no proof as to where Alexander and Margaret finally settled. However, later research suggests they might have gone to Edinburgh due to a family member being found there The search goes on in that area for the couple themselves.

Below the OPR entries for the five children of  Alexander Melville and Margaret Graham:



Below a section from the OPR for the birth of first born, John Melvin.  The spelling is variable in the OPRs but throughout this work I have, in

the text, used the modern spelling used by the family from the middle of the 19th Century, ie Melville.


The Children of Alexander Melville and Margaret Graham of Crislich born between 1806 and 1816.

John                 Born 15 August 1806 in Dole of Brora

Katherine        Born 18 January 1808 in Clyne

Margaret          Born 25 January 1810 at Crislich

Jean                 Born 16 February 1814 in Clyne

William            Born 29 December 1816 Crislich

The trail having run cold research in other areas of the family history was called for.  Much material has been received from correspondents in Australia and New Zealand .  In particular a descendant of Clyne Melvilles, Richard Snedden in New South Wales, Australia, provided material of great interest and with much detail on the Clyne Melvilles and related families who went to the southern hemisphere.  Material from Richard Snedden and the late Heather Melville in New Zealand , another Melville researcher, threw up the name of Adam Graham Melville, Bookseller of Melbourne, who married two sisters from Brora in Sutherland who were, in fact, his cousins.

It seemed reasonable to speculate that this Adam Graham Melville might be connected to the missing Alexander Melville and Margaret Graham.  The reason for this speculation centred on the fact that Adam had married two sisters, his cousins, named Melville and that his own name indicated he was a Melville with a link to a Graham family.  Either clue, taken by itself, might have been coincidental but the two taken together suggested further research was necessary.   Where to start searching for proof was the big question.

Research in Australia by Richard Snedden unearthed some remarkable information on Adam.  He did not only marry two sisters but also married for a third time.  His first wife was Isabella Melville, born 1837, the daughter of John Melville and Roberta Pope.  This couple lived out their lives in Clyne had nine children and at least six of whom went to Australia , one via New Zealand .  Adam’s second wife, Mary Melville, born 1844, was the sixth child of John and Roberta. The third woman he wed was an Elizabeth McKenney or Trennery.  She was the first of six children born to Jacob McKenney and Emily O’Donnell and the widow of John Trennery.  At the time of her marriage to Adam her occupation was given as ‘companion’.  The marriage was firstly a civil one on 28th October 1901 and later the couple had a religious marriage in the Church of England in 1902.

Though Isabella was born in Loth in Sutherland her family were from Clyne parish and died in 1870 in Melbourne , Australia .  She married Adam Graham Melville, who was born in Edinburgh in 1842, in Edinburgh on 10th April 1860.  He was given as aged 19 years and a Bookseller of 12 Calton Hill and she was described as a spinster of 19 years also of 12 Calton Hill.  It was noted that although Adam and Isabella gave their address as 12 Calton Hill at marriage they were not listed there in the 1861 census nor in the street directory of that year. This fact suggested that by that time they were on their way to Australia .

As can be seen above, Adam and Isabella were married at Viewfirth Free Church, Newington , Edinburgh and described as ‘cousins german’.  Information unearthed later indicated they went to Australia in 1860 and their son, John, was born and died there in 1863.  Little is known about their life together in Edinburgh or Australia . It would appear that Isabella went to Edinburgh to work and probably was employed by or, at least, resided with Adam’s family.  Adam himself served his apprenticeship in the book business, according to an Australian source, for the Edinburgh firm of Gall and Inglis.

The area of Edinburgh in which Adam Graham Melville lived with his father John and the rest of the family was on the edge of the old and new towns and on the slopes of Calton Hill.  The area is well described in a book by Ann Mitchell, ‘The People of Calton Hill’, and though the area surrounding the hill is much changed today the hill itself would still be recognisable to Adam.

The area described by Ann Mitchell’s book covers much more than that of interest in this research with many other streets around Calton Hill described in great detail.  The Melvilles, it would appear, resided in the steep street actually known as Calton Hill situated on the western edge of the geographic feature.  Today all that remains are the houses on this west side, a dozen or so, and 14 Calton Hill to the north west .  It is a pity that number 12, the home of the Melvilles, and the numbers below that have not survived.  Demolition took place to make way for a roadway and a multi-storey car park. The remaining houses have, of course, been much changed internally and outwardly. They are fine, strong structures belying their early date of construction.

In the early days a number of trades, including a wright, a mason, a cooper and a bricklayer, were represented by the residents of Calton Hill and some notable early residents included accountants, a solicitor and a writer.  By the end of the 17th century and until her death in 1841 the celebrated friend of the poet Robert Burns, Agnes Maclehose, better known as Clarinda, lived at number 14 Calton Hill.

Ann Mitchell’s book makes much use of post office directory information and information collected at the ten yearly census.  She mentions that in 1833 there were thirty-six separate households recorded and in 1841 over sixty.  The latter figure was boosted not just by an increase in population but also by the inclusion of lodgers in the census return and not just householders.  The street was a busy place with 324 residents and was described once as a ‘steep, narrow, stinking, spiral street’.  There were, as noted by Ann Mitchell, many and varied occupations and Adam’s father, John Melville, brass founder and plumber, was just one of the many tradesmen making a living in the area.


Above the upper entry to Calton Hill  on the left and the steps to the Hill on the right.

Below is the memorial to Clarinda in the Canongate   Kirk Cemetery , Royal Mile, Edinburgh . Who the end of the 17th century and until her death in 1841 lived at number 14 Calton Hill.  Near to where the Melvilles were to reside at number 12 Calton Hill. 


The birth record in the OPRs for Adam Graham Melville indicated that his father was a John Melville and his mother Agnes Lawson.  This information had been available from Australia though in a source there his mother had been given as Agnes Moses.  A marriage for John Melville and Agnes Lawson had been noted from the fiche but the conflicting names left some doubt.  On examination of the OPR the name Lawson was confirmed and further research showed that Agnes Lawson’s mother was a Sarah Moses.  Clearly an error had been made on the Australian record.  Agnes’s father was William Lawson.

The entry in the OPR for 1829 for the marriage of John Melville and Agnes Lawson is as follows;

John Melville, Plumber, residing in No. 3A Carnegie Street and Agnes Lawson residing in No. 1 Dalrymple Place both in this Parish, Daughter of the deceased William Lawson late soldier of the 1st Dragoon Guards, have been three times proclaimed in order to marriage, in the Parish Church of St. Cuthbert’s and no objections have been offered.  Married on the second day of October thereafter by the Reverend John Johnstone minister of the Relief Congregation, Roxburgh Place.

Unfortunately this OPR, like many, was not as full as hoped for with John Melville’s parents not given.

However, his Death Certificate was much more helpful. This indicated John’s parentage - John Melville, Plumber, aged 52 years son of Alexander Melville, Merchant, and Margaret Graham, both deceased.  Clear evidence that while Alexander Melville and Margaret Graham could not be found after their removal from Crislich one of their children could be identified.