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THE MISSING PRINT

By Elspeth Menzies Findlay

Su-Lyn had emailed me over the past few months, about her planned trip to the Clan Gathering, and we had discovered that we had both booked into the same hotel. Good at last we would meet. Although The Highland Games in Aberfeldy had been cancelled, due to water logged grounds, we had all spent a very pleasant afternoon in the Dewar Room, watching the new video and a BBC programme about excavations at the castle, to discover a buried garden and bath house. I had hoped to see her there, but some how we had missed each other. I decided to go back to the hotel to check in and prepare for the Ceilidh at the castle.

As I walked into the hotel bar, there she was wrapped in her red and green tartan, sitting with her husband. How useful those Menzies sashes are to help identify "us" from all the other visitors who come to the area, in what is probably the busiest weekend of the year. Su-Lyn’s Scottish trip would require her to cope with small winding roads as the landslide had closed the main road north. People had still managed to travel via the old road, over the hill, and would have been well rewarded for their efforts. The sun had come out and Perthshire was looking spectacular. With no public transport from the castle to her hotel and no car hire readily available, she had taken it all in her stride, judging by her relaxed attitude. We exchanged greetings and I joined them for a chat.

She explained that her Dad, Alexander Oliver Menzies III, had left the U.K. to work in North America, where she had been brought up. She was now married, and had a family of her own, and had come to her first Clan Gathering in Scotland.

Her boss in California had suggested she look up friends of his, Graeme and Liz, who lived in Edinburgh, and who had a Menzies connection. Graeme's mother was a descendant of the famous shipbuilders in Leith, Messers Menzies. Founded in the 1780s by Robert Menzies of Kinghorn in Fife, some fine ships had been built at the Old Dock a print of one of these, Su-Lyn explained had been hanging on Graeme’s wall. The story went that his mother had been Robert Menzies's great-great- granddaughter. She had brought her three sons each a print of the launching in 1841 of one of their most famous ships. The Royal Mail Steamship "Forth" 1940 tons. The first steam ship built for the Royal Mail Lines and said to be the largest ever built in Leith. A crowd of sixty thousand spectators arrived to watch the launch. Two hundred and forty five feet in length, and with engines of two hundred and twenty five horse power, fitted up with separate cabins for 100 passengers, this was some ship captured on canvass. Originally painted by a famous marine artist, John Wilson Carmichael, four proof prints had been made from an engraving by E Duncan. It was the proof prints of this painting that the brothers held so dear. Su-Lyn went on, they know that there is a fourth print, but no-one knows where it is.

I gulped hard. A mental flashback to 1996 hit me. My husband was receiving his farewell gift from the staff of Radio Forth [194 meters] and being presented with a print of the Launching of the Royal Mail Steamship "Forth" 1940 tonnes.

"Su-Lyn" I said in a soft voice, "I know where the missing print is."
"Elspeth where?" she replied
"On my dinning room wall."

Of course the story didn’t end there; Scotland is a small country. Su-Lyn’s connection to the print had another possible link. In the newspaper article, that Graeme showed me, on the back of his print was mention of a Miss Colville. Mr Menzies brought forward this young lady, who "placing in her hand the small decanter of wine, decorated with coloured ribbons, smashed it against the vessel’s side." Who was this Miss Colville? Was she perhaps related to Robert Colville, owner of a number of coasting vessels and who's son, David was to found David Colville and Sons, giants in the Scottish steel industry. They made malleable plates and angles for the Scottish shipyards and produced five of the largest Siemens furnaces in 1879 and in 1880 supplied iron bars for the building of the Tay Bridge and later the steel for the ill fated Titanic. They became Harland and Wolff in 1920. Su-Lyn had a great-aunt Colville. Is it possible that she was in the crowd that day and she was the young lady who Mr Menzies brought forward to smash the wine on the hull of the steam ship Forth? I like to think it’s possible.

Would anyone with information on the forefathers of Alexander Oliver Menzies III whose father was born in Allness or Su-Lyn’s Great Aunt Colville please contact
elpfindlay@hotmail.com

 
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