Saturday, 8 April 2017

A Lady of Letters

I know quite a bit about Elizabeth Harvie McDonald* and her family because she kept many letters sent to her and her family.  I am lucky enough to have copies of these letters.
Public domain photo of some old letters.
Elizabeth Harvie McDonald was born 21 May 1825 in Tradestown in Glasgow, Scotland, the daughter of William McDonald, a cloth lapper, and Margaret Bowie.  Cloth lapping was a stage in weaving, so William would have been a mill worker.  Elizabeth was named after her grandmother, Elizabeth Harvie, who would have been about 95 when Elizabeth Harvie McDonald was born and was said to have reached 100**.  Elizabeth Harvie McDonald was baptised at Gorbals church on 5 June 1825.

Elizabeth Harvie McDonald was the oldest of three siblings.  Her brother was Salis Schwabe McDonald, definitely a black sheep of the family with a criminal record.  As an adult, Elizabeth seems to have lost touch with her sister Margaret McDonald, with a letter from a relative saying that they didn’t know where she was either.  The three children lost their mother, Margaret Bowie, sometime between Margaret’s birth in 1833 and 1839, when their father married his second wife, Grace Davies.  Scottish burial records are patchy and I haven’t found one for Margaret.  Elizabeth’s Bowie correspondents didn’t seem to think much of Grace but maybe that was because she replaced their sister.

I haven’t yet identified Elizabeth Harvie McDonald in the 1841 Scottish Census.  She wasn’t living with her parents and there are several possible Elizabeth McDonald’s working in the Glasgow as servants and my ancestor may have been one of them.  Even though Elizabeth had a disrupted childhood and was probably working by the time she was 15, she had somehow managed to get enough of an education to be a letter writer.

On 31 Dec 1846, Elizabeth Harvie Macdonald married Malcolm Macdonald, a shipping clerk.  Both gave their residence as Anderston, an area of Glasgow.

By the time of the 1851 Scottish Census, on 30 March that year, Elizabeth and Malcolm had two children, Malcolm Kay Macdonald and William Bowie Macdonald, plus a third, James Gordon Macdonald (my ancestor) well on the way.  James was born in May 1851.  Sadly, Malcolm Kay Macdonald died sometime in the early 1850s, probably before 1854.  Elizabeth and Malcolm did not have any more children that I know of.

By July 1854, according to a letter from her Aunt, Elizabeth and her young family were settling in Liverpool, England, which was where Malcolm’s father’s family lived.  Elizabeth and Malcolm appear to have stayed in Liverpool until 1858, when they migrated to Victoria Australia.  

The family travelled on the ship “Monsoon”, which departed London on 11 March 1858 and arrived in Hobson’s Bay, Melbourne 9 Jun 1858***; three months on a ship with two lively young boys.  They went to live in Ballarat, in the heart of the gold fields of Victoria.  A letter sent to Elizabeth in 1859 from her Aunt Elizabeth Bowie, indicates that Malcolm may have been strongly encouraged to migrate to Victoria due to some (unspecified) bad behaviour on his part.  The Aunt suggests that Elizabeth and her boys should have stayed with her in Glasgow and left Malcolm to his own devices.  I wish the Aunt has been more specific about Malcolm’s wrong doing; all I know is that an old Scottish spinster thought he was an evil doer.  Perhaps Elizabeth and Malcolm did not have a very happy marriage.

Elizabeth and Malcolm stayed in Ballarat.  Members of Malcolm’s family followed him out to Australia, including his father, also Malcolm, and his only surviving brother, Charles.  His uncle, the brother of Malcom snr, a sailor named Angus, visited Australia on at least on occasion.  So in spite of the spinster Aunt’s fears, the boys (William and James) did not grow up not knowing their family.  In addition, plenty of correspondence seems to have been exchanged with both Elizabeth’s and Malcolm’s extended families, in spite of the distance and time it took letters to travel between Britain and Australia.

Elizabeth Harvie McDonald outlived her troublesome husband by over 10 years, dying 16 Jan 1892, in Ballarat.  By this time, she had several grandchildren and hopefully this made up for having been shipped away from her family under less than ideal circumstances.  I imagine that having had to move a 3 month voyage away from her family, their letter’s must have been precious, as Elizabeth’s only connection with her now distant family and friends, and that is why she kept them, for which I am grateful.

Notes on lineage: Me > Mum > John Macdonald Charley > Constance Mary Macdonald > James Gordon Macdonald > Elizabeth Harvie Mcdonald

*There are various spellings of both Harvie and McDonald.  Harvie and Mcdonald are the spellings used in Elizabeth’s baptism record.  Macdonald is the spelling used by the living descendants of Malcolm.

**According to the book:  The Bowies and their kindred: a genealogical and biographical history, available on Google books and other archive web sites.

***The Age, 15 Jun 1858