George Alder Gowan

George Alder Gowan

Our story commences in Berwick on Tweed, on a night in the late 1870’s, probably in a backstreet, or perhaps some grubby accommodation. Wherever they were, George Alder Gowan, a twenty four year old Customs Officer from Spittal, and Elizabeth Harvey, a twenty five year old unmarried woman from Dunbar, engaged in an act of sexual intercourse. Nine months later, on the 24th July, 1871, George  Gowan Harvey (later changed to Gowan Harvey Headspeath), the patriarch of our family tree, was born.

At the time of his dalliance with Elizabeth Harvey, George Alder Gowan was working as a Customs & Excise Officer in Berwick. One must assume that George was aware that Eliz. Harvey had become pregnant with child, and had been told that he was the father, but why he chose to ignore his responsibility, is anybody’s guess. Did he contend that Elizabeth was a prostitute and planned to extort money from him? After all, we have no information as to Elizabeth’s situation. Perhaps he was just a cad? What we do know, is that after the birth of George Gowan Harvey, enough evidence was gathered to convince the court that George Alder Gowan was indeed the father of the child. Think about the wider implications of this for a moment.

The 1870’s was still very much a patriarchal society, and the decision to take George Alder Gowan to court must have been a tough one. We know George was in respectable employment, but we know nothing of how he conducted his life.  However, there must have been enough people to vouch for Elizabeth’s character, and the evidence introduced convinced the judge/magistrate to reach what the law might consider as ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ (to a degree that the law considers to be satisfactory for making a decision).

After an initial adjourned Petty Sessions (25/10/1871), due to George’s failed appearance, finally, on the 1st November 1871, George Alder Gowan was legally declared to be the father of George Gowan Harvey