The research process for this chapter has been far from simple and I must extend my most sincere thanks to my friend and colleague, Alison Elliott in Australia for the fantastic job she has done on this fact-finding mission!!
So without further ado more Ballantynes.....
During this period John played a significant part in the Edinburgh art world, but by 1860 was in serious financial distress. With portrait painting out of fashion, a wife and three children to support, the family moved to London in 1863, where he taught and sought to re-establish his reputation by painting famous London artists at work in their studios. Although these paintings were highly acclaimed and form his most exhibited works today, they failed to realise much in the way of revenue.
Two more Ballantynes and a sniff of Pacific Air
The experiences he gained of trading furs with the Indians and travelling by sled and canoe were relayed home by letter. These letters and his journal would form the basis for his first published work in 1848 - an autobiographical account of his time spent in Canada "Hudson's Bay or Everyday Life in the Wilds of North America". With the encouragement of his family and publisher William Nelson, he again drew on his experiences to write his first story for boys in 1856 "Snowflakes and Sunbeams or The Young Fur Traders". The success of this book was to mark the beginning a prolific and prosperous writing career.
It is widely reported that having exhausted his own personal experience he turned to those of other published travel accounts for the book's inspiration. Whilst this may be true in part I believe his inspirational source may have lain much closer to home in the exploits of the family of his brother James's wife. I lay out the evidence for this in the following headed section.
He penned his first book in 1838, unlike his brother Robert this was entitled "A Grammar of the Hindustani Language" Hmmm.. I know which I would rather read! The following year he was appointed to teach Hindi and Sanskrit at Scottish Naval & Military Academy in Edinburgh & in 1845 was sent to India to oversee the re-organisation of the Government College in Benares.
In 1844 James married Violet Roberton, daughter of William Roberton, farmer at Friars, Kelso, Roxburghshire and his wife Mary Gordon. Together they had two children before her death in India in 1848. It is to Violet's brothers that the attention is now turned.
The Pacific & A Pirate
Andrew was serving with Thomas in 1820 when the Spanish Flagship "The Esmerelda" was captured at Callao, Peru on the night of the 5th November. Hours before the battle a momentous event occurred that has become the stuff of legend. The wealthy citizens of Lima commissioned a Wiliam Thompson, captain of the "Mary Dear" to transport them and their most valuable possessions to safety in Mexico. The value of the treasure aboard was estimated at $160 million. Unable to resist such temptation Captain Thompson and his crew turned pirate, murdered the guards and set course for Cocos Island where they allegedly buried the loot. Lying low before sharing the spoils Thompson and his crew were captured. Thompson & his first mate were spared the noose in exchange for leading the Spanish to the treasure. Managing to give their captors the slip Thompson and the treasure were never seen again. Enough to give anyone ideas.....
"exceedingly bold, having an impetuous and fiery manner with an evident cruel streak. He was of medium height, had red hair and a wild look. He was not exactly ugly, but he was not a nice sight. He had the grin of a hyena."
Meanwhile another Roberton was sailing the Pacific .......to be continued.
What has she got to do with it all?
The flip side of the coin is that May's maternal grandmother was Mary Roberton, first cousin to the above mentioned pirate and his brothers, and of course to their sister Violet who married James Robert Ballantyne the orientalist. May's grandmother Mary Roberton was the daughter of Andrew Roberton farmer at Ladyrig near Kelso.
Genealogy really can throw up some amazing & unexpected connections!
Tracing Robertons from a genealogical perspective is more difficult than most as the name is so often mis-spelt as Robertson. Even the Oxford DNB has James Robert Ballantyne married to a Violet Robertson.
That these escapades would have come to the attention of Robert Ballantyne the author is unquestionable as in 1839 a statement was published by Kelso's recorder John Mason which hints strongly with the lines "although clouds rest upon what was in reality his ultimate fate, there is little doubt that it was an unhappy one" that he knew far more than he was prepared to publish.
http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=6iYYAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA351&lpg=PA351&dq=Roberton+the+Pirate&source=bl&ots=xlLvnhakDn&sig=8yS-WxQsReJ3AtjLFLjEOdwr9qo&hl=en&sa=X&ei=pZ3lUazlB_Ts0gWF4oHoDg&ved (starts on page 350)
If you haven't read The Coral Island below is a link which will take you to the free ebook
Last but by no means least - if you are ever in Rome I can highly reccommend a visit to the Non-Catholic Cemetery