from Moidart to Australia by Mac Ian
recorded by John
in 'The Casket', Antigonish, Nova Scotia
September 8, 1949
MGI Vol. 559 RANALD
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.
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
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
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
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
The foregoing remarks are of an indefinite nature, admittedly, but comprise
the best information available at the present time.