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Family of Archibald Downie and Jean Jervie

Dumfriesshire Downies

The story starts in the parish of Graitney (modern day Gretna) in the County of Dumfries with the baptism of Archibald, son of Archibald Downie and Jean Jervie on 15 February 1781. Archibald Senior probably came to Graitney from the Glasgow area because the couple had a son Alexander born in Barony, Lanarkshire on 22 April 1770 before having eight children baptized in Graitney between 1775 and 1789. So far, only descendants of Archibald Junior have been found, and it is those descendants who feature on these pages.

family of Archibald Downie and Janet Gass

There is some mystery about how Archibald and Jean came to Graitney; their first child Alexander's entry in the Barony register of Births and Baptisms shows that Archibald was a merchant, probably in Anderston:

Bapt. Aprile 1770 Downie & Jarvie Archbald Downie merchant in Andn. and Jean Jervie his Spouse had their 1st child Born 7th Baptd. 22nd Aprile Named Alexander wits John Harvie David Hamilton

The Graitney parish register for the period up to 1783 is in very poor condition and difficult to read, but it shows that Agnes was born in Graitney Green and the others in places whose names are difficult if not impossible to read. The pattern of births in several different places, probably farms, suggests that Archibald was an agricultural labourer, who would have regularly moved from farm to farm, being hired at the regular feeing markets, probably in Annan. It is not clear why a merchant in Glasgow would have moved to Graitney and become an agricultural labourer - perhaps this is purely a coincidence and there were two couples named Archibald Downie and Jean Jervie.

There is a possibility that Archibald Senior was related to Alexander Downie and Janet Gass who had children Henereta and Bryce Downie baptized in 1754 and 1756 respectively in Annan. Bryce became a teacher of Mathematics at Annan Academy, where he taught Hugh Clapperton, the African explorer, and probably also Thomas Carlyle, who attended Annan Academy from 1806 to 1809, and was a teacher of Mathematics there from 1814 to 1816. His son Alexander was Town Clerk of Annan until his death in 1885, but he left no issue as both his sons pre-deceased him.

The surname Downie appears only 27 times in the parish registers of Dumfriesshire before 1855 and it is likely that only three do not belong to the Archibald Downie line or the Alexander Downie line. The other three Downies, baptized in Kirkpatrick Juxta and Moffat, are two younger brothers and a sister of the John Downie whose nursery is now the site of Edinburgh Zoo and after whom the crab apple variety Malus John Downie is named. Their father Thomas, who was a gardener, was probably born in Leith in 1784, though it is possible that he is the Thomas born in 1785 to Archibald Downie and Jean Jervie.

No Downie births or baptisms appear in the Graitney parish register after the baptism of the third Janet in 1789 but there are several in the nearby parishes of Kirkpatrick Fleming, Dornock, Middlebie and Annan. Archibald Junior's death at Flowbank, in the adjoining parish of Kirkpatrick Fleming, is recorded on the family gravestone in Kirkpatrick Fleming Kirkyard. The information on the stone confirms that he was the Archibald Downie who married Janet Gass in Annan on 28 December 1805, whose son John, whose birth record has not yet been found, is the real starting point of the journey, though John's sister Janet, who married Joseph Bell, has her own line of Bell descendants.

The descendants of Archibald Junior and his wife Janet Gass are now spread over the world, with family members in Australia, Canada, England New Zealand and Zimbabwe. Amongst them are a Stationmaster in Lanark, a gold miner killed in Southern Rhodesia and his brother who rose to be Minister of Mines and Public Works in the same country. On the female side, a daughter of the ill-fated gold miner Christopher Gordon Downie played hockey for South Africa in the 1920s.

Much of the information here has been provided by descendants, in particular by George Downie who lives in Carlisle, by Chris Cottier from Vancouver, by Rob and Mary Blair in Harare, by Ann Hart in South Africa and by Victor Ellen in New Zealand. Ian Downie, who is not related to this family but shares the Downie surname, took over the running of George Downie's original website in late 2012 and established this website in February 2013.

While this website is developed, George's original website (with some updates) is still live (opens in a new window). The information on it is being checked for accuracy and will eventually be transferred to this website.