Ardnamurchan, Anne McColl and the Archaeologists

As any family historian knows, you start with yourself and work backwards. Eventually the trail goes cold and you enter the domain of the general historian. Further back and the archaeologists take over.

You don’t expect your named ancestors to be of interest to the archaeologists but that is the situation with Anne McColl.

Anne is one of my wife’s 4th great-grandmothers. Around 1766 Anne was born at Swordlemore on the Ardnamurchan peninsula, the  most westerly point of the Scottish mainland.

Anne married Alexander Henderson around the time that the First Fleet made landfall in Port Jackson, New South Wales, to initiate European settlement of Australia.

Their daughter Anne Henderson, born about 1789, was to marry  Donald McPherson at Kilchoan in Ardnamurchan around 1817. In 1839, Anne and Donald, with their 8 children set sail for Australia – but that’s a story for another post.

Recently I decided to follow up the few clues that I had concerning Anne Henderson’s parents. These comprised names mentioned in immigration papers.

Further clues came from Anne’s death registration from 1865 which gave her birthplace as Kilchoan, Argyllshire, Scotland and her parents as “Alexander Henderson and Ann McCall”. Cut to the chase and we find Anne Henderson, born Anne McColl dead on 27 March 1855 at Portuairk, also on the Ardnamurchan peninsula.
1855 is a significant year for family history research in Scotland as it was in that year that compulsory registration of deaths was introduced. That means that there is a very complete record of the basic facts of Anne’s life.

Anne McColl.jpg

Portion of Anne’s Death Registration

Here are a few facts about Anne derived from the death registration and census information. She was born about 1766 in Swordlemore, the daughter of John MacColl, tenant, and Mary MacKenzie. Married to Alexander Henderson, she had 9 children. In 1841 Alexander and Anne were living with their son Donald and his family  at Swordlechorach.

By the time of the 1851 census Alexander had died, and Anne, aged about 85 years, was still living with her son at Swordlechorach.

Coincidentally, 1851 was the year that Thomas Goldie Dickson, acting for the trustee of Sir James M. Riddell’s  Ardnamurchan estate, compiled a report on the condition of the estate’s tenants.  This includes  recommendations as to how they were to be dealt with in relation to their arrears of rent.

Donald Henderson is entry number 114 in this report. It shows that his rent arrears amounted to 33 pounds, 14 shillings and 14 pence, and that his stock (cows, cattle, sheep and a horse) were worth 90 pounds. It describes his situation thus:

“Wife alive, 4 children, oldest 7 years, his mother still living with him. Arrears have risen gradually since 1848 should go to Australia & would have no objections to go.”

In the final column is the recommendation as to how he should be dealt with – “sequestrate” –  which means that his assets would be sold up to satisfy his debt to his landlord.

It’s a well documented fact that in 1853 the tenants at Swordlechorach were subjected to “clearance” from their holdings. Houses were pulled down to prevent re-occupation and the families were moved to inferior land at Portuairk and other places. From the facts that Portuairk was where Anne died in 1855, and where her son Donald lived in later years, we can conclude that they were amongst those cleared from their holdings. Donald appears to have chosen his mother over emigration to Australia.

In another post I have given more information about the experiences of the Henderson family during their eviction.

That was the end of that particular story I thought. However in September this year (2015) I became aware of the Ardnamurchan Transitions Project, which is exploring the archaeology of the Ardnamurchan peninsula.

Part of the project’s research has been the excavation of remains of the houses at Swordlechorach.

The final report of these excavations is due soon, so I’m looking forward to seeing what it reveals about the lives of the families of Swordlechorach.

Like to know more about Ardnamurchan?  Visit the outstanding A Kilchoan Diary blog.

(Herrmann Family History)






Leaving Ardnamurchan – An Emigrant Family’s Voyage

Donald (c. 1791 – 1876) and Anne McPherson (c. 1789 – 1865) sailed from Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, Scotland, on 28 October  1838, in the government-chartered immigrant ship British King.

The passenger list records that Donald, a shepherd, was then aged about 48, a native of Ardnamurchan, Argyleshire and son of Allan MacPherson, a farmer, of Morven. Wife Anne, a dairymaid, is recorded as aged 42, also a native of Ardnamurchan and daughter of Anne Henderson of the same place.  (Anne Henderson, born McColl, is the subject of an earlier post titled Ardnamurchan, Anne McColl and the Archaeologists)

Donald could read and write, whilst Anne’s literacy went unrecorded. The family were Presbyterian.

Donald McPherson_Immigration.jpg
Donald McPherson’s Immigration Record – 1839

Accompanying them were their 8 children, aged between 2 and 20 years. These included Janet and Flora, who in Australia were to marry brothers Alexander and John Cameron.

Only Flora and her brother Alexander, born in 1830 and 1832 seem to have christening records, probably because the church in Acharacle, where they were christened, opened only in 1829. Flora’s christening record says that the family were then living at Resipol, on the north side of Loch Sunart, and in the shadow of Ben Resipol.

Flora mcPherson_Christening.jpg
Flora McPherson’s Christening Record

There exist some contemporary and more recent accounts of the voyage of British King. In 1939 Gordon Dennes published a detailed account:

“The 8th government-chartered immigrant ship to sail from a Highland port in Scotland, was the barque British King. Her predecessors were the William Nicol, Midlothian, Brilliant, St George, Boyne, James Moran and Lady McNaughton. The British King’s registered tonnage was 673 tons and her burthen upwards of 1,000 tons.

She had a regular frigate deck from stem to stern of 124 feet with a ceiling of 8½ feet, width 28½ feet with double tier of berths for 256 passengers, besides children. In addition, the male and female hospitals each contained 9 berths and were situated immediately beneath the Surgeon’s cabin. The Surgeon thus had access at all hours to his patients from his own room by a hatchway, through which a wind sail could be put to the top of the poop, a matter of the greatest importance to the sick.

Each adult was provided with a clothes bag, a bed and blankets, a knife, fork and spoon. The dining tables were affixed amidships and no chest was allowed to be taken to the hold. There was a wide promenade round the whole of the ship, which was rendered airy and agreeable by the provision of air ports on each side. According to the standard of accommodation for ships of those days, that of the British King was comfortable.

The general outfitting was carried out probably at Greenock, under the supervision of Lieutenant Hermans, the Government Agent for the ship, whilst Mr. Andrew Crawford, joiner, fitted up in a superior manner the sleeping and dining accommodation. …”

To read or download the full account (PDF, 116Kb), visit the Isle of Tiree Genealogy webpage.

A less rosy account of part of the voyage was given by Archibald McEachern who was only 19 when he left Tobermory on the British King. He describes a near disaster towards the end of the voyage:

 “In company with my father, stepmother, and nine brothers and sisters, I embarked in the sailing ship British King from Tobermory, Argyleshire, on Sunday, 28th October, 1838, and on that date bade an eternal adieu to the bonnie shores of dear old Scotland. After an uneventful voyage of three months we first sighted land at the mouth of the Glenelg, near Nelson, where we experienced some slight trouble in the shape of head winds, which necessitated the ship being put about and during the supervening night the performance had to be repeated again somewhere between Julia Percy Island and the Laurence Rocks. We sailed past Portland early next morning, and towards the close of the following night narrowly averted a terrible catastrophe, this time in the form of a shipwreck.

Our skipper, Captain William Paton, as sober and attentive officer as ever commanded a ship, during the evening instructed Mitchell, the second mate, a very nice fellow, to call him at a certain hour of the night. But it came about on that particular day, as was customary on certain days of the voyage out, that a nobbler apiece of grog was served out to everyone on board, numbering all 350 souls, many of whom were total abstainers, and those that did not indulge, instead of getting outside of it themselves, transferred their dole to the mate, who was an exceedingly popular fellow with the passengers. The consequence was, in a marvellously short space of time, the mate got as drunk as a fool, and failed to carry out the commands of his superior officer, who, when he awoke, was horrified to behold the breakers in close proximity to the vessel, stretching away in front of him as far as the eye could reach. In fact the ship was drifting stem on to one immense boulder that would have smashed her to atoms had a collision occurred.

By judicious manipulation we got clear, much to the relief of all on board. Our providential escape was simply miraculous. A few years subsequently a large passenger ship bound for Hobson’s Bay, with 100 passengers on board, was wrecked at the self same spot, and with the exception of eight sailors, every man women and child that constituted this immense human freight were, in perhaps less time than it takes to record it, consigned to a watery grave.” (Traces of a Heritage (Notes to Chapter 7) ( –accessed 27 December 2008 but no longer available)

On arrival in Sydney, the immigrants found that there was no demand for their labour, due to the economic conditions in the Sydney district. What happened next is described in the following extract from a Cameron family history:

“The newly arrived immigrants were not all destined to remain in Sydney. Local settlers were not particularly interested in hiring men with large families and Governor Gipps was persuaded to send, at Government expense, 48 families from the British King on to the Port Phillip district of N.S.W. which was in great need of free settlers, as labour was scarce. The John Barry was the second vessel to bring Government immigrants to the district. …”

“When they disembarked at Williamstown, no shelter was available and they had to spend their first night in the open. William Lonsdale found ‘a miserable hut’ to accommodate those who had fallen ill with typhus fever and dysentery. Lonsdale pleaded with the Sydney government to make proper arrangements for the reception of any future migrants. Gipps replied that a permanent establishment must not be set up. Once again all healthy migrants managed to find work in Port Phillip without difficulty.”

A document titled “ A Return of the Disposal of the Immigrants by the Ship ‘British King’ from Tobermory which arrived at Sydney on the 28th Feb 1839 under the Superintendence of Dr. Arbuckle”  records that the McPherson family was among those “in sick quarters at Port Philip“.

To read the full account of the voyage of the John Barry, visit the Victoria Before 1840 website.

I have found little information about the family’s situation as they settled into what was to become the town, and later city, of Melbourne, just 4  years after its foundation. However that they helped to build the town is evidenced by this newspaper article:

“Mrs Janet Cameron (nee M’Pherson) relict of Mr. Alexander Cameron, of Inverlochie Farm, Wollert (Vic.), who died at the age of 86 at Craigieburn recently, was a colonist of 72 years. She was a native of Argyleshire, and arrived in Melbourne with her parents, brothers and sisters in April, 1839. Their ship went first to Sydney, no vessel sailing direct to Melbourne at that time.

The family lived at the corner of Russell and Lonsdale streets, her father, Donald M’Pherson, being engaged in building several bush huts in that vicinity, and her brothers felled trees in those areas which are now Lonsdale and Elizabeth streets…” (The Daily News (Perth), 17 May 1911, page 3)

Lonsdale street is now one of the major streets of Melbourne.

(Donald and Anne McPherson were my wife’s 3rd great-grandparents, via Flora McPherson (1830 – 1900)

(Herrmann Family History)

The Clearance of Swordlechorach – a Family Account

In an earlier post (Ardnamurchan, Anne McColl and the Archaeologists) I mentioned the eviction of Donald Henderson’s family during the 1853 clearance of Swordlechorach in Ardnamurchan, Scotland.

Another descendant of this family has drawn my attention to an account of the eviction from Mary Ann Henderson, a daughter of Donald Henderson and his wife Jane. This was published in ‘Herself’ : the life and photographs of M.E.M. Donaldson / presented by John Telfer Dunbar, Edinburgh : Blackwood, 1979. Donaldson lived in Ardnamurchan in the 1920s. Mary Ann would have been in her 6o’s then (born 14 October 1858). Here is her account – and note the enduring anger in the last sentence:

” Told by a friend that there was living in Portuairk a woman who still occupies the house built by her father when evicted from Swordle Chorrach. I called to see her. Mary Ann Henderson, now an old lady, though still with clear eyes of the brightest blue, received me with customary Highland courtesy, and knowing me for a friend, readily told me the tale of the sufferings of her father and mother. She herself was not born at the time of the eviction, but, naturally, she was familiar with the whole story.

Before relating this, I must ask readers to bear in mind that in those days the present roads were non-existent. When evicted, one of Mary Ann’s little brothers was suffering from measles, and her father had to carry him on his back all the way by the rough coast from Swordle to Achnosnich, where a compassionate crofter had given his barn to shelter them till the new house was built at Portuairk. As the result of exposure, however, the little boy died.

Whilst the father had to break off building from time to time in order to earn a little money to purchase necessary building materials, the mother was not without her tasks. She had first to walk to and from Swordle in one day – a ten hours’ journey – in order to fetch, as their only means of sustenance, all the potatoes she could carry from their old croft. Such a load only lasted a day or two, and then, whatever the weather, the hard journey had to be repeated. Then, in return for being allowed to gather the seaweed from the shore, the poor woman was obliged to carry sacks of sand half a mile inland from the bay – this to fertilise the landlord’s ground – and to cut peats in a marked portion of ground at Port na Cairidh for the use of his shepherd there.

The name of the factor who was the agent of these tyrannies and inhumanities was Ramage.”

You can feel the suppressed anger in the last sentence of Mary Ann’s account. The Ramage mentioned was probably John Ramage who, in the 1861 census, is shown as a farmer employing 3 labourers and 2 girls and resident, with his family, at Swordlemore. Ramage was an outsider born in Lanark. He may have been offered a lease of the Swordle lands by the Ardnamurchan estate’s trustees in bankruptcy that was conditional on him effecting removal of the prior tenants.

Mary Ann’s little brother who died during the journey was almost certainly Alexander, who was aged 2 years at the time of the 1851 census. Whilst there is an Alexander recorded in the census of 1861 he is too young by 4 years to be the same person. It is presumed that the later Alexander was named in remembrance of his dead brother, as was commonplace at the time.

There is a record of baptism that shows an intervening child born either during or shortly after the journey described above. This means that Jane was pregnant at the time she endured the privations described above.

This child, named Duncan, was born on 10 May 1853 and baptised on 9 June 1853. The church register shows that the father, Donald, was residing at Portuairk by the latter date.

Why wasn’t this child named Alexander if his brother had pre-deceased him? There is a hint in the identity of one of the witnesses – named as Duncan M’Dougald of Achosnich in the register. I like to think that he was the compassionate crofter of Achosnich, and that the child was named in appreciation.

The second witness to the birth was Anne Henderson, the baby’s widowed grandmother. She also endured the eviction and journey at the age of 87 years before dying 2 years later.

More information on this clearance can be found here.

(Herrmann Family History)

Alexander Henderson – of the Glengarry Regiment?

Alexander Henderson is my wife’s 4th great-grandfather, and the husband of Anne McColl who is the subject of the previous post.

The 1841 census gives his birth year as about 1756, and he was dead by the time the 1851 census was conducted. Whilst trawling the archives I came across a military discharge certificate that looked like it might refer to him.

The certificate refers to an Alexander Henderson, born in Ardnamurchan, being discharged from the Glengarry, or First British Fencible Regiment of Infantry, after 8 years of faithful service as a private. It is dated 1 July 1802, so this Alexander must have commenced his service about 1794.

Alexander Henderson_Discharge

There is one problem. Alexander’s age is given as 30. Our Alexander would have been  about 46 if the 1841 census information is correct. Back to the drawing board. Perhaps 30 was Alexander’s age on enlistment? Our Alexander would have been 38 in 1794 but perhaps he falsified his age? Too much wishful thinking!

I was just about to discard the record when I realised that in my database there was an approximate 9 year gap between Alexander and Anne’s 4th and 5th children – born about 1794 and 1803 respectively – roughly the years of Alexander the soldier’s service. The Glengarry regiment served overseas, in Jersey, Guernsey and Ireland. Had Anne discovered the perfect birth control method?

The birth years I have for the family are a mixed bag with only 3 baptismal records. The sources for the others are calculated from either census records, an emigration record and several death registrations. None of the latter are particularly reliable.

I was pleased to find that the death registration for Alexander’s wife Anne appeared to show reliable ages for all the children living and deceased. Presumably these were given by her son Donald, who was the informant. Donald signed the registration with his mark, indicating that he could not write and probably could not read. How good was his memory?

A quick check showed that when the ages are converted to birth years, every one of the children was supposedly born 2 years after its predecessor. If these ages are correct then there is no 9 year gap in the births. But the 2-year interval is too neat to be correct when 9 births are involved.

Perhaps Donald got the order of the children correct and guessed the rest? Or perhaps someone else guessed for him?

Donald, as the 5th child, is the key to establishing the existence of the 9-year gap.

I have more records of Donald’s birth year than of any other member of the family. In his mother’s death registration it calculates to 1796. In the successive censuses from 1841 through 1871 it is 1806, 1803, 1807 and 1806, whilst his death registration calculates to 1799. All up, an average of 1802. If this is in fact close to his true birth year, then there does appear to be an unusual gap between  the 4th (John, 1794) and 5th (Donald, 1802) children.

The lack of certainty about Donald’s birth year means that I can neither prove nor disprove the existence of the 9-year gap. And so, for the moment at least, Alexander Henderson of the 1st Fencible Regiment must go unclaimed.

(Note: all calculated birth years mentioned above should be regarded as “about” so may be out by one year either way.)

(Herrmann Family History)