Lonely graves at Tooloom

The township of Tooloom began in 1859 with the discovery of gold. There were soon 5000 diggers trying their luck and within three months of the first discovery, three hotels were in business and three more planned. By 1860 things had settled down somewhat although there were still diggers finding enough to make staying worthwhile. In the early 1870s the population justified holding a two day race meeting and Tooloom was included in a mail run from 1874.

In 1877 a rush to nearby Paddy’s Flat started and the population was said to be 120 Europeans and 36 Chinese. Around 1891 a new (but less spectacular than the original) rush started at Tooloom and mining continued in some form up until 1914. (Wilkinson, 1980)

Today the Tooloom township doesn’t exist.  The large stock stations (Tabulam, Tooloom, Kangaroo Flat, New Koreelah and Bonalbo) have been subdivided long ago and what remains of the gold days is now on private property.

The old Tooloom cemetery lies a bit further on over the eastern side of Tooloom Creek from Billy May’s Point (a popular picnic and swimming spot in days gone by). Six headstones remain and commemmorate: IMG_5599

George Frederick Everson
who departed this life
April 1896 Aged 3 years and four months

John Martin who died
February 16 – 1890
Aged 60 years

Henry Brown
who died
March 18 – 1872
Aged 28 years

Beloved wife Donald McLean
Departed this life
November 6th 1873
Aged 58 yearsIMG_5597

John Slade
Died October 2 – 1903
Aged 27 years and 2 months

Finlay Iverson
who died
April 23, 1892
Aged 1 year and 7 months

There are many unmarked graves.  Some that I know of:

Roderick Cameron (Died 1890 aged 61. Nephew of Donald McLean mentioned above and below)

Donald McLean (Died 1902 aged 89)Donald McLean 001

Maude Ellen Payne (Died 1895 aged 2 months and 3 weeks. Twin of May below)

May Payne (Died 1925 aged 30. Twin of Maude above)

May Payne

May Payne (1895-1925)

Ellen Waldron (Nee Allen, formerly Mulcahy. Died 1872 aged 45)

I do not have proof but the following are listed on the Find a Grave website as “resident” in Tooloom Cemetery.  I have removed a few from the list who I know are not actually there.

William Graham (1810 – 1860)

Ah Hung (unknown – 1874)

James P Kerry (1831 – 1908)

Elizabeth King Lee (1859 – 1935)

Samuel Lee (1831 – 1914)

Mary A Lehy (unknown – 1857)

Robert Lehy (unknown – 1858)

Thomas Lewis (1850 – 14 Jul 1923)

John Richardson Martin (1831 – 16 Feb 1890)

John T Martin (unknown – 1913)

James Mather (1836 – 1863)

William (Billy) May (1815 – 30 Jun 1907)

John McLean (1836 – 7 May 1891)

Alexander Mills (1835 – 1880)

Bertram Viller Payne (28 Aug 1899 – 10 May 1913)

Percival Edward Payne (25 Jun 1913 – 3 Oct 1913)

Violet Agnes Payne (13 Jan 1907 – 29 Apr 1913)

William Payne (6 May 1894 – 14 May 1913)

Keith Jardine Ralston (1899 – 31 Dec 1901)

Henry Ross Scott (1860 – 10 May 1863)

Jessie Hall Scott (1861 – 6 May 1863)

Shee Quin (1849 – 8 Apr 1915)

John Slade (20 Jul 1876 – 2 Oct 1903)

Thomas Slade (9 Dec 1877 – 14 Mar 1884)

Unnamed Stubbings (18 Jul 1907 – 23 Jul 1907. Son of George Stubbings and Ellen nee Mulcahy)

Ellen Waddingham Urben (Unknown – 19 Jan 1909)

Fanny Urben (1857 – 12 Jan 1858)

William Urben (1824 – 28 Dec 1879)

William Waldron (1833 – 1876)


Big John Payne is buried in the Tooloom area on a property named Flagstone which once belonged to the Payne family.  He requested that he be  buried there and the gravediggers had to blast into the rock to make a big enough hole to put him in.  According to some sources, there is a second grave next to his although it is not visible in this 1997 photo.  If there is a second grave, it is neither of John’s wives’.  His first wife, Mary Ann Sophia (nee Merrick) is buried in Narrabri and his seond wife, Mary Eliza (nee McFarlane) is buried in Tenterfield.


Wilkinson, Isabel (1980). Forgotten Country.  The Story of the Upper Clarence Gold Fields. Northern Star Print. Lismore.

Find a Grave. findagrave.com

Of good convict stock

John Edward (Jack) Payne was of pure convict stock.  He was not a kind or a gentle man.

John Edward Payne

John Edward (Jack) Payne (1866 – 1956)

Perhaps that wasn’t surprising, given who his forebears were.  They must surely have been scarred by their experiences in prison, on convict ships and in a harsh, unfamiliar new country.

Who were these people and what did they do to get themselves transported?

Jack’s father, Big John Payne, was the son of a convict father and a mother whose parents were convicts.

John Payne 001

“Big” John Payne      (1843-1910)

John’s father, Edward Payne, was born about 1802 and baptised in the town of Stockbury

Edward Payne

Edward Payne         (c1802-1880)

in Kent, England.  He was tried for sheep stealing at the Lent Assizes in Kent in 1824, was convicted and sentenced to death.  At some point his sentence was commuted to life and he arrived in the colony of New South Wales on 1 July 1824 on the ship Minerva.  He received a conditional pardon in 1841 at which time he was described as 5 feet 4 ¾ inches in height, of a sallow complexion, with light hair and blue eyes.


There would have been some familiar faces in New South Wales when Edward arrived.  His father John Payne (c1774-probably 1820), brothers Thomas Payne (c1797-?) and Richard Payne (1800-1868) had arrived on the convict ship Malabar in 1819 and brother Stephen Payne (c1798-1870) on the Eliza in 1822.  Edward’s father most likely died before Edward’s arrival.  I don’t know how often or even whether Edward saw Thomas in Australia but Stephen and Richard were living in the same area as Edward in their later years once they had all served their sentences.  John Payne Snr, having served six months in prison in 1817, was then tried along with Thomas and Richard Payne in Kent in 1819.  All were sentenced to 7 years. From a newspaper of the time:

Committed to St. Augustine’s Gaol….John Payne (sic), Thomas Payne, and John Payne, the elder, charged on the oath of William White, (an accomplice, admitted an evidence for the Crown,) and others, with having on the night of the 3d instant, broken open the poultry-house of William Twopeny, esq. at Tunstal, and stealing a quantity of poultry there from.

Stephen Payne had been tried for larceny in 1818.

William Safleet and Stephen Payne charged with stealing, at Stockbury, divers hogs, property of Richard and James Hudson.

Why did this family keep stealing livestock?  To eat or to sell?

In 1853 John Payne Snr’s nephew, Robert Roberts and his wife Maria arrived in New South Wales as free settlers aboard the Malvina Vidal.  Robert’s brother, William J Roberts, also came to Australia as a free settler.  Were they encouraged to emigrate by letters from their now free, landowning cousins?

Ann Payne (nee Hanratty) 001

Ann Hanratty (1823-1913)

Edward was the only one of the brothers to marry. He married the fourteen-year-old Ann Hanratty in 1837.  Ann’s parents, Patrick Hanratty and Sarah Primer (nee Stephen(s)) in 1821. Patrick was born around 1778 in Drogheda, County Louth in Ireland. He was tried in 1800 in Louth, convicted of stealing flax worth 3 or 4 shillings and received a 7 year sentence.  A petition was raised on his behalf, offering that he could join the military instead but to no avail. He arrived in New South Wales on the Atlas in 1802.  The poor man lost a leg as a result of another convict attempting medical treatment which he was not qualified to perform.  Patrick settled with his family in Parramatta once he had his pardon.

Sarah Stephen(s) was from the greater Manchester area and was convicted in January 1816 in Lancaster.  She arrived on the Lord Melville in February 1817.  She had been tried along with a number of others, her part in the crime was receiving stolen goods. Sarah seems to have been one of the poor, driven to crime to survive.  In 1813, she and two of her children were removed from the parish in which they were living to their home parish, a practice which relieved the non-native parish of having to provide poor relief.  At that time, Sarah’s husband John was absent from the family. He seems to have returned because Sarah brought her infant daughter, Matilda, with her on the voyage to Australia.

1813 removal Primer

Removal order 1813

So, Ann Hanratty and Edward Payne’s son, John Payne, married Mary Ann Sophia Merrick. Mary Ann’s mother, Maria Wood, was the daughter of convicts Charles Wood and Ann Walford.  Mary Ann’s father, Edward Merrick, was the son of convicts Joseph Merrick and Mary Elizabeth Russell.

Charles Wood was born around 1765 in Kidderminster, Worcestershire.  He was tried on 9 July 1796, (for fracturing the skull of Jane Goodman, demanding money of her and threatening her life in case of refusal), convicted and arrived in May 1798 on the Barwell.

Ann Walford was also from Worcester, born  around 1784. She was tried at the Worcester Quarter Sessions on 11 April 1809 for stealing a pair of sheets (the property of Mr Hardman) and a shift (the property of Samuel Pitt), convicted and sentenced to transportation for 7 years.  Was she a laundress to have access to the linen of two different people? She arrived on 10 September 1810 on the Canada

Edward Merrick was born around 1760 in England. He was perhaps the son of John Merrick and Susannah who was baptised in 1763 at St James Clerkenwell.  Edward was tried on 2 April 1788 at the Old Bailey in London.

EDWARD MERRICK and GEORGE WOODWARD were indicted for stealing, on the 26th of March last, two pounds weight of tea, value 7 s. seven loaves of refined sugar, value 30 s. twenty pounds weight of moist sugar, value 10 s. three pounds weight of rice, value 1 s. a pound of pepper, value 2 s. the property of John Victual. A second Count for stealing the same, the property of John Roys. EDWARD MERRICK, GUILTY. Transported for seven years. GEORGE WOODWARD, NOT GUILTY. Tried by the first Middlesex Jury before Mr. Justice ASHURST.7 years, arrived June 1790

Other records describe how the goods listed above were actually on a wagon.  Edward and George were caught when they “parked” the wagon outside an inn. Edward arrived in New South Wales in 1790 aboard the Surprise, one of the ships of the Second Fleet. He eventually became a landholder and police constable in the Richmond district of New South Wales.

His wife, Mary Elizabeth Russell, came on  one of the Third Fleet ships, the Mary Ann, arriving on 9 July 1791, having been sentenced to 7 years transportation.  She was also tried at the Old Bailey so was perhaps from the London area.  She was born around 1764.

MARY RUSSELL was indicted for feloniously stealing, one hank of silk, value 10 s. the property of John Dye and Edward Harvey , privily in their shop .

JOHN DYE sworn.

I live at No. 38, St. Martin’s Le Grand , I am a man’s mercer and trimming maker , in partnership with E. Hervey; about seven weeks since I first saw the prisoner, she brought a pattern of sewing silk, and said her father used a good deal, and would be a good customer; she came six or eight times a week, a boy served her, and on packing up the paper, we found a considerable decrease in the quantity; this was a fortnight before; from that time we kept our silk weighed and marked, on purpose to detect her if possible, having a strong suspicion; we shewed her a paper containing ten heads, and each head weighing about eight ounces; Thomas Waters served her, who usually did serve her; I went out to see which way she went; when she came out the witness Waters followed her: Mr. Haywood was in the shop, he is not here; he took her back into the shop, I followed her; she sat herself on a stool nigh the counter, and on moving her from thence, we discovered a head of silk dropt on the ground; we sent for a constable immediately, and took her before Sir Sampson Wright’s: she said, dear Sir, how can you say so; she did not desire me to shew her any favour.


The prisoner came into the shop, we shewed her one paper of raven grey silk; about six pounds in ten different heads, and about eight ounces in each; she purchased three hanks out of three different heads; I had examined that paper just before she was in, and I missed one head, which is eight ounces; I followed her out and brought her to the shop; she sat down on a stool; I sent for a constable, when he came, I was going to remove her into the middle of the shop to examine her, and there was a hank of silk on the floor by the stool; I counted the silk and missed a head before I went out; I did not see her take it; I will swear that hank of silk was not on the floor when she was brought back.


I did not meddle with or touch it.

The prisoner called one witness who gave her a good character.


Of stealing, but not privily .

Transported for seven years .

Tried by the first Middlesex Jury before Mr. Baron PERRYN.

Merrick gravestone

The tombstone of Edward Merrick and Mary Elizabeth Merrick (nee Russell)

I often wonder what drove them all to crime.  Sarah Primer seems to have been in pretty desperate circumstances, Edward and John Payne seem to have come from a family of career criminals. None of them were wealthy or were political prisoners.  The Industrial Revolution was in full swing and the cities were full of people who had come from the country seeking work.  There weren’t enough jobs and conditions in the cities were miserable. Those who did have jobs were underpaid and often working in unsafe conditions. This is not to excuse the choices they made but they certainly paid for those choices.  I wonder whether they pined for home and family or decided to make the best of what fate had dealt them.

ANZAC Day 2016

Featured in these photos are my father Jack Higgins; his brother Ossie Higgins, my mother’s brothers Hugh Mulcahy and Lach Mulcahy and various friends.

I’m not exactly sure where these photos were taken but Dad trained in New South Wales and north Queensland and served in New Guinea, as did Ossie.

Hugh trained and served in Western Australia and Lach served in the Middle East.

Homes among the gum trees (Part 2)

Hugh and Ettie’s first home was at Kangaroo Flat in a house which was later referred to in the family as “the old kitchen”.  As late as the 1990s some building and garden remains could be seen.


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A granddaughter and great-granddaughter of Hugh and Ettie at the site of the “the old kitchen” c1997.  

Presumably there were other rooms than a kitchen.  This property was owned by Kenny McLean. When Hugh and Ettie left the property, the house was bought by Hugh’s half-sister, Ellen Iverson and her husband George Stubbings and moved to their property at Burnt Blanket.

George and Ellen Stubbings 001

George and Ellen (nee Iverson) Stubbings

Perhaps it was during this period that they lived at Koreelah.  They had built a house at Beaury Creek but Kenny McLean and his wife were living there.  When Hugh and Ettie had to leave Koreelah, they moved in with Hugh’s half-brother Donald Iverson’s family at the Little (Tooloom) Falls.

Eventually they were able to move to their house at Beaury Creek and lived there for many years, although with a bit more to-ing and fro-ing.


Thought to be the Beaury Creek house

During World War 2, oldest son Allen was married and farming nearby, next son John, also married was farming in Queensland.  Two sons, Hughie and Lach, were in the army and the youngest son, Ewan, too young to enlist, was at home with his parents and once he left school working on the dairy farm. Ettie’s brother Emerald was also living with them and lending a hand.  He was not in robust health, having only one kidney as a result of having contracted meningitis as a child, in a tragedy which claimed the lives of five of his siblings.

The oldest daughter, Bell, was living in Newcastle where her husband, Doug Guest, was working in what was considered an essential industry, namely ammunition manufacturing.

Meanwhile Hugh and Ettie had been busy making sure that Hughie and Lach would have a livelihood when they came back from the war and had purchased a property for each of them.  The property secured for Hughie was “Grimstead” essentially across the road at Beaury Creek.  The family moved over to run the dairy farm there until Bell and Doug moved back from Newcastle, soon after which Hugh, Ettie and the children still at home moved into the property on the Falls Road which had been secured for Lach.

People obviously had fewer possession and different expectations in those days.  May went to school in Urbenville that day and the first she knew of the move was as she was riding home from school and was informed by a local family she came across that she was to go to the Falls Road property instead of “Grimstead”. She arrived there to find her parents settling in and trying to build a fire.

After some time, they must have moved back to Beaury Creek.  It no longer stands, having been demolished to provide some of the mismatched building materials for the house at “Windy Hill”.  Hugh wanted to name the house in the Gaelic he had heard his grandfather speak but was unable to remember the words which would convey the idea of a windy hill.

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“Windy Hill”

I was only ever a visitor to the Windy Hill house.  I never lived there but to me it is where my mother came from.  For her, the house at Beaury Creek was her childhood home, which she describes fondly as a beautiful farm. She is working on a map of it.

There are other versions of the order in which Hugh and Ettie’s moves happened.  This is May’s version as told to me.

Homes among the gum trees (Windy Hill)

My grandparents’ house had a very long dining table in the kitchen.  It ran most of the length of the kitchen.  There was no dining room.  The house was built after the Second World War when building supplies were still in short supply.  This explains why some of the boards of the walls ran vertically and some ran horizontally.

The kitchen viewed from one end with horizontal boards

The kitchen viewed from one end with vertical boards

The kitchen was the hub of the house where family sat around the table, talking until late into the night, women worked together to prepare food and men came in for “smoko” (i.e. a cup of tea and something to eat), dinner (midday meal) and tea (evening meal).

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The kitchen viewed from the other end with horizontal boards

The other place to congregate was the U shaped verandah which hugged 3 sides of the house.  Grandsons perched on the railings, aunts leaned over the edge to talk to uncles in the yard and the older, more sedate members sat on chairs or even snatched a rest on one of the many beds along the verandah.  There were only two bedrooms so when there were overnight visitors, some of the verandah beds would probably be in use.  In summer we slept under a mosquito net and in winter under a pile of thin, well-used blankets.

Sitting on the verandah rail

Sitting on the verandah rail

The large family certainly made use of the long table but it not originally been made for domestic use.  The Von Harten family owned the Urbenville Hotel and a property at Koreelah. They ran into financial difficulties and asked my grandfather, Hugh McLean Mulcahy, to take over the debt and the property.  My grandparents moved to the Koreelah property, leaving their home at Beaury Creek available for Hugh’s uncle Kenny McLean live in. They took some of the hotel furniture with them and lived there for a time until they were also unable to meet the debt repayments.

Along with the table went a number of chairs, including two carvers.  There was also a sideboard and what was known in the family as the “dinner wagon”.  I imagine that it was used as a buffet in the hotel.  In my day it displayed framed photographs.

There had been a long couch which matched the chairs.  It met its demise in the scrub somewhere between Koreelah and Beaury Creek as the family made the move back, with their possessions loaded onto a dray or buckboard.  The load was too heavy, they were at risk of getting bogged so the couch was thrown off into the scrub.

Afterwards, whenever they passed that spot, Ettie would say, “The couch is down there”.

"Windy Hill"in its early years (perhaps in the 1950s)

“Windy Hill”in its early years (perhaps in the 1950s)


A somewht later photo perhaps 1960s) during a traditional Christmas Day cricket match

A somewht later photo (perhaps 1960s) during a traditional Christmas Day cricket match

It was like a voice from the dead…

…when Father received your kind and welcome letter wrote Matthew McLean to his cousin, Ann McLean in 1873.

The first page of the letter sent from Laggan in 1873

The first page of the letter sent from Laggan in 1873

That letter, and another written in 1875, were kept by Ann’s nephew and my grandfather, Hugh McLean Mulcahy, and when I took possession of them, they were indeed like a voice from the dead.  With their help much of the lives of Matthew and Ann’s aunts and uncles has been pieced together and some interstate and international connections have been made along the way. What has resulted is a typical story of 19th century Scotland, of a family whose members spread across the globe looking for new opportunities and better lives.

Ann McLean (1846-1930), the recipient of the letters from Laggan

Ann McLean (1846-1930), the recipient of the letters from Laggan










Only parts of each letter remain in existence and these parts do not include the writer’s name or signature so even working out who the writer must have been was a puzzle.  My clues were:

  • that he or she lived in Laggan, Glengarry (this is in Inverness-shire in Scotland),
  • that he or she had one brother,
  • he/she appeared to live with his/her parents and did not mention a spouse or children of his/her own.

My suspicion from the style was that the writer was male. After piecing the clues together, I eventually settled on the writer’s identity as Matthew McLean (1842-?), son of Neil McLean and Isabella Ross.

Here is an extract from the 1873 letter which gives news of the extended family:

Dear Cousin, in the first you did not expect that old Grandmother was in life.  Neither she is.  She departed this life nine years ago about the good old age of eighty years.  Concerning your friends in the different parts of the world, Uncle Finlay is in Canada West for the last 20 years.   I had a letter from him not long ago.  They were all well then but two years ago his oldest son and another of his boys died.  He has six sons and one daughter in life and he is a farmer for the last 20 years.  

About Uncle William he lived in South Shields (in the) North of England but two years ago he lost his life by an accident.  While on duty he was crossing the railway line of the work that belonged to his employer.  An engine and five wagons passed over his body.  He only lived for fifteen minutes after the accident.  His oldest son is an engineer to trade and is always going to sea.  He is married and resides in the city of London.  His second oldest son is a ship carpenter to trade and goes to sea.  His youngest son is a cartwright.  One of his daughters married in South Shields.  

About Uncle Alexander, he is in Australia but we get no account whatever of him.  He never writes to us.  Three years ago I fell in with a man of the name of Cameron, a native of Lochaber.  He was newly home from Australia.  He frequently met Uncle in the market town there.  Likewise he has done well.  This Cameron knew Uncle before ever any of them went to Australia.  Uncle’s good father is in life and keeps the Glengarry post office.  Two of his good sisters are at home and the rest of the family are scattered here and there.  They are Rosses to name. 

Dear Cousin, my parents are in life and strong yet only Mother is greatly troubled with headache….I have one brother.  He is joiner to trade and works in the city of Glasgow for the last two years and unmarried.

Such was the isolation of our early Australian settlers that news of a grandparent’s death took nine years to be received and Ann would have had no idea exactly how many cousins she actually had.  It’s hard to imagine why Ann or her parents hadn’t made contact with their extended family for so long but maybe they were so consumed with the daily struggle for survival that faraway relatives didn’t enter their thoughts very often.  By 1873, Ann’s family was living near the Tooloom gold diggings in northern New South Wales and subsistence-farming which was a hard life.

I thought from the letter that I was dealing with the Ross side of the family because of the mention of Uncle Alexander’s family being Rosses, although the generations didn’t add up.  If Alexander was an uncle of Ann, then he should have been a son of the grandmother who was mentioned.  So how could Alexander’s father then be keeping the Glengarry post office?  Why didn’t the writer refer to the postman as Grandfather?

This was the first red herring because Uncle Alexander Ross married Margaret Ross and the “good father” referred to in the letter was actually Alexander’s father-in-law.  I now know that “good father” is a Scottish term for father-in-law but I didn’t know that then.  These mysteries were solved when I came into contact with a lady in Victoria who was a descendant of Alexander and who had done considerable work on the Ross family including visits to repositories in Scotland.  Jan was able to fill in many gaps for me and we have been partners in Ross research since then.  Alexander settled near Caramut in Victoria and had a large family, although reports of him having “done well” were exaggerated.  By all accounts he was always fairly poor.

Uncle William was not too hard to track down.  I ordered a death certificate for a William Ross who was the right age and whose death was registered in South Shields at the right time and he had indeed died after being run over by a train.  I was also able with the assistance of a local researcher to find a small mention of the accident in the “Shields Gazette”.

Cause of death of William Ross (c1810-1870)- "crushed by an engine going onto him on North Eastern Railway

Cause of death of William Ross (c1810-1870)- “crushed by an engine going onto him on North Eastern Railway


Uncle Finlay was the hardest uncle to find.  I was able to find fairly easily in the Canadian census of 1871 a Finlay Ross who was born in Scotland, was a farmer in Canada West (roughly equivalent to what is now the southern part of Ontario) and had a family of six sons and one daughter alive.

That Finlay’s 1904 obituary stated that he was from Inverness-shire but no other Canadian records mention his parents’ names or his birthplace; nor does there appear to be any record of the deaths of those two sons who died around 1871.  They must have been dead before the time of the 1871 census and possibly even before civil registration began there in 1869.  While Matthew McLean’s memory of the timing of events is fairly accurate, he is sometimes “out” by a year or so.

Now the Finlay Ross who ended up in Ontario did not go directly from Scotland to Canada.  He spent a few years in the Channel Islands which is where he met and married his wife, Marguerite Le Cocq (Marie) Houguez. A record exists in the Priaulx Library in Guernsey of the baptism of Donald Lawrence Ross, a son of Marguerite and Finlay, son of Donald of Kilmarnock.  Kilmarnock is a long way from Inverness-shire so if Finlay was really from Kilmarnock, then he is not the Finlay I’m looking for.  However Kilmarnock doesn’t tie in with his obituary’s mention of Inverness-shire and I suspect that the priest in Alderney accidentally wrote Kilmarnock instead of Kilmonivaig, which is the name of the parish which includes the town of Laggan. This is probably the eldest son who died around 1870 because none of Finlay’s descendants had any knowledge of him.

Admittedly the evidence which links the Finlay Ross who was a brother to my great-great-grandmother, and the Finlay Ross who died in Huron County, Ontario in 1904 is circumstantial but I think it’s the best I’m going to get, so I have decided to claim the Finlay Ross from Huron as our Finlay.

The fact that Matthew and Ann were both McLeans was another red herring.  They were cousins because their mothers, Isabella Ross and Catherine Ross respectively, were sisters – sisters who coincidentally married McLeans.  Isabella was “found” because her husband, Neil McLean of Laggan Locks, was the informant listed on his mother-in-law’s death certificate.  Isabella’s baptism has not been found but census records show that she was born in England.  Donald Ross, the father of this family, was for at least a short period a member of the Berwickshire Militia so perhaps the Militia was posted in England at the time of Isabella’s birth.  Neil McLean was the Lock-keeper on the Caledonian Canal at Laggan as was his father before him and his son, Matthew, after him.

The lock keeper's house at Laggan

The lock keeper’s house at Laggan

All the family members mentioned in the letters are now accounted for except for Finlay’s other son who died around 1870.  Research also turned up another aunt, Ann, baptised in Kilmonivaig in 1821.  She disappears from the records after the 1851 census and the fact that she isn’t mentioned in the 1873 letters leads me to suspect that she had died some time ago and that fact was known to her extended family.  However I could be wrong and I would be delighted to be contacted by one of her descendants.  If Scottish naming patterns are considered, there really should have also been an uncle named Donald but we have found no trace of one and was it just coincidence that Catherine and Finlay both had sons named David? By all rights Catherine’s firstborn son should have been named Donald, John or Finlay after his father or a grandfather, not David.

David Ross, the son of Finlay

David Ross, the son of Finlay

David McLean, the son of Catherine

David McLean, the son of Catherine











Of course, I already knew what had happened to Catherine, my great-great-grandmother.  I knew that she had a son by Donald McLean before they were married, that they married when that son was about two and immediately set sail for Australia.  They arrived in 1837 on the Midlothian, lived and worked in the Hunter Valley for some years before settling in the Tooloom area of northern New South Wales and eventually had a family of ten children.  Catherine died on November 6, 1873, probably as the letter from her nephew was en route.

Catherine Ross's grave at Tooloom

Catherine Ross’s grave at Tooloom

Jan, the descendant of Alexander mentioned above, had found the record of the Kilmonivaig Kirk Session where Catherine appeared before the minister and the elders to explain how she came to have an illegitimate child.  She had gone to Drynoch on the Isle of Skye as a servant to a shepherd.  In Drynoch she met Donald McLean and their son, David, was conceived.  The result of the Kirk Session was that the parish in which Drynoch was situated (Bracadale) was to be informed of David’s existence.   It obviously took some time but eventually Catherine and Donald were persuaded or decided to marry.

So when Ann Matheson, the Grandmother mentioned in the letters, died in 1863, only one of her children was living in the same country as her.  As another part of the Laggan letters says, It’s a great country for emigration now, thousands leaving the British shores every day.  The story of the Ross family is a perfect example of this.  A story passed down by a Canadian relative said that Finlay had warned a brother who was thinking of emigrating to Canada that the farming life there was very hard and he would be better to try Australia.  Alexander, the presumed recipient of that advice, may not have found a much easier life in Australia but he and his sister, Catherine, both founded large Australian families who contributed to the building of Australia.


This article first appeared in “Australian Family Tree Connections” (November 2012)

With thanks to Jan Lier and Aileen Fisher for invaluable mutual research support.


Entry of Death 1870 (General Register Office, England)

Shields Gazette and Daily Telegraph 25 June1870 (South Shields Public Library)

Canadian Census 1871 (ancestry.com)

Obituary (Huron Expositor 26 Dec 1904)

Transcript (Priaulx Library, Guernsey)

1863 Ross, Ann Statutory Death (www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk)

1851 – 1881 Scottish censuses (ancestry.com.au)

Kilmonivaig Kirk Sessions, 27 Sep 1836 (National Archives of Scotland)

Heirlooms of a different kind

I come from a long line of people living on the edge of poverty, from factory workers in the “dark Satanic mills” of Paisley, to displaced agricultural labourers trying to scrape by in the big city, to Highlanders cleared from their fertile traditional holding to tiny barren plots, to convicts arriving in a foreign land with nothing but the rotting, filthy clothes on their backs.

There aren’t many heirlooms in my family.  Nobody had the money to spend on expensive items and any goods that were acquired were then divided amongst the large numbers of will beneficiaries in the large families which were common in days gone by.

Here are a couple of non-material things which were handed down the generations.

A love of growing things and the green thumb to go with it

Pictures below show my mother’s courtyard when she moved into her new home just over six months ago and what the courtyard looks like now.  She always has fresh flowers in her house and usually has some greens for dinner and some tomatoes ripening on the kitchen bench.

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One of my aunts was known for her garden and when I think of her I think of dahlias and oranges – the best oranges I’ve ever eaten.  Through two winter pregnancies, her oranges supplied me and my babies with Vitamin C. The bounty of another aunt’s garden kept us supplied with rosella jam.

But my mother and her sisters didn’t come from a long line of farmers. They came from a short line of farmers who learned to grow things as a matter of necessity.


My recipe file includes many recipes from aunts and cousins and even great-aunts (Aunty Ivy’s Stingy Pudding).  I wouldn’t actually recommend the Stingy Pudding.  It’s a recipe for hard times when there’s not much in the pantry but you still have a lot of mouths to feed.

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My grandmother, Ettie, made a pudding (or delegated the task to a daughter) every day and her sister Ivy probably did the same for her family. In Ettie’s case it was ususally a milk pudding of some sort.  They were dairy farmers in the time when her children were young so there was plenty of milk available.

When Ettie was older (probably in her seventies), she started to make a lemon meringue pie.  It was really  a cross between a cheesecake and a lemon meringue.  It was very popular amongst the family and Ettie readily shared the recipe with her daughters but every time they made up the recipe, what was produced was definitely a cheesecake.

Ettie on her 80th birthday

Ettie on her 80th birthday

It remained a mystery for some time how it was that Ettie was the only one who could make this dish the right way until one of her daughters watched her making it and realised that Ettie was not using the amount of cream cheese which was written in the recipe. Ettie was unwittingly using a smaller packet than the recipe called for which was why her version was less cheesecakey and more lemony (enhanced of course by her beautiful homegrown bush lemons). Here’s the recipe:

Crumb crust:

1/2 lb plain sweet biscuits

4 oz butter

Melt butter, stir into crushed biscuits and press into an 8″ tin, lining the base and bringing the crumb mixture halfway up the side of the tin.


2 oz cream cheese (not 4 oz!)

1 tin condensed milk

2 eggs, separated

Rind and juice of 1 lemon

1/2 cup castor sugar

Beat cheese in electric mixer, beat in condensed milk, lemon rind and juice and egg yolks. Pour into prepared crumb crust.

Whip egg whites. Gradually beat in half the sugar. Beat until stiff. Fold remainder of sugar and spread evenly over filling.

Bake in hot oven for 10 minutes to brown.

The selector, the general and the movie maker

Many Australians have probably heard of the famous Chauvel family of pastoralists, army heroes and movie makers. I’m not related to them.

My family however has had a few brushes with them and their fame over the years because they lived in the same area of northern New South Wales and south west Queensland from at least the 1870s until the 1930s.

Kenneth McLean (1849-1912)

Kenneth McLean

My great-great uncle, Kenneth McLean, had a run-in with a Mr Chauvel around 1877.  The time frame leads me to believe that this would have been Charles Henry Edward Chauvel (1835-1896).

In April 1876 in the Casino office of the Lands Department Kenneth conditionally purchased 500 acres at Tabulam and paid a deposit for it.  Between then and January 1877 he improved the land, perhaps felling trees and erecting fences and buildings.

On January 7 he received a refund of his deposit along with the information that the 500 acres was in fact in the Tenterfield district and had been selected by someone else.  The someone else turned out to be Mr Chauvel.  Letters went back and forth.  Kenneth seems to have accepted that he was not going to get the land back but argued that he should not have to forfeit the improvements he had made, which was what Mr Chauvel was asking him to do.

A document about the land dispute

A document about the land dispute

Hmmm…smacks of corrupt or incompetent government looking after the wealthy landowners at the expense of the less important people. This would have been a small part of Chauvel’s holdings. I don’t know if Kenneth was reimbursed for his improvements or took the timber with him but perhaps he had the last laugh since Wikipedia states that:

Following a series of severe droughts in northern New South Wales, Charles Henry Chauvel sold his property at Tabulam in 1888 for £50,000. After paying his debts, he bought a much smaller 12,000-acre (4,900 ha) property at Canning Downs on the Darling Downs in Queensland. 

The next Chauvel was Charles Henry’s son, General Sir Henry George Chauvel GCMG, KCB (16 April 1865 – 4 March 1945),

Sir Henry Chauvel

Sir Henry Chauvel

a senior officer of the Australian Imperial Force who fought at Gallipoli and during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign in the Middle Eastern theatre of the First World War. He was the first Australian to attain the rank of lieutenant general and later general, and the first to lead a corps. After the war, he was closely involved with the training of the Australian Light Horse. (Wikipedia)

The men of my family who were in the First World War seem to have fought at the Western Front so may not have had any contact with Sir Harry during the war.

After the war their nephews and the young men of the district were however active in the Light HorseThe Light Horse as army troops were formed after the Boer War and saw active duty at Gallipoli, the Middle East and the Western Front during the First World War. At the end of the war when the Light Horse troops were returning to Australia, they were not permitted to bring their horses home and were ordered to shoot them.  Sir Harry , however,got to bring his horse home.

Members of the Light Horse

Members of the Light Horse

Back home after the war the Light Horse also seems to have existed as a sort of Army Reserve unit.  The members were provided with a horse, a jacket (a necessary item for being allowed into dances by the way) and underwent training and preparation for war but my mother doesn’t believe that her brothers and their comrades were actually “in the army” at that stage. Only a few Light Horse units saw operational service during the Second World War.

Two of Mum’s brothers were “in the army” during the Second World War.

John Mulcahy was an extra in

John Mulcahy was an extra in “Forty Thousand Horsemen”

The youngest brother was too young and the older two were involved in essential industry at home but that didn’t stop one of them (John) from travelling to Sydney to be an extra in the movie Forty Thousand Horsemen, which was made by Charles Edward Chauvel OBE (7 October 1897 – 11 November 1959) and released in 1940. Charles Chauvel was the nephew of the general and the grandson of the pastoralist.  His other well-known film is Jedda (1955). By all accounts John enjoyed the experience but hadn’t realised before leaving that travelling with his horse on the train would mean sleeping with it too.


This story starred

Three generations of Chauvels

Three generations of McLeans

Two World Wars

500 acres

A lot of horses.

Hugh Mulcahy

Hugh Mulcahy

Lachlan Mulcahy

Lachlan Mulcahy

Mystery object

This object came to light recently when my mother was packing up her house to move.  It has probably been passed on a few times when houses were packed up because I don’t think it has been in use for a long time and I don’t know who the original owner was.  Suffice to say that many women in 19th and early 20th century Australia would have owned such a device.

Mystery object

Mystery object

JG IngramIt was manufactured by JG Ingram and Sons, London, a company which operated from 1847 until at least 1961.

It’s a pump for expressing breast milk, very different in appearance from the modern version.

My first thought on realising what it was:

What would a 19th century woman want with a breast pump? Women in the 19th century Australia didn’t go out to work, leaving their babies with carers. They certainly worked and maybe they left the baby at the house with big sisters or grandmothers while they went out to milk cows, tend crops or work in the family business but they wouldn’t have gone far enough away from their babies to need to express milk.

Of course there are other reasons for expressing milk, just as there are today. Illnesses like mastitis or milk fever were common enough, babies don’t always attach well, cracked nipples are painful but the short and sad answer is that babies died.

More babies died at or soon after birth than is common in developed countries today.  It’s a tragedy when any baby dies but it wouldn’t have been the absolutely shocking and unexpected event that it is today.

Just to give an idea of statistics, my great-grandmother Mary Ann Smith was one of 14 children.

The eldest sibling (a boy) died as a baby.  Ellen died aged 3. Mary Ann (Annie) had 7 surviving sisters. There is no evidence of children born to her sisters, Agnes, Henrietta, Emma or Louisa dying young but:

  • Rose lost Victor E A Headrick (1907-1908)
  • Matilda lost Mary J Ford (1915-1916)
  • Phyllis lost Lucy Eliza Elliott (1905-1906)
  • And Annie herself lost Maude Ellen Payne (1895-1895), Percival Edward Payne (1913-1913) and Charles Ernest Payne (1915-1915).
  • There is also a family story that Annie gave birth to another stillborn baby whose birth and death were not registered.In Australia in 1901, 103.6 out of every 1000 babies died within the first year of life.  Lack of medical knowledge, distance from medical assistance, and spread of infection through lack of hygiene all played a part.
Matilda Ford (nee Smith) (1878-1921)

Matilda Ford (nee Smith)

Phyllis Elliott nee Smith) 1886-1956)

Phyllis Elliott (nee Smith)

Rose Headrick nee Smith) 1873-1962)

Rose Headrick (nee Smith)

Mary Ann Payne (nee Smith) (1871-1962)

Mary Ann Payne (nee Smith) (1871-1962)

Baby Donald Mulcahy's death certificate 1879

Baby Donald Mulcahy’s death certificate 1879

Figures from Australians: historical statistics, Broadway, 1987, p58, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Making your debut

My girl cousins were all debutantes. Their “deb” photos were proudly displayed on my grandmother’s dinner wagon.

One of my cousins as a debutante.  Queensland c1960

One of my cousins as a debutante. Queensland c1960

Another cousin as a debutante.  Queensland c1960

Another cousin as a debutante. Queensland c1960

I wasn’t a deb because I lived in the city and debutante balls had by my teens ceased to be something that happened regularly in Australian cities. My cousins were mostly really of a different generation from me, my mother being towards the end of a large family and having started her own family at a more mature age than most of her siblings. When my cousins, aunts and my mother were teenagers living in the country or boarding at schools in regional towns, deb balls were a rite of passage.

The debutante ball originated in England where young women of the upper class were presented at court to the monarch. This marked their entry into society and meant that they were able to attend adult social events. The hidden (or not so hidden) agenda was also for them to meet prospective husbands from the same social level.

“On the day of the court presentation the débutante and her sponsor would be announced, the debutante would curtsy to the Sovereign, and then she would leave without turning her back.” (Wikipedia)

Court dresses were traditionally white or a similar colour such as cream, ivory, pearl, grey or pink. In Australia, white has always been fairly standard.

Court dress c1890

Court dress c1890

In the days when my mother and her sisters made their debuts (1920s-1940s), they were required to find a male partner to take to the ball which was organised by the local community. Any girl who had never worn a ball dress before could make her debut.

Measurements were sent to a dressmaker who chose the design and mailed the finished dress.
The ball was presided over by a matron of honour to whom the girls were presented. Sometimes there were flower girls and page boys as part of the party.

The debutantes, matron of honour, flower girls and page boys at the ceremony in which my aunt, Phyllis Mulcahy, made her debut.

The debutantes, matron of honour, flower girls and page boys at the ceremony in which my aunt, Phyllis Mulcahy, made her debut. She is in the back row, fifth from the right. Urbenville,NSW c1940

Many members of the local community attended the ball. It was no doubt a good excuse to get together for a party. For many girls it was probably the highlight of the year. My mother described it as “excrutiating”.

May Mulcahy as a debutante. Urbenville, NSW c1945

May Mulcahy as a debutante. Urbenville, NSW c1945

Photo credits:

St Edmundsbury Borough Council [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons