The Ian McFadyen Site

A History of the McFadyens in Victoria.

by Bert Whinfield

written in 1966

They say that a Mull man is worse than the devil, but it is not a saying to be taken seriously. It comes from less well-endowed islands, upstart little islands with only a couple of songs and a legend or two to their names. Mull ignores them. Mull can afford to ignore them.

For there is no comparable area in Great Britain which combines so much scenery with so many tales of magic and violence. Battlefields are everywhere. The scenery of Mull is varied and beautiful, but its real excellence lies in this marrying of legend and reality. Every corner of Mull has its story. You cannot walk a mile without thinking "That is where so-and-so happened" and, as the old tales take root in your mind, you find they have given Mull a quality possessed by no other part of Scotland.

The castles, mostly in ruins, but not all, remain evidence of the fluctuating power of the different clans; these being their forts and of course their headquarters.

The ruins of the Lochbuie castle, which has not been lived for 160 years or more, lie in a very pretty setting at the top of the Loch of that name. The Macleans took possession of this castle from the McFadyens by strategy, otherwise unfair means. What was considered fair means in those days would be hard to define. One report is that they took advantage of their absence. But what their mission away was we are left to guess. Maybe settling another score.

In a cemetery adjacent to Lochbuie castle are several McFadyen names. One noted was the family name Archibald. Some dates went back to 1792. In a small stone building in the cemetery grounds are some marble memorials of the Macleans, all falling into disrepair. The roof with its coloured glass stars is falling in.

Some of the earlier clan wars were for the honoured post Lord of the Isles. The castle for that - Aros castle – is near Salen. In ruins, of course, as it one of the oldest, built back in the eleven hundreds..

Duart castle, the stronghold of the Macleans, is described as being the grimmest, most uncompromising castle in Scotland. The view from its battlements is unforgettable. Of course it has a story. Like many old families, their possessions fell from them, and Duart became a ruin till one Fitzroy Donald Maclean, on visiting the place of his forefathers, decided to rebuild and modernise it. This he did and lived to be 101 when he died in 1937.

There seemed to be disputes continually cropping up between the clans. Maybe they were so far from any resource of law that was no alternative but to settle it themselves, the strongest clan always winning. A common practice, I understand, was to join forces with a stronger clan, which practice is done even today among nations.

There is ferry run from Mull to Ulva Isle, famous for its legend of Lord Ullin’s daughter, who came to grief in that dark and story water, where the ferryman sailed his boat under with the lovers aboard. ‘Tis said an old man still lays flowers on her grave. Is it legend or reality? Who can tell, in that country?

Another page in Mull’s history concerns a period after the loss of Britain of the American War of Independence. It was a great blow to their prestige, so the English colonisers looked around for new outlets. A survey of the Highlands, and no doubt some pressure from the folk there, or perhaps some recognition for service rendered in the American War.

Good prospects were indicated in the fishing industry. Fishing had always been a supplementary income to the farming on Mull. So in 1788, the British Fisheries Society was founded. Now fishing ports were established at Tobermory, Oban and Ullapol. The whole venture turned out a failure, partly through mismanagement and partly owing to the fact that the herring, after running to a fixed schedule for centuries, suddenly changed course. But at a later period the society picked up on salmon.

In an age when a living was so hard to make and the Highlands were looked upon as useless and ugly and over crowded, these were expensive and serious failures.

Now where does all this background history concern us? We have seen the environment in which our forbears lived, the adversities they were faced with, the initiative there were so often called to face up to. All these influences are what moulded them into the proud, independent high-spirited, honourable people they were – truly a wonderful heritage.

The Isle of Mull today is a tourist’s paradise. Maybe its history is part of the attraction, or maybe a tourist can appreciate the beauty of it all, where the original inhabitants, ground down as they were, working out a living, could understandably find it hard to lift their eyes up to the hills. Wealthy people have gained proprietary rights to some of the off-shore islands, breeding up deer and other animals solely for shooting. So visitors are not welcome.

The present owner of Lochbuie, a shipping man from London, has built a modern home near the ruins of the old castle and comes there occasionally on shooting trips. A McFadyen met up with on the island said the present occupant is selling some of the land, and said he: "It’s no his ter sell." It may be difficult for any solicitor to work out the title on any of that land of shoot and grab.

The Queen Mother had ideas of buying Lochbuie with its present home, when she bought the castle in the north of Scotland. Gaelic was the language spoken by most on Mull and even to this day the Church service at Tobermory is conducted in Gaelic on each alternate Sunday – no doubt to keep up the old tradition.

The McKinnons were the most numerous and most prosperous clan in the Isle. A tragic incident is related where one McKinnon, holding the proprietary rights to a small island named Rum, in transporting two boatloads of cattle across to a the Mull Fair was blown up in a storm. One boat with its load, and McKinnon on board, went down. Mrs McKinnon reached Mull safely but never again left Mull.

A grandson (William) who visited her with his mother in 1851 when she was 93 found her out trout fishing, and described her as tall, erect, and very dignified, with a touch of pride. A remarkable woman. She had two daughters; one married a McCalman, and the other one, Mary, married David McFadyen, a schoolmaster of Tinmore on 8th June 1825. David McFadyen’s father was Neil McFadyen, who married Peggy Law on July 20th 1792. Her father was David Law, a tanner of Glasgow. The wedding was conducted by the Rev. James Peddie at St. Andrew’s Kirk, Parish of Edinborough.

David and Mary McFadyen reared seven children, six sons and one daughter. David is remembered as being a great scholar, well versed in Latin and Greek, also theology. A letter to him, still in existence, dated December 20th 1870, from an old friend in Glasgow, gives an enthusiastic report of the latest archaeological discoveries, tending to illustrate the authenticity of holy scriptures, and recorded in semitic characters. What a profound knowledge he must have had. In these days he undoubtedly would have been a Professor.

With six braw sons whose ages ranged from 17 years up to 26, a schoolmaster had to look around for something for the boys. The McKinnons, his wife’s people, had been out in Australia a few years and no doubt reported its possibilities. The stories of the goldfields doubtless had drifted back to these people. The mother must have died about this time, for the son William reported his mother being with him he visited his grandmother in 1851. He also reports that the family arrived at Portland on the 11th of October, 1852 on the Barque "Dominion" of London. She was not with them.

On the same ship was a migrant called Catherine McKay, who had come from Dumbarton, Scotland. She appears to have been travelling alone, but there is good reason for believing she had been put under the care of David McFadyen. Evidently one of the sons relieved his father of this responsibility, for David the son later married her. As she had a fear of marrying a convict, this no doubt helped young David’s prospects.

The trip out took 4 months. On arrival at Portland, the family was met by one of the family connections, a McKinnon, who tried to induce them to go on the land, even offering them a station and stock. Labour on the stations at that time was really a problem on account of the goldfield’s attractions. But the McFadyens declined the offer – they came out here for gold and gold they were going to have.

Alas! If they could have only foreseen the future. Gold had only been discovered in Ballarat the year before. So they headed off to the gold diggings and appeared to have stuck it out for a few years, but without success. They were there at the time of the Eureka Stockade – 1854 – as spectators only we are told.

Catherine McKay in the meantime was employed as a governess to the children of Francis Henty on Muntham Station near Coleraine. On 14th September 1855, David McFadyen and Catherine McKay were married in the rites of the Wesleyan Church in the Ballarat District. Catherine was 26 years of age. Her father’s name was David (a clerk) and her mother’s maiden name was Lily Davies. Catherine was a gentle lady, and was most emphatic that the conditions that existed on the goldfields were no place to rear a family so they settled on some land at Clunes.

It would appear that, from then on, the various members of the family went their different ways. Archibald taught school near Clunes where he remained for 25 years, then with his daughter Mary he moved Camberwell, Melbourne. He had two sons – Farquar Law, and George. George was a very promising student, and while at Ormond College he took a trip to Germany, where he died. His studies were leading towards the Ministry.

William married Janet McCalman on 17th May 1859. They had no family. He tried many ventures, opening up stores first at Horsham, then Natimuk, Yapeet, Mitre Lake and Cowanning in West Australia, and even went on the land at Kenmare, Victoria. All his ventures were sound, but he seemed to have a penchant for opening up new businesses; however the reward came to man who followed him. He died at Natimuk in October 1918, where he had been for only a few weeks, after living with his sister Mrs Fraser at Glengower Clunes for about three years after the death of his wife.

Gillespie later lived in Sydney. He had a family of four – James, David, Horace and Isobel. Ebenezer married Isabella Samson, and appears to have gone New Zealand way. Their family comprised Duncan, Robert, David and Jessie. Jessie married Andrew Larcom who had five of a family – Thelma, Isabel, Marjory, David and Florence.

Neil the eldest of the family had five boys and two girls named David, William, Ebenezer, Neil, Jean, Gillespie and Mary. The only record of the branch of the family is from the son Neil, who had at least three sons in West Australia. Douglas, at this date, 1966, was the youngest and is the sole survivor. George’s widow lives with his daughter, Mrs Newton at Kalamunda W.A. The family of a third son returned to Victoria from W.A. and now lives at Woorinen, Victoria.

But the largest branch of the family tree goes to the only daughter Margaret, who married Donald Fraser. They had six sons and six daughters; Donald, Mary, May, David, Duncan, Charlie, Ebenezer, Lily, Catherine, Janet, Margaret and Alexander. They and their sub-branches appear to be very widely scattered, quite a few in West Australia, many in Victoria, and many more in New South Wales.

The father appears to have lived with David and Catherine on their farm at Clunes. They remained there for about thirteen years and reared a family of eight. It is a very cold part of the country, and David was so crippled with rheumatics that they decided to move north to a warmer climate. Land was being made available for settlement in many parts of northern Victoria so, after a tour of inspection, they finally selected land at Torrumbarry on the Murray. The father went with them.

Transportation was quite a problem, as their only vehicles were a dray and a light spring cart, and there was also a riding horse. So with all their worldly possessions and eleven people, they set off overland. Some walked the whole way. Margaret was only a few months old. The journey took ten days, and not a fence was encountered the whole way.

When they got to their journey’s end they found Torrumbarry Station controlling all their sheep with shepherds. That year over one hundred thousand sheep were shorn with the blades. Torrumbarry woolshed being the first built in North Victoria. The station was very unfriendly to the settlers, even refusing to sell them meat. Fortunately, fish was plentiful in the Murray, most cod, also crayfish.

The wood requirements for the river steamers was a handy source of income during the early struggling period. At least wood and water were plentiful. David, the younger, was a very handy man with tools, A contrivance he built, a sort of flying fox, for raising water up from the water to his portable drum on the bank, in a bucket on a wire, was something that always fascinated later generations.

The old homestead on the bank of the river was always popular for the grandchildren in later years, and those passing steamers very fascinating. The home was a big one, as it needed to be, for the family of eight, plus adults. The living part was surrounded with a very wide verandah, real colonial style architecture. The large, partly detached kitchen cum dining room was without ceiling. Those bare rafters seem to be very useful to hang the bacon from; those home-cured pigs probably got their smoking there, too.

A detached two-room building, some distance down in a quiet spot in the garden, was most probably occupied by David Senior. One room of it was lined from floor to ceiling with shelves of his books. Many years after his demise in 1889, the books were still there. Those old books, most in Chaucer’s English, were a curiosity to inquisitive children. A few of them still survive amongst odd descendants who value them, mainly, I think, as curiosities.

A amusing story is told of the old chap when gripped on the hand by a big crayfish. Said he "If you don’t let go, I’ll break your little arm." Cool, eh! No doubt there were many adventures and exciting times, as well as the hard work, for the young people. One exciting incident that has lived with history was the Australian bare fist championship fight between Abe Hicken and Larry Foley. To dodge the Victorian Police who had come out of Echuca, the contestants and supporters crossed over into New South Wales, bare fist fighting being illegal.

The ferrying across the river was a great source of revenue to the McFadyen boys, and I would guess it assured them of a ringside seat. This was probably the last professional bare fist fight ever. After the fight, they brought the gory fighters to the McFadyen home to get warm water to bathe them, for which they paid handsomely. As the hour was early, Grandad was still in bed. One of the battered fighters said: "Sorry to disturb you Grandad" to which he replied: "I wouldn’t be Grandad to a thing like you." What disrespect to a man who was probably the champion bare fist fighter of the world, of Australia anyway. He was evidently no sport hero-worshipper.

David the father was a well read man, and seemed to be forever reading and acquiring knowledge. This faculty he of course inherited from his father and many members of later generations have inherited it.

So little seems to be known about his wife Catherine. She was of shortish stature, a woman of spirit with plenty of drive, but withal a gentle person and always a lady.

As the family grew up and I suppose aspired to marriage, they started to move out. Duncan went to West Australia and married over there, his family being David and Catherine. He was later killed in a mine.

David married Miss McGowan, Jack and Jessie were their family. After his wife’s death he married Agnes Oliver. The family from their marriage was Walter (killed at the war), Margaret, Jean, Duncan, Nessie and Lily. David selected land a Boweya, but never in later years moved outside Victoria.

Neil married Abigel Roberts, their family was William and Louise. He also selected land at Boweya near St. James. In 1905 he sold out, and took up land at Wyalong in New South Wales, where he farmed until he retired to Sydney and lived with his daughter Louise.

James married Polly Muller; they had four boys and six girls – George, James, Catherine, David, Harold, Mary, Lily, Millie, Clara and Anne. Polly Muller’s father, Jacob Muller, was the first farmer settler to settle west of Echuca, taking up part of Wharparilla Station. James selected land at Boweya. Then in 1898 he sold out there and moved up to Wyalong, where he selected land and farmed for the rest of his life. His family are nearly all married and living around in that area.

Lily married Stephen Whinfield, and it is reported that the festivities lasted a week. They lived on the Loddon and reared a family of five boys and four girls – Ruby, Horace and Bert (twins), Neil, Jack, James, Madge, Bessie and Catherine (Kit).

William married Louise Roberts. He was in West Australia for some time, working at Norseman, with an organisation that worked with camels, transporting goods from Esperance to the Coolgardie goldfields. He later returned to Victoria where they lived for the rest of their lives. The family was Archibald and Richard.

Margaret married Robert Whinfield and lived on their farm at Bamawm until his death. Their family was Robert Archibald (Archie) and Catherine (Kit). A humorous story is told of Robert in his courting days. Speeding along on a push bike but was too close to the river when he headed down into a washaway, his call for help was heard and he was rescued. A great gift, a loud voice.

Gillespie (more commonly known as Dep) married Jessie Leitch. The Leitches lived over the river in New South Wales on a property that they named "Beuara" which was originally part of Perricoota Station. To do his courting Dep had to keep a horse stabled in an old burnt out tree on the New South Wales side. The McFadyens seemed to have a lot of social contacts on that side of the river.

The family from this marriage is Archibald (Archie) Doris (Doll), Nancy, Catherine (Katie) and Hector. Dep farmed in the district of Torrumbarry till his death which was shortly after he and his wife and family retired to Echuca.

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