Chisholm: Hugh (unknown – 1806)

Based on the research and writing of Audrey Barney, (Chisholm Cameos, 2004), there are a number of pointers that support our line of the Chisholms coming from the Scottish Highlands although documentary evidence has not been found as yet.

The bloody and violent battle at Culloden in 1764,  abruptly ended centuries of the Celtic way of life. A British social system was imposed on the Highlands dismantling the ancient clan structure. Repressive legal and political measures followed the battle. Jacobite estates were forfeited. Highlanders were forbidden to carry weapons. Highland dress was outlawed. The playing of the bagpipes was banned.  Fines, imprisonment, and exile awaited those clansmen who dared defy the new laws.

With changes to the social structure, the impact of the agricultural revolution and widespread famine there was an ongoing “clearance” policy. For those who did not die from starvation, many Scottish families either migrated voluntarily or were forcibly evicted. Hugh would have been born into this upheaval. Often the births of these children were not registered, as it was not compulsory and it also helped the family to remain “hidden” during a period when being a Highlander would be met with intolerance and discrimination.

It is during this period of upheaval that the first record of my 6 x great grandfather, Hugh Chisholm (Hugh Chysam) appears on his marriage to Hannah Hattersley on 7 September 1795. Both had not been married before and were from the Rotherham parish. As you can see from their marriage registration neither Hugh nor Hannah could write and both signed with an X,

chysam hattersley

They married in the magnificent ancient church of All Saints at Rotherham, also known as Rotherham Minster. Built in the 14th Century it has been described as one of the largest and stateliest churches in Yorkshire.


After their marriage, Hugh and Hannah moved to Greasbrough, a small township with a parish church just 3 kilometres north of Rotherham.  Their first child, John, was baptised on 20 August 1796; Another son, James, was baptised on 11 March 1798 followed by Hugh who was baptised on 13 April 1800. Their fourth son, and my third great grandfather, Daniel, was baptised on 4 April 1802. Their fifth child and only daughter, Hannah, was baptised on 29 June 1804. All of the children were born in Greasbrough.

Hugh’s occupation is recorded as a miner on their birth certificates. The reason they moved to Greasbrough was to be closer to opportunities for work, with a new coal mine being opened in 1795. Mining had been on a small scale well into the late 1780s with the colliery owned by the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam having only 19 “picks” or miners. The coal was either sold locally or shipped by cart to Kilnhurst on the River Don. This situation changed rapidly with the building of the Dearne and Dove Canal improving access to the sea and increased export capacity. Elsecar New Colliery was sunk around 1795 by Earl Fitzwilliam. The colliery had three shafts, two for coal winding and one pumping shaft. They were 120 feet deep.

The traditional nineteenth-century mining community is synonymous with all that is dreary and depressing. Picture a remote village or small town, with row upon row of two-storey terraces, or lines of pit cottages, a few grimy shops, several chapels, more than several pubs, and a barrack-like school. In the nineteenth century many miners in the North East, and in Scotland, lived in houses provided at little or no rent by the employer. They had the virtue of being convenient for work but had little else to commend them. The cottages built for miners who worked in the Elsecar Colliery still stand, and it is likely that Hugh and his family occupied one of these row cottages or something similar in the area. The mixed farming and miners’ dwellings that formed the hamlet were designed by John Carr and provided by Earl Fitzwilliam and were of high quality with long, narrow garden plots surrounded by a stone boundary wall and
internally divided by hedges providing green space and food-producing land for the tenants.

elscar cottages

A row of cottages built at the end of the 18th century by the Earl Fitzwilliam to house miners, probably at Elsecar Old Colliery. Reference: Barnsley Council, Elsecar Historic Area Assessment

There have been few other industries where the work which a man did had such an impact on the way in which he and his family lived. The mine and its community would have been Hugh’s life. Working hours were long and physically arduous, and wages low. We know that, as was common practice, his sons followed him down the pit. The cramped, unhealthy, damp conditions and physical exertion led to numerous of occupational diseases such bronchitis, rheumatism, pneumoconiosis and silicosis, eye diseases, as well as inflammation of the joints called ‘pit knee ‘ and ‘beat elbow’.  Most colliers became asthmatic by the time they reached 30, and many had tuberculosis.  Mining was dangerous with the constant possibility of injury, mutilation or death through accidents. Despite terrible conditions and knowing it would lead to his early death Hugh persevered and undoubtedly hope for a better life for his family.

In August 1806, when Hugh would probably have been in his late thirties, he died. There is no record of the cause of death, accidents at the mine resulting in death were often not recorded or he could have succumbed to one of the many diseases associated with mining.  His death would have devasted the family as he was the main breadwinner. Hannah was left to bring up their five children – the eldest 10 years old, the youngest, Hannah, just two. His name was entered as Hew Chisam in Death Register. Hugh was buried in the graveyard at St Mary’s Greasbrough on 23 August 1806.