Australia is a young/old country with a long memory. So many people
have crossed the world to the Lucky Country and dispersed to the vastness
of Down Under that one chord only has kept the people connected. That
chord is attachment to family. New attachments and links are constantly
being forged in Australia. Each new wave brings the stories and traditions
of "the old home country". So it is natural in 2012 to visit
the place left in 1851 and carry a sense of attachment transmitted
by word of mouth across seven generations.
Our mob left the West Highlands in 1851 on Marco Polo. This was part
of a group emigration to Port Phillip. The families initially stuck
together and settled near each other. A core group - including John
MacDonald and Margaret MacIsaac - settled at Little River (between
Geelong and Werribee). From there the families scattered in the gold
rushes. John, Margaret and their many children found their way to
Heathcote ( a gold prospecting town) where John died in 1875. I remember
as a boy that my family went "back to Heathcote" in the
early 1970s. MacDonals married MacKenzies married Crowes married Atkins
-. Several generations found their way to Australia Felix - the Western
District of Victoria (including Koroit) - and then to Crowes ( with
a new railway line) then Irrewarra at Colac and thence to Melbourne.
Many stories were transmitted. Some were so incredible that a sceptical
little boy started to "check the facts". This didn't help
for confidence in one's own perspective because most of the stories
turned out to be true.
links were found on the wwweb. Michael Murray's excellent treatise
"Prayers and Pastures" gave a specific track to follow.
Fortunately the large family paid off as the ages and names could
be traced at John's death certificate, the 1851 ship's passenger
list (Egnaig), the 1851 census (Acharacle) and the 1841 census
(Glenuig). Then the baptism registers were found for six children
(Glenuig and Moss) 1831-46. Finally a death record for Ronald
1845. All of this happened due to the accumulated links and published
data made by generous individuals over time.
The web struck again. Contact with Tearlach MacDonald for An Tilleadh
resulted in a link to Allan and Elizabeth MacDonald at Arisaig.
This proved a great boon with generous and gracious hosts fortified
by a powerful library and even more powerful memories. We found
ourselves at the heart of the Gaeltacht and family history.
At home we have expeditions called "hub and spoke".
The team gather at the hub and go on day trips. We took trips
to Glenuig and were delighted to see Egnaig - hosted by Jean and
Ken Bowker and Gordon Barr of An Comann Eachdraidh Muideart. This
revealed a whole township - abandoned (like many a gold rush town)
- but evocative of so much history. We particularly enjoyed seeing
the the excise house next to a local house. The Egnaig cemetery
was peaceful. The steady march of time, entropy, deer and the
elements have affected the village site and limited visibility.
It was so much more rewarding to stand at and in the houses knowing
this was what the family saw before leaving for Australia.
dawned on us that the family spent twenty years at Glenuig. In 1825
Reginald George Clanranald sought to sell his estates. We found two
Ranal MacDonals listed as tenants at Glenuig. "Asking around"
found us locating the old school by the lochside and a previous school
up the glen. It appears the family were at the old old school and
may have taught there. More enquiries revealed a close link with Smirisary
where the MacIsaacs were base. A loose hint suggested a Forbes connection
possibly on the islands north of Morvern. Naturally we took as many
photos as we could and found everyone kindly allowed us to visit whenever
Side tracks took us to the Clan Donald Centre at Armadale where there
is an excellent family history centre with a special focus on archaeology.
These activities are of special help to us and, I imagine, - to all
the families of diasporan chloinn Domnhuill. This centre appears to
have a great opportunity for expansion and action as a hub to link
diasporan folk with local history groups.
Another sidetrack led us to Rhu Arisaig with Allan MacDonald. It was
eerie to see signs of an obvious settlement (and temporary seminary)
now an idyllic rural picture.
Everyone we met was generous and courteous. We had especially moving
visits with Tearlach MacFarlane and Angus Peter Maclean who made us
feel like family and spoke of our common attachments warmly. The charisma
of gentlemen such as these is a treasure of the Highlands.
With so many snippets and links made, the mind seeks more. The whole
remains true whilst the colours and detail of specific information
deepens the sense of real attachment. The potential links between
the self-grown groups seems obvious to a visitor. The hub and spoke
of a clan centre with local history groups offers an elegant mechanism
to enhance all our experience of our common humanity. At a very practical
level the specific links to homeland enabled by visiting "the
very site" cause those emotional moments that are priceless.
We will never forget standing at the final resting place of the last
Coincidentally, the web has struck again. Whilst in Arisaig and Moidart
we received emails representing several families in Australia who
wish to share information. Our advance party will now be able to plug
them into the local history groups, the Glenuig estate, the extended
family and An Tilleadh. Maybe further strengthening and deepening
of ties will follow.
With thanks - and hooroo ...
Irene and Bill Atkin