Ebeth Scobbie (1884-1940)

The girl on our left in this picture is Ebeth, photographed with her siblings and parents in Scotland when she was 12 or 13. Here is some of her life story. I collected some of this material in 2016, at the time of the centenary of the tragic day on May 30th 1916 when she was widowed, aged 33, in Smyrna (now İzmir on the western Mediterranean coast of Turkey), and now a year later, in the days before posting this blog, I finally located and visited her grave in Morningside, a few minutes walk from my home.

Why was she there? What happened to her? Why am I writing about her?

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74 years officiating in Scottish forestry

Robert Paterson Galloway (1861-1936), pictured above, and his elder son Angus were both, as Edinburgh lawyers, major administrative figures in organisations representing forestry and arboricultural interests in Scotland, and provided stability and continuity as the secretary-treasurers of the Royal Scottish Forestry Society for 74 years, from 1895 to 1969. (The Royal Scottish Arboricultural Society as it was called in 1895 had been founded in 1854 and given a Royal Charter in 1887.) Robert was secretary and treasurer for 42 years! He died in 1936 aged 75, following an accident in Edinburgh in March 1935 in which he had been knocked down by a motor car.

We know something of their work and characters, because Robert was the subject of a glowing testimonial in the Transactions of the Royal Scottish Arboricultural Society to celebrate its 60th year, in 1914. His son Angus (1895-1971) likewise was lauded in an obituary in Forestry: An International Journal of Forest Research in 1972 both for his service as secretary and treasurer for the RSFS (for 9 years jointly with his father) and also as the first holder of the same roles for the Society of Foresters of Great Britain for 27 years from its founding in in 1925 till 1962.

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Morningside Wedding, Morningside Funeral

Ebeth Scobbie married at 28 and was widowed at 33. As Mrs Ebeth Newton, she married again at 46, to a successful and well-regarded Edinburgh solicitor, Robert Galloway, also a widow. He was 69. Their wedding in 1930 was at Greenbank Church (near Robert’s home) in the south of Edinburgh.

I assume Ebeth and Robert found happiness with each other – they had just each lived through a dozen or so years of widowhood, right through the 1920s. I wonder if their ages were a big talking point back then: there was a 23 year age gap, which I assume was  unusual. Is that Angus (Robert’s son) scowling in the background?! Or does just he just have a serious face? Well, Angus was just 11 years younger than Ebeth… and they were in the same generation, given that they had both “seen action” in the war. Maybe he was uncomfortable.

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“longing to see you”

Scotland knew of David’s death within a couple of weeks, presumably by telegram. Everyone knew Ebeth was in limbo. What information flowed over the next two years, we don’t know. But we do know about something about 1916, how help was offered, and it was a treat to read some of the bizarrely baroque official consular and diplomatic language involved on the one hand, and the reserved but emotion-packed words in others. Drafts, CC: lists, pencil annotations and typewritten forms survive. Just how did things work back then? During a war! After 100 years here are the few official papers. Like fossils, preserved (unlike most) in the national archives.

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“Broughty Doctor Dies at Smyrna”

At the time of his death, Dr David McKenzie Newton had been a medical missionary for around a dozen years, and was the superintendent at Beaconsfield Memorial Hospital. It seems he also had a wider role, being identified also as “the college physician” by Smyrna’s International College in Paradise near Smyrna, an American educational institution which had been run by missionaries for 25 years.

His death (30 May 1916) from typhus, a family of bacterial infections carried by lice, aka “jiggers”, was probably caught in the course of his work tending patients, including Turkish soldiers, and due to the terrible conditions discussed elsewhere. His death was reported in contemporary newspapers and reports, and the aftermath was the subject of governmental communications (hence, luckily, preserved in the National Archive), as the Church of Scotland and the families of David and his widow Ebeth attempted to help her in her perilous situation (see here <to be added>).

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Ebeth Scobbie (1914-1994)

“Ebeth” is a relatively unusual contraction of Elizabeth: compare Liz, Lizzie, Beth, Lisa, Liza, Betty, Libby, and even Lizbet and Eliza… Normally, for a favourite family name like Elizabeth, close relatives would have differentiating versions, but the Scobbies seemed to like it: using it for aunt and niece. It’s not clear if this is because the younger Ebeth’s birth and early childhood occurred while her aunt was in Smyrna, or not. It seems that her mother, also Elizabeth, was called by her middle name, Bertie.

I like this portrait – I think there’s a little bit of attitude. My memories of Ebeth contextualise her as being one of the four sisters of my father. From my perspective it was rather surprising that “sisters” could be silver-haired pensioners (them being half a century older than me). They were impressive, kindly, and had natural authority. More surprisingly perhaps, I was under the impression that my aunts were English, partly because two (had) lived there, but just as much from their posh accents. In fact, all were just speaking “1920s Laurel Bank”, an accent that was decidedly not Glaswegian.

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Grace Williamson’s Smyrna Diaries: entries relating to Ebeth Scobbie

At the beginning of September 1916, Alithea Williamson (pictured) and Nurse-Matron Mary Parkinson from the Beaconsfield New Hospital struggled hard to keep Ebeth alive, and Grace wrote:

We are not sure yet what the end will be.

Grace Williamson wrote vivid contemporary letters/diary entries, and the Williamson family via the Levantine Heritage Foundation have made these and many other resources available online. It is therefore possible to get a flavour of life in Smyrna in 1916 generally, to read in more detail Grace’s experience of running a Maternity Hospital, and to read first hand accounts of Ebeth Newton (neé Scobbie) and her situation. It is hard to imagine a better way to gain insight into Ebeth’s role as the wife and then widow of a mission doctor and hospital superintendent (at the Beaconsfield), and as a single mother.

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Dr Elizabeth McKenzie Newton (1916-2011)

Elizabeth, shown here as a child in delightful photographs from 1920 or earlier, survived her tough beginnings and lived a long and successful life. Like her father, she qualified as a doctor (from Edinburgh University in 1942), and ended up as a consultant anaesthetist in the dental service (for schools) in the North of England. By then she had married Dr John Mitchell, and had two children, both of whom also became medical doctors in turn. Her grandchildren and great grandchildren also feature members of the medical and allied health professions, in common with many in our extended family.

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