Alexander Howison (b.1795): Home & Family – Writing Lives

Alexander Howison (b.1795): Home & Family

‘They were poor but honest’- Alexander Howison (p1)


The way Alexander writes his memoir tangles home and family life and his working life very closely. He worked for his family as a young boy to help his mother and as a man to provide for his wife and children. When he worked on the ships there was no one to please but himself but when he settles with a family of his own he steps up to the mark. I shall try to decipher between Family and Work posts however for the sake of context some facts will overlap into both posts.

Within Alexander’s life it is clear that family is of noteworthy importance to his memoir he also knows that to relate a brief explanation of his parents would ‘not be out of place’ (p.1). However after the initial explanation of them, they do not frequent the rest of his memoir. It is also  worth noting that his mother and father are both referred to as such and no Christian names are observed, however through researching Alexander using family tree websites, I have discovered his parents to be, John Howison and Janet Millar.

Alexander portrays his family life as a simple one, where they were ‘poor but honest’ (p.1) His father had married twice, resulting in two sons and a daughter from his first marriage and three sons and three daughters from his second. Alexander is ‘the Benjamin of the whole’ (p.2) That is to say the youngest of the brood.

Alexanders focus on family life falls on his childhood and when he becomes a father, in between he is fairly free and doesn’t comment much on home life. Presumably because it was difficult to contact each other as the postal system was poor and Alexander moved around so much, swapping ships and countries.

Alexander had two full brothers, William, Peter, he speaks mostly about them when referring to memories and it appears they were close. When Alexander took his first job it was these two brothers who came to visit and as it was time for the visit to end the bond becomes obvious as he recalls, ‘In looking at one another I cannot say who shed the most tears’ (p.3) and he made the decision to abandon his job and pay and go home with them. It is unstated on the reaction to the family exhibited when he came home. His mother is something of a fearsome lady, after a dispute over her ‘right of drying clothes with another woman’ she caused much damaged to  ‘her opponent’s arm in the scuffle’ and charges were pressed with the police, when Alexander left his second job after only 3 days employment his mother somehow secured the ten shillings they agreed with the ‘miser’ on by ‘some strong language on her part’. (p.4)

Jaundice examples for the discoloration of skin that effected Alexander
Jaundice examples for the discoloration of skin that effected Alexander

The motherly role is observed primarily when Alexander contracts jaundice while away and states that ‘the council of my mind decidedly fixed that I should see my mother.’ (p.10) He travels miles, sleeping in barns and on the good grace of strangers he makes it home. His illness of Yellow Jaundice is advanced, however being home he is taken care of and makes a full recovery in a few weeks. When his Captain comes looking for his apprentice, his parents worried for Alexanders health buy up his ‘indenture’ (p.13) and bought his liberty. Alexander in the end felt it was an error as he went back to digging for a pittance of what he earned at sea, however he says he did not believe his ‘parents had any motive or view to hurt’ him (p.13)

Alexander gives no clue to why his father married again, he also doesn’t state how much the children all took to each other or if they are a happy. Of course he doesn’t allude to anything that would prevent them from being a large happy family either. He obviously loves his brothers and in his life has worked closely with them apart from the recollection of being children at the

Alexander is matter of fact in the way he writes and even the expression of loss is not portrayed with much emotion. ‘His oldest son – lived only eleven days’.

‘He had another son the following year, in 1819, ‘baptized in the Mountaineer meeting house, North Bridge, Airdale and named John.’ (p.51) ‘Mrs H. gave birth to her oldest daughter Agnes on 22nd Feb. 1822. She died of croup on the 30th October same year.’ His second daughter Janet was born 21st September 1823 and was baptized in the Broomknowe Church, Airdrie.

Here he states ‘Two back breads in this churchyard belong to me on the west side of the church – which will belong to my family after my life is extinct not forgetting Mrs. A.H. (p.53)

Their home Marystone House saw the birth of Thomas on the 18th July 1826 and his daughter Jean was born on the 4th of July 1828. On the 10th of February 1832 Peter, his fourth son, but 7th of all the children was born. Alexander supposed he was the Benjamin of the family like he himself was, his birth marked the time that Cholera appeared in Scotland and just eight days after Mrs. H. contracted the disease and was now on her sick bed.

His alternative to his family is of course, for the most part, the ships. They become his home and the other sailors his family until he meets Mrs. H. and has a business, a home and children of his own. His expresses himself emotionally for only the third time (after his first description of missing his brothers when he got his first job and the wish to see his mother when he contracted Jaundice) Alexander laments the impending loss of his love to such an untimely demise. ‘A great soul takes no delight in staying with the body. It considers whence it came and considers wither it is to go’ (p.57) He doesn’t state if or when she actually died, at all events I looked out and fixed in my mind her sepulchre in the garden – [it wasn’t however] required at the time.’ (p.58) He obviously as a lot of love for his family and even though he doesn’t write with pure emotion it is possible that a life on the ships had made him the man he was expected to be, a masculine protector who had no business with emotional narratives.

Works Cited:

‘British industrial revolution’ Carron Co. N.d. Web. Accessed 11 December 2014.

Howison. Alexander. (n.d) Autobiography of Alexander Howison ‘Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library. 1:354

Picture A taken from:



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