Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Malcolm’s Life of Adventure

I am a keen traveller.  One of my ambitions is to visit 50 countries by the time I am 50.  I am up to country 42.  Being an Aussie, I have numerous ancestors who travelled vast distances so am spoilt for choice by the prompt “Travel”, so I have decided to write about an ancestor who lived in at least 3 countries (like me).


Malcolm Macdonald* was born in North Carolina, USA, around 1806.  His death certificate gives his place of birth as Williamsburg and there is a tiny place (still) of that name in Rockingham County, North Carolina, although I can’t find any trace of Macdonald’s living in that area  in the early 1800's.


I don’t know anything about Malcolm’s childhood in North Carolina or how long he lived there.  By the early 1820’s, Malcolm and his family had moved (or returned) to Scotland.  Family legend says that there was a connection to the famous Flora Macdonald, who did spend some time in North Carolina, but I have no evidence to support the claim.

Malcolm’s father was Angus Macdonald, a flour miller, and his mother may have been Janet McLean.  Janet was the mother of his sister Mary who was born about 1825 in Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland.  Malcolm also had siblings Angus, Marion and possibly Neil, born about 1822 in Greenock.  Angus, a sailor, Marion and Mary all feature in family correspondence that I have copies of. 
Janet McLean died in 1854 just months before Scotland introduced civil registration with certificates containing lots of family information.

On 25 February 1826, Malcolm married Agnes Donaldson in Greenock.  They had five children: Malcolm (my ancestor), Agnes Kay, Angus (1831-1831), Angus (1833-1837, died of whooping cough) and  Annabella.  Sadly, only Malcolm and Agnes survived childhood.  Agnes Donaldson died not long after Annabella was born, leaving Malcolm a widower with two young children.

On 4 October 1836, Malcolm married Rachel Macdonald in Kilmuir, Inverness.  Malcolm and Rachel had eight children, six born is Scotland (Annabella, Flora, Mary, Roderick, Rachel and Marion) and the last two (Charles David and Margaret) born in Liverpool, England.  Roderick died young but the others all survived to adulthood and feature in the family correspondence.

England (and France?)

From at least 1835, Malcolm worked as a clerk for shipping companies, so his move from Glasgow to Scotland is not surprising.  From letters, it looks like his work took him to Le Harve in France and maybe other places.  I have not been able to find Malcolm in the 1851 census (for either Scotland or England), so I wonder if he was out of the country at the time.  He wasn’t in Liverpool with his wife and children.  At the time of the 1861 census, Malcolm was living with his family in Liverpool and the census record says that he was a naturalised British Citizen born in North Carolina.  At the time, it seems that marrying a Brit was enough to gain citizenship and he had married two.

At some point in the 1860’s it seems likely that Malcolm and Rachel’s marriage broke down.  Whatever happened, one of his daughter’s had not forgiven him by the time he died. Of Malcolm Macdonald’s thirteen children, Malcolm jnr is the only one I know married; Charles and two of the daughters I am not sure about yet. I wonder if their parent’s marriage failure put the daughters off marriage.


Before December 1873, Malcolm moved to Melbourne, Victoria (now Australia), leaving his wife and daughters behind in Liverpool.  Both sons, Malcolm and Charles, were living in Victoria by this time, one in Ballarat and the other in Hotham.  In Melbourne, Malcolm snr worked as a collector for Messers Campbell and McCullock and lived in lodgings at 145 William Street.

In the winter of 1877, Malcolm contracted pneumonia following a fall where he injured his chest.  He took to his bed and treated it with port and whiskey.  I know from his inquest report that this remedy failed.

Following Malcolm’s death, his son Charles was eager to split the inheritance, of £121, between himself and Malcolm jnr.  However, Malcolm jnr, somewhat surprisingly, given his reputed poor character, waited waiting a reasonable time (several months) for return mail from Liverpool whereby the sisters could claim their share.

So Malcolm was born in the USA, married in Scotland, lived in England, probably visited France, and died in Australia; definitely an intrepid traveller at a time when all that travelling had to be done by long sea voyages.

*This is the spelling that my modern Macdonald relatives use, however every version you could think of occurs in the records.

Notes on lineage: Me > Mum > John Macdonald Charley > Constance Mary Macdonald > James Gordon Macdonald > Malcolm Macdonald > Malcolm Macdonald

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