Sacred to the memory of William King Tweedie, DD, born 8 May 1803, died 24 March 1863; his wife Margaret Bell born 17 September 1803, died 3 March 1885; their youngest son John Tweedie, India Civil service, born 30 July 1838, died London 1 May 1897, buried Kensal Green Cemetery; youngest daughter Jessie Ann Tweedie born 17 September 1845, died 22 February 1910; eldest daughter Maria Meredith Tweedie born 20 May 1841, died Greenbank, Elie, 10 August 1922; second daughter Margaret Bell born 4 February 1843, died Greenbank, Elie, 19 July 1927; eldest son Major General William Tweedie born 31 October 1836, died Dumfries 16 September 1914, an Indian Mutiny Veteran who saw much active service. Erected by the Congregation of Free Tolbooth Church, Edinburgh. Bronze Medallion of head of Rev. W. K. Tweedie D.D.
William King Tweedie was born in Ayr on 8 May 1803, the third child and elder son of John Tweedie (c.1774-1862) and his wife Janet Kingo (1776-1852), who had married in Edinburgh in 1796. John Tweedie was a gardener who, having learnt his profession working at Edinburgh Botanic Garden and in Dalkeith, moved to Ayrshire, where he is said to have been born. He worked as a landscape designer at a succession of major country houses in Ayrshire: Castlehill (c.1800-?c.1809), Sundrum (c.1810-c.1816), Blairquhan (1816-?) and Eglinton Castle. Then, at the age of 50, he and his wife and six of their children, five daughters and their younger son, James, emigrated to Buenos Aires as members of a group of over two hundred prospective colonists, mostly from Scotland. They left Leith on the sailing ship Symmetry on 22 May 1825, stopped at the Canary Islands and arrived in Buenos Ayres on 8 August 1825.
John Tweedie spent much of the next 37 years until his death exploring as far afield as Patagonia and Brazil, collecting plants and sending seeds and specimens back to the botanic gardens at Glasnevin (Dublin), Glasgow, Edinburgh, Liverpool and Kew, surviving both shipwreck and near starvation on his expeditions. Only two of his children are known to have returned to the U.K.: his youngest daughter, Cecilia and his younger son James.
Cecilia (c.1813-95) married a master mariner, John Presley, in Buenos Aires in 1831 and returned to the U.K., settling first in Liverpool, where her nine children were born, and then in Liscard, near Birkenhead. John Presley was born in Aberdeenshire in 1798 and died in January 1854 when the barque Themis, which he was commander of, was lost in the River Plate.
James Tweedie (1816-66) became a merchant in the South American trade. Sir William Hooker’s correspondence from his time as Regius Professor of Botany at Glasgow University (1820-41) and as Director at Kew Gardens (1841-65) includes letters from or mentioning John Tweedie, and William King Tweedie and James Tweedie are both mentioned in connection with payments to their father for seeds and specimens. James was in Liverpool in 1861 and died in Liscard in June 1866.
In the meantime William King Tweedie had stayed in Scotland. He studied successively at the universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and St Andrews, before spending some 15 months as tutor to the son of ‘Mr Mudie of Pitmuies’, near Forfar, travelling in Europe visiting France, Switzerland, Italy and Germany.
William King Tweedie was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Arbroath in December 1828 and in July 1832 he was ordained as minister of the Scots Church, London Wall. In 1837 he moved to Aberdeen as minister of the South Parish and then in 1842 accepted a call to the Tolbooth Parish in Edinburgh. The following year he took an active part in the Disruption and he and most of his congregation joined the Free Church of Scotland. They retained the name of the Tolbooth Church and bought the Original Secession Church in Infirmary Street where they worshipped until 1858 when they moved to the New Town and a new church in St Andrew’s Square. Tweedie remained their minister until his death in 1862. He assisted Dr Chalmers with the work of the Free Church Sustenation Fund and served as its Convener 1845-47. He was Convener of the Free Church Committee on Foreign Missions from 1848 to 1862 when he resigned on health grounds. He died at his home, 15 George Square, Edinburgh, on 24 March 1863. One of the Edinburgh papers reporting on his funeral commented that the funeral procession from his house to the Grange Cemetery, via Crosscauseway, Clerk Street and Grange Road, was one of the largest seen in Edinburgh for several years.
Tweedie married Margaret Bell on 11 May 1835. She was the daughter of a farmer, Hugh Bell, and his wife Agnes Macdowall, and had been born in Kirkmichael, Ayrshire, on 17 September 1803. They had five children – two sons and three daughters. Their elder son, William (1836-1915), enlisted in the 37th Bengal Infantry in January 1857 and after a two month steamship voyage around the Cape of Good Hope arrived in India on 4 March 1857, two months before the start of the Indian Mutiny. After recovering from being severely wounded in the right shoulder at Benares in June 1857 he volunteered for service with the 78th Highlanders under the overall command of Major-General Sir Henry Havelock and took part in the first relief of Lucknow and the subsequent defence of the besieged Residency there. He went on to have a distinguished career in India and elsewhere including taking part in Lord Napier’s Abyssinian expedition in 1867-68 as Napier’s political secretary. He served as Resident & then Consul General in Baghdad between 1881 and 1891, during which time he undertook a study of the valuable Arabian horse trade and wrote a definitive book on The Arabian Horse, His Country and His People which was published by Blackwood’s in 1894. He retired back to Scotland and settled in Dunscore. A recognized authority on Oriental languages and Indian and Arab customs, he was consulted by scholars, authors and the British government. William married Emily Harriet Whitmore while home on leave in 1877 but they had no children and he left his property to Edinburgh University which used it to establish the Tweedie Exploration Fund which still exists today. Emily died in 1912 and William two years later.
William’s younger brother John (1838-97) also went to India but had a less adventurous career as a member of the Bengal Civil Service, serving as a magistrate and a judge. He married Judith Davidson in 1868 and they had four children – 3 sons and a daughter – born in India. He retired in 1895 and died in London two years later.
William King Tweedie’s three daughters – Maria Meredith Tweedie (1841-1921), Margaret Bell Tweedie (1843-1927) and Jessie Anne Tweedie (1845-1910) – lived at Greenbank in Elie, Fife, for many years and all died unmarried.
The Fermanagh Mail, Enniskillen Chronicle and Erne Packet, Monday 07 July 1862, quoting an obituary of John Tweedie published in the Gardeners’ Chronicle, 28 June 1862, p. 597, which was in turn quoting a report in the Weekly Standard of Buenos Aires.
Royal Botanic Garden Kew Archive Catalogue http://www.calmview.eu/kew/calmview/default.aspx: Sir Joseph Hooker correspondence
Daily Review (Edinburgh), 30 March 1863, report of funeral
Who Was Who: Major-General William Tweedie
Grange Association Newsletter, May 2021, p. 3