Mid North Coast Pioneers - Newcastle to Lismore and beyond

Paper by Leslie McKinnon.

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Paper by Leslie McKinnon.

The following is a paper written by Leslie McKinnon, a grandson of Malcom on the occasion of the 2001 McKinnon family reunion.

One Pioneer McKinnon Family (by Leslie Malcolm McKinnon.

Since our family had resided on the Isle of Skye for many centuries we can claim that any McKinnons (by any variant spelling) from any other Scottish location cannot be recognised as cousins. Then, because the Clan has been so long on Skye many have very remote blood relationship from our family. Young people may be sure that is far beyond the accepted rules of consanguinity. Many people on Skye have that 'correct' name although their forebears married into so many other families. Notably with the more populous MacLeods and McDonalds. Well may we ask: What is in a name?

It is intended to outline the first period while the family settled into this new and strange land. Where English, rather than Gaelic, was spoken by most neighbours and they lived by a modified version of English ways.

May I be excused for following my own branch of the family because with that I am most familiar. Then the experience of those people may be taken as substantially parallel with their brothers, sisters and cousins.

As migrants our family, consisting of both parents and seven children, departed from Loch Snizort on board sailing vessel, MIDLOTHIAN on August 7:1837 with 282 people from Skye. After a voyage of 102 days the ship arrived in Sydney on December 13:1837. They came under the Government Bounty System because their land was then suffering serious privations. While at sea many of the poor people suffered 'fever and dysentery' and eighteen died.

The "Sydney Gazette" reported that was "upon the whole, a very prosperous voyage." In that paper's Ship News column it was disclosed that "many of the female passengers were in a very delicate state of health, in consequence of which they were moved by easy conveyances to Bent-street, the place allotted for their reception."

Settlement on Dunmore. Sydney offered few prospects for Malcolm McKinnon, the father of a large family, so enquiries were made for settlement on some farming property. That they discovered, along with many others who came on the MIDLOTHIAN, on land beside the Paterson River out from Maitland. On property owned by Andrew Lang they were settled as share farmers on blocks of only 5 to 10 acres per family. Lang had been on his "Dunmore Estate" for well over a decade and using assigned convicts had cleared the land and was enjoying prosperity. Recently he had purchased the uncleared adjacent property of "Golden Grove" and it was where the migrants were located. First to remove the dense vegetation, plant their crops and pay the stipulated rental to their landlord.

From the beginning those poor Scottish people suffered droughts and floods during alternate years. By 1841 they were quite destitute with considerable debts with the Maitland merchants. Lang had done little to alleviate their plight and survival was only possible due to the generosity of those merchants. Details of those circumstances appeared in a long letter prepared by the migrants and published in the Sydney Herald in August 1841.

As the McKinnon children became adults they set out to discover employment or farming lands for themselves. Farm work was seasonably available in the Paterson and Hunter River districts but there remained little land for purchase. William, the second son, apparently gained experience in trading and acquired some capital. His older bother, Donald (my great-grandfather), resolved to become a seaman. He spent some years in New Zealand where he became acquainted with a Cameron family who had been very early residents in Wellington.

So it was that Donald married young Ann Cameron the 11th child of a family of 12. They lived for several years at "Dunmore" (perhaps in that district rather than on Lang's property). There Ann gave birth first to Malcolm on February 16:1853, followed by Hugh on May 4:1855.

Moving North.

That was during that decade the family was moving north to the Manning River. William was no doubt the first to arrive and purchased properties in Tinonee during 1854. Yet he may not have lived there during the next few years. Donald and Ann were certainly there on April 19:1858 when their third child, Donald McLeod McKinnon, was born on Taree Estate (originally called "Tarree Estate"). Father Donald became a sharefarmer to Henry Flett who had in 1844 acquired those valuable lands from the original grantee, Flett's father-in-law, William Wynter. Those lands are still under cultivation to the west of the regional town of Taree. t was Donald's intention, however, to return to New Zealand so during the next years he forwarded monies to his brother-in-law for the purchase of suitable land. However Donald's money was unwisely invested and lost.

Selection.

Perhaps it was in 1860 that Donald and Ann resolved they should search for farming property in that Manning district. The political climate was then changing in favour of opening lands for settlers with limited capital. As a consequence the age of the squatters and wealthy landholders was under challenge.

The choice was on the Wallamba River near where Nabiac now stands. Legal ownership of their first 60 acres became possible with the Robinson Land Laws of 1862. Their little farm they named "Glen Ora" and there set about the strenuous task of clearing for cultivation while the family continued to expand. Euphemia had been born on January 29:1859 as also had Charles William on March 12:1860. The following birth on April 28:1863 was soon after their arrival on "Glen Ora." The family Bible records his name as John but probably lived very briefly and was buried on the property. Then followed 5 more births: Maria Flora (Flo), October 23:1864, Anne (Annie), February 12:1867, Harriet Francis (Harry), September 21:1870, Mary Jane (Jean), August 5:1873 and Catherine Mary (Kate) on May 31:1879.

Most of Donald's siblings had by 1860 similarly arrived in the Manning district and married. Then followed the birth of a considerable number of children. By about 1870 the McKinnon population in the region was sizable. The men found employment although discovery of suitable properties for purchase proved difficult. It followed that a number then moved north onto the Clarence and Richmond River districts where more lands became available. Of the men who went north with many of their children we count William, Neil and Roderick.

It followed that by about 1880 the only families from Malcolm McKinnon's sons remaining there were Donald and his youngest half-brother John. And they both resided on the Wallamba River for their remaining years.

Donald 's Progress and Family.

The task of earning a living on a small allotment was very difficult as has been told in some Australian literature. Even following the clearing of the land there was the great difficulty of discovering both suitable crops and markets for their produce. The nature of the soils and grasses were unknown, while roads were both few and primitive. Coastal shipping, which would eventually serve admirably, did not commence until after farmers produced adequate cargoes. Shipping also proved both slow and precarious for some perishable produce such as eggs and milk. t that stage the only marketable crop was maize for which there was a considerable demand in Sydney. During the 1870s so many farmers were growing that grain that the market value dropped quickly to a level that Manning and Wallamba River producers could not afford to pay the cost of transport. It was said at the time that it was cheaper to forward grain from Sydney to London than from the Northern Rivers to Sydney.

During 1873 we find Donald, with several of his older sons, searching for gold on the fields west of Gloucester. That did not prove a success. Gold was scarce and the field was rocky. Their purchases of necessary explosives caused them to go into debt. The small quantity of gold they did discover was never sold but made into a piece of jewelery. During December 1950 my Great-Aunt Annie Miles showed that to me but unfortunately we cannot now identify the item.

There were problems in providing an education for the children in that sparsely populated community. Malcolm and Hugh had some years at the Taree school; apparently continuing after the family's move to "Glen Ora". Younger children received either home tuition or attended one of the several short-lived schools in the vicinity. A more permanent school was that commenced in the bush quite near to their home. Appropriately the Government officially called that the Glen Ora School. At the beginning that operated on the part-time system. While that commenced too late to serve Donald's children a number of his older grandchildren gained the advantage. Eventually the Nabiac School was opened early in the 20th century.

Tragedy struck the family at "Glen Ora" in 1881 when the mother, Anne Cameron, died unexpectedly at the age of only 49 years. Her children then ranged from young unmarried adults down to 2 years old Kate. The two older sons, Malcolm and Hugh, were then in employment on the Manning as also was Euphemia. Two years later Euphemia married Thomas McCartney, and in a few years Malcolm married Catherine Emily Brewer. Both of those couples remained on the Manning. t is understood that it was following Ann's death that what we now call the old "Glen Ora" home was built. Of the earlier dwelling little is known except that it stood to the west of the replacement where a few garden plants survived for decades. Also some of the split timber planks were used in the new home for constructing the bathroom wall. It should be known that very few farmhouses had bathrooms in those times.

During the next decade Donald developed a debilitating heart condition. So it was necessary for Malcolm, with his wife and young children, to return to "Glen Ora" and become the farmer. For accommodation they built a timber house near the northern end of the property. While that was at the time of adequate dimensions it must have proved insufficient when they had 10 children. Another problem was that it stood on low land frequently inundated by floodwaters.

The "Glen Ora" property was enlarged to total 140 acres following the purchase of the two adjoining blocks of 40 acres each. Those extra paddocks must have been a great assistance in growing more crops although they had still not discovered a good cash-earning product. We might imagine that their small income was supplemented by vegetables and other produce as might be traded with neighbouring farmers. Servicing that trade a 'dealers boat' regularly plied the river. As late as the 1930s that was operated by Mr. Piper of Forster and a number here today will recall his visits.

It was in 1891 that the ailing father died and his first son Malcolm became the sole farmer. Donald had made his Will with the intention of providing for his five still unmarried daughters. The simple plan was to sell all when the youngest reached 21 years and divide the money. That was in fact not done for until much later. Malcolm continued as the farmer until his sudden death in 1908. Before that the dairy industry had been taken up throughout the district, and "Glen Ora" might have enjoyed a time of prosperity.

We of the family have frequently spoken among ourselves that the daughters of Donald were late in marriage. That was not true of Euphemia who was married at 23 years on January 10,1883. Then Annie at the age of 35 years married Henry Miles of Forster. While Kate was aged 32 when she married Eric H. S. McMaster in 1911. Far more conspicuous were the girls who did not marry. They were three who principally lived their lives with Kate and Eric at "Glen Ora."

By the year 1910 the extended family on "Glen Ora" numbered 17. Before Malcolm died of pneumonia in 1908 his single brother Hugh had returned from Sydney to live in retirement. Hugh had built for himself a small dwelling close to the entry gate at the southern end of the farm. The sons of Malcolm considered that was quite the wrong location since their uncle could note their departure for Nabiac. He would stop them and request that they wait for an important letter which must be posted. The problem was that 'Old Hughy', as they all called him behind his back, went inside to put pen to paper.

The McMasters had six children during the following years while some of the children of Malcolm and Emily were moving from home. Three served with the army in France during the World War of 1914-1918. Although they all returned, with some wounds, married and settled in remote districts.

Operation of the farm had been changed following the death of Malcolm. His widow, Emily, rented the lower 40 acres where she, with the help of her older sons, farmed and conducted a dairy. The arrival of Eric McMaster made a further change in that he conducted a fern gathering business near Nabiac. Later that expanded to include the processing of the ferns and the erecting of a suitable building, known simply as the Fern Shed, on "Glen Ora."

Some life on "Glen Ora" had characteristics that were somewhat unique due the number of ladies in residence. Each lady had her recognised domestic duties along with some tasks in the dairy or the fern shed. Certainly times arose when there were either oversights or duplications. It was not unknown, for example, that they sat down to dinner with friends to discover that the menu was a little confused. Still the ethos of that home will long be remembered for congeniality and lasting friendships.

It remains for me to thank all my cousins who have assisted in gathering both the history and genealogical listings for what is now a very large McKinnon family.

Given names Surname Sosa Birth Place Death Age Place Last change
Malcolm McKINNON
February 16, 1853166Paterson, , New South Wales, Australia10May 18, 190811155Stroud, , New South Wales, Australia