Ebeth Scobbie (1884-1940)

The girl on our left in this picture is Ebeth, photographed with her siblings and parents in Scotland when she was 12 or 13, around 1896. Here is some of her life story. I collected some of this material in 2016, at the time of the centenary of the tragic day on May 30th 1916 when she was widowed, aged 33, in Smyrna (now İzmir on the western Mediterranean coast of Turkey), and now a year later, in the days before posting this blog, I finally located and visited her grave in Morningside, a few minutes walk from my home.

Why was she there? What happened to her? Why am I writing about her?

Smyrna was then an Ottoman Empire / Greek city in Asia Minor, on the Turkish Aegean littoral, part of the wider Levant, or Anatolia.  I don’t know quite how she would have described it, but these fancy words conjure up a world and a way of life that seems more than a century distant. There were around two thousand other British residents in this multicultural and cosmopolitan city of 250,000 – 400,000. There were sizeable Jewish and Muslim minorities in what was a mainly Christian (Orthodox and Armenian) city. She was one of 20,000 or so foreigners, and specific areas of the city housed the various local communities, grouped along religious and ethnic/linguistic lines. Around half of the residents were Greek, and there were large Turkish and Armenian communities, among others. Smyrna was one of several such cities. This way of life was disrupted by the First World War (1914-1918) and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire; and destroyed completely by the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922), by ethnic cleansing and genocide, and by the Great Fire of Smyrna in 1922. It is impossible to compare the personal suffering of Ebeth to the horrific fates of millions, and this impossibility is in itself a sobering thought.

Ebeth (Elizabeth Forrester Scobbie) was born on the 10th of April 1884 in Newarthill near Motherwell, but on Tuesday the 30th of May 1916 this young woman, an expat Scot, around 6 months pregnant, became a widow. She was stranded in a war zone far from her home and family near Glasgow, and there was little chance of repatriation. In 1916, the situation was increasingly dangerous for her and the community in which she lived. Around the time her baby daughter was born, Ebeth contracted typhoid, putting her own life in great danger. She survived, but did not live a long life: she ultimately died in 1940 (Nov 19) aged only 56, in Edinburgh (of pneumonia associated with a longer-term brain tumour). In May 1916 she had been experiencing increasing warfare, disease, uncertainty, food shortages, and the random acts of military command for a year and a half. And now she was facing tragedy alone. She’d been married for fewer than four years.

Her husband was Dr David McKenzie Newton from Broughty Ferry, a medical missionary. The couple had been married in a church then called St Matthew’s,* in Morningside, Edinburgh (12 Oct 1912).** David had been born on the 29th of May 1881. So, in 1912 he was 31 and she was 28. He died (of typhus) one day after his 35th birthday.

They were in Smyrna in 1916 because David was a doctor (Medical Superintendent) in the hospital of Smyrna’s Scotland Jewish Mission (established in 1856). The hospital had been established by Dr Levi Prinski Scott who had been given that task by the Church of Scotland in 1881: he and his growing family lived in Smyrna till 1892. (So by 1916 he had been away, in London, for over two decades, and the hospital was run by others, including presumably by David himself.) Levi was a remarkable man. He had been a destitute street urchin in Edinburgh, yet graduated from Edinburgh University with a medical degree in 1880. He was a convert to Christianity who it seems came originally from a Polish Jewish family. Thanks to his success following his arrival in Smyrna, he oversaw construction of a new, enlarged hospital which opened in December 1886: Beaconsfield Memorial Hospital (‘BMH’), named in memory of the late Lord Beaconsfield, formerly Benjamin Disraeli. Such missions seem to have been established by a number of European proselytising organisations with humanitarian goals in the city. In the Great Fire of 1922, which killed between 10,000 and 100,000 people, the Greek and Armenian parts of the city were largely destroyed, including the hospital, and the Mission was discontinued.

As well as dealing with her grief and exile from home, Ebeth was probably additionally worried about the pregnancy because their first baby had died at only a few days old, 18 months earlier (August/September 1914) in the Rumelihisarı area (with many Western Europeans) of Constantinople (now Istanbul), and disease in Smyrna was rife. Thankfully, their daughter Elizabeth was born safely on 22 Aug 1916, and survived.

Indeed, Elizabeth McKenzie Newton (later Mitchell) lived a long and active life, also becoming a doctor after graduating from Edinburgh University medical school in 1942. A consultant anaesthetist, she died in 2011. She was one of my father’s first cousins: he graduated from Glasgow University medical school at roughly the same time. Given the events described here, she was an only child. And of course, she never knew her father. I was told that this is why as an adult she compiled the large family tree that sparked my own interest in this topic. So, this is why my first blog posts on my family history centre on her mother Ebeth (pictured again below in childhood and as a young woman), after whom she was named.

Ok, here are the photos, including the main one we started with. First the two group photos, then individual images. Other posts tell the relevant stories but I wanted to gather more photos together in one place, in a rough sequence.


LR children (rough ages in 1889): Mabel (10), David (3), Ebeth (5) and George (8). Mother Mina and father James. (5th child James Percy was born later, in 1893.) David, the youngest here, was born in July 1886. Date: around 1889?
Children LR (named by one my father’s sisters): Ebeth, George, Mabel (b 1879), (James) Percy (b 1893), David. Date: around 1896?

Ebeth’s parents were Williamina Black Laughland (1852-1945) & James Scobbie (1853-1943), and  there is a post about their 65 years of marriage here. It will in time lead to other posts about them.

Ebeth aged maybe 9 or so, because she looks younger (and thinner) here than she does in the 1896 family photo (close-ups below), but is tall compared to the chair. Date: around 1893?
Ebeth aged about 9 around 1893. Zoomed with some changes to contrast
Ebeth estimated age 12 (1896?), close up from the family photo
Ebeth as a young woman – could be any age, let’s say 21.
Ebeth in summer 1913 aged 29 with her husband David McKenzie Newton (m. Oct 1912)
Ebeth around 1920, aged about 36, with her daughter Elizabeth (b1916)
Ebeth, location and date unknown
Ebeth aged 46 in 1930, at her wedding to Robert Galloway with his son Angus in the background.
Ebeth aged 54 in 1938, three years after her second husband’s death (next to someone who I incorrectly guessed to be her “step-son” Charles Galloway b 1901).


* As for David and Ebeth’s wedding, the Edinburgh church they were married in was a United Presbyterian one, home to one of the five (overlapping) presbyterian parishes in the central and northern Morningside  area that re-combined over the years. St. Matthews (opened 1890) was and is still a landmark building overlooking Morningside Cross on the corner of Cluny Drive and Braid Road (and so both road names are used to identify it, but it is officially in Braid Road). It was and is sometimes known as Cluny Church (see its own history page, or the Canmore architectural history page), but officially is now called Morningside Parish Church and it is the active centre of the recombined parishes. It is almost next door to South Morningside Church, some of whose buildings housed the Cluny Centre and overspill classes from South Morningside Primary School in recent years. I used to take my older son to “play group” there. Twenty years later and no longer at playgroup, he is currently working behind the bar at The Hermitage. The family voted for Scottish independence in the 2014 referendum in the church hall. The railway station was closed down two generations ago, though the line is still open for freight. Around the corner is Abdul’s take-away, a long-standing and reliable local tastebud landmark. I wonder what my great aunt and uncle would make of the modern context.

** I am not sure why this church, or Edinburgh as a location, was chosen, though Ebeth’s older sister Mabel and her husband John (Logan) had their large family home just up the road at 8 Hermitage Drive. Perhaps Ebeth had been living in Edinburgh, though on the 1911 census day, she (aged 24, no occupation) and her younger brother David (aged 24, working as a brick salesman / brick manufactury worker) were at their family home, Beechworth, Newarthill, so perhaps not. (On the census day, James and Mina, in their late 50s, were visiting Mabel and John in Morningside.) Mabel had been married near her parent’s home, but at that time she had only been 19 years old. David had finished his medical studies in Edinburgh, and Ebeth’s sister lived there: perhaps they had met when Ebeth had visited Mabel and David was visiting Scotland, and Edinburgh seemed more personal to them? As noted elsewhere, David had first left for Smyrna in 1904, and presumably worked abroad continuously. But Mina and James were very churchy, in Newarthill, and it is just as likely that the Newarthill congregation had a special interest in the mission in Smyrna. The Edinburgh location will probably remain inexplicable. Finally, the witnesses were Janet Shearer (and I think I recall there is a photo of her somewhere) and John M Newton (who is I think pictured in here and called Jack).

morningside church. google street

St Matthews, Google street view. Now called Morningside Parish Church.

morningside church google above

Satellite view with some local landmarks marked. More aerial views which encourage the viewer to confuse this church with the one next door are available at Canmore.

For a summary and links to individual articles telling Ebeth’s story, see the STORYSHELF link at the top, or one of the links below.

All my original personal images and my text are protected under an international Creative Commons 4.0 BY-NC-SA license issued by me, James M Scobbie. See the home page.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

A WordPress.com Website.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: