John Gordon Dickson

JOHN GORDON DICKSON (JGD) 1.11.1879-21.11.1917

A Peek at his Life and Times to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of his Death

  • Why is the name John Gordon Dickson intruding on the Armitage Family website?
  • Why did his Scottish parents settle in the little Yorkshire village of Beeford?
  • What was he doing in China during the Boxer Rebellion?
  • What took him to Kobe and Yokohama and what made him leave?
  • Why did he take a train from Vladivostok to Petrograd (St Petersburg) in 1917?
  • Why did JGD die on 8, 21 and 23 November 1917?
  • Why is his name on a war memorial?
  • Why write about him now

Imagine a small parish in Scotland. One within the obtuse triangle formed by the cities of Glasgow, Stirling and Edinburgh, roughly six miles south-west of Falkirk and close to a crossing on the River Avon. At that point lies a tiny, agricultural community where life had not changed much over the centuries, then the railway arrived.

Coal began to be exploited on a large scale to fire the furnaces of the Carron Iron Works. The opening of the Slamannan Railway in 1840 led to the rapid exploitation of the whole coalfield. The following years were boom years with the population increasing rapidly as hundreds of miners were attracted by the work. Pits and miner’s rows sprang up all around Slamannan and the village catered to their demands. It now took on the appearance of a real village with bakers, grocers, clothiers, tailors, shoemakers, saddlers and so on. In 1860 the miners set up their own Co-op shop. Gas lighting was provided in 1855. The built up area extended southwards and handsome hotels were erected at the Cross – the St Lawrence in 1846 and the Royal in 1866. The village was at the height of its prosperity.

Source: Bailey, Geoff (2006)

In late 1878, a young couple was preparing to get married in the village. The bride almost certainly observed the code of public morality at the time (Queen Victoria was entering the forty-second year of her reign) by covering herself from head to toe. Underneath layers of clothing, doubtless laced up in a tight corset and probably wearing a fashionable bustle, was twenty year old Eleanor Gordon Liddell. The Reverend Archibald Reid (Free Church of Scotland) conducted her marriage with Dr John Dickson at Crossburn House, Slamannan on Wednesday, 30 October. Archibald had become a missionary under the Rev. John McFarlane, Free Middle Church, Greenock but his true calling was in Slamannan where he stayed from his ordination in 1875 until his death on Christmas Day 1892. During these seventeen years it is likely he got to know the Dickson and Liddell families well. The groom’s father was a grocer in Slamannan, having run the hotel there from 1859 until 1875, and the bride’s father was a grocer in nearby Crossburn. Another Slamannan grocer, Alexander Brown, enters the story but he will have to wait his turn.

John Dickson graduated from Glasgow University in 1874 (Bachelor of Medicine). He was a Licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh and served as ship’s surgeon on the S.S. Patrick (Allan Line). It departed Glasgow for Quebec for the last time on 10 September 1874 before being refitted by its new owners as a sailing ship named Diamant.

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