Friday 23 March 2012

Dundee at War

From the Boer War to the First World War through the eyes of the Neish family of Tannadice and Clepington.

In our collections we have three large scrapbooks which have always been something of a mystery. At first sight they seem just to contain press cuttings but on closer inspection they also include telegrams and other ephemera covering the period 1896-1917. This was a period of national and international conflict and the volumes include material relating to British military campaigns during the second Boer War, the Boxer Rebellion and the First World War, as well as to the Russo-Japanese War and the Dogger Bank incident. Events of national importance, such as Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, are also mentioned.

Until recently the provenance of these items was obscure, all that was known about them was that they were seemingly compiled by a member or members of the family called Neish. Further research now suggests that these scrapbooks were put together by a close relative of William Neish of  Tannadice and Clepington, whose family were active in the military at this time and an influential family in Dundee. Key members in the family are described below: 

  • William Neish (b c 1815): born in Dundee, became a well-known barrister in the city. Married Margaret Ann Watson and had nine children.
  • George Watson Neish (1849-1931): son of William, founded the firm of Neish, Howell and Haldane in London
  • Sir Charles Henry Lawrence Neish KBE CB (1857-1934): son of William, Registrar of the Privy Council from 1909 until 1934
  • Edward William Neish (c 1865-1938): son of William, a Sherriff Substitute from 1905 to 1932
  • Major Colin Graham Neish OBE (1860-1931), son of William, had a notable career in the army
  • Lt. Col Francis Hugh Neish (1863-1946): son of William, served in Sudan, the second Boer War and at Mons at the start of the Great War.  
  • William Neish (c 1882-1931): son of George Watson Neish, was a Major by 1914.

William Neish is 4th from the left
Both Lt. Col Neish and his nephew William, who were serving with the Gordon Highlanders, were captured at Mons. No doubt inspired by the plight of his brother and his son, George Watson Neish served as Convener of City of Dundee and Forfarshire Prisoner of War Help Committee throughout the Great War.

An odd coda to the family’s war service came when Colonel W. E. Gordon of the Gordon Highlanders lodged a case for slander against the publishers John Leng & Co. Their newspaper The People’s Journal had printed an article which implied that Colonel Gordon had needlessly surrendered the Gordons at Mons.

Lt. Col Neish, who had had a poor relationship with Gordon since the surrender, was called as a witness. It was hinted that Gordon blamed Neish for the surrender, although the latter denied any involvement in ordering it. During the case it emerged that Neish and two of his brothers owned shares in John Leng & Co. Gordon’s legal team implied that the family might have used the article to deflect blame away from Neish himself, an allegation they strongly denied.  Colonel Gordon won his case and £500 damages, but the question of who had ordered the surrender and why remained unanswered by the verdict.

The Neish family’s name lives on today in the Jock Neish Scout Centre cited on the family’s land at Tannadice. The Centre was named for Colin Francis Ian ‘Jock’ Neish (1897-1977), a former officer in the Black Watch and the son of Major Colin Neish, who devoted much of his life to the scouting movement. A less obvious legacy of the family is the name of Dundee United’s stadium Tannadice Park. Built on what was the Clepington part of the Neishs’ lands, it owes its name to the Neish estate at Tannadice.

It seems, then, that the scrapbooks were compiled by members of the Neish family to record their involvement in the various campaigns with which they were involved. Whatever their origins Archive Services has a fascinating resource covering the key conflicts of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries which shaped the world we live in today.

For more information about the scrapbooks and other collections relating to war and military campaigns contact

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