Heartbreaking…

Old Medicine Bottles

The Doctor sent medicines
Photo Source: Michael Flick
(licensed under Creative Commons 2.0)

In order to build my complete Unst Family Tree I first worked through the census records, and now I am gradually working my way through the statutory records for Unst. I started with the marriage records to locate all those females who suddenly disappear from the census (because their name changes). Having done that I started on the death records. I was fully prepared for a sensation of morbidity during the processing of these records, page after page of people dying, but I was not prepared for what I found in literally the first three pages of the 1855 death records for Unst (1855 was the first year statutory death records were recorded).

Each death record page contains three records and on page 2 it was immediately obvious that two of the people were related (same parents, same death location – Budagarth in Unst).

The first, on 15th Feb was 7 year old Magnus who died after having a Cold and Cough for about 8 days. 2 days later his 6 month old little sister Joan, also succumbed to the same. Having transcribed page 2, I turned to the next page and found that 2 more days later, on the 19th, their 12 year old sister Thomasina also died with the same cause, Cold and a cough for about 8 days. This time there is a note alongside the standard text “No medical Attendant” which says, “The Doctor sent medicines”. The following day little sister Martha, aged only 3, also succumbed after only 5 days of this Cold and Cough despite the medicines sent by the Doctor.

All four records across these two pages of the Death Register are signed by the same informant, John, father of the deceased. At the time (early in 1855) John and his wife Catherine had seven children (and were pregnant with their eighth). It must have been heartbreaking for this family to lose four of their children in such quick succession, in the space of less than one week.

Their next two children born were named Magnus and Martha Thomasina. Most of their other children that avoided this Cold and Cough lived well into adulthood

  • Robert, the eldest, who was 14 at the time of this tragedy, lived well into his 70s and produced 8 children of his own
  • Eliza, the third child, who was 10, died at the age of 19.
  • Williamina, the fifth child, who was 6, married a man in England and produced 4 children of her own
  • Magnus, born just after 4 of his siblings died, produced 5 children of his own
  • Martha, born later, had a number of children in England
  • Mary Ann, born later, moved to Lerwick, and had a couple of children
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2 thoughts on “Heartbreaking…

  1. That is such a tragic story! My heart goes out to those parents. And what it must have been like for the three children who survived after watching their four siblings die.

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