William Glass or Glasgow was born in Kelso on 11th
May 1786, to David and Janet Glasgow who lived in the
Townhead area of the town at the top of Roxburgh Street.
In March 1804 he enlisted in
the British Army at Berwick-on-
Tweed as a gun driver for the
Royal Artillery. He gave his name
as William Glass not Glasgow,
claimed to be 16 years old not
18, and described himself as an
ordinary labourer, although later
in life he would claim to have
been a servant at Floors Castle.
Why did he leave home under an
assumed name? Was there some
dark secret in his past? Who
He did quite well in the army rising to the rank of corporal of artillery. In 1816 he was part of a garrison sent by the British Government from Capetown in South Africa, to take control of the tiny island of Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic. Napoleon Bonaparte had been sent into exile on St Helena after his final defeat at Waterloo, but it was feared there might be an attempt by his supporters to rescue him, and Tristan might be used as a base from which to mount the attack. However, the danger died down and in 1817 the garrison was withdrawn.
The remote island lost in the South Atlantic must have appealed to William Glass, for he and another man requested permission to settle on the island, and this was granted by Lord Somerset, governor of Cape Colony. In November 1817 Glass brought over his South African wife, Maria Magdalena Leenders (of mixed Dutch/Hottentot race) and their two children to Tristan. They also had a bull, a cow and several sheep. They were joined by several other men, but Glass was the only one who was married, until in 1827 five women from St Helena were persuaded to come to the island to make life more agreeable for the bachelors. The population continued to grow with the addition of a Dutchman, Peter Groen or Green, and a couple of Americans Thomas Rogers and Andrew Hagan from whaling ships. Glass and his wife had sixteen children - eight sons and eight daughters. By 1852 there were 85 people living in the settlement.
Glass ran the settlement in a patriarchal fashion until his death in 1853. His rules were based on equality with all land communally owned and everyone having an equal share of the livestock and supplies. The rules he drew up are still the basis for the crofting life-style of the present inhabitants.
He was also a devout Christian, who held two Church of England services every Sunday. His firm authority ensured that intoxication and quarrelling were not allowed, not only among the islanders but also among the crews of passing whaling ships. He seems to have been a man of good education who taught the island’s children himself.
Every Christmas there was a family gathering for dinner: it is recorded that on the last such occasion in 1852 he was surrounded by 33 members of his family including 19 grandchildren. His descendants still live on the island today.
Find out about the contribution people from Kelso have made through the ages. Biographies of characters with Kelso connections who have made their mark throughout the world.View Storyboard: William Glass of Tristan da Cunha