Excerpt from Seeking John Campbell (2)

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…At the end of April 1825, Hugh and his family, under the patronage of Grierson, headed to Edinburgh by stagecoach. It seems that Grierson, as a goodwill gesture, paid Robson, three other ploughmen and two servant girls a half-year’s salary in advance of sailing to the Argentine. In addition, Grierson also bore the cost of travel to Edinburgh and three weeks’ accommodation for Robson’s family as they waited close to the port of Leith.4

On the other side of Scotland, in East Lothian, Thomas Bell, a twenty-seven-year-old bachelor and farm bailiff, was also tempted by the offer of a new and exciting life on the other side of the world. Thomas was the eldest son of James Bell, a ploughman from East Barns, only a few miles from the east coast of Scotland and exposed to the elements of the North Sea. He would be one of many from a concentrated area, within a triangle drawn from Haddington, North Berwick and Cockburnspath, to settle in Argentina over the next quarter of a century.

By the middle of May, most of Robertson’s recruits: farmers, ploughmen, tradesmen and their families, had arrived at the thriving Edinburgh metropolis. For most, travelling from the country and from villages with no more than a thousand inhabitants, it must have been a shock to their senses. The grey granite castle dominated the skyline of the Old Town, which had become so overcrowded that many lived alongside the rats in windowless rooms beneath the High Street. However, across a new monumental bridge to Edinburgh New Town lay a more genteel part of the city, occupied by the middle class. Whereas Glasgow had expanded rapidly, through industry, Edinburgh was home to banks, insurance companies and stockbrokers, making it the largest financial centre outside of London. The population of the city had grown by 50 per cent to 150,000 since the turn of the century, and was further increased by the transient tourists who were flocking to Scotland, encouraged by the works of Sir Walter Scott. To cope, eight mail coaches and fifty stage coaches were leaving the city every day.5 Add to this the excitement and apprehension of the trip ahead and the sadness of leaving families and friends behind and one can imagine the mental turmoil of the migrants as they waited in lodgings before being called to their ship.

At Leith, Edinburgh’s port, from where the group was to depart, things were different, but no better. Dockers and porters milled around looking for work; sailors sought their pleasure between voyages and carts clattered along the cobbled streets, ferrying goods and passengers to the dockside for onward transfer to their ships. The noise was relentless, from humans and livestock alike.

One of those ships, the Symmetry, was a three-masted square-rigger, contracted by John Parish Robertson to sail to Buenos Ayres. She was anchored a couple of miles offshore on the Leith Roads, an area in the Firth of Forth protected by the small island of Inverkeith. The waiting passengers were transported out to the ship by lightermen during the days prior to departure, and were assigned their cramped accommodation. Meanwhile, Robertson’s agents scurried around ensuring that final provisions were loaded. On Sunday, 22 May 1825, the Symmetry slipped anchor and slowly processed out of the Firth of Forth and into open sea; for the emigrants there was no turning back. However, within three days those who had spent their lives on the land were suffering another bout of seasickness, and were ‘crying out to be set ashore’.6

During the next two and a half months, life on board the Symmetry was tedious and most of the time William Grierson, in his diary of the voyage, is restricted to a dry account of the weather.7 The monotony was broken only by the occasional storm, bouts of seasickness and other ailments amongst the passengers, and the birth of children or Grierson’s piglets. It was therefore with relief that, at the end of July, land was finally sighted and the Symmetry slowly moved from the Atlantic Ocean into the mouth of the River Plate, the widest river in the world. As they passed a point adjacent to Montevideo, the colour of the river gradually changed to a muddy brown, the result of sediment moving down and out of the rivers Parana and Uruguay.

On 8 August the Symmetry dropped anchor off Buenos Ayres. The channels around this port city were difficult and, as there were no landing piers, moles (sea walls), which were only accessible at high tide, had to be used. In order to reach dry land, passengers and equipment had to be decanted from ship to large rowing boats called whalers, and from boat to shore by a carty. These were extraordinary horse-drawn carts with large-circumference wheels to keep both people and goods above water when access to a mole was not possible. It was a full three days before the arduous process was complete and all of the prospective colonists had set foot on the unpaved and muddy roads of Buenos Ayres. In trepidation, some carried loaded pistols purchased before they had left Scotland, which, at the very least, provided some psychological protection against any perceived threat from the dark-skinned locals speaking in a strange tongue.

An advance party had already visited the parcel of land on which they were to settle, but it was not that which the government had contracted to them. After signing the contract, the Robertsons had discovered that the government did not own suitable agricultural land in the vicinity of Buenos Ayres, so, prior to the arrival of the Symmetry, they had been forced to purchase a 16,600 acre plot, in an area called Monte Grande. The land was centred around the Santa Catalina estate and cost the brothers around 60,000 pesos (c. £1m), an expenditure that would return to haunt them.8

After a couple of days in Buenos Ayres, the party made the six-league (c. 36-mile) final leg of their journey using the traditional method of transport from the city to the pampas: a train of bullock carts. Six beasts pulled each cart, which were made entirely of quebracho wood, some covered with a tolda made from a thatch of small sticks covered with hide in order to protect both passengers and their chattels from the elements. The Scots were apparently unimpressed by Buenos Ayres and so, with relief, the migrants moved out of the city area into the pampas. However, this landscape was also alien to them. The land was flat as far as the eye could see, creating a big sky which, if the weather was fine, was studded with white cotton-wool clouds. Few trees existed to provide depth and colour to the vista and only the colour of the wild verbena and other shrubs broke up the acres of pampas grass swaying in the breeze.

A month, almost to the day, after stepping onto Argentine land, Hugh Robson’s wife gave birth to a son, their eighth child, and in recognition of the efforts of the Robertson brothers they named him William Parrish Robson. Hugh’s immediate family was now complete, and many years later his great-grandson, John Argentine Campbell, would become the subject of my research as a possible father for Isabel.


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Paperback proof copies

All books were printed on creme paper and the first to arrive was a Createspace proof from the USA (middle book in image). Blogs had already warned me that the creme paper was the most yellow but without any comparison I was more than satisfied with the end product.

Then came the Ingram Spark version printed by Lightning Source in the UK (the bottom book). This was thinner than Createspace and less yellow but had a disconcerting wavyness to it which can still be seen despite pressing under weight.

Finally the more expensive heavy weighted paper from a POD company in the UK (top book). This was altogether the best product and the creme paper was the lightest in colour.

three book combined

I had read that the wavyness  of the Lightning Source book was due to the heat from thermal digital printing and on closer inspection I could see an embossed sheen on the print and the images. This was not the case on the other two books which must use a different print method. The upside was that the images were much more crisp. Even though I am using Creatspace to supply Amazon UK it will be the Lightning Source version that is most likely supplied in the UK as Createspace outsource production here.

print three books

The image above shows the print and the colour of the creme paper more clearly. The book are in the same order top to bottom as the previous image.


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Print on Demand

The decision regarding Print on Demand suppliers is a minefield because of the burgeoning options available and the particular issues around Amazon’s preferred supplier, Createspace.


This task was helped by Karen Inglis’ excellent and now updated blog on the subject.

My decision was to use Createspace to distribute to Amazon globally and Ingram Spark for all other outlets including bookstores. For the ebook format I have chosen Kindle direct for Amazon and Smashwords for all other formats.

I also decided to order advance copies through Chandler Book Designs preferred POD printer in the UK. Chandler supplied the hi res pdf file and three different book covers to satisfy the different paper weights of the three POD suppliers which required varying spine sizes. Despite the doom and gloom comments on various blogs about difficulties in setting up Createspace and Ingram Spark accounts I did not have a problem and my pdf upload went smoothly.


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The blog of my month in Argentina

Most of March 2014 was spent in Argentina and between my last minute research I had time for sightseeing in Buenos Aires.

One of the most interesting places I visited was  Recoleta cemetary the final resting place of Eva Peron amongst others.


In previous posts I have given you an insight into my search for the properties of my three John Campbells.  However during my trip I posted a blog mainly for family and friends who wished to followed my movements around the country.

This you can now follow in chronological order by visiting Surviving Argentina.

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A month in Argentina (4)

John Argentine Campbell was a formidable sportsman and polo player. After being schooled at Fettes College and going up to Cambridge John returned to the Argentine and c. 1905 built the house below in the English style on land which formed part of his fathers estate.

In the garden stands an enormous english oak tree.

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House at Estancia El Jabali mapped HERE

John’s grandson now lives in the house and runs a large dairy herd on Estancia el Jabali. I was honoured to be invited to stay and learn more about the family.


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A month in Argentina (3)

From Monte Buey I took two more overnight buses. The first to Cordoba and the second to San Miguel de Tucuman where the decalartion of the Argentine independence was made in 1825.

John Otto Campbell sold Los Dos Hermanos after WWI and moved to Tucuman province. In his war records he had given his address as Alpachiri a small village difficult to find on any map. I hired a car and drove to Alpachiri as I believed JOC may have lived in woodland in the foothills of what is now a national park.

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The river Las Pavas which I had to cross as I climbed into the national park and the red roof of puesto La Mesada where John Campbell may have lived during the summer. (The map location HERE is the entrance to the park)

Reaching the national park was more difficult than I had imagined and I was fortunate that the owner of the trekking lodge where I stayed insisted on accompanying me. My little car had forded a number of rivers before we reached the entrance which was already 900 mtrs above sea level. We walked into the park and relentlessly climbed for over 1.5 hrs  until we reached a sign saying that la Mesada, the hut reputedly owned by JOC, was a further 9kms. A bridge too far.

The image above shows one of several streams we had to wade through en route and the blurred image below is La Mesada taken from a poster in the rangers office.

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A month in Argentina (2)

A bus and taxi from Buenos Aires took me to Monte Buey.

The following morning I set out with a local architect and an interpreter to locate the Estancia Los Dos Hermanos which had been owned by John Otto Campbell between 1905 and 1918. I was armed with an old photograph of the barn to help the location process.

We travelled along dirt roads for c. 10 miles, heading northeast of Monte Buey, and there it was …the barn was still standing. The remainder of the property was derelict but I was now standing on land in the middle of knowhere previously owned by someone I had read and written so much about.

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           Barn of Est. Los Dos Hermanos c. 1905              Barn in March 2014  (see map HERE)

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A month in Argentina (1)

Although the draft of Seeking John Campbell had been completed I felt a compulsion to visit Argentina to research a few loose ends and to understand where and how the families of the three John Campbells had lived.

In March 2014 I spent a month travelling to remote locations in the Argentine searching for information and properties. Each of the images comes with a map link where you can zoom in to the green arrow and see for yourself  how remote and inaccessible these places were.
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Estancia La Juanita is mapped HERE

Estancia La Juanita is now a B&B lodge but it was built in the 1830’s by the brother of  Juan Manuel de Rosas the Governor of Buenos Aires Province. When de Rosas was overthrown his family was exiled and much of their property was sold off. James Burnet, the maternal grandfather of John Burnet Campbell, bought the property with others in 1853 and named it Estancia La Adela. I stayed here and enjoyed a wonderful evening with the current owner Josefina.

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St. Andrews Scots Church, Chascomus with the entrance to the cemetary in the background and the grave of James Burnet. See map HERE

12 miles away on the outskirts of Chascomus and bordering the northern limits of the old La Adela estate I found St Andrew’s Scots Presbyterian Church of Chascomus and the British Protestant Cemetary. The Church was opened in 1872 and built by subscriptions organised by James Burnet and others. James is buried in the cemetary.

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Excerpt from Seeking John Campbell (1)

Seeking John Campbell FRONT COVER-page-001

The excerpt below is taken from the first three pages of the Prologue and signals the start of my journey Seeking John Campbell


At the end of 1995, sixty-eight-year-old Isabel Greig returned to Stone House, her home in the market town of Petworth, West Sussex, after enjoying a quiet visit with an old schoolfriend in Bath. It had been her first Christmas without her husband, Ian, who had died a couple of months earlier after a battle with cancer. Widowed after almost forty years of marriage, Isabel was lost.

  Isabel was a striking woman, caring and unselfish and not without a sense of fun in happier times. She received fulsome support from her neighbours following the death of her beloved Ian, and when she returned after Christmas she telephoned a friend, who lived in a cottage opposite, but was persuaded not to visit her that evening as she was suffering from flu. The country was in the grip of the coldest winter for fourteen years and the following morning Isabel woke to a dusting of snow. Later that day, after light rain had washed the snow away, Isabel ventured out, but within yards of her home, slipped on black ice and fell to the ground, giving herself a hefty knock to the back of her head.

  A passing policeman comforted her and a neighbour took her in for a soothing cup of tea. Isabel regained her composure and, typically not wishing to make a fuss, assured everybody that she was fine. She returned to her house, saying that she would take it easy for the rest of the day. Her friend across the road, still recovering from influenza and unaware of Isabel’s fall, was not surprised that she hadn’t called that day, expecting her to be enjoying the company of those in better health.

  When Isabel’s neighbour knocked on her door the following morning, New Year’s Eve 1995, there was no response. Eventually, the police were called, the door was forced and on entering the house they found the lifeless Isabel in her bed. She had passed away during the night from what was later diagnosed as a brain haemorrhage. The coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death.


Fifteen years later, I was scanning the UK government’s list of estates unclaimed by relatives, which is held by the Treasury Solicitor. Each week their Bona Vacantia department add new estates and probate genealogists race to find potential heirs and help them to claim their money in return for a commission. Genealogy has been of interest to me for more than forty years and I had been surprised to discover that, apart from the weekly release, more than ten thousand other estates, going back thirty years, remained unclaimed. Why were these cases unresolved? Why had professional heir-hunters failed to unlock their secrets? Many of the cases would have been of little value and discarded as unprofitable at a time, pre-2007, when the values of the estates were published. Others must have been too difficult, or costly, to solve.

  With available time and a thirst for problem-solving, I considered finding out why those who had tried to solve the cases had failed. It would be an intellectual challenge, a genealogical jigsaw puzzle that, even if it ended in failure, would enhance my ancestry research skills. My curiosity got the better of me and I searched the list of unsolved cases to pluck one out for initial research, assuming that the heir-hunting roadblock would quickly become apparent.

  My action was no more sophisticated than scrolling the list to the Gs and sticking an imaginary pin on the computer screen. I was drawn to a female name and her details indicated that she may be a prime candidate for my research. Almost fifteen years had elapsed since her death, providing the heir-hunters with plenty of time to make their initial investigations into the case, yet it remained open. Another factor was that she was one of a small percentage of persons listed with three given names: always an additional aid in genealogical research. Furthermore, the third given name appeared to be a maiden or family name, providing additional clues for the researcher. Maria Isabel Pemberton Greig, who died at Petworth, Sussex, on 31 December 1995, was to be my test case.

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This is another skillset that one can buy in. Hours or in my case years have been spent writing, rearranging, or editing and conventional wisdom is that a third party coming fresh to a manuscript is best placed for the task.

However I had worked with an editor whose final task was to complete a line edit and I was happy with the result. My decision was to proofread my own typeset work which I started after reading numerous online tips which included:

– reading each paragraph from the back of the book

– starting only after leaving the manuscript alone for some days

– read aloud or input into a digital reader and listen to the spoken word

– read in another format or typeface

I discovered more amendments than I had expected but as the blog below suggests it is easy to miss the obvious.


How often have we seen is that there is a gap between what is written and what is read. Often the state of mind we are in influences how we interpret a written word or phrase. The same holds good for a picture or a symbol. The mind undoubtedly plays a trick in such interpretations.

Let me give two examples:


Same way a written word is, more often than not, not interpreted the same way as it is meant to. The mind plays tricks and influences what we finally interpret from what we see and read. The interpretation that I speak of, is not only about know the meaning of the used word but goes beyond it and is more about the drawn perception upon reading the word. Another example is:

Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the…

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