Tombstone Tuesday: David Coubrough (Montreal, Canada)

CoubroughGraveDavid Coubrough was born in approximately 1856, according to mid-to-late nineteenth century Scottish census records.  His parents, Robert and Mary (Sandilands) Coubrough, lived in Thornliebank, Renfrewshire, Scotland (near Glasgow) where his father was employed in the textile industry as a cotton cloth lapper – someone who either cleaned cotton fibers before fed into carding machines or moved the yarn from the carding machine to the next process in weaving.  David would later follow his father and work in the same industry as a printfields labourer, or one who dyed and printed calico cloth.

David was the youngest child of Robert and Mary’s, for Robert died on May 24, 1857, leaving Mary with six children to raise on a textile worker’s salary.  It is unclear, however, whether she actually continued to work in the mill since in 1861 her occupation was listed as “formerly coiler bleacher” (which might have instead been “color bleacher”).

Whether or not their work was especially skilled or not, it is fairly certain that it did not pay well.  Speaking about the major industries which provided employment in the late 1800’s, the Electric Scotland web site had this to say:

The major employers were the ‘heavy’ industries – coal mining, iron and steel-founding, shipbuilding and engineering. More than 200,000 families derived their livelihood from these industries, and a further 150,000 were sustained by employment in textile production. Thus more than half the population was dependent upon labour-intensive manufacturing industry.

In the late 1800s and into the twentieth century, these industries were earning large profits, and great wealth came to the owners, who enjoyed, in late Victorian and Edwardian times, life-styles enviable for leisure and luxury.  Unfortunately, though individual acts of charity were frequent, there was no official social conscience; and, in the presence of great riches, industrial workers lived lives governed by low wages, long hours and frequently unhealthy and dangerous working conditions. Away from the workplace, living conditions were, as came to be realised, a national disgrace.  Housing, whether provided by employers or by builders planning to draw rents, was generally cheap in construction, poor in quality and grudging in space.  If employers had provided high-quality housing, then their profits would have suffered.  If builders had offered high quality rented homes, a low-paid workforce could never have paid the rents required. So, buildings were crammed into confined sites, often cheek-by-jowl with colliery and yard, factory and foundry; rooms were small, and around 53 per cent of families, no matter how numerous, lived in houses with one or two rooms. Indoor sanitation was absent or shared, and the effect of these conditions upon the health and life-expectancy of the people was bound to be damaging.   Typhoid fever and even cholera survived into the twentieth century; epidemics of diphtheria and scarlet fever were virtually annual, and tuberculosis killed thousands.  Poverty led to malnutrition, and diseases caused by diet deficiency, like rickets, were common. To make matters worse, the houses were themselves aging, and new building was quite inadequate to provide homes for the rising population between 1850 and 1900.

To make matters worse, though few could have realised it, Scotland’s days of industrial success were already numbered. The appearance of economic success endured and examples of technological excellence (such as the building of the first turbine-powered steamer, King Edward in 1901) occurred, but the basis of Scotland’s role as one of the world’s workshops was weakening.

It’s possible this is what life was like for the Coubrough family of Thornliebank, Scotland.  David perhaps made the acquaintance of his bride-to-be, Mary Smith, at the textile mill, she also a printfields worker.  Their marriage record was recorded in the Parish of Eastwood in County Renfrew on April 29, 1881 (as transcribed by a family researcher):

1881 on the Twenty ninth day of April at Thornliebank after Banns according to the Forms of the Established Church of Scotland. David Coubrough, Printfields Labourer, Bachelor, 25, Thornliebank, [son of] Robert Coubrough, Cotton Cloth Lapper, dec. [and] Mary Coubrough, Formerly Gunn, M.S. Sandalands [married] Mary Smith, Printfields Worker, 20, Thornliebank, [daughter of] James Smith, House Painter, [and] Isabella Gunn. [The ceremony was performed by] George Campbell, Minister of Eastwood, [and witnessed by] Samuel Jack and Annie Carrey.

Together David and Mary had at least eight children.  According to the 1901 Scottish census records: Hugh (18); David (16); Isabella (12); Andrew (8); Mary (6); Charles (3) and John (1).  That year David was employed as a “grain worker”.  Sons Hugh and David worked in the textile mill, Hugh as a thread spool turner and David as a calico machine worker.  It appears that David and Mary had one more child, Susan, who was born later that year.

By 1912, it is likely that economic conditions and employment opportunities had deteriorated enough to compel the Coubrough family to immigrate to Canada.  One source also indicates that the Canadian government had undertaken an aggressive policy which encouraged immigration between the late 1890’s and 1914.

I found two passenger lists which do appear to list David and his family, although some of the ages don’t seem to coincide with birth or census records (I wonder if perhaps some were his grandchildren since I think maybe some of his children and their spouses were also immigrating at the same time).  Interestingly, one of the passenger lists, recorded the passenger’s religious denomination.  Most of the passengers listed on the page where David and his family appeared were Presbyterian.



However, David and his family were listed as “Or Sec” (this might have meant “Original Secession”) which I believe refers to a branch of the Presbyterian church.  The church, originally called the United Secession Church was formed in 1820 when separation from the Church of Scotland occurred, and merged with the Presbyterian Relief Church in 1847 to become the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

The other passenger list had more details about the steamship line (Donaldson), the ship’s name (Letitia), date of departure (October 19, 1912), where it was bound (Quebec, Montreal) and where passengers embarked (Glasgow).  Most of the passengers were Scottish and most headed to Canada – 119 passengers were traveling in second class and 158 in third class.  David and his family were traveling third class, which likely meant all passengers of that class were housed in one large room (also referred to as “steerage”).

LetitiaShipAlthough there is a younger David listed, it’s possible that David, Jr. had already immigrated the year before.  I found another passenger list which indicated a David Coubrough had arrived on April 27, 1911, and his age listed as twenty-five matches his approximate birth date.  David, Jr. was planning to live with family (brother-in-law) when he arrived.  So, it’s likely other family members had already immigrated to Canada.

The picture below would have presumably been taken after the family immigrated to Canada, perhaps sometime between 1912 and 1914 or 1915 since David, Jr. appears to have joined the Royal Montreal Regiment (also known as the 14th Battalion) which landed in France in early 1915.

DavidCoubroughFamilyTragically, Private David Coubrough died in Arras, France on March 10, 1917 from a grenade wound he sustained.  He was buried in Lapugnoy Military Cemetery, five miles west of Berthune, France:

DavidCoubroughJr_DeathRecThe news was devastating was, of course, to his family, as would be expected, and perhaps his father took it especially hard.  Although his cause of death is unknown.  David Coubrough, Sr. died two months after his son on May 10.  He was buried on May 12 and his funeral attended by Reverend S.S. Burns.

DavidCoubrough_DeathRecMary, a widow, was enumerated as living with five of her children in Montreal for the 1921 Canadian census.  She lived to be almost ninety years old, dying on July 2, 1951.  It appears that she and David are buried in the same cemetery (Mount Royal) and share a grave stone.

STORY NOTE:  Today’s article stems from the Scottish and Canadian ancestry research I conducted last week, mostly for “practice” (I sure did learn a lot!).  David Coubrough is the great grandfather of my cousin, Terrie Coubrough Henderson.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.


  1. He was my Great Grandfather also my Grandfather was Hugh Coubrough who had 10 children of which my father John Coubrough was one. How interesting Thank you for posting all the information.
    Maralyn Coubrough Fisher

  2. David was also my Great-Grandfather, my Grandfather being John. Thank you, Sharon, for sharing your research, which adds life and dimension to the data I have had for David and Mary.

    Susan Coubrough Morris

    • Hi Susan, David Coubrough, was also my great grandfather my grandfather was Hugh Mac Kay Coubrough my Dad was John Coubrough probably named after your Dad. Our great grandfather is buried in Montroyal cemetery in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
      We should get in touch and share stories.
      Maralyn Coubrough Fisher

      • I love that I can bring family members together by researching and writing these stories. Thanks for stopping by!

    • You are so welcome! I enjoyed researching and writing this article — curious to see if I could find out more about my cousin’s ancestry (Terrie Coubrough Henderson).

  3. Thanks Susan for sharing your research. Most kind of you. Perhaps I can answer one of your questions: According to some of his grandsons, David was run over by a train. Completely deaf, he was walking along a train track and didn’t hear the train. After his death, His widow, Mary S. McKay Smith, spent a lot of time with her son Andrew’s family.

    David’s parents, Robert and Mary, had three children together, but David was the only one who survived childhood. His baby sister Jean died only weeks before her father. Mary had two children from her first marriage, and her husband Robert was survived by four children from his first wife, Margaret Macdonald (m. 1820): John, Robert, Margaret, James. The only one who stayed in Scotland was Margaret. Her three full brothers all moved to England and David came to Canada.

    • That’s an interesting piece of information about David’s death. I will pass it on to my cousin Terrie Coubrough Henderson (David is her great grandfather).


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