Donor-Ronald McNeilage (1935-1959) and David Gordon Nicolson (1870-1952)
Calves in the Cabbage Patch by J Denovan Adam (1841-1896) Acc 3442
Donated in July 19491, the painting was bought from an auction held at the Crown Hall Auction Rooms in Glasgow on 8th April 1949 for £1.2 ( Today a Denovan Adam painting can fetch as much as £60003).
Joseph Denovan Adam was a Scottish painter specialising in the painting of animals, Highland landscapes and still life. In 1887 he set up a school of animal painting at Craigmill near Stirling which became the centre for a group of Stirling and Glasgow artists. It was based on Adam’s small farm where students were encouraged to paint his herd of Highland Cattle from life.4
The painting was exhibited at the Smith Art Gallery in Stirling in 1996 in an exhibition called, Mountain,Meadow,Moss and Moor. 5
Ronald McNeilage (1935-1959)
The official donor of this painting is rather unusual as he was only 14 years old when he gave the painting to Glasgow. At the time of the donation Ronald was a patient in Killearn Hospital, Stirlingshire, suffering from a brain tumour. The brain tumour was pressing on an optical nerve and affected his eyesight. Killearn Hospital was a specialist hospital which dealt with brain injuries and illness which affected the brain. His parents were Alexander McNeilage, an electrical engineer, and Jessie Lowe Nicolson. They lived at 32 Alden Road Newlands, Glasgow at that time.
The Director of Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum, Dr Tom Honeyman, wrote to Ronald thanking him for the painting . Ronald was so proud of the letter that he had it framed and showed it to all his visitors. Dr Honeyman even wrote again to Ronald who was still in hospital, in November 1949 to say that Ronald was still in the thoughts of himself and the staff of the Art Galleries.
As one might guess there was more to this story. In fact it was Ronald’s maternal grandfather, David Gordon Nicolson (DGN), who masterminded this donation. After acquiring the painting he wrote to Dr Honeyman explaining the circumstances of his grandson’s illness and asked him to write the letter of thanks to his grandson.6 As we already know DGN had bought the painting for £1 in at an auction in Glasgow in 1949 (buying and selling Figure 2. paintings at auctions was a hobby) and hatched the plan for its donation probably hoping this would cheer up his grandson who was in hospital for the greater part of 1949.
According to his younger brother, Alan, Ronald was in and out of Killearn for the next ten years . He had several operations and was under the care of neurosurgeon James Sloan Robertson. Ronald eventually went to work for the RNIB in Glasgow where he was a library assistant. Both Ronald and Alan were pupils at Glasgow High School.7
David Gordon Nicolson (1871-1952)
Thus our true donor is David Gordon Nicolson (DGN). He was born in Dunse, Berwickshire. His father, David William Nicolson, was a mariner and his mother was Mary Jane Whitelaw.8 The couple were married in Liverpool where Mary’s family ran a boarding house.9 Perhaps DGN’s father had been a lodger at the boarding house when his ship came to Liverpool? DGN had an elder brother William Darling and a sister Janet, known as Jessie. By 1881 the family had moved to Musselburgh. The father was not on the census and was presumably at sea.10
David was a pupil at Musselburgh Grammar School which was managed by the Musselburgh School Board. In July 1885 at the age of 14 he was employed as a pupil -teacher at the school. 11 At that time in Scotland and in England this was one road into teaching.
At the age of fourteen (after Standard III) the best pupils in a school were chosen to stay on as pupil-teachers. They remained as pupil-teachers until they were 18.
They were paid a salary starting at £10 per annum rising to £20. Schools were allowed to have one pupil teacher per 25 pupils and were paid to have pupil teachers. Pupil -teachers had to sit an examination every year and were annually inspected.12
David remained as a pupil- teacher until 10th September 1889 when he left the Musselburgh School to take up the post of uncertificated teacher at Brand’s School Milnathort in Kinrosshire.13 It was common for ex-pupil teachers to work as uncertificated teachers after completing their ‘ apprenticeship’. We know he remained at Brands School for 15 months.14
DGN was back in Musselburgh at the time of the 1891 Census, usually held in March. He was listed in the census as a ‘teacher of English’ while his sister Janet was a ‘certificated teacher’. It is unknown at this point in which school they were teaching. Mary, DGN’s, mother appears to have been running a boarding house as there were two more certificated teachers and one assistant teacher living as lodgers at the same address. Running a boarding house appears to have been a Whitelaw family business.
It is unknown at this time where DGN was between March 1891 and February 1892. There is a family story, backed up by a photograph of DGN in uniform that he served in the Boer War, however he does not appear in any of the military records.15 Information from Dr Patrick Watt of the National Museum of Scotland suggested the photograph was taken in the 1890s and identified the uniform as that of the Royal Scots, possibly a volunteer battalion. Perhaps DGN, like many other young men of that time had joined one of the volunteer regiments. The Royal Scots were the local Edinburgh Regiment based at Glencorse Barracks. The photograph may have been taken at the annual summer camp which was part of the commitment required of volunteer soldiers.
In February 1892 DGN began a course at the Church of Scotland Teacher Training College in Edinburgh. He was there for two years graduating in December 1893 25th out of a class of 13416. There is little information as to how teacher training was financed during the 1890s. Until the 1860s pupil -teachers could sit a competitive examination for a Queens Bursary of £25 per year for men (less for women) which would maintain them while at college. Presumably college fees would be paid as well.17 There is some evidence that these bursaries carried on after the 1872 Elementary Schools (Scotland)Act when there was a huge rise in demand for teachers. It is not known if DGN was in receipt of a bursary as the records of male students have been lost but the list of female students records some in receipt of a bursary.18
Until 1905 provision of teacher training was in the hands of the churches either the Church of Scotland, the Free Church of Scotland, the Catholic Church or the Episcopalian Church. The latter two were much smaller organisations. In Edinburgh the Church of Scotland Teacher Training College was first in Johnston Terrace and then in Chambers Street while the Free Church Training College was at Moray House. In 1905 teacher training was taken out of the hands of the churches and taken over by the Scotch Education Department as it was then known. The two Presbyterian Edinburgh Colleges amalgamated in 1907 and became Moray House Teacher Training College, one of four Provincial Training Colleges in Scotland, the others being in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee.19
In January 1894 DGN began his first post as a probationary teacher at Grahamston Public School in Barrhead, Renfrewshire. The headmaster of the School was James Maxton, father of the James Maxton who became the ‘Red Clydesider ‘ MP in the 1920s.20 Even though he was in his first year of probation DGN was given Standards 1V,V and V1 to teach- in other words what would be known today as Secondary Education which had only been publicly funded since 1892. The 1872 Act had only provided public funds for elementary education before that date.21
.DGN’s appointment possibly came about as a result of comments made by the School Inspector during his annual visit to Grahamston School in 1893. When commenting on the Senior School, Standards 1V,V and V1 –“The staff of the senior department would require to be strengthened if these subjects are to be carried on to any further extent.”22
DGN seems to have settled in well as the log book entry for February 2nd 1894 states,” Mr Nicolson is promising very well and manages Standard 1V… very satisfactorily”. DGN completed his two year probation and became a certificated teacher in February 1896.23 As the log books show, at this time schools underwent an inspection every year and the results of that inspection affected the annual grant given by the SED.
In December 1896 DGN married Ellen Agnes Robertson in Musselburgh.24 DGN’s home before his marriage was in Albany Place Nitshill where he appears to have been a lodger. 25
DGN was obviously ambitious and keen to earn extra money as he quickly became involved in teaching evening classes at various schools under the Neilston Parish School Board. There are several entries in the minutes of the Evening Class Committees of the Neilston Parish School Board from 1895 onwards regarding DGN’s involvement in evening class teaching at Cross Arthurlie Evening School and Uplawmoor Evening School where he was described as ‘Chief Teacher’ of the evening school.26
On April 29th 1898 after four years at Grahamston Public School another entry in the log book tells us that on the order of the Neilston Parish School Board Mr DG Nicolson was to be transferred to another Barrhead School i.e. Cross Arthurlie Public School (also under the Neilston Parish School Board) as First Assistant27(Deputy Head today). The Nicolsons continued to live at Nitshill where in 1898 a daughter Ellen was born. Mary followed in 1900 shortly after which the family were living at 36 Carlibar Road Barrhead in a block of 3 storey tenements.28.
In 1902 the Nicolsons moved to Uplawmoor, Renfrewshire as on 8th September DGN took up his duties as headteacher of Uplawmoor Public School, living in the School House.29
DGN was a keen golfer and was one of the founder members of the Caldwell Golf Club, Uplawmoor, in 1903. The first meeting was held at the Old School House in the village, DGN’s home. He became the club’s first secretary and treasurer.30
While at Uplawmoor DGN was given leave of absence for two weeks to attend,” a course of instruction at the Royal College of Art ,South Kensington”. DGN had a keen interest and talent in artistic subjects. In the annual Inspectors Report in May 1904 DGN was praised for his teaching of the Supplementary Course in art subjects single-handed.31
In 1905 DGN was transferred to Neilston Public School as Headmaster, again living in the School House. This was probably because of the sudden death of the headmaster, Duncan Martin in February 1905. DGN’s salary was £200 per annum and use of the School House. Both Uplawmoor and Neilston schools were managed by the Neilston Parish School Board. The family lived at 47 High Street Neilston which was the School House.32 DGN is credited with starting the Neilston School Magazine.33
In 1908 another daughter, Jessie Lowe was born. She became the mother of our young donor Ronald.34
DGN remained at Neilston until 1924 when he was appointed Headmaster of Mearns Street School in Greenock.35 He was headmaster of Mearns Street School until his retirement in 1932.36
According to his grandson, Alan, DGN was a keen chess player and a member, Honorary Secretary and Treasurer for several years , of Glasgow Chess Club which met in the Athenaeum building in Glasgow. As we know he was a keen golfer. He was a keen angler too. His efforts were once reported in the press when he spent three hours on the River Stinchar bringing in a salmon with a trout rod. He used to go and stay at the Portsonach Hotel on Loch Awe and look after the fishing for hotel guests. His grandson, Alan, visited the Hotel in 1959 and found his grandfather’s handwriting in the catch record book.
DGN was a talented sketcher and loved carving items such as animals out of wood. As we have seen, a favourite hobby was going to art auctions and buying and selling paintings. On his retirement he presented a painting to Mearns Street School and as we know he bought a painting for his grandson to present to Glasgow.
DGN was a freemason, holding the office of Provincial Grand Junior Warden for Renfrewshire East based in Paisley. On January 1st 1932 for holding this office DGN was presented with a small wooden mallet made from the old rafters of Paisley Abbey.37
DGN’s retirement was not short of adventure. In July 1937, he and Ellen his wife, daughter Ellen and son-in -law John embarked on a road trip to Venice. Ellen chose Venice as she said she wanted to make sure, “it wasn’t just a Fairy Tale”. They travelled in a Hillman Minx-AGG 149- which the young people had just bought on HP. (see figure 2)
Details of the trip filled 4 large scraps books hand-written by DGN and illustrated with his own sketches as well as receipts for hotels and restaurants.©
What was known as the Automobile Association in those days was extremely helpful providing them with routes and all the official documents they needed for the trip for the car and for themselves. The AA, as it is known today ,arranged the ferry crossing from Dover to Calais with AA representatives to smooth the path at the ports, all for £12/11/-(£12 and 11 shillings-£12 60 pence today). Each car had to be hoisted on board as there was no such thing as a roll-on roll-off car ferry in 1937.
There is no time or space here to go into too much detail of the trip but from the first stop of the trip outside Doncaster where bed, breakfast and supper for four at the Rosery Cafe was 30 shillings (about £1.25 today), they travelled to Dover where bed and breakfast and supper cost seven shillings each (about 70pence). They then drove through France, Switzerland and Italy to Venice where they spent only a few days before starting the journey home.
The party travelled back through Austria, Germany and Belgium where they spent time at the Great War Battlefields such as Ypres. The scrapbooks are fascinating to read. They tell of hair- raising climbs up mountain passes such as the Brenner Pass as well as friendly meetings with local people and visiting places of interest such as Versailles, Cologne Cathedral and St Marks in Venice.
The travellers had taken with them a small spirit stove and everywhere they went in all the countries they passed through, often staying only one night, they made tea and had lunch by the roadside on most days, eating locally bought provisions.
They were in Italy during the time of Mussolini and in Germany during the time of the Third Reich where they only once came into contact with,” that Heil Hitler nonsense “, as DGN put it. In all they covered 3,500 miles in AGGI 49 as the car became known, having developed a personality by the time the party had travelled in her for a while. The car never travelled above 55 miles an hour and never had a puncture.38
Ellen died in 194339 and eventually DGN went to live with his daughter Ellen in Hamilton from where he masterminded the donation of Calves in a Cabbage Patch on behalf of his grandson Ronald. David Gordon Nicolson die on March 2nd 1952.40
And what of our young donor Ronald? Unfortunately at the age of 24, after years of being in and out of hospital for numerous operations, the brain tumour returned once again41 and, sadly, Ronald died in Killearn Hospital on September 13th 1959.42 At least his grandfather did not live to see that.
While researching David Gordon Nicholson, entries were found on the http://www.ancestry.co.uk website referring to photographs of one David G Nicolson. They were posted by Lorraine Whitelaw Speirs who lives in Vancouver. As Whitelaw was the maiden name of DGN’s mother the owner of these photographs was contacted in order to confirm that the posts referred to DGN. Mrs Lorraine Whitelaw Spiers revealed that she was a descendant of Robert, younger brother of Mary Whitelaw, mother of DGN. Lorraine knew nothing of the McNeilage side of the family but had visited Scotland several times researching her family. When Alan McNeilage, Ronald’s younger brother and grandson of DGN was informed of the existence of a branch of the family of which he was unaware he was delighted. By pure chance he and his wife Caryl had a holiday planned in July 2018 to Vancouver. Alan and Lorraine are now in touch by e-mail and plan to meet during the visit. Who says there is no such thing as co-incidence?
1.Glasgow Museums Resource Centre. Object Files. Adam, J Donevan.
Acc 3442 1/1/563 (GMRC)
4.Julian Halsby, Paul Harris. The Dictionary of Scottish Painters 1600 to the Present. Canongate 2001 p.1
5.Glasgow Herald 7/7/1996
7.Interview with Alan McNeilage, grandson of DGN. 16/04/2018(A. McNeilage)
8.www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk. Statutory Births
9.www.ancestry.co.uk. Statutory Marriages
10.UK Census 1881
11.East Lothian Archives. SCH 34/1/1
12.Marjorie Cruikshank History of the Training of Teachers in Scotland.University of London 1979.p.56
13.East Lothian Archives SCH 34/1/1
14.Grahamston Public School Log Book 19/01/1894. Glasgow City Archives (GCA) REF. C02/5/6/4/1
16.Edinburgh University Library. Special Collections. REF GB237EUA 1N18.(EUL)
20.Grahamston Public School Log Book. 19/01/1894.GCA Ref. C02/5/6/4/1
22.Grahamston Public School Log Book. 06/05/1893.GCA Ref.C02/5/6/4/1
23. As above 02/02/1896
24. http://www.ancestry.co.uk.Statutory Marriages.
25. http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk. Valuation Rolls 1895
26.Neilston Public School Board Minutes. GCA Ref.C02/5/3/14/11
27.Grahamston Public School Log Book 29/04/1898.Ref.GCA C02/5/6/4/1
28.UK Census 1901
29.Uplawmoor Public School Log Book 08/09/1902.Ref.GCA C02/5/6/78/2
30. Caldwell Golf Club:The First Hundred Years-1903-2003. Akros Printers 2003
31.GCA.Ref.C02/5/6/78/2. Supplementary Classes were classes aimed at the Intermediate and Leaving Certificate for pupils who stayed on after the age of 14. See Cruikshank.
32.Berwickshire News and Advertiser 11/04/1905
33.e-mail correspondence with Lorraine Whitelaw Speirs
34.UK Census 1910
35.Sunday Post 06/07/1924
38. To Venice and Back July 1937.Scrapbooks 1-4 A. McNeilage Family Papers.
39. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk Statutory Deaths
41. A McNeilage
42. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk Statutory Deaths
Many thanks to Alan McNeilage and his wife Caryl for their hospitality and for the supply of so much invaluable information from family papers and photographs. JMM