(1849-1938) refiner & shopkeeper


John Young was born in Selkirk, where his father managed the gasworks.



John’s parents John Young and Christian Clapperton

Selkirk Gas Works, just south of Forest Mill

When John was just three years old in 1852, his father moved to become manager at the Dalkeith Gas Light Company.

Royal Scottish Society of Arts
John Young Gas Manager Dalkeith
Carbon elements for Bunsen batteries 1859

Like his brothers and sister, John junior grew up in a world inspired by his father’s practical interests in chemical analysis, lighting, batteries and telegraphy, gas and water supply, and by his extensive contacts in the Scottish scientific and business world.  William Thomson, professor of natural philosophy at Glasgow and a director of the Atlantic Telegraph Company, kept in close touch with John Young senior’s work on electrical carbons.


William Young  (John’s better-known older brother) and their widowed mother in old age

John Young junior may have stayed in Scotland close to his brother William and sister Mary when his father, mother and the younger siblings went south to Lancashire to work for the Earl of Crawford’s Wigan Coal and Iron Company. One way or another, he received a grounding in the oil industry, and, after the Franco Prussian War, found himself managing the Paris oil works, almost certainly working with British patents and investors. These were probably connected with Glasgow’s James Scott (1810-1884) the mature and far-sighted backer of the Clippens oil interests in Renfrewshire and Midlothian. James Scott was a descendant of Muiravonside farming folk. He had already made his name in calico printing, and as Glasgow’s honorary city treasurer and a Clyde Trustee, had had the foresight to give Glasgow its Kelvingrove Park, its Loch Katrine water supply, and river navigation as far as the Broomielaw. 

James Scott (1810-1884) and Glasgow’s Kelvingrove –laying out parks, galleries and museums for the people

John’s older brother William provided the technical innovations for James Scott’s Clippens operations and also later involved with the firm was John’s younger brother Alex.  John was to marry Mary Kean, Renfrewshire farmer’s daughter from the shale-rich Clippens landholdings at Mosslands, Linwood near Kilbarchan.  At the time of his marriage in 1879, John Young had the post of Oil Work Manager at Issy-les-Molineaux on the Seine at the western edge of Paris. In 1881 he was Directeur d'Usine (almost certainly Raffineur de Petrole) at Issy.

Paris 1881                                                                    Jug from John & Mary Young’s Paris days


First Electric Railway with an overhead wire at the Paris Exposition of 1881          Hall of the Electrical Exposition

John and Mary in France

 Statue of Liberty takes shape in the streets of Paris



Later, John and his growing family returned to Scotland to manage the retorting department at Oakbank Oil Works which had been set up as an investment by Edinburgh celebrity doctor, anaesthetist, and local West Lothian boy-made-good James Young Simpson, and where the works chemist was a doctor’s son George Beilby (Sir George Thomas Beilby FRS 1850-1924)  Beilby was to first make his name with John’s brother William in the famous Young and Beilby patent retort which revolutionised the Scottish oil industry in the 1880s.

John Young’s occupations, and the vicissitudes of the Scottish oil industry, can be traced in columns of his children’s birth certificates and later in census records:

June 1887: Under Manager at Oil Work, East Calder.

April 1889: Assistant Oilworks Manager, East Calder

End 1890, journeyman wood turner in Leith (following up a scheme for making cotton bobbins in bulk)

By census 1891:  Foreman Gas Tar Distillation living Iona Street, Leith

By July 1892, fruiterer & florist at Iona Street, Leith

John was a prey to business cycles, unlike his brothers William and Robert, who kept a toehold in the more stable gas industry. As the oil business waxed and waned, John’s finances and his family responsibilities were a constant source of worry for his mother. With his bachelor brother Alex, he was always hatching schemes for enterprises in the oil downturns: bobbin-making (Clapperton cousins were much involved in textiles) and a mineral water manufactory. It was all too uncertain. Perhaps he wanted to make a clean break from a bad-smelling and dangerous business and involve himself in something that would separate him less from his wife and daughters.  Moving closer to the centre of the city in Caledonian Crescent, they set up a new shop backing on to Port Hopetoun, the Union Canal basin in Lothian Road, and later expanded to another shop further down the street beyond the gap site where the new Usher Hall was to be built. This shop would be fitted out to perfection, just a stone’s throw from Princes Street and the Caledonian Hotel.  In due course the family moved house to Polwarth Terrace, where their oldest son, a promising mechanical engineer, died aged 19 of pulmonary phthisis in October 1904. It was a heavy blow and a reminder of the health difficulties that many of the Young cousins were to suffer as a legacy of early lives spent among the retorts.

With Uncle Willie and cousins outside Willie’s house at Priorsford, Peebles.

 John and his wife Mary are on our right. In the same row leftwards are Mary Cusiter (John’s sister), Bob Young (brother),

Christian [Grannie] Young (mother), Willie (brother) Mona (gt neice), Tina (neice, dau of Mary C.) & Maggie (Bob’s wife)

Family photograph by William Mercer, Tollcross around 1897



John Young’s long-vacated former premises in Lothian Road at the corner of Fountainbridge at Port Hopetoun await demolition. Lothian House was built on the site, shown at the Fountainbridge corner today. The Young site became Jeffreys drapery and record store and later, partially, Woolworths.  Jeffreys had moved from premises in Leith’s Tollbooth Wynd and are now in North West Circus Place, Stockbridge



John Young’s most prestigious shop was nearer to Princes Street at the lower end of Lothian Road.

The family gather, perhaps at the marriage of Paris-born eldest daughter Christina (right) in Edinburgh in August 1910.   She and her Scots husband Tom Burt started a school in Perth, Western Australia and perhaps suggested her family follow them.


May 1911 was an important month for the flower business in Edinburgh with the arrival in the city of the world’s highest-paid entertainer, The Great Lafayette, for a two-week run at the city’s Empire Theatre. The Empire was the centre of Sir Edward Moss’s successful variety circuit which included the London Palladium.  Lafayette took up residence in the palatial Caledonian Railway Hotel at the corner of Lothian Road and Princes Street during his stay. He had travelled in his private railway carriage, with special furniture and fittings for his beloved bull terrier Beauty (a gift from his friend Harry Houdini). Within a few days of arrival Beauty –who wore a golden collar studded with diamonds- died from overeating.  Lafayette had the dog’s hotel room filled with lilies.  Permission was given for Beauty to be buried at Piershill Cemetery, provided Lafayette would undertake that he too would be buried there in due course.  On the Tuesday night of Lafayette’s second week the illusionist was taking a bow when a lamp was knocked over and cloud of flame shot across the front of the stage, setting scenery and tapestries ablaze.  The American illusionist and most of his stage company were lost in the fire that consumed the Empire’s backstage and below stage areas.  Houdini led the international tributes and the cortege passed from Lothian Road along Princes Street to the Piershill Cemetery. Messrs W. T. Dunbar & Sons Ltd. Funeral Directors of 116 Lothian Road (midway between John Young’s two shops) undertook the arrangements.  John Young's in Lothian Road would have been the nearest florist's shop. 


John Young and his family were on the point of leaving Edinburgh for a new life in Western Australia. His oldest daughter Christina had already moved there with her teacher husband Thomas Burt.  Mary and most of the children left Edinburgh and shipped from Antwerp to Fremantle, Western Australia in the Roon on 19 June 1911, John and the remainder following from Antwerp in the Cassel on 21 November.  They travelled in the cheapest way possible by Norddeutscher Lloyd, whose ships usually carried thousands of poor immigrants to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty in New York.


A sister ship of the Roon on the Norddeutscher Lloyd’s “General” class Atlantic and tropical services. With freight,

these ships had accommodation for about 90 first class, 70 second class and 2000 third class steerage passengers.

 The Cassel was one of Norddeutscher Lloyd’s “Koln” class steamers on the Atlantic and Australian routes. It carried

just 50 cabin passengers and about 1,600 third class steerage passengers, with a greater proportion of  freight.


The Roon from Antwerp to Fremantle on 19 June 1911:carried Mr William Young (coachman), Mrs Mary Young,  Mrs [sic] Burnett Young (domestic), Miss Edith Young (domestic) , Master James Young (under 18), Miss Kate Young (under 18) (all noted as Scottish, all 3rd-class passengers)

The Cassel from Antwerp to Fremantle, 21 November 1911 carried Mr John Young (62 yrs, merchant), Miss Jessie Young (20 yrs) and Miss Gertrude Young (17 yrs)  (all noted as Scottish, all 3rd-class passengers)





John and Mary Young celebrate over a decade of new life in Australia with their grandchildren,

perhaps on their 45th wedding anniversary, 16 December 1924


The full story of John and Mary and their family in Western Australia (they settled at Caledonian Avenue in the Perth suburb of Maylands) remains to be told.  He died in 1938, having been in brief contact with his younger brother Thomas’s family in Emmetsburg, Iowa, 50 years after Thomas’s departure from Scotland and 20 years after his own.



John’s parents:

Christian Clapperton: Granny Young’s scones

John Young "Jock the genius”(1815-1886) -link to illustrated life


John’s brother William:

William Young (1815-1886) oil and gas technologist (link to illustrated life)


John’s niece described in:

 Mona Torrance (1889-1987) - A Portobello life



Nuits de Young –memories of the Paris refinery in the 1870s                        Cecile Brunner- the buttonhole that nephew George Cusiter always wore in Oregon


LIVES & fragments