Thomas Boyle (1869 - 1910)

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Thomas Boyle was born on 26th April 1869 at 26 Holmscroft Street in Greenock, Renfrewshire.  He was the son of Ninian Boyle, a Sailmaker who had been born in Greenock on 12th January, 1833 and Mary Morrison, born 29th January, 1843, also in Greenock. Ninian Boyle registered his son's birth.  Ninian himself was the son of seaman Thomas Boyle who had been born in the parish of Kingarth on the Isle of Bute.  This Thomas's father and grandfather were also named Ninian Boyle, both born on Bute and clearly establishing the origin of the name.  Of course it was a short boat trip from the Isle of Bute to Greenock on the south bank of the Firth of Clyde.

In 1887, John Bartholomew's Gazetteer of the British Isles described Greenock like this:

Greenock was a seaport and manufacturing town in Renfrewshire on the south side of Firth of Clyde, 22½ miles north west of Glasgow.  It was created a burgh of barony in 1635, but at the Union, in 1707, it was still a mere fishing village; in 1710, when the first harbour was completed, it was made a custom-house port.  At the beginning of the 19th century it ranked as the first port in Scotland, but it afterwards suffered severely for a time by the deepening of the Clyde up to Glasgow.  However, even at the end of the nineteenth century, it carried on a large foreign trade, chiefly with the West and East Indies, the United States, Canada, and Australia.  It had also an extensive passenger and goods traffic with Liverpool, Dublin, and Belfast. Greenock was the chief seat of the sugar refining business in Scotland, and sugar refining and iron shipbuilding were the principal among many important industries.  James Watt (1736-1819) was its most notable son.

An 1856 map of Greenock reveals that Holmscroft Street was not yet in existence and we can be fairly confident that whatever accommodation was occupied by the Boyle family when Thomas was born, it was of fairly new construction.  The neighbourhood of Holmscroft Street in Greenock is shown in Image 1.

At the time of the 1871 Census (3rd April), Thomas, not quite at his second birthday, is found residing with his mother Mary, now aged 27, and his two older siblings, Scholars Agnes Niven Boyle, aged 7, and John Morrison Boyle, aged 3.  The family residence was 37 Holmscroft Street, Greenock, just a little further along the street from where Thomas had been born.  There is no sign of Thomas's father, Ninian Boyle, and we assume that he was at sea.  Also resident with the Boyle family was Mary's father 62-year-old John Morrison, a Ship's Carpenter who had been born in Argyllshire in the parish of Kilfinan which lay on the east bank of Loch Fyne.  John Morrison was recorded as a Widower although we do know that his second wife Mary McLachlan was still alive, his first wife Agnes Niven having died before 1848.

On 19th March, 1873, the 64-year-old John Morrison died of Paralysis at 37 Holmscroft Street, Greenock.  His son John registered the death.

On 15th January, 1877, Thomas's older sister 13-year-old Agnes Niven Boyle died at 6 Nelson Street, Greenock (Image 1).  The cause of death was recorded as Tubercular Peritonitis from which she had been suffering for 6 months.  The death was reported by Agnes's aunt, Jessie Morrison of 38 Lyle St., Greenock. 

Young Agnes's death notice appeared in the Greenock Telegraph on 16th January 1877.

Boyle, Agnes Niven, only daughter of Ninian Boyle, sailmaker, died at 6 Nelson St., Greenock on 15th Jan 1877.

Just over a week earlier Agnes's teacher had presented her with a copy of a book entitled "Another's Burden' and inscribed the inside page which is shown in Image 2.  After her death, someone, presumably a family member, had added a memorial message. 

Thomas's father Ninian Boyle died some 11 months later on 10th December 1877 at East Kent County Lunatic Asylum, Chartham in the south of England.  He was 44 years old and the cause of death was recorded as Enteritis, from which he had been suffering for 14 days, and Disease of Lungs.  His death was reported by the Clerk and Steward of the Asylum. 

Ninian Boyle's death notice appeared in the Greenock Advertiser on 18th September 1877:

Nennan or Ninian Boyle, sailmaker, Greenock, died at Canterbury on 10th Sept. 1877.

It is not at all clear why Ninian would have died so far from home although he had been missing from earlier censuses and it is likely that he spent a fair amount of time at sea.  Young Thomas Boyle had been only 8 years old when his father died, and it is likely that Thomas would have known little about him.

On 28th January 1879, Thomas's mother Mary Morrison, now 36, married for the second time.  Her second husband was 38-year-old Stornoway-born Soldier Hugh McKenzie residing at 3 Bruce Street in Greenock (Image 1), and the marriage took place at Ardgowan Street in Greenock.  Mary was stated to be a Widow and residing at 54 Ann Street (Image 1) in Greenock at the time of her marriage.  

At the time of the 1881 Census (4th April), Mary and Hugh McKenzie were residing at 13 Abbot Road, Bromley St Leonard, London, England   Hugh McKenzie was recorded as a 45-year-old Ship's Fireman while Mary was also 45.   Abbott Road was located in Poplar Borough very near the East India Dock on the River Thames.  

Mary's two sons, John (14) and Thomas (12) are found residing as Scholars in Greenock Industrial School, 13 Captain Street, Greenock. 

The Greenock Ragged and Industrial School was administered by the Greenock Ragged School Association:

It is the object of the Association to reclaim the neglected and destitute children of Greenock by affording them the benefit of a good common and Christian education, and training them to the habits of regular industry so as to enable them to earn an honest livelihood and fit them for the duties of life. The plan upon which the school is conducted is as follows: The children receive an allowance of food for their daily support; are instructed in reading, writing and arithmetic; trained to industry by employing them daily in such work as is suited to their years; and taught the truths of the Gospel, making the children receive suitable religious teaching.

There is a suggestion here that Mary and her new husband went off and left Mary's two sons by her first husband Ninian Boyle in the 'care' of the Greenock Ragged School Association.  There is nevertheless evidence that the boys were not simply abandoned for good although we will likely never know the circumstances that led to the family being separated.  Image 3 shows the location of the Ragged School on a 1912 Greenock street map.  The Greenock Ragged and Industrial School had been opened in 1858 and ironically Holmscroft Street had been laid out adjacent to it.

Thomas's elder brother John Morrison Boyle died in June 1884 at 2 Portree Street in Poplar, Greater London.  Portree Street ran off Abbott Road where Mary and Hugh McKenzie were residing at the 1881 Census.  It is likely that they had moved to Portree Street and that John had joined his mother and stepfather in London.  Sadly he was to die there at the age of only 17. 

His death notice appeared in the Greenock Telegraph on 17th June, 1884.:

Boyle, John Morrison, eldest surviving son of late Ninian Boyle, sailmaker, died at 2 Portree St., Poplar, London in Jun 1884 age 18.

Although number 2 Portree Street has now been demolished, Image 4 shows a modern photograph of numbers 4, 6 and 8 Portree Street, Poplar and illustrates the type of house likely occupied by Mary and Hugh McKenzie at that time.

There is a suggestion in the wording of John Morrison Boyle's death notice that Ninian and Mary had had a son before John was born, but had not survived.  No record of such a birth has been found.

At the time of the 1891 Census (5th April), Thomas Boyle, Mary and Ninian's only surviving child, now 22 and working as a Shipyard Labourer, was residing with his uncle - his mother's brother - John Morrison, a Steamship Engine Driver, and his wife Mary.  The census address was 19 Wellington Street, Greenock which ran parallel and one block south of Holmscroft Street and is shown in Image 5. 

At this time Thomas's mother, Mary McKenzie, was residing at 149 Manisty Street, Poplar, London.  Manisty Street was about half a mile closer to the Thames from Abbott Road where she had been residing with her husband Hugh ten years earlier.  Mary gave her occupation as Seamstress.  Although she gave her marital status as Married, her husband was not present on census night.

Towards the end of that same year, 1891, Hugh McKenzie, Thomas's stepfather, died in Poplar, London.

On 4th July, 1895 Thomas Boyle, now 25 and working as a Ship's Fender Maker, married 24-year-old Pawnbroker's Assistant Margaret O'Rourke in St. Mungo's Chapel, Townhead, St. Rollox, Glasgow.  Image 6 shows a modern photograph of St Mungo's Chapel.  Margaret had been born in Edinburgh on 25th January, 1871, the daughter of Irish-born Boltmaker Bernard O'Rourke and Margaret Dawson, born in Dunfermline, Fife, of Irish parents.  Sometime between 1877 and 1884, Bernard and Margaret moved with their family to the west of Scotland and settled in the Kinning park area, south of the River Clyde.

At the time of their 1895 marriage, both Thomas Boyle and Margaret O'Rourke gave their address as 35 Glenfield Street, St. Rollox, Glasgow, Lanarkshire.  Their marriage record confirms that Thomas's father Ninian was deceased at this time and that his mother Mary Morrison had remarried and was currently known as Mary McKenzie.  Witness to the marriage was Susan Drummond who we believe was Margaret O'Rourke's cousin.  Margaret's aunt, Elizabeth Dawson had married Patrick Drummond of Co. Cavan on 7th January, 1859 in Edinburgh and Susan had been born in Edinburgh on 22nd December, 1872 and was just 2 years younger than Margaret. The other witness to Thomas and Margaret's marriage was Philip O'Connell.

On 15th September 1895, Thomas and Margaret Boyle had their first child, Thomas Dawson Boyle, who was born at 25 Mair Street, Govan, Lanarkshire which was the address of Margaret's parents Bernard and Margaret O'Rourke.  Margaret Boyle registered the birth and gave her husband's occupation as Ship's Fender Maker (Journeyman).

On 5th September 1899, a second child, Agnes Niven Boyle, was born to Thomas and Margaret Boyle. at 45 St. James's Road, St. Rollox, Glasgow. This time it was Thomas who registered the birth.

Just over a year later, on 25th November 1900, Thomas's wife Margaret Boyle (maiden surname O'Rourke) died aged only 29 at Glasgow's Western Infirmary.  The cause of death was recorded as Tubercular Enteritis and Paraplegia.  Her widower Thomas Boyle registered the death. Thomas and Margaret's usual address was recorded at 9 St. James's Road, St. Rollox, Glasgow.

Just 4 months later, at the time of the 1901 Census (31st March), widower Thomas Boyle was residing alone at 9 St. James's Road, St. Rollox, Glasgow. His occupation was given as Ship's Cork Fender Maker.  Thomas was recorded as Blind on the census return.  We learn from family sources that in fact Thomas had gone blind as the result of an illness contracted at sea even before he had married Margaret O'Rourke in 1895.

Thomas was very bitter about having lost his sight and family legend has it that he was a confirmed atheist.  "How can you claim that there is a God who would take the eyes of a 21-year-old?", he is reported as saying.  He would also become angry and frustrated and would strike the furniture with his stick.

It appears that the manufacture of cork fenders for maritime use was a common occupation for the blind in the United Kingdom. At a conference in London in 1902 Mr T. Stoddart gave the following information in regard to the work in Glasgow: - "We are building very extensive additions to our workshops, which will enable us to accommodate 600 blind people. We mean to employ the most up-to-date methods, and are introducing electric power to drive the machinery and light the workshops.... At cork-fender-making, also an industry of the most suitable kind, we are at present employing about thirty workers. It is also our intention to greatly develop and extend our mat-making department."

We might now speculate on how Thomas Boyle and his wife Margaret O'Rourke came to settle in Townhead.  Thomas had been born and raised in Greenock on the south bank of the River Clyde, while Margaret's family lived in Kinning Park, also south of the River.  At the corner of Castle Street and Alexandra Parade, just to the north of Glasgow's Royal Infirmary, was sited the Glasgow Royal Blind Asylum.  A new building - shown in the photo in Image 7, taken from Stirling Road where it converges with Castle Street - with distinctive religious sculptures, was opened in 1881.  Adjacent to this building was Glenfield Street, the address that Thomas and Margaret gave at their marriage in 1895.  It is not unreasonable to conclude that Thomas worked in the Asylum during the day and it is likely that he moved from Greenock to Townhead as a direct result of his blindness.

'Blind people were traditionally among the poorest in society.  A report of the Glasgow Asylum for the Blind in 1884 stated: "The Asylum devotes itself to two modes of assisting the blind: 1st: Educating the young in various branches, including first-rate musical tuition; 2nd: Teaching various trades and providing employment in the workshops. Board and lodging was provided, as well as education. Costs were covered by subscriptions, donations, bequests and the sale of articles such as brushes, baskets and bedding manufactured in the workshops."

At the time of the 1901 Census (31st March), shortly after he was widowed, we find Thomas Boyle's two young children, Thomas (5) and Agnes (1), residing with their grandparents Bernard and Margaret O'Rourke back at 25 Mair Street in Govan where young Thomas had been born almost 6 years earlier. The 56-year-old Bernard was still working as a Nut and Bolt Maker and his wife Margaret was 53. 16-year-old daughter Annie was a Bolt Screwer while 14-year-old James was an Apprentice Barber.

On 4th July, 1901, six years to the day after his first marriage, 30-year-old widower Thomas Boyle married 24-year-old Printer's Machine Feeder Margaret Foreman Murray at their residence 45 St. James's Road, St. Rollox, Glasgow.  Maggie was the daughter of Andrew Murray, Carter, and Mary Smith.  She had been born on 17th February 1877 at 228 Stirling Road, St. Rollox, Glasgow.  Family legend has it that Maggie had originally met the blind Thomas on board a tram, felt a religious calling to look after him and accepted when Thomas had proposed marriage. 

Not contained in the records, but from family anecdotal evidence, young Thomas and Agnes Boyle were taken to live with their father and stepmother.  On 2nd January 1905 Thomas and Maggie Boyle had a child, Mary Smith Boyle, born at the Maternity Hospital, Glasgow.  On 18th April, 1910 Maggie had another child, John Morrison Boyle, at 85 Parliamentary Road, Glasgow.  This thoroughfare is shown in Image 8.

Less than a month later, on 13th May 1910, Thomas made an application to the Parish of Govan for financial assistance.  At the time he was a patient in the Western Infirmary (in Ward 30) and had twice previously been in Duke Street Hospital.  The Inspector's Report confirms that he was employed in the Asylum for the Blind and that he was earning 18/- per week.  His usual residence at the time and for the previous 6 months was 85 Parliamentary Road in Glasgow.  The Report states that Thomas was separated from his wife Maggie and that he was applying to enter the Poor House.

Just over two weeks later, on 29th May, 1910, Thomas Boyle died, aged 40, at Barnhill Poorhouse, Garngadhill, Lanarkshire.  His widow, Margaret Foreman Boyle of 85 Parliamentary Road, Glasgow, reported the death. The Cause of Death was recorded as Paraplegia.

Barnhill Poorhouse was officially opened on May 1850 and provided basic food, shelter and medical treatment for the poor of the parish of Barony.  When in 1898 Barony parish merged with the city of Glasgow, Glasgow's own poorhouse in Parliamentary Road closed down and Barnhill became the largest poorhouse in Scotland, serving Glasgow's poor.  Barnhill Poorhouse later became Foresthall Home until demolished during the 1980s.  Image 9 shows the layout of Barnhill and Image 10 shows an aerial photograph of the poorhouse.

Thomas Boyle had indeed led a tough life.  After the death of his father when he was 8 years old, separated from his mother, he was raised for at least part of his childhood in the well-intentioned although harsh regime of Greenock Industrial School.  He then went blind at twenty-one. Nevertheless, he was able to learn a trade and support his wife and young family.  Tragically, his first wife died when their children were very young.  He remarried and had another daughter and son. When he fell physically ill in his final days, he would have been unable to work and pay for his medical care and that is the likely reason he would have ended up in Barnhill Poorhouse.

Maggie Foreman Boyle (maiden surname Murray) continued to raise Thomas, Agnes, Mary and John Boyle and, in around 1916, she married John McKenzie.  By this time Thomas Boyle had left home and gone to sea and Agnes went to live with an aunt.

Maggie Foreman Boyle died on 17th December, 1955 at 133 Balornock Road, Glasgow.

A family anecdote suggests that Thomas Dawson Boyle died on an Atlantic voyage in around 1916. Agnes Niven Boyle married John Crosbie Carson on 30th January, 1920 at 7 Firpark Terrace, Glasgow.  Mary Smith Boyle married John McIntosh Livingstone on 20th August, 1926 at 32 Montgomerie Street, Maryhill, Glasgow.  John Boyle married Charlotte (Lottie) Moffat.

The 1929 map of the Townhead area of Glasgow in Image 11 shows some of the locations cited on this page.

St. James's Road can be seen running westwards from the Royal Infirmary.  It is interrupted by Stirling Road running towards the north east.  At the top of Stirling Road, on the other side of Castle Street at the intersection with Alexandra Parade is the Glasgow Royal Blind Asylum.  Situated a block due west on Parson Street is St. Mungo's R.C. Church. 

The same locations can be seen on the 1950s aerial photograph of the Townhead area shown in Image 12. 

Thomas's mother, Mary Morrison or Boyle or McKenzie, was residing at 5 Hack Street in Poplar, London at the time of Thomas's poor relief application in May 1910, and the fact that Thomas knew her address provides some further evidence that she kept in touch with her family.  She had been in the most unenviable position of having experienced the passing of two husbands and all three of her children.  The date and location of her death have not yet been established.


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Related Images

  • Image 1:  1897 Map of the neighbourhood of Holmscroft Street.  » Click to zoom ->

    Image 1: 1897 Map of the neighbourhood of Holmscroft Street.

  • Image 2:  Inside cover of 13-year-old Agnes Niven Boyle's book "Another's Burden"  » Click to zoom ->

    Image 2: Inside cover of 13-year-old Agnes Niven Boyle's book "Another's Burden"

  • Image 3:  1912 Street Map of Greenock showing location of the Ragged School.  » Click to zoom ->

    Image 3: 1912 Street Map of Greenock showing location of the Ragged School.

  • Image 4:  From right to left, numbers 4, 6 and 8 Portree Street, Poplar, London today.  » Click to zoom ->

    Image 4: From right to left, numbers 4, 6 and 8 Portree Street, Poplar, London today.

  • Image 5:  A section of Wellington Street, Greenock.  » Click to zoom ->

    Image 5: A section of Wellington Street, Greenock.

  • Image 6:  St Mungo's R.C. Church in Townhead, Glasgow.  » Click to zoom ->

    Image 6: St Mungo's R.C. Church in Townhead, Glasgow.

  • Image 7:  Glasgow's Royal Blind Asylum in Townhead, Glasgow.  » Click to zoom ->

    Image 7: Glasgow's Royal Blind Asylum in Townhead, Glasgow.

  • Image 8:  Parliamentary Road, Townhead, Glasgow in around 1900.  » Click to zoom ->

    Image 8: Parliamentary Road, Townhead, Glasgow in around 1900.

  • Image 9:  1894 map showing the layout of Barnhill Poorhouse.  » Click to zoom ->

    Image 9: 1894 map showing the layout of Barnhill Poorhouse.

  • Image 10:  Aerial view of Barnhill Poorhouse in Glasgow.  » Click to zoom ->

    Image 10: Aerial view of Barnhill Poorhouse in Glasgow.

  • Image 11:  1929 street map showing the Townhead neighbourhood.  » Click to zoom ->

    Image 11: 1929 street map showing the Townhead neighbourhood.

  • Image 12:  Aerial view of the Townhead area.  » Click to zoom ->

    Image 12: Aerial view of the Townhead area.