David Telfer ~ city merchant


David was born in March 1812 in the Parish of Wiston and Roberton, the furthest south corner of South Lanarkshire in the Scottish Borders. His parents, James Telfer and Elisabeth Tait had married on13thFebruary 1807 and lived on a farm or small holding called ‘Clydes Bridge’ or ‘Bridge End’. In 2 of his census returns (1861 and 1891) David gives his birthplace as ‘Bridge End’, ‘whilst on the others it is Roberton.

In the 1841 census James Telfer gives his occupation as ‘Tailor’, but there are several references in other documents to his being a farmer as well.

There were 6 children born to James and Elisabeth: Agnes, Anne, David, Alexander, Elisabeth and James. Whilst not wealthy, it can be assumed that the Telfers did not go hungry and lived reasonably well with their double source of income. Both David and his brother Alexander were financially secure enough to set up their own businesses when they moved to Glasgow.

By 1841 David had left Roberton and was living in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, with his unmarried sister, Elisabeth. He had set up business as a grain merchant  using his connections in the  farming community.

  On 20th November 1843 he married Mary Hope, the youngest daughter of James Hope and Grace Somerville of West Calder, West Lothian. The Hopes ran a successful tailoring business, although like the Telfers, they had come from quite humble beginnings.

In 1851 David and Mary were living at 12 Rose Street, just off Sauchiehall St.  At that time Mary was expecting their 5th child, the other 4 being under 6years old. David’s sister, Elisabeth, then aged about 31, was staying with them as a visitor and Mary Somerville, aged 18 and probably the daughter of one of Mary’s cousins, was listed as a servant. Mary was not short of help in her confinement.

  By 1861 David and Mary had moved to the other end of Sauchiehall St to 6 Charing Cross, a larger home to accommodate their increasing family. In total they had 13 children – 9 girls and 4boys. Two of these died relatively young, their eldest son, James died in 1854 aged 6,and their 2nd youngest daughter, Edith, died in 1880 aged 16. After Edith’s death the family moved briefly to a smaller apartment at 529 Sauchiehall St, then to 2 Clifton St where, in 1883, Mary died  of heart disease, aged 60.

  Their life in Glasgow was one of prosperity. Records show that they always employed at least 1 domestic servant and it should be noted that none of the daughters were ever required to bring in a wage. However they never moved out to the prestigious West End of the city. In fact as time went on their lifestyle was less grand and by 1891 the remaining family had moved closer into the city to 296 Renfrew St where David died in 1898 at the age of 86. In the 1891 census there are no live-in servants and the 3 unmarried daughters, now in their 30’s were running the home. There are also 3 lodgers living with them – David, Agnes and Margaret McPherson. As their middle names were all Robertson they may be related to David’s sister-in-law Janet (wife of Alexander).

  By 1851 David’s youngest brother, James, had joined him in business, initially as a traveller. However James died aged 42 in 1870 and whilst David’s own sons may have spent some time after leaving school working with their father, they did not continue to do so and it was brother James’s sons, Alexander and James, who were running the business in the 1890’s. At this time the business was styled as ‘Wholesale Provision Merchants’.

  At the time of Edith’s death in 1880 David bought a double lair in the Necropolis behind Glasgow Cathedral. His young son, James, who had died in 1854, was buried in a lair, also in the Necropolis, owned by David’s brother Alexander. A granite stone was erected bearing the inscription on the plinth:

“Oh for the touch of a vanished hand

  Or the sound of a voice that is still”

Taken from Tennyson’s poem “Break,Break,Break.”

Their 13 Children

Grace Somerville Telfer 

Grace was born on 21st February 1845 and was named after her maternal Grandmother in the usual Scottish tradition. For some reason she does not appear in the 1861 census when she would have been 16. Possibly she was staying with one of her aunts helping with the children and was thus omitted. On 7th January 1870 she married Hugh Orr(b1833), a bank agent from Kilbirnie in Ayrshire and they lived initially in Willowbank Cres in the Woodlands district of Glasgow. In 1881 their home was ‘Keal Cottage’,Cessnock, on the southside  of the city and by 1891 they had moved to 386 Byres Rd in the West End .Grace and Hugh had 8 children: Alexander (1872), Agnes (1874),Hugh (1876), Robert William Knox (1877), George Knox (1879), Grace Y (1881), William M (1886) and David Telfer (1888).
Grace died on 28th November 1905 at 35, Blythswood Dr, Kelvin, Glasgow. She, Hugh and their son, Robert, who died in 1902 aged 25, are buried in the Orr lair which is the adjoining lair to that of the Telfers in the Necropolis. It is possible that other members of her family are also interred there. Unfortunately the stone has broken and is in 3 sections.


In 1901 Eliza  is living at 102,Somerfield Road, stoke Newington, with Mary, Kenneth (Richard) and Edith.It would appear that there has been a breakdown in the marriage as her husband, John, and son,Alexander, are living as a boarders in Islington. His occupation is given as ‘traveller’, and Alexander’s as ‘electrician’.

In 1911 Eliza and her eldest daughter, Mary, were living at 277 Mount Pleasant Road, Tottenham. Mary is working as a secondary School Mistress. Edith is a nurse at the Brompton Hospital, Farnborough.

There are no records for either John nor Richard (Kenneth) in 1911, but there ia an Alexander Munro matching his description win the Royal Marines in Weymouth.

Eliza died in Wandsworth in late 1929.

Left: Eliza’s daughter, May Munro

Elisabeth Tait Telfer

Eliza was born on 18th September 1846 and was named after her paternal Grandmother. She married John Munro (b1843), an ironmonger on 4th March 1875. By 1881 the family had 3 children: Mary (known as May) in 1877, Alexander Callen (1875) and Richard Kenneth (1879) and were living at 28, Smith St, Partick, Glasgow.A fourth child, Edith Eliza, was born in late 1885 after the family had moved to Stoke Newington to the north of London. The family must have moved south between 1881 and March1885 when they had their youngest son baptised.Unfortunately no record of the family in 1891 can be found, but their youngest daughter, Edith’s, birth and subsequent baptism in 1886 are recorded. Edith Eliza, born late 1885, was named after Eliza’s sister who died aged 16.

James Hope Telfer (1)

James was born on 9th April 1848. As both Grandfathers were named James it was an obvious choice for a first son. Sadly James died at the age of 6 and was buried on 9th November 1854 alongside his cousin Catherine, daughter of Alexander Telfer, who had died 10 years earlier at the age of 2. 1854 was the year of the cholera epidemic in Glasgow resulting in the deaths of some 3,885 people. It is possible that young James was a victim, but this is unsubstantiated.  The unmarked grave is plot 33 in the Eta section of the Glasgow Necropolis.

This grave, purchased in 1844 and marked with the white peg, was used by the Telfers until  David bought his own lair in 1880.

David Hope Telfer

David was born on 17th March 1850. The last UK census record of David was in 1861 when he was aged 11. It is thought that David joined the Merchant NAvy and a record of his ‘Certificates of Competency’ as a Second Mate (20th April 1870) and First Mate (19th June 1872)have been traced.This backs up the family legend that “one of the Telfer boys went to sea.”

William Hope Telfer

William was born on 11th June 1851 and named after his mother’s brother. The last census record for William was also 1861 aged 9.William emigrated to Australia travelling on the ‘Loch Leven’ and arriving in Victoria in August 1870. The ‘Loch Leven’, an iron sailing clipper built in Glasgow in 1870, belonged to the ill-fated Loch Line. It is possible that William was on its maiden voyage. Barely 15 months later it ran aground off Cape Wickham, Bass Straits. It was on a return journey from Geelong to London with a cargo of wool,10 passengers and a crew of 33. All were saved except the ship’s Captain. Several ships were wrecked on this notoriously dangerous stretch of water.William settled in New South Wales and married Ellen O’Donnell in 1885. The couple settled first in Newtown, Sydney, then, by 1893, in Tamworth and had 9 children: Sarah May (1886), William Charles (1888), Mary Ellen (1890 ), Lily (1893), Twins Bessie and Daisy (1995) (both died in infancy), Andrew Hugh (1896) and twins Thomas and Arthur (1900) (Arthur died in infancy). It is known that William, Mary and Lily all married.

It is thought Wiliam and Ellen separated. William’s death was recorded in Goulburn, New South Wales, in 1937, Ellen’s in Sydney in 1935.

The Loch Leven

Mary Hope Telfer

Mary was born on 3rd January 1853. She did not marry and lived with her sister Belle until her death on 1st December 1937. She died of heart failure at the age of 84, whilst a patient in the Glasgow  Eye Infirmary. She is buried in the family lair in the Necropolis.

James Hope Telfer (2)

James was born on 4th January 1855. Named for his brother who had died only 2 months before his birth, as well as for both Grandfathers. The last census record for James was in 1881 when, at the age of 26, he was working for his father as a traveller.

There are no further records in of James in Britain so it would seem likely that he joined his brothers in Australia.There is a marriage index for a James H Telfer to a Ruth S Bray in 1900. The marriage was registered in Balmain North- the same district where David’s marriage took place. James would have been 45 at the time.There is also a James Telfer, born in Scotland, of approximately the right age who died in Queensland in 1929.This is backed up by a James Hope Telfer residing in Queensland in 1919. No records of  family have been found.

Jessie Robertson Telfer

Jessie was born on 29th October 1856. The name Robertson is the maiden name of her Aunt Janet, the wife of David’s brother Alexander. Jessie married widower Andrew Creighto on 29th June 1888 when she was 32. Andrew’s father worked as a grain weigher so that is the likely connection between the families. Andrew had been born in Glasgow in 1863 but, like at least 4 of his siblings had emigrated to Rapid City, Manitoba, Canada where he met and married his first wife, Millicent Varcoe from St Austell Cornwall in 1885. Millicent died in Arizona on 17th February 1886 and was buried in Rapid City.

Andrew and Jessie had 2 children: a daughter, Jessie Isobel born on 5th May 1891 at 6 Walmer Terr, Paisley Rd West, Govan, Glasgow, and a son, Varcoe, born in 1893 and named after the first wife.

During his return to Glasgow Andrew worked as a stevedore on the Clyde. In 1901 the family were living at 109 Dumbarton Rd and in 1903 their address was 197 Byres Rd. Andrew longed to return to Canada. His mother had joined the rest of his family out there and possibly news that she was ill coupled with the fact that Jessie’s closest sister, Emma, had just died, prompted the family to set sail from Liverpool on 1st February 1904 on the ‘Lake Champlain’ bound for St John, New Brunswick. Andrew’s mother died in August that year. Andrew gave his intended occupation as ‘farmer’ on the emigration documents and the family settled in Red Deer, Alberta. There is no evidence that they had any other children and Jessie and Varcoe were still living t home at the time of the 1911 census.It is thought that Jessie married in 1912 and that Varcoe did not marry and died c1944 in Saskatchewan, Canada.

Left: Andrew Creigjton

Emma Stone Telfer

Emma was born on 25th September 1858. She was named after an aunt form Tasmania. Mary’s elder brother, James Hope, married Emma Stone in Hobart in 1836. It is not known if Emma (Stone) Hope ever travelled to Scotland but her son James returned to be educated in Edinburgh in the early 1850’s. Emma never married and remained at home. In 1901,3 years after her father’s death, she was living at 38 Park Rd as a ‘housekeeper under trustees’ to a family of 5 orphaned children by the name of Robertson. These children, whose ages ranged from 8 to 15, do not appear to be related to the Telfers in any way. Emma died 2 years later on24th May 1903 at the age of 44. The cause of death is given as ‘probable cardiac failure, sudden’ and at the time of her death she was a ‘lady’s companion’ living at 7 Carlton Gardens, Glasgow. She is buried in the family lair in the Necropolis.

Isabella Watson Telfer

Belle was born on 7th December 1860. The name Watson possibly comes from a Roberton connection. David’s niece, Anne Spence (daughter of his sister Anne) married A Robert Watson, but this was not until 1872, however the 2 families could have been close friends. Belle did not marry and lived at home until her father’s death in 1898 when she set up home with her sister Mary at 5 Striven Gardens close to the Park Church in Glasgow’s West End. She outlived all her siblings, dying on 12th March 1952 at the age of 92

Belle holding me ~ July 1949

Alice  Telfer

Alice was born on 14th June 1862. Although a middle name was not registered for her, she sometimes appears as Alice M Telfer - the M possibly being for Mary after her mother. On 7th August 1883, only 1 month before her mother’s death, Alice married Percy Jackson, the son of a physician from Sheffield.  Percy, born 1859, had been a medical student in 1871, but at the time of his marriage was a ‘Dispensary Bookkeeper ‘and in 1891 a life assurance cashier. After their marriage they went to live at 26, Victoria Ave Whitley, near Newcastle where Percy lived and worked. The Jacksons had 5 children: Stewart  L. in 1886, Annie Burkitt in 1887, Douglas C. in 1888, Arnold B. in 1889 and Austin Roy in1892. In the 1891 census they employed 1 servant showing that they were reasonably affluent.

Percy died in the autumn of 1896 and a year later, on 30th September 1897, Alice married Henry Percy Catcheside, Henry, who was 40 at the time of his marriage, went off to fight in the 2nd Boer War and was killed in South Africa in March 1901. In the 1901census the family were living at 3, Stannington Ave, Newcastle. The names of the children are incorrectly entered as Catcheside. Also living there is 25 year old boarder, George Glendinning, a gentleman’s out fitter who Alice married between April and `June1901.

Ten years later the 1911 census shows Alice Glendinning  as ‘Head’, married – but there is no mention of George. Children Annie, Arnold (Insurance clerk) and Austin Roy ( draper’s assistant) are living with her – surnames Jackson. They have 1 servant. The address at this time was 26, Lesbury Rd. Heaton, Newcastle. Son Douglas was living in London as a boarder. There is no sign of Stewart but also there is no death index for him.

Annie Jackson (left) and brother Roy (right) probably taken around 1894.

Striven Gardens in Glasgow’s West End ~ the home shared by Mary and her sister Belle.

Edith Telfer

Edith was born on 30th June 1864. She died of a lung disease (probably asthma) at the age of 16, in August 1880. Edith’s death marked a change within the family. A family lair was purchased in the Glasgow Necropolis and also they moved from the family home at 6 Charing Cross.

Beatrice Telfer

Beatrice was born on 14th April 1866. She was not given a middle name but there is evidence that she later called herself Beatrice Theresa. On the 24th October 1895 she married flautist Alfred Picton, Lancashire-born son of Josiah Picton. The couple set up home at 27 Wilton Dr, Glasgow and had 3 daughters: Beatrice Hope in 1898, Constance Winifred in 1901, and Irene Edna in 1910. Follow the links to find out more on the Picton family.

David Telfer’s Mariner’s certificates

Left: Jessie and Varcoe Creigjton c1896

Right: Varcoe creighton as a young man