William Brassey Hole

William Fergusson Brassey Hole, R. S. A., R. E., was born in Salisbury on 7th November 1846.  After the premature death of his father in 1849, he and his mother moved to Edinburgh [HOMES] and it was here that he spent the greater part of his lifetime.  Educated at the Edinburgh Academy, he went on to serve an apprenticeship as a civil engineer before, as a young man, travelling widely throughout Italy in search of artistic inspiration.  He returned to Edinburgh where he studied at the Royal Scottish Academy and in time became a professional painter.

From 1866 to 1916 he exhibited annually at the Royal Scottish Academy Galleries. The records of the R. S. A. show a list of 157 subjects contributed by him during these years [SEE EXHIBITS]; he also occasionally exhibited at the Royal Academy, London. Art critics generally consider that he reached the pinnacle of his career as a painter with two canvases depicting scenes of West-coast fisher life which he exhibited in 1883 and 1884, respectively. He became A. R. S. A. in 1878 and an Academician in 1889.

Between 1884 and 1896, William Hole went on to achieve recognition as an engraver. His etchings were a revelation; using only a needle, he produced an effect that suggested the richness of mezzotint, and was able to recreate the effect of painted brushwork with uncanny skill and definition. Such was his skill that, Professor R. Stevenson, one of the most distinguished art critics of the day, pronounced Hole to be the greatest interpretative etcher of all time.

Around 1896, William Hole turned his talents to mural decoration. Among his most noted work is the beautifully detailed mural mapping of the night sky, which decorates the entrance hallway ceiling, at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery; such is the intricate detail that Hole captured 47 constellations, comprising 2,222 individual stars.

Hole was a deeply religious man and around the turn of the century, determined to devote the rest of his life to religious art. He painted a number of church pictures, chiefly altar-pieces, but his most accomplished work was arguably his Life of Jesus of Nazareth which was a book published in 1906, containing eighty pictures in colour.

William Hole was working on a companion volume, on the Old Testament, right up to within a couple of days of his death, on 22nd October 1917.

“The qualities which were so attractive in his youth: the enthusiasm; the power of enjoyment; the insatiable curiosity about the wonders of creation; even a certain boyishness and growth to the end; all these lasted into age, and kept him young while the years went by.”

Mrs Fleeming Jenkin (1917)

Further Information

If you would like to find out more about the life and work of William Hole, why not purchase William Hole, R.S.A., Miscellaneous Memories of a Lifetime by Elizabeth Hole? The book is available in hardback (ISBN 9780952805953). Costing just £20, it is available to buy from book and gift shops as well as online here.

To buy now from within the UK and Europe (no charge for postage), please use the button below:


To buy now from within the rest of the world (price includes airmail post), please use the button below:


Orders are normally dispatched by standard post or by airmail (if applicable) within 48 hours.

Family History Jotter

Following the principles of a notebook jotter, this page includes a series of often random and miscellaneous, but nevertheless interesting facts about William Hole, his immediate family and his ancestors in general.  The notes are not comprehensive; the page is designed to be organic, so new information will be added, as it becomes available.

For ease of reference, the different family generations have been colour-coded:  ‘1st Generation’ refers to William Hole’s parents while ‘4th Generation’ refers to his grandchildren:

1st Generation    2nd Generation    3rd Generation    4th Generation

Richard Brassey Hole, M.D.

William Hole’s father.  He was a doctor who ministered charitably to the needy regardless of whether they could afford to pay his fees as a doctor.  On 24th July 1849, aged 35, he died of cholera, a disease he contracted whilst tending to the poor of Salisbury where he lived with his wife and young son, William Hole.  A memorial tablet on the wall of Salisbury Cathedral commemorates his life and charitable work.

Anne Burn Hole

William Hole’s mother:  Anne Fergusson was the daughter of William (Governor of Sierra Leone) and Charlotte Fergusson (née Hall).  She was also the sister of Colonel Alexander Fergusson who wrote ‘Chronicles of the Cumming Club’ for the Edinburgh Academy.

William Brassey Hole, R.S.A., R.E.

William Hole was born 7th November 1846 and died of a cancerous tumour on 22nd October 1917.  He married Elizabeth Douglas Lindsay in 1876 and together they had three sons and three daughters.

Janet Douglas Hole

William Hole’s eldest daughter, was born in 1878 and died, aged just 15, on 13th October 1892 from meningitis and coma.

Gilbert Lindsay Douglas Hole

William Hole’s second son was born in 1883.  Gilbert Hole was an eminent lawyer and a Scottish cricket player.  He was a member of the Edinburgh Academical Cricket Club for 50 years, during most of which he was a player.  Known affectionately as ‘Gibby’, in addition to holding the position of Captain and later president of the Club, he was capped 15 times for Scotland against Australia, South Africa, Australian Imperial Forces, Ireland, Surrey, Yorkshire and Wales.  While he was president of the Scottish Cricket Union in 1937 and, at the age of 55, he had the very unusual distinction of fielding as twelfth man for Scotland in their game against Ireland, at Belfast.  In his earlier days he also represented the East of Scotland at badminton.

Annis Frackleton, M.B.E.

Gilbert Hole’s eldest daughter who, after being educated privately and at the Sorbonne in Paris, attended Sybil Atwell’s drama college in Queensferry Street Lane; although she chose not to pursue a career in acting, she retained an interest in amateur dramatics.  It was through acting that she met her husband, Scott Frackleton (d. 1967), who was a successful businessman and a director of the Edinburgh-based engineering firm, D. F. Wishart & Son.  She was also a talented artist, an accomplished pianist and played lacrosse for the Edinburgh ladies’ team.

Annis enjoyed life at the forefront of Edinburgh society and immersed herself in charity work, particularly in the Fountainbridge area of Edinburgh, and volunteered with the Guild of Service for many years.  Through the Guild, Annis became involved with Edzell Lodge, a residential home for children. Although long-since closed, Annis kept in contact with a number of the home’s former residents, since scattered all over the world.  She worked tirelessly raising funds for the home and every year was involved with a play at the Little Theatre, in the Pleasance.

Annis Frackleton was named Edinburgh Citizen of the year in 1975 and awarded the MBE in the New Year Honours list in 1997 for services to family care.  When she died, aged 97 in November 2006, she left an estate worth almost £7m.  She and her husband did not have children so her estate was largely split between her nieces, nephews and charitable bequests.

Harry Lindsay Hole

The son of Gilbert Hole who was born in 1914 and who died on 17th July 1935, aged 21, from asphyxia by drowning.

Grizel Gray*

The younger daughter of Gilbert Hole. She was born in 1917 (d. 2009) and married Dr Robert Gray in 1940. They had three children: John, Stuart and Grizelda.

William Arthur Hole

William Hole’s youngest son was born in 1888.  He was known within the family as, Arthur, and sadly passed away during World War I whilst serving on the Front, in July 1916.

These notes have been compiled after reference to a variety of sources, including but not exclusively, records of marriages, births and deaths, as well as contemporary newspaper reports.  Many of these have been kindly supplied by Sally Hood and Lindsay Crofts, who located the information while tracing the family tree of their mothers’; direct descendents of William Hole.

*Information kindly provided by Grizelda Cowan.