From Lanarkshire, Scotland to the Swan River, 1831 – Chapter One

A piece of history: The Scott and McGregor families arrived in Western Australia aboard the sailing ship "Eliza" under Captain James Weddell on March 5, 1831. Drawing by Mary McGregor-Craigie.

A piece of history: The Scott and McGregor families arrived in Western Australia aboard the sailing ship "Eliza" under Captain James Weddell on March 5, 1831. Drawing by Mary McGregor-Craigie.

As a fourth generation Australian born, I have often wondered what led my ancestors John and Helen Scott to leave their homeland of Scotland and with three young sons take a step into the unknown 181 years ago.  

One thing I have learned in my search for information is that people who leave us no legacy of written word nor rhyme will surely be forgotten with the passing of time.  

We are fortunate to have some letters and official records as well as firsthand accounts gleaned from writings of the day, to throw some light on the Scott family’s pioneering experiences.

It was Captain James Stirling of the Royal Navy (1791-1865) who first lobbied British Authorities in 1827 to establish a colonial settlement on the Swan River.   

Sailing ships from other nations had skirted West Australia’s shores previously.

Stirling had joined the British Navy at the early age of 12 as an unpaid volunteer.   

In his youth he had seen action against the French and Spanish fleets. 

In 1811, he was Flag Lieutenant to his uncle Rear Admiral Charles Stirling then in command in Jamaica. 

In Feb 1812, at the age of 21, he received his first command, the sloop “Moselle”.   

After his employment during the American War of 1812-1815 with a larger ship the “Brazen” near the Mississippi he was engaged at Hudson Bay, the North Sea, The Gulf of Mexico and The West Indies.

His naval career saw a lengthy interruption after the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815. 

During this time he returned to travel in Europe and moved to London where he cultivated his contacts of wealthy and influential people who had extensive interests in the East Indies, and subsequently married the daughter of the director of the East India company in 1823.

After eight years on shore Stirling was given the command of the newly launched ship the “Success”, a well rigged timber sailing ship with 28 guns. 

His appointment came as a result of the politicians of Westminster and the administrators of New South Wales becoming aware of the possibility of the French colonising the Pacific region. 

Some garrisons had already been setup to ward off the French.

Stirling saw the vulnerability of our western shores and convinced the New South Wales Governor Sir Ralph Darling to allow him to find another site for a garrison on the west coast and a suitable place for a settlement to open trade with the East Indies. 

Stirling’s visit of two weeks to the WA coast in 1827 convinced him and the accompanying botanist from NSW Charles Frazer, that immediate acquisition and his establishment of a new colony should be pursued.

However, administrators in London did not share his enthusiasm due to the expenditure required.

Stirling completed his assignment in the “Success” before joining the American East India Squadron which was protecting American interests in the Far East.  

A health problem caused Stirling to be invalided home on half pay. 

During that time in London, he pressed for a new settlement in WA and attracted the interest of investors to join him in badgering the Colonial Office to take action.

In 1828, a change in the British Government saw a decision to establish a colony under its direct control with Stirling appointed as administrator. 

On the 2nd of May 1829 Captain CH Fremantle of HMS “Challenger” took possession at the mouth of the Swan River of the remainder of Australia which was not then included within the boundaries of NSW.

Stirling arrived six weeks later with his family in the store ship ”Parmelia” and proclaimed the foundation of the colony on June 18.  

Their only security was the detachment of the 63rd Regiment on board the HMS “Sulphur,” and their survival in the lonely outpost was dependant on the settlers’ own ingenuity and the administrative capacity of Captain Stirling to surmount all difficulties.

Stirling’s origins in Drumpellier Lanarkshire were not far distant from John and Helen Scott’s farm at Hamilton.  

It is unclear as to whether John Scott had been personally invited to migrate to Western Australia to take up the appointment of caring for Stirling’s blood stock enterprise and vast land grants in the South West, or if Scott saw an opportunity in the new world for his family, tempted by the publicity surrounding a Parliamentary Bill which offered land in the proposed settlement according to the amount of capital and money spent on fares and equipment.  

Priority would be given only to those who arrived at the Swan River before the end of 1830.

What we do know is that after a late departure from Gravesend in August 1830 and a less than perfect voyage interrupted by a six week delay at Cape Town, they would not have made it to the Swan River in time to qualify for the offer of land if that had been Scott’s intention.

John Scott was a yeoman farmer in the district of Hamilton with ancient ties to Scottish nobility.    

Apparently, John Scott could claim descent from James the eldest illegitimate son of Charles the 2nd King of Scotland England and Ireland (1630 -1685).

James was created Duke of Monmouth and 1st Duke of Buccleuch.

Sir Walter Scott inventor of the historical novel and widely acclaimed contributor to English and Scottish classical literature during the early part of the nineteenth century was just one of the outstanding members of the clan.   

Sir Walter Scott’s writings also influenced European musicians. 

We can lay some claim to several of Franz Schubert’s songs including “Ave Maria” taken from “The Lady of the Lake” character in Scott’s poem, probably the most enduring song of the western world to date.

Contact or visit the Bunbury’s First Settlers Descendants Group Facebook page for more information. 

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