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Robert Davidson Nicolson

M, #497, b. 11 September 1888, d. 13 September 1970
Last Edited: 28 Dec 2020
1st July 1950, St Pauls' Church, Nethergate, Dundee

Parents:

Father*: Alexander Fairweather Nicolson b. 20 Jan 1866, d. 31 May 1941
Mother*: Mary Hunter McHardy b. 4 Jul 1868
  • Birth*: Robert Davidson Nicolson was born on 11 September 1888 at 3 Crescent Street, Dundee, Angus, Scotland, ; father machine fitter journeyman.
  • He was the son of Alexander Fairweather Nicolson and Mary Hunter McHardy.
  • (Groom) Marriage*: Robert Davidson Nicolson married Martha Rattray McKane, daughter of William McKane and Mary Ann Carmichael, on 10 July 1915 at 10 Dura Street, Dundee, Forfarshire, Scotland, ; 1915 marriages in the district of St Andrew in the burgh of Dundee, ref 168; 1915 on the tenth day of July at 10 Dura Street Dundee after banns according to the forms of the Established Church of Scotland; Robert D Nicolson mechanical engineer, bachelor, 26, 177 Victoria Road Dundee, Alexander Fairweather Nicolson mechanical engineer, Mary Nicolson ms McHardy (dec); Martha R McKane, spinster, 26, 20 Dura Street Dundee, William Mc Kane powerloon tenter, Mary Ann McKane ms Carmichael (dec); signed James Boath Wood, Hannah Ogilvie Murray, Albert Edward Nicolson, witnesses; registered 1915 July 11th at Dundee signed Jas Murray registrar.1
  • (Deceased) Death*: Robert Davidson Nicolson died on 13 September 1970 at Bromley, Kent, England, , at age 82 vol 5a page 993.2,3
  • Probate*: His estate was probated on 13 November 1970 at of Flat 2 Fairland House, Masons Hill, Bromley, Kent, England, ; First name(s)     Robert Davidson
    Last name     Nicolson
    Death year     1970
    Death date     13 Sep 1970
    Probate year     1970
    Probate date     13 Nov 1970
    Residence town     Bromley
    Registry     London
    County     -
    Country     -
    Record set     England & Wales Government Probate Death Index 1858-2019
    Category     Birth, Marriage, Death & Parish Records
    Subcategory     Civil Deaths & Burials
    Collections from     Great Britain, UK None.4,3
  • Passenger List*: He was found on the passenger list of Empress of Scotland Ship Canadian Pacific on 9 May 1946 at Liverpool, England, , Name: Robert D Nicolson Birth Date: abt 1889 Age: 57 Port of Departure: Bombay, India Arrival Date: 9 May 1946 Port of Arrival: Liverpool, England Ports of Voyage: Bombay Ship Name: Empress of Scotland Search Ship Database: View the 'Empress of Scotland' in the 'Passenger Ships and Images' database Shipping line: Canadian Pacific Official Number: 161430; Robert D Nicolson, travelling A class aged 57, proposed address 1 Balmossie Street, Dundee, profession retired, last permanent residence India, intending to be permanently resident in Scotland; along with Martha R Nicolson, aged 57, housewife, other details the same.5
  • Photograph*: Robert Davidson Nicolson and Martha Rattray McKane are in this photograph taken on 1 July 1950 at St Paul's Church, Nethergate, Dundee, Angus, Scotland, , along with Eleanor C McKane.6
    1st July 1950, St Pauls' Church, Nethergate, Dundee
    L-R: Martha McKane Nicolson, Robert Davidson Nicolson, Eleanor McKane Brown
  • Anecdote forWeb*: Catherine Nicolson Miller nursing sister was reminscing about Robert Davidson Nicolson who was a jute engineer in India during the 1930s; had children who all went to High School and lived with their aunt in Balmossie Street (Broughty Ferry/Barnhill) - Bobby (Robert Carmichael) drowned in WWII, Eleanor, Jimmy (in accident after WWII); brought the 'Kukri Knife' brooch to his cousin Kate Miller (ms Nicolson); when he was home from India, they (he & wife) would visit with you.7

Census & Directory Entries

Principal1891Robert Davidson Nicolson appeared in the 1891 census at 51 William Street Forebank, Dundee, Forfarshire, Scotland, .8
Member of Household5 April 1891They was listed as a member of the household of Alexander Fairweather Nicolson in the 1891 census at 51 William Street Forebank, Dundee, Forfarshire, Scotland, . Robert Nicolson son aged 2 born Forfarshire Dundee; Alexander Nicolson head married aged 25 mechanic employed born Forfarshire Dundee; Mary Nicolson wife married aged 21 born Forfarshire Dundee.9
Member of Household31 March 1901They was listed as a member of the household of James Sanderson and Sarah Ann Nicolson in the 1901 census at 55 Victoria Road, Dundee, Forfarshire, Scotland, . Robert Nicolson, boarder, 12, scholar, Dundee; James Sanderson, head, 48, currier of leather, Alloa Clackmannanshire; Sarah, wife, 52, Dundee.10

Education

  • Education*: Robert Davidson Nicolson received a bursary for 2 years study Art & Science evening classes at a Higher or Technical Institution on 11 September 1907 at 177 Victoria Road, Dundee, Forfarshire, Scotland, .11

Family:

Martha Rattray McKane b. c 1888
  • (Groom) Marriage*: Robert Davidson Nicolson married Martha Rattray McKane, daughter of William McKane and Mary Ann Carmichael, on 10 July 1915 at 10 Dura Street, Dundee, Forfarshire, Scotland, ; 1915 marriages in the district of St Andrew in the burgh of Dundee, ref 168; 1915 on the tenth day of July at 10 Dura Street Dundee after banns according to the forms of the Established Church of Scotland; Robert D Nicolson mechanical engineer, bachelor, 26, 177 Victoria Road Dundee, Alexander Fairweather Nicolson mechanical engineer, Mary Nicolson ms McHardy (dec); Martha R McKane, spinster, 26, 20 Dura Street Dundee, William Mc Kane powerloon tenter, Mary Ann McKane ms Carmichael (dec); signed James Boath Wood, Hannah Ogilvie Murray, Albert Edward Nicolson, witnesses; registered 1915 July 11th at Dundee signed Jas Murray registrar.1

Child:

Robert Carmichael Nicolson b. 25 Jul 1916, d. 29 Apr 1941

Notes

  • (Witness) Note for Web: Robert Davidson Nicolson and Robert Nicolson blacksmith, Robert Davidson Nicolson blacksmith, Robert Davidson Nicholson, Robert Davidson Nicholson, Robert Davidson Nicolson textile fitter, Robert Davidson Nicolson and Robert Davidson Nicolson was mentioned with Robert Davidson chemist. I have always wondered why so many of our Robert Nicolsons had/have the middle name of Davidson. I have looked far and wide to try to find a likely candidate marrying into our Nicolson clan, but have drawn a blank. That led me to think about someone who may have been known to the family from their days in Aberdeen. This Robert Davidson is only about 5 or 6 years younger than our Robert Nicolson who was the first (as far as we know) to use the Davidson name for his son born in 1823. Both men lived in the same part of Aberdeen - did they grow up together? Attend the same church? Did our Robert, as a blacksmith, cross paths with Robert Davidson the chemist who was building batteries, an electric locomotive, electric lathe, and electric printing press in the 1830s? Our Robert is in Dundee by 1836.

    The Scientific Tourist: Aberdeen
    Robert Davidson – pioneer electrician
    Robert Davidson (1804-1894) was a man of eclectic interests, an inventor who had originality, vision and even prototype devices but did not have the financial or commercial resource to develop his ideas far enough to better the technology of the day.
    His impact was not in generating a world-beating product or even gaining any significant personal wealth from his inventions but rather in providing an example to his successors of what could be done.
    Davidson was born, schooled, spent much of his working life and died in Aberdeen. He attended the second and third year classes of Marischal College from 1819-1821, including the lecture course of Patrick Copland. Since in due course Davidson established himself as a manufacturer and supplier of chemicals, it is likely that he also
    attended the optional chemistry class at the College given by William Henderson.
    Davidson set himself up in business in the 1820s supplying yeast from premises at Causewayend and then in nearby Canal Road, close to the Aberdeen-Inverurie canal. Via a small, narrow, wooden slatted bridge (the ‘tarry briggie’), Canal Road today crosses the railway line that follows the old canal cutting. In Davidson’s younger days the area was edge-of-town market garden and nursery land that was gradually attracting houses and industry1. Davidson moved from yeast into chemical manufacturing and supplying, and diverse ventures such as file sharpening. He seems, though, to have had two passions: astronomy and electricity. In astronomy he built himself a large reflecting telescope of 35 feet length with a 2 foot diameter mirror that rivalled the largest productions of John Ramage. His telescope, with its big supporting structure of struts and ladders, must have been a landmark in the area for several years but no illustration of it has been found. What brings Robert Davidson into these notes is his electrical developments.
    In the 1830’s, Faraday showed how to generate mechanical motion from electricity, albeit in a way that was useless for exploitation as a practical electric motor. Davidson became fascinated by the possibilities. He constructed his own batteries, not a difficult task for a chemical supplier and man with workshop skills, and by 1837 had made his first fair sized electric motor. In 1840 he held a public “Electromagnetic Exhibition” in Aberdeen and thousands paid 1/- entrance to see a working model electric locomotive able to carry two people, a model electric lathe, a small electric printing press and an electro-magnet that could lift 2 tons when supplied by a suitable battery.
    The motor driving the lathe and printing press had a 5 foot diameter flywheel and the electromagnet had pole pieces 4 inches square. These were not desk-top toys. If Davidson had had this exhibition in 1880, many would have marvelled. This was 1840, truly well ‘ahead of his time’. The Aberdeen Banner prophesised that electromagnetic machinery “will in no distant date supplant steam”’. Davidson took his exhibition to Edinburgh in the following year, where the influential Robert Chambers of encyclopaedia fame made similar remarks and the young James Clerk Maxwell aged 10 was taken by his father to see it. In late 1842, Davidson took his exhibition to London in the hope of attracting sponsorship. By then he had added an electrically powered circular saw that cut 1” square planks in about 1 second and a powerful electric arc made by passing the current through two pieces of coke. He broke even in London but didn’t attract the sponsorship he’d hoped for. His motor was illustrated (above) in an edition of Penny’s Mechanic of 1843.
    Between the Aberdeen and London exhibitions, Davidson built a full-sized prototype electric locomotive called Galvani. It was 16 feet long and weighed about 6 tons. In 1842 it ran at 4 miles per hour on the Glasgow to Edinburgh line (the railways hadn’t reached Aberdeen by then). Unfortunately, Galvani was destroyed before
    Davidson could get it back, by men unknown but suspected of being promoters of steam engines. In truth, Davidson didn’t quite have the necessary technology to make a commercial success of electric railways. His power was provided by chemical batteries that were expensive to produce and to re-charge them the chemicals had to be
    replaced. The re-chargeable lead-acid accumulator wasn’t invented until the end of the 1850s. He was some three decades before even the early days of viable electrical generators that could really make electric transport feasible. It all could have happened much earlier if Davidson had found a patron with deep pockets and patience but no-one was forthcoming in the early 1840s.
    Electric locomotives would make city underground railways a possibility but they didn’t appear in Britain until around 1890. Robert Davison was suddenly found to be still alive and was converted into a media celebrity “Octogenarian Aberdonian - oldest living electrician” e press trumpeted, or words to that effect. The Electrician magazine reported “Robert Davidson was undoubtedly the first to demonstrate the possibility of electrical traction in a practical way”. He was, but the torch he lit did not begin a blaze. Davidson died 4 years later at the age of 90, old enough to see his vision made real at last. Nothing remains in Canal Road of Davidson’s house at no. 32 or his business; only the name and the little road with its tarry briggie, itself a ‘modernisation’ of 1854 that replaced a lower bridge over the canal a little downstream. Davidson is buried in St Peter’s cemetery but his gravestone simply describes him as ‘chemist’.

    John S. Reid
    1 Diane Morgan “The Villages of Aberdeen: Round About Mounthooly”, Denburn Books, Aberdeen (1995),
    outlines how the area has changed over the last two centuries and includes a short chapter on Davidson.

    ---------------

    More info here https://www.scottishfield.co.uk/outdoors/motors/an-electric-future-planned-by-19th-century-scot/.12

Citations

  1. [S64] General Record Office for Scotland, online www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk, General Record Office for Scotland (Edinburgh, Scotland), GROS Statutory Marriage 1915 Dundee St Andrew 282/... 168 image held [Dec 2004].
  2. [S9] Website Ancestry.co.uk (www.ancestry.co.uk) England & Wales, Death Index: 1916-2005, 1970 Jul-Aug-Sep N 10.
  3. [S54] Website findmypast.co.uk (www.findmypast.co.uk) Record Transcription:
    England & Wales Government Probate Death Index 1858-2019 [May 2020].
  4. [S54] Website findmypast.co.uk (www.findmypast.co.uk) England & Wales Government Probate Death Index 1858-2019 Image [May 2020].
  5. [S9] Website Ancestry.co.uk (www.ancestry.co.uk) Source Citation: Class: BT26; Piece: 1217; Item: 65
    Source Information:
    Ancestry.com. UK Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008.
    Original data: Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Inwards Passenger Lists. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA). Series BT26, 1,472 pieces.
  6. [S133] Interview with unknown informant (unknown informant address). Unknown repository (unknown repository address), CNM DGA Wedding Album [1950].
  7. [S33] Interview , CNM [c2004].
  8. [S17] General Record Office for Scotland, online www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk, General Record Office for Scotland (Edinburgh, Scotland), Census 1891 parish etc of Dundee burgh ward IV
    282/04 book 39 page 12
    51 William Street, Forebank, Dundee
    Alexander Nicolson head married aged 25 mechanic employed born Forfarshire Dundee
    Mary Nicolson wife married aged 51 born Forfarshire Dundee
    Robert Nicolson son aged 2 born Forfarshire Dundee.
  9. [S17] General Record Office for Scotland, Census 1891 parish etc of Dundee burgh ward IV 282/04 book 39 page 12; 51 William Street, Forebank, Dundee.
  10. [S9] Website Ancestry.co.uk (www.ancestry.co.uk) Source Citation: Parish: Dundee; ED: 14; Page: 28; Line: 15; Roll: CSSCT1901_100; Year: 1901. Source Information: Ancestry.com. 1901 Scotland Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007. Original data: Scotland. 1901 Scotland Census. Reels 1-446. General Register Office for Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland. [Sept 2011]
  11. [S49] Website Web Site online (www.) Friends of Dundee City Archives http://www.fdca.org.uk/pdf%20files/Bursaries01n.pdf [Feb 2015].
  12. [S49] Website Web Site online (www.) https://homepages.abdn.ac.uk/npmuseum/Scitour/Davidson.pdf