No One Wants A Drunk

by Laura

Along with the connection to some high-powered Scots, it seems my heritage also includes at least one family member who exited this world in a rather gruesome way:  he got drunk, passed out, and fell out of a third-storey window.  My 2nd Great-Grandfather James was 38 years old.

In the 1840s, my McManus Family emigrated from what is now Northern Ireland to Scotland.  This was a fairly easy trip, as Ireland and Scotland are only 54 miles apart; from Belfast to Glasgow, where my ancestors settled, it’s 143 miles apart. When my 2nd Great-Grandfather was born in 1844, Ireland was on the cusp of the Great Hunger. According to the population census of 1841, the Irish-born population of Scotland stood at 126,321 out of 2,620,184 or 4.8%. By 1851, it stood at 207,367 out of a total of 2,888,742 or 7.2%; the Irish population of Scotland had increased by 90%. Almost 29% of all Irish migrants settled in Glasgow, which is where many of my family are from. The Irish Catholic worked where jobs requiring muscle and strength were in high demand: mining, shipbuilding, dockwork, day labour. They were more than willing to work for less than the local Scots…and at a time when the Highlanders, an educated, middle-class group, were experiencing a collapse of their economy as well as the second phase of their own political troubles known as “The Clearances”.  This all caused great religious and class tensions between the Catholic Irish and the Protestant Scots with pamphleteering, discrimination, fisticuffs, sermonising, and so on against the Irish in Scotland.

But I digress.

So. My 2nd Great-Grandfather James. He emigrated to Scotland with his Mum, his Da, and his brothers and sisters when he was 7 years old in 1851. The family settled in Kilbarchan, Renfrewshire, Scotland. Kilbarchan was known as a centre for weaving. James’ father, my 3rd Great-Grandfather, was a shoemaker; his wife, Catherine, was a linen weaver, so they had the skills available to set up a viable working household. Eventually, James moved to Glasgow, probably to find better work, and married Catherine McEwan. They had eight children, for certain; the ninth child, Annie, is a bit iffy as she was born a bit late…about 13 months after James died. Who her Father may have been is a family mystery.

I have a cousin in Scotland, still living in Glasgow, who sent me a copy of the newspaper clipping about James’ unfortunate demise:


“GOVAN,–FATAL FALL OVER A WINDOW–At an early hour yesterday morning [13 August 1882] James M’Manus, riveter, residing at 78 Queen Street, Govan, fell over the back window of his dwelling-house, three stirs up, into the court below. His wife missed him about five o’cock in the morning, and on looking out the window she observed him lying in the back court. He was at once taken up to the house and examined by Dr Barras, who on examination found he was unconscious, and had sustained severe injuries about the head and face. He died a few hours afterwards.”  Glasgow Herald, 14th August 1882.

My Cousin-in-Scotland also filled me in with the details from his years and years of family research:

…[James] came home drunk and his wife let him sleep on the floor, she woke up at
5 am and found the window opened, James was lying in the back court, they carried him back up three flights till the doctor came…
the family did not have enough money to bury him so his workmates had a collection for it, later on Catherine applied for financial assistance but did not get any as two of the boys were working doing a milk run, so much for the good old days, I went to school in Govan and wondered why the wives used to turn up at the place where their husbands worked only on a friday, it was to try and get some money off them before it was all spent in the local pub,

I did a bit of checking, and 13 August 1882 was a Sunday; the previous Monday had been a Bank Holiday, so it seems James and his workmates may have had a short work week. They would have had their pay-packets on Friday, the 11th, and probably spent the weekend drinking… It’s a pattern that still exists today, 134 years later.

His wife, Catherine, was left a widow with no easy means of support for herself and their 8 (then 9) children. She  has her own sad story. This was the time of Victorian England, even as it’s taking place in Glasgow, Scotland. If you’ve read any Charles Dickens, this is the reality upon which his stories had been based. There was a certain meanness in Great Britain then, with poorhouses (and I have family members who lived and died in them), child labour, chronic malnutrition, chronic diseases due to extreme poverty, and Good Christian Men, Rejoice! even as they stepped past, around, and through the rampant, endemic poverty that surrounded them. Granted, the family appears to have done a lot of this to themselves (“tried to get the money off them before it was all spent at the local pub”)… I realise I can only speculate about what sort of context in which their lives were lived.

And there, before the grace of God, go I.