The Findlaters by Rosemary Whitmore
The Rev Eric John Thomson Findlater was baptised in Durness, Sutherland on 11 April 1813. He was the First Free Church Minister of Lochearnhead, and was minister there for forty years until his death on 2 May 1886. He was laid to rest on the Knoll of Fire, just outside the Balquhidder Churchyard (see photographs below).
On the 4 December 1861 in Edinburgh he married Sarah Laurie Borthwick. She was born on the 26 November 1823 in Leith, Edinburgh and died 25 December 1907 in Torquay.
In 1855, before her marriage, Sarah and her sister Jane Laurie Borthwick co-produced a book of translations of German hymns titled Hymns from the Land of Luther which ran for several editions. One of the hymns was ‘Be Still my Soul’.
Reverend Eric and Sarah Findlater had three children: Sarah Jeminia Borthwick Findlater, born 9 August 1862 and died in 1931 in Rye Sussex; Mary Williamina Findlater, born 26 March 1865 and died on 22 November 1963 in Comrie, Perthshire; Jane Helen Findlater, born 4 November 1811, died 20 May 1946, also in Comrie, Perthshire.
The girls were raised at the Manse of the Free Church in Lochearnhead, Perthshire and led a conservative and restricted life. Their close relationship was of great importance to them and continued throughout their lives. None of them married, and in 1911 all three were living together at 5 Southfield Mount, Paignton in Devon.
They were taught by governesses, including Annie Lorrain Smith before she trained as a botanist. They listened to stories told by family, friends and servants - and then started writing from a early age, both together and individually.
In 1866 their father died, and the remaining family moved to Prestonpans, East Lothian, where Jane and Mary tried to help the family finances by writing, while their older sister Sarah (Mora) worked as a nurse. It was ten years before Jane’s book The Green Graves of Balgowrie (inspired by her mother’s family history) struck a cord with both the general public and critics. It had been written on grocer’s paper. Its success brought both freedom from financial worry and literary acclaim. After a few years they moved south in search of a warmer climate for their mother’s health.
From then until the outbreak of World War One, the sisters published a series of novels, including their co-authored work, and two collaborations with Kate Douglas Wiggin & Allan McAuley (pseudonym of Charlotte Stewart of Ardvorlich in Lochearnhead ). Their popularity led to a much wider circle of acquaintances, including friendship with Ellen Terry, the actress, and Mary Cholmondeley, the novelist. After meeting Henry James, another British writer, they got to know his brother William and sister in law Alice while on a lecture tour in the United States in 1905.
Both sisters’ work showed an attention to the details of everyday life, including its pleasures, combined with a sense of the restricted opportunities for women at the start of the 20th century in Scotland. For them, marriage was not necessarily a happy ending. Jane’s book The Ladder to the Stars (1906) was less well received than The Green Graves, because of its focus on women’s personal freedom. The heroine is “wholly absorbed in the cultivation of Self”, according to one reviewer. Crossriggs (1908), often considered the sisters’ best collaborative work, widely read in its day and republished in 1986, is just one of the books in which they reject “the idea that a single life is a wasted life”. This nicely observed picture of village life, while telling stories of love, also explores “the lonely situation of an articulate and emotional woman” for whom marriage is not necessarily the answer.
In the 1920s, however, their work seemed old fashioned, and Beneath the Visiting Moon (1923) was their last book. They moved from Devon to Rye on the south coast - where their sister Sarah died - then in 1940 for World War Two, safely back to Perthshire. They lived at the ‘Four Hollies’ in Comrie which was owned by their distant relations the Maclagans, and their neighbours at ‘Earnhope’ were Nan and Haya Maclagan.
Jane and Mary are both buried in the Maclagan Family Graveyard, Laggan Wood, The Balmuick Road, Comrie. The inscriptions read: ‘Jane Helen Findlater, 4 November 1866 - 20 May 1946. ‘Jesus said: I am the Light of the World; he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.’ ‘ ‘Mary Williamina Findlater, 26 March 1865 - 22 November 1963. ‘He that dwellest in love dwellest in God.’ ‘
The novels & other writings of Mary & Jane Findlater
Jane:1896 The Green Graves of Balgowrie1897 A Daughter of Strife1899 Rachel1902 A Story of Mother1904 Stones from a Glass House1905 All that Happened in a Week1906 The Ladder to the Stars1912 Seven Scots Stories1921 A Green Grass Widow & Other Stories Collaborations by Mary and Jane: 1901 Tales that are Told1908 Crossriggs1911 Penny Moneypenny1916 Seen and Heard before and After1914 1916 Content With Flies1923 Beneath the Visiting Moon
With Kate Douglas Wiggins & Allan McAuley1904 The Affair at the Inn1911 Robinetta
Further information can be found in the book The Findlater Sisters by Eileen Mackenzie
Sources: The Findlater Sisters by Eileen Mackenzie Wikipedia - the free encyclopedia, Mapping Memorials to Women in Scotland, Braes O’ Balquhidder by Elizabeth Beauchamp
More about The Findlater SIsters, Elizabeth Beauchamp and other local authors and books
The text of this articles was publushed in the Summer 2017 edition of The Belfry News from Friends of Balquhidder Kirk
The Manse where The Findlater Sisters lived in Lochearnhead is now Mansewood Country House, guest house
See where they lived on the BLiSS History map of Balquhider, Lochearnhead, Strathyre and St Fillans