Cousland search reveals hidden story

William Finlay
William Finlay

Cousland woman Sheena Irving recently by chance stumbled upon a hidden story of a relative while researching her family history.

Sheena knew her great-great-grandfather William Finlay (1845-1906) had been blind since his 30s. Listening to the radio one morning last year, she heard a brief news story concerning sight loss charity RNIB Scotland. It was researching the lives of blind and partially sighted people living in Edinburgh and the Lothians in the late Victorian and Edwardian era.

She wondered if they could find any further information on William. Sheena said: “I knew my great-great-grandfather had been blinded after being kicked by a horse, ironically just as he was about to start a job looking at the welfare of working horses in Edinburgh. I had his story which had been written down by his daughter Annie.”

The damage from the kick set up a creeping paralysis which gradually robbed William of his sight.

“I wondered if he might be included in the register of outdoor blind that RNIB Scotland was using for its researches,” continued Sheena.

“I got in touch and the project managed to find him in the register. It was very interesting to be able to add this later part of his story to what we already knew.”

Though he later found work as a dairyman and a railway lorryman, by 1891 William was fully blind and unemployed. By 1901, William was living with his two daughters, Annie and Marion, in a one-room tenement house in Edinburgh’s Lauriston Place. Annie was a compositor and Marion, a book-folder, the girls supporting their father. By then, he had been blind for 12 years. William died on December 9, 1906.

The RNIB Scotland project, funded by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, used the Register of the Edinburgh Society for Promoting Reading Amongst the Blind as the basis of its research, compiled between 1903 and 1911.