CL02 – William Mann Somerville

Stitchers (Toronto): Inez Somerville, Avril Hill, Lorna Hutchinson, Sheila MacDonald, Anne Mitchell, Rita Sprague, Shirley Barker Zaky, with thanks to Muriel Buchanan and William Mackay

William Mann Somerville, a clever son of a very poor family, was born in Haddington, East Lothian, in 1882. He attended  Knox Academy ( then Institute) and was encouraged by the headmaster to stay in school, where he was dux boy aged 16. He then went into the Bank of Scotland, and in the early 1900’s was  urged to seize the chance of  a position in the Anglo-South American Bank, which took him to Chile, where he made his life and career.

For his first few years, according to family narrative, WMS travelled with a mule train setting up branches of the bank, from Bolivia in the north all the way to the free port of Punta Arenas in the chilly south, whereupon he married his patient fiancée Alexanderine Learmonth, in Haddington in 1910. It was in Punta Arenasthat WMS met Sir Ernest Shackleton after the heroic rescue of the ill-fated Polar exploration expedition of 1916. Shackleton gave WMS’s infant son, also William, a teddy bear which is still in the family’s possession, albeit rather threadbare.

By 1922, our grandfather was manager of the Anglo-South American branch in Coquimbo in the “little north” of Chile.  This is one of the greatest natural harbours of the Pacific Rim, and here in 1922 a tsunami wreaked havoc on the town and its inhabitants — but not to the Somervilles or the bank’s reserves. The ocean waters had receded to the horizon and the more adventurous locals were exploring the detritus revealed on the sea bottom.  After checking this out, Grandpa went home, loaded up the family Studebaker with the bank’s reserves — and the family –and drove  inland up the valley to higher ground and safely.  The tsunami came in next day, depositing a train on Coquimbo’s central Plaza, where the bank building was located. Many were killed.

The grateful bank’s reward enabled WMS to buy property up the Elqui Valley, where he created a mixed farm, called Fundo Edina, producing mixed fruits and also wine and Pisco, the Chilean national tipple, a young brandy. It really was a paradise for us children. His sons continued the farm until the 1870’s, and established the first Pisco Cooperative in Chile, Capel, which still flourishes. Its symbol is Ruperto, the mule.

The extended Somerville family , though now scattered round the world, retain strong ties to their Chilean home and their Scottish heritage.

CL02 Uilleam Mann Somerville
Rugadh Uilleam Mann Somerville ann an Haddington ann an 1882. Tràth sna 1900an, ghabh e suidheachadh anns a’ Bhanca Angla-Deas Aimeireaganach agus thuinich e ann an Sile. A’ siubhal air trèana-asail, chuir e air bhonn meuran den bhanca bho Bolibhia gu Punta Arenas. Ann an 1922, shàbhail e cùlstòran a’ bhanca bho sunàmaidh. Fhuair e duais bhon bhanca a chomasaich dha togalach a cheannach shuas ann an Gleann Elqui, far an do chruthaich e tuathanachas measgaichte ris an canar Fundo Edina. Lean a mhic orra leis an tuathanachas gu na 1970an, a’ stèidheachadh a’ chiad Cho-chomann Pisco ann an Sile, Capel, a tha a’ soirbheachadh fhathast. Is e a shuaicheantas Ruperto, an t-asal.