I have always known that my ancestry was Scots
Gaelic and that my great-great grandfather Donald was from the Western
Highlands. However, it has only been recently that I have been researching
his life and that of his immediate family and have discovered a life of
hardship, sorrow, courage and hope. This is a story that may be classified
as common to the clan folk who left the Highlands either willingly or
unwillingly, but it is unique in the fact that it is his.
Donald MacInnes ( a blacksmith) was born on
a farm called 'Achnaha' in Morven in 1811.This farm was a narrow strip of
land running down to the Sound of Mull. His parents were Alexander
and Anne MacInnes and he had two older siblings Allan and Anne ( born in
1807 and 1809 respectively ). They were poor but deeply religious. Donald
was baptised at Kiel Church which was very near their home. Kiel Church (
still standing) is a sixth century church built by St Columba. It is
rumoured that St Columbus's mother is buried there. It
is also the traditional burial ground of the ancient MacInnes Clan.
By 1841, Donald had left the Highlands and
had moved to Greenock where he married Grace MacNachten from Rothesay,
Bute in June 1841. Like the majority of the Highlander's, dispossessed of
their unique culture and facing a bleak future, the couple left
Greenock for Sydney sailing on ' The Margaret' in January 1842
under the assistance of the Dunmore Lange Scheme. This scheme assisted
Calvinist migrants to Australia. The pre-requisites needed to be elligible
for assisted immigration was Presbyterianism,
industriousness, honesty and good character references. Under this
scheme, Donald went to work at Paterson in the Hunter Valley north of
Sydney. He later moved to Sydney and then to Camden NSW over a thirteen
year period. During this time Grace gave birth to six children -
Annie b.1843, John b.1845, Donald b.1847, Alexander b.1849, Margaret
b.1854 and Janet b.1857. The outcome was 31 grandchildren !
Little is known of their everyday lives
except that Donald moved with his family in 1859 ( with the exception of
his wife, Grace ) to work on 'Tubbo Station' a large run owned by the
MacLeay pastoralists in the Riverina district of NSW.
He remained in the Riverina area for the rest of his working life until
his death in 1875.He died in Hay hospital of stomach cancer.
Donald died alone in Hay hospital. His
death certificate reads 'Relatives Unknown'. This revelation is very
puzzling to our family. We find it difficult to understand that not a
single member of his family was present. Donald was a poor man, most
probably illiterate - he had travelled far from his native land to a
new world, endured poverty and hardship and this seems to be an unfitting
end to his life.
Now, to the reader, it appears that this is
just an ordinary story of an ordinary man, but it is the legacy that
Donald leaves behind that is far from ordinary. The first is the marriage
of Annie, his eldest daughter to John Breadalbane Macleay ( who later
married Margaret, Annie's younger sister after she died in 1878 ) of 'Tubbo
Station'. There is a historical point here in that John's cousin George
accompanied the famous explorer Sturt surveying the three great rivers of
the Murray, Murrumbidgee and the Lachlan. These rivers all meet and run
into the sea in South Australia. This was an arduous feat made under
extremely difficult conditions however George Macleay was amply rewarded
with large land grants - 'Cooper Station' and 'Tubbo Station' are two of
Donald's youngest daughter Janet (my
great-grandmother) married a Danish immigrant Nicholas Bornholt in 1876
when she was 24 years old. They received a government land grant 3 + 640
acre lots on the Murrumbidgee river at Bareena Creek. Predictably, they
named the property 'Bareena'. It is still there, but unfortunately no
longer remains in the family. Some of the original buildings still remain.
My grandmother, who was born on 'Bareena' told me that her mother
regretted being poorly educated and was determined that all of her
children would receive a decent education despite their isolation. A
school house was built on the property and she and her siblings were
tutored. Janet and Nicholas raised nine children under hard conditions. It
was a completely self-sufficient existence. The nearest township was 50
miles away and I recall my grandmother telling me that she used to drive
50 miles and back into Narrandera by sulky just to play tennis with her
friends. My memories of impressions by older family members were that the
men were very tall, gentle, courteous and had wicked senses of humour. The
women were feisty and strong. Nicholas, the eldest boy ran away to New
Zealand at 16 years of age. He later joined the Australian Forces and
fought in the Boer War in South Africa, finally settling down in northern
NSW after buying a banana plantation. At one stage, this plantation was
the second largest in NSW. The girls in the family married well ( with the
exception of Jessica and my grandmother ) into several farming families in
the district. The women's legacies amongst others are two large holdings 'Bertangles'
and 'Round Box' currently run by family members in the Riverina Hay
Jessica, a younger daughter of this family
has recently become a celebrity, although she would have hated being
labelled as such. Jessica's life is the inspiration for Bryce Courtney's
book 'Jessica'. This novel is fiction based on fact. Names have been
changed to protect individuals and the ficticious content of the book has
irked some family members. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Jesse's
life in fiction and fact was tragic. Bryce Courtenay's description of
landscape at 'Bareena' in ' Jessica' is uncanningly true to life He
provides us with an acute sense of place and Aunt Jesse's memory is
a testimony to the indomitable human spirit and the stoicism of
those gaelic genes.
This large family in my father's generation
and mine have produced solicitors, teachers, farmers, farmer's wives and
professional soldiers. Two cousins have had very successful army careers.
Both received rank of full Colonel by the age of forty, serving in the U.S
and Germany. One of their overseas postings was the Military Attache to
the Australian High Commisioner to New York, the other being head of the
Australian contingent with the United Nations Forces in Jerusalem.
I don't like to sound like I am boasting
about Donald MacInnes's family as it is not simply the Australian way but
I feel his legacy has served him well. We have all survived and
Post-script to this story...we were always led
to to believe that Donald's wife Grace died in 1859 when my great-
grandmother Janet was two years old. She never knew her mother. However,
it has recently been discovered that she did not die until 1869. She had
been committed to Ryde Asylum and was incarcerated for 10 years. She died
a lunatic and is buried in Tarban cemetery.
Her death certificate also reads 'Relatives
This is my Australian story.
What's yours ?
Thanks to Marsano
Phillipa for this story.