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

 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.

Newcomers often ask me, “How long have you lived in Busselton?”.

For the sake of brevity my usual reply is, “My grandfather’s grandfather came to Busselton a long time ago”. 

However, today it seems I need to put something in print, and I hope it’s not a waste of ink, as some people might really like to know. 

The name of McGregor goes back in the history of Scotland further than I dare to delve for the purpose of this narrative.

Suffice to say that, according to historians, the origin of the name McGregor is attributed to a son of Scots King Kenneth 1st, Grigor, in the latter part of the ninth century AD.

Hence the Coat of Arms ‘My Race is Royal’.

King Kenneth is accredited with having brought the Picts and Gaels under the one kingdom that became known as Scotland. 

The tribes people of Scotland were in conflict over kingdoms and territories for hundreds of years.

The land was their strength. The greater the area, the stronger the clan.

When the clans were not fighting against each other they were fighting their enemy in the South. 

After Treaty of the Union in 1707 between England and Scotland, the turbulence eased considerably.

And since that time the courageous Scottish clansmen, who had evolved as experts in hand-to-hand combat warfare, were used as leading combatants worldwide in the quest to expand the British Empire. 

When new horizons came within reach around the turn of the 19th century, thousands migrated from Great Britain to other islands and continents.

Our forebears were among those passengers to the British Empire’s new world. 

Daniel McGregor, my great-great grandfather carrying the imprint of his forefathers, arrived at the Swan River colony before his 16th birthday.

His father Alexander McGregor had apparently died when Daniel was very young.

His mother, Helen, had afterwards married John Scott, a yeoman farmer from the banks of the River Clyde, Lanarkshire, Scotland in 1831. 

Ten years later, John and Helen Scott arrived at the Swan River colony aboard the sailing ship the Eliza with Daniel McGregor and two younger Scott sons, John jr. and Robert. 

Being the elder sibling, Daniel would have worked hard to support his step-father, John, in every pioneering venture from that time onwards.

They did ground-breaking work at Guildford for six years when WA’s largest early settlement was in its infancy.

When the Scott family arrived at Guildford in 1831, the white population numbered around 1000. 

When the Governor, Captain James Stirling – founder of the colony, needed people to oversee his vast land entitlements in the South West, he persuaded the Scott family to take it on with promises of land for themselves. 

The young Daniel McGregor was given the first task of travelling to Busselton, then known as the Vasse, to find land for his step-father, John.

To my knowledge there is no written record of how he achieved such a journey alone, to where there were only a couple of families of settlers in occupation at the time.

Logically, a sea voyage would have been most likely.

Upon his arrival at the Vasse, he was told that the land that Stirling had sited was already taken up.

After writing a message to Stirling which must have been conveyed by sea level, he was then directed to find a suitable place for the Scott family to farm anywhere between Vasse and Pinjarra.

Presumably having access to the coastline by sea transport, the navigable shores of the Leschenault Inlet must have provided the suitable option in Daniel’s search for land to farm. 

Few white men had set foot there before, apart from the visiting American Whalers who were known to have made use – seasonally – of the safe anchorage, and survey parties such as when Stirling recognised the place as suitable for settlement and named it in honour of Lieutenant Bunbury in the previous year, 1836. 

Daniel’s next challenge was to move livestock and farming equipment overland to settle at Bunbury beside the picturesque Inlet, which had been named ‘Leschenault’ by Baudin’s French Scientific Expedition more than 30 years earlier.

The Aboriginal inhabitants knew the idyllic place where river, inlet, and sand dunes met the sea as Goomburrup. 

After what must have involved a great deal of planning and preparation, the overland party headed South from their earlier settlement of Guildford in December 1837.

Governor Stirling had appointed the 22-year-old Daniel McGregor to lead the expedition with laden bullock wagons and a mob of cattle.

Daniel was accompanied by a younger brother, Robert, a guard of soldiers, three of Scott’s stockmen, and a wheelwright.

The Government schooner “Champion” – with Governor Stirling, Surveyor General JS Roe, and John and Helen Scott with two other sons – sailed for Bunbury on January 3.

The overlanders exceeded expectations through summer heat, and mostly virgin bush, and arrived at the untamed shore a few days ahead of the official party.

Thanks to their ability to communicate with the Aboriginal inhabitants, and specifically the skill of 13-year-old Robert who had picked up the Noongar language while at Guildford, their presence was accepted by the natives who provided the overlanders with a welcome dietary change of fish until the sailing ship “Champion” arrived. 

History tells us that with the Scott and McGregor families, kindness and understanding towards the Aboriginal inhabitants proved to be of great mutual benefit during the pioneering days.

Helen’s medical knowledge that she had gained from her father, Dr Mungo Forrest, in Scotland was extended to both black and white alike.

The overland southward journey incidentally, passed through the district of Pinjarra where a punitive expedition led by Governor Stirling had massacred a number of defenceless indigenous people at the so-called ‘Battle of Pinjarra’ about three years earlier.

This encounter resulted in the death of a Government soldier. 

Contact bfsdg1838@iinet.net.au 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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