James McLaren in Callander, an example of a comprehensive record, 1874 – 1891

The records of Callander Parochial Board give a remarkably complete history of the McLaren family who lived in Callander in the late 19th century. Isabella McLaren was a single mum with 2 children, James and Christina. Isabella struggled to raise her children alone and was in frequent contact with the parish authorities asking for assistance. She had a wretched life, in and out of employment, suffering ill-health and eventually dying of tuberculosis in Perth Prison in 1880. Her children originally lived with their Grandmother but she could not cope and they were taken in to care in 1874. Christina was sent to the Perth Ladies House of Refuge for Destitute Girls at Craigie in Perth in 1876 and died there in 1882. The records are most complete for James, whose story we can follow using the register of the poor and the Parochial Board minutes.

James’ entry in the register of the poor gives a potted history of his life from 1874 to 1888.

More detail is given in the main series of minutes, where James’ case was discussed and the decisions made concerning him were recorded.

We know from the register that James was initially sent to the Fechney Industrial School in Perth at 7 years of age in 1879. A minute of 11th April 1888 records that the Board had received a letter from the Superintendent of the School giving them notice that James was about to leave as his time at the school was ending and suggesting that he be found a job herding cows.

On the 28th May 1888, the minutes record that James was taken from the school and found a position as a herd boy on the farm of Mr A. Blair at Littleward, Thornhill but that he ‘was not suitable for the employment and he returned to Callander on 7th May current…the Inspector now asks what is to be done with the boy.’

The Inspector of the Poor reported to the meeting of 27th August 1888 that James has been taken to Mr Quarrier’s Children’s Home in Glasgow with a view to sending him to Canada.

An insight into James’ character is given in the minute of 3rd December 1888 when it is reported to the Board that they have received a letter from him in the Orphan Home in Bridge of Weir. In the letter, James is asking for the return of his books and some money that he had in his possession when he was at the School in Perth and that were passed by the School to the Inspector of the Poor. This indicates that James could write well and was interested in reading. A list of the books and pamphlets that belong to James is included in the minute.

The minute of the 25th of February 1889 records that James’ possessions were returned to him and refers to a letter written by the Inspector of the Poor to James when the items were sent to him. A copy of this letter exists in the Parochial Board letter book.

“Your letter of 16th November 1888 asking for your money and your books was considered by the Parochial Board and I was instructed to send the whole to Quarrier for your behoof. I have therefore this day sent the whole to the address of William Quarrier Esqr, Bridge of Weir, consisting of seventeen shillings and sixpence sterling, one Bible, three small story books and some leaflets etc. I herewith enclose stamped envelope and will thank you to inform me if you receive the articles sent. I hope you are a good boy and that you are obedient. I remain your wellwisher.”

The last reference to James in the Callander Parochial Board records is a minute of 23rd February 1891 agreeing to pay the £10 cost of sending him to Canada. He was 18 years old. We can only hope that he prospered in his new life.

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