Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Alexander Sutherland and Elizabeth Mackay to New Zealand Part A

Alexander Robertson Sutherland (aka Alexander Robert, Alex and Sandy) was born in the cliff-top hamlet of Badbea and presented to be baptised on 24 November 1807 by his father William Sutherland. 

The memorial at Badbea built on the site of the
house of John Badbea where Alexander 
grew up
Poor little Alexander was orphaned when still a toddler, his parents Katherine and Willliam Sutherland both dying about 1810. As evictions had started in nearby Ausdale by then a number of new families had come to live at Badbea. Widow Kathrin Sutherland, sister to William, had brought her family of two sons and four daughters to Badbea. This family took in Alexander and one of his sisters.  John Sutherland, aka John Badbea, Kathrin’s eldest son, who eventually became a leader and supporter of the Badbea residents, seems to have acted as a father figure in helping to raise his young cousin Alexander. David Sutherland, the eldest half-brother to Alexander, also seems to have been supportive of the young orphans.  
Little is known of the early years of Alexander but even though there was no schooling available in Badbea at that time, when he grew up he spoke and read both Gaelic and English, was a fluent writer in English and had good business skills.

NLS John Thomson's Atlas of Scotland 1832 probably 
drawn when Alexander was working at Ammat.

Despite decades of severe evictions from crofting land, John Badbea, through some connections, was able to help Alexander as a young working man onto a small leasehold farm in Sutherland. 

NLS Ordnance Survey Six-inch 1st Edition 
Sutherland Sheet LXXXVII
The only clue we have about the location of this property is from his marriage record. Alexander married Elspeth Mackay (aka Elizabeth or Eppy) in East Brora, Clyne Parish, Sutherland, in 1838 and was shown to be in Ammat. Elspeth's birth record has not been located but it is thought she was born in Clyne Parish about 1810. Her parents were Hector (or John) Mackay and Jean McLean.

Highland Shepherd by Rosa Bonheur 1859
Ammat (aka Amat, Amait) is an isolated river flat about 10km NW of Brora near the junction of the Black Water with Strath Skinsdale, in the Clyne Parish. Alexander would almost certainly have been farming sheep but given that it could be freezing and snowy in winter it would have been difficult to farm sheep successfully in Ammat. Some maps show a large stone dyke enclosure at Ammat and several nearby sheep pens. Eventually the lease was not renewed and the property was turned into a deer reserve.

Pollie and Amat crofts
© Copyright Richard Webb and licensed
 for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Elizabeth Mackay’s family had been through hard times with the deaths of two of their sons in the Peninsular wars. The family had also been evicted from Ascoille about 1815 to 1820. One son, Alexander Mackay (born 1802) was working in the Brora Quarry with the quarry manager Richard Barton. There were frustrations with some of the quarry operations, resulting in Barton and Alexander Mackay getting interested in the emigration information that was being promoted in the district and articles being published in the John O Groat Journal – a Caithness newspaper.

The year 1837 had a poor harvest followed by a severe winter. The Sutherland estates had been compelled to provide meal for the many starving people later taking cattle as payment. There had also been a typhus epidemic and scarlet fever was rife. Things were grim with little hope of improvements.

With the Ammat lease gone and evictions in many parts of the Highlands still happening, Alexander also got interested in the New Zealand Company which was advertising land and great prospects in New Zealand (not even a colony yet). Alexander Sutherland must have applied and been selected as a suitable new immigrant. His brother-in-law Alexander Mackay and friend Richard Barton also decided to emigrate to New Zealand. Elizabeth Mackay agreed to go to the ends of the earth on a hazardous journey to an unknown land, with her husband Alexander, this despite having given birth to their first daughter Chirsty in early 1839. 

It is known her family had huge misgivings about Elizabeth leaving Scotland. Somehow Alexander must have got together the money needed for the venture - £100 to buy a promised 100 acre section in New Zealand and £30 for the voyage. This was a huge amount of money for someone in Alexander’s circumstances. Maybe he had made some profit with the sheep at Ammat or maybe his Uncle John Badbea had helped Alexander get the money together. It is not known.

Preparations were made for a passage on one of the first emigrant ships to New Zealand, the Oriental, leaving London on 15 September 1839.
A proof of marriage certificate for Alexander nd Elizabeth was required by the New Zealand company from their minister: It reads: This is to certify that Alexander and Eppy Mackay both residing in this parish have been regularly married by me on the twenty second day of June eighteen hundred and thirty-eight - given by me this twenty fourth day of August eighteen hundred and thirty nine years at the Manse of Clyne - George Mackay Minister

Fiona Kidman, in part one of her beautiful poem ‘Speaking with my grandmothers’ tells a true story of the Brora parting:
Where they came from

They left Badbea, the Sutherlands,
the Bartons and the Sinclairs, a family group
making their way to Brora, a small town
on the seacoast of Sutherlandshire,
to connect with the passenger boat
trading from the far north of Scotland
to the south.

I picture them waiting with the ones
left behind one early morning
near the mouth of the Brora River
all ready at last, the final goodbyes,
the menfolk take their places aboard.

But wait, at that moment as the keening
arises, the wife of Alexander Sutherland
holding her youngest child in her arms
breaks down and refuses to board
to go one step further. We see Alexander
leave the boat, walk to where his wife stands
surrounded by her people: he seizes
the child from her arms as he turns
back to the boat.

She follows, takes her place. My great
great grandmother, going going
gone to New Zealand;
it is 1839.
Did she ever flinch again?

Source, with permission: Fiona Kidman, Speaking with my grandmothers, in Where Your Left Hand Rests (Godwit, Random House, New Zealand) 2010

The next glimpse of Elizabeth and Alexander we have is on the Oriental just prior to sailing on 15 September, 1839. The John O Groat Journal published a fascinating report on the ‘Departure of the New Zealand Colony.’ The vessels the Oriental, the Aurora and the Adelaide (plus the Duke of Roxburgh and the Bengal Merchant who were to take in passengers later) were assembled at Gravesend ready for departure. The Directors of the New Zealand Company were in a bit of a quandary as the sanction of the British Government had been withheld from the undertaking and as New Zealand was not yet a Colony there was no basis on which ‘social order’ could be assured. They solved this matter by summonsing the passengers and the labouring emigrants into the waist, with their wives and children, and addressing them with a proposed Code of Laws upholding the laws of England and establishing what punishment would be received by any law breakers. “When the code was placed upon the capstan for signature, there was not one who hesitated to put his name to it”. As each ship received the Directors of the New Zealand Colony a salute was fired from half a dozen large guns on deck.

Here is a very interesting description of those on the Oriental:
The emigrants on board the Oriental are of a very superior class. They are chiefly young men and women of from twenty to thirty years of age – the women looking healthy and buxom, the men intelligent and resolute. Here too are a number of Highlanders from the estates of the Duke of Sutherland: they are a fine hardy set of fellows, and capable, no doubt of fighting their way in any region of the world in which they may be placed. Great care appears to have been taken to secure their comfort. They are clad in one uniform dress  - a blue jacket and cap, and tartan trousers – everything upon their backs appears to be perfectly new.….. Some touching scenes occurred in the separation of friends who had lingered to the last moment; but generally speaking, the whole body of adventurers, rich and poor, male and female, appeared to be in the highest spirits.

Richard Barton was now the agent for the New Zealand Company and was in charge of the Highlanders on the Oriental. Alexander Mackay, Elizabeth’s brother was also on board.

A number of domestic animals had been taken on board the Oriental, including a cow in milk which was loaned to Elizabeth. She milked it the whole voyage out and was eventually given the cow to keep. Later, in New Zealand, Elizabeth made butter regularly and even sold fresh butter to other settlers establishing for herself a much needed income. On the voyage the Oriental anchored at Cape Verde Islands and took on board oranges, lemons and bananas. The journey then went via the Cape of Good Hope eventually sighting New Zealand more than four months after departure. The voyage had been a good one with the first glimpse of New Zealand at Mount Egmont on the 21 January 1840.

The last minute happenings on board before the family disembarked and the beginnings of the life in this new country will be told in Part B

Sources: Sutherlands of Ngaipu by Alex Sutherland, Published A H & A W Reed, Wellington, 1947
Do Your Roots Lie Here? by Comraich aka Alan Roydhouse  – a series of articles about Badbea published in the John O Groat Journal in 1977

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