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1861 John Ferguson the first modern Cornet

There are two events which mark the beginning of modern Hawick – the introduction of knitting frames by Baillie Hardie in 1771, and the opening of the railway in 1849.

[even though the railway only ran north to G***shiels and Edinburgh until the following year –
“The Hawick branch of the North British Railway was opened on 1st November 1849. However, it was a further thirteen years before the Waverley Route was completed between Hawick and Carlisle. The last mail coach, from Hawick, ran on Monday, 30th June 1862, via Langholm to Canonbie, and the main line from Carlisle to Edinburgh was opened to regular traffic the following day”]

Even although the railway wasn’t fully open, and mail coaches  still ran to the South, John Ferguson stands out the first modern Cornet.

Partly, because he was the first Cornet of Hawick and Wilton, 1861 being the year that the two parishes amalgamated – and it may well be that John was chosen because he lived in Wilton, not Hawick.

In the annual List of Cornets booklet he doesn’t have a first name, or an occupation, just an address – the uncompromisingly modern Railway Hotel

Luckily we can find him on the 7th April in the 1861 Census [found on the superb Graham Maxwell site ] living and working, not just a visitor, in the Railway Hotel.

Not the later Station Hotel, in Dovemount Place opposite the later station when the line to the South was open, but 14 Princes Street, north side, opposite the first station in the map above.

[The Google Street view is a bit out of date]

John is 21, unmarried , and  a “waiter in a hotel” – so the first “modern” trade we find among the cornets.

Of the 129 named occupations before 1861, the most numerous group were the 25 merchants, 11 shoemakers, 9 bakers, 7 hosiers, 6 tobacconists and wrights, 5 fleshers and farmers, 3 grocers, masons and saddlers, and so on. But nothing modern at all – no waiters [and there never was a railway worker, for example]

The compilers of the List didn’t really know much about John, or they didn’t care to know, much about him – because of his occupation?

Or more probably because he wasn’t born in Hawick ?? or even Wilton?

John Mein Ferguson was born in Selkirk like his 11 year old brother Andrew, and 2 of his 3 sisters, Betsy and Agnes. Helen had been born in Edinburgh in 1855.

and he had two names – Burns and Ferguson.

Looking back to Selkirk, we can see where the Burns comes from [and Googling “Meins” this seems to be a Melrose/Selkirk name]
He had been living in Selkirk in 1851 at the Crown Inn – not marked as such on the 1858 map – but on the Hawick road out of Selkirk

So George Burns Innkeeper had married a , presumably, a widow Jane Ferguson with 4 children – Thomas and Elizabeth born in Southdean on the Carter Bar road, Cornet John and Jane born in Selkirk.

And in Selkirk in 1841, is the original Ferguson family with Cornet John 1 3/4 years old.

Jane Ferguson would be born in 1843, and then father James Ferguson Innkeeper presumably dies, and mother Jane Ferguson marries George Burns innkeeper from Jedburgh, they keep the – same? – inn in Selkirk before moving to Hawick sometime after 1855, when the youngest Helen Burns daughter is born in Edinburgh.

He hadn’t been long in Hawick [or more specifically Wilton] before his election as cornet – probably only 5 years or so, and it may have been because of his Wilton base that he was chosen.
He must have been popular,  because the 1861 Cornet is definitely a Selkirk man [unless he had actually been born in Southdean  parish , could be considered as essentially Hawick]

[And his half brother Andrew Burns will also be a cornet – 10 years later in 1869 – see his story ]

Although photography was in its infancy, we can also see – just! – what he looked like.
The earliest photo seems to be that of the 1857 Cornet Andrew Leyden, with his Right Hand man Adam Knox, and Left Hand Man John Elliot.

The second earliest photograph is of the 1862 Cornet James Richardson, with John Ferguson as his Right Hand Man, and John Scott, clerk, as Left Hand Man with their supporters, standing stiffly but fairly infomally against a harled wall.

And if the three principals are in their proper positions [and the photograph has not been reversed] 1861 Cornet John Ferguson is there on the 1862 Cornet’s right hand, in a [presumably] green jacket and light riding breeches, with polished riding boots. His riding whip is carried in his right hand, down by his side. He looks dressed for riding, but with a soft hat – unlike the lum hat of the Cornet Richardson.

And he is bewhiskered in the latest fashion, and rather solemn with no smiles for the camera, and looking considerably older than his 23 years. As does 24 year old Cornet James Richardson !

[and James Richardson looks much the same in the 1890s, though he might even have a smile on his face, when his photo was taken with a “Group of Old-Time Hawick Cornets” now in the Museum]

Watch this space!


About Neil Wallace

Born in the Haig Maternity, lived in Dovemount Place, and started school there at Trinity. To Burnfoot Primary then the High School. Moved away from the town to Cardiff, then Edinburgh, and now an exile in Suffolk.


4 thoughts on “1861 John Ferguson the first modern Cornet

  1. Welcome to the Geneabloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill 😉
    Author of “Back to the Homeplace”
    and “13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories”

    Posted by Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith | February 27, 2011, 02:26
  2. We have an innkeeper ancestor and I had exceptional luck on TNA website regarding transaction records of the inn and it’s naming family members.
    Theresa (Tangled Tangled)

    Posted by Theresa Casteel | February 28, 2011, 01:30

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