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Helen Bowie, Her Life and Marriage to David Philp

Here follows the text of the story of Helen, Alexander and Margaret Bowie's longest surviving child. Her story spans fom her birth in Stirling in 1823 to her death in Australia in 1908. It is a remarkable story and gives a lead in to the genealogy search for living relatives via the internet that eventually located hundreds of descendants in four countries.

The Story of Helen Bowie and her marriage to David Philp



Boarhills Farm ( sometimes called Byrehills) came into the Philp hands in 1660 when ----? Philp the son of a Burgess of Crail married Margaret Allan (CHECK SASINES) and remained in the family's hands until about 1830 when it was sold. The village of Boarhills lies some five miles from St Andrews in Fife, Scotland and, at that time would comprise just a handful of cottages and two farms, Boarhills and Old Edinburgh. To this day Boarhills is maintained as a working farm but Old Edinburgh has been demolished to make way for a housing development.

While the earlier family members have not yet been traced we know that the property was in Philp hands by 1695. Sibbald's 'History of Fife and Kinross' includes an entry for 'Philps part of Byrehills' 69-6-8. James Philp (1743--1800) of Boarhills married one Mary Bell in 1774 and they had ten children. (See Family chart) Of these the one that interests us is James (1791--1842) who married Elizabeth Simpson daughter of James Simpson of Haddington who had three children, all daughters. They were Mrs James Philp and Mrs Cleghorn by his first wife and Miss Jean Simpson by his second wife whom he married when a very old man.

James Philp and Elizabeth Simpson had three sons 1. Dr James Philp, Edinburgh, Married to phemie and died without issue around 1886. 2. Simpson Philp, Writer to the Signet of Cupar Fife died unmarried about 1877 and was conductor of the Philharmonic Society and a noted musician. 3. David Philp, B 1820. of St. Andrews married Helen Bowie of Stirling. D Auckland NZ December 15th 1883 the couple about whom the remainder of this book is concerned. Photographs here


David Philp was born at Boar Hills in 1820. In 1836 at the age of almost 16 he was taken on by the St. Andrew's branch of the Bank of Scotland as an apprentice. His dedication to the job and his effectiveness as an employee can be judged from a comment from the St. Andrew's Manager in October 1838 to the Head Office in Edinburgh: "There are two young men as apprentices in the office whom I regard as worthy of promotion" one of these was David Philp who had been at the Branch for just over two years. He was promoted to clerk. In January 1840 he was transferred to the Perth Branch of the Bank of Scotland as a clerk and subsequently moved in May 1842, aged 22 years, to be teller in the Bank of Scotland's Callander branch which had recently opened.


He remained in Callander until February 1847 when he returned to the Perth branch as clerk. Perhaps it was during his time in Callander that he met Helen Bowie. We know that she had friends there and that she went there in 1840 after the death of her brother Alexander. ( Letter from George Cupples)

At that time all Bank employees were required to post a Bond of Caution - a guarantee against any loss through staff misconduct or dishonesty. The guarantors of the employee had therefore to be people of a respectable and wealthy background who knew the prospective employee very well, David Philp's Bond of Caution dated 1848, a year after his return to Perth, was probably a re-assignment of his original bond of 1836 taken out on his commencement of employment with Bank of Scotland, due to an increase in the amount being required or to one of his original Cautioners pulling out because of death or bankruptcy or disagreement. David's June 1848 Bond for 300, at the time of his promotion to Teller in Perth, was guaranteed by Alexander Brown, embroiderer, Marshall Place, Perth, and Simpson Philp, Writer in St. Andrews, David's brother.

David obviously had thoughts about being a Bank manager or Agent because in March 1849 David and his brother Simpson Philp were unsuccessful in their attempt to jointly apply for the Agency of the Bank of Scotland in St. Andrews. (All Bank of Scotland Information from a private communication with the Bank's Archivist)


The next documented information that remains about David comes from personal letters, dated from January to July 1856, that survive between him and Helen Bowie, by now the sole surviving child of Alexander Bowie and Margaret Hill. In these letters their love and caring for each other is tenderly expressed but, because of the personal nature of these letters and out of respect for their privacy, only selected brief quotes are given. Quotes that relate to their lives and everyday activity rather than their feelings and emotions.

We noted above that their acquaintance and friendship may date from David's time in Callander but their romance would seem to date from 1855 This we can deduce because, on January 7th 1856, we read in a letter from David in Perth to Helen in Stirling " I am much pleased, nay delighted, with the quiet kindness and fondness ( if I may so express it) of your last letter". he goes on " I am really glad that you are pleased with me in every way--I know my own deficiencies, of course, and don't see how I can teach you anything. I always looked upon you as very intelligent and well informed however it is pleasant when both have literary tastes that we can enjoy the same books and understand the same allusions."

These passages show a degree of restraint. Almost as if the relationship is just moving into a different gear indeed the second passage quoted also suggests that David defers somewhat to Helen and sees her as being more than himself. Helens' strength almost to the point of dominance shows again in later correspondence.


On the 12th of March 1856 David writes to Helen " I have no communication from either Mr Auchterlonie or Mr Neilson-I shall think that 'no news is good news' as it must be under consideration by Mr. N who may not have been in Edinburgh. I requested him, if possible, to speak to Mr Simson, as the communication was of too delicate a nature to let it be kicking about in the Secretary's room so we must just have patience which is a very great virtue."

The most likely explanation for the above comments is that their romance has blossomed and David has made application to the Bank's Head office in Edinburgh for permission to marry--- something that was necessary at that time.

That March letter gives a further clue as to their situation when David says about telling his brother Simpson about his application " It will be more pleasant to tell him when it is finally fixed ---I have no doubt that he will be very glad to hear of my approaching happiness as he is a very affectionate brother."

That Helen and David had marriage in mind is confirmed when in an undated letter Helen writes " There is a report got up here at present that Miss Bowie is to be married to her cousin--They do not know who to hit upon, Isn't it good you and I know." In this letter Helen also tells of the wedding of the late Lord Abercrombies daughter and the Hon. Mr. Boyle. half brother to the Earl of Glasgow, that she has been to in the Episcopal church and concludes by saying " I confess I was interested in the service---You may guess why?"

In the same letter Helen writes a rebuke to David saying " I write a few hurried lines to you to express my disappointment at not hearing from you today. I fully expected to hear the result of your search after a house. Which of the two you have taken."

ADD The letter from Australia here

David obviously did reply about the housing situation by asking Helen for her viewpoint because in a letter, again sadly undated, we read "I write to say I do most certainly give my ___ up to you in the deciding on which should be our future home--- of the two you mention no doubt the country one has many delightful attractions but the distance for you to walk to and from might be irksome for you and in wet weather it would be unpleasant. It rests with you my dearest I like the country and it matters little to me where I am settled for I am a stranger wherever I am situated. With you beside me I shall be happy anywhere."

Clearly the great change from moving from Stirling to Perth and getting married was fairly stressful for Helen when she points out that she will be a stranger wherever she goes and says " I had a round of last visits yesterday. I wish they were over. It is rather painful mind you breaking up my early ties."


One further, potentially difficult but, for the times, necessary piece of formal business that had to be undertaked between David and Helen was the drawing up of the marriage contract. Later, as events were to prove this was a very essential precaution. The situation at this time can best be appreciated by quoting the whole of a letter from Helen to David undated but obviously written just before their marriage. Again we get the feeling of Helen being the dominant person in the partnership. Helen writes ;

Tuesday 11 0'clock forenoon I am confined today with cold

My Dearest David

I write this to acquaint you with my movements with regard to the drawing out of settlement. I proposed to the Captain his being named as the Trustee. His answer was---No Helen to begin as Trustee to a young couple beginning life when I am stepping out from it would be foolish. But while I live you will always have my very best advice. But he added why not apply to Gabriel (His son) he is a strong young man. I accordingly have asked Gabriel to allow us to name him. I expect his answer by Thursday--I also wrote to Mr Young and Dr Forrest our own family Doctor consents most willingly. I have been quite disuaded from going in to Edinburgh to have it all done so I fix on old Mr Monteath in than whom there does not exist a more honest lawyer and if need be he can act as agent.

I had a conversation yesterday in reference to it. I am told in a contract there must be something to dispose of on both sided and that on making a contract there is no need of a settlement being made afterwards as the contract remains the most binding of the two--If so why should we waste money drawing out more wills.

Just you write a few lines to me authorising me or the agent to include your life policy in the settlement now and it will go quite to your desire the rest of it I think. Under certain circumstances I intend liferenting you in the greater part of mine unless in the event of my death you marry again in which case you will see what the scrawl says.

Now view this calmly there my dear and be assured it will be for our mutual advantage. Write by return of post as Mr Monteath is to commence work after Thursday.

with kindest love I am ever yours Helen Bowie


On the date of their marriage, 8th July 1856, David was 36 years old and Helen 33. They were married in the Free North Church, Stirling, after the Banns had been read. The service was conducted by the Rev. Alex Beith.

After their marriage they left for their honeymoon, travelling to London presumably by train (a service that commenced from Stirling in 1848). Here, on the 15th July 1856, they went to the the French Consulate and were issued with a French 'Passport' issued to M. Philp, David, banquer, et spouse living in London and Perth and going to Paris. This document, issued long before formal passports were needed, is more of a visa and a guarantee of free passage and help and protection in case of need.

Details of this journey as described by Helen to Capt. Napier, Trustee and mentor, would have made excellent reading but they have not survived. That Helen did write to him can be gauged from his comments in a letter to Helen dated 28th July 1856 from his home in Southfield, Stirling He writes :

My Dear Helen

I duly received your letter begun in London and terminated dans la ville de Paris; for the information it contains of your journeyings in so many strange places to you, accept my best thanks.

Captain Napier goes on to tell Helen of the various 'doings' of the family members after the wedding and after Helen and David had left for their honeymoon.

I need not now go back over the subject of the day you left us; suffice to say we had a most pleasant and delightful one as on such an occasion should be and without any untoward event to disturb the harmony and enjoyment which was kept up until a late hour a full account of which you no doubt ere this have heard.

I have delayed replying to yours during your wanderings until I could do so though not in person but by the nearest thing to it in the shape of this missile sincerely welcoming yourself and husband to your future home which i hope you will find all that you expected and it may be a happy one to you both is my best and warmest wish.


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Helen and David part Two

Commercial Bank 1827

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