Robert McArthur and Mary Hay Gray: Migrations, Catastrophe and Triumph

cropped-titleonly.jpgMy father’s passion was his work; my mother’s, her homemaking.  They took delight in each other’s passion, and shared the joy of family. They were successful in many directions and highly traveled. They wasted no time.

Wherever we dwelt, Mum created a gorgeous garden.  She was very lean but could show bicep, honed through tennis, digging and determination.   Dad admired her gardens beyond belief, but employed others to do the tidy of mowing the lawn. Until he retired, that is.  Then he mowed in perfectly sculpted rows of light versus dark.  Followed by rake, this way, then that. He would review his masterpiece from within the house, and exit to pick up a stray leaf. On each successful “fix”, he would wear a wicked silly boy grin. If you do a job, do it right.

When Mum passed, and pass she did, to Dad’s astonishment, for she was indomitable, he could not find enough to do. He began to “mow” the rugs. That sheepish grin would emerge when alternating pile messed with Persian design, in the quest to hoover the dirt, that surely existed.  

When he conceded it not wise to mow rugs thrice daily, he turned to book, and produced a wonderful Family History. Unfortunately, his original picture collection met with calamity, such that we are left with scans.  These posts rely heavily on Dad’s work, now intermingled with additional material, all appropriately attributed. 

Dad adored my mother, so, began his volume with her family.  He did his best with her father, and the reasons for inability to move that forward, are covered in “Double Genealogy: The Adoption Witness”.  His work opens with this family portrait. 1

FAMILY OF ROBERT MCARTHUR (1862-1918) and MARY HAY GRAY (1866-1937) 1, 2 

Robert McArthur-Mary Hay Gray family ca. 1909. Hemmingsen Family Collection, copyright © Marilee Wein 2018

My copy met with some humidity over the years; the pages are no longer flat. I thought the fix was a warm dry iron. Wrong! Re-scan of the scan, rendered to jpg is only marginally acceptable.


Standing in the back row, left to right, in age order are Robert, John and Thomas.  Great grandmother, Mary Hay Gray is seated with Jeanie on her knee.  Left to right, the other girls are our Nana, Janet Gray (seated), Mary Gray, and Agnes Hardie.  Great grandfather Robert McArthur is seated as well. 


The family sailed on Allan Line’s “Grampian”, 30 April 1910, from Glasgow to Montreal. 3 They were leaving Hamilton Lanarkshire, for Nanaimo, on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island. 

Jeanie was born 22 Sep 1905; she would have been going on five at sailing. 2 She was quite the diminutive figure, still, looks younger than five, here. Her boots appear more substantial than for a toddler. So, the picture was likely taken in Scotland, between late 1908 and early 1910.


Chief among their assets were devotion to family,  integrity and determination.


Arrival documents show Robert Sr. had $250 in pocket.4 That sum was a little over three months Canadian wages.5 Looking closely at his lower vest, one can see a gold pocket watch, fixed to it, by a fob. 

Arrival records show that Robert Jr. paid his own way, with $200 in pocket.


If only we could better see, Mary’s darling little basket. What could it hold, but hope?


As ink set to paper, upon this very write, or actually as  fingers tapped on keyboard, Mary’s basket reminded of Penelope with hers, of fruit. She was born in 1901. Nana had named me her guardian, long, long ago.  Alas, the story she told me, has faded.Penelopebook

Could she have been handled and packed by Mary Hay Gray? How many loved ones has she touched, has she heard? Maybe all those that sailed! Then, Mum, for certain, and Aunt Iris.  Perhaps, Uncle Jimmy.  Me, my siblings, my children, and theirs.  All manner of DNA interrupted by dusting cloth.  But, Penelope is hollow, by virtue of a portal on her base. The better to capture  waves, recorded impressions, of all those who have held her. Might it be some day, that her very own bone rendered ceramic, will be caused to yield up echos of the past. Who knows?  


The McArthur family struggled, typical of Scottish mining families of the era. British Columbia was their second attempt at improving their lot. 

Robert Sr.’s Canadian arrival documents show he was in the United States from 1888-1890. 4 In fact, John McArthur was born in Nashville, Tennessee on 6 Sep 1889. 4  

No supporting documentation was found in Tennessee. Birth Registrations were not required then, and US Census 1890 was destroyed.  Tennessee conducted a State Census in 1892, but the family had departed. At any rate, it covered voters only. John’s British Columbia Death Registry supports his Tennessee birth data. 

Sailing records were not located at first because it was hard to imagine them destined for New York.  Separately, at that. Robert went first, It was the Anchoria for both, so it amazed that Robert Sr.’s journey spanned 20 APR to 4 MAY 1888, while wife and child took from 8 SEP to 6 OCT. 4  That is what the documents say. 

Oh, Mary Hay Gray, those voluminous women’s clothes, a babe at breast, no disposable diapers, or wipes, no assistance, and New York to Nashville looming.  What inconvenience would you not weather, for your family?  It would soon be apparent. 

Mary Hay Gray, it was told, was a good soul. She arrived but could not navigate in a landscape that suggested  if her boys played with some, then, they could not play with others.  There were probably no bags to pack, but, pack up their wee ones, they did. A rich life could be had, however poor, in Scotland.

The impact of the first migration must be imagined on great grandmother. Robert Jr. was baptized in Lanarkshire on 10 Jun 1887.2  John was born in TN, late 1889, and Thomas was born in Lanarkshire in 1892.

We American Descendants

Our line was destined to be American. Granddad Hemmingson (son in US/ sen in CA) had immigrated to Wisconsin, not one year earlier. Yet, we wound up Canadian. The table would turn again, for some of us. 


Four girls were added to the family in Scotland, in quick succession. Mining declined further; the robust mines of British Columbia’s Vancouver Island were calling.


The move was to improve financial circumstances. Both Roberts and John were listed as miners on Grampian’s manifest, with Thomas  a butcher.  Janet Gray was given as a photographer. That is, according to Grampian’s departure document. 

Butcher and photographer may have been aspirations only.  The arrival document showed Janet Gray as a domestic servant. The arrival information was more concerned with disposition of persons, once in Canada. The family census of 1911, in Nanaimo,  confirmed the miners, but Thomas was not working. Janet Gray and Agnes were not with the family, but Janet was located nearby, as a servant to an engineer’s family. 

Canada Census 1911 asked for employment and wage data. Father and Robert Jr.  made the same wage, and worked a 48 hour week. Their 1910 total wages were $425 which reflected 25 weeks of work.  John made slightly less,  with fewer weeks worked. That was consistent with their late spring arrival in 1910. There were numerous coal miners on their census page; the wages were similar.  Their home was on Haliburton Street, in Nanaimo.

Of eerie interest, Census 1911 asked for the value of  household Life Insurance. The McArthur family had none. No positive answer was seen by anyone enumerated on the entire page. 

By 1921, Robert had returned to Scotland. All the sisters, but Jeannie had married. She was still at home, as was John and his wife, Gertrude. John’s 1920 wage was interesting at $1700, compared to his prorated $690, of 1910.


Life in Canada  brought much improved financial circumstance. Until 1918, that is. The 1921 Census showed the widow, Mary Hay Gray McArthur, thankfully now in an owned home, at 73 Strickland Avenue, Nanaimo.  The household, and those of siblings and relatives were in deep mourning. As was all Nanaimo, many throughout Scotland, and miners everywhere. 

Note: The end of the first column of the Nanaimo Times piece, below,  is pasted to the far left. 

Hemmingsen Family Collection

This tragedy informed the career of our grandfather, James Dickson, who is subject of “Double Genealogy: the Adoption Witness”.  He, a humble Scottish coal hewer, would become Chief Inspector of Mines, for British Columbia. 


Mary Gray Hay, a widow for two decades,  was  our longest living great-grandparent, by far.

Hemmingsen Family Collection

 One can only imagine the joy she would have found in seeing the decision she made with Robert,  to increase their short term hardship by a second migration, rewarded. She saw the first generation born in Canada prosper and go to University, 

Robert Jr. returned to Scotland probably between 1911 and 1921. Further data on him was not located. John had one child. Janet Gray had three, Mary Gray, one, Agnes Hardie, one, and Jeanie, one. Thomas married, but demised in 1923; children were not discovered. These were people known to  my generation, thus, will find time in the category “Memories”

In due time, this post will be updated to include direct ancestors of Robert and Mary Hay: surnames; Hay, Gray, Malcolm, Hardie and Thom. 

Posts authored by Doublegenealogytheadoptionwitness are copyright © Marilee Wein 2018. All rights reserved

Please scroll below Notes and Sources to comment, question, like, etc.

Notes and Sources:
1. The Hemmingsen Family Collection including “John O Hemmingsen / Mary Margaret Hemmingsen (Dickson)” authored 1999 by John Oliver Hemmingsen. All materials posthumously published here are copyright © Marilee Wein 2018-2019. All rights reserved.
2. Statutory Registers of Birth Marriage and Death Records, and Scotland Censuses 1841-1911 found at are Crown copyright © National Records of Scotland. Specific citations include but are not limited to:
Birth Registry: 1866 Gray, Mary Hay 475/20 Campsie, Stirling / 1862 McArthur, Robert 626/1 68 Cadder (Western District) Lanark
3. Documents accessed at FMP: Findmypast Ltd. © Brightsolid online publishing Ltd., © 2017 Findmypast and with thanks for Findmypast
Passenger Lists Leaving UK 1890-1960. From Grampian departing Glasgow 30APR1910 for Montreal, Quebec. NOTE: Janet McArthur is noted as a 15-year-old photographer
4. Documents accessed at Family Search (FS) © 2017 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.:
Canada Passenger Lists 1881-1892: Quebec, QC, Grampian image 39 of 61, from Library and Archives of Canada, Ottawa ON. Arrival Document 10 May 1910 NOTE: Janet McArthur is noted as a 15-year-old Domestic
Canadian Border Crossings 1895-1954, Vermont St. Alban from National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
New York Passenger Lists 1820-1891 from National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) ; Image 719 or 1088 citing MF M237 for Robert McArthur (Sr.) arrived 4MAY1888 on Anchoria and image 421 of 1095 MF M237 for Mary Hay Gray and Robert McArthur (Jr.) Arrived 6OCT1888 on Anchoria.
5. Canada Censuses 1911 and 1921 from Library and Archives of Canada, Ottawa ON. specifically for Mary McArthur, 1911, Item 471247 British Columbia, Nanaimo and 1921, Item 4549733.



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