Geddie Photo Album

 'Honest John' Geddie

by Neil Macara Brown

       Mention of the journalist John Geddie moves few today, but earlier in the [20th] century he was a major force both in his profession and the social and literary life of the Capital. Although the style of this Moray man's 'gems; about his adopted city and his other love, Fife, is now somewhat archaic, their contents — crammed with anecdote and architecture — remain evergreen. Indeed, many, like me, must have made their first antiquarian explorations in and around Edinburgh, especially along the Water of Leith, after having read his beguiling works. His Fringes recorded Edinburgh's outskirts in 1920, as Chambers’ Traditions had its Old Town a century before.

     My interest in John Geddie derives from his warm friendship with my aunt, Janet Cameron Brown; she worked in the Counting House at North Bridge when he was Senior Assistant Editor of The Scotsman.  As already elaborated in one of my series of articles about Stevenson’s books (‘Ex Libris RLS: Much Travelled Books'), Geddie gave her the two volumes of the journal of Sir Walter Scott (1890), which had come from RLS’s library at Vailima.  Among her other treasures were signed copies of the first editions of Fringes of Fife (1894) and Fringes of Edinburgh (1920); these are inscribed “With love from...” and “Always Yours, John Geddie.”  His signature, with that of the sculptor, Henry Snall Gamley, also appears in fun as a 'witness' on a presentation copy of Joseph Laing Waugh's Robbie Doo given to her in 1927.   I was l lucky enough to find the twin of this, given the same day to her friend, Bessie McKinlay, in MacNaughtan’s Bookshop, Edinburgh.

     Auntie Jenny’s photograph album holds joyous 'box-Brownies' of herself and John Geddie accompanied by family and friends, mainly from The Scotsman, on trips during the 1920s.  There are jaunts around the Lothians to places such as Dundas Castle and Saltoun Hall, and forays into Fife, as well happy hill walks in the Moorfoot and Pentland Hills.  Her autograph book, dating from 1912, has a page signed JDG on 15 July that year pasted in which reads:


Rich gifts that heaven delights to see
The poorest hands may hold.
The love that of its poverty
Gives kindly succour, prompt and free,
Is worth its weight in gold

     Another Geddie gem, found at the end of one of Scott’s Journals, was an original sepia copy of the shot of RLS and his family, with their household myrmidons, on the porch at Vailima.  On the back, on 1 January 1905,  J. R. Patrick has written: “My dear Geddie, Good luck, good cheer, and many a glad new year to you and yours.  When are we going to have a walk again?"  John Patrick, the noted photographer who illustrated John Geddie's Romantic Edinburgh (1905), secured the British publication rights for pictures of RLS taken by John Davis, postmaster, Apia. 

     The manuscript of Romantic Edinburgh, consisting of 232 slim, octavo-sized, loose leaves preserved in one of 'Stone's Universal Portfolios' by Augustus Muir, fell my way some years ago.  The text differs little from the published work and the few alterations are unlikely to levitate the literary historian.

     Geddie's copy of Cockburn's Memorials of His Time (1856) contains marginalia possibly made when Romantic Edinburgh was written.  But the only annotation lies alongside 'Cocky's quotation of the blasphemous remark - “Muckle he made o’ that, he was hanget' — made by Lord Braxfield about the Saviour: “It is in a notice of these memoirs in the Law Review, ascribed to Lord Brougham, that the author has often sacrificed truth to make a good story, & this anecdote of Braxfield is given as an example there being no foundation whatsoever for the story.”

     A ‘Moray loon’, John Douglas Geddie was born at Garmouth, on the Spey, on 8 December 1848 and died in Edinburgh on 20 January 1937.  The son of James Geddie. a shipbuilder, and Margaret (nėe) Spence, he married Isabella Cecilia Young and had three sons and three daughters.  His interests were golf, cycling and, especially walking.  He was a prime mover in the establishment of the Braid Hills Public Golf Course and the Edinburgh Evening Dispatch Trophy there in 1888. His home was at 16 Anne Street, Stockbridge, before he moved to 'The Hillock’, Liberton Drive, in 1928.

     Geddie was educated at Garmouth Free Church School and at Milne’s Institution, Fochabers.  He originally served as a clerk in law offices in Elgin and Edinburgh from 1864 to 1870.  While with a George Street firm he attended law classes at the University, where, as he describes in Rosaline Masson’s I Can Remember Robert Louis Stevenson, he encountered RLS on the few occasions he graced the conveyancing class.  Geddie also says that although he often visited on business the firm of W. F. Skene W.S. in Thistle Street, where RLS served his “brief and perfunctory apprenticeship”, he could not recall having seen him there.  In fact, JDG joined The Scotsman as a sub-editor in 1870, two years before RLS became Skene’s 'idle apprentice'.  His regard for RLS, however, made him re-title his masterful Water of Leith from Source to Sea (1896) as The Home Country of Robert Louis Stevenson for its second edition in 1898.  In it he says RLS “loved, in spite of its stains, the stream by the side of which he was born, with a pathetic love which sometimes was almost bitter in its intensity.  Its channel was carved deep in his memory; the sound of its current mingled in the exile’s thoughts of home.”

     Geddie became leader-writer for the Edinburgh Evening Dispatch from 1886 to 1889, before rejoining The Scotsman as assistant editor and leader writer — posts which he retained until his retiral from more active newspaper service forty years later in 1929.  The editorial reins were briefly assumed jointly by Geddie and his fellow senior assistant editor, William Riach, early this century when the then editor, Dr Charles Cooper, towards the end of his tenure, loosened his daily hold of the paper by basing himself in Bournemouth.  “Geddie was the senior of the two, and a delightful and accomplished writer, but he lacked the force and executive capacity of Riach”, claims The Glorious Privilege: The History of The Scotsman (1967).  This dual arrangement resulted in some doubt as to where ultimate control of the newspaper lay, but Riach was appointed Deputy Editor c.1904.  At this time Geddie is credited with coining the term 'wee free' in reference to the remnant of the Free Church of Scotland.  In a leader he jibed: “It is hard to see how the poor wee Free Church, which has just come into so overwhelming an inheritance, is to free itself; even if it wished, from the fortune which the law has hung about its neck.”

     Remarkably, Modern Scottish Literature: A Popular Guide-book Catalogue (1933) says that Geddie was still reviewing at the age of 84: “His work in journalism, literature, travel, archaeology, biography, Scottish history, topography and kindred subjects, has marked him out as one of the ablest and most encyclopaedic of Scottish journalists.  He has written on nearly every country under the sun, and has contributed numerous articles (including stories) to magazines and to periodicals.  A great traveller, he has footed it over every part of Scotland, many parts of England and Ireland, and bits of the Continent.  During his long career he has been a commentator on a score of wars, big and little, and on many general elections.  Mr Geddie’s intellectual energies have overflowed into numerous books.”

     Certainly Geddie was a prodigious walker.  He climbed Arthur's Seat every Sabbath before going to kirk, according to the poet and painter, Charles Richard Cammell, in his Heart of Scotland (1956).  He also often led parties of ladies to that height from the Sheep's Heid Inn at Duddingston, it seems.  Dapperly dressed in his Sunday-best stiff collar and bowler hat, Geddie might well be the ‘old devil’ depicted breaking open the ‘bubbly’ for a bunch of ladies in long dresses and floral hats on an Edwardian postcard of the hilltop.  Hills of greater difficulty were also ascended by Geddie.   His 'Thunderstorm on the Cuillin’ - experienced at seventy-five years of age — is collected in A Cadger's Creel: The Book of the Robert Louis Stevenson Club Bazaar (1925): “Luck... had brought me, in a week, from the summit of the Merrick, in Grey Galloway, to the foot of Scuir nan Gillean, in Skye.  Like the 'pleasant gauger', I had 'walked with willing foot', and with rucksack on shoulder, by no other rule than the delectable one laid down by RLS for the solitary wayfarer - in the mood and habit of one who ‘may change his mind at every finger-post, and, where ways meet, follow vague preferences freely, and go the low road or the high, choose the shadow or the sun-shine’.”  Descending Bruach na Frithe saw him perform "somersaults over the stones in the direction of the corrie below"!

     Cammell encountered Geddie at the Rymour Club in the 1920s, when it met in the Outlook Tower where Cammell lived at the time.  “Geddie was a man of outstanding personality”, he maintains: “Near to eighty years of age, his vigour seemed little abated.  He wore no overcoat in the bitter east winds of an Edinburgh winter...  He was a permanent power in the office of The Scotsman, a kind of advisory assistant editor, invaluable from his long experience.  More than all, he was a scholar of eminence, the chief living authority on the history and archaeology of old Edinburgh, upon which he had written books that are classics.”  He recalls Geddie being clear-cut, clean-shaven, with a ruddy weather-beaten complexion and thick white hair; and fondly remembers his home-spun jacket and expressive gestures. 

     The epithet, ‘Honest’, likens Geddie to `Honest Allan, Ramsay, the 18th-century poet who rescued much of Scots minstrelsy from obscurity in The Evergreen and The Tea-Table Miscellany.  His mantle had fallen on Geddie, said Dr John W. Oliver, at the Rymour Club ‘wake' held in the Outlook Tower in 1938; The Scotsman reported that 'Honest John’, “when the tide of of Scots literature had reached its flood in the period of Burns and Scott and was definitely receding, had in much the same way as `Honest Allan’, but in more difficult circumstances, done a great deal to revive the interest of his townspeople in the old lore and customs of the countryside.

     The author of The Balladists (1896) in the 'Famous Scots Series’ — “One of the most delightful and eloquent appreciations of the ballad literature of Scotland that has ever seen the light,” according to New Age -- Geddie initiated the Rymour Club, devoted to collecting ballads and folk-lore, in 1903. (He was also in the similar but short·lived Dunedin Association.)  A member of the Old Edinburgh Club from its inception in 1908, Geddie ranks high alongside its all-time greats -- men like William Cowan whose collection formed the nucleus of the `Edinburgh Room'; and Bruce Home, whose 'Provisional List of Old Houses...’ initiated the first volume of The Book of the Old Edinburgh Club (1908), which also includes the first of Geddie’s own major illustrated series on the ‘Sculptured Stones of Old Edinburgh'.  The 'highly clubbable’ Geddie enjoyed himself best, however, as 'Bard’ of the Trotters Club which haunted the skittle alley of the Sheep’s Heid Inn. The Book of the Trotters Club was given to my aunt by him; my copy of Volume II belonged to R. D. Glover, his old friend.

     Excepting the first four items listed below, John Geddie`s books are fairly easy fo find. But has anyone ever seen Round Fife with a Golf Cleek (c. 1890), which is mentioned in the Foreword to The Fringes of Fife?

Books by John Geddie

     Lake Regions of Central Africa: A Record of Discovery. Nelson, 1881.
     Beyond the Himalayas: A Story of Adventure. Nelson, 1882.
     The Russian Empire: Historical and Descriptive. Nelson, 1882.
     The Fringes of Fife. Illustrated by Louis Weirtet. David Douglas, 1894.
     The Balladists. ‘Famous Scots Series’. Oliphant Anderson &
Ferrier, 1896.
     The Water of Leith from Source to Sea. Illustrated by Joseph Brown.
        W. H. White, 1896. Reprinted as The Home Country of Robert Louis
, 1898.
     Romantic Edinburgh. Illustrated by John Patrick. Sands, (1900).
     Edinburgh in Pictures
. illustrated by John Patrick. Sands, [1903).·
     The Heart of Edinburgh. Illustrated by Philip B. Whelpley. Sands, (1913).
     Thomas the Rymour and his Rhymes. 250 paper copies only.
        Rymour Club, 1920.

     The Fringes of Edinburgh. Illustrated by Arthur Wall. Chambers, 1926.
     The Fringes of Fife: New and enlarged edition. Illustrated by Arthur
        Wall & Louis Weirter. Chambers, 1927. 
     Edinburgh; The Shores of Fife; The Scott Country. Illustrated by
        E. W Hazelhurst, issued separately by Blackie in 1922. In 1933,
        the three were combined with The Trossachs by George Eyre Todd in              one volume, Edinburgh, the Borders and the Trossachs, and as
Scotland in 1938.
Morayshire Characters, ed. for the London Morayshire Club, 1931.

   -- Article courtesy of its author Neil Macara Brown, as originally
   published in Scottish Book Collector magazine - Autumn, 1997


Return to GeddieWorld
Return to Main Page



[Excerpt from the Banffshire Journal, January 28, 1896]

"Yesterday, before Sheriff Brown and a Jury in the Aberdeen Sheriff Court, under the Fatal Accidents Inquiry (Scotland) Act, 1895, an Inquiry was held in regard to the deaths of ... Marshall Geddie, seaman, Banff ... [crew] of the ill-fated schooner 'Swift' of Banff, which was lost at Scotston Head, near Peterhead, on Wednesday, 15th instant, while on a voyage from Banff to Leith with a cargo of grain. The 'Swift' belonged to Messrs Wm. Geddie & Son, lately shipbuilders at Banff Harbour... There was also lost by the sinking of the ship Alexander Geddie, ship carpenter, brother of the seaman Marshall Geddie and son of the owner... The first witness called was John Geddie (38), ship carpenter, Banff, brother of two of the deceased, and son of the owner... William Guy, coastguard officer at Rattray Head, testified, 'A heavy squall of snow came on. The vessel was in the midst of the snowstorm, and during that time the men furled the topsail. I saw the men through a glass. The vessel, when the snowstorm cleared away, was close to Rattray Briggs and inside the buoy, being rather dangerously near the shore. She cleared Rattray Briggs, and, hugging the land, continued in that way until within two miles of Scotston Head, the tide  being half-ebb or quarter-ebb, setting the ship in towards the bay. When within two miles of Scotston Head, the vessel's head was out to sea, making a fair wind, and after being on that course for about four minutes, her head came round to starboard, facing the rock. I summoned the Life-Saving Apparatus Company, and during the time I had, left with the rocket party. I went to the scene of the wreck and attempted to communicate with the ship by rocket, but could not, the distance being too great. I then sent a man to summon the lifeboat. When the ship struck, the exact time, as I noted it, was as near as possible four o'clock. I saw no appearance of any one on board when she struck or afterwards. The two seas which struck her after she grounded were sufficient to sweep off the crew, and no man could ever have lived under them....' [It was found the crewmen] 'had been the coast of Aberdeenshire in a gale of great severity' ... The case lasted for little over an hour."

[Article courtesy Dorothy Geddie, Edinburgh. Photo of Wemyss Harbour, Fife]

East Texas Geddie's

Geddie Reunion 1998
Van Community Center - VanZandt County, Texas

Early Geddie's of Colfax, Texas



[Photos from COLFAX, by Henry L. (Jack) Geddie]

William Franklin Geddie, East Texas
U.S. Social Security Application 1938
Born Oct. 15, 1892 in Van Zandt County, Texas


Davidson's Hotel 1907

Davidson's Hotel List of Personages


[Photo and Description courtesy of Dr. Thomas R. Hargrove, Galveston Texas]


At some point before 1810, the family of Alexander Geddie (b.1792), son of James Daniel and Catherine Isabella McPhail Geddie, moved south from North Carolina to Florida. Alexander, whose first wife had died, arrived with four sons and a daughter according to Jack Geddie's research. Alexander would soon move on to Mississippi. It is likely that one or more of his sons remained and that they or their descendants became well-established in the Tallahassee area. It is documented that his son, also Alexander Geddie, fought in two Indian Wars including the Seminole War and later served in the Civil War. Although much more is to be learned of Geddie family history in Florida, we know that Joseph B. Geddie enlisted in the Army of the Confederacy as a Private with the 3rd Arkansas Infantry in Hamburg, Arkansas on April 8, 1862, and that he was paroled at Appomattox, Virginia April 12, 1865. Joseph was born in Florida c.1830, and filed Florida Pension application #A11659 from Leon County in 1899. In 1860 Joseph and his wife Elizabeth were listed as residents of Ashley County. His occupation was given as farmer.

Ella Rich Geddie (center) and Sisters


At left in photo is Ida (nee Rich), with Ella Rich Geddie in the middle and Mary Elizabeth Rich Blocker at right. The photo was probably taken in Blanton, Florida. The migrations were sometimes slow to Florida from North Carolina. John Marion O'Berry (coming from Screven County, Georgia) met Francis and Mary Rich Blocker with their horse and wagon where the train ended in Wildwood (Fla.) when the O'Berry's moved to Blanton.  It is believed there was either a family or former neighbors connection between the Blockers and O'Berry's.

J. McPhail Geddie had married Ella Rich, daughter of Lewis H. and Harriet Rich of Boykin Bridge (near Clinton), Sampson Co. NC  at some point in the mid-19th century. Mary Elizabeth Rich, who had come along to Cumberland County from Sampson Co., was Ella's sister and eventually married Francis Blocker of Cumberland Co. Francis was the youngest son of John Culbreath and Julia Braddy Blocker.  John Culbreath Blocker (b. 10/28/1811 Sampson Co. NC) is believed, from circumstantial evidence, to be the son of William and Jean Davis Blocker of the Sampson Co. area. John proclaimed himself raised an orphan and nothing is known of his first twenty-nine years.  He surfaced in Cumberland Co. in 1831 and married Julia Braddy of Tarboro NC in 1839.  William Blocker disappears from the census after 1790.

(Photo and family descriptions courtesy Lora Blocker, Blanton Florida)

Today both Geddie Road and Geddie Cemetery lie just southwest
of Tallahassee, Florida's state capital, near the Gulf of Mexico.


At the end of a sandy trail approximately a quarter mile from Geddie Road
off U.S. 90 just West of Tallahassee, and visible from the road through a
wrought-iron fence, the beautifully maintained Geddie Cemetery lies within
an area that is a now a State Forest Preserve. The cemetery is the final
resting place for several families including Geddie's.

Headstone of Emma Russela Geddie

1850 - 1939

Headstone of Thomas Jefferson Geddie


Headstone of Laura Geddie Richards

1934 - 1995

Geddie Road runs between Rts. 90 & 20 and is about 2 mi. long

Forest trail beside Geddie Road near the Cemetery


"LEGAL NOTICE, from Cumberland County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, Sept. Term 1863: Petitions for sale of land and of slaves -- Dugald McPHAIL, John McPHAIL, Daniel McPHAIL, and Agnes GEDDIE heirs at law of Robert McPHAIL VS Thomas McPHAIL, James GEDDIE and wife Margaret, James Dobbin McPHAIL and Virginia Caroline McPHAIL minor heirs of Archibald McPHAIL, and Mary Isabella and Nancy Jane McPHAIL minor heirs of William McPHAIL."


From the "Laws of North Carolina 1783"

"At a general assembly begun and held at Hillsborough, on the 18 day of April, in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty three, and in the seventh year of the independence of the United States of America, being the first session of this Assembly. Alexander Martin, Esq., Governor.

Chapter 1.

1.Whereas the necessity for money for the purposes aforesaid, is indispensable; Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina, and it is hereby enacted by the authority of the same, That one hundred thousand pounds be emitted in paper bills of credit... that the same be printed in a printing press, and that John Geddie and James Gillispie be appointed commissioners to superintend the press and number the bills..."

[NC Geddie Family Research courtesy Jean Coleman, Lenior NC]

NB-This "John Geddie" is currently unknown, and could alter the traditional U.S. Geddie history. It is possible John is James Daniel's brother or actually refers to a John Geddy, Getty, or Gaddis. A child of James Daniel and Catherine Isabella Geddie would have been no more than eleven in 1783. There is also no evidence James Daniel was involved in government or printing. We would love to hear from anyone with further knowledge of this John Geddie or his descendants.

Geddie Album Page 6

Next Album Page