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

 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.

Chapter five of the Bunbury First Settlers’ Descendants Group’s series continues the story of a journey from Scotland to the South West. 

Bunbury was named by Governor James Stirling in recognition of Lieutenant Henry William St Pierre Bunbury, who traversed the very difficult inland route from Pinjarra on behalf of the government. 

His company consisted of two soldiers, two aboriginal guides, and two pack horses. 

Bunbury had been so impressed with the potential of the district that he recommended to Governor Stirling that a township be established. 

Of the land between the Collie and Preston Rivers, Lieutenant Bunbury wrote: “I have seen no place more suited for dairy farms than this land, lying between two rivers, both navigable to boats.”

The Scott family was the first of the European settlers to arrive in 1838. 

By 1841, there were almost 400 Europeans living in the new town of Bunbury. 

The early settlers depended heavily on trade with North American whaling ships. 

The settlers provided fresh meat and vegetables, which the whalers exchanged for whale oil, tobacco, spirits, and other commodities. 

The township prospered initially as a result of the whalers.

There were times, when whaling was at its peak, when there were literally hundreds of whaling vessels in the area. 

The town and district grew steadily throughout the nineteenth century. 

St Marks Church, the first place of worship in the district, was built at Picton in 1842. 

The first Bunbury residents were John Scott and his family, arriving at the new settlement in January, 1838 from Guildford. 

Governor Stirling engaged them to oversee his vast land grants and to develop a farm for themselves in the banks of the Preston River at “Eelup”, which is now a major traffic intersection to the east of Bunbury. 

The Scotts called their farm “Eelup” in recognition of the Aboriginal people whose tribal lands extend throughout the region. 

No home awaited them. 

They had to make their home under canvas, until John, assisted by his sons, could build their home and farm buildings, cutting the timber laboriously on their own saw-milling equipment. 

I have seen no place more suited for dairy farms than this land, lying between two rivers, both navigable to boats.

Lieutenant Henry William St Pierre Bunbury

The family was self-supporting. 

A dairy area, made of dried mud bricks with a dense roof of grass, kept the milk, cheese, and butter cool. 

Bread was baked three times a week in a large limestone oven built off the kitchen. 

They caught fish, ducks, and kangaroos – kept poultry, and grew grain crops, potatoes, vegetables, and fruit – and were the first suppliers of many of the commodities in the district. 

They raised cattle, horses, and goats as well. 

Mr Scott tried to establish pigs on an island in the Estuary, but they apparently swam ashore. 

The only trace left of them is in the name “Pig Island” as it is commonly referred to. 

From the homestead, Helen Scott became Bunbury’s first ‘doctor’ and “Eelup” became something of a first-aid post or hospital. 

She was highly skilled; she could set up a broken limb, pull teeth, and was the district’s midwife.

She kept a stock of medical requisites such as splints and medicines, and would go any time of the day or night on call.

Helen had acquired her skills while working with her father, Dr Mungo Forrest, in Scotland. 

She looked after the Aboriginal people too, especially the women. 

The aboriginal people generally regarded her as a friend. 

The good relationship between them had been enhanced because Helen Scott had learnt a sufficient amount of their language during her six years spent at the Swan River Colony. 

Although it was said that Mrs Scott did not suffer malingerers gladly, and that some of her methods of curing an ache or ailment were rough by today’s standards, she nevertheless had an unsurpassed reputation for kindness and loved her work. 

And she did not hesitate to do her duties: once, in 1851, a young Aboriginal man threatened to kill her with a spear if she did not hand over a young, sick woman she was attending to. 

She refused, and only the timely intervention of the tribe’s head man saved her life. 

Bunbury’s population continued to grow.

In 1841, a Dr Carpenter came to the district aboard the “Parkfield” with the neighbouring Australind Settlement Company. 

But, at the age of thirty, he unfortunately died one week short of one year in practice, and Mrs Scott again became the local medical practitioner. 

She delivered John Forrest at Mill Point where his father, William Forrest, had established a flour mill in one of Scott’s paddocks. 

John became Western Australia’s first Premier and a cabinet minister in Australia’s first federal parliament. 

At home at “Eelup”, John and Helen Scott were devoted parents, living in a close, happy family circle. 

The church, music, and singing were some of the interests which bound them together. 

Tragedy struck on October 14, 1846 when their youngest son, William Proctor Scott, at the age of 13, drowned in the Preston River. 

They were fine colonists, and their goal was always to farm well and efficiently, not to make a fortune. 

The quality of their life and work was far more important to them, as was the high esteem they were held in by their neighbours. 

Mrs Scott lived to the age of 88, outliving her husband by three years. 

They are buried in the old Picton Church yard.

The sons of John and Helen Scott prospered and their many descendants played a leading part in developing the rich dairying area south of Bunbury, centred around Elgin and Capel. 

Contact or visit the Bunbury’s First Settlers’ Descendants Group Facebook page for more information about the group and its activities. 

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

The occasion will acknowledge the descendants of John and Helen Scott as well as Helen’s first son, Daniel McGregor. 

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