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Mini Biographies of Scots and Scots Descendants (Mc)
MacInnes, Donald

I have always known that my ancestry was Scots Gaelic and that my great-great grandfather Donald was from the Western Highlands. However, it has only been recently that I have been researching his life and that of his immediate family and have discovered a life of hardship, sorrow, courage and hope. This is a story that may be classified as common to the clan folk who left the Highlands either willingly or unwillingly, but it is unique in the fact that it is his.

Donald MacInnes ( a blacksmith) was born on a farm called 'Achnaha' in Morven in 1811.This farm was a narrow strip of land running down  to the Sound of Mull. His parents were Alexander and Anne MacInnes and he had two older siblings Allan and Anne ( born in 1807 and 1809 respectively ). They were poor but deeply religious. Donald was baptised at Kiel Church which was very near their home. Kiel Church ( still standing) is a sixth century church built by St Columba. It is rumoured that St Columbus's mother is buried there. It is also the traditional burial ground of the ancient MacInnes Clan.

By 1841, Donald had left the Highlands and had moved to Greenock where he married Grace MacNachten from Rothesay, Bute in June 1841. Like the majority of the Highlander's, dispossessed of their  unique culture and facing a bleak future, the couple left Greenock for Sydney sailing  on ' The Margaret'  in January 1842 under the assistance of the Dunmore Lange Scheme. This scheme assisted Calvinist migrants to Australia. The pre-requisites needed to be elligible for assisted immigration was    Presbyterianism, industriousness, honesty  and good character references. Under this scheme, Donald went to work at Paterson in the Hunter Valley north of Sydney. He later moved to Sydney and then to Camden NSW over a thirteen year period. During this time Grace gave birth to six children  - Annie b.1843, John b.1845, Donald b.1847, Alexander b.1849, Margaret b.1854 and Janet b.1857. The outcome was 31 grandchildren ! 

Little is known of their everyday lives except that Donald moved with his family in 1859 ( with the exception of his wife, Grace ) to work on 'Tubbo Station' a large run owned by the MacLeay pastoralists in the Riverina district of  NSW. He remained in the Riverina area for the rest of his working life until his death in 1875.He died in Hay hospital of stomach cancer.

Donald died alone in Hay hospital. His death certificate reads 'Relatives Unknown'. This revelation is very puzzling to our family. We find it difficult to understand that not a single member of his family was present. Donald was a poor man, most probably illiterate  - he had travelled far from his native land to a new world, endured poverty and hardship and this seems to be an unfitting end to his life.

Now, to the reader, it appears that this is just an ordinary story of an ordinary man, but it is the legacy that Donald leaves behind that is far from ordinary. The first is the marriage of Annie, his eldest daughter to John Breadalbane Macleay ( who later married Margaret, Annie's younger sister after she died in 1878 ) of 'Tubbo Station'. There is a historical point here in that John's cousin George accompanied the famous explorer Sturt surveying the three great rivers of the Murray, Murrumbidgee and the Lachlan. These rivers all meet and run into the sea in South Australia. This was an arduous feat made under extremely difficult conditions however George Macleay was amply rewarded with large land grants - 'Cooper Station' and 'Tubbo Station' are two of them.

Donald's youngest daughter Janet (my great-grandmother) married a Danish immigrant Nicholas Bornholt in 1876 when she was 24 years old. They received a government land grant 3 + 640 acre lots on the Murrumbidgee river at Bareena Creek. Predictably, they named the property 'Bareena'. It is still there, but unfortunately no longer remains in the family. Some of the original buildings still remain. My grandmother, who was born on 'Bareena' told me that her mother regretted being poorly educated and was determined that all of her children would receive a decent education despite their isolation. A school house was built on the property and she and her siblings were tutored. Janet and Nicholas raised nine children under hard conditions. It was a completely self-sufficient existence. The nearest township was 50 miles away and I recall my grandmother telling me that she used to drive 50 miles and back into Narrandera by sulky just to play tennis with her friends. My memories of impressions by older family members were that the men were very tall, gentle, courteous and had wicked senses of humour. The women were feisty and strong. Nicholas, the eldest boy ran away to New Zealand at 16 years of age. He later joined the Australian Forces and fought in the Boer War in South Africa, finally settling down in northern NSW after buying a banana plantation. At one stage, this plantation was the second largest in NSW. The girls in the family married well ( with the exception of Jessica and my grandmother ) into several farming families in the district. The women's legacies amongst others are two large holdings 'Bertangles' and 'Round Box' currently run by family members in the Riverina Hay District. 

Jessica, a younger daughter of this family has recently become a celebrity, although she would have hated being labelled as such. Jessica's life is the inspiration for Bryce Courtney's book 'Jessica'. This novel is fiction based on fact. Names have been changed to protect individuals and the ficticious content of the book has irked some family members. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Jesse's life in fiction and fact was tragic. Bryce Courtenay's description of landscape at 'Bareena' in ' Jessica' is uncanningly true to life He provides us with an acute sense of place and  Aunt Jesse's memory is a testimony  to the indomitable human spirit and the stoicism of those gaelic genes.

This large family in my father's generation and mine have produced solicitors, teachers, farmers, farmer's wives and professional soldiers. Two cousins have had very successful army careers. Both received rank of full Colonel by the age of forty, serving in the U.S and Germany. One of their overseas postings was the Military Attache to the Australian High Commisioner to New York, the other being head of the Australian contingent with the United Nations Forces in Jerusalem.   

I don't like to sound like I am boasting about Donald MacInnes's family as it is not simply the Australian way but I feel his legacy has served him well. We have all survived and flourished.

Post-script to this story...we were always led to to believe that Donald's wife Grace died in 1859 when my great- grandmother Janet was two years old. She never knew her mother. However, it has recently been discovered that she did not die until 1869. She had been committed to Ryde Asylum and was incarcerated for 10 years. She died a lunatic and is buried in Tarban cemetery.

Her death certificate also reads 'Relatives Unknown'.

This is my Australian story.

What's yours ?

Thanks to Marsano Phillipa for this story.

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