Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Thomas Drummond, Botanist and Explorer



Explorers Garden, Pitlochry, Scotland


Among the male ancestors on my father’s side of the family were many farmers, several doctors, two carpenters, a weaver, a tailor and two botanist-explorers. These were brothers Thomas Drummond (1793-1835) and James Drummond (1787-1863), and both are remembered today through the plants that carry their names. Thomas studied plants in Scotland, western Canada and the southern United States while James immigrated with his family to western Australia and collected plants there.

Thomas Drummond, baptized on 8 April, 17931 at Inverarity Parish Church, near Forfar in eastern Scotland, was one of four children born to Thomas Drummond and Elizabeth Nicoll. Besides brother James, there were two girls: Euphemia, and Margaret, my four-times great-grandmother, who married David Forrester and came to Canada in 1833. 

Thomas and James no doubt first learned how to identify plants from their father, who was the head gardener of an estate named Fotheringham, near Forfar. 

At age 20, Thomas became manager of the nursery and botanic garden at Doohillock which had belonged to the retired director of the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. During the 10 years he worked there, he became an expert on the mosses of Scotland. He also became acquainted with botanist William Hooker, who eventually became director of the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew, in London.

In 1820, Thomas married Isobel Mungo2 and the couple eventually had three children, Ann, James and Isabella, however, a quiet family life did not suit him. 

This was a period when Europeans were exploring the far-flung corners of the world and learning all about the plants and animals they found there. Many of these explorers were Scots, such as David Douglas, after whom the Douglas fir tree is named. Their job was to describe these plants in their natural habitats, identify their key features and bring home specimens and seeds. 

On Hooker’s recommendation, Thomas was hired as assistant naturalist on Captain John Franklin’s second expedition to the Arctic in 1825. Rather than following the main party to the Arctic, Thomas headed west with a Hudson's Bay Company party. In the account he wrote of his journey to the Rocky Mountains on horseback and by boat along the Saskatchewan River, he described some of the birds and animals he encountered. They included blue-beaked Ruddy Ducks, a species of flycatcher that courageously attacked larger birds, and packs of impudent Prairie Dogs.

Thomas also explained how he gathered plants. “When the boats stopped to breakfast, I immediately went on shore with my vasculum, proceeding along the banks of the river and making short excursions into the interior, taking care to join the boats, if possible, at their encampment for the night. After supper, I commenced laying down the plants gathered in the day’s excursion, changed and dried the papers of those collected previously; which operation generally occupied me until daybreak, when the boats started. I then went on board and slept until the breakfast hour, when I landed and proceeded as before.  Thus I continued daily until we reached Edmonton House, a distance of about 400 miles, the vegetation having preserved much the same character all the way.”3

Thomas spent the winter alone on the shores of the Athabasca River, sheltered by a spruce-bough hut. He rejoined the brigade the next summer and spent the winter of 1826-27 at Edmonton House, where he was nearly killed by a grizzly bear. He nearly died a second time as he attempted to rejoin the Franklin group: a gale blew the small boat he was aboard far into Hudson Bay.

Inverarity Parish Church
In October 1827, he finally arrived back in England, having succeeded in collecting hundreds of plants, birds and small animals during his travels. The following year, he was appointed curator of the Belfast Botanic and Horticultural Society’s garden. He returned to Scotland in 1830.

A few years later, Thomas returned to North America to continue his botanical explorations in Texas and Louisiana. There he faced floods, cholera and near-starvation. He died in Havana, Cuba in 1835, survived by his wife and children in Scotland. About a dozen plant species, including the well-known Phlox drummondii, a moss genus and a small mammal, are named after him.

Photo credits: Janice Hamilton

Related articles: Glimpses of a Life (the story of Margaret Drummond Forrester) http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/2013/10/glimpses-of-life.html

This story has also been posted on Genealogyensemble.com

Notes:

I have never been fond of cold, wet weather or long, uncomfortable hikes in the woods, so the discovery that one of my ancestors endured these and many other hardships as a 19th century botanist and explorer came as quite a surprise. Thomas Drummond has to be one of my most interesting ancestors. 

A number of articles have been written about his life, including one in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography (http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/drummond_thomas_6E.html). My favourite, however, is “Drummond of Forfar” by Louise H.R. Meikle, Thomas’s three-times great-granddaughter. It was published in The Scots Magazine, April 2005. A portrait of Thomas Drummond can be seen at http://images.kew.org/thomas_drummond/print/4232976.html.

It is interesting to note that many articles give Thomas Drummond’s birth date as approximately 1790. Genealogy has been able to contribute to our knowledge about him by providing more precisely the dates of his baptism and marriage. We have to rely on letters written by his contemporaries regarding his death, although the exact date does not seem to have been recorded. 

An article at http://www.forfarbotanists.org/thomas_drummond_detail.pdf lists many of the plants Thomas discovered. It is on the website of the Friends of the Forfar Botanists (http://www.forfarbotanists.org), an organization that has created a garden in memory of the Drummond brothers and several other local horticulturists.

Another Scottish organization that recognizes the Drummond brothers’ accomplishments is the Scottish Plant Hunters Garden in Pitlochry, Perthshire. (http://www.explorersgarden.com). Visitors to this lovely garden can see species of plants brought to England and Scotland by 19th century Scottish-born botanists such as David Douglas, David Lyall and Archibald Menzies. 

Sources:

1. "Scotland, Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950," Database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XYJZ-DBX : accessed 16 June 2015), Thomas Drummond, 08 Apr 1793; citing INVERARITY AND METHY,ANGUS,SCOTLAND, reference ; FHL microfilm 993,436.

2. "Scotland, Marriages, 1561-1910," Database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XTVL-QJS : accessed 16 June 2015), Thomas Drummond and Isobel Mungo, 18 Nov 1820; citing Forfar,Angus,Scotland, reference ; FHL microfilm 993,432.

3. Drummond, Thomas, “Sketch of a Journey to the Rocky Mountains and to the Columbia River in North America”, Botanical miscellany, Volume 1, edited by Sir William Jackson Hooker, London: John Murray, Albemarle-Street, 1830, p. 183. https://books.google.ca/books?id=8LkWAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA95dq=Thomas+Drummond+sketch+of+a+journey+Hooker+Botanical+miscellany&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CCEQ6AEwAWoVChMI3eblpMqUxgIVSM2ACh10DgBc#v=onepage&q=Thomas%20Drummond%20sketch%20of%20a%20journey%20Hooker%20Botanical%20miscellany&f=false











Monday, June 8, 2015

Mattie Rixon and the Forrester Family




Samantha Rixon (1856-1929) learned the importance of family early in life. When Mattie, as she was known, was three years old, her father, Arthur Wellington Rixon, died of typhoid. Her mother, (first name Martha, maiden name unknown) remarried and moved away, leaving Mattie and her little brother, Phineas Wellington Rixon, to be brought up by their grandparents.

Mattie with Lillian and Arthur W.
The children grew up in Cramahe Township, Northumberland County, Ontario, a rural area near Brighton and Lake Ontario. Their grandfather, Thomas Rixon (1793-1876), who was originally from England, worked as a carpenter and farmer. Their grandmother, Betsey Thompson (c. 1804-c.1872), had already brought up 12 children, but she was still willing and able to care for her two grandchildren.

Around the time her grandparents died, Mattie moved in with her married aunt, Ormacinda Rixon Fennell. Once again, a family member had come to her assistance.

In 1879, Mattie married John McFarlane Forrester1, nicknamed Jack. He was the son of a Scottish-born farmer from Melrose, in Tyendinaga Township, Hastings County, Ontario. The couple settle up housekeeping in a log cabin on the Forrester family farm. A year later, Mattie gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl. The boy, named Arthur, did not survive, but Lillian May2, the baby girl who was one day to become my grandmother, was placed in a box behind the woodstove to keep warm.

Jack was one of seven children, and land in Ontario was becoming too expensive for him and his four brothers to buy farms of their own. The Forresters agreed the best the solution would be for everyone to leave Ontario and start over on the western prairies, which were opening up to settlers at the time. The Forrester brothers and their father bought adjoining 160-acre lots near Emerson, Manitoba, close to the American border.

Farming in Manitoba was quite different from life in Ontario. The Forrester farm in Ontario had been fairly small and hilly, and the family had raised mixed crops and livestock. Now they were farming grain on the vast, flat prairies. Winters were longer and much colder, but the soil, subject to periodic flooding by the Red River, was fertile. And although two of Jack’s brothers moved to nearby Winnipeg to pursue careers there, those who remained in Emerson could count on each other to help with the farm work and enjoy social get-togethers.

Mattie and Jack raised six children: Lillian May, Arthur Wellington, John MacFarlane, William Drummond, Lulu Elda and Jessie Jean.3 According to her nephew Charles Reid Forrester, Mattie was devoted to her family.  In a memoir, he wrote: “Aunt Mattie … had been a school teacher in Ontario whose whole life was now devoted to caring for her family, milking cows and making butter, raising poultry, sewing, gardening and the thousand and one tasks incidental to running a farm home.

“There was something special about Aunt Mattie’s bread, fresh from the oven, with its nutty flavor! Long years after she was gone, the rich aroma of her newly baked loaves greeted me one day as I opened the doors of her old cupboard, bringing back memories of those days when we were privileged to accept her kindness, while turning her house topsy-turvy in our games of hide and seek, hide the thimble, robbers, train, and whatever came to mind.”4

One year the whole family visited California on a trip paid for by one of the Forrester brothers who was a successful real estate developer. When Jack and Mattie decided to retire from farming around 1911, they moved west again, this time to Los Angeles, where they bought a tiny house. Several other family members, including Mattie’s son Bill, also moved to California, but Mattie did miss her grandchildren in Canada. In 1928, she wrote to 13-year-old grandson Jimmy Hamilton (my future father), “When I think of you boys growing so much since I came here I feel a bit sorry I’ll never see you again as little boys. I watch your cousins here and make comparisons, but I know you will be my boy at all times, will you not?”

That letter also made it clear that Mattie knew how lucky she had been to be surrounded by family all her life. She told Jimmy, “I am too old to sleep more than 6 hours so up I get and go out beside the gas heater where I am now and read or write or sew for unfortunate kiddies who have not a mother or grandma.”,

Mattie died in Los Angeles on May 15, 1929, aged 72.5


Notes

I knew nothing about Mattie, not even her name, until a few years ago. Then, a distant cousin sent me a copy of a photo of Mattie with a note on the back, written by my grandmother, Lillian Hamilton. That note explained why Mattie and her brother were brought up by their grandparents. Other details of Mattie’s adult life on the farm in Manitoba come from a privately published book written by her nephew Charles Reid Forrester. I found the letter she wrote to my father in his photo album.


Sources
1. "Ontario Marriages, 1869-1927," index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FMJS-B42 : accessed 8 June 2015), John Mcfarlane Forrester and Samantha Rixon, 26 Jul 1879; citing registration, Shannonville, Hastings, Ontario, Canada, Archives of Ontario, Toronto; FHL microfilm.

2. "Canada Births and Baptisms, 1661-1959," index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:F2KY-L6B : accessed 8 June 2015), Samantha L. Rixon in entry for Lilian May Forrester, 11 Oct 1880; citing Tyendinaga, Hastings, Ontario, 11 Oct 1880, reference 520; FHL microfilm 1,845,398.

3.  “1901 Census of Canada”, Manchester, Provencher, Manitoba; Page: 3; Family No: 25, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 8 June 2015), entry for Samantha Forrester; citing Library and Archives Canada. Census of Canada, 1901. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Library and Archives Canada, 2004. http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/census/1901/Pages/about-census.aspxl. Series RG31-C-1. Statistics Canada Fonds. Microfilm reels: T-6428 to T-6556.

4. Charles R. Forrester, “My World in Story, Verse and Song”, printed by Friesen Printers, Altona, Manitoba, 1979.

5. “California, Death Index, 1905-1939”, database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 8 June, 2015), entry for Samantha Forrester; citing California Department of Health and Welfare, California Vital Records-Vitalsearch (www.vitalsearch-worldwide.com). The Vitalsearch Company Worldwide, Inc., Pleasanton, California.