Eyes brown, Hair dark, Complexion dark
James Dobbie – a story in brief
Official records for First World War soldiers show an all-too-common story - standard forms capturing a snapshot of lives condensed down to vital details and contact addresses. James Dobbie is no different – except that he was probably twice the age of most of his fellow volunteers and so had lived a much longer and varied life. But his forms capture so little.
He was born in Glasgow, he says, in 1875 - a little untruth, researchers find later – and was employed as a marine fireman, a stoker in the boiler room of steamships. James professed to be Catholic and unmarried. His medical records show that James was small in stature and dark in colouring. His address is given as Cardigan Street in Stanmore, an inner-city suburb of Sydney. He gives no detail of family and his next of kin is a fellow resident at Cardigan St, Arthur Horsfield, a barman. Perhaps Arthur was one of only a few people James knew in Australia and it seems their connection came through Arthur’s parents, friends of James’ living in New Zealand.
From there, his official records focus on his military life, again sadly common to many. Enlistment in July 1915 in Sydney and assignment to the 30th Battalion was followed by leaving Australia by troopship in November for Egypt and then for France in June. On 20 July 1916, just twelve months after enlisting, Scottish-born Private James Dobbie was killed in action at Fromelles.
What the researchers found
The sparsity of clues about James’ family in his attestation papers could suggest that he had no near relatives in Australia and that his parents were possibly dead. Whatever the reason, it gave little for researchers to work with and caused a delay in finding his true background.
Extensive genealogical and family evidence now confirm that James was born 4 September 1872 in Glasgow. It seems that James had “knocked” a few years off his age when signing up as he was not far from his 43rd birthday but claimed to be just 40. Perhaps James was ensuring he met any enlistment age limits that might apply.
His father, James senior, came from a prosperous family of joiners and undertakers who had married three times.
First marriage in 1850 to Jane Carpenter - They had two sons, William and Malcolm, and three other children who died in infancy (twins and a daughter, also Jane). In 1869, Jane senior died at aged 42.
Second marriage in 1870 to Catherine Carlin - Three children were born to this marriage – James junior and twins who died soon after birth. In 1875, when young James was 2, Catherine died aged 38.
Third marriage in 1876 to Sarah Carlton - They had no children. James senior died in 1877 leaving 5-year-old James junior orphaned and in the care of his new stepmother. The 1881 census shows James living with his stepmother in Glasgow.
But what of the first family? When James senior died in 1877, the eldest son, William, was 26 and Malcolm was 24. The two brothers, both married, ran the family undertaking business soon after their father’s death.
Living in a second household with his stepmother perhaps James had a less prosperous life and at some stage James went to sea. There are various shipping and crew records over the period that could indicate James led a seafaring life but there is insufficient detail to be certain it is the same J. Dobbie that we find enlisting at 43 in Australia.
Looking for DNA - partial success
After a lengthy search in Scotland, a Dobbie relative was eventually found in Vermont, USA. That relative knew of some male Dobbies in New Zealand and she offered to write and make the connection for researchers. It seems that members of William’s family went to New Zealand while Malcolm and family travelled to America but later returned to the UK.
William’s family in New Zealand were aware of James – maybe he had visited them while sailing the world. It is certainly clear that James had New Zealand connections himself, having nominated his next of kin as the son of friends who lived in New Zealand.
From William’s line, a DNA match was found in New Zealand, but our efforts to find someone from James’ mother’s line (Catherine Carlin/Carroll 1837-1875) have not been fruitful. We urge family from the Dobbie, Carroll, Harrigan and Hegarty lines to contact UWCA on the contact points listed below.
DNA is still being sought for family connections to
|Soldier||James DOBBIE 1872-1916|
|Parents||James DOBBIE and Catherine CARLIN|
|Maternal||William CARLIN/CARROLL (b. circa 1810) and Sarah HARRIGAN (1813-73) - Scots born in Northern Ireland.|
|Maternal Grandparents||William HARRIGAN and Catherine HEGARTY /HEGGERTY - both born in Ireland but lived in Scotland|
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