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.

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

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

References:

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)

Jens and Jacob

Jens Jasper Iverson and Jacob C.W. Nielsen were good friends.  They sailed the seas together, jumped ship together and lived and worked together for 60 years.

Jens Iverson

Jens Iverson

 

For the rest of their lives, Jacob followed Jens’ example.  Although Jacob was the elder, he would buy exactly the same things Jens bought. Jacob even bought the same size clothing, although Jens was much taller.

Jacob Nielsen

Jacob Nielsen

The only thing Jacob couldn’t match Jens in was a wife. Jens married my great-grandmother, Mary Mulcahy (nee McLean) in 1885. She was a widow with three young boys who must have been glad of the security another marriage offered.  Jens and Mary made a home at “Swallows’ Nest” on the banks of Tooloom Creek in northern New South Wales and Jacob lived on their property for the rest of his life, outliving Jens by seven years and living until he was 100.

Jens and Mary Iverson with their children and Jens' friend Jacob Neilsen c1896

Jens and Mary Iverson with their children and Jens’ friend Jacob Neilsen c1896

Jacob had been jilted by his fiancée and he wore the ring he had bought for her.  Did he never marry because he remained heartbroken and found no one who could measure up to her or was it the shortage of women in the area which caused his continuing single status?

Jens, Mary and Jacob lived a very settled existence, working hard on “Swallows’ Nest” to survive as subsistence farmers and to raise the £5 lease payment which was due each year.

The kitchen had walls and floors of slab and an open fireplace where Mary cooked with a camp oven.  The pantry, eight feet wide and the length of the house, was lined with shelves of preserves.  Mary’s grandchildren remembered that as children they would run to see Grannie’s pantry as soon as they arrived for a visit.

There was a large orchard with stone fruits, grapes, citrus, quinces, pomegranates, Japanese raisins, mulberries, persimmons, apples and pears.  Corn was interplanted with melons and pumpkins.  It was ground for porridge and corn bread and used to feed the fowls.  They grew their own arrowroot and tobacco.  Watering was by bucket from the creek but there were no fruit flies or other pests to contend with as these had not yet arrived in the area.

Jens Iversons tobacco licence

Evidence of Jens Iverson’s tobacco licence

There were cows for milk, cheese and butter for the family and some butter for sale.  They always kept a couple of pigs to slaughter in winter and then cured the pork for hams and bacon.  They ran 25 sheep and may have sold some wool.

Any supplies which they could not produce came by bullock wagon from Boonah twice a year.

Was this the life Jens and Jacob had in mind when they deserted their ship, the “Theresa”, when it was in port in Sydney in 1863?

Crew list of the "Theresa" on arrival in Sydney, <arch 1863.

Crew list of the “Theresa” on arrival in Sydney,

Did they dream of life on the land or were they hoping to strike it rich on the goldfields?  While the first flush of the gold rush was over, there were still discoveries being made on a regular basis.  Although the “Theresa” was not a passenger ship, they must have noticed the wave of immigrants arriving in Australia. Perhaps the life of a Danish seaman was not a happy one.  Family stories say that Jens’ brother, Peter, jumped ship in America.

Jens’ final resting place in Warwick, Queensland, was a long way from his birthplace in Denmark.

 

 

 

 

A hard life

Mary McLean Mulcahy Iverson led what we in the 21st century would think was a hard life.  She buried two husbands and three sons, she lived most of her life as a subsistence farmer.  She suffered diabetes in later life and she eventually died of gangrene caused by the diabetes.

Mary McLean (1851-1935)

Mary McLean (1851-1935)

Mary was born at Bonalbo in 1851 and the family moved to Tooloom (both in northern New South Wales) when she was about 13.  As was the custom for girls of her time, she helped out at home until she married.  Unlike some girls of her time, she probably received some sort of education because her family loved books and reading.   She married John Mulcahy, a miner, in 1874.  She was protestant and he was catholic but it doesn’t seem to have caused as much conflict in their families as some “mixed marriages” did.

John Mulcahy (1849-1879)

John Mulcahy (1849-1879)

Their four boys were born in 1875 (Jack), 1876 (Hugh), 1878 (Donald) and 1879 (David).  Donald, died in May 1879, only a few weeks before David was born. Then in July, Mary’s husband died in a mining accident and Mary was left with three small boys including a newborn and, if the family stories are correct, recovering from the whooping cough which claimed Donald’s life. Mary went home to her family where her brothers provided strong role models to her sons.  After five years of widowhood Mary married Jens Iverson, a Danish seaman, who had jumped ship in Sydney.   The blended Mulcahy-Iverson family made a home at “Swallows’ Nest” at Tooloom and over the next ten years Mary bore seven children to Jens.  The family’s life there consisted of hard work just to survive.  They seem to have been a happy united family but there were more tragedies to come.

Iverson home at "Swallows' Nest"

Iverson home at “Swallows’ Nest”

In 1892 toddler Finlay drowned in a swamp on the family property after following his brothers without anyone’s knowledge.   Private Jasper Jens Iverson of the 9th Australian Infantry Battalion died of wounds in Belgium in 1917.

Private Jasper Jens Iverson (1889-1917)

Private Jasper Jens Iverson (1889-1917)

Both of Mary’s sisters also lost a son in World War I.   Shortly before Mary’s husband Jens died in 1921, Mary suffered a stroke after which she needed a crutch to walk.  Around 1930, Mary was diagnosed with diabetes.  From this time on she lived turnabout with family members, each taking turns with the daily routine of Mary’s insulin injections.  Mary would need to stand on a butter box to get into the sulky whenever it was time to move on to the next house.   As a result of the diabetes, Mary eventually developed gangrene and lost her toes.  When the gangrene reached her foot, she was taken to Casino Hospital.  Her son, Hughie, spent an agonizing night trying to make the decision whether or not Mary’s foot would be amputated to try to stop the gangrene spreading further.  He had been told that even if they did amputate, she would probably not live much longer.

Jens and Mary Iverson with their children, one of the Mulcahy boys and Jens' friend Jacob Neilsen c1896

Jens and Mary Iverson with their children, David Mulcahy and Jens’ friend Jacob Neilsen c1896

Hughie decided to tell the doctor not to operate but when he reached the hospital in the morning, he was informed that his mother had passed away during the night.

Big John Payne

John Payne wasn’t called “Big John Payne” for nothing.

“Big” John Payne (1843-1910)

The man was 24 stone in the old money which is roughly equivalent to 152kg.  He had a special bathtub made for himself because he didn’t fit in any regular one.  I believe it is in the Upper Clarence Historical Society’s museum.

John Paynes bathtub

John Payne’s bathtub

John was born and grew up in the Hunter Valley where his ex-convict father and child-of-ex-convicts mother had been granted land.  Their house still stands near Wollombi at Payne’s Crossing.

He married Mary Ann Sophia Merrick, the granddaughter of four convicts when he was 21 and after a few years and two children they set off north in search of greener pastures or adventure.  Over the next decade and a bit they lived in different towns in New South Wales.  Mary Ann Sophia died in 1885 in her late forties of a mystery condition, recorded as “tetere grave” on her death certificate.

In the next stage of John’s life he moved to the northern rivers area of New South Wales, ran the Australian Hotel in Drake for a while and then opened his own hotel on the Tooloom goldfields in 1894.

The Tooloom Hotel with John Payne at the far left on the verandah

The Tooloom Hotel with John Payne at the far left on the verandah

Because John was such a big man, he could rest his arms on each side of the hallways as he walked through the building.

A hallway in the building which was once the Tooloom Hotel

A hallway in the building which was once the Tooloom Hotel

Tooloom Hotel

Tooloom Hotel

He also had interests in a number of goldmines and claims.  The best known of these ventures was the “Rise and Shine Gold Mining Company”. Family stories say that he and his son, Jack, salted the mine so that its wealth appeared greater than it actually was to attract investors.

In 1889 John returned to the Hunter Valley to marry Mary Eliza Macfarlane and brought her north with him.  There were no children of this marriage.

John Payne's grave

John Payne’s grave

Big John died in 1910 and is buried at Flagstone near Tooloom.

His widow ran the hotel for another ten years or so before she retired.

Mary Eliza Payne's send off from the Tooloom Hotel

Mary Eliza Payne’s send off from the Tooloom Hotel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

People say that John’s ghost haunts the old Tooloom Hotel, now a private residence.  The more prosaic explanation is that it is the cedar which the walls are made out of creaking as the temperature changes.

Not fit to be seen

“How dare you come here in that condition and disgrace me in front of my guests!” Jack Payne took a last look at his pregnant daughter, Ettie, and strode back into the house.

John Edward (Jack) Payne (1866 - 1956)

John Edward (Jack) Payne (1866 – 1956)

Attitudes to pregnancy

In 1915 many parents turned their backs on daughters who were pregnant and unmarried. It was viewed as a disgrace. Perhaps Jack didn’t know or chose not to remember that his own mother had a child born out of wedlock before she married Jack’s father. Sometimes in communities in the bush where “churches were few and men of religion were scanty”, it seems to have been considered acceptable for the marriage to begin in practice before the ceremony was performed.

Hugh Mulcahy and Ettie Payne on their wedding day in 1911

Hugh Mulcahy and Ettie Payne on their wedding day in 1911

But Ettie was married, had been for four years and even her first child had been conceived and born after her marriage. She and her husband, Hugh, were heading to Killarney to wait for the birth of their third child and Hugh wasn’t about to let his wife labour without medical help available. They were travelling on horseback, each carrying a child but on the return journey there would be three children so Ettie had arranged with her mother to leave the older children there. Now Ettie’s father was turning the little family away.

It’s true that while the average woman in the early 1900s would spend more of her life pregnant than her modern counterparts do, pregnancy was not openly discussed. Women would often just stay home once they began to show. A child’s first inkling that he or she was gaining a new sibling was often once the baby had been born.

Jack Payne

Jack Payne was certainly a man of contradictions and inconsistencies, and not much in the way of sympathy – the sort of man who in years to come would look at three adult grandsons assembled in front of him and invite two of them in for a drink, the sort of man who while his wife, Annie, by then we’ll into her forties had been labouring for three days to deliver a baby, only called a doctor when Hugh said he would otherwise call the police. Maybe that was all that could be expected from someone of pure convict heritage.

Jack and Annie Payne with two of their sons in later years.

Jack and Annie Payne with two of their sons in later years.

I don’t know who these guests were that Jack was so worried about offending and I don’t know what Annie was doing while they were there because she was also pregnant and therefore by Jack’s standards not fit to be seen…

Update

Corrections courtesy of my mother after she read this post.  Ettie and Hugh were travelling to Killarney by sulky for the birth of the baby.  Leaving the older children with their grandparents had nothing to do with carrying the children on horseback.  That story was about Ettie’s birth.  Ettie’s grandmother, Eliza Jane Smith (nee Merchant) was the local midwife so Ettie’s mother had travelled home to her mother for the birth of her first two children.  She didn’t travel for Ettie’s birth because of the difficulties with transportation.