Our Past Lives

The stories contained in this one graveyard give us a wealth of information about the people behind the names on the gravestones. Their lives highlight aspects of social history and demonstrate the opportunities, issues and challenges facing people in different eras. As we piece together the records of their lives, we also see the heritage of our local community in Portobello, and the wider society that we are part of. And shedding fresh light on lives lived long ago honours the memories of those whose last resting place was our graveyard and ensures that they will never be forgotten.

Just as each grave represents a unique life, so those carrying out the research have focused on different aspects depending on their knowledge and interests resulting in stories told in different styles and voices. Some of the researchers have skills from uncovering their own family history, for others it is a completely new experience. What everyone shares is a passion for discovery and a determination to uncover the stories behind the stones.

A summary of each story can be found below. Use the linked names to follow the full histories.

George Jack: Grave 15

In loving memory of George Jack died 13 March 1965, dear husband of Amelia Anderson, died 6 April 1969

One short sentence but behind it lies a story full of local detail across three generations. It paints a picture of a working family and shows the variety of trades and the necessity of earning a living in different eras.

Constance Macadam: Grave 31

Constance, daughter of Stevenson and Jessie Macadam, born 6 September 1867, died August 1871.

Less than 4 years old when she died, Constance’s brief life highlights the mortality rate caused by diphtheria, and also brings to our attention a remarkable family who made their home in Portobello.

Caroline Fraser and family: Grave 36

In memory of Caroline Purves Home, the beloved wife of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Warden Fraser of the Bengal Army, who died 12 February 1868 aged 37 years and of their children Francis Home, Hugh MacLean, and Edith Caroline who all died in infancy. Also John Home Biddulph Fraser born 20 December 1857 died 8 August 1875. Robert Warden Fraser Lieut. Col. Bengal Army, died 30 June 1876 aged 70. St. John XIV

The story of Caroline Purves Home and her family is marked by international connections, travel, and the reach of the British Empire as they move from India to Edinburgh before dispersing back across the world.

Robert Forsyth and family: Grave 68

In affectionate remembrance of James Forsyth, son of Robert Forsyth, Marine House, who died 1 February 1881 aged 28 years. Eliza Sarah Blencowe, fourth daughter, who died 15 July 1882 aged 24 years. Also in memory of the above Robert Forsyth who died 16 July 1900 aged 86 years and of his wife Margaret Boyd who died 24 March 1905 aged 91 years. Also their daughter Francis who died 25 March 1924 aged 80 years.

Robert Forsyth’s business interests and his management of the Hot and Cold Sea Baths paint a picture of Portobello in the mid-19th century and show how people with income spent their leisure time.

Clementina and Anne Wemyss

Anne Wemyss, Daughter of the late William Wemyss Esq of Cuttlehill.
Clementyss relict of the late Hon. Sir James Dewar, Chief Justice of Bombay
Died at Portobello 21 January 1834.

Clementina had a short life, dying aged 29, leaving 3 young sons.  Her life leaves only faint races in the records but still tells us much about the distances she travelled and the risks of oversea life in the early nineteenth century.

Boyle Family: Graves 90, 91, 92

In memory of Eliza, the second wife of the Rev John Boyle, LLB, incumbent of this church. She died to his inexpressible grief, deservedly lamented by her family and friends 28 February 1854 aged 44 years and her remains with those of her only child are deposited in the grave below resting, it is confidently believed, in sure and certain hope of a glorious resurrection.

In memory of George Henry Reynell Boyle, born June XV died June XIX MDCCCLII. Of such is the kingdom of heaven

Sacred to the memory of Harriet, the pious and beloved wife of the Revd John Boyle LLB, incumbent of this church. She died 11 March 1850 aged 53 years. And her honoured remains repose in the grave below.

This set of three small gravestones leads us into the story of this family and their lives. It is a story that suggests a time when marriage was viewed in a more practical light but also highlights the emotional impact of grief that transcends any period.

Colonel John Wright and family: Grave 98

Sacred to the memory of Colonel John Wright of the E.I.C.S who died in London on 28 June 1842, of Elizabeth Innes, his wife who died at Moulmein 14 June 1840, of their children who died at Portobello, Maria Charlotte 23 February 1833, Euphemia Tod 14 December 1835, Innes Amelia 11 March 1836 and John Innes, Captain of the E.I.C.S who died at Edinburgh 2 May 1858.

The story of the Wrights reminds us of the fragility of life for children in the early 19th century, whatever social class they are from. It is also a family that faces legal battles including litigation over Colonel Wright’s will.

Joseph Huey

Joseph Huey M.D
Assistant Surgeon in the Kings Light Dragoons
Died 28th April 1838

This stone replaces one erected by his brother officers as a mark of esteem and respect for Their Departed Friend.

Joseph Huey died here in Edinburgh at Piershill Barracks. Whilst the Kings Light Dragoons had seen extensive action abroad, Joseph’s time with them tells us about turbulent political times and civil unrest.  

George Laker: Grave 133

George Laker died 28 January 1911 aged 17. In the service of Col. Sinclair, C.B,. Duddingston House. Faithful unto death.

George Laker was a footman at Duddingston House in the early 1900s. It is likely that his employer paid for his burial and gravestone. George’s death from appendicitis highlights that conditions easily treatable now still had serious consequences at the turn of the 20th century.