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

    1. I have been trying to find Lachlan's story that contains that quote. I believe it is from Inns of the Western Road, but Google is not showing it. Does anyone have a reference or a copy that they could send me?

  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?

    2. Catherine, who married Donald McKinnon. I would appreciate a copy of Laclan's account of his life, and also any further details of Catherine and Donald. Writing a family history.

    3. Their daughter Catherine was my mother's grandmother.
      I think Lachlan was born on the Isle of Mull, that he, his father and his brothers enlisted in the Cameron Highlanders and went to Gibraltar. The brothers went on active service including the Battle of Waterloo, but Lachlan was too young and instead trained as a piper, while the father was too old for active service. Family tradition says Lachlan played the pipes with the Cameron Highlanders at Nelson's funeral.
      Does anyone have information about this and how he got to Coll?

  4. Catherine. Her daughter Margaret McKinnon married Richard Ridge and I am writing the family history of that couple (my great grandparents).
    Do you have the text of Lachlan McKay telling the account of his life from Inns of the Western Road. I can no longer find it on line.

  5. Can someone forward to me the words of Lachlan McKay in Inns of the Western Road. I can no longer find it on the internet.
    I am another descendant.

  6. Katherine. Do you have a copy of his life story as told in Inns of the Western Road? I can't find it on line.

  7. Hi Megan, I contacted the Dave Chapman MBE, Research and Volunteer Coordinator
    The Highlanders' Museum at Fort George near Inverness. I received a rather snooty reply that The Cameron Highlanders were never stationed in Malta. However the official records show that they spent 20 days there on the way to Egypt in 1800. I assume that wives and children were left behind on Malta.
    However, that was not in 1793, which was when the Cameron Highlanders were formed. There are also various sources that say Anne died in Malta, but you say she died in Menorca.
    I think he said he was a "guid bit abun 40" when he got on the Brilliant in 1837. It sounds as though he was born in 1793, but as that was before the Cameron Highlanders were formed that would contradict him being born on Malta.

  8. Actually I read another account of the McKinnons at Green Swamp, which said that the landlady had an excessive fondness for strong liquor. So my theory that she was a disapproving teetotaller was completely wrong!

  9. I found another account of what I think was the Green Man Inn, that said the Landlady had a fondness for Strong Liquor.