National Records of Scotland

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Mary Slessor (1848-1915)

Mary Slessor (1848-1915)

Missionary

Mary Slessor’s family moved from Aberdeen to Dundee where she became active in the local United Presbyterian Church. In 1876, inspired by the African explorer, David Livingstone, she trained as a missionary in Edinburgh and travelled to Calabar in Nigeria. She was based at inland stations, learned the local languages and adopted twins who were in danger because of a belief they were the result of evil spirits. In 1897 she was appointed vice-consul, and in 1905 vice-president, of the local court. She died in Africa on 13 January 1915. Mary Slessor was the first woman to feature on a Scottish bank note. In Dundee a stained glass window is dedicated to her at the McManus Galleries and a bronze plaque was unveiled at City Churches to mark the centenary of her death. In 2017 she was one of two women voted into the Hall of Heroes at the National Wallace Monument.

Birth in 1848

Mary Slessor (here spelt Slissor) was born on 2 December 1848, the daughter of Robert Slessor, shoemaker of Short Loanings of Gilcomston and Mary Mitchell. The entry in the Old Parish Register (OPR) for Old Machar shows she was baptised by the Reverend Robert Sedgwick in the presence of the congregation of Belmont Street United Presbyterian Church, Aberdeen. The margin is annotated 'referred to in p 484'.

Birth and baptism entry for Mary Slessor

Birth and baptism entry for Mary Slessor (33 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, OPR 168/14, page 500

Entries are out of chronological sequence at this point in the OPR volume. The original page 484 (the volume was later renumbered) includes a cross-reference, 'Slissor p 490', at the relevant date.

Reference to birth and baptism entry for Mary Slessor

Reference to birth entry for Mary Slessor (31 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, OPR 168/14, page 494

1851 and 1861 censuses

In 1851 Mary Slessor, 2, at home, was enumerated with her parents and brother William at John Street in Aberdeen. The census return for West parish appears to give her age as 7 (with 2 crossed out) and her brother's as 8 years instead of 8 months.

1851 census return for Mary Slessor

Detail from 1851 census return for Mary Slessor (35 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, 1861/168A/34, page 17

In 1861 Mary Slessor (here spelt Slesser), 12, linen power loom weaver was enumerated with her family at Dura Street in Dundee. The census return for First District gives the same occupation for her brother William, aged 10, with a note that they were ‘both at school’.

1861 census return for Mary Slessor

Detail from 1861 census return for Mary Slessor (33 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, 1861/282-1/29, page 30

Informant for registration of father's death in 1870

Mary Slessor was the informant of her father’s death on 16 September 1870. The entry in the statutory register of deaths for the district of St Andrew in the burgh of Dundee gives Robert Slessor’s occupation as shoemaker (journeyman), the place of death as 6 Eliza Street, his age as 53 and the cause of death as morbis cordis (heart disease). Mary Slessor, daughter, wasn’t present at the death and no alternative residence is given implying that she lived at the same address.

Death entry for Robert Slessor with Mary Slessor as informant

Death entry with Mary Slessor as informant (44 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, 1870/282-4/760

1871 census

In 1871 Mary Slessor, 22, power loom weaver, was emunerated at 2 Catherine Street in Dundee. The census return for the district of St Andrew shows her mother, Margaret Mitchell, a widow, aged 44, was now a grocer. The household schedule continues on the following page and records details for the three other children - Susan, John and Jane.

1871 census return for Mary Slessor, page 14

1871 census return for Mary Slessor, page 15

Detail from 1871 census return for Mary Slessor (19 and 28 KB jpegs)
National Records of Scotland, 1871/282-4/29, pages 14 and 15