Milne Family of Aberdeenshire, Scotland


Tracing the migration of the Milnes in the mid-19th C, from the Mains of Drum, near Aberdeen, to Sydney, New South Wales, and beyond.


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The Milne Family

The Milne family comes from Aberdeenshire, where they have been settled since at least the middle ages. The name is recorded in Aberdeenshire in 1380 and means 'at or near a corn-mill'. (Read a short discussion of the origin of the name.) The Milne's are a family of the Gordon Clan. The Gordon Highlanders Museum is in Aberdeen. The Milnes come from a long line of master masons and engineers and it's this later trait that resurfaces in the Australian arm of the family, as we shall see. McGibbon and Ross, "Domestic and Castellected Architecture of Scotland" aver that during eleven generations the Milne family may be said to have established architecture as a Profession in Scotland and raised it to, and maintained it in, a position of dignity and importance. There is evidence of this today in the many well-maintained Castles and in the major cities, imposing stone buildings.

The Gordon Highlanders Museum, Aberdeen

We commence our story with Robert Milne (1751-1795) in the region just to the west of the present city bounds of Aberdeen, among the rolling hills of the northern side of the Dee River valley. The Mains of Drum is an area now devoted to grain and livestock production, much as it would have been in eons past. A few small forrested areas still remain and offer shady relief for the many recreational walkers enjoying the picturesque footpaths and country lanes of the district. With panoramic views of the River Dee, it makes for a pleasant and rewarding outing.

Belskavie Tower as it is now.

Robert was born in North Belskavie in the Parish of Drum (Spelt Balskevie on some maps of the day). Little remains to mark the village but the Belskavie Farm (below) and the ruins of Belskavie Tower (above). The next 2 generations lived locally, in and around Drumoak and Coalford of Drum, until James (1825-1907) and brother Robert (1840-1909) migrated to Australia in 1857. This was just 80 years after the colony was founded so it was a brave venture indeed. Together they founded Milne Bros., Coppersmiths and Brass Founders, of Sussex St., Sydney. But more of that later. James lived in Balmain, an inner suburb of Sydney and Robert later moved to Cambewarra near Nowra on the south coast of NSW, Australia. Map showing some of the places mentioned in the narrative.

Present-day Belskavie Farm


River Dee, looking towards Coalford House




The engineering business was very successful and James' family were well respected in the city. First son James was instrumental (with Sir Kelso King) in founding the Merchantile Mutual Insurance Company (Sydney). Second son Alexander was one time mayor of Balmain. Third son William joined the engineering business. James, Robert, Alexander and William held a patent for a wire fastener for, amongst other uses, attaching a wire support to electrical insulators.

Subsequent generations remained in Australia, mainly in and around Sydney, but also settling in other states of the Commonwealth.

The family has a burial vault at the Waverley Cemetery in suburban Sydney.

The Parish of Drumoak

The Deeside Way, leads to Coalford. It is a 'Roman-straight' footpath used for farm access and recreational walks. The present-day area is a popular destination for tourists with several walking tracks amongst wooded uplands. Drumoak (Scottish Gaelic: Druim M'Aodhaig, the ridge of St Aodhag) is a village situated between Peterculter and Banchory in North Deeside, Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

Drumoak is proximate to the River Dee, with Park Bridge, named for the local Park Estate, being a local crossing; Park Estate, was formerly owned by the railway engineer Sir Robert Williams who is interred at Drumoak. There is a church, small shop, bowling green and the Irvine Arms restaurant (aptly named after the family that owned the 13th century Drum Castle).

Drum Castle, 2006

Drum Castle is run by the National Trust for Scotland and formerly the home of the Irvine family, when it was conferred by Robert the Bruce to William de Irvine in 1325. There are a number of housing developments progressing in the area; a small primary school with about 100 pupils serves Drumoak. The Dee River gravels also attract gravel extraction on both sides of the river.

Old Aberdeenshire-1654

Drumoak Manse in 1638 was the birthplace of James Gregory, discoverer of diffraction gratings a year after Newton's prism experiments, and inventor of the Gregorian telescope design in 1663. The design is still used today in telescopes such as the Arecibo Radio Telescope which was upgraded to a Gregorian design in 1997 giving Arecibo a flexibility it had not previously possessed. James' older brother David was also born there in 1620.

Between Drumoak and Peterculter is the site of a Roman encampment Normandykes a Roman marching camp about 1.5 km to the southwest of Peterculter. The near-rectangular site, measuring approximately 860 by 510 metres, covers about 43 ha of the summit and eastern slopes of a hill overlooking the River Dee and the B9077 road further south. Aerial photographs for Normandykes have been archived between 1947 and 1976.

The present site of Normandykes

The camp is about 10 km, or less than half a day's march, north of the Raedykes camp. It is possible that the actual route taken would have entailed one day's march, over a route likely chosen to avoid the Red Moss, a virtually uncrossable bog near the present day village of Netherley. Normandykes was first excavated in the year 1935 by Richmond and MacIntyre; construction is thought to date to the Antonine or Severan periods.


Descendancy Chart for Robert MILNE (1751-1795) (pdf, 9p)

The following link opens a page listing all known descendants of Robert MILNE and links to specific individuals.

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Updated: 29-Apr-2017