In between our time in Glasgow we made a short visit to Dundee-where my Grandma Joy’s family is originally from. My great-grandparents, Agnus and Charles Robertson lived and worked in Dundee until their mid-thirties when they took a ship on April 27th, 1929 to Montreal, Canada with their 3 year old son, Charles. (Grandma and her 3 brothers were later born in Canada).
We had no idea what to expect of Dundee but it turned out to be a really great city…sometimes the fewer expectations you have, the more you can be delighted. The Dundee Backpackers Hostel was a really old, refurbished building in the downtown centre. We ditched our bags there and then headed out for a day of exploring.
We started with the RRS Discovery Museum which chronicled the adventures of Captain Scott and his 46 man crew that sailed to Antarctica in 1901. The ship, called the Discovery,was built right in Dundee because they were experts in wooden ship building at the time and a wooden ship could bare the icy, Antarctic waters better than steel.
The expedition was a success and Captain Scott’s crew ended up spending 3 years docked on the shores of Antacrtica, researching everything from wildlife to ocean life to plant life and mapped out Antarctica’s terrain in a more thorough way than had ever been possible before. It was incredible to see what the crew wore in Antarctica and to read about how they survived. It turns out that they ate a lot of penguin eggs!! The Discovery ship has been fixed up and maintained for the public to tour…we thought it was really cool to be in the exact ship they sailed to Antarctica over 100 years ago!
The second museum we visited ended up being an incredible way of understanding Dundee’s history and perhaps getting a glimpse into what life may have been like for my great-grandparents. Back in the day, one of Dundee’s main industries was jute. Jute is a material that is still used today-you are probably most familiar with it in the form of those course sacks that they used to have flour in. But it had tons of uses-everything from rope & sails for ships, sacks for shipping foods like flour and sugar, to the backing of carpet and use in shoes and handbags.
We toured an old jute factory called “Verdant Works” and learned all about the hardships of working in these factories. I had no idea that Scotland and India would have been connected back in the early 1900′s but here’s how it worked:
-the jute was grown and harvested in India
-it was shipped to Dundee to be soften using whale oil & woven into material
-the material was sewn into various different products like the ones I’ve listed above.
An interesting thing about these times was that it was mostly women that worked in the jute factories. So it really changed family life in Dundee because women were in the factories working long hours and often men were the ones at home looking after the children.
I asked my grandma about what my great-grandparent’s did for a living in Dundee and sure enough, it turns out that my great-grandma worked in a jute factory, and my great-grandpa was a plough man. It was really interesting seeing photos of all these women weaving and sewing jute in these huge factories and imagining that my great-grandma would have been one of these women.
We capped off the evening with a mini-beer tasting at Duke’s corner. They had a HUGE beer garden and Skott was eager to try lots of different kinds of Scottish beer so we worked out a little game where we each got a turn to choose 2 different 1/2 pints to taste…in the end we were able to sample 6 different Scottish brews. I think that’s a pretty good accomplishment to finish off the night!
On our second day in Dundee we trekked up to the Dundee Law area, which had a beautiful view of the river and out into
the sea. Our destination was my(second or third??) cousin Morag’s house where we had arranged to meet my grandma’s cousin Ray and her husband Ron. They turned out to be really lovely and we enjoyed a wonderful tea with them, including two Scottish desserts: tablet (kind of like a fudge, but a little chalkier) andcranachan (a berry flavoured, creamy gelatin with oatmeal in it…and usually whiskey but Ray made a “lighter” version for us).
We were really sorry that we had not made more time to stay in Dundee and do more visiting. But Ray and Ron did boot us up to the top of Dundee Law to get a view of Dundee from the very top of the hills and to stand in the very spot my grandma did when she visited Scotland.