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.

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)

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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.

Secrets

Walter Adams, pillar of the church, one-time Mayor and current member of state parliament, had a secret.

IMG_0012

Walter Adams is marked on the left of this picture from the late 1880s or early 1890s.

 

Like his daughter-in-law, Catherine Mackinlay Adams Forrester, he was a bigamist.

 

Catherine Mackinlay  1868-1939

Catherine Mackinlay
(1868-1939)

 

Walter Adams (1830-1892)

Walter Adams (1830-1892)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After their arrival in New South Wales in 1849, Walter’s family (parents, brothers and sisters) lived initially in Sydney and then in the Hunter Valley. 

In 1851, Walter married Elizabeth Parnell in West Maitland, New South Wales.  In 1854, he married Mary Shannon in Gayndah, Queensland.

Mary Shannon (1832-1904)

Mary Shannon (1832-1904)

There is no record of the death of an Elizabeth Adams between 1851 and 1854 although the early records are incomplete.  Walter claimed to be a bachelor when he married for the second time.

What happened to Elizabeth?  She may have married Henry Baker in Richmond, New South Wales in 1853 or that may have been a different Elizabeth Parnell.

Did Walter and Elizabeth just agree to go their separate ways?

Was the reason Walter started a new life in Queensland to put some distance between them?

Did Mary know?

 

Gold is running in my veins

The mists rose slowly out of the valleys, as first the Clarence, and then its tributary, the Timbarra or Rocky River, were discovered by the cedar-getters and squatters.  While the squatters were still busy establishing their empires, the magic cry of “Gold, gold!”, echoed down the valleys, and almost overnight the scene changed.  Mining camps and townships sprang up on lonely parts of the runs, and roads became alive with hopeful diggers.  This is the scene of our story. (Wilkinson, 1980)

"On the Timbarra" by Tom Roberts from the NSW Art Gallery

“On the Timbarra” by Tom Roberts from the NSW Art Gallery

My mother was born in northern New South Wales.  The various branches of her family tree met there because the country began to open up for timber-getting, farming and grazing in the 1830s as settlement gradually spread away from the areas first settled by the British around what is now Sydney.  Then in 1857 gold was discovered at Boonoo Boonoo (pronounced Bunna Bunnoo by the locals) and in 1858 at Timbarra, in 1859 at Tooloom and Pretty Gully.  The early history of the area is covered in Isabel Wilkinson’s brilliantly detailed but sadly unindexed book, “Forgotten Country” published in 1980.  More recently (2009) Brett Stubbs has published “The Gold Digger’s Arms.  Pubs of the Upper Clarence River district, New South Wales”, a useful and interesting read about (unsurprisingly) pubs, their owners and lessees and their local area history.

Payne ancestors

Mum’s Payne ancestors were convicts who received land grants in the Hunter region once they had served their sentences.

"Big" John Payne (1843-1910)

“Big” John Payne (1843-1910)

John Payne and his wife, Mary Ann Sophia (nee Merrick) left the Hunter around 1870 and worked their way through New South Wales with children born in Inverell in 1871, Tingha in 1874, Pallamallawa in 1876 and 1878, Bininguy in 1880 and Narrabri in 1884.

Mary Ann Sophia died in Narrabri in 1885.  Their oldest son, John Edward (Jack) was settled in the Upper Clarence by the time of his marriage in 1889.  Gold was still being discovered and in fact there was a new boom in the early 1890s.  The Paynes capitalised on this boom by opening the Tooloom Hotel in 1894.

Tooloom Hotel

Tooloom Hotel, 1910 or earlier

“It was said that ‘neither money nor brains have been spared’ in the building of the hotel there; ‘a building quite fit for [Tenterfield] stands up quite grandly over the Tooloom River, and the hospitality to be found there is indiputable’.” (Stubbs, 2009, p.27)

Wherever the Payne family was living in 1889, it was obviously not the spacious establishment of the Tooloom Hotel for the story goes that when “Big” John Payne (so called because he weighed 23 stone) married for the second time in September 1889 and brought his new bride home, his son and daughter-in-law, married only two months themselves, were required to vacate the only double bed in the house.

Smith and Merchant ancestors

There are some mysteries surrounding George Smith but he was born in Buckinghamshire and arrived in Australia in 1857, maybe in the wake of the gold rush. He married Eliza Jane Merchant whose family switched from laying railways in England to digging for gold on the other side of the world.  Their daughter, Mary Ann (Annie), married Jack Payne.

McLean and Mulcahy ancestors

Donald McLean and his wife Ann Matheson arrived in Australia in 1837.  The highland clearances and economic changes in Scotland had impacted their families on Skye and in Inverness and the newly married couple joined the wave of immigration to Australia, America and Canada.  Their daughter, Mary, married John Mulcahy the son of Irish immigrants who had also travelled north from the Hunter region.  Farming opportunities and gold brought these families to the north of the colony.

The branches meet

The Tooloom gold diggings was the place where in 1893 a 17-year-old Hugh Mulcahy (son of John Mulcahy and Mary McLean) heard the news that Jack Payne’s wife, Annie (nee Smith), had given birth to a daughter.  No doubt he congratulated the proud father but can’t have known that he would one day marry that daughter. The 35-year-old Hugh married the 18-year-old Ettie in 1911, and they were my grandparents.

Hugh and Ettie (Payne) Mulcahy and family, 1949

Hugh and Ettie (Payne) Mulcahy and family, 1949