The Henderson crest

GEORGE THOMPSON of Pitmedden founded the firm of George Thompson & Co, ship-owners, insurance brokers and timber importers in 1825. His Aberdeen Line ships began their service the same year. George Thompson was Lord Provost of Aberdeen 1846 -1850 and was later MP for Aberdeen.

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George Thompson,
born 1804
The Aberdeen Line's trim forest-green little ships, with a crew of 12 - 16, traded to Quebec taking over emigrants and other passengers and returning with timber, furs and wheat. The first ship was the Earl of Aberdeen of 278 tons and gradually more, some larger and some smaller (one of 78 tons!) were built and by 1840 the trading areas had been widened to include the Baltic, the Mediterrnean, South America, South Africa, Australia and the Far East. From 1842 the Line plied regularly to Australia. In 1849 the Phoenician, 478 tons, sailed from Sydney to London in 90 days, 29 days under the average. The Aberdeen Line increased its fleet by a ship a yer, each an improvement on its predecessors. In February 1852 the Phoenician landed the first gold from Australia in England, taking 85 days from Sydney to Plymouth and from then on the line traded mainly with Australia, although voyages were still made to the Far East and the Americas.

In 1850 the clipper John Bunyan carried tea from Shanghai to London in 99 days. The competition among American and British ship-builders was keen. The Thermopylae, built in 1868, held the record London to Melbourne of 60 days. 1872 June 18 - October 11 ....

In 1872 Thermopylae left Shanghai with a cargo of tea for London in company with the London clipper Cutty Sark. After racing each other for two weeks Cutty Sark lost her rudder after having passed the Sunda Straits. Thermopylae finally arrived in London only seven days ahead of her rival.

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launched 1868

After the highlights of the clipper races, freights for tea had fallen by 1881 and the Aberdeen Line dropped its Far East voyages.

In 1869 the first Aberdeen Line iron ship was built and their last wooden ship the following year. In 1882 the Line started their regular steamship service to Australia via South Africa.. They carried large numbers of passengers and cargoes of wool, mutton, butter, etc. During the 1914 - 1918 war the ships served to carry troops, without any losses. The Aberdeen Line stayed as a family concern until some time well after 1925 when it amalgamated with the White Star Line.
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Dr James Kidd,
1761 - 1834

DR JAMES KIDD was brought up in Ireland by his widowed mother in poor circumstances. He was a quick early reader, mainly of the Bible and she and others encouraged him in his studies. He aimed for the Ministry but could not afford the training so began teaching while still a youth, married in his early twenties and emigrated to America with his family.

He obtained various teaching posts and also studied at the College of Pennsylvania and became an ardent student of Hebrew and Oriental languages. Aiming still for the Ministry, he decided to go to Edinburgh where he studied Divinity in the Established Church and also taught Hebrew classes to keep himself and his family, who were still in America.

He was appointed Professor of Oriental Languages at Marischal College, Aberdeen, and was entitled to add LL.OO.P (Professor of Oriental Languages) after his name. He sent for his family and was then licensed as a preacher of the Gospel and became a lecturer at Trinity College.

He was called to Gilcomston Chapel in 1801, got his Doctorate of Divinity and lived a very full and influential life as the Minister there until his death in 1834. His influence in many directions was felt and acknowledged throughout the city of Aberdeen.

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Sir William Henderson,
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Devanha House,
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Jane Boyd Thompson

SIR WILLIAM HENDERSON was born at Aberdour, the son of a farmer, had a sound education, started in banking and he came to Aberdeen when he was 19 and joined George Thompson and Company. He was made a partner five years later and married JANE THOMPSON in 1852. They lived in London from 1854 - 1857 where William opened the firm's London office and then returned to Devanha House, Aberdeen. For their Silver Wedding celebration they had their ten surviving children with them.

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The Henderson family,
~ ~ ~ 1877 ~ ~ ~

William was a dedicated member and then Elder of the Church, was a member of the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland, founded the Aberdeen Sailors' Mission, was President of the Sabbath School Union, visited America in 1880 as delegate to the Presbyterian Council in Philadelphia, chaired a Foreign Missions' Convention in Devanha House grounds, endowed a Medical Missionary Fund.

He took a deep personal interest as well as contributing generously to the financial side of all his public and social work. He instituted an annual Christmas dinner for the Deaf and Dumb Asylum inmates, formed an Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, served on the Aberdeen School Board, was President of the Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce, was made a Justice of the Peace, was a Director of the North of Scotland Bank, became a Town Councillor and then was Lord Provost of Aberdeen from 1886 - 1889. He was instrumental in extending facilities at the Royal Infirmary and during Queen Victoria's Jubilee Celebrations in 1887 he held a Town House Banquet and entertained 10,000 Board School children at Devanha House, and in London he attended the Thanksgiving Service and presented Aberdeen Town Council's address to Queen Victoria at Windsor. He was involved in the formation of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty To Children, a new Fish Market and an Association to provide hilidays for poor children. He served on a panel under the Private Legislative Procedure (Scotland) Act. His travel included visits to Australia, India, Egypt and Constantinople.

In 1905 he was knighted by Queen Victoria at Osborne and then had the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws conferred by the University of Aberdeen. Many tributes were publicly paid to him at various stages and when his portrait by Sir George Reid, commissioned as a token of respect and affection by all sections of the community, was unveiled, long speeches of acclaim were made including one by Lord Aberdeen.

This is a very brief summary of Sir William Henderson's far-reaching influence in church and social work in Aberdeen. His home life, in spite of his busy public life, was full of fun - romping with children and grandchildren indoors and out, taking them to see the kangaroo in Devanha House grounds and the horses and stables. There were teas on the lawn, sometimes just family and sometimes very big occasions which ended with fireworks and balloons. He was the life and soul of these parties and he took endless trouble to make sure that everyone had a good time.

His wife JANE had scarlet fever, smallpox and a baby in the first year of her married life and lived to bear 15 children. ( Only 14 are listed but Edith always said she was the youngest of 15 and of the ten who grew up, five were redheads.) Jane died in 1887 when her youngest child, Edith, was 13. She supported her husband in all his interests and the task of hostess at Devanha House was shared between Emily and Edith soon after Jane's death.


  • Christiana went to live in or near the Blue Mountains in Australia.
  • James married Isabella Moir. Their son Gartly was killed in the 1914 - 1918 war. Boyd, with a first class honours degree, was a schoolmaster, served in tanks in the war and contracted TB after 'flu in 1919. Douglas served as a private in Mesopotamia and laer farmed near Glasgow. Fergus was a well-known radiologist in Glasgow with a deep interest in the Boys' Brigade. Isabel married James Craig, they had a son John Craig (b. 1925) amd a daughter Anne (b. 1922) who is a doctor married to Dr Gordon Napier and they live in Lincoln.
  • George married Katherine Hutton and ran the London office ot George Thompson and Co. Their family: William was killed in 1916, George was gassed in the war and died in 1929,. Margaret married Barclay Lyon. Maud married Hallidie Smith and had two daughters. Gertrude married James Wordie who was an oceanographer, Master of St John's College, Cambridge, and was knighted: they had a family of five.
  • Stephen married Helen Grahame; they lost both their sons in the 1914 1918 war. Stephen represented the Aberdeen Line in Australia.
  • Mary married the Rev. Denham Osborne, Presbyterian Minister in Dublin. Their daughters were Kathleen, Ruth (Millie) and Jean.
  • Agnes was a doctor and became a medical missionary in India where the tremendous work she did was acknowledged when she was decorated with the Kaiser-I-Hind medal.
  • Duff married Elizabeth Anderson and was in the London office of George Thompson and Co. Their only son Gordon was killed in 1918. Jean did not marry and Elsie married Roland Pelly and they had four redheaded children.
  • Albert was a doctor and married Mary Anderson and settled in Auckland, New Zealand. Their daughter Margaret married Mr Lowry and Betty did not marry. Their son Jim Henderson (b. 1911) married Hester Sutcliffe and they had five children in New Zealand - the only Henderson great-grandchildren of William and Jane and their large family - largely the effect of the 1914 - 1918 war.
  • Emily was a wonderful aunt to her nieces and nephews. She was a Policewoman in the 1914 - 1918 war.
  • Edith married Alec Wells and is written up elsewhere.

    I have recently been delighted to hear from another descendant of George Thompson, Sir Andrew Leggatt. He has compiled a very detailed family tree of the Thompson descendants, which you may see by clicking HERE