British 19th C, except portraits, Scotland: Artists and Subjects 17 What more can we establish about the painter of this greyhound?

Susan' Whitehead (Winner of the Biggar St Leger, 1856)
Topic: Artist

This painting is signed lower right (slightly below and to the left of the tablet on the low mound). The other greyhound portrait, of 'Sunshine' in the same collection might be by the same artist and the signature on it looks clearer. A stab at a guess is that the name is McKersow, which is a rare but legitimate Scottish surname. The attached is a composite of the two portraits' signatures. It might also be that the name is McKerrow, which is more frequently to be found in Scotland.

Kieran Owens, Entry reviewed by Art UK


James Brown,

McKerrow / MacKerrow is common in Ayrshire, Dumfries & Galloway (Ronald F. Black 'The Surnames of Scotland') Possibly an artist active in Kirkcudbright (pron. Kirr-koo-bray) at the end of 19th/early 20th c. Check with National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House (pron. Brochton).

Martin Hopkinson,

For a youthful Alexander McKerrow artist see Family Tree Forum 1851 Scotland - 15 in the 1851 census whose son James Dickson McKerroch became an art master, and exhibited in Glasgow. Alexander was born in Douglas in June 1835

Martin Hopkinson,

does the Museum know anything about the painting's previous ownership?

Martin Hopkinson,

This greyhound was the winner of the Biggar St Leger in 1856, and owned by Susan Whitehead
The Greyhound Stud Book is on the internet, but the National Coursing Club was only founded in 1858

Marcie Doran,

I have attached part of an article in the ‘Cork Constitution’ (known at that time as the ‘The Constitution, or, Cork advertiser’) of May 16, 1857, that mentions both ‘Sunshine’ and ‘Susan Whitehead’. It states that the dogs were being auctioned (in Dublin on May 23, 1857) because the owners, Mr. Paterson and Mr. Swann, were “reliquishing Coursing”.

Marcie Doran,

I’ve attached the birth record for James Dickson McKerrow from the Scotlandspeople website (see Martin’s comment 29/10/2021 15:06). It contains information about his parents Alexander McKerrow (23 July 1835 - 26 February 1909) and Isabella McKerrow (née Lawcock)(m. 28 April 1865), who lived in Douglas, Lanarkshire.

Alexander's father was John McKerrow, a well-known draughts player in his day, and his mother was Jean McKerrow (née Sloan).

Osmund Bullock,

James McKerrow died in June 1941, and his gravestone records he was Art Master of Morrison's Academy in Crieff from 1895-1931. See Johnson & Greutzner records that in 1901/2 he exhibited at the RSA as well as the Glasgow Institute.

All of which sounds circumstantially promising...but I looked into all this in 2021, and could find no sign whatever that his father Alexander, a colliery joiner, was ever a painter, or that he had the middle initial 'B' (or indeed any other). I tend not to report negative results.

There was also an Ann Balfour McKerrow, born c.1830, who in July 1857 married at Glasgow John Cullen or Callan, a hammer-man (both were from the city). However, their marriage record shows she was an illiterate factory worker, so I thought it unlikely she could be an artist who signed and inscribed works in such detail.

Marcie Doran,

I agree with you, Osmund. I thought that perhaps what looks like a ‘B’ might be an ‘S’ (for Sloan) running into the first stroke of the ‘M’. The signature of the informant on that birth record isn’t of help.

The greyhound called Sunshine was also owned (or co-owned) by Robert Paterson. According to ‘Bell's Life in London and Sporting Chronicle’ of 14 October 1855 (attached), Sunshine was “by Clemitson’s Eden out of Swan’s Nip”. At the 1855 Biggar St Leger, “Zigzag and Sunshine ran an undecided course and divided, Sunshine taking £110 and Zigzag £100”.

Martin has already asked but I will ask again - is it possible to find out the name of the donor of these two works? I’m assuming that they were once owned by either Robert Paterson or James Swann.

Marcie Doran,

Good find, Andrew. I located that 1861 census record on FindMyPast (by searching for "Margaret McKerrow", age 73, in Milton, Lanark) and on Ancestry. I've attached the Ancestry version - his name was mistranscribed ("McKenow").

Osmund Bullock,

Actually I see that Martin drew our attention to that exchange on the Family Tree Forum over two years ago [29/10/2021 15:06]. However, without a link to help I couldn't immediately find it (and there seemed to be some confusion with the name 'McKerroch'), and so passed straight on to trying to uncover primary sources for the man's genealogy...and none of the records I could see - BMDs and censuses - seemed to support the identification.

In the event it appears that the elusive 1861 Census was the only one that mentioned his seemingly brief artistic life - well done, Marcie, for tracking that down. On reflection you may have been right to suggest that the apparent middle initial 'B' in the signature might actually be an 'S' for Sloan, his mother's maiden surname - it looks as if it could have been inserted it rather clumsily as an afterthought. See attached tweaked image.

Original images of both his 1835 birth/baptism record and of the 1861 Census entry also attached.

Marcie Doran,

That's very helpful, Osmund.

I've just discovered a family tree for Alexander McKerrow on Ancestry. It includes all of his census records except for 1861. He became a "colliery wright" (1871) and then a "colliery joiner" (1881, 1891, 1901). His address was always "Easter Tofts", Douglas.

The tree owner has kindly agreed to let me post the attached photo of his gravestone, which shows that he was born on the 14th of June 1835 and that he was from "Easter Tofts". His death certificate, attached, confirms that he passed away on the 26th of February 1909.

I have asked Biggar Museum Trust to tell us if they know how and when the pictures were acquired and whether there is anything of interest on the back of either of them.

Please support your comments with evidence or arguments.

jpg, png, pdf, doc, xls (max 6MB)
Drop your files here
Attach a file Start uploading

Sign in

By signing in you agree to the Terms & Conditions, which includes our use of cookies.