Tuesday, November 12, 2013

What’s in a name?

On with the Blackwells-in-Melbourne saga. I noted last time that Matthew Drummond, grandfather to baby boom Blackwells and Breens, was born December 6, 1884.

Before we go on with the narrative, let’s talk a little about his names.

Matthew Drummond Blackwell - his 1915 passport photo

No mystery about his first: he was named for paternal grandfather Matthew (1804-1859), the stone mason and architect in Manchester. But his middle name is a bit of puzzler. Where did that come from? Matthew Drummond would later name his own second-born son David Drummond, and in this generation, my brother Steve was lumbered with it.

The straightforward answer is that it’s a Scots surname, and fairly illustrious, going back at least to early medieval times. It’s derived, at best guess, from the Gaelic word dromainn, which means a ridge or high ground, used in multiple place names. The traditional origins of Clan Drummond were in Perthshire in the Highlands, near Stirling.

That might all be significant if, as I thought I remembered my Dad telling us, Drummond was an old family name. I may have imagined that explanation, though, or assumed it because Dad at times also claimed Scots ancestry (nowhere confirmed).

Clan Drummond tartan - sorry, we have no claim to it

It was certainly common enough to commemorate a mother's or grandmother’s maiden name, especially if it was an important family, by giving it to your kids as a middle name, or even a first. Winston Spencer Churchill is an example that pops to mind. Closer to home, Richard Henry’s second-born was David Marsden, Marsden being R.H.’s mother’s family name. R.H. also had a brother with first name Marsden.

But if it was a family name on the Blackwell side, it would have to have been from before Matthew-of-Manchester’s generation, the earliest we have confirmed. And none of his children, or their children got it, so far as I can tell – although I am waiting for cousin Paul Blackwell, keeper of the English family tree, to confirm this. Matthew-of-Manchester’s bride, as noted, was a Marsden.

It could be from Matthew Drummond’s mother’s side, but it wasn’t her or her mother’s surname (Sadler and Webb, respectively). Besides, Kate Sadler’s people on both sides were humble tradesmen from east-end London. No doubt the odd Scot landed up in Shoreditch, even in those less mobile times, but I would have guessed that instances of them marrying into working-class English families would be rare at best.

I asked cousin Sally in Australia, David Drummond’s daughter, if she remembered hearing anything about the origins of the name in the Blackwell family. I also asked brother Steve. And got two completely different answers, both interesting.

Sally wrote, “Dad told me that he was named after Mr. Drummond here in Melbourne who used to have a fabulous, very expensive jewellery shop which sold all manner of exotic and expensive gifts, like clocks, china and jewellery.  It closed early in the 2000s.  I am assuming he was a friend of the family early in the 1900s.”

As I pointed out to Sally, Mr. Drummond would have to have been a friend in the 1880s, but it’s not an implausible explanation. There was a jewellery business in Melbourne as early as 1878 called Brush & Drummond, and its premises then were on Collins St., just around the corner from R.H.’s office on William St. in the market area.

Steve’s story was decidedly more entertaining.  “The story I remember Dad telling about Drummond was that he was a friend of his father's, who had saved his father's life. It was something about when they were working on the dockside and a cable broke releasing a heavy object, and (Mr?) Drummond pushed my grandfather out of the way.”

Again, it would have to have been our great grandfather, Richard Henry, who was saved from being crushed, as it was he who first inflicted the name on a Blackwell child.

This explanation, besides its intrinsic appeal, opens up interesting possibilities. Richard Henry Blackwell’s early life is a complete blank. We have his birth and christening records (christened in Manchester Cathedral), but nothing after that until he steps off the S.S. Siam in Melbourne 40 years later. If he ran away to sea as a youngster, or to do something as marginal as dock work, that might explain his absence from the official record all those years.

Of course, that’s just me wildly speculating. No reason the incident, if it really happened, couldn’t have taken place in Melbourne in the early 1880s, when R.H. was overseeing off-loading of one of his shipments of wool or tallow or champagne. Hey, and maybe he was saved by the jeweller Drummond, who was there for the same reason.

But the fact that the two explanations from Matthew Drummond’s boys – as remembered by their children – are so completely different makes me wonder if either is true. Maybe Richard Henry never really said, and they just made it up. One last crazy speculation. As reported last post, R.H. may have had a first wife who died at or shortly after childbirth. The couple was living at the time on Drummond St. in Melbourne. Nah.

The bottom line is that Drummond, a decidedly goofy middle name (sorry, Steve), no longer has currency in the Blackwell family. My brother, the last to bear the name, is not sorry. The final word goes to him.

“I suffered for the Drummond middle name, especially in Australia. The first day of school (I think it was called Ainsley) in Canberra, age seven [when the family was living there in 1954-55], all the kids had to introduce themselves with their full names, and mine was the only one that actually provoked laughter.” Haha. (Sorry again.)

Stephen, last of the Drummond Blackwells, aged 7, in Canberra, at left - armed and dangerous

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