Thomas Lawrie was born around 1853 to James Lawrie and Isabella Sime. The 1861 census records the family, headed by James aged 34 who was described as a 'Seaman (Merchant Service)', with wife and five children including Thomas aged 7. Four years later, in December 1865, James was sailing from New Brunswick Canada back to the Clyde on board the Alfaretta of Miramichi with a cargo of timber, on what was turn out to be an ill-fated voyage.
On Christmas Day, James along with another man, were lost off the topsailyard of the brand new 627 ton vessel. Experiencing heavy gales from early on in their journey, which began on 2 December, a "heavy gale capsized the ship on her beam ends" late on Christmas Eve and all were left clinging to the hull. After two hours, the ship righted and it was apparent that two were missing. The survivors suffered from exposure, thirst and hunger before being picked up on 2 January by the Peerless. The Alfaretta was ultimately found wrecked some way off the island of Barra.
The article below from the 4 January Glasgow Herald reported the loss of James Lawrie (although incorrectly named the vessel). James had been born in Wemyss Parish around 1827 to William Lawrie and Sophia Neish before the family moved to Largo, where James married Isabella Sime.
So by the time of the 1871 census, James's widow Isabella was head of the family household and was described as a washerwoman. Thomas, now 17 years old, was already a fisherman and was living with his mother and two younger siblings. Thomas was married in 1877 to Isabella Clunie (daughter of fisherman John Clunie) and in 1881 census they had two children - James (2) and Isabella (4 months) and were living in Drummochie.
In 1891, another tragedy at sea hit the Lawrie family when Thomas's brother David died. He fell overboard the steamer British Queen while returning from the Elbe. The Fifeshire Journal of 29 January below described the event. In the census of the same year, Thomas and his wife continued to live in Largo, now with five children (John, Mary and Maggie having been born since the previous census).
In 1893, Thomas and Isabella's sixth child, David was born. Sadly they lost their 14-year-old daughter Mary in 1901 from tuberculosis. The 1901 census shows four children at home, including son James, a line fisherman and son John, an apprentice golf club maker. Ten years later, the family were at Main Street Lower Largo with the two youngest children still at home and Thomas aged 58 described as a line fisherman. In 1912 Thomas's mother Isabella Sime died aged 87 years.
1934 saw the death of Thomas's wife Isabella Clunie aged 84 at their home Westerlea, Defoe Place in Lower Largo. Thomas remained active and as he reached 70 years active involvement in fishing, attracted the attention of the newspapers. He appeared in the 13 November 1934 Leven Advertiser under the headline "Largo's Ever-Youthful Fishermen: Aged 82 and Still at Work". The piece (extract below) tells of how, although Thomas no longer made the trips to Yarmouth and other deep-sea fishing grounds, he made a daily appearance at Largo Harbour to help the younger fishermen ready their boats and nets.
The piece goes on to describe how Thomas once had two boats of his own. One of those was the Sultan (incorrectly noted as the Saughton in the above newspaper report) which was at one time the largest boat in Largo. At 45 feet long Thomas had the Sultan (registration KY 240) for 32 years before it moved on to Leith. As well as the loss of his father and brother at sea, Thomas had acutely felt the loss of his fellow Largo fishermen when the Brothers went down in 1886. He explained that his own narrowest escape had taken place when he and six mates were caught in a sudden storm at Yarmouth and "had to work like grim death to keep their course". Mr Lawrie's seven decades in fishing had seen the peak days of fishing at Largo when 20 boats left the harbour for Yarmouth to a staged decline until no boats made the journey any more. The feature ended with the words "the baldies may have gone from Largo but Skipper Tom Lawrie is still there, hale and hearty."
The above image (from the Dundee Courier of 21 May 1935) shows Thomas with some drying fishing gear by the old salt girnel or net house on the Drummochy side of Largo harbour. Thomas lived until the ripe old age of 98. He passed away on 22 January 1951 at Westerlea. At the time he was Largo's oldest inhabitant. The Leven Mail of 31 January reported that his death was deeply regretted by fisher folk all around the East Neuk and that he was "well-known and respected by everyone for miles around". Always a familiar figure around the pier, Thomas loved to talk about the old days and was the only man in the village to remember the building of the railway viaduct. He was survived by two sons and two daughters.