Famous ancestor: William Alexander – radical, newspaper editor and novelist

William Alexander b. 1826

Reading Ian Macdonald’s book about the Alexanders of Bourtie, I was delighted to discover I’m related to William Alexander, born 1826, who became editor or the Aberdeen Free Press, a notable radical campaigner, and the author of Johnny Gibb of Gushetneuk, a novel about rural life written in the Doric dialect of the area and the time. Having done a bit of journalism in my time, and having written some short stories that have been published, and also having always been a bit of a radical, I feel very proud to know William Alexander and I share a genetic legacy.

William Alexander was born as Rescivet, Chapel of Garioch, son of a blacksmith who became a farmer. William went to school at Daviot and was intending to be a farmer, but lost a leg due to an accident. He wrote an essay on farm servants which won an essay writing competition, and as a result became a reporter for the North of Scotland Gazette. A year later he joined the Aberdeen Free Press, becoming sub-editor and then editor. The paper was very popular with farmers and farm servants. His journalist always espoused strong radical views, and he was a major supporter of the rights of tenant farmers. He became an elder of the Free Church, a director of the Royal Infirmary and served as a council member for the Aberdeen Philosophical Society. His novel Johnny Gibb of Gushetneuk was first published as a serial in the Aberdeen Free Press.

He can be tracked in the census. In and 1841 and 1851 he’s a farmer’s son at Chapel of Garioch, working for his father, but by 1861 he is a newspaper reporter living in Charlotte Street, Aberdeen with his sister Helen as his housekeeper. He then married Ann Allan in Aberdeen in 1867, the daughter of a shipmaster, and they lived at 3 Belvidere Street, Aberdeen: if you find the house on Google Maps you can just make out his name on the plaque by the front door of the fairly modest and very typical Aberdeenshire two story granite terraced house. Living with him in 1891 was his wife Ann, a visitor and a female servant. William and Ann did not have children, and William Alexander died in Aberdeen in 1894.

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