CHAPTER 3 – 1863
For Better or Worse
He came earlier than expected and could have done with another month in his mother’s womb, but Margaret could no longer hold him inside her. The constant lifting of heavy water buckets and washing baskets had seen her take to her bed many times in the past two months with strains and aches and pains. Now her time had come again. At noon on March 6, 1863 Andrew Stevenson McMurdo was born at just six pounds, but healthy. Her neighbour Mrs Regans was again in attendance and cast a wicked look at Thomas as her work was done and she closed the door and went back to her own family. Newspaper was placed inside the cradle for extra warmth for his tiny body, and little Andrew slept peacefully beside his exhausted mother. Margaret now had a tiny baby who would need extra care, one year old Margaret, two year old Mary, four year old Davey and six year old Rab who needed her attention, while the older children helped where they could, but the responsibility of keeping them all clean and fed was hers alone. Ten days after he was born, when they were both a little stronger, Andrew Stevenson McMurdo was christened in the Church of Scotland, Muirkirk where his ten brothers and sisters had also been christened.
Two weeks before his baby brother had been born, George, now 23, had asked William Hamilton for his daughter’s hand in marriage. William could see that George was a hard-working man and that he loved Mary, and that, as far as William was concerned, was all he could hope for in a son-in-law. Despite some opposition from his wife, and Mary’s tender age of 18, William Hamilton gave his blessing to the young couple.
“Eleven children,” Mrs Hamilton had said to Mary when she realised that her daughter was serious about the young coal miner. “Eleven children – is that how you see yourself in the future, Mary. Married to a dirty coal miner, barely scraping by in a two-room house?”
Mary had never been afraid to speak up to her mother. In fact, her forthrightness was one of the qualities George most admired about her.
“If God sends me eleven children then I will love them and their father with all my heart,” she answered. “Did you not see the love in that house on Christmas Day? That’s what I want mother. I’ll be a coal miner’s wife and be proud of it.”
“Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you Mary,” said her mother, stoney-faced. “You’ve had more learning than some of the lasses around here, and now you’re going to waste it.”
“How can learning be wasted mother?,” she asked. “I appreciate everything you’ve done for me mother, but I have to make my own life, just as you have done. I’ll be happy, I promise you,” she said softening her voice and taking her mother’s hand. “You’ll see.”
The Banns of Marriage were announced in the church for three Sundays prior to the wedding, as was required by Church law to prevent people from marrying in haste. Three months after his baby brother had been christened, in the same church George McMurdo, 23, eldest son of Thomas and Margaret McMurdo, married 18-year-old Mary Percy Hamilton, daughter of William and Jane Percy Hamilton, on June 15, 1863. The young couple entered marriage full of hope and love and vowed to support each other no matter what came their way. So full of youth and vibrance, they had no way of knowing the sadness that lay before them.