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

 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.

Almost 200 years have now passed since the marriage between John Scott and Helen (nee Forrest) McGregor. 

They were married on January 26, 1821 in the Church of Scotland in the parish of Lesmahagow. 

Helen’s parents, Doctor Mungo Forrest and Marion Anderson Forrest, were in attendance. 

Helen had a son by a previous marriage, Daniel McGregor, whose father, Alexander McGregor, had died when Daniel was quite young.

Ten years later, on March 5, 1831, John and Helen Scott arrived at the Swan River Colony from Scotland with three young sons after enduring a life-changing journey of more than six months. 

Their adventure included more than a glimpse of the African continent along the way.  

After a two-month crossing of the Indian Ocean, they eventually reached their destination at this unknown corner of the earth with hopeful hearts.  

Their arrival here commenced a different kind of journey that we as their descendants continue in Australia and beyond today.

It has been widely believed throughout the family that Captain James Stirling had instigated the family’s migration. 

Their origins in Scotland were geographically close in Lanarkshire and it is likely that Stirling saw the successful yeoman farmers as good candidates to populate the colonial settlement and farm livestock.

The population of settlers at the Swan River colony under the Governorship of Stirling would have been around 1000 by the year of the Scott’s arrival in March 1831.

If they had primitive living conditions upon arrival, at least the autumn season would have favoured their establishment. 

In time, they were able to take up residence in a house on Lot 17.  

John Scott later was granted both blocks Lot 17 and Lot 27 as were other settlers who performed location duties to the satisfaction of the Governor. 

The Swan River settlement was dependent upon the skills of the optimistic pioneers.  

John Scott is known to have been able to do survey contract work on occasions which may have eased the burden on the Surveyor General and staff.  

The Scott family’s strong work ethic coupled with self-sufficiency skills would have proved their ability as primary producers who were able to grow their own food and livestock.  

John Scott had an agreement with Stirling to care for the Governor’s valuable brood mares which he did free of charge.  

Daniel became experienced with building and animal husbandry while the younger brothers, to use a meaningful family expression, would have had to ‘pull their weight’.

During their time at Guildford another son was born, William in 1833.

After a few years, it became obvious that Stirling’s dream colony was not living up to his expectations. 

The British Government was less-than-generous with financial support, and Stirling was virtually on his own as ruler and administrator. 

It was after all, the result of Stirling’s foresight and insistence that the colony was developed initially as a possession of the British Empire to keep other nations at bay.

The main failings of the location were the lack of fertile soils in close proximity to the picturesque settlement, unnavigability of the Swan River for shipping, and the exposed anchorage at the mouth. 

Therefore, Albany on the south coast with its beautiful harbour which had been claimed earlier, in December 1826 mainly as a garrison with convicts, served as the colony’s chief port for the first seventy years.

Stirling was just as much an investor in land as he was an administrator. 

In an attempt to secure an agent to care for his land grants in the Wellington-Harvey district he once again looked to the Scott family.   

But having become disenchanted with their lack of progress after six years at Guildford, John Scott had sold up everything that would not fit on a sailing ship and decided to move east to Port Phillip Bay where he had a cousin with a farm in the two-year-old settlement.  

Stirling would not hear of Scott leaving and he, with promises of land for him and his sons forever after free of rent, swayed John Scott’s decision.

Stirling then appointed Scott’s stepson, Daniel McGregor, to travel to the Vasse and take up land there for the Scott family. 

When Daniel arrived at the Vasse, he was told by Mr Layman that the land was already taken up. 

When he reported to Stirling he was told then to find a spot anywhere between the Vasse and Pinjarra. 

Daniel then chose the spot for the family’s settlement to be near the mouth of the Leschenault Estuary where a survey had been done in December 1836 by Lieutenant HW Bunbury.

Lieutenant Henry William Bunbury had previously been stationed with the 21st Fusiliers in New South Wales and Tasmania.   

In the east, he had been involved in opening up the country for settlers to follow. 

When he came to Western Australia he was told to traverse the country via Pinjarra and Vasse where settlers were already in occupation. 

His company consisted of two soldiers, two packhorses, and two aboriginals from Pinjarra who would have been used as guides by the explorers.

Lt. Bunbury was so impressed with the potential of the countryside for farming and the Leschenault Estuary as a safe harbour, that he recommended to Governor Stirling that a town should be established there. 

One year later, Stirling acted on that advice with the agreement of the Scott family.  

They would become the first settlers at the place named in honour of Lt. Bunbury and known to the original inhabitants as Goomburrup. 

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

Members of Bunbury’s First Settlers’ Descendants Group will hold a ‘family reunion’ event on December 1 at PC Payne Park.

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