The legacy of Margaret MacNab

James and Jane McNab lived in the coastal town of Girvan on the west coast of Scotland. It was a fishing port and agricultural region. The Isle of Arran could be seen across the sea and the Ailsa Craig rock sat out there in the west, like a huge bun on the water.

But things were not good for labouring folk. Poor housing, poor wages and worst of all, poor health and a cold climate dominated. Sixteen year old Alex earning 9d a day hoeing potatoes and James as a ploughman were hardly able to feed the family. James was affected with TB and one of the 1ittle girls was delicate. The doctor recommended that a warmer climate would be helpful and so the momentous decision was made. They would migrate to Australia !

The family consisted of:-
James 37 and his wife Jane 38
Jacobina aged 17
Alaxander 16
Jessie 14
Marion 9
Agnes 5
James 3
John,an infant
(A daughter, Jenni, was born in Australia.)
This information from the Archives 0ffice, Adelaide.

They left Girvan, Ayrshire Scotland for South Australia aboard the “Loch Fynne” on November 29 1878. The “Loch Fynne” was almost certainly a migrant ship, for a piper played “Will Ye No Come Back Again” as the ship drew away. I have wondered if the “Loch Fynne” was a sister ship to the “Loch Aard” which was wrecked off Victoria. The ship arrived its destination in March I879. James took up land at Cunliffe near Kadina on Yorke Peninsular. The family had certainly found a warm dry climate. I’ll bet they felt it that first year or two!

Alexander McNab As a young Man

Alexander McNab
As a young Man

Alex found employment at the copper mines at Moonta and Wallaroo. I don’t know whether Jacobina (called Bina for short) worked out. It was the usual thing for girls to stay at home until they married at that time and in any case, there would be plenty to do getting their bLock of land. Alex seems to have been a charmer and girls vied to attract his attention. He played the fiddle and sang many Scottish ditties and broke hearts right and left

CORNWALL
James and Mary Eva Corner came from Helston in Cornwall, England, where James was a tin miner. They migrated to South Australia in the very early days of settlement. They had sons and daughters but I know the names of only the eldest girl Sophia, and the youngest one, Georgina. Sophia married Walter Hayrward and Georgina married Ralph Pylus. Both these women were tiny and both were long lived, being over 90 when they died.

Walter Hayward’s father was named John and he is reputed to have travelled overland to Adelaide from Sydney with Eyre the explorer’s party, but left the expedition because of disagreements amongst the men. He settled in the Adelaide hills at Echunga and raised a family. Originally, he
came from Haywardrs Heath, South West of London.

I do not have the extent of his famiLy but there wrere Emeline (Mrs Moyle), Charlotte (Mrs Tucker), Joe and Walter and probably others. Walter married Sophia Corner and took up land at Cunliffe on Yorke Peninsular. He cleared his land with the axe, selling any suitable timber to the Moonta mines for props or fuel. The story goes that, he used to get so hot chopping that he would take off his underpants and hang them in a tree till evening and then he couldn’t find them sometimes it was weeks before he came across them again. He contracted “fever” (typhoid perhaps) and Sophia nursed him through it. They only had one blanket and were sleeping in a tent so Sophia cut the blanket in to two so that she didn’t have to sleep beside him. They built a wattle and daub house and raised a family Albert (called Ab), Jack, Mary Anne (Polly), Phillip, Margaret, Jane and Fred. Polly became Mrs McNab, Margaret, Mrs Dangerfield and Jane, Mrs Bridges. Walter was a very tall man, over 6 feet and took size 13 boots. The Cunliffe country grew excellent wheat and although it had periodic droughts, the Haylards did well and were well estabLished and prosperous before the McNab family arrived in the district.

Polly told about one of these droughts that occurred when she was a small gir1. She and two sisters were walking along the road when they found a cabbage leaf that someone had dropped. They all had an argument as to whether it should be eaten now, cooked or pickled. I don’t know who won. Walter Hayward had some cattle and when the drought got worse he drove them down to the Adelaide Hills to his father’s place. His wife and children came along in the wagon (bullock-drawn I think) for there would soon be no water for beast of man either. The older children helped herd the precious cattle. Polly had strong recollections of the return journey. How her uncle who had come along to give a hand, lifted her on to the back of the wagon to ride up one of the long, long hills and how during one of the rest periods she left her doll where she and her sisters were playing and forgot about it until they were miles away.

A water scheme was built so that the settlers on the peninsular never completely ran out of water again.

Polly grew up to be a thoroughly capable young woman, pretty too, with dark brown eyes. Alex McNab came a-courtirg and the Haywards didn’t approve “they were not going to let Alex McNab have their Polly” They never asked Polly what she thought. She said to me that she was just too useful milking cows, making butter, baking bread and scrubbing the moleskin trousers that her brothers wore. Alex, by this time, was working at Broken Hill. He held a good position in the mines.

Polly Hayward Maryanne Hayward married Alexander McNab without the family blessing At Kadina, South Australia.

Polly Hayward
Maryanne Hayward married Alexander McNab without the family blessing At Kadina, South Australia.

Easter weekend there was a sports day at Kadina and the Haywards all went to it in a couple of carts. Alex McNab was there too. He and Polly slipped off together. Only they knew that he had a wedding ring and a marriage licence in his pocket. They went round to the Bible Christian Manse with Alex’s sister Jacobina and a mining friend and were married before these two witnesses. Alex had to return to Broken Hill on the evening train and Polly pulled on her gloves and went home, It wasn’t until bedtime that anyone noticed her ring. Mag saw it first and declaring that she wasn’t going to sleep with a married woman, went and told her mother. Of course there was a terrible fuss made but the family couldn’t undo a legal marriage even in view of the fact that Polly was not 21 she was only a couple of weeks short.

In three weeks, Alex came back to claim his bride and took her off to Broken Hill where he had rented a house. She didn’t go back to Cunliffe for 7 years after she had given birth to four children. The first, Andrew lived only a month. The next one was named Alexander. He died of enteritis at 9 months. Then came Roy and then Walter.

Gold had been discovered at Coolgardie at the rush was on. Alex got gold fever like so many more. By this time, the rift with the Haywards had healed so Polly and her two little boys came and stayed at Cunliffe and Alex sailed for W.A. to see what he thought of the prospects. Walter Hayward had suffered a stroke which took his sight so he never saw his grandchildren and could only feel them.

Alex had hardly got to the W.A. fields when a telegram reached him telling him that Polly was dangerously ill with the fever and for him to return at once. He did so but fortunately Polly had recovered by the time he got there. He had seen enough of Coolgardie, Kalgoorlie and Boulder to be favourably impressed so back he came and brought Polly and the little boys with him.. They rented a house in Claney Street Boulder.

Alex was a well-experienced miner and became an underground shift boss – apparently an important job. Polly gave birth to their first daughter Jessica while there. A few years later, gold was discovered at Donny- brook. At the same time, Thomson’s lease expired and the land was thrown open for selection. The Government” Lands Department was offering 1 x 160 acre block free to settlers on condition that they lived on it. More blocks were available on easy terms. Alex’s friend, J.J.Harvey had selected some land so Alex did too. Neither had seen it, it was just a number on a map. Living conditions were harsh at Boulder. Although the house was good, water was a problem and fever (typhoid) was prevalent. When Jessie was born, Polly was in bed with the new-born baby on one side of her and Walter half dead with typhoid on the other. After days of
this and Alex came home one night carrying a cradle – a rocking cradle for the new baby. We still have it.

December 1898 and Alex decided to quit Coolgardie and set themselves up on their block and get work at Donnybrook. Mr and Mrs Harvey and their two little boys were already on their selection. Alex had arranged for a “mill cottage” to be erected for them.

1899

They arrived at Donnybrook by train a little before Christmas. With them were all their worldly ypossessions and a horse and cart. People advised them to stay the night at the “Anchor and Hope” lnn, but they wrere anxious to be on their way. The road was well-defined as far as Thomsons – but after that the further they went, the more vague it became and the land was steeper than anything they had expected. Darkness overtook them and Polly feared they would have to camp the night in the bush. Alex began to coo-ee and to their great relief, after a while their call was answered and soon a light was seen. It was Mr Harvey with a lantern. They stayed with Harveys until their cottage was erected and then moved wound in. There were other neighbours too but the bush was thich everywhere and their slab huts and bark humpies were along the winding tracks that wound through the forest. By living on the place they had fulfilled the Lands Department conditions but Alex had conLracts at Kalgoorlie that were not completed so he had to go back and leave Polly on her own with the three children.

The bush was so thick that the only sky she could see was above the house. Walter was inclined to wander so she tied a long piece of rope securely to him and tethered him to a tree. Water she got from a small well that Alex had hastily dug close by the brook.

After a few months, Alex finished at Kalgoorlie and came back and soon got a position as Underground Shift Boss on “Hunter’s Venture” at Donny-Brook, but before he came home to settle he took part in a notable event. Joe Harvey speaks of it in his “History of Thomson’s Brook”. There had been a public holiday (Easter I think) and a train load of miners had come down to see their families in the Perth area. Then the railway men went on strike and refused to take the train back. It was loaded with fuel and water and ready to go when the men “went out”. John J.Harvey was a licensed boiler attendant so with great secrecy and yet spreading word quickly among their mining friends, Joe Harvey with Alex acting as stoker drove the train from Perth to Kalgoorlie and so got back to work and also broke the strike. They reckonned the police would be waiting for them at Kalgoorlie so they all abandonned the train a mile or two short of the station. Alex earned six pounds a week ($12) as shift boss and that was huge money for those days. He was able to employ men to do ring barking, sucker barking and grubbing which was the clearing technique used at that time.

A school “Thomson Brook” was opened with a neighbour’s wife Mrs Bradshaw as teacher.

Alick McNab 1900-1903 Tragically Burnt to death and buried on Glencoe

Alick McNab 1900-1903
Tragically Burnt to death and buried on Glencoe

The McNab family increased in number too. A little boy Alick and a girl Janet followed him. Polly was again pregnant when tragedy struck. Alex was at the mine, the three eldest children at school. Polly had a cow which was due to calve. It was a wet day in August and leaving Alick and Janet in the house she went to see if the cow was all right. She got back to the house to find that Alick had been putting paper in the fire and had got himself alight. He was terribly burned and died in his motherts arms a few hours later. Polly and Alex had the anguish of making a little coffin out of packing case boards, laying him in it and burying him up on the hills. The grave is marked with bulbs that flower in the spring time.

After about 6 years the mines closed down – many were the reasons given but there seems to have been some political moves at the back of it. Allan Frost’s “Green Gold” tells about it. Now the farming of “Glencoe” was the family’s sole support. Growing of oats to cut into chaff was a main source of income at that period. Horses were the only source of transport and of power. They pulled wagons and buggies and carts and were ridden. They pulled all farm machinery and snigged logs and many tasks besides and they had to be fed. So everyone had to grow some oats and cut chaff or else buy it.

"Glencoe" homestead (circ 1915) was built alongside the Thomsons Brook.  Alexander knew big timber meant good rainfall and good soil but the work needed to clear this land by ringbarking and burning without heavy machines was back breaking.

“Glencoe” homestead (circ 1915) was built alongside the Thomsons Brook. Alexander knew big timber meant good rainfall and good soil but the work needed to clear this land by ringbarking and burning without heavy machines was back breaking.

Roy and Walter were soon helping all they could. They each had to ring bark a certain number of trees each when they came home from school and soon they were helping cut chaff too turning the chaff cutter by hand while Alex fed in the sheaves. This was gruelling labour. Walter particularly hated it. He was always tired. No body realised that his heart had been affected by the typhoid fever, he was such a big strong-looking lad. He became the butt of criticism from his father who thought him Lazy.

By 1914 the family had increased to 9 and the little cottage was bursting at the seams. Another room detached from the rest of the house had been built fot the boys but they were still crowded. The children now were now Roy, Walter, Jessie, Janet, Jean, Bob (Robert Burns), Marianne, Margaret, and Phillip. There had been a little girl stillborn between Mwrgaret and Phill. Phill was born at Moonta in South Australia. Polly had been on a trip to visit her parents and taken 5 year old Margaret with her when the railways went on strike and stayed out for months and in the meantime, the expected baby arrived. He was the 13th child born on August 13th 1913. He always said that 13 was his lucky number.

But Alex was not well with constant back pain and lack of energy. The children had to help with chores and the everlasting cleaving and chaff cutting. Jessie and Jean each developed rheumatic fever which affected their hearts. In those days the main anxiety of the doctors was keeping the patients’ limbs moving. So they did not get the rest that is today considered so necessarv.

August 1914 saw Australia at war and Walter who had left home earlier, put his age up and enlisted. He had his 18th birthday on Gallipoli.

Alex and Roy decided to modernise and an engine was purchased to replace the horse works which had superseded the hand chaff cutter. The old “Grey” engine still goes. (My son Jim did it up a few years ago and now takes it to exhibitions. ) It was planned to saw up firewood and timber for buildings and numerous other tasks but chaff cutting and threshing were its chief uses.

Roy grew into a tall good-looking young man and a wonderful dancer. No wonder the girls all loved him!

Polly’s father, Walter Hayward had died and Sophia was unable to manage all the “Woman’s Work” of a big wheat farm. Phill Hayward had died and Ab had never married so Jessie McNab went to live at Cunliffe and look after her grandmother and all the household affairs there. In South Australia she met and married Hugh Stanley Mitchell rwho worked part-time for Uncle Ab. They continued with Uncle Ab for a number of years and eventually took up a farm in Balidu in W. A. . They were childless. In 1950 they sold Balidu farm and bought a small one at Bakers Hill. Jessie died while visiting Jean at Kadina and was buried at Moonta. While Jessie was housekeeping for her Uncle Ab, Jean and Later Marianne, went East to help her and each married farmers in the Kadina region. Jean became Mrs Clem Lamshed and Marianne, Mrs Alex Ross.

But I have jumped ahead in my story.

While the war was on, Alex’s health continued to decline. Then in 1919 at the age of 48, Polly discovered that she was again pregnant. At that age and with an ailing husband it was a dismaying prospect. Walter had been invalided home and was in a convalescent hospital when he met Jessie Hedland. Walter trained as a carpenter as his rehabilitation and he and Jessiemarried and made their home in Fremantle. Alex and Polly’s last child Ronald James was born in October 1919. He was a very unhappy baby no doubt reflecting his mother’s anxieties. Alex was ill, a kidney stone was diagnosed and he was operated on in Perth. This relieved the pain but Bright’s disease set in so that he was really no better. Janet who had kept house for Mrs Bradshaw and later helped her Aunt Jessie Smith (Alex’s sister) run her boarding house, was being courted by Jesse Trigwell. She married him despite the considerable difference in their ages. They had only one child who became Mrs Eddie Clapp of Elgin. A few days before Christmas 1922, Alex McNab died in Bunbury Hospital at age 60. He is buried in Donnybrook Cemetery.

Alex and Polly MacNab & Family 1919

Alex and Polly MacNab & Family 1919

Polly now had to organise to run the farm. There was no assistance for widows in those days. She had Jean 18, Bob just 17 and Marianne, Maggie, Phill and Ron under 16. The government demanded four hundred pounds in probate. It was fortunate that Alex had taken out a life assurance policy a few years before, otherwide they could have been forced to sell part of the property to pay it. Roy who had been away working at a saw mill came home to help run the place.

The wheat belt around Kulin was being opened up and lots of young men were taking up land in that region. “Glencoe” had been left to Polly for life and then to be offered at a valuation to each child in turn starting from the eldest. This meant that whoever stayed and worked the farm and developed it morer would eventually have to pay for their own labour.

Roy felt that his prospects at “Glencoe” were poor and land was cheap in the wheat belt, so after being at home for about 2 years, he went to Wick- epin where several of his friends had gone.

The full weight of the farm now fell on Bob’s shoulders. He was about 19. His mother helped by milking cows and sending cream to the butter factory. They sold fruit and eggs and sheep skins and the wool (about 4 bales) and Polly mended and darned to make the clothes spin out. She had always been a great worker. When her children were tiny she made three garments every week and did the mending but she was somewhat conservative and disinclined to spend money where Bob felt it was needed and there were points of friction.

Jean and Marianne went to South Australia where they married. Phill and Maggie worked at home patt time and out for wages when work was available. Ron was not doing at all well at school but his mother could not face up to the fact that he was a slow learner. When he was 12 he went to Sea-forth Special School for 2 years and there he learned to read and to write. Phill got work in Bunnings mill and stayed with Bunnings all his life. He is mentioned in Flora Bunning’s book “The Timber People”. He married Ellen Lyon and they had 2 daughters Sandra and Mavis.

Bob felt that his position at “Glencoe” was not satisfactory nor sufficiently secure. Everything being in his motherrs name. After much discussion and worrying and seeking legal advice and corresponding with his older brothers and sisters, they all agreed to sell their interest in the estate to Bob for one hundred pounds each, which was a pretty useful bit of money at that time. Then he would lease the farm off his mother for her lifetime. Phill was not bought out until some years later and Ron got his share at his motherts death. Bob borrowed money to buy out his sisters and brothers. Maggie married Maurice Brennan of Balingup in 1932. They had two children, Phillip and Jean.

Roy had established himself in the wheat belt. He owned a property at Wickepin and leased one at Kulin. He did a lot of contract dam sinking. The Wickepin property was always a worry to Roy in the summer time because the railway ran through it and there was always a risk of fire from the sparks, He leased it to a neighbour and concentrated on his leasehold. In 1937-38, Roy announced that he was getting married to Jessie George of Wickepin. They had a large family 3 sons and 6 daughters. Their names were Jean, Fay, Marion, Victor, Aleck, Robert, Heather, Elizabeth and Janet. Aboutl the time Victor was born, Roy was having a lot of trouble with his back. All the dam sinking and general heavy “yakka”‘ even before that had taken their toll, so Roy gave up farming and joined the Shire staff. They all moved in to Wickepin and there they stayed till Roy’s death, in 1958. He had given his tenant who leased the farm, the first option to buy it at the sum it was valued at when the, lease commenced. As land was beginning to boom, the tenant exercised his option and took over the property at a give away price.

Robert Burns and Margaret McNab Married 1947

Robert Burns and Margaret McNab Married 1947

In 1947, Bob married me (Margaret Dallow of Thomsons Brook). The fo1lowing year our first son was born. I named him Alec Charles after his grandfather and my grandfather. Polly was living in Donnybrook by now and Bob and Ron had bached for 10 years when Bob and I wed. Polly was worried that I would turn Ron out but I gave her my word that I would always do the best I could for him. He lived with Bob and me for 24 years before we got him a place at Gelorup Slow Learning Children’s Hostel where he still resides. Bob’s and my children are Alec, Robert Burns (named after his Father) JessieAnne and James Dallow.

Mary Anne (Polly) McNab died in 1949 and buried in Donnybrook. Our sons Alec and Jim have taken over “Glencoe” now and Bob and I are old I am 70 and Bob 83. The story of the McNabs and of “Glencoe” is an on-going one but I have tried to tell briefly of what I have heard of the past. We are a scattered crowd and not good at corresponding. There are many anecdotes which I have not set down but from what I have written, the reader will learn a littIe of our family’s beginnings.

Margaret McNab

Glencoe 1989

Robert Burns & Margaret McNab 1975 Robert Burns & Margaret McNab, Donnybrook Railway Station

Robert Burns & Margaret McNab 1975
Robert Burns & Margaret McNab, Donnybrook Railway Station

Jim MacNab's Wedding

Jim MacNab’s Wedding

Jim & Shelly McNab & Family 2000

Jim & Shelly McNab & Family 2000

Scott River Wool Clip

Scott River Wool Clip

This amazing family story was kindly sent to us by Jim MacNab – a way of passing on his Mother’s legacy, and what a legacy!