Petrie Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Petrie Surname Meaning

Petrie is a pet form of the first name Peter. As a surname it originated in the northeast of Scotland. Some think that the name was brought by Flemish artisans who arrived in the 12th and 13th centuries. The Petrie name is pronounced Paitrie in Aberdeen.

Petrie Surname Resources on The Internet

Petrie Surname Ancestry

  • from NE Scotland
  • to Sweden, England, America, Canada, Caribs (Jamaica) and Australia

Scotland. Early Petrie records suggest that the name moved in the northeast of Scotland from Morayshire through Banff into Aberdeen and Kincardine (part of present-day Angus).

NE Scotland.  Hendrie Petrie was a prominent businessman in Aberdeen in the early 1600’s. His large house there, known as the Miscellany of the Spalding Club in Aberdeen, was used for public entertainment. Robert Petrie, a burgess in Dundee, died there in 1616. George Petrie was the Provost of Montrose in 1625 (and the Petrie name remained prominent in Montrose).

Petries from the northeast of Scotland included:

  • James Petrie, a wool weaver who was born in 1755 at Coleburn in Morayshire.
  • Alexander Petrie and Janet Spence who were married at Premnay in Aberdeenshire in 1765. They were the forebears of the Petries of Kennethmont in Aberdeenshire.
  • Arthur Petrie from Aberdeenshire who was Bishop of Moray from 1778 to 1787.
  • while David Petrie married Helen Cock at Lerwick in the Shetland Isles in 1710.

The largest Petrie numbers in the 1881 census were in Forfarshire (now Angus) – in Dundee, Forfar and St. Vigeans (near Arbroath).  

Sweden. Robert Petrie, son of George Petrie the provost of Montrose, came to Sweden with his brother George soon after his father’s death in 1628. There he founded the Brattfors steel works at Ockelbo. His descendants continued to own the steel works until well into the 19th century.

England. One early Petrie family had definite English origins.

Devon.  The Petres were yeoman farmers at Torbryan in Devon, going back to the late 1300’s. John Petre was “a rich tanner of Torbryan” in the early 1500’s. His son John was a founder member of the Exeter merchant adventurers in the 1560’s.

Another son Sir William made it to London and the Tudor court, serving as Secretary of State for four monarchs from Henry VIII to Queen Elizabeth. He acquired Ingatestone Hall in Essex at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries. He established it as a Catholic refuge which it has remained under the Petre family until the present day.

Elsewhere.  The Petries of Lewisham in Surrey had Scottish origins, however. The Rev. Robert Petrie grew up on the Scottish borders and had previously been a minister in Dumfries. He died in Lewisham in 1791.

“In Lewisham church there is a monument to his widow Margaret, showing her dying in the arms of Religion supported by Faith and Hope.”  

Two of their sons prospered in India, John in Bengal and William in Madras:

  • John returned the richer. He became an MP and a slave owner with plantations in the new colony of Tobago.
  • but William had the more distinguished descendants, most notably Flinders Petrie the father of Egyptian archaeology. When Flinders died in 1942, he donated his head – and hence his brain – to the Royal College of Surgeons in London where it is now stored.

Most Scottish Petries, however, were to be found closer to Scotland, in northern England. Charles Petrie from Fife, for instance, developed his family fisheries business in Liverpool where he served as its mayor in 1901 and was made a baronet in 1918. His son Charles was a historian, his grandson Peter a British diplomat.  

America.  The Petries of Herkimer county, New York were German immigrants from the Palatinate who had made their home at German Flats in the Mohawk valley in the early 1700’s. Catherine Petrie married Johan Herkimer around 1720. William Petrie was a surgeon in Nicholas Herkimer’s brigade during the Revolutionary War. The family history was traced in Hazel Patrick’s 1979 book The Mohawk Valley Petrie and Allied Families.

The origins of Alexander Petrie of South Carolina are uncertain. Some suspect that he came from French Huguenot roots. He was the premier silversmith of Charleston from the 1740’s until his death in 1768. His son Edmund was a suspected Loyalist during the Revolutionary War.  

Jewish.  Milton Petrie’s origins were Jewish. His parents had arrived from Russia and were running a pawn shop in Salt Lake City when he was born in 1902. He made a fortune from a chain of retail stores in New Jersey, which he supplemented through canny investments in real estate and stocks.

Canada.  Two Petrie British officers settled in Canada.

Nova Scotia.  George Petrie was a British soldier in Canada in the 1780’s, probably Scottish, who was entitled to a land grant because of his service. He took up this land grant in 1789 with his wife Isabel at Sydney in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Fort Petrie, named after them, exists there today.

Petrie descendants on Cape Breton are sizeable, including the mid-19th century descendants of James Petrie at Glace Bay. Sergeant John Petrie of Glace Bay died on the Western front during World War One in 1916.

Daniel Petrie, born in Glace Bay in 1920, came to New York in the 1960’s where he made his name as a movie and TV director. His family expanded there to include the following:

  • two directors (Daniel Petrie and his son Donald)
  • a television movie producer (Dorothea Petrie)
  • a screenwriter (Dan Petrie Jr.)
  • a movie studio executive (June Petrie) 
  • and an actress (Mary Petrie).

Ontario.  Another British officer who had received a Canadian land grant was the Scotsman Captain Archibald Petrie. He was a purser on ships patrolling Lake Ontario during the War of 1812. His grant was in Cumberland township, Ontario where he became a prominent merchant and politician. He gave his name to Petrie Island on the Ottawa river.

Caribbean.  The Petrie name is also to be found in Jamaica.  The earliest may have been Ninian Petrie who married Elizabeth McDougal in Kingston in 1789.  Their son Andrew was born in 1794.  Ninian, who died in 1820, was a slave-owner.

Australia. Andrew Petrie from Fife came out with his family to Australia in 1831, first staying in NSW and then moving, some ten years later, to the emerging town of Brisbane in Queensland.

There he started up his own construction company. He was the pioneer architect and builder of the town. His name continues in Petrie, a suburb and electoral division. His son John was the first mayor of Brisbane. Another son Thomas was an explorer, grazier and friend to Aborigines.

Petrie Surname Miscellany

Petrie’s Flemish Origins?  One persistent story has the Petries of Scotland originating from a Flemish family named Peters that had migrated from Antwerp to Cornwall in the 12th century.

From there the family moved to the northeast of Scotland – to Kincardine (where they were said to have owned a manor) and to Aberdeen and Caithness.  It is known that Scotland was encouraging Flemish immigration at the time, because of their skills in weaving.

Prominent Petries in Montrose

Helen Petrie wife of John Mylne, burgess    1597
George Petrie provost of Montrose    1625
Katherine Petrie wife of Alexander Pirie    1625
Alexander Petrie master at grammar school    1625
Elizabeth Petrie wife of John Ochterlony, baillie    1662
James Petrie shipmaster    1756
William Petrie master at grammar school    1766
William Petrie shipmaster    1775
James Petrie son of James Petrie, maltman    1808
Alexander Petrie Montrose merchant    1810

The first Alexander Petrie above became a Scottish Covenanting minister based in Rotterdam. 

George Petrie, Bishop of Moray.  George’s first employment in the 1740’s was as a tutor to the family of Walkinshaw, not far from Glasgow, on the salary of £6 per annum.

Here he devoted himself so sincerely to his duties that, when he became ill, as he did, the family took the most anxious care of him. One trouble he had, and that was whether the influential friends of the Walkinshaws should insist on his taking the oaths to the Government.  But the point was never raised.

In 1754 he wanted to emigrate to Jamaica, but was persuaded to stay in Scotland by his relatives. In 1756 his mother fell ill and died.  The next year Arthur accepted the tutorship as a layman at Balgowan near Perth but stayed only a short time. He returned to Aberdeenshire in 1757 and his father died the following year.   Arthur’s first pastoral charge was at Wartle and Meiklefolla in Aberdeenshire.  He was appointed the Episcopal Bishop of Moray in 1778.

“Tradition still relates the gratification with which Bishop Petrie was hailed, when seen coming slowly up the glens on his little pony, his check plaid serving for gown and lawn sleeves.”

Bishop Petrie died in 1787 “in the fifty-sixth year of his age and the eleventh of his Episcopate.”

Flinders Petrie’s Heritage.  Flinders Petrie was born in Kent in 1853, the son of William and Ann Petrie.

Anne was the daughter of Captain Matthew Flinders, the surveyor of the Australian coastline.  She spoke six languages and was an Egyptologist.

His father William was an electrical engineer who had developed carbon arc lighting and subsequently chemical processes for Johnson Matthey.  His Petries had originated from the Scottish borders.  His great grandfather William Petrie had gone out to India in the 1780’s and returned with a modest fortune.  While in Madras he had set up his own private observatory at his home, the first ever to be built outside Europe.

Flinders Petrie was raised in a Christian household – his father being a Plymouth Brethren – and he was educated at home.  He had no formal education. But his father taught him how to survey accurately, thus laying the foundation for his archaeological career.

George Petrie, Nova Scotia Settler.  George Petrie was a British soldier in North America in the 1780’s and entitled to a land grant based on his service.  He took up this land grant in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

His origins were probably Scottish but obscure.

Some have connected him with the Captain George Petrie who was a staff officer on General Burgoyne’s staff in Boston and Kingston.  Captain Petrie was captured in the Battle of Saratoga and marched with 6,000 captured British soldiers to ships to transport them from Saratoga. Captain Petrie was listed as a prisoner on parole in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

However, there was an interesting paragraph in the Rev. John Murray’s 1921 book The History of the Presbyterians in Cape Breton.

“The earliest settlers on the Low Point shore in Cape Breton, between Lingan and South Bar, were Irish Roman Catholics.  But there were a few Presbyterian families among them.  These families were from Ulva in the Hebrides. They were all Gaelic speaking people, bearing the name of Livingstone, McGillivray, McPhee and Petrie. The Livingstones were closely related to Dr. Livingstone the great African missionary.”

Was this true for Petrie?

Reader Feedback – Petries in Jamaica.  My daddy’s name was Benjamin Agustus Petrie.  He was born in Jamaica in 1904.

Carmen Petrie (

Andrew Petrie and His Passage to Australia.  In the early 1830’s Andrew Petrie was an enterprising young man working in the building trade in Edinburgh when he was approached by the Rev. J.D. Lang to emigrate to Australia.

Lang was an evangelical Protestant of great tenacity who recruited skilled tradesmen that had been recommended by respected local Presbyterian employers and churchmen.  Since one of the reasons for the Rev. Lang’s conscription of families was to remedy the climate of immorality in the penal settlement in Australia, only those of the highest moral character were chosen.

The restrictive economic climate of the Scotland in the 1830’s made the Petrie family – Andrew, his wife Mary and four growing boys – keen to emigrate.  They were on board when the Stirling Castle carrying 52 Scottish mechanics and their families set off in June 1831 with Captain James Fraser at the helm.

The time taken for the voyage was not wasted.  In addition to Bible readings and strict observance of the Sabbath, male passengers devoted a considerable amount of time to study.  Mathematics, geometry and political economy were studied five days a week.  Many of the mechanics, Andrew included, signed a temperance pledge before they disembarked.

On arrival in Sydney life was very different. The mechanics were soon employed in building Lang’s new Australian College and the Petries were working hard to pay back their passage money, as half of their wages was deducted for this purpose.

Petrie Names

  • Sir William Petrie was an English Secretary of State in Tudor times, from Henry VIII to Queen Elizabeth.   
  • Andrew Petrie was a pioneer, architect and builder in Brisbane, Queensland in the mid-1800’s. 
  • Flinders Petrie was an English Egyptologist of the early 1900’s and a pioneer of systematic methodology in archaeology and the preservation of artifacts.

Petrie Numbers Today

  • 6,000 in the UK (most numerous in Angus)
  • 4,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 5,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Petrie and Like Surnames 

These surnames originated from the northern part of Scotland, either the northeast of the country, the Scottish Highlands, or in one case (the surname Linklater) the Orkney isles north of Scotland.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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