Saturday, 30 March 2013

Stranger in a Strange Land

Most of my ancestors, female and male, immigrated to Australia, quite a lot as convicts, but others as free settlers, and a fair number as bounty immigrants.

Australia needed able-bodied men and women in order to increase the areas settled by Europeans and in order to build the society, so the British government came up with the Bounty scheme. From FamilySearch:

"Beginning in 1828, the Australian Government organized a program to encourage people to migrate to Australia, particularly to the State of New South Wales, which had been founded in 1788. “Assisted Immigrants” were immigrants whose passage was paid for or partially paid for by the Government as an incentive to settle in New South Wales. Another program which ran from 1835 to 1841 was the bounty reward system. “Bounty immigrants” were selected by colonists who then paid for their passage. When the immigrant arrived, the colonist would employ them and the colonist would then be reimbursed by the government for all or part of the cost of passage. The first immigrants to apply for this assisted immigration were the people from Ireland, England, Wales, and Scotland. Later, people from other European countries began immigrating to Australia." 

There were age restrictions (no one deemed "too old" was accepted), health restrictions and initially a restriction on the number of children per family. Women aged between 15 and 30 were a priority but must be in the charge of a married couple, so one often finds single girls came over with families, whether they were related to the families or not. References were required for all applicants and there had to be a gaurantee of employment at the Australian end.

Lachlan McKay and his wife Anne Stewart, my great great great great grandparents, came out with their family under the Bounty Scheme. They came from the Isle of Coll. Many landholders in Scotland used the Bounty Scheme as a handy tool for clearances, but Coll was a different matter. Coll is a tiny place, just over 10 miles long, five miles across at its widest and half a mile across at its narrowest. It is fairly flat (there is only one notable hill), with sparse vegetation, and subject to wild weather. Its closest neighbour is the Isle of Mull.  In the 1830s its population was around 1500 plus animals, many of whom, people and livestock, were starving or close to starvation. The Duke of Argyll was petitioned to allow inhabitants to sign up for Bounty Immigration, and many took the opportunity. The first ship to sail was the Brilliant, leaving from Tobermory. On board were Anne, Lachlan and their children, Ann MacLean MacKay, John MacKay, George MacKay, Catherine MacKay, Isobel MacKay, Lachlan MacKay and Hugh MacKay. The Brilliant and its 313 passengers were tracked in the newspapers of the time and arrived in Sydney on 24 January 1838. The MacKay family went to Bathurst, NSW, then something of a wild outpost. Bathurst was a popular destination for the Scots, and quite a few Coll and Mull families ended up there.

extract from Bounty records held in NSW State Records. Anne is on the left, the children on the right. Lachlan appears on the preceding page.

Anne was a Gaelic speaker and couldn't read or write English (I don't know if she could read Gaelic). She never learnt to speak English, sticking to her own language until she died. After the family had been in Bathurst for a few years, Lachlan applied for a publican's license and proceeded to run the Green Man at Green Swamp outside Bathurst. Anne, a Scots Presbyterian, was furious about this. She must have wondered what they were all coming to.

I have one image of Anne, a poor quality scan (my fault), the photo was taken just before her husband's death in 1861. Immigration was not a happy process for her and I think it shows on her face.

Anne Stewart, c 1860, Bathurst NSW


  1. Hi Megan
    I think she was happier than she looks, as her husband Lachlan said "and now I'm proud to say she has mair coos than she kens what to do wi"
    Regards John

  2. Mair coos, but neither Lachlan nor the writer were complimentary about Anne. Moving mountain indeed. What would have been recorded had a translator asked Anne her opinion?

    But you are right, things were much better here than back on Coll.

  3. My ancestors too. I think she hated the fact that Lachlan ran a pub because she disapproved of alcohol.

    1. It must have been difficult to accept, yet cleaner than the water, so what to do? Hi cousin! Which child are you descended from?