John Bullough

John Bullough was born about 1837 and baptised in Blackburn on the 20th December 1837. He was the third son of James Bullough and his wife Martha. John was sent to Queenwood College in Hampshire where an education for a young engineer was given. Queenwood College had been set up by Robert Owen, but by the time John Bullough went there it was run by George Edmondson who had lived at Tulketh Hall, Preston and who advertised the college in Lancashire local newspapers. The 1851 census shows John and his older brother William both at the school and by 1852-3 John was editing the Queenwood Observer the school newspaper. It is unknown if their eldest brother James also attended. John went on to Glasgow University but it appears that he did not graduate and as yet the reason is unknown. By this time his sister Elizabeth (Bessie/Betsey) had married James Gray and was also living in Glasgow.  

In February 1869, John Bullough married Bertha Stephani, nee Schmidlin, in the Reformed Church, Brienz, Switzerland. She was the daughter of Eduard Schmidlin  of German origin, who had worked as gardener and landscaper at the Hotel Giessbach . He had created paths and viewpoints in the woods, waterfalls and mountain side around the hotel and had been the first to put lighting effects behind a waterfall. He had risen to be hotelier on behalf of the owner. The hotel had been visited by Ruskin who had admired not only the beauties of the landscape but also the beauties of Schmidlin’s daughters. Bertha’s first husband Otto Stephani died soon after their marriage and at her second marriage she was still only aged 20. John Bullough was 32.

He brought his new bride back to Accrington where they settled in The Laund, a commodious house in Baxenden overlooking the town. Their first son George was born on February 28th 1870 and daughter Bertha two years later. John had travelled quite widely for the business which by this time was selling machinery all over the world. They travelled to New York together probably combining business with some pleasure, but later trips John took without Bertha. His love for Scotland by this time was developing. It was very fashionable at this time, following the partiality of Queen Victoria, but John’s love for Scotland was deep and genuine. In 1879 he started to rent the shooting rights for Rum. He was patron of Edwin Waugh the Lancashire radical poet and in 1880 Waugh visited Rum at John’s behest for his health. He wrote up the journey and subsequent visit in ‘The Limping Pilgrim on his wanderings’ which gives a clear and accurate picture of life on Rum at that time. The people he talks about are clearly to be identified in the 1881 census taken shortly afterwards.

John and Bertha’s marriage was not a happy one and details are in the divorce papers, the originals of which are to be found in the National Archives under ‘Bullough v Bullough and Nentwig’. Bertha petitioned for divorce from John citing his adultery and cruelty and John counter petitioned citing her adultery with Albert Nentwig. At that time, a husband could divorce his wife for adultery only but a wife had to show evidence of two causes such as adultery and cruelty, bigamy etc. The cruelty had to be physical and to have taken place on at least two occasions. Bertha was able to cite several cases of actual cruelty, the worst of which caused her to lose a baby at five months. For her to have left her husband to go back to Switzerland at that time had to be for very sufficient reason, as by doing so she lost rights to her children. It would appear that as soon as she found she was pregnant again, she left, back home to her parents. By this time, they had moved first back to Germany, their place of origin, then back again to Switzerland but this time to the Hotel Bellevue, Thun, which Schmidlin was managing and it was here that Edward Bullough was born in 1880.  She also cited John’s adultery on several occasions, in a ‘House of ill repute’ in Troy USA; in Russia when he caught a venereal disease he passed on to his wife, but most upsetting for Bertha, regularly with the housekeeper at Rhyddings, Sarah Frankland. It would appear that once the judge had heard Bertha’s case, he granted the divorce without hearing John’s counter petition. We have as yet been unable to trace Albert Nentwig. Despite Bertha appearing to win her case, she was only granted custody of Edward. She was allowed to see George and Bertha for only a week before they had to go back to school and she went back to Switzerland. There is no reference to this divorce in the Accrington newspapers other than a brief mention by the Rev Charles Williams in a letter to the paper. The only mention in the Times is within the listing of the divorce petitions granted decree nisi.

John bought the Meggernie estate in Glen Lyon, Perthshire, in 1883 and at that time it was said to be the third largest estate in Perthshire. As well as an ancient castle, it had extensive lands with good farming, shooting and was also well stocked with trees.

In September 1884 he married, at Weems, Alexandra Marion Mackenzie, the daughter of a Stornoway banker, both giving Meggernie as their usual residence. John gives his age as 46, Alex 19. Son John, always known as Ian, was born in Accrington in 1886 and daughter Gladys was born at Meggernie in 1888.

But in 1891,  John was taken ill in London and he died on the 25th February 1891 aged 54. His remains were brought back to Accrington for interment in the family vault at Christ Church alongside his parents. 

Soon after George turned his attention to providing a suitable resting place for his father on Rum, apparently according to his father’s wishes. Harris was John’s favourite part of the island and it was here that George first created a Mausoleum dug into the hillside and lined with tiles and mosaics. It is said that a friend likened the result to a public lavatory so it was dynamited and the existing much grander Mausoleum was built containing a sarcophagus for John’s remains. These were removed from the vault at Christ Church Accrington and brought by rail and boat over to Harris where they were reinterred. The Mausoleum and area immediately around it remain the only part of the island owned by the Bullough Trustees.

John’s will had been made as recently as the December before he died, but was surprisingly poorly drawn up for such an astute businessman. He left money to Alexandra his wife, and a sum each to his two daughters but the wording was so ambiguous that both later brought court cases to clarify the meaning. He left an annuity to his ‘old housekeeper, Sarah Frankland’ who had been cited in his divorce from Bertha. He left £20,000 each to Tom and to Willie (and using those names and not their more correct Thomas and William that you would expect in a legal document); Tom was also executor but as he also was one of the witnesses he was unable to inherit which was surely not the intention of John as Tom of all the family had given and continued to give, the most to the family business. The residue was left between George and Ian with George being given Rum and Ian, Meggernie. Edward got no mention at all. At John’s suggestion the firm was made a limited company in 1891 and a public liability company in 1894. Tom was managing director and continued to take an active role for many years.

A chapter in CROSSLEY, Richard Accrington Captains of Industry gives John’s biography.