Robert Duncan Milne – from Scotland to San Francisco, 1868-style.

Robert Duncan Milne was a bright chap from Cupar, a small town in Fife, Scotland very close to where I grew up. Born in 1844, he attended Oxford University before leaving the UK in the 1860s and moving to California, settling in San Francisco. Was that especially easy to do in 1868? The Gold Rush had peaked in 1852 but San Francisco continued to grow and prosper and people poured into the city from far and away looking for opportunities. The journey from Europe was long and uncomfortable, despite improvements on board ships. In 1868 it was still not possible to cross the USA from east to west by rail, so the journey had to be made on steamers by way of Panama.

My source of information on Milne was vague on when his journey began, suggesting that he left the UK sometime in the 1860s. Although it is not sound genealogical proof to work from only one source, I was able to find a ship’s manifest entry for R D Milne who travelled from Liverpool to New York on a ship arriving 11 August 1868:



(Images courtesy of

The age is right for it to be the same Milne. He declares himself to be Scottish, but plans to become an inhabitant of America. R D Milne traveled on the RMS Russia, probably owned by the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company (later Cunard). The first image above shows the Captain’s affidavit given to customs at the port of New York, attached to a list of passengers. Tellingly, it also had to include details of passengers who had died on the crossing. Although nobody appears to have died on this crossing, it did happen.


(Above: The ship that R D Milne travelled on from Liverpool to New York.)

He traveled in a cabin, as did all the passengers on this ship. He would have had a reasonable level of comfort for this 8 – 9 day voyage across the Atlantic, including a full menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as afternoon tea. The Cunard ships of the 1860s were not the luxurious “floating hotels” that came into service in the 1900s, despite the pride they took in their culinary achievements. Cabins would have been small and cramped, and occasionally flooded.

The Russia arrived in the port of New York on August 11th 1868. Working with that date I picked up (potentially) the same R D Milne making his way from New York to the Atlantic coast of Panama on a passenger list from the Daily Alta, a San Francisco newspaper of the day. Friends, family and associates would have poured over the lists as they awaited the return of old friends or the arrival of new ones.


(Passenger list for the steamer Ocean Queen  from The Daily Alta, 21 August 1868).

This list confused me at first as it starts with “Chicago” – but I believe that’s because the information was telegraphed from Chicago to San Francisco. The information was a little dated at the point, as the ship sailed on August 15th 1868.

The journey to the Atlantic side of Panama lasted approximately 5 – 6 days. At Panama, thanks to the new railroad across the Isthmus, travelers headed for California could make their way to the Pacific coast of Panama for about $25 and pick up another steamer sailing to San Francisco. These steamers typically carried mail as well as passengers.  Some of the stops they made along the way would have included Acapulco, San Diego and Monterey. Hence this trip may have taken 1 – 2 weeks.

So over a period of roughly 4 weeks this Scotsman was able to find his way from Liverpool to California in 1868. List of passenger arrivals from Panama were usually published in the Daily Alta but I have not been able to find one listing Robert Duncan Milne as a passenger. In fact he disappears from any California records for some years, suggesting that he may have been in another state or somehow avoided being “enumerated” by the census takers in 1871 or 1881. From 1881 he is in the city directory, listed alternately as a journalist and an editor. 

He worked for the San Francisco Examiner as well as publishing fiction in The Argonaut, an important literary magazine founded in California that featured politically opinionated pieces as well as writing and art. As the attached article explains, to some sci-fi fans he is also considered “the father of science fiction.”


(Langley’s City Directory of San Francisco, 1881)

He met an unfortunate end in December 1899 when he was hit by a trolley car as he was crossing the street late one night. The San Francisco Call newspaper reported specifically that it was “car 281 of the McAllister street line.” The grip man, P Healy, appeared in court the next morning but by this time Milne had already succumbed to his injuries. His funeral was held on 19th December 1899 with little fanfare – according to the Call “there were few real mourners and few tears.”

Details of an attempt to renew interest in Milne’s work by Dundee University can be found in the article below along with further details on his life and writing. Another view of his life, as well as a brief description of one of his stories, is given in the second article from



Was great-great-great grandma a witch?

witch3A new manuscript available to consult on  details the names of people who were accused of being witches in Scotland in 1658. If you have an Ancestry account and would like to look at it, you need to search under the Card Catalog option in the drop down search menu. The name of the collection is “Scotland, Names of Witches, 1658.” I’d suggest, however, that if you really want to read it properly, you go through the Wellcome Library site. There they have also digitized a handwritten transcription of the extremely-hard-to-read original manuscript. I don’t see the transcription available on Ancestry.
I’m already intrigued – in the first few pages there is a “Catharine Edger” listed as an accused witch in Dumfries. Edgar is one of our ancestral names on my maternal line and some of them certainly lived in this area!

There’s an article about the manuscript below; if you want to see both the manuscript and the transcription you need to go to the Wellcome Library website at