‘My young rel­a­tive was re­build­ing his fam­ily when he died’

Read­ers re­veal a gem from their fam­ily tree Dr Mar­ion Nash pays trib­ute to Joseph Quil­lan, an orphan who over­came ter­ri­ble odds only to suf­fer a fa­tal ac­ci­dent

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - MY FAMILY HERO - DR MAR­ION NASH has been trac­ing her tree since 2000 and is fas­ci­nated by the sto­ries it tells

When many of us start trac­ing our an­ces­tors, we nat­u­rally try to see whether we can find some­one fa­mous. But while the sto­ries of pi­o­neer­ing reformers or fear­less sol­diers are wor­thy of be­ing told, the achieve­ments of the ev­ery­day heroes in our trees can be eas­ily over­looked.

One re­searcher who is keen to re­dress this bal­ance is Dr Mar­ion Nash, who has un­cov­ered in­spir­ing tales of strength against ad­ver­sity while ex­plor­ing her Glaswe­gian roots. A story Mar­ion holds par­tic­u­larly close to her heart is that of Joseph Quil­lan, a fac­tory worker who died when he was only 18.

“I have al­ways wanted to give this young man a voice and say what re­ally hap­pened to him,” Mar­ion tells us.

The Quil­lans were cer­tainly no strangers to tragedy, en­dur­ing sev­eral be­reave­ments be­fore Joseph was born. Be­tween 1858 and 1883 his par­ents, Pa­trick and El­iz­a­beth, lost six young chil­dren as a re­sult of res­pi­ra­tory ill­ness and dis­ease. By the time Joseph turned eight, the cou­ple had suc­cumbed to the same fate.

As a re­sult, Joseph’s up­bring­ing was punc­tu­ated by con­stant up­heaval, stay­ing with who­ever was will­ing to take him in. On the 1891 cen­sus, he was even liv­ing in the care of his older sis­ter Mag­gie’s es­tranged hus­band, Mick McKe­own, and his new ‘wife’ Jane.

While de­tails about the rest of Joseph’s child­hood re­main scant, ev­i­dence sug­gests that he kept his feet firmly on the ground. By 1901 he had found a job at the Henry Kennedy & Sons pot­tery works in Cam­lachie in Glas­gow’s East End, mov­ing into a flat with Mag­gie and an­other sis­ter, Lizzie, the fol­low­ing year.

“With his wages as a work­ing man, Joseph could now help his sis­ters out with the house­hold costs,” says Mar­ion. “He had bravely put his life to­gether and was at last able to en­joy a sta­ble home.”

As the sum­mer of 1902 drew to a close, Henry Kennedy & Sons re­warded their em­ploy­ees with an out­ing to Loch Lomond. On the morn­ing of Satur­day 6 Septem­ber, the firm’s 300-strong work­force left the hus­tle and bus­tle of the city be­hind and ven­tured out into the fresh Cale­do­nian air.

Joseph and his friends de­cided to hire a boat and row down the River Leven into the Loch. Like any party of young men and women, they spent much of the time jok­ing and splash­ing around. Un­til it all went wrong.

“Peo­ple on the shore said that a woman stood up and at­tempted to change seats with some­one else, rock­ing the boat vi­o­lently and caus­ing it to over­turn,” ex­plains Mar­ion. “It prob­a­bly made the on­look­ers laugh, es­pe­cially hav­ing wit­nessed their ear­lier an­tics from dry land. How­ever, it was far, far more se­ri­ous than they could know.”

As screams rang out across the river, it be­came clear that lives were in real dan­ger. A crew of boat­men rowed out to the scene as fast as they could, man­ag­ing to drag six mem­bers of the party back to safety.

But Joseph was nowhere to be seen. It was only af­ter 15 min­utes of fran­tic search­ing that his mo­tion­less body was dis­cov­ered float­ing in the wa­ter. De­spite at­tempts at re­sus­ci­ta­tion, he was pro­nounced dead in front of his hor­ri­fied friends and col­leagues.

More than a cen­tury later, Mar­ion finds it hard to talk about the in­ci­dent.

“I think it was such a sad and un­nec­es­sary loss of young life. It must have been hor­ri­ble for Mag­gie, who would have opened her door later that day to face the ap­palling news.

“I have of­ten won­dered what be­came of the peo­ple who had been in the boat with Joseph. They cer­tainly never in­tended for it to hap­pen, but what were their feel­ings about it later?”

Not long af­ter her brother’s death, Mag­gie found her­self in dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances once again when she was asked to iden­tify the body of her es­tranged hus­band, Mick. De­spite con­sid­er­able suc­cess as a pro­fes­sional foot­baller, he be­came an al­co­holic and was found dead in­side an aban­doned kiln.

Mag­gie briefly found hap­pi­ness when she re­mar­ried in 1906, but six years later she passed away from can­cer, aged 43.

It may be a tale rife with heart­break, but Mar­ion still finds great so­lace in her an­ces­tors’ de­ter­mi­na­tion to stay to­gether, de­spite the pres­sures that were forc­ing them apart.

“I feel that both Mag­gie and Joseph were pretty heroic in the way they bat­tled ad­ver­sity and fam­ily in­sta­bil­ity to fi­nally reach a calm haven liv­ing once more as a fam­ily.

“It is just so sad that it was at this point that Joseph lost his life.” Jon Bauck­ham

As screams rang out across the river, it be­came clear that lives were in real dan­ger

It might look pic­turesque in this pho­to­graph, but the River Leven in West Dun­bar­ton­shire is where Joseph Quil­lan lost his life

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