Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Sizzle of Connections.

SOURCE: Getty Images.

For years in my early teens, I dined out on the fact that I had seen Elvis – the Elvis. It was when he was working at a US army base in Germany as a truck driver when our family was stationed at a Canadian Air Force base in France. One of a small clutch of giddy girls, I had skipped classes because we had heard that Elvis was due to make a delivery at the back of the ice rink at a certain time. 1:30 seems to stick in my mind. It was a sunny day, and we didn’t have long to wait. I don’t recall if he waved or even if he looked at us. What I do remember is the sizzle of having been there, and the thrill of talking about it afterwards.

In the mid to late 1800s, there was a similar kind of sizzle connected to stories of being related to Sir Walter Scott, the famed poet and novelist. I suspect that owld Mother Jackson might have have enjoyed the Ulster-Scotts-Presbyterian equivalent of a swoon when she discovered that the brother-in-law of her son Thomas was actually a 2nd cousin to the famed man, although framing it that way would have been gilding the lily a bit. He was really only a 2nd cousin once removed, but in those days he would have been referred to in casual conversation and letters as a cousin.

You can see their relationship either on my Silver Bowl Family Tree or else on the Scott family snapshot on my website. The latter is probably the easiest to see at a glance, but the former gives more detail. In short, William Ramsay Scott (1838-1908) was the husband of Blanche Dare, sister of Amelia Dare who in turn was Thomas Jackson’s wife.

William Ramsay Scott’s ancestors were Scottish landowners whose frequent brushes with insolvency resulted in their children being sent out to the further reaches of the British Empire. James Scott (1746-1808) was one of those children. He joined the navy at age seven, and unlike several of those who survived, he neither returned to his native land as a wealthy man, nor did he end his life with significant assets. He had lived on the edge, died on the edge, and often played fast and loose with the rules – even though there were few rules to heed in that time and place.

In Oct 1774, he had arrived in Calcutta at the age of 18 as a steward serving on a ship hired by the East India Company. This was a useful foundational experience for a future merchant. A decade later, he got into trouble with the Dutch authorities when he was arrested on charges of gun running. For that infraction, he was he was briefly imprisoned in the guard room at Malacca. A decade later, in 1786, his friend and business partner, Francis Light, hoisted the British flag over Penang, renamed it Prince of Wales Island and declared it open for British trade. Light and Scott had first met when the two of them were young midshipmen on the H.M.S. Arrogant – a name with a nice bit of foreshadowing – and now in the mid 1780s they themselves had become forces to contend with.

The skills they had learned at sea turned out to serve the two of them well. Light tended to handle more of the legislative side of their affairs, while Scott handled more of the mercantile side of things. Cartographic skills were part of their shared tool-kit, and the map of Penang drawn by Scott is acknowledged as the most accurate map of its time. As an old navy hand, he knew the importance of detailing the boundaries of safe harbours, and as a trader he knew how essential such harbours were for trading opium, spices, and other goods.

Not only was he one of the first British settlers of Penang, and one of those who laid the groundwork for its future as a mercantile port, but he was also a key leader of the country traders, a group who were described as a most contumacious body. Clearly, they were adamant and effective in their opposition to anything that might block or slow down their access to profits. It was James Scott’s tenacity in avoiding taxation, that helped precipitate the resignation of Superintendent MacDonald. Clearly, Scott was not a man to be messed with.

As is so often the case in such matters, the kerfuffle over taxation ignored the fact that much of Prince of Wales Island was already owned and controlled, lock, stock and barrel, by friends and associates of James Scott. He had secured the best sites in Georgetown for his plantations where he grew pepper, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. Not only that, but his business offices sat on prime real estate, immediately south of the customs house, a government office where the surname of Scott appeared over the years with remarkable frequency in the lists of its officials.

He may have made a fortune in the 1790s and early 1800s, but it is also clear that his ways of acquiring much of it were decidedly unethical. For example, when Francis Light died, Scott quickly expropriated most of Light’s property in spite of the fact that there was a will leaving those assets to Light’s common-law wife, Martina Rozell. As one might expect, British colonial law was not on the side of local, common-law wives. Morality should have been.

In spite of his wealth, Scott chose to live in a small Malay bungalow, and was sometimes criticized for dressing in the native style. He shared this home with at least two wives who lived with him simultaneously, and bore him several children. More than one researcher has suggested that he may have fathered more than a dozen children with as many as four or five women. This would certainly be a fit with other aspects of his character.

In the version of the Scott family tree on my web site, I have entered the names of his known children as if Anne Julhe, a member of the Portuguese Eurasian community, was the mother of all of them rather than merely some of them. This might change, but for now, she is the only “wife” for whom I have a name.

As the saying has it - what goes around, comes around. The children of Anne Juhle ended up being treated no better than the way that James Scott had treated the widowed Martina Rozell. Scott died shortly after gambling on a business outcome that hadn’t panned out, and was seriously over mortgaged at the time of his death. David Brown, a junior partner in Scott’s firm and a merchant who hailed from Scott’s birthplace, took over all the assets and didn’t look back. Scott’s son William was one of those who groused about this outcome, and fair enough.

Captain William George Scott (1780-1861), the much loved uncle of William Ramsay Scott, was the only one of James’ children who left much of a trace in the historical records of Penang. Like his father, he had also gone to sea, and done well for himself. By 1836, at the age of 56, he was the Harbour Master Attendant and Post Master of Singapore, handy positions to have when one owned a plantation and dealt in exports. Scott’s Road was named after him, in part because his Claymore plantation included land that started at the corner of Orchard Road and continued up to the present day Tanglin Club. The house that he lived in, Hurricane Cottage, was no more than an attap house, but it was home to him. We do know that his nickname was Hurricane Billy, but I do not know whether the house was named after him, or if he was nicknamed after his house.

This is not Hurricane House – rather it is  a similar styled attap house.
SOURCE:Creative Commons from Tropenmuseum.
It would be wonderful to find a photo of Hurricane House.
 Winnifred Maud Allen (1872-1961) was born at Hurricane House, and I suspect that her older brother George Edward Allen may also have been born there as well. Their mother, Anna Maria Dare, was a sister of Blanche Emily Dare, hence a sister-in-law of William Ramsay Scott. The children were born a decade after the death of Hurricane Billy, and although I have no evidence, it would not be unreasonable to suspect that the house had been willed to William Ramsay Scott from his uncle Hurricane Billy, and then leased to his brother-in-law Whitworth Allen, husband of Anna Maria Dare.

In the early 1870s, Whitworth Allen was a successful East India merchant. In 1874 he was appointed by the Queen to the Legislative Council of the Straits Settlements, a post that his brother-in-law William Ramsay Scott had already served in since at least 1869. This was just one of many such inter-generational and inter-family appointments that knitted together the political and business interests of families such as the SCOTTS, ALLENS, and DARES of Singapore. Once the networks are made visible, their collective successes are more readily understood.

Unfortunately, I don’t know exactly how all of the Scotts in Penang linked up with each other family-wise, but I do know that a number of SCOTTs relations had been active in trade in the region long before young James washed up on shore. This leaves me curious about anyone with the surname of SCOTT in that time and place. The complete picture will help me to better understand the business connections of James’ grandson, William Ramsay Scott.

As always, I am driven by curiousity as I write my various pieces for this blog, and also by my fervent hope of learning from those who find and read these scribbles. In that light, I am also curious about who the family in the following photo might be – just in case they are a fit with this story.
Mystery family - there may be no connection to this story.
This photo was found, unlabeled, in a cabinet at Gilford Castle along with several other photos associated with family members in Singapore, Yokohama and Hong Kong.

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