Immigration from Moidart to Australia by Mac Ian
recorded by John Dye

Published in 'The Casket', Antigonish, Nova Scotia
September 8, 1949

Immigration from Moidart to Australia By Mac Ian

It is probable that the two most common names of Highland origin in Antigonish would be MacDonald and Chisholm. Of the former many of the original settlers in the country hailed from Moidart or Arisaig in Western Invernesshire, Scotland, and they mostly left for America from 1772 to 1848, but principally from 1790 to 1820. The history of Moidart was written about 1887 by Father Charles MacDonald, Parish Priest; but the book "Moidart or Among the Clanranalds" is long out of print, and is quite scarce. In his book, Father Charles reports to the emigration to Port Philip (now Melbourne) in the early eighteen fifties of over five hundred of the Moidart folk, by which means the population of the district, which had been about 1100 was reduced to about half. Rev. Ronald Rankin, the then Priest of Moidart, had taken a leading part in arranging for the emigrations and subsequently joined the emigrants in Australia.

Although many of the Moidart settlers in Antigonish and Cape Breton had cousins who went to Australia (and some to New Zealand) there was little communication between them. The early pioneers had scant secular education and the descendants did not keep up communication. So far as I could ascertain, there was little of a historical nature in print concerning the Highland emigrants from Moidart to Australia. The period of their arrival coincided with the discovery of gold and the early gold rushes and it seems to be the case that the Highlanders in Australia spread out quickly and did not cling to their own folk and their own settlements as much as the pioneers did who came to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

One elderly native of Antigonish whose grandfather had come out from Moidart in 1848 informed us that his great grandfather had a brother who with his family went out to Australia, losing three of the family while en route, by smallpox. He had also heard that on the same voyage one family was wiped out …………. tion to Australia was at its height smallpox was a calamity to which many of the sailing ships became subject.

Though, as I have said, I know of no historical work dealing with the Moidart folk who went out to Melbourne, the "Historical Society of Victoria" very kindly cooperated in endeavouring to look up such data as might be available and of interest. The emigrants went to Port Philip (Melbourne) in 1852, 1853, and 1854, and it appears that a few of the Moidart folk were among several hundreds of Highlanders who was granted loans of money by the "Island and Highland Emigration Society", in order to repay the cost of passage to Australia. Records show five heads of families were among those who received such loans as follows: Alexander MacDonald, Donald MacDonald, Angus MacDonald, Mary MacDonald, Alexander MacDonald.

These five with their families had emigrated from Kinlochmoidart in 1852, in the ship "Allison". In the same ship there also emigrated from Glenuig Moidart a family of which the head was Norman MacDonald. In 1854 it seems that John MacDonald from Sunart went out, his home having been across from Moidart on the other side of Loch Shiel. Allan Steward (sic) from Kenlochmoidart is also recorded as having left Kenlochmoidart in 1854 for Port Philip in the ship "Hornet".

Flora McDonald went to Australia on the
Alison when she was just three, the
youngest member of the family.
Photo kindly contributed by William Squair

According to the secretary of the "Historical Society of Victoria", there is a book entitled "The Footsteps of Our Catholic Pioneers", by Frances Mackle, and on page 107, there appears the following: "In the earlier years of Victorian settlement Gaelic-speaking Catholics from the Highlands of Scotland came in considerable numbers to Port Philip. Many of them settled at Little River and others in the Western District. In 1852, a meeting of Scotch Catholics was held at Melbourne, and a memorial to Rome, praying for the appointment of a Gaelic-speaking priest was adopted. As a result the Rev. Ron- [this might refer to Father Ranald Rankin who went to Australia in 1854 - JD]………….. at Little River where the Scotch Catholics were most numerous. Besides administering to the local Catholics, he visited periodically the various places where Scottish Catholics had settled, including Belmont, near Geelong."

Supplementary to the foregoing extract it was pointed out by "The Highland Society" that Belmont is a suburb of Geelong and Little River a railway township sixteen miles from Geelong and twenty nine from Melbourne. Hamilton is the centre of a rich agricultural and pastoral area in the Western district, and is one hundred and ninety-seven miles from Melbourne.
If the passenger lists of the vessels which took out the emigrants to Melbourne are still available, these no doubt would give complete lists of all who went out in the three years mentioned previously. With the thought of endeavouring to learn something more, I wrote to the Parish Priest at Little River and duly received cordial and cooperative letter from Rev. Fr. Beare now at Alexandra P. O. Victoria, Australia, but formerly at Werribee, in which parish Little River is situated. Father Beare had gone to considerable trouble in enquiring of various individuals who might be able to give some information about these Highland immigrants of a century ago.

One of those whom Father Beare enquired was John MacDonald of Sutherland's Creek, via Bannockburn, Victoria. He wrote as follows: "I have not heard about any of the MacDonalds from Moidart settling at Little River. Both my father and brother were MacDonalds from Moidart and come out with many others of the same name from Scotland about the time you mention, with their parents and many cousins; also others who were not related to them. My mother's family settled in Geelong, and many other MacDonalds also. My father's family settled here on a farm where I am living now at Sutherland's Creek. Also several other families settled around here in small holdings. They were MacDonalds also, but not related to us. They came out on the same boat. I understand they collected money among themselves and brought a priest from Scotland as they could only speak in Gaelic and understand no other language…………
. al information. As far as I know she and I are the sole surviving members of the third generation of our family though there are many of the fourth generation living in Geelong, Melbourne and other places. My father's name was John: he had four brothers, John (two others in the family), Roderick, Donald and Ronald and two sisters, Mary and Kate."

Mr Michael Kennedy of Werribee wrote Father Beare as follows: "Norman MacDonald married Ann MacMaster, lived at Spring Hill Sheep Station, Skipton, Victoria. Family: John, Allan, Hugh, Mary, Iane, Kate, Annie (all dead). Archibald MacDonald (not relation to Norman MacDonald) married Mary MacMaster, had one child (Florence) (all dead). The MacMasters (father of the MacMasters mentioned above) died in Moidart. He asked father Rankin to look after his family (wife Flora, family: Jane Kate, Mary and Ann. When Father Rankin came out to Australia, they came with him in the sailing ship 'Marco Polo', and landed at Geelong. Father Rankin became Parish Priest at Little River, sixteen miles from Geelong. Katie MacMaster (my mother) married Michael Kennedy also from Moidart. Five of the family still living: Annie, Sara, Jane and myself at Werribee, 25 miles from Geelong. Archie MacDonald lived at Burrumbeet, near Ballarat, for many years and died there."

Another correspondent of Father Beare speaks of an immigrant from Moidart whose maiden name was Mary MacDonald, who lived with her parents in a stone house in the Highland settlement of You Yangs. After Father Ronald Rankin died, her people, and most of the folk from Scotland, left there and went to live near Ballarat.

Father Rankin to whom the emigrants owed so much, is buried in the Eastern Cemetery, Geelong.

The foregoing remarks are of an indefinite nature, admittedly, but comprise the best information available at the present time.

John Dye