Helen Masterton (1857-1937)

Helen Masterton (1857-1937)

Mother of John Buchan, novelist and statesman

Helen Masterton was the mother of the great Scottish novelist, John Buchan, author of "The 39 Steps", "Greenmantle", "Prester John" and many other hugely popular novels. He later became Lord Tweedsmuir and ended his career in Canada as Governor-General.


Helen Masterton was the third child of John Masterton, farmer in Peebleshire, and Anna Watson and is a member of the large connected family of Mastertons that flourished in Biggar. Fuller details of the extended family of Helen Masterton are given in the following link:

The Scotsman

At Muirburn, Peebleshire, on the 16th Inst. by the Rev. Isaac Barret, minister of the Free Church, Skirling, Mr John Masterton, Broughton Green, to Anna, third daughter of the late Mr James Watson, farmer, Muirburn.

The Scotsman
21st April 1852

John Buchan, A Biographical Sketch

John Masterton was born in Skirling parish, Peebleshire, in 1815, the son of Helen Clark. His father's name is not given in the entry for John Masterton in the deaths register, but evidence from other public records and handed-down information strongly suggests that he was James Masterton, a weaver in Biggar. He was already married to another woman at the time Helen's baby was born

The 1851 census for Broughton shows John Masterton as a tenant in The Green, which was then an inn as well as a farmhouse. He was still a bachelor, and also in the household was his half-sister Jane Deans, born in Peebles. The Peebles records show that their mother Helen Clark had married, in 1820, a cotton handloom weaver called John Deans, by whom she had several children. At the time of her marriage Helen was a servant to Mrs Bertram in a house at Bridgend, Peebles, in what is now Kingsmeadows Road. Helen died in 1841 and was buried in Peebles churchyard.

John Masterton married Anna Watson, who came from a respectable family who farmed in Skirling parish for several generations. She bore her husband five children, Agnes, Helen, John, James and Ebenezer, and was a capable and thrifty housewife. This Helen was to become John Buchan's mother, and her sister was the beloved 'Antaggie' of his childhood. In middle age, after her mother's death, Agnes married blind Willie Robb and they lived in the Robbs' house then known as Gala Lodge, near Broughton Parish Church. Of John Buchan's uncles, only Eben was married, to Margaret Tudhope from Broughton Place farm. Eben farmed at Burnetland, Broughton, and had two sons, Ian and Tom.

John Buchan - A Biographical Sketch
Sheila Scott
pub Peter Thackeray, Brigg, North Lincolnshire
page 4

The Times Obituaries - 20 December 1937

Lord Tweedsmuir's Mother

The death occurred on Saturday morning, at her home at Bank House, Peebles, of Mrs Helen Buchan, widow of the Rev. John Buchan, of Glasgow, and mother of Lord Tweedsmuir, Governor-General of Canada. Her death occurred a few hours before the announcement of the election of Lord Tweedsmuir as Chancellor of Edinburgh University.

Mrs Buchan was a daughter of the late Mr John Masterton, farmer in the Broughton district of Peeblesshire, where she was born

almost 81 years ago. Her husband, who predeceased her in 1911, and who was a native of Peebles, was in the ministry at Perth and at Pathhead, Kirkcaldy, before settling in Glasgow. She is survived by two sons and a daughter - Lord Tweedsmuir; Mr J. Walter Buchan, the Town-Clerk of Peebles; and Miss Anna Buchan, the novelist, better known under her pen name, O. Douglas. A son William, who was a Judge in India, predeceased her, and another son, Alistair, was killed in the war.

Mrs Buchan took a full share in the social work of Peebles, and was particularly interested in the local branch of the Wives' and Mothers' League and in the Child Welfare Clinic. The recent Christmas party of the former organisation was the first she had missed for 20 years.

At a child welfare gathering on Saturday afternoon, Provost John Fergusson made sympathetic reference to the passing of Mrs Buchan. She was a generous and often anonymous giver to many good causes.

A great lover of Tweeddale, Mrs Buchan spent a holiday almost every summer in her native parish of Broughton, where her brother, Mr E.B. Masterton, is a sheep farmer. She was a woman of considerable activity considering her advanced years, and some months ago she spent an extended holiday in Canada with Lord Tweedsmuir.

The Scotsman
20th December, 1937

Government of Canada Represented

THE funeral of Mrs Helen Buchan, the mother of Lord Tweedsmuir, Governor-General of Canada, who died at her home at Peebles on Saturday, aged eighty years, took place to Peebles Churchyard yesterday afternoon. It was largely attended.

Lietenant-Colonel George P. Vanier represented the Prime Minister of Canada, and Mr J. Ramsay Smith, Clerk to the Lieutenancy, represented Viscount Elibank, Lord-Lieutenant of Peeblesshire.

The officiating clergymen were the Rev. Berry Preston, Peebles Old Parish Church; the Rev. J.A. Baird, Peebles St Andrew's Church; and the Rev. J. Kerr, Peebles Leckie Memorial Church. The pall-bearers were:- Mr J. Walter Buchan (son), Mr E.B. Masterton (brother), the Hon. J.N.S. Buchan (grandson), the Hon. W.D. McL. Buchan (grandson), the Hon. A.F.B. Buchan (grandson), Captain F. Fairfax-Lucy (grandson-in-law), Lieutenant G.P. Vanier, and Mr James Keddie.

In addition to those from the family, wreaths were laid on the grave from the Prime Minister and his colleagues in the Government of Canada, from the household staff at Government House, Ottawa, and from his Excellency Lord Tweedsmuir's staff, Ottawa.

The Scotsman
22nd December, 1937

Death of Novelist Sister of John Buchan



Later books include Pink Sugar, it's author's favourite, a story founded upon her novelist-brother's family, and more than half a dozen others. Not all of these are fiction. Ann and Her Mother records the story of Helen Masterton of Broughton Green, the mother of "O. Douglas" and her constant companion during her many public appearances in this country and Canada. Unforgettable, Unforgotten is an autobiography containing delightful passages, written to beguile the tedium and lighten the gloom of the war years.

In this book Miss Buchan made no high claims for her own writing, and this modesty was in line with the instinct which led her to adopt a pseudonym so as not to detract from the lustre given to the name of Buchan by her brother.

Her gift and his were essentially distinct. The one invented, the other drew upon her memory. It has been objected that the people of her books are too "pleasant," but, at a time when fiction was passing through an ultra-realistic phase. This pleasantness was a relief to many readers.

The Scotsman