A Proud Scot Declines a Sovereign and a Meal



The Bonner family immigrated to Canada from Scotland in the 1820s as a result of the English "removals" that drove Scots off their hereditary farmland. The Bates family, one of the maternal branches of the Bonners, originated near Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in Northumberland County, the northeastern-most county of England, on the Scottish border. Ralph Bates and Anne Ellison were wealthy, landed gentry; they owned a large estate known as Milbourne Hall just north of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Ralph Bates was a baronet and served as High Sheriff of Northumberland in 1762.

One of Ralph and Anne's daughters, Anne "Nancy" Bates was born in 1777. Her father died just six years later. When Nancy was about 20, she fell in love with a Scottish commoner, Robert Turnbull, a tailor from the small town of Lilliesleaf, just over the Scottish border. In those times, most members of the English gentry married others of the same class to preserve the family wealth and pedigree. Nancy's mother disapproved of her betrothal to the tailor Robert and disowned her. Possibly to hide her heritage, Nancy gave her name to the civil authorities as "Nancy Milburn," using the name of her family estate rather than her last name "Bates," when she married. Robert and Nancy had six children. Their fourth, Robert Turnbull Jr., was born in 1808.

At some point during his childhood, Robert Jr. returned to Milbourne Hall in Northumberland to attempt to establish contact with his grandmother, Anne Bates, the Lady Milbourne. The trip from Lilliesleaf to Milbourne Hall is about 40 miles, so one imagines that Robert Sr. might have taken the boy on the journey. Robert Jr. presented himself at the front door of Milbourne Hall, where a butler greeted him with a sovereign from Lady Milbourne. Robert's grandmother then instructed the butler to have the boy come around to the servant's entrance to get a meal before going along his way. Robert refused the sovereign and the meal. He sounds to have been a true Scot, willful and prideful!

Robert Jr. became a tailor like his father. He immigrated to Canada in 1832, eventually settling by 1834 in Elma, Galt, Ontario, where he had a tailor shop on West Main Street. Robert married Ellen Little in 1836. Robert and Ellen were well known to their grandson, R. J. Bonner, who recorded the story of the visit to Melbourne Hall and the declined offer of a sovereign and a meal.