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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
Joe Offer Origins: Bogie's Bonny Belle (60* d) RE: Origins: Bogie's Bonny Belle 16 Jan 21


Mary sent her wonderful piece of research to me and gave me permission to post it. Guess I'm going to have to explore Aberdeenshire more deeply. I hope that will happen in a couple years.
Thank you, Mary!
-Joe-

    The true story of Bogie’s Bonnie Belle
    Bogie’s Bonnie Belle is a traditional love song written in 1859 or later, written from the point of view
    of a farm worker who went to work for farmer Bogie of Cairnie parish near Huntly. He fell in love with
    Bogie’s daughter Isabelle and she had a baby.
    I was familiar with this beautiful song but I didn’t realise that Belle was a real person, not just a
    character in a song. It was singer Ken McNaughton who used to live in Huntly, who told me that Belle
    later in life lived in a property at The Square, Huntly. This is what sparked my research. It was 22/23
    The Square where she lived, which later became a department store The Square Deal which was
    recently bought by Deveron Projects.
    This story has several characters, Belle, her strict father Old Bogie, her baby son James and the son’s
    father James and his brother, the baby’s uncle John. Also the tinker lad who Belle married.
    Belle was Isabel Morison. She was born in Cairnie parish, Aberdeenshire on 20th September 1823. Her
    father was Alexander Morison (1783 – 1866) and her mother’s maiden name was Jean or Jane Runcie.
    Isabelle grew up at Boghead in the parish of Cairnie, Aberdeenshire. In the 1851 census Isabelle was
    aged 27 and still in the family home. She was described just as “ unmarried daughter” although she
    had borne an illegitimate child in 1843.
    The existing information says the story from the song is from 1843. This seems correct as there is a
    birth record for James Stephen, born in Cairnie on 10th June 1843 to Isabel Morison and James Stephen
    who was from Glass. There are no other listings for births for Isabella until much later and there was
    no marriage record for Isabel and James.
    Baby James
    Regarding Isabelle’s first baby James Stephen, there was no record of this child living with his mother.
    Isabelle still lived with her parents at census time in 1851 when James would have been 7.
    James was brought up by his paternal uncle John Stephen, an agricultural labourer, in the nearby
    parish of Glass. On the 1851 census James is described as a scholar (7) along with his cousins George
    (7) and Margaret (5). School fees would have been charged so it is commendable that his uncle’s family
    were generous.
    By 1851, John Stephen had been widowed and his mother, tailor’s widow Margaret Stephen nee
    Achnach, seemed to have moved in to look after the children. As James had young James to look after
    as well as a wife Agnes and baby William, it seems that it was better for James junior to live with his
    uncle and granny next door.
    James was a ploughman at 17 when he was still listed on the 1861 Glass census. In 1866 he was living
    at Tullynessle when he married farmer’s daughter Elizabeth Henderson who lived at Contlach,
    Auchindoir. They lived in Lumsden in 1871 and Rhynie in 1881. They had 10 children.
    The evidence shows that sadly James Stephen might not have known much about his mother or the
    drama around his birth. His marriage certificate refers to his mother Isabelle as deceased when she
    was in fact still alive. Or maybe he did not want his in-laws to know his story. So his mother was
    certainly not at his wedding !
    After 1881 the family moved to Edinburgh where James became a stone mason/stone cutter in
    addition to some of his sons in the 1901 census.
    His wife Elizabeth died in 1902 aged 54. James and his youngest daughter Beatrice aged 17
    He emigrated on 7th October 1905 after he became a widower and shortly after his uncle John died.
    He was a stone mason in Cleveland Ohio in 1910.
    Old Bogie
    Isabelle’s father was a farmer of 28 acres or more. He was referred to as Bogie or Old Bogie after the
    name of the house, Boghead. He lived to 83 and his wife Jean was 11 years younger. Old Bogie died
    of old age in 1866 at Boghead, aged 83. His parents were John Morrison, a mason, and Ann Currie.
    Evidence adds to the story that Isabelle’s father “ Old Bogie” was somewhat unkind. There is no
    record of the child living with his mother at all. This lends credence to the versions of the song which
    have the father remove the child from the maternal home. There is also evidence that the child might
    have been told that his mother was dead.
    Isabelle’s marriage to her tinker lad
    Isabelle left the family home later in 1851 when she married her “ tinkler chap” James Bowman. Born
    in Old Machar, Aberdeenshire about 1822 he had many practical skills so it seems that he was indeed
    a tinker. He is not listed on any local census in 1841 or 1851 so he was probably generally travelling
    around with his trades until then.
    He established the Rothieden Lamp and Tinplate Works, at The Square, Huntly, in 1851. He was also
    a master plumber. In 1891 his occupation is described as Lamp Manufacturer. He became a wellknown tinsmith in Huntly, and was famed for his lamps and lanterns, which are named after him,
    'Bowmans'.
    In the censuses of 1861 - 1881 “ Bogie’s Bonnie Belle” Isabelle and her family lived at 22/23 The
    Square, Huntly, sharing the building with their domestic servant (s) and another family. By the 1881
    census James Bowman employed 11 men, 9 boys and 1 girl.
    By 1891 they had moved to a much bigger house at Springbank, Bogie Street and in 1892 Isabelle’s
    husband James Bowman became the first Provost of Huntly. By then the lamp manufacturing business
    in The Square was largely being run by their son.
    The 1861 household included James Bowman, his wife Isabella and three children, Isabella Gordon
    Bowman, Anna Bella Bowman and Jane Runcie Bowman. Another child James was born in 1862. Why
    James ? There was a rigid naming system used then but not always adhered to. Sometimes “repeat”
    names were used in memory of older siblings who died. Was the first James “dead” to Isabella ?
    Not even a middle name to differentiate him from the older James, despite his sisters having middle
    names.
    Isabelle died on 23rd April 1902 and is buried along with her husband ( who died 16th March 1900 ) and
    some of their children at Dunbennan Kirkyard which is outside Huntly.
    Uncle John Stephen
    John was a crofter by 1861 and living with his second wife Janet and daughter Margaret. Uncle John
    died on 25th August 1905 at 12 Old Road, Huntly. He was aged 95
    Baby James’ father
    James Stephen senior was born in Glass parish near Huntly in 1810 and died at Greenhowe, Glass in
    1883. He was a crofter most of his adult life and in 1881 he had 20 acres, 5 arable. He married Agnes
    Walker in October 1850. She was 16 years younger than him and they had 7 children.
    So who wrote the song ?
    As he got married the year before his ex beloved Isabelle, it is unlikely that James wrote the song as
    the song refers to her marriage to her tinker lad. His wife would not have appreciated him pining
    away for Isabelle after their marriage. So who wrote this song and why ?
    (page 518) from Gavin Greig's MS:
    'Written originally by John Geddes, foreman at Boghead of Cairnie, fifty-four years ago (i.e. 1859) .
    Believed to have been himself here. Copy from G. Stevenson, Mill of Towie, Auchindochy, Keith.
    Extracted from Farm Servant Magazine 1913.'
    According to my census data research there was indeed a John Geddes, crofter/farmer who lived
    next door to Boghead at Mains of Botary in 1841 and 1851. No trace of him there at 1861 census.
    At the 1841 census he was on the same page as young Isabella Morrison.
    The editors also quote information supplied by Peter Hall, as follows:
    “ A locally made song, though set to older tunes; in the early C20 it seems that some of the people
    involved were still remembered, though local tradition may have confused their identities a bit “
    Other Information
    The Huntly Express covered this story in 2019 when I started the research and then singer Shona
    Donaldson and Paul Anderson did a U tube video at Belle’s grave and Shona sang the first verse of the
    song. The web link is
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROVQVIWw6Jg
    Shona as a schoolgirl would take a packed lunch and cycle up to this graveyard at school lunchtimes
    on sunny days, not realising that Belle was close by. She would have been familiar with the song then.
    Deveron Projects who now own the building that Belle’s family lived in, are an arts organisation who
    employed Shona in 2010 to host a bothy ballad bus tour of notable north east locations. Little did
    they know that the building they were to buy many years later would have great significance too.
    References:
    Huntly Express 13/01/2021 re Shona’s tour. Scotland’s People, The Mud Cat Café ( Malcolm Douglas
    10th Sept 2008) gives info from Gavin Greig MS p 518, Farm Servant magazine 1913 and Peter Hall.
    The link for Shona and Paul’s video is also on Huntly Histories Facebook posted on July 2019.
    I also thank the following for their help with this research: Ken McNaughton who knew the link with
    Belle and Huntly Square. Patricia Newman social history author, The Aberdeen and N.E. Scotland
    Family History Society (ANEFHS) members forum especially Allan Hepburn and other members and
    volunteers. Also singer Archie Fisher who inspired my love of the song in the late 1960s.
    Mary Scott
    Huntly
    Information updated 14/01/2021


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