Quest to find diaries and letters last seen in Ottery

PUBLISHED: 16:12 24 April 2017

Nicol Finlayson has relatives who lived in Ottery St Mary.

Nicol Finlayson has relatives who lived in Ottery St Mary.


A Canadian student is looking to trace missing diaries and letters of a prominent trader.

Kirsta Barclay is looking for help on her PhD dissertation.Kirsta Barclay is looking for help on her PhD dissertation.

A Canadian history student is appealing for help from Ottery residents to find missing diaries and letters of a prominent trader.

Kirsta Barclay is trying to trace items belonging to Nicol Finlayson, who worked for Canada’s oldest business - The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC).

The historian is researching for her PhD dissertation about the settlement of retired HBC officers and their indigenous and mixed-race families in parts of the UK and Canada during the 19th century.

Kirsta believes Finlayson’s great-grandson Andrew Dunbar Mackenzie, who lived in Ottery, had some of his relative’s possessions - but they were sold after his death in 1997.

Kirsta said: “HBC officers were prolific letter writers, maintaining correspondence with people all over the world. Nicol Finlayson was no exception, but only a small number of his personal writings survive. Any letters or diaries that are discovered would be invaluable sources, not just for Finlayson’s life, but also for piecing together the lives of those who wrote to him and who he wrote about.

“The company’s trading activities opened up much of what became Canada to exploration and eventually settlement. HBC employees were largely literate and are responsible for some of the earliest documentary accounts of life in northern North America. They also have many descendants in North America, so any newly-discovered records could be important missing information for both genealogists and historians.”

Finlayson was born in 1794 in Ross-shire and signed on to HBC in 1815. He worked his way up to become a chief factor – the highest rank possible.

In 1830, he was tasked with exploring Ungava Bay in the Arctic and opening trade for the company there.

Kirsta said the Scotsman had relationships with three indigenous women, resulting in nine children. He married Elizabeth ‘Besty’ Kennedy, who died when their daughter Mary was two. He moved back to Nairn, Scotland, with Mary after retiring from HBC in 1855.

Kirsta said that any documents belonging to Finlayson would likely be dated from the 1850s up until his death in 1877.

The University of Manitoba student added: “Diaries would likely have his name inscribed inside, and letters might be stamped with the HBC letterhead or watermark, and would be written from locations like Red River, Long Lac, Albany, York Factory, Montreal, or Canada West/Ontario.

“If someone does happen to be in possession of any relevant records they would be doing a great service to many researchers by allowing for the records to be copied or preserved somehow.”

Anyone who can help locate the documents can contact Krista by email

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