James was born in the town of Bankfoot in Perthshire, Scotland on 27 Jun 1822, and baptized in the parish of Auchtergaven the same day . He was the middle child of seven children born to William Ritchie (1782-1831) and Marion “May” Duff (1792-1869), and their only son. His mother May Duff was the sister of my 3x-great-grandfather Reverend William Duff. His father William Ritchie was an “officer of excise” or an “inland reserve officer”, that is to say, he was a tax man.
Death visited the Ritchie family often, unfortunately. James’s sister Marjory died in 1821 as an infant, and his sister Jane died in 1825, also in infancy. In 1828 his sister Charlotte died at the age of 10 years, and another sister (also named Jane) died in 1829 at three years of age. Finally, in 1831, when James was only 9 years old, his father William Ritchie died. That left his mother May, James, and his sister Charlotte Nicoll Ritchie as the only surviving members of the family.
I cannot find James in the 1841 Census for Scotland, and I’m guessing he might have been away at University as he would have been 19 years old. James became a Civil Engineer, and he is listed as such in the 1851 census where he is living alone at 131 Point Street in Stornoway, Ross and Cromarty, Scotland. Stornoway is on Lewis Island, to the north of Scotland, and was a part of Ross at the time.
In the 1861 census he’s living with his mother and his sister Charlotte Nicoll at 3 Melville St. in Perth Burgh, Perthshire, Scotland. He is again listed as a civil engineer. In 1865 he wrote some diary entries describing his trip to Liverpool to take his nieces Isabella and Margaret Duff to begin their journey back home to Nova Scotia. They are worth a read.
On 22 Mar 1870 James married Annie Cowan Thomson in Redgorton, Scotland. He was 47 years old. Annie had been married previously to Dr. William John Thomson in Calcutta, India when she was 22 years old.
The couple ended up having four children: The first son Charles Ritchie died in infancy. His daughter, Dr. Beatrice Ritchie (1872-1962), studied at the Jex Blake School of Medicine for Women in Edinburgh and got her MD with distinction from the Université Libre de Bruxelles (Brussels) in 1893. In 1895 she married her former teacher Dr. William Russell (Professor of Medicine at Edinburgh University), and had six children, four of whom were doctors [I will give brief biographies of them below]. During and after the First World War Beatrice worked for the Scottish Women’s Hospitals.
James and Annie next had a son, William Ritchie, who also became a doctor. William seems to have moved to Ontario, Canada and married a woman named Annie Eliza Dane. Last came another daughter, Annie May Ritchie, who married John A. Robson, a minister’s son and a solicitor [lawyer] in Edinburgh.
In the 1881 and 1891 Census, James Ritchie is listed as living at 6 Athole Place, Perth East Church, Perthshire, Scotland, and still listed as a civil engineer. In 1901 he has moved to St Ninians, Stirlingshire, Scotland. It’s just himself and his wife living there with a domestic servant.
James died in Roberton, Lanarkshire, Scotland on 10 Aug 1913 at the ripe old age of 91 years. I have his probate documents in which he was described as “James Ritchie, Civil Engineer Lands Valuator, and Surveyor who resided sometime at 6 or 7 Athole Place Perth, thereafter at Birkhill Stirling, and thereafter at 10 St. James Terrace, Hillhead, Glasgow West who died at Roberton in the county of Lanark upon the 19th day of August, 1913”.
James was said to have been involved in the creation of the railways running through the Scottish Highlands. Interestingly, his estate showed that he owned shares of the Illinois Central Railroad Company and the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway in the United States. His entire estate was valued at about £ 9,000. James was buried in Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh, Scotland with his wife, his son-in-law Dr. William Russell, his daughter Dr. Beatrice Ritchie, and his grand-daughter Dr. Beatrice Annie Sybil Russell.
There is a large obelisk in the Kirkstyle Cemetery which is located between Berryhill Farm (the Duff Family farm) and the town of Bankfoot (where the Ritchie Family lived). The inscription reads:
“Erected by James Ritchie in memory of his father William Ritchie who died 19th May 1831 aged 49 years, and mother May Duff who died 4th January 1869 aged 76 years, and sisters May, Jane, Charlotte, Jane, and Charlotte Nicoll Ritchie.”
I think it shows the depth of his devotion to, and love for, his family.
Children of Beatrice Ritchie and William Russell
As mentioned above, James’s daughter Beatrice Ritchie and her husband Dr. William Russell had six children, one of which (Ivan) died from tuberculosis in infancy. Four of their children became respected physicians in their own rights. Each merits a full biography, but I will give brief details here:
Beatrice Annie Sybil “Sybil” Russell (1986-1978) became the house physician in Northampton, then house surgeon at Bolton in Lancashire. She got her MD in 1939 from Edinburgh University. She spent about 25 years working as a consulting physician training nurses and midwives in the Gold Coast Hospitals in Africa before retiring in 1950. During that time she published papers on malaria and anaemia in Africa.
Helen May Russell (1897-1987) graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1920 and was a house surgeon at Bolton, Lancashire like her sister Sybil. She then became a resident at the Sick Children’s Hospital in Edinburgh. She was one of the first two women to ever pass the MRCPE [Member of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh] exam in 1924, and one of the first two women to become a Fellow of that society in 1929. She got her MD that same year. She had a long and distinguished career which ended with her appointment as pathologist at the Manchester Christie Hospital from 1944 until her retirement in 1962. She published 28 medical papers in her career.
Margaret Scott Russell (1899-1961) met a Russian named Michael Chramtschenko, who had fled from the Nijnl-Novgorod region during the Russian Revolution of 1917-1918. Michael’s father had been a General in the Russian Army and Governor of Nijnl-Novgorod, but he was killed during the revolution. Michael fought during the Revolution, then fled through Poland and Scotland to reunite with Margaret Russell. The two had met when Margaret was working in Russia with refugees. The lovers planned to be married, and Michael went to Ontario, Canada. Margaret followed. They were married there in 1924, and stayed there until Margaret’s death in 1961. The couple had no children, but Michael remarried and has living descendants from that marriage.
William Ritchie “Ritchie” Russell (1903-1980) was educated at Edinburgh University where he qualified in 1926. His MD thesis earned a gold medal in 1932, and is still cited as a landmark work in the field of head trauma studies. Ritchie married Jean Stuart Low in 1932 and had two children. He worked in Oxford at the Military Hospital for Head Injuries during WWII. He later became the first chair of Clinical Neurology at Oxford in 1966. He established a retirement community called Ritchie Court which still exists. His son, Michael Russell is a third-generation doctor in Dorset.
Photo courtesy of the Ritchie Center.
Charles Scott “Scott” Russell (1912-1971) studied at Edinburgh University and obtained his MB in 1935. Hebecame the first professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Sheffield University in 1950, was a prolific author and researcher on the subject. Scott became renowned as the man who, in 1968, proved a link between smoking and low infant weight.
It is not an overstatement to say that the Ritchie family was a medical dynasty in Scotland.