04 April 2014

The Cunninghams of West Kilbride, Scotland


A few days ago I found this framed painting in my local Op-Shop and as usual I couldn’t pass it by, it cost the large sum of $3 so why not? I thought there must be a connection to a Cunningham Family in New Zealand somewhere!


More on these two photos later, adding them here to make them easier to compare with the original. The best I could do from Google Maps.

West Kilbride is a fairly small village in North Ayrshire on the west coast of Scotland. Chapelton Farm is just below the red ‘B7047’ underneath West Kilbride on the map.

west-kilbride-map chapelton-farm-map2

west-kilbride west-kilbride2

And so it was there in the first census available for the people living in West Kilbride that I first turned.

The oldest person with the surname of Cunningham (or any derivative thereof) was David aged 40, a farmer living at Chapelton Farm in West Kilbride:-

1841-census A fairly well off farmer I would imagine, with wife Janet & four children, plus four other females, two listed as servants and the other two as agricultural labourers, which was rather unusual for women in those days. As you can see from the photos above of Chapelton Farm, taken from the air, that it is a fairly large establishment these days, more than one house and what looks like a large farming area.

David Cunningham was born on 30 Jan 1800 at Stevenston, a village not too far from West Kilbride and is one of the 'Three Towns' along with Ardrossan and Saltcoats. His parents were David Cuninghame and Elizabeth Fleck who had been married in Stevenston on 3 Jul 1789, they had at least five other children baptised in Stevenston – Jane, William, Robert Baillie, William & James. Both father, David, and his son James were buried at Stevenston in 1922, their burial entries in the parish records state they were both from Mickle Dabs Farm.

On the 21 Dec 1835 David married Janet Duncan in West Kilbride and that is where they lived out the rest of their lives, in the process producing at least seven children, six daughters & one son. Janet was the daughter of John Duncan & Helen Dunn, she had been born in West Kilbride & baptised there on 22 Aug 1815. David & Janet’s children were:-

Helen Dunn 1836; Elizabeth Fleck 1838; Jean/Jane 1839-1881; David 1841-1902; Sarah Dunn 1843; Janet K 1846 & Mary F 1848.

David & Janet & their children were all living on Chapelton Farm in the various census upto & including 1891, on the 28 Feb 1895 David succumbed to ‘old age’ aged 95 years, his son, David, was present at his death.


In all the census, son David had been listed as unmarried, and just a few years later he passed away in 1902 aged 60. This put me into a quandary as I thought this must be a dead end to this branch of the Cunningham family and I had not found a NZ connection. Either that or son David had married in the one year period between 1901 when he was single and 1902 when he died or there had been another male sibling that I didn’t know about (that could still be the case).

Just to make sure I looked at his siblings again and this time did some more research on his six sisters:-

  1. Helen Dunn married William Robertson in 1862 in West Kilbride and they had two sons, William in 1865 and John in 1867, both of the sons were living with their Cunningham grandparents in the 1871 census, they had been born in Paisley, Renfrewshire. I can find nothing further on Helen, her husband or two sons, perhaps they are the ones who emigrated to NZ, nothing found so far though.
  2. Elizabeth Fleck married William Gemmill from Fenwick, Ayrshire in West Kilbride in 1866 and they had eight children. Living at Greendykes Farm, Gladsmuir in East Lothian in 1901.
  3. Sarah Dunn not married and living with her brother David in 1901 at Seamill Clyde View, West Kilbride.
  4. Janet K, last sighted in the 1871 census aged 25 & living at home with her parents.
  5. Mary F, ditto aged 23.

That leaves Jean/Jane, baptised as Jean but married as Jane, this is where I thought I’d hit the jackpot! Jane had married Andrew Cuninghame who turned out to be the son of Jane’s father’s brother Robert Baillie (so they were first cousins):-


Married at Chapelton Farm on 30 Dec 1874, Andrew was a bachelor Sea Captain aged 37, living in London, and Jane was a spinster aged 35 living in West Kilbride, one of the witnesses was Jane’s sister Sarah Dunn, their parents were listed as (groom’s) Robert deceased farmer & his wife Mary Smith and (bride’s) David farmer & his wife Janet Duncan.

Andrew Cuninghame had been born in Stevenston on 11 Jun 1837 and this is where the above photo of Mayfield Farm comes in, in 1841 he was living with his parents at Mayfield Farm in Stevenston. By 1851 his parents had moved to Campbeltown in Argyll and Andrew was living with his Uncle William Cunninghame at Eglinton Farm in Kilwinning, not far from Stevenston.

After 1851 Andrew becomes quite elusive as during the period of 1857 to 1870 he sat for and passed his second mate, first mate and master mariner examinations so I expect he was at sea at the time of the various census. After he & Jane were married I found Jane in 1881 living at Bradshaw St, Stevenston with their two sons, Robert W born 1876 and David Duncan born 1880. Soon after that census Jane died aged 41 in 1881. Andrew went on to marry Elizabeth Hannah Shove in Lewisham, London in 1884 and they were still living there in 1901 & 1911, Andrew died in 1924 aged 85 and Elizabeth also died in 1924 aged 86, they had no children together, Elizabeth was a spinster when she married and in 1911 she is listed as having had no children.

Andrew & Jane’s son, David Duncan, joined the Royal Navy, married Ada Decima Richards in 1911 in London, he died in 1917 during WWII, I don’t know if they had any children:-


So that leaves Andrew & Jane’s other son Robert W, I lost sight of him after the 1891 census, when he & his brother were both living with their step-mother Elizabeth in Portsea, Hampshire, apart from one passenger list where a Robert W Cunningham, a 50 year old unaccompanied engineer, was arriving at Southampton from New York on board the vessel ‘Majestic’ on 13 Jun 1924, about to be staying at the Savoy Hotel in London – which may or may not be him!

So I come to the end of this saga with no jackpot and no NZ connection! Of course it may very well be that one or more of the descendants of the female lines emigrated to NZ or this Cunningham/Cuninghame family may not even be the right one. Maybe one day I’ll find time to do a bit more research on the female lines but for now I think I’m done. In the meantime if anyone thinks they might be connected to the Cunninghams of West Kilbride I would certainly love to hear from you.

References: FreeBMD; ancestry.com.au; familysearch.org; ScotlandsPeople; NZBDM Online


I can’t quite make up my mind if either of the two current photos of Chapelton Farm & Mayfield Farm are the same building(s) as the one in the painting. The overall design seems to be much the same in all three but the windows aren’t, possibly having been modernised at some stage. There are other differences though. Unfortunately the painting doesn’t have a date on it so I have no idea when it was done, another one of those little mysteries that probably won’t ever be solved! Please do contact me, I would love to pass the painting onto a family member, even a distant one. Contact by email is preferable but if you are going to leave a comment please don’t forget to include your email address.

Dawn Scotting

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