The Archive sits there, somewhat overwhelming. Knowing where to start the process of cataloguing is beyond me, but the most important thing is to start anywhere. So I started a basic collation of items into the boxes, and during my very rough classification (notes, letters, transcripts, articles, documents etc) I came across a copy of Crockett’s birth certificate. At which point it occurred to me that Births, Deaths and Marriages was as good a place as any to start.
With Crockett nothing is simple. I don’t think there is an official document without some kind of error or obfuscation in it. And that’s interesting in and of itself. Anyone who has visited the Crockett memorial at Laurieston will see that the date of his birth is erroneously marked as 1860 (it was in fact 1859) and from this point on in his life nothing seems free from dispute. That original error was made from a census error some time in the 1880's or 90's when record keeping was slightly less careful and DOB less important an issue than we find it today. (I did check it out once to confirm but I've lost my own record of that!) Anyway, from that 'original sin' a lot of trouble followed
Somewhere along the line the birthdate 1860 got copied into a publication and this is the publication which was then used ever after by researchers who thus all got it wrong. I can't imagine what it must have been like to unveil the huge Laurieston monument and see the date wrong. I wonder if Ruth Crockett a) noticed, b) mentioned it or c) cared. I would have. It incenses me to this very day, though I think maybe I should learn to accept that 'fact' isn't what it's cut out to be.
We all have (it seems) a tendency to put rather too much faith in published fact. Even though when it first came out Wikipedia was considered a third rate 'source' it does seem to be in the Trinity of Wikipedia, Google and YouTube for our information sources these days. And the Wikipedia entry for S.R.Crockett is woefully inadequate. I've looked into how to 'edit' it but every time I go through the 'rules' I lose the will to live. So if anyone reading this knows how to edit in Wikipedia, I'd be happy to offer them corrections.
All of this is really works to remind me that primary sources are the best place to go for research and that puts a big weight of responsibility on my head in trying to sort out the fact from the opinion in the research archive in front of me. 'Facts' always need to be checked. And we always need to remember that we may be missing a vital piece of evidence and that the best we can do is probably supposition. So with that in mind, please accept that all the work I do on this archive is intended to offer 'fact' to the best of my knowledge at the time of writing.
You'll also note the quote from Stevenson's poem 'To S.R.Crockett.' at the bottom: 'His heart remembers how.'
But let's go back to the beginning. The archive holds a copy of Crockett’s birth certificate.
From it we can see that the father’s name is left blank. Attesting to his illegitimacy. He is the son of Anne Crocket – note the one ‘t’. The Crockett family in general seems to have been quite flexible about the number of ‘t’s’ at the end of their name.
His name is SAMUEL and his mother’s occupation is Dairymaid. His time of birth is 5.20am and the place, Little Duchrae. The information is attested to by Mary Crocket, listed as ‘nurse’ who was present at the birth. This suggests that his grandmother may have acted as midwife.
The next document we have is Crockett’s marriage certificate from which we see the official details as follows:
The marriage took place on March 10th 1887 (7 years to the day before the publication of ‘The Raiders.’) between
SAMUEL RUTHERFORD CROCKETT and RUTH MARY MILNER.
He is 27 and she is 26 and they are respectively Bachelor and Spinster.
The Marriage took place at the Parish Church in the Parish of Harpurhey, Lancaster.
At the time of the marriage Crockett’s residence was in Penicuik and Ruth’s Moston House, Harperhey.
Father’s names and occupations are listed as David Blaine Crockett (Farmer)
And George Milner (Manufacturer.)
They were married in the Established Church following banns by J. Baker, Vicar of St Johns Blackburn & Leighton, Rector.
Witnesses were John Harford Battersby, Alice Maud Milner, George Milner and John P (unclear).
The elephant in the room here is the name of Crockett’s father. Clearly the surname Crockett could not be correct as this was his mother’s unmarried name. In her biography Islay Murray Donaldson suggests that this was ‘an inexactitude for which he may be forgiven, surrounded as he was by Milners and their kin.’
But what of David Blaine? That warrants much more investigation. The archive holds more information but let’s just say it’s a work in progress to come up with any conclusions!
At the other end of the spectrum, and just as shrouded in mystery, is Crockett’s death. That he died is not at all mysterious. What he died of is the unanswered question. In her research Islay Murray Donaldson wrote to the registers at Ville d’Avignon (in 1974) to request a copy of the death certificate. This document is in French but since it was not standard practice for medical records of cause of death to be held for more than five years, we are none the wiser on that score.
His name is recorded as Samuel Rutherford Crockett and (if my French is accurate) suggests he was a writer, aged fifty three at time of death. His place of birth is given as Auchencairn, Scotland.
The document says he is the son of David Crockett and Mary Crockett and that he is the husband of Ruth Milner and lists Tarascon as the place of death. I think the rest of the document deals with the official declarations and notifications. Certainly it throws up more questions than it answers.
The final document that I’ve found in the archive thus far is a copy of Probate of Crockett’s will. This is a large document which runs to some five pages and comprises an Inventory of Crockett’s personal estate at time of death and the following shenanigans that getting it through probate involved at the time.
In Scotland his estate comprised:
A current account at the Commercial Bank of Scotland, Peebles and one with the Bank of Scotland, Castle Douglas.
The Clydesdale Bank, Penicuik held a number of securities including a range of shares.
He also had a couple of Life Insurance Policies.
And there is ‘household furniture, books and other effects’ at Torwood House, Peebles as well as ‘household furniture and other effects’ at Castle Daffin, Auchencairn.
There is also the value of his literary property - valued by A.P.Watt his literary agent.
He was also in credit with an Edinburgh bookseller.
In England his estate comprised:
Good stored at the Pantechnicon, Motcomb Street and books and belongings in the hands of Sothebys.
The total value of his estate was valued at just under £10,000.
Ruth Milner stood to inherit everything according to a will made on 31st January 1903 It was a simple will which stated: I leave all of which I die possessed to my wife Ruth Mary Crockett. Mr A.P.Watt and Mr A.S.Watt to be sole trustees and executors.
(a role they declined to accept in the eventuality!)
Again, there is much more detail and investigation which can be carried regarding this document – why the Watt’s declined to be executors – why they were listed as such in the first place etc – but until I have more evidence from the archives I want to avoid speculation
To close the circle, Crockett was buried in the family plot at Balmaghie Kirkyard. His name is at the bottom of the stone and when the grass grows I suspect is obscured. It reads Also Samuel Rutherford Crockett. Minister of the Gospel and Novelist. Born at Duchrae in this parish on 24th September 1859. Died at Tarascon, France on 16th April 1914.
For obituaries and comments on Crockett's death click HERE
That's the February update. More in March. I'm going to try and sort out all Crockett's letters into chronological order. Wish me luck. It will probably take more than a month, and I'm bound to get diverted along the way...