A Visit to Greenock.
How then did I find out that Francis Bullen had an English father?
At first I had no idea and I don’t know if grandma did either. She didn’t say very much about her parents’ early life. Her stories were based around her own memories and experiences yet I felt there were things she would have liked to have found out that she said remained closed even to her and so I have pursued them, in part, for that reason.
In 1996, there was very little genealogical material such as records and censuses on line; to find a birth record, you had to write to or go to the Registry Office or, as in my case, to the General Record Office for Scotland in Edinburgh.
First of all, seven months pregnant in October 1996, I went to Greenock where I talked to the genealogist at the Watt Library who had done some searching for me and she told me that Francis Bullen had definitely owned The Palace Hotel but that it had been demolished in the redevelopments of the town in the 60s and 70s but she had found out he had come from “a little place called Auchtermuchty,” however his birth had not been registered. She added that this was common at the time (the 1850s/60s), especially if the mother had conceived before marriage. Registering a birth only a few months after the wedding would have been an open advertisement of ‘having to get married.’ Some people waited a few months and only registered the baptism as this looked more respectable.
I was disappointed. It was an anticlimax. I had spent so much time hearing about him, wondering about him and bringing him to life in my mind that I couldn’t believe there were so few of his documented origins on that day for me to discover. The genealogist registered my disappointment and said that not everyone found someone grand in their tree. I understood what she meant but finding someone grand wasn’t my concern. I knew he was special and I knew he came from something special. He was different; he had made his mark and I wanted to know how he felt able to do that against the rigid backdrop of Victorian Scotland.
In Greenock Cemetery he has lain with Hannah under a great slab of black stone for almost ninety years. It is a mark of my grandmother's remembrance of the people who brought her up and gave her so much to pass down to me. Standing under the great beech tree that shades them I vowed that the next time I visited, they would mean a great deal more to me than just two names on a gravestone.
Francis Bullen behind The Palace Bar.