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On this day… 31 January

January 31, 2011

On this day, 31 January  1852, Donald McLeod, his wife Janet Grant and five of their six children arrived in Australia aboard Bride.  The ship left Plymouth on 13 November 1851.  The five children who accompanied Janet and Donald were:

  1. Jane aged 24 years (born c. 1827)
  2. Alexander Grant – my great-great grandfather – 22 years (born 6 July 1829)
  3. Donald Grant 20 years (born c. 1831)
  4. Elizabeth ‘Betsey’ 17 years (born c. 1834)
  5. Janet ‘Jessie’ 15 years (born c. 1836)
  6. Angus 13 years (born c. 1834)

George McLeod, the eldest of the children, did not travel with the family on the Bride. I have located baptism entries for all the children except George, too.  A George McLeod (26 years old) arrived on 26 January 1852 aboard Joshua. There are two other George McLeods in the Victorian VPRS 14 Index to Assisted British Immigration 1839-1871 – one is four years old, and the other, also aboard Joshua (and possibly the same person) had no age listed.  George appears to have travelled with his wife, Mary (McDonald).  That, perhaps explains why he was travelling separately.  As it is, George and Mary arrived only 5 days before the rest of the family.

Donald McLeod was 50 years old when they arrived, and his wife was 48.

The McLeod family came from Lairg, Sutherlandshire, Scotland.  Alexander Grant McLeod married Janet ‘Jessie’ McDonald in Australia, who according to family tradition, came to Australia from Auchintal, Invernesshire.  I’ve been unable to locate that place.  I have found Inverness and Invernesshire, and I have found Auchintoul, Aberdeenshire. My expertly drawn arrows point to the locations of Lairg, Inverness and Auchintoul. I tend to think that the Invernesshire part is accurate – and as Auchintoul is so far away, I will keep looking to see if I can locate another place.  The same family tradition interchanges Lairg and Lerwick, and these are also quite different places – and our McLeod family definitely were in Lairg and Caithness for at least two generations – and not in Lerwick.

I have often wondered what circumstances would persuade middle aged parents to take their whole family of adult and almost adult children to a colony on the other side of the world. The Statistical Accounts of Scotland, 1791-1845, for Lairg, indicate that the Parish was in a state of change during the period immediately before the McLeod family decided to move to Australia.  The Account for Lairg 1791-99 states that the population of the Parish had been on the increase – from 750 ‘examinable persons’ in 1736, to 1010 people in 1755 to 1350 people in ‘the present’ ‘these 50 years later’.  At the next examination for the Account for Lairg 1934-45 the population was estimated at 1100 people.  The reason for the decline was ascribed to a change from farming ‘black cattle’ to sheep, a strategy that was recommended in the earlier Account.

The Rev. Duncan McGillivray, who made the later report stated that the population had been much greater 30 years earlier, but tenants were moved from their farms to the coast some 20 miles away, or to other areas, to make way for ‘sheep-walks’.  Rev. McGillivray said:

A system commenced in this country about the year 1807, which has been followed out extensively.  As the interior of the country consisted principally of some moor grounds covered with heath, the proprietors were convinced that these grounds could be more profitably laid out in sheep-walks, than (as formerly) in the rearing of black-cattle.  With this view, the interior was let to sheep-farmers, and the tenantry were removed either to the coast, or to those parts of the country more susceptible of cultivation.  Lairg being an inland parish, the circumstance accounts for the great decrease in its population.  From Mr Rose’s property, the tenants were all removed some years before he purchased it; and although the Duchess of Sutherland and Munro of Poyntsfield have still a considerable number of tenants, yet they are far less numerous than formerly.

The owners referred to, owned all of the Parish, with the inhabitants occupying tenancies – from which they could be removed on the whim of the proprietors, apparently.

Rev. McGillivray gives the following population statistics:

1801 – 1209

1811 – 1354

1821 – 1094

1891 – 1045

Number of families in parish – 206, of whom 124 were chiefly employed in agriculture; 6 were chiefly employed in trade, manufactures or handicraft.

Average number of births yearly for the last 7 years – 27; deaths 154; marriages 8.

Clearly it was a parish in decline.  The tenants who still had cattle were limited in the pastures available to them.  On the Duchess of Sutherland’s property the rents were reasonable, but the pasture limited.  On the other two estates the tenants were described as ‘less comfortable’ – they also had limited pasture available, and the rents ‘far exceed the value of the land; and the appearance of their houses tells but too plainly the condition of their inhabitants.’

Donald McLeod was a farmer.  His sons George, Alexander and Donald Grant McLeod later described themselves as farmers or in Donald’s case ‘gardener’.  They were an agricultural family, most likely one of the 124 families in Lairg chiefly engaged in agriculture.  The promise of plentiful land, and the prospect of ownership would have been inviting.  No doubt the sons were keen to try their luck in Australia – very likely Donald and Janet decided not to be left behind, separated from their children.

The 2nd Account notes that ‘the language generally spoken is the Gaelic; and although all the young people now speak English, the Gaelic can hardly be said to have lost ground, and the people, from being taught to read it, speak it more correctly than they did some years ago.’

If the ‘young people’ who included my great-great grandfather were able to speak and read Gaelic as well as English, it must have dropped out of use once the family arrived here.  I’m sure my great-grandfather was not able to speak Gaelic.  I’m sad to to think that I am only a few generations from ancestors who were fluent in their own ancient language.

The Accounts make interesting reading.  There is a notably different tone between the two reporters.  The first seems to have a fairly low opinion of the people of the parish, while the second speaks highly of them and refers to their difficulties with compassion.

Donald McLeod and his sons went on to own and farm land in Red Lion in the Talbot District of Victoria.  Donald and Janet’s descendants later moved to Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia (at least).  I hope that they felt they had made the right decision in relocating their whole family.  Donald died  26 July 1864 at McCallums Creek, Victoria from hepatitis and exhaustion and Janet died 16 April 1879.  They were both buried at Carisbrook Cemetery.





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