Eskdalemuir Roots of an Empire

General Sir Charles William Pasley (1780 – 1861) was a distinguished British soldier and military engineer. He had a brilliant mind and his writings are generally considered to have influenced the development of the British Empire. He was fundamental in setting up the Royal Engineers regiment.

He was born in Eskdalemuir in Dumfriesshire on 8th September 1780. However, you’ll not find the birth of a Charles Pasley if you look in the Old Parish Registers. He was born illegitimate as Charles Dixon with just his mother Bessy (or Betty) Dixon listed. It is the minutes of Eskdalemuir Kirk Session which tells us the real story.

“Compeared Bessy Dixon and confessed she had brought forth a child in uncleanness to Charles Pasley now residing in Lisbon. She was rebuked according to her confession and was appointed to enter upon a course of satisfaction and to appear before the congregation next Lord’s day; in regard that the Moderator reported that the said Charles had confessed to him and others of his friends before he left the country that he was the father of that child.”

The Kirk Session record shows that both mother and father have separately confessed their guilt to the minister. His father Charles Pasley was a merchant in Lisbon with a family link to Craig in neighbouring Westerkirk parish. His uncle was Admiral Sir Thomas Pasley RN who served with distinction in a number of 18th century naval campaigns.

This is one of the many insights that only the minutes of the Kirk Session can give us about Scottish historical figures. These Kirk Session minutes are freely available at You’ll also find a list elsewhere on this site (available for a small charge) which indexes all illegitimate births, irregular marriages and antenuptial fornications which were exposed by Eskdalemuir kirk session between 1703 and 1823.

2 thoughts to “Eskdalemuir Roots of an Empire”

  1. I have read your blog on Charles Pasley and his founding of the Royal Engineers.

    My ancestor Anthony James Browne (sometimes Brown) was supposedly born in Glasgow in 1793 and is recorded as being a Superintendent in the Corps of Royal Engineers at the Plymouth Citadel 1841. Mostly his family lived in and around Droxford and Portsmouth, Hampshire.

    With Browne/Brown such a common name, is it likely I could find details of his Glasgow birth?

    1. Although Brown was indeed a very common surname, Anthony was a very unusual first name in Scotland at that time and so would stand out. Another thing to note that people often were known with a middle name by the early-mid 19th century but they often weren’t baptized with the name – I’ve had a wee look in the indexes and can’t find any Ant(h)ony Brown(e)s baptized in the Church of Scotland in the 1790s or indeed the Roman Catholic Church where the Anthony name was marginally more common.

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