Penelope Young and William Meikleham

In the last post I wrote about the marriage of Penelope Young, daughter of Penelope Thomson and her second husband John Young, to her cousin, Glasgow wine merchant John Thomson. When John Thomson died in 1839, he left Penelope with three young children: Penelope, Joan and George. I think the younger Penelope must have died in infancy, as she is absent from the 1841 census record, which finds Penelope, 25, together with Joan, 5, and George, 3, living with her 64-year-old widowed mother at 94 Regent Terrace, Glasgow. Both women are described as being of independent means and they employ two female servants. Interestingly, the two Penelopes now bear each other’s original surnames: the mother, born Penelope Thomson, has the surname of her late husband, John Young; while the daughter, Penelope Young, carries the name of her late husband, John Thomson.

The Glasgow parish register for 9th June 1844 includes this marriage notice:

William Meikleham writer in Glasgow and Mrs. Penelope Young residing at Helensburgh Relict of John Thomson late merchant residing in Glasgow and eldest daughter of the deceased John Young of Meadowpark.

In fact, as a separate notice in the parish register for Dunbartonshire makes clear, the marriage was ‘proclaimed’ on the 9th but actually took place on the 11th.

Glasgow University in the early 19th century

Born in 1902, William Meikleham was the son of another William Meikleham, Regius Professor of Astronomy at Glasgow University from 1799 to 1803 and Professor of Natural Philosophy there from 1803 until 1846. The younger William also worked at the university and was Clerk of the Senate from 1831 to 1845.

William and Penelope’s son, yet another William Meikleham, was born on 25th May 1845. Penelope’s brother-in-law Archibald Graham Lang (the husband of her half-sister Jean) was one of the witnesses. A second son, John Young Meikleham, was born on 5th October 1846. Archibald Lang and his son David Graham Lang were witnesses.

By this time, William Meikleham had been declared bankrupt. As well as Clerk of the University Senate, he was also factor for the Hamilton Bursaries Foundation, and it was discovered that he owed the Foundation £3000. Meikleham had been re-elected as Clerk of Senate on 1 May 1845, but resigned on 10 December. A committee was appointed by the Senate ‘to examine his accounts with the graduation Fees.’

According to the report of the court case concerning the will of Elizabeth Thomson, which took place in July 1851, ‘a sequestration of the estates of William Meikleham was awarded on 24 November 1845′. Moreover, Meikleham was later ‘indicted upon a criminal charge, and he having failed to appear, sentence of outlawry was pronounced against him, and has continued unrecalled ever since.’

19th century Milwaukee

It’s difficult to piece together the sequence of events in the Meikleham-Young family following this crisis. What we know for certain is that by 1850 William Meikleham was living in the home of Bavarian immigrant Maria Brohm and her two daughters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and supposedly working as a land agent.  The other residents of the area also appear to be of German or Austrian descent, so perhaps William thought this was a convenient place to lie low. William died two years later in Milwaukee; he was 50 years old.

It seems unlikely that Penelope and the children accompanied William to America, though I’ve yet to find them in the 1851 census records. By 1861 Penelope, 45, was living with William, 15, and John, 14, together with Joan Thomson, 25, her daughter from her first marriage, at 3 Duncan Street, Edinburgh. Penelope is described as a fund holder employing a domestic servant, so William’s departure and death did not leave her completely penniless.

Penelope Meikleham, formerly Thomson, née Young, died on 8th October 1874 at Chinnor Place, Kilmun, Argyll, from cancer of the stomach. She was 59 years old.

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