James Wilson was born on 10th August, 1816 and christened on 28th August of that year in Carriden, Linlithgowshire or County of Linlithgow. He was the fifth of eight children born to Seaman John Wilson and Elizabeth Stanners, both Carriden-born.
CARRIDEN, a parish, in the county of Linlithgow, 1½ mile (E. by S.) from Borrowstounness; containing, with the villages of Blackness, Bridgeness, Cuffabouts, Grangepans and Muirhouses, 1208 inhabitants.
The Topographical Dictionary of Scotland (1846)
In 1830, when aged about 14, James embarked on a career in the British Merchant Service. He served his apprenticeship aboard the "Magnet" belonging to the Port of Bo'ness, Linlithgowshire and engaged in foreign trade. James qualified as a Seaman in 1834, Mate in 1838 and finally Master in 1840.
On 12th March, 1838, when he was 21, Mariner James Wilson married 19-year-old Helen (Ellen) Dunlop in Bo'ness, Linlithgowshire. Ellen was the daughter of Ship's Carpenter James Dunlop, and Elisabeth Chalmers and had been born on 23rd May, 1819 in Bo'ness.
The town of Bo'ness or Borrowstounness was described in the following contemporary account:
BORROWSTOUNNESS, a sea-port town, burgh of barony, and parish, in the county of Linlithgow, 3 miles (N.) from Linlithgow; containing, with the villages of Borrowstoun and Newton, 2347 inhabitants, of whom 1790 are in the town. The town is situated in the north-eastern extremity of the parish, on the south shore of the Frith of Forth, and consists principally of narrow streets of houses of ancient and irregular appearance. It was formerly one of the most thriving towns on the eastern coast, and, prior to 1780, ranked as the third sea-port in Scotland; and though the opening of the Forth and Clyde canal, and the establishment of the port of Grangemouth, have contributed much to diminish its commerce, it is still far from being inconsiderable. The female population were once employed in tambour-work to a very large extent, and many females are yet engaged in that pursuit; a pottery was established in 1784, and has, since that time, been greatly increased; there is an extensive foundry, and some chemical-works are also carried on, upon a large scale. A distillery is in full operation, paying weekly to government more than £300, for duties; there are several large malting establishments; and at the east end of the town, and on the links, are a rope-walk and extensive wood-yards, connected with which is a saw-mill worked by steam, of which the engine is also employed in the preparation of bone-dust, for manure. The chief trade of the port is in grain, for which the merchants have extensive granaries, capable of warehousing 15,000 quarters; a considerable trade is also carried on in the exportation of salt, coal, iron-stone, and earthenware; the imports are timber, iron, flax, grain, bark, and madder. The number of vessels registered as belonging to the port, in a recent year, was 101, of the aggregate burthen of 6521 tons; and the amount of duties paid at the custom-house was £4824.
The harbour, which has been greatly improved, under the superintendence of fifteen trustees, chosen from the merchants and ship-owners, is one of the safest and most accessible on this part of the coast, and is formed by two piers, extending 568 feet into the Frith; it is 240 feet wide, and, at spring tides, has an average depth of from 16 to 18 feet. Between the piers, a broad wall has been constructed, cutting off, towards the land, a basin, which is easily filled with water by the tide, and at low water emptied by sluices, by which means the harbour is cleansed and deepened; and on the west side of the basin, is a patent-slip, to which vessels are admitted for repair. The jurisdiction of the port once extended from Dumbrissle point and the water of Cramond to the port of Alloa, including both shores of the Frith; but in 1810, Grangemouth, formerly a creek, was constituted a distinct port. The custom-house department consists of a comptroller, a collector, a tidewaiter, and eight other officers, including those of the creeks. There were once eight ships belonging to the place, employed in the whale-fishery, but that trade has for some years been decreasing, and at present only one vessel is engaged in it; there are two boiling-houses for extracting the oil, one of which has been recently much improved. The steamers of Stirling touch here, on their passage to and from Newhaven. A branch from the town to the Forth and Clyde canal was commenced by a subscription of £10,000, raised under an act of parliament, in 1782, and an aqueduct across the Avon constructed for that purpose; but the work was abandoned after an outlay of £7500, before it was half completed,and has not since been resumed. A market is held weekly on Monday, and a fair annually on the 16th of November; a pleasure-fair is also held, in July. The burgh is governed by a baron-bailie, appointed by the Duke of Hamilton, as superior: a building erected by one of the dukes, for a court-house and prison, is situated at the head of the harbour, but is now occupied chiefly as a granary.
The Topographical Dictionary of Scotland (1846)
The Burgh Town on the Point, or Borrowstounness, 'ness' derived from the French word, 'le nez' meaning nose. Bo'ness, as it is known today, was founded on a point which juts out into the River Forth. Coal was the first industry, and the monks from Holyrood Abbey are credited with hewing the first coal in Scotland here. Carriden [Fort on thehill] to the east of Bo'ness was the first site, the monks were granted a tithe by William di Vipont to mine the coal on his estate. Roads at that time were virtually non-existent, giving Bo'ness a seaport from which coal could be transported down river to Leith and onwards to ports in Europe.
On 31st March, 1841, James and Ellen's first child, John Wilson, was born in Bo'ness, and named after his paternal grandfather. Very shortly after this, at the 1841 Census (7th June), Ellen, recorded as 20 years old, is residing with the 2-month-old John at an address on the north side of South Street in Bo'ness. James was not resident at the same address at that time. His occupation of Master Mariner most likely would have put him at sea on census night.
At the same time, James's parents and siblings were residing at North Street in Bo'ness. John Wilson (55) was recorded as a Seaman and Elizabeth was aged 50. 25-year-old John was also a Seaman, George(15) was a Potter and Mary Blair Wilson was recorded as 15 years old.
On 19th June, 1842, another son, James Dunlop Wilson, was born in Bo'ness and named after his maternal grandfather. Then, on 26th August, 1844, third son Robert Wilson was born, also in Bo'ness. James and Ellen's first daughter, Elizabeth Chalmers Wilson, named after her maternal grandmother, was born on 29th April, 1846, in Bo'ness,and George Wilson was born on 9th June, 1849, also in Bo'ness.
James's mother Elizabeth Wilson née Stanners died in Bo'ness on 14th July, 1847. She was buried in Carriden.
In 1851 James Wilson applied for, and received his Master's Certificate of Service having been employed in the Capacities of Apprentice, Seaman, Mate and Master for 21 years in the British Merchant Service in the Foreign Trade. The Certificate, granted by the Registrar General of Seamen, London was issued at Bo'ness on 17th March 1851 and duly signed by James.
The Mercantile Marine Act of 1850 (13 & 14 Vic c 93) transferred all functions relating to seamen and apprentices who were not in the Royal Navy, including the General Register and Record Office of Seamen, which registered merchant seamen by means of a register ticket system, from the Admiralty to the Board of Trade, which thereby inherited the office of Registrar General of Seamen. The same act established local Shipping Offices, later called Mercantile Marine Offices, where all crews of foreign-going vessels were to be engaged and discharged under formal articles of agreement, a measure that was intended to combat exploitation, and provided for the issue of certificates of competency to masters and mates.
At the 1851 Census (31st March), the family was still residing in Bo'ness, at an address recorded as 3 Ship Master's Land. James was again away from home on census night and the 30-year-old Ellen was recorded as being a Sea Captain's wife. John (10), James (9) and Robert (6) were recorded as Scholars, while the 4-year-old Elizabeth and the 2-year-old George were 'At Home'.
Meanwhile, James's father John Wilson was residing with his daughter Mary Bell and her family in Bridgeness Village, Grangepans in the neighbouring Carriden Parish. John was 72 and was a Retired Seaman. Also resident were James's brothers Mariner John Wilson (38) and Potter George Wilson (27).
James and Ellen Wilson's sixth child Thomas Kirkwood Wilson was born on 5th March, 1854 and Alexander Wilson on 12th October, 1858. Both were born in Bo'ness.
In between these two events James's father John Wilson died aged 75 on 28th June, 1857. The Cause of Death was due to a Hernia from which he had suffered for many years. His son, George, reported the death and stated that John was a Master Mariner and that his parents names were Robert Wilson, Shoemaker, and Susan Rye.
At the 1861 Census (8th April), we find James at home on North Street, Bo'ness with his family. He is recorded as being 41 years old and working as a Seaman. Helen is 40 years old. John Wilson is a 20-year-old Potter, and young James (19), Robert (16) and George (11) are Iron Dressers. An Iron Dresser, aka Fettler, was a general term covering all foundry workers engaged in removing adherant sand from castings and chipping off any irregularities. (We have some doubts regarding the proposition that 11-year-old George was employed as an Iron Dresser.) Thomas, aged 7, is a Scholar. Elizabeth, now 14, is residing nearby on North Street with a neighbour, 50-year-old Ladies Nurse, Mary Glen. Alexander had died at Bo'ness in 1860. It is likely that John Wilson would have worked at the Pottery on Main Street, Bo'ness, owned by John Marshall and Company.
James and Ellen Wilson's eighth and last child, Helen Chalmers Wilson was born in Bo'ness on 19th August, 1862.
The Property Valuation Records of 1865 show that James Wilson was then occupying a house in South Street in Bo'ness and employed as a Seaman.
At the 1871 Census (3rd April), the Wilson family is still residing in Bo'ness at an address recorded as Dark Close, North Street. The 51-year-old James's occupation was again recorded as Seaman. Helen was also recorded as being 51. John, now aged 30 and still unmarried, was a Potter Handler, while young James (28), also unmarried, was still employed as an Iron Dresser. There is no sign of Robert or George, who would have been 26 and 21 respectively. Thomas, now 17, was a Blacksmith's Apprentice and the 8-year-old Helen was a Scholar. Elizabeth Chalmers Wilson was recorded as 22 and was employed as a Laundress residing nearby at South Street in Bo'ness with her mother's aunt, Helen Chalmers (60), also employed as a Laundress. Resident with them was 2-year-old Helen Dunlop Wilson, the daughter of Elizabeth who had been born in Bo'ness on 8th April,1868 to an unknown father. The child was to die later in 1871.
On 4th October, 1872, James and Ellen's son, young James Dunlop Wilson, aged 30, married 27-year-old Dressmaker Mary Swan Anderson, daughter of Robert Anderson, Labourer, and Margaret Binnie Swan. She had been born on 4th May, 1843 in Carnock, Fife. At the time of the marriage, James and Mary had already had a daughter, Margaret, born on 1st June, 1866 in North Street, Bo'ness. James's brother, George, was a witness to the marriage and his father, James Sr., was stated to be a Ship Master.
On 6th June, 1873, James and Ellen's eldest daughter, Elizabeth Chalmers Wilson, aged 26, married John Cuthell, a 26-year-old Iron Moulder who had been born in Bo'ness. Elizabeth's brother, Thomas, was a witness to the marriage.The Valuation Roll records that in 1873/74, James Wilson was residing in South Street in Bo'ness and that he earned his living as a Seaman.
On 10th December, 1877, Helen Wilson née Dunlop, aged 58, died at Dark Close, Bo'ness. The cause of death was recorded as Bronchitis Senilis, Dropsy, and Diarrhoea. Dark Close was located on the south side of North Street.
James registered his wife's death and gave his occupation as Pilot. A maritime pilot, marine pilot, harbour pilot, bar pilot, or simply pilot, is a sailor who maneuvers ships through dangerous or congested waters, such as harbours or river mouths.They a re navigational experts possessing knowledge of the particular waterway such as its depth, currents, and hazards.
On 7th June, 1878, Ship Carpenter George Wilson, now 28, married 21-year-old Christina Waddell in Bo'ness. She was the daughter of Robert Waddell, Seaman, and Janet Montgomery.
On 22nd November, 1878, 24-year-old blacksmith Thomas Wilson married 19 year old Elizabeth Dickson in Rosebank Buildings, Camelon, Falkirk. She was the daughter of Archibald Dickson, a Carter, and Elizabeth Anderson and had been born on 15th March, 1860 in Camelon, Falkirk, Stirlingshire. James's occupation at the time of his son's marriage was recorded as Sailor.
At the 1881 Census (3rd April), the widowed James Wilson is residing at Dark Close, North Street in Bo'ness, Linlithgowshire. He is boarding with his son, James, now aged 38, and his family of 4 boys and 2 girls, all of whom had been born in Bo'ness. James, aged 61, gave his occupation as Seaman.
George Wilson, now aged 31, was recorded as "at Sea or in a Domestic or Foreign Port" on board the Royal Navy Vessel "Albacore". His location was 76 Miles N. By W. Hook Of Holland. He was a Ship's Carpenter. His wife Christina and two young children were residing at Kirk's Close on South Street, Bo'ness. Helen Wilson, now 19 and a Pottery Handler was residing with her sister, Elizabeth Cuthell, and her family at South Street, Bo'ness.
On 14th October, 1881 a tragic event occurred that would have shaken the maritime community in Scotland. The Eyemouth Disaster was the worst Scottish fishing disaster ever recorded in which 189 fishermen lost their lives in a great storm. Although not directly affecting the seafaring community in and around Bo'ness, Eyemouth was only 70 miles down the east coast from Bo'ness and the tragic event would have given all seafarers cause to reflect on the dangers inherent in their chosen occupation.
On 14th July, 1882, Pottery Worker Helen Wilson, aged 19, married 20-year-old Engine Keeper, John Sneddon, at the Manse in Bo'ness. John Wilson, probably her eldest brother, was a witness to the marriage. James's occupation was given as Branch Pilot.
On 17th December, 1889, bachelor John Wilson, eldest son of James and Ellen Wilson, died at age 49 at North Street, Bo'ness. The cause of death was given as Pulmonary Emphysema and Asthma. His father, James, registered the death.
At the 1891 Census (5th April), the 71-year-old James was still living at an address in Dark Close, North Street in Bo'ness. He was living alone and gave his occupation as Pilot.
On 25th June, 1892, James Wilson, usual residence given as North Street, Bo'ness, died at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary of Carcinoma of the Stomach. His son, James Wilson, also residing at North Street, Bo'ness, registered his father's death and gave his occupation as Master Mariner.
On 13th January, 1904, James Dunlop Wilson, died aged 60 at Dark Close, Bo'ness. The cause of death was given as Mediastinal Tumour. His son, James, registered the death.
On 30th December, 1911, Elizabeth Chalmers Cuthell née Wilson, died aged 64 at Corbiehall, Bo'ness. The cause of death was given as Mediastinal Tumour. Her son, David, registered the death.
On 23rd February, 1929, widower and retired Pilot George Wilson, aged 79, died of Malignant Disease of Large Intestine at 41 Braehead, Bo'ness. His son, George, registered the death.
Bo'ness is now primarily a commuter town in the now renamed county of West Lothian, with many of its residents travelling to work in Edinburgh, Glasgow or Falkirk. One of the main local sources of employment is the Ineos petrochemical facility (formerly BP) located in nearby Grangemouth.
Present-day attractions in the town include the Bo'ness & Kinneil Railway and the Birkhill Fireclay Mine. Kinneil House, built by the powerful Hamilton family in the 15th century, lies on the western edge of the town. In the grounds are a cottage where James Watt worked on his experimental steam engine and the steam cylinder of a Newcomen engine.