Frances Ingram Spence

Frances was an accomplished artist who moved to Scotland from London on her marriage to the landowner and industrialist Marten Dalrymple. After his premature death she married a widower, Rev John Thomson, minister of Duddingston, with whom she shared a passion for painting. Frances and John both had children by their first marriages and bore more between them, and this large and complicated family is suggested as the origin of the phrase 'a' Jock Tamson's bairns'. Other stories are that it is how John Thomson referred to his congregation, or that it had nothing to do with him and 'Jock Tamson' was just a common name like 'Joe Bloggs'. Yet the story of a family of diverse origins seems to me the most resonant with the meaning of the phrase, which was used by St John's Church as a mural to celebrate racial and religious diversity as part of 'Homecoming Scotland' in 2009 (image below).

- 11 October 1845 (6)
30 George Street
Religious views
Her second husband was a presbyterian minister 'more of the moral, moderate type than fervidly evangelical' (4 p.77) Thomson's biographer of the 1890s quotes and critiques one of his sermons from 1810, writing,
to live peaceably with all men he conceives to be the chief end of Christian effort, for "there will always be men in the world to foment the differences in it ... to search out faults and disturb its quiet; these are the chief instruments in embittering the happiness of social and domestic life ... In order to do justice to the claims of others we must learn to place no more than a just value on our own ... This is surely no romantic, no unattainable height of human virtue ... If there is any virtue which ensures its own reward, even in this world, and which not only imparts a delightful sense of inward approbation, but infallibly is attended with the admiration of our fellow-creatures, it is the virtue of candour and moderation." Modern divines would, we fear, look askance at this way of representing gospel truth, and doubt its power to mould the life of their hearers to its precepts. (4 p.78-9)
Of Frances, Baird writes,
She had a large class for the cultivation of sacred music, which met in the manse not unfrequently twice a week, and was conducted by herself ... Among the young she was a special favourite; every Sabbath morning at 8.30 she had a Sabbath-school in the manse, which was well attended by the children of the village. (4 p.51, 83)
Chapel connection
Baptism, 1799
Married on
12 May 1798, in St George's Hanover Square, witnessed by Thomas Ingram and Martha Spence (5)
(1) Marten Dalrymple. (2) m. December 1813 John Thompson, 1778-1840, Minister of Duddingston from 1805, landscape painter, previously married to Isabella Ramsay (d. April 1809) His biography recounts how she met her second husband under 'circumstances ... of a somewhat romantic character':
Mrs Dalrymple, happening to call at the shop of a picture-dealer during a visit to Edinburgh, was struck by a painting of the Falls of Foyers. The execution was so novel and effective that, as she afterwards said, 'she was quite inspired by its feeling and picturesque beauty.' Herself an artist of no mean pretensions, she inquired the artist's name, and was surprised to find it was Thomson of Duddingston. She had before seen specimens of his work, but never anything that so thoroughly realised her ideal in landscape. From that moment Mrs Dalrymple longed to become acuainted with the man who could conceive and paint so fine a picture. She soon had an opportunity of gratifying her wish, being shortly afterwards introduced by one of her relatives to the minister. Before being aware of Mrs Dalrymple's sentiments towards him, it is said that Mr Thomson, the moment he saw her, and entered into conversation, felt 'that woman must be my wife; she is the only being that I have seen for years with whom I could deeply sympathise.' ... Mrs Thomson's intense love for music and painting harmonised so well with all her husband's tastes and habits, that they spent much of their time in each other's society. Once she was asked by a friend how it came about that she, who was so rich, could ever have thought of marrying a minister. 'Oh,' she said, 'it is very easy to explain that; we just drew together.' (4 p.48-49)
Ingram William (1799), also daughters at Cleland House in 1805, 1807 (this was probably Emily, d.1815) and 1808. The stepchildren of her second marriage were Thomas Thompson (b.1802, Mayor of Stratford-upon-Avon), John (b.1803, HEICS), Isabella (b.April 1809). The children of her second marriage were Francis (b.1814, MD), Henry Francis (b.1819, coffee planter), Edward (b.1821, went to Australia), Emily (b.1816), and Mary (d. in infancy). These children, five of Marten and Frances, five of John and Isabella, and four of Frances and John, are credited with the origin of the phrase 'a' Jock Tamson's bairns', as Frances tried to explain whose children they all were and John would interrupt with 'they're a' Jock Thomson's bairns'. (3)

Mural, St John's 2009


  1. Registers of Charlotte Chapel (NAS CH12/3)
  2. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1818
  3. John Thomson (painter), Wikipedia (accessed 5 December 2011)
  4. William Baird, John Thomson of Duddingston: Pastor and Painter (Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot, 1895)
  5. John H. Chapman (ed), The Register Book of Marriages belonging to the Parish of St George, Hanover Square (Harleian Society, London 1888) vol II, 1788-1809, p.181 (available online)
  6. Aberdeen Journal, 29 October 1845

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