The Scottish Schenimans:

3 Generations of Musicians


This is the third of a series of three pages involving people with the surname 'Scheniman' in Scotland and their Willison, Dempster and other relatives in the 18th and 19th centuries:

  1. The strange life of the Reverend Cathcart Leslie, minister of Borthwick

  2. George Willison, portrait painter

  3. The Scottish Schenimans

There cannot have been many families in Scotland that can be fully documented on a single, fairly short webpage. This page discusses one such family, of just 24 individuals. The spelling of their surname takes many different forms, making searching for them somewhat difficult, though their preferred spelling, by 1800, was 'Scheniman', and I use that spelling here.


Frederick Scheniman

From the Montrose Standard of 1934, we learn that Frederick Scheniman, an Englishman, though his ancestors were doubtless German or possibly Dutch, was appointed as organist of St Peter's English Episcopal Chapel in Montrose in 1722 [MS 4 Sep 1936]:

"In 1722 St Peter's Episcopal (English) Church was founded & the managers chose an Englishman Frederick Shuniman organist ... a man of undoubted talent & a clever musician, being an authority on old Gregorian music."

He had doubtless arrived in Scotland in 1722 or shortly before; he was already married, or had been, though his wife's name has not yet been found, and had at least one child, a son called Ferdinand. Nothing further is known about Frederick.

Ferdinand Scheniman

Ferdinand was born in or about 1711, probably in England. He first appears in Scottish records in Banff, Banffshire. Like his father, he is an organist, at St Andrew's Episcopal Chapel there [Cramond]:

"In presence of James Innes, James Duff and Geo. Abernethy, baillies: Which day John Peterkin, pro[curato]r-fiscal of the burgh, exhibited a complaint against Ferdinando Shuniman, organist in Banff, and Helen Sloss, semtress in Banff, as guilty of fornication with one another, and craved that each of them might be fined for the same in term of law. The defenders being summoned compeared, and the complaint being read unto them they judicially acknowledged the same. Signed : Ferrd. Scheniman. Helen Sloss.

The baillies having considered the above complaint with the judiciall confession of the defender, they find the complaint thereby proven and therefore fine each of them in the sum of ten pounds Scotis money, with certification if they faill herein their persons will be summarly imprisoned."

In 1737, Ferdinand, "organist, St Andrew's Chapel, Banff" was a subscriber to Twelve Solos or Sonatas for a Violin and Violoncello, with a thorough Bass for the Harpsichord. Dedicated to the [Edinburgh] Musical Society. Composed by Charles Maclean, Opera prima. Edinburgh : printed by R. Cooper, 1737. Folio, pp. 46 [Listen to MacLean's Sonata in A].

Ferdinand, "organist", had a son James baptised at Banff on 24 Sep 1738, possibly the consequence of the above fornication, though no mother is named on the record. No further trace of James has been found.

In 1743, Ferdinand married a Catherine Corse in Dundee [OPR marriages 10 Jan 1743].

Catherine Corse may have been the youngest child of the Rev. David Corse, minister of the 1st charge at Aberdeen, and Margaret Gray, baptised at Old Machar on 3 Feb 1713, her father having died late in 1712. Her eldest brother Mr David was briefly minister of Dunnottar and it seems possible that it was her second brother Mr Alexander who was the minister of Abernyte in the years 1739 to 1754, though the Fasti do not actually make that connexion.

The following year, they had a child baptised at Dundee [OPR baptisms 19 Mar 1744]. This child, though unnamed in the record, was Charles Ferdinand Scheniman. There are no other records of children to them, though they may also have had a daughter, Magdalene, born c.1748 [see below].

By 1748, Ferdinand was settled in Montrose, apparently as successor to his father as organist of St Peter's Chapel there. He asked the burgh council for somewhere to teach music [MR 18 Jun 1937]:

"In January, 1748, we have Petition, Ferdinand Shuniman craving the use of one of the public Schools for teaching vocal and Instrumental musick."

But the next year, he was deprived of the school he had been given [MR 25 Jun 1937]:

"In Sep 1749, Ferdinand Shuniman was order[ed] to quit to make room for a teacher of mathematics, as it appears from a minute:- - School granted to Ferdinand Shuniman is now wanted for a school to William Mill."

In 1767, "Mr Scheniman, Organist at Montrose", subscribed to Francis Peacock's Fifty Favourite Scotch Airs for a Violin, German Flute and Violoncello, with a Thorough Bass for the Harpsichord [Link shows title page of 1762 London edition].

Twenty years thereafter, "Ferdinand Shunniman" in Montrose is listed in the roll of duty payable for having one female servant [NRS E326/6/12/78].

He died at Dundee [EM vol. 5, p. 162], on 7 Feb 1795 [GM vol. 65, part 1, 1795, p. 175]:

"In his 84th or 85th year, Mr. Ferdinand Schenieman, upwards of 50 years organist of the English Episcopal Chapel at Montrose."

and was buried in the Howff, Dundee, on 10 Feb 1795, as "Ann Shunniman" [OPR burials]. Perhaps the grave-digger was a little deaf.

Charles Ferdinand Scheniman

Charles married a Margaret Leitch in about 1765. There is no record of the marriage.

In 1770, there is a record of an action at Forres against Scheniman for non-payment of a bill drawn by Andrew Farquhar [Moray Council Archives, ZBFo B32/770/26] and also an action against Scheniman and three others there on an unspecified charge [ZBFo B32/771/34].

On 25 Jan 1771, Charles wrote to James Grant of Grant to say that he would take an Angus Cumming as apprentice for four years, during which time he would be taught to play the organ & harpsichord, as well as tuning both [NRS GD248/363/5, no. 51].

Following the baptism of his son Charles in Jun 1771 at Forres, we next find Charles Scheniman, harpsichord teacher, living in Bell's Wynd, Edinburgh, in 1773 [Williamson's Directory, 1773-74]. The next year, he has moved to the head of Todrick's Wynd and is listed as a musician [Williamson's Directory, 1774-75], though he is also listed as "Charles Sheniman Musician" as possessor of a property in Morrison's Close owned by George Norrie's children [Extent Roll, 1774-75]. In 1775, he is in Niddry's Wynd [Williamson's Directory, 1775-76].

In 1775, Charles was pursuer in a case in the Court of Session against a Robert Cairnton [NRS CS271/43131].

On 27 Jan 1776, the following advert appeared [CM 27 Jan 1776]:

"In St CECILIA'S HALL, Niddry's Wynd, Upon THURSDAY next the 1st of February, Will be performed, Messrs CLARK and SCHENIMAN's CONCERT of VOCAL and INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC."

So Charles had clearly moved home until he was as close as possible to the centre of his activity, St Cecilia's Hall [see also Harris, illustrated, with several caricatures of musicians, but sadly none of Scheniman, whom Harris lists among the foreign performers], where Stephen Clark and Charles were frequent performers. Charles was employed as a harpsichordist from 1773 to 1779 by the Edinburgh Musical Society [Macleod], but the directors of that Society, who ran the Hall, were not always satisfied with their performances [Campbell]:

"At a meeting of the Directors of the Society on 14 Feb 1777, disappointment was expressed in the laxity displayed by Mr Stephen Clark & a Mr Shunniman in playing an organ solo. It was resolved they be dismissed but later, on having received an apology from Clarke, the Directors recanted and re-instated the two musicians."

In 1778, Charles was pursuer in a case in the Court of Session against a Benjamin Sinclair [NRS CS271/47966]. Also that year, "Mr Charles J. Scheneman musician" was a subcriber to Daniel Dow's A collection of Ancient Scots music for the violin, harpsichord or German flute (c. 1778) [Sanger].

Margaret Leitch was buried in Canongate kirkyard on 29 Jul 1778, "aged 32", though she was probably in fact 35 years old [see further below]. Charles Ferdinand Scheniman died the following year, on 28 Apr 1779 and was buried in Canongate kirkyard, "aged 34". A milliner, Margaret Orrock, made mournings for his funeral [Sanderson]. The couple left eight orphaned children, and a concert was held in St Cecilia's Hall in aid of the children [CM 1 May 1779]:

"On Tuesday the 11th May, will be performed, in St Cecilia's Hall, A Concert of Vocal and Instrumental Music, for the benefit of Eight Orphan Children of the late Mr Scheniman, Musician in Edinburgh."

Charles's testament dative, of which his eldest daughter Alexandrina was only executrix, was recorded at Edinburgh on 25 Sep 1779 [NRS CC8/8/124]. It lists his household goods in great detail.

In about 1780 was published at Edinburgh Charles Scheniman's Entertainment ... consisting of a Collection of the Most Choice Scotch English and Irish Tunes, Adapted to These Instruments, variations, harpsichord/spinet/pianoforte/organ [Hunt].


Charles & Margaret had at least two sons and at least seven daughters, though there are baptismal records only for two sons, Ferdinand and Charles. The order of birth in the following list is therefore based on ages at death, where stated, and partly on years of marriage, but is otherwise guesswork. Moreover, there is room for doubt about Magdalene being Charles's daughter, rather than his sister. Nothing more is known about Hugh than is given here. There may be further information to be uncovered amongst the unpublished records of the Episcopal Church, with which the Schenimans were associated as organists and doubtless also as members.

Margaret Leitch was almost certainly a daughter of the Nathaniel Leitch who witnessed Ferdinand's baptism in 1770. Nathaniel Leitch, servant to Hugh Rose, 16th of Kilravock (1684-1755), and Elizabeth, daughter of Alexander Donaldson, maltman in Arbroath, were married at Edinburgh on 7 Mar 1742. Their daughter Margaret was baptised at Nairn on 27 Mar 1743. Nathaniel was most likely the Nathaniel Leitch b. 30 Apr 1719 and bapt. 3 May 1719 at Nairn to William Leitch. Kilravock Castle is 10km SW of Nairn and 8km SSE of Fort George.

That Wikipedia page is appallingly badly written.

The only male line of descent continues through Ferdinand Nathaniel Scheniman.

Ferdinand Nathaniel Scheniman

The earliest trace of Ferdinand after his parents' death is as a clerk in the Board of Customs in Edinburgh in 1792 [Edinburgh Almanack, 1792, p. 52]. He married Emira, eldest of the illegitimate daughters of the portrait painter George Willison, in Edinburgh on 24 Jan 1798 [AP 6 Feb 1798]:

"Married here, the 24th ult. Mr Ferdinand Shenniman, of the Customs, to Miss Emira Willison Clark, eldest daughter of the late George Willison, Esq; some time in India."

"Clark" seems likely to have been Emira's mother's surname.

In 1799, Ferdinand is listed as a writer in North St David's Street; the next year he is "of the Customs" at No. 5 in that street; in 1806, he is "of the tax-office, 36, Queen' street"; he is still at 36 Queen Street in 1807 but in 1808 he is an accountant at 32 George Street [Edinburgh Street Directories].

On 12 Sep 1811, he writes to Charles Stewart, printer in the Lawnmarket, Edinburgh [NRS GD214/739 no. 1]:

"having no collection of my own, it is great charity to give me books to read during my captivity"

The NRS suggests that he may be a captive of the French.

In 1818, he is in Gayfield Square; in 1820, at 3 Howard Place, and by 1832, at 14 Howard Place, where he died on 7 Feb 1843 [SC 18 Feb 1843]. He was buried in Canongate kirkyard.

Emira Willison was born in Jun 1780 [SC 17 Sep 1828] in Madras Presidency, India [1855 death certificate, the informant being her 2nd son's 2nd wife; no mother's name on certificate].

On 3 Apr 1844, "Mrs Emira Scheniman, Musselburgh, formerly Howard Place, Edinburgh, formerly 3 Gilmour Place, Edinburgh" was pursued for payment in Edinburgh Sheriff Court by George Drummond, builder, Scotland Street, Edinburgh, & Alexander Mitchell Dick, merchant or grocer, Huntly Street, Canonmills, Edinburgh [NRS SC39/8/21].

She died of apoplexy on 13 Jan 1855 [CM 18 Jan 1855]:

"At 29 Clarence Street, on the 13th current, Mrs Emira Scheniman, relict of the late Ferdinand Scheniman, in the 75th year of her age."

and was buried in Canongate kirkyard on the 18th [OPR burials].


Ferdinand & Emira had three sons:

  1. Charles - b. 4 Jun 1799 Edinburgh

    In Sep 1825, Charles Scheniman Esq. is listed as holding a Game Certificate, when farming the lands of Elphinstone Tower in the parish of Tranent as a tenant of John Fullerton Elphinstone of Elphinstone & younger of Carberry [EA 23 Sep 1825]. But three years later, on 29 Feb 1828, he was sequestrated at Haddington Sheriff Court on action by that landowner [NRS SC40/11/7/7/9/2] and the farm, of 314 Scotch acres in the parish of Tranent, was advertised for sale later that year [EC 19 Apr 1828], while Charles's furniture was advertised for sale at a public roup [EC 6 Oct 1828]:

    "SALE OF HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE. To be Sold by public roup, at Elphingstone Tower, in the parish of Tranent (by warrant of the Sheriff of Haddington), on Thursday the 16th October, 1828, GREAT variety of Articles of HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE, comprehending Beds and Bedding, Tables of various kinds, Sofas, Chairs, Grates, and Fire Irons, a Mahogany Sideboard, Kitchen Furniture, Stoneware, Crystal, &c.; also, a Piano-Forte, and a number of other articles."

    On 8 Jun 1829, he married Helen, daughter of Robert Robertson, at Edinburgh [OPR marriages, St Cuthberts]:

    "Charles Scheniman, Sometime Farmer at Elphinstone Tower parish of Tranent, Residing at Canaan in this Parish, and Helen Robertson Residing at Cousland in the Parish of Cranston, Second Daughter of Robert Robertson, Farmer there, have been Three times proclaimed in order to Marriage, in the Parish Church of St Cuthberts, and no Objections have been Offered."

    There is no trace of a Robert Robertson in Cranston. As Charles & Helen's second son was called 'Alexander', it seems likely that Helen was in fact the daughter of Alexander Robertson & Janet Ormiston, born 6 Dec 1809 Cranston.

    One son was born in Edinburgh, Ferdinand on 25 Jun 1829; a second son, Alexander, was born in 1831; and a third son, Charles, was born 30 Jul 1833 and bapt. in Dundee on 9 Sep 1833. The father is listed at Steprow, Magdalen-yard, Dundee in 1834 [Dundee Directory].

    The couple emigrated to Peel, Ontario, Canada in 1834, sailing from Greenock on the barque "Romulus" (Thomas Callender master) and arriving in New York on 12 Aug 1834. Nine further children were born to them in Canada. Charles died at Peel on 26 Sep 1884.

  2. George Willison - b. 28 May 1801 Edinburgh

    George was appointed an assistant surgeon in the H.E.I.C.S. on 21 Oct 1824, and a surgeon on 18 Jan 1838, based in Madras.

    He married Elizabeth Knott at All Souls, Langham Place, Westminster on 2 Oct 1830, and the couple left from Portsmouth aboard the the "Mary Ann" (Hornblow master) on 21 Oct 1830, arriving at Madras on or about 21 Feb 1831 [GI 21 Feb 1831].

    They left Madras again aboard the "Hero of Malown" (George Grundy master) on 13 Oct 1836, to return to London [BG 29 Oct 1836, copying from MC 17 Oct 1836]. Elizabeth died at sea on 19 Oct 1836, and the ship reached England on 3 Feb 1837 [KG 7 Feb 1837; NG 11 Feb 1837].

    George married, secondly, Margaret Watson Farnie, on 20 Mar 1838 [PC 29 Mar 1838]:

    "At Edinburgh, on the 20th inst., G. W. Scheniman. Esq., E.I.C.S., Madras medical establishment, to Margaret Watson, eldest daughter of the late James Farnie, Esq., Burntisland."

    The couple left for Madras on 16 Aug 1838 on the "True Briton" [CM 16 Aug 1838].

    Having been surgeon in the 48th Regiment of Native Infantry, he was transferred in 1842 to the 26th N.I. [EW 10 May 1842], who were stationed at Secunderabad from Feb 1843 [East India Register 1844]. He died at Camp Nirikul, Madras on 7 Aug 1846 [MH 27 Oct 1846]. Margaret Farnie returned to Edinburgh with her daughters [see below], dying there in 1864 [CM 26 Apr 1864; "36th" should read "26th"]:

    "At 14 Howard Place. on the 22d inst., Margaret W. Farnie, relict of George W. Scheniman, Esq., surgeon, 36th Regiment Madras N.I."


    George & Margaret had three daughters:

    • 2a. Elizabeth Landale - b. 20 Dec 1838; bapt. 25 Feb 1839 St Thomas Mount, Madras, India; living at 14 Howard Place in 1891; died unmarried on 28 Mar 1909 [SC 29 Mar 1909]:

      "At 9 Fettes Row, on the 28th inst., Elizabeth Landale Scheniman, eldest daughter of the late George W, Scheniman, Surgeon, 26th Madras N.I."

      She was buried at Warriston Cemetery on 30 Mar 1909. Her testament was recorded at Edinburgh on 6 Apr 1909 [will - NRS SC70/4/405; inventory - NRS SC70/1/489].

    • 2b. Emira Georgiana - b. 15 Sep 1840; bapt. 15 Oct 1840 Madras. She was married to Arthur John Doig (1839-1888) at St Paul's Episcopal Church, York Place, Edinburgh on 24 Jan 1867 [Doig] and had six children by him. She died in Edinburgh on 12 Mar 1881 and was buried on 15 Mar 1881.

    • 2c. Margaret Jemima Farnie - b. c.1843 Cuddapah, Madras, India; d. 28 Dec 1905 at 14 Howard Place. Her testament was recorded at Edinburgh on 1 Feb 1906 [will - NRS SC70/4/373; inventory - NRS SC70/1/453].

  3. Hope - b. 4 Jun 1803 Edinburgh.

    He was admitted a Writer to the Signet on 4 Jun 1829 [W.S. Register]. He was living with his parents at 14 Howard Place in 1841, but was admitted to Edinburgh Royal Asylum later that year [General Register of Lunatics in Asylum, NRS MC7/1]. He died on 28 Nov 1858.


NRS - National Records of Scotland Catalogue

OPR - Old Parish Registers of the Church of Scotland at ScotlandsPeople

Newspapers (at British Newspaper Archive):

Campbell, Katherine - Eighteenth-Century Scots Song: Stephen Clarke, a Reluctant Pioneer, Review of Scottish Culture, vol. 25, pp. 73-96, 2013

Cramond, William - Annals of Banff, vol. 1, New Spalding Club, Aberdeen, 1891

Dalyell, John Graham - Musical Memoirs of Scotland, T.G. Stevenson, Edinburgh, 1849

Doig - Descendants of David Doig of Reswallie, part of Doig Family Society website [but they don't know what a "crest" is]

Harris, David Fraser - Saint Cecilia's Hall in the Niddry Wynd, Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier, Edinburgh, 1899

Hunt, Una - The Harper's Legacy: National Airs and Pianoforte, Journal of the society for musicology in Ireland, vol. 6, 2010-2011. pp. 3-53 (Scheniman entry is on p. 49)

Macleod, Jennifer - The Edinburgh Musical Society: its Membership and Repertoire 1728-1797, Ph.D. thesis, University of Edinburgh, 2001

Sanderson, Elizabeth C. - Women and Work in Eighteenth-Century Edinburgh, Macmillan, Basingstoke, 1996, p. 191

Sanger, Keith - General Reid and Daniel Dow, 2014

UVALL Box 17 - University of Virginia Law Library, Myles v Scheniman, 1799

W.S. Register- A History of the Society of Writers to Her Majesty's Signet, Edinburgh, 1890

This page updated 27 Sep 2023