John Smeaton of Perthshire


John Smeaton was the great grandfather of Janet Smeaton (second wife of Andrew Greig Wilson) who was to emigrate to Van Diemen’s Land in 1842.

Based on the registration of his first marriage, it is likely that John Smeaton was born, or at least grew up in the Perthshire parish of Dunning.  He was probably born in the first decade of the eighteenth century.


Dunning is a peaceful and attractive Perthshire town nestling in the foothills of the Ochil range and dominated by the impressive Norman tower attached to St. Serf’s church. Dunning and neighbouring Fortieviot (the ancient Pictish capital) have their roots firmly planted in ancient history. This is where the clash of Pictish armies shook these quiet hills as they fought for the kingship at the Battle of Duncrub (965AD), a battle commemorated by a standing stone in a field to the north.  Another monument commemorates the burning of alleged witch, Maggie Wall, in 1657; and the Thorn Tree is a memorial to the burning of the village in 1716 by the retreating Jacobites. If John was born in Dunning, he may well have been around to witness this event.


John Smeaton married Christian Johnston on 19 November 1731 in Forgandenny. The Forgandenny Parish Register, reads ‘November 19, 1731 John Smiton in the parish of Dunning and Christian Johnston in this parish gave up their names for proclamation in order to marriage and were proclaimed in the three ensuing Sabbath days and nothing objects.’  Their marriage was also proclaimed in John’s Parish church of Dunning on the 21st of November.

Marriage of John Smeaton and Christian Johnstone, Dunning

John and Christian had six children from October 1732 to 1744.  Their fourth child, James, born in 1740, was my 5G Grandfather.

Presumably Christian died in 1744, possibly around the time of Janet’s birth, as John married his second wife, Sarah Brown, on 28 April 1745, in Forteviot, also in Perthshire.  John and Sarah had four children.

Some of the birth and marriage registrations for his children provide some clues about where John lived and how he was employed.  However, many of the references seem to be to very localised names and I have found it difficult to discover much about those places via the internet.  When his son James was registered at Dunning in 1740, John was said to have resided at a place that looks to be something like ‘Midlo Keppon’ but I have not been able to identify this place.  In 1746, when Elizabeth’s birth was registered, John was said to be from ‘Midle of Pittcairns’ and the following year, ‘Midle third of Pitcairns’ at son John’s baptism. In 1749 when daughter Margaret was baptised the register describes John at ‘Salter Croft of Pittcairns’ and in 1752 when  his youngest child, Alexander, was baptised, John was of ‘Mains of Pittcairns’.

It is not until 1768 that an occupation is added to the registers (or at least to those that have been located to date).  In 1768 when Isabell (John’s second daughter to his first wife) marries, John is described as ‘Cottar in woodnuck of Condy’.  In 1774, when his daughter Janet marries the description is closer to ‘Wood Noch of Condie’.

A cottar was generally regarded as a poor peasant, the tenant of only a house and a little land, just a small plot on which to subsist. Sometimes there income was supplemented by menial tasks such swine herding or guarding prisoners.

I have not been able to make out ‘woodnuck of Condie’ but as Isabell was married in the Parish of Forgandenny, perhaps it is a reference to some part of the small hamlet known as the Path of Condie.  In the 1790s, when the Statistical Accounts of Scotland were being compiled, the Path of Condie contained ‘… about 22 dwelling-houses, besides a mill, an Antiburgher meeting-house, and a school.’ If John was classified as one of the poor of the parish, the Statistical Accounts tell us that the church supported on average four or five constant pensioners who received monthly between 2s and 5s according to their needs.  Others received occasional support when circumstances required it.

I have not been able to discover a burial record for John, but it seems likely that he would have been regarded as rather elderly for the times, having reached his late sixties and perhaps older.

I would love to hear from anyone who can add more to John’s story, including helping me out with those place names! and perhaps pointing to some further sources of local history.  Please email me if you can help.

Online resources

John Smeaton on my Ancestry tree

After writing the above, I discovered that there is a great deal of information published on the Dunning Parish Historical Society website which I look forward to working my way through!

Some information about cottars and the Lowland clearances.


The Mole Creek Caves

My ancestor, Andrew Greig Wilson, settled near and acted as a guide to Tasmania’s Mole Creek Caves.  The following extract from A D and R K Skinner’s book, The Mole Creek Caves (1978) recounts a traveller’s story, originally published in 1870 in A Guide to Excursionists Between Australia and Tasmania.  The party had become quite lost on its journey from Chudleigh Hotel to the caves, so they were no doubt tired and frustrated when they finally found the Wilson’s cottage around mid-day.