This article refers to information supplied to us by Barbara Rijk (nee Mercer), it relates to a claim for the Mercer Millions in the 1930s. Barbara writes:

My maiden-name was Barbara Mercer and my father’s name was Andrew Alexander Mercer. My grandfather, also called Andrew Alexander Mercer, died when I was 3 years old and I first heard about the ‘Mercer Millions’ from my grandfather’s brother John, and his wife. They had of course lived through the court case in 1933/4 and said that when it collapsed there was a joke amongst the women in the family that the only way they could gain any benefit would be to go to Toronto and become ‘fallen women’. In the light of what I now know about the Reformatory that was highly insensitive, but they would have had no inkling as to what was really going on. When I first heard the story, my initial thought was that it seemed a little unfair that we hadn’t been able to inherit anything, but I also felt sorry that his son in Canada had missed out.

My great aunt and uncle gave me some papers relating to the court case in about 1967 and I gave the bundle to my sister to look after when I went to live and work in South Africa. It stayed in her attic for a long time, and it was only a few years ago that we decided to have a look at it because I was doing family research on Ancestry. I had made great progress on my mother’s English side of the family but found the Scottish side very frustrating indeed. I had a handwritten and rather difficult to read family tree drawn up by a cousin of my father’s, who lived in Glasgow, long since deceased so I can’t ask her any questions. I was able to make some progress using ‘Scotlands People’ in 2008 but haven’t looked at anything for a while now. The bundle of papers from my sister’s attic were in a fragile state, with pages torn, damaged and stuck together. I made a few photocopies of some of the newspaper clippings, but only those relevant to the family tree.  The articles are from The Toronto Daily Star, dated Wednesday 23rd August 1933 and The Weekly News (a Scottish newspaper) dated Saturday 9th September 1933. It also looks as if there was something in The Daily Mail, dated 18th October 1933, but it’s hard to read due to the damage.

I was really intrigued by all the information on your website, and in particular the extracts from Andrew Mercer’s diary. When I first heard the story in the 1960s, I felt sorry for Bridget O’Reilly, but now realise that she was a rather unpleasant character who took advantage of an old man and tried to make a fraudulent claim on his estate.

Andrew Mercer and the Mercer Millions

Andrew Mercer was born on 17th August 1778 in the parish of Currie, Midlothian and baptised on 22nd August. His parents were Andrew Mercer and Margaret Reid, who married on 4th April 1758. There was a report of an irregularity in the marriage lines, but it was said to be legally performed, with two witnesses, and recognized by the church. They paid a fine of five shillings to the moderator on 26th November 1758. Andrew was their sixth child, my ancestor (Alexander) was their third and all the children were baptized into the church. The name on the marriage certificate was misspelled as Messer and on Andrew’s birth certificate as Mecerer. Common mistakes at that time, when few people could read or write.

Andrew Mercer and Margaret Reid had the following children:

Catherine 1759 – no children

Agnes 1760 – died in infancy

Alexander 1762 (my ancestor) – 5 children

John 1765 – no children

James 1771 – 7 children. I think his g grandson, Alexander, was born in Toronto in 1866

Andrew 1778 – died in Toronto 1871

Andrew Mercer snr. was born in about 1731 and I found information that his father may also have been called Andrew Mercer. Margaret Reid died in 1783 and Andrew married an Isobel Thomson in 1785. They had two children, William in 1787 and David in 1789.

Andrew Mercer emigrated to Canada in 1800, when he was 22 years old. He travelled as clerk (or protégé) to Thomas Scott, who had been appointed Chief Justice, Attorney-General of Upper Canada on 1st April 1800. Andrew Mercer’s father (also called Andrew Mercer) was a tailor and apparently known to Thomas Scott.

They arrived in Quebec on 14th November 1800 on the ship ‘Brickwood’ and then proceeded to ‘muddy York’, as Toronto was called at that time.

Chief Justice Scott received a grant of land and built a house for himself and Andrew Mercer. They lived together until 1803 when, through Scott’s influence, a government appointment was procured for Andrew Mercer and he moved into an adjoining house on Scott’s land, on Wellington Street. They remained close friends until Scott’s death in 1824. Andrew Mercer held several government positions and eventually became a private banker. He apparently won “high regard for his personal habits”. His original homestead was replaced by a more substantial house with 20 rooms.

Andrew Mercer died in Toronto on 13th June 1871 and was buried in St. James Cemetery. At the time of his death, he was said to be one of the wealthiest men in Toronto, owning property as well as a large piece of land on the southeast corner of Bay Street and Wellington Street. An advertisement was placed in The London Times on Saturday 8th February 1873 seeking heirs to the estate, but it erroneously stated that Andrew Mercer came from London. An extract from one of the newspaper articles at that time reads:

“The suppliant further seeks an order that the attorney-general of this province of Ontario be directed to account for all moneys received and disbursed in connection with the said estate, and he further seeks an order directing the issue of a commission to take evidence in Scotland, particularly the evidence of witnesses now residing in the parish of Currie in the county of Edinburgh, Scotland. The suppliant asks that the lieutenant-governor of Ontario, as His Majesty’s representative, grant a ‘fiat that right be done.’ The suppliant seeks cost of the petition and proposes that its trial shall take place in the city of Toronto.”

In 1875 Andrew Mercer’s housekeeper Bridget (Biddy) O’Reilly claimed that they had been married but could not provide any proof. They had a son together, also called Andrew Mercer. He was about 20 years old when his father died and also claimed against the estate, but later withdrew his application. Litigation lasted several years and eventually went before the privy council, but he could not prove his claims. It was also claimed that Andrew Mercer snr. was himself illegitimate and therefore none of his siblings in Scotland were rightful heirs. The property was thus declared forfeit to the Crown.

By all accounts Andrew Mercer doted on his son and he was educated at St. Michael’s College. He worked at his father’s office and was treated generously. At the time of his death, his father was in the process of buying him a farm. I was interested to see from your website that he was able to keep the property, but this is an extract from a newspaper article:

Lost Farm Father Bought

Proof was furnished deceased had agreed with the owner for the purchase of a farm for young Andrew, but death occurred before instructions were carried out. Although the son had been given a 50-acre farm in Etobicoke, bought for $2,780, and a verbal agreement was made for purchase of two adjoining lots of 150 acres for $9,770, the transaction was not completed at death and the court held against the plaintiff.

When Andrew Mercer jnr. died in 1928 an advertisement was put in several newspapers (in Canada, Scotland and England) for heirs to the estate (I’ve no idea why after all that time). The advert said that he’d been born in Surrey, England (instead of Currie in Scotland), hence the rush of possible English heirs. My grandfather Andrew Alexander Mercer is a direct descendant of Alexander Mercer, the older brother of the Andrew Mercer who emigrated. He and my grandmother spent a lot of their money on making the claim, together with descendants of another brother, James. It went to court in 1933 and although the original marriage and birth certificates were produced by the lawyers in Scotland, they still lost the case. The certificates and other documentary evidence were brought to light by a solicitor called John Robertson, of 63 York Place, Edinburgh. His father had apparently started the investigation 20 years previously.

As part of the proceeds, the Ontario government erected the Andrew Mercer Ontario Reformatory for Women on the site “such an institution being then urgently needed”. This was replaced by a very much larger building which was run more like a prison, earned a terrible reputation and was eventually pulled down in 1969. Many babies born to women in the Reformatory were given up for adoption and I was contacted recently by one of the adoptees. She only discovered her origins in 2018 and is trying to piece together the history of the place and contact other adoptees who might still be alive. Knowing now how badly the women were treated, I feel sad that Andrew Mercer’s name was attached to the institution.

These images are the two sides of a newspaper article from The Toronto Daily Star, dated 23 August 1933. Though they are difficult to read, we thought they are of interest (if you want to read the content, click the image to get a larger view, then right-click the larger images and select “View in new tab” or “View in new window”).