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  • Kylie Sprott

Gone, but not forgotten

Updated: Sep 18, 2023

Ernest Hemingway once said that "every man has two deaths - when he is buried in the ground and the last time someone says his name". According to that theory, my Great Grandfather, William Morris, isn't quite dead yet then. And that makes me smile.

My Mum and I have just returned from our two week trip around Scotland, with the bulk of our holiday spent exploring beautiful Bute. We had an absolute cracker of a time - many memories were created during those two weeks.

I took enormous delight in showing my Mum all that I have discovered so far and she happily soaked it up. There will be more posts to come (I am pacing myself!), detailing our adventures and the wonderful experiences we shared. However, for both of us, a real highlight was delving into our ancestry.

As we regularly traipsed around Rothesay, I would happily point out where several generations of our family lived - and died. I could see that my Mum was very interested to understand more about her mother (Mary Jane Morris) and her grandmother (Margaret Morris, nee McVicar). Understandably, the others, whom she had never met, were more obtuse to her.

During my research with Isabel the genealogist, I enquired as to the location of William Morris' grave. William was the husband of Margaret and the father of my Gran, Mary Jane. He stayed behind in Rothesay whilst the rest of the family travelled one way to Australia. Although there are stories about why, we will never really know his reasons for staying in Rothesay. But as he never saw his daughter again, it deeply saddened me that he was alone when he passed at the age of 75. My curiosity about him and his life, which was so vastly different to mine, has been piqued.

So, when I finally secured the name and number of the right contact at the Argyll and Bute Council, I was persistent in calling them during our visit. I really wanted to find his grave - and especially whilst visiting with my Mum. But, it made for grim reading. It was confirmed that William was buried in the High Street Cemetery in the area known as the "Common Ground".

The Common Ground in a cemetery is also known as a "pauper's grave" and was used by those who did not have the means to own a burial plot. The plot may hold up to six or eight bodies and there is usually no headstone.

Thankfully, we were provided with detailed information and a map to indicate where William was buried in the common ground. Mum and I were thrilled and as soon as we were back in Rothesay, we were walking up the High Street to the cemetery. For my Mum, William had suddenly become very real.

Below is the aerial map provided, with an orange line to indicate where William is buried. There is a beautiful line of trees at the bottom of the common grave, so it wasn't hard to find.

I had picked a small bunch of flowers from our garden at Mount Pleasant Road, to leave on his grave and pay my respects. Although it sounds odd, it was comforting to know that he was in such a peaceful place that is so well maintained. And he was buried in the place he lived his entire life - which seems fitting to me.

But we didn't limit our ancestry visits to just the Morris family in Rothesay. During our travels, we visited spots relevant to our ancestral roots: Paisley, Greenock, Largs, Lochgair, Kilmichael, Glasgow, Lanark and Dundee. And that is just my Mum's side of the family!

As the McVicars (Margaret's family, my Great Grandmother) came from a small fishing village called Lochgair, we made a special visit there. We tried very hard to find the "castle" where our family lived and my Gran was born, but had no luck. It was such a tiny place, that Rothesay must have seemed like a metropolis in comparison.

We are safely home now in Australia and the long voyage back seems like a distant memory - except for a wee bit of jetlag. It was such an amazing and special experience to share with my Mum and I am very grateful to our family for supporting us on our pilgrimage. It is something we will always treasure.

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