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McDonald's in Australia

My dad refuses to go near a computer himself but was thrilled when I told him all the fascinating things I'd found on your website about Clan Ranald.  He's given me a bit more information about our own McDonald forebears, in Australia, which I hope might be of interest.

My father, Donald Angus McDonald, is the great grandson of John McDonald who was born in Scotland in 1802 and died in Bendigo, Victoria (Australia) in about 1897.  (Date of death is a bit uncertain, with different records suggesting any year from 1896-1899.  Given the extreme longevity of all McDonalds in my father's family, I'd err towards the later date!)

It is not known how or when John arrived in Australia, but records show his son John was born in Adelaide, South Australia, in 1842. Adelaide was settled in 1834 by English idealists hoping to design a model society, who were shortly joined by German Lutherans and Scots who were forced to emigrate in the clearances.  John Snr was a Gaelic speaker who family tradition has it hailed from Clan Ranald lands in the western highlands, so it is quite possible he was himself a victim of the clearances.

John Jnr was the first of 6 children born to John Snr and his wife Mary Cavanagh.  The others were Luke (b.1843?, died in Castlemaine, Victoria, in 1936), Angus, Archie, Ruth and Mary Jane, who married John Brown and settled in Maldon, in the western district of Victoria.  During the goldrush of the 1850s, John Snr made a living by ferrying Chinese immigrants across from Robe in South Australia to the goldfields in Victoria.  At that time, before Federation in 1901, each Australian colony had its own law and administration, and it was illegal for Chinese to enter Australia directly to Victoria.

The family subsequently ran a supply store on the goldfields where goods were often bartered for gold.  My grandfather remembers stories of how small nuggets were painted white and used to line the garden path, to disguise them until the gold could be safely banked or sold on.

John Jnr married Margaret Burke Jennings, who was born in Liverpool in 1854 and died in 1925.  They had 11 children:  Richard (died at birth in 1872), twins Florence (called Flo, 1873-1967) and Fanny (1873-?), Phoebe (b.1876), James (Jim, 1878-1947), Ruth (1880-1977), Archibald (Archie, 1882-1943), May (1884-?), John Octavius (Jack, 1889-1984), Angus Richard (1890-1977), Leslie (Les, 1892-1954).  Ruth and May never married, but Flo and Fanny both married farmers in the western districts of Victoria - a Maynard and a Haw respectively. 

John Jnr was what was called a 'free selector' - a small farmer who worked land he had claimed that had not been co-opted by the wealthy 'squatters'.  Many Australian Scots were ousted from their traditional homelands during the clearances when Scottish land owners and clan leaders chose to use clan lands to graze sheep, which require more acreage than humans do.  Some of these same Scottish landowners claimed large tracts of land in Australia, where they furthered their ambitious sheep breeding projects, developing extremely high quality wool.  For years it was said that "Australia rides on the sheep's back" - ironically, poor Scots forced to emigrate during the clearances were often direct beneficiaries of these squatters' success, as very often they found employment working on these 'sheep stations'.  John Jnr was more likely a subsistence agrarian farmer than a pastoralist however.

Apparently the McDonalds were not themselves Catholic, but either Mary Cavanagh and/or Margaret Jennings were strongly Catholic.  One day when John Jnr was chopping wood a chip flew into his eye, and from then on his eyesight deteriorated dramatically.  All remedies were tried, and finally John took a trip to Melbourne to see a specialist.  He was told nothing could be done.  In the train on the way home, however, he was seated in a carriage with a priest.  After some hours of travel and much conversation (heaven help anyone stuck in a rail coach with a McDonald!), John found his vision inexplicably began to clear.  From then on recovery was solid.  Whether for this reason or not, John Jnr became profoundly religious - so much so that the only reading allowed in the home was the Bible.

John Jnr spoke Gaelic and so it appears did Margaret, but they made a point of not speaking Gaelic in front of their children, so only a few phrases have passed down pidgin-fashion through my father to me.  To speak Gaelic was considered backward.  (The highland Scots were regarded as so wild and anti-social in the first half of the C19th that when shiploads arrived in Victoria, they would be kept in holding camps until local authorities decided how and where to disperse them.  This was ostensibly for quarantine.  As happened in Canada, many Scots died in these camps after their arrival from infectious diseases, as shelter, sanitation and healthcare were rudimentary.)

My grandfather Angus remembers extreme poverty as a boy, living off wild melons and lard in hard times, on the edge of the mighty Murray River which flooded regularly, leaving fish caught in the cane mesh of the furniture.  The fish were of course promptly eaten!  As a young boy, Angus got a job for a local shop owner called Gibson and at age 14 fell in love with Edie Gibson, his employer's daughter.  Edie also had Scottish heritage - her grandmother was Isabella Robertson of Ballachulish, who had married Hugh McMillan.  Despite some family opposition Angus married Edie and eventually set up and ran 3 menswear shops of his own, just over the border from Victoria in the Mt Gambier/Bordertown area of South Australia.

Angus became very successful and purchased a grand house in Mount Gambier called Schleswig Holstein - a perfect reproduction of a small German castle, built in 1910 and perched on top of the hill overlooking the town.  This is where my father Donald Angus and his older sister Ila grew up.  Angus was a town councillor in Mount Gambier for 27 years, a war-time warden and an active Rotarian.  When he died, he donated land to the town council for a tourism centre to be built.  When I visited Mount Gambier in 1991 I was immensely touched that staff at the tourism centre still remembered "Mr McDonald", and were kind enough to offer me a special tour of the site.

My first child is due early next year, and if it's a boy I hope to name him Alastair James or possibly Callum Angus, after my ancestor Callum Beag.  Callum's nickname 'Beag' (wee Callum) is a Gaelic joke - he was actually 6' 4" and a merchant who ultimately committed suicide when an uninsured trade ship was wrecked en route back from the Far East.  If it's a girl, I'd like to keep the McDonald association, and will probably choose Isabella Amy.

My father would be tremendously pleased to hear from anyone whose family line and ours might have crossed.  Please feel free to email me any time.

Best regards

Emily McDonald



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