The guest speaker at Kirkcudbright History Society’s recent meeting was archaeologist Adam Welfare. The title of his talk was “The Indefatigable Mr. Coles: the Life and Trials of F. R. Coles”; and what a life it proved to be. Members and guests heard about the fascinating life of a remarkable man with Galloway connections
Frederick Rhenius Coles, artist, archaeologist, naturalist and musician was born into a missionary dynasty family in India in 1853. However from the age of six he was educated in Great Britain where he was cared for by his extended family and their network of friends in various places including London and Edinburgh.
For example in the 1860’s for a while he attended Edinburgh Academy.
He did not go to university but by the age of twenty he was beginning to make his mark as an artist an occupation he was to follow for a number of years. Unfortunately only a little of his artistic work has survived at least in public collections.
By 1881 he was married and living in Tongland near Kirkcudbright in a house called “The Hermitage” and is described in the census at the time as” artist, landscape and marine painter”. Unfortunately his first wife Mary died and in time he remarried Margaret Neilson Blacklock of Kirkcudbright. The couple had two daughters and three sons.
Involved in local activities Frederick was conducting the Kirkcudbright Musical Association in the 1880’s and his own love of music may have influenced one of his sons Cecil. F.G Coles the distinguished musician.
He also developed his interests to embrace a range of natural history studies before becoming captivated by field archaeology. His earliest work on “cup and ring” markings lead to other field projects including “stone circles” and “castle sites”.
His artistic skills meant he was also talented at drawing and illustration. Over the years he was to survey and record over 130 stone circles and over 60 castle sites in Scotland. The Proceedings of Scottish Antiquities contain many examples and records of his work which he conducted with great energy and rigour.
His archaeological work brought him to the notice of the network of influential archaeologists in Scotland. As a result he was invited to apply for a post at the Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh. By 1901 he had moved to Edinburgh and was Assistant keeper of the National museum of Antiquities. Unfortunately his second wife had also died and he was living with his children who he used to take on archaeological site work each year.
In later life he became a more obscure and mysterious figure and he died in 1929.
However thanks to the persistent, careful and continuing research of our speaker Adam Welfare we know much more about the life and work of F. R. Coles. The high quality of his work and studies, particularly in the field of archaeology, is still appreciated and valued today.