Jannet (or Jessie) MACKAY

born about 1785, near Kinlochbervie, in the Cape Wrath area of Sutherland, Scotland

Father: Donald McKay

Mother: Christina Clark

married William McLeod, a labourer on 12 February 1813 in Kinlochbervie

died: 27 Jan 1872 at Dungog, NSW, aged 87

According to the oral tradition passed down to Rita Phillips and Harold Quirk by Christina Quirk, Jannet Mackay may have been a daughter of Lord Reay, the Mackay of Cape Wrath. There appears to be no truth in this as all natural children of the various Lords Reay of the era are recorded and accounted for. A variation of the oral tradition, that they were “well connected” to Lord Reay, may have more substance.

At the time of her marriage she is recorded as a residenter of Ashiremore, part of an estate near Kinlochbervie. As a residenter, she was presumably living with her parents or a relative. Loch Aisir Mor is a few kilometers NW of Kinlochbervie and is now known as Oldshoremore. She was a Gaelic speaker and married William McLeod on 12 February 1813,apparently against the wishes of her family. According to the oral tradition he was an employee (an overseer) on the family estate and apparently from the Isles, possibly Skye. From this marriage there were 5 known children:

Donald McLeod b. 27 May 1814, bap 6 Jun 1814 at Kinlochbervie, d. 1880

(ref 80/10474)

Margaret b. about 1817 d. 1898

Anne b. about 1818 d. 1901

Wilhelmena b. about 1822 d. 1903

Christina (Christian) b. 10 Oct 1823, Bap 20 Oct 1823 in Kinlochbervie, d. c1850

The children were probably born at Oldshoremore or Kinlochbervie.

At the time of Donald’s baptism (1814) they were tennants in Aishiremore (according to Sutherland locals, this is Oldshormore).

Sometime after 1830 and before 1838, William died. There is apparently a record of him in the estate records from the 1820’s (as advised by a bulletin board reply, but it has been confirmed with a specific reference) and Jannet was convinced by her son to emigrate to Australia with him. According to the oral tradition Donald was a divinity student, possibly at St Andrews in Edinburgh. This seems possible as he accumulated a large library of books during his lifetime, including many on history, prose and Greek classics, as well as religious works and books in Gaelic. He was clearly far better educated than the average Highland crofters son. As this implies money or position, it lends weight to the belief that Jannet was born of a well connected family. Most, if not all of the books in his collection were bought in Australia and on some of them his handwriting is quite poor, so it is possible he may have been self educated.

Donald apparently met Dr James Dunmore Lang on one of his lecture tours and was very impressed by his arguments. As a result, he managed to convince his mother to emigrate to Australia with him, and to bring her daughters.


This may not have been terribly hard, as Highland society was rapidly falling apart at this time. The Highland Clearances were being enforced with a vengeance in Sutherland at the time and life was particularly hard for almost everyone. Lord Stafford, later the Earl of Sutherland was the "Great Improver" and was responsible for massive dislocation and hardship in the population. He purchased Lord Reay’s estate in Sutherland, including the Parish of Eddrachillis from the leader of Clan Mackay in 1829 , after which the Clearances probably began in Eddrachillis. By February 1831, the tennants of the parish were petitioning him directly for relief having failed to gain any concessions from his Commissioners. They complained that they were being cramped into coastal settlements and were not allowed to improve the poor soil by adding kelp. In 1832, there was a significant cholera epidemic in the area followed by a famine in 1836.

Until that time, fishing, sheep and some tillage (particularly near the coast where the soil could be improved with kelp) were the sole means of survival. The Clearances, which commenced in Sutherland in 1803 were a result of Highland landowners becoming more aware of the commercial benefit of using the land for sheep instead of small farms. This accellerated the decay of Highland society which had been in decline for some time. Population was increasing rapidly due to a decline in infant mortality due to the intorduction of smallpox innoculations. Additionally, competition by Spanish alkali caused the collapse of the kelp industry (dried and burned to produce alkali used in glass and textiles) after the Napoleonic War, with the removal of tariff protection on foreign alkali made from barilla in 1823.

On his Immigrant Registration Donald has stated that he was a shepherd (the Government probably wasn’t looking for divinity students), native of Sutherland, Parish of Eddrachillis, son of William McLeod, farmer of the same place. Kinlochbervie, which both the oral tradition and evidence in the records has as the district the family came from is in the Parish of Eddrachillis. Kinlochbervie was a coastal town built up by Stafford to relocate the population. According to an 1846 Dictionary of Scotland, Eddrachillis had a population of 1699 inhabitants at that time. The name means between 2 "kyles" or arms of the sea. The district of Kinlochbervie had a population of 1028 inhabitants in 1846, and the town had 106 inhabitants. A church, built in 1828-9 at the expense of the Government was capable of seating 350 and was designed by Thomas Telford but there was no school until 1845. The district was described in Lewis’s Geographical Dictionary of Scotland of 1846:

"The Duke of Sutherland is the sole proprietor; and under him, the aspect of the country, though still rugged, has been much improved within the last few years."

Jannet gave her occupation as farmer’s wife and widow. Again according to family tradition (and consistent with information in the records), Margaret, the eldest daughter "jumped ship" just before they sailed from Scotland to stay with her beloved in Scotland. This is supported by the record of the ‘James Moran’ which has Margaret boarding the ship but not sailing. It was believed that there was little contact with her after that. Her sister Anne knew her to be living in Thurso in 1900, married to Donald McLeod. (Some of their descendants have been contacted in Scotland).

They sailed from Lochenvar (Lochinver) on the ‘James Moran’ under Captain Ferguson with 280 emigrants and passengers on 21 October 1838, stopping briefly at the Cape of Good Hope in January 1839 and arriving in Sydney on 11 February 1839. The ship picked up the survivors of the ‘Dunlop’ in Batavia on the way.

Donald McLeod was appointed as one of the Captains of Messes for the voyage and signed a letter on 26 Dec 1838 at Cape of Good Hope to Her Majesty’s Commissioner for Emmigration Scotland stating that fears that the journey would be hard were groundless and praising the treatment of the emmigrants on the ship.


“Being well aware, that many of our distressed & impoverished Countrymen are prevented from embracing the advantages afforded, by free emmigration to Australia, from a dread, of the hardships they may be made to endure on the voyage to that Country, we take this, the earliest opportunity offered us after ten week’s expiration of the journey thence, through you, of the utter groundlessness of such fears, We beg to state, that ever since we came on board we have had a most plentifull supply of excellent provisions & our treatment, in every way has been to our entire satisfaction – we have like wise to state that Dr McNee Surgeon Superintendant of this ship, has on all occassions has the most marked attention to our wants. He has at the same time, inforced the most rigid discipline to which, under God’s blessing, we attribute the extroadinary degree of good health that the emmigrants have enjoyed.”

Oral tradition has it that on the day they sailed from Scotland they heard the bells ringing and saw hilltop beacons in honour of Queen Victoria’s coronation, however this occurred in June of 1838. It is possible that they sailed by fishing smack from Keanlochbervie then and sailed down the west coast to Lochinver to await the ‘James Moran’.

After arriving at Sydney they spent about 10 days on board before being landed at the Barracks on Thursday 21 Feb 1839. The "Sydney Herald" reported on Wed 13 Feb 1839 that:

"The emigrants by the James Moran arrived here in a very healthy state. The cleanliness of the vessel, and her general appearance, reflect credit on the Captain and Officers. ….Only two children died during the voyage. They will be landed at the Barracks on Thursday next. There are four other government ships daily expected , and many people are still disengaged in the Barracks."

It appears that the family was initially separated – Donald was assigned as a shepherd to an employer at Patricks Plains and the women were assigned as servants to employers in Sydney. Jannet was not assigned, but was listed as a servant on the Register of Immigrants. They probably worked in and around Sydney for about a year before moving to the Hunter River region.

They probably sailed on the steamer ‘King William’ or ‘Sophia Jane’ which operated the first regular schedule of 4 weekly trips direct from Sydney to Maitland and Morpeth.

On 29 September 1840, Wilhelmina married James Bell at the Scots Church, Paterson. James was working at “Penshurst”, Upper Paterson at the time of marriage and Donald McLeod was a witness to the wedding. Apparently the family initially farmed as tennants on the Upper Hunter at Barties Swamp. Barties Creek flows into McClemment Swamp which is about 10 Km from East Maitland on the road to Seaham on the Williams River. In the “Gloucester & Raymond Terrace Examiner” of 1 June 1844, Mr Bartie is reported as draining an extensive swamp to cultivate corn. He is reported to be paying highest market price for grain from the tennants. The area around Maitland had a strong Presbyterian presence.

Later, by 1842, the family farmed as tennants on the Williams River near Dungog until the late 1860’s. They were probably at "Mulconda" until about 1848, then at Mount Pleasant until about 1860 and then returned to "Mulconda". They grew maize or corn and possibly arrowroot for the mill at Dungog.

Cedar cutters were in the Dungog area by the 1820’s, moving up the Williams River from Newcastle. The first land grant in the area was in 1824, and in 1825 Governor Darling issued land grants on a line directly north of Maitland, mostly of 640, 1280 and 2560 acre blocks.

Wheat was the first crop of the area.


The Dungog cemetary was dedicated in 1828. A Rev. Cox of the Presbyterian church was the first minister in the district at about this time.

In the 1830’s there were about 250 aborigines in the area, however they were no trouble to the whites.

Until 1834, the area was known as Williams River, however in that year Dungog was named and gazetted. Dungog (or Tunkok or Tungog) means place of thinly wooded hills. In 1834 there was a police stockade and about 20 houses. A post office opened in 1835, with mail to Sydney every 6 weeks in 1833. By 1836 there was a small weatherboard courthouse.

Prior to 1851 the there were 2 schools in the area; a denominational school in Dungog run by the Presbyterian church and a school on a property nearby. The Dungog school was taken over by the Government in 1851. Floods killed many in that year.

In 1857 the Geographical Dictionary and Gazetteer said "Dungog has 126 inhabitants and comprises 25 houses". The town and district remained very poor until the 1890’s when dairying moved in.

There are a number of written references to Bandon Grove and Mulconda near Dungog in family records. There is no mention of Janey or her family in the 1841 Census at "Mulconda", however that Census aggregated returns by landowner and major tennant groups, so there can be up to a dozen adults listed against the one name. Mulconda, which is a place name used by Norman Bell in 1863 is a property about one and a half Km SE of Bandon Grove, which is just to the North of Dungog and is very close to Fosterton. Christina McLeod was married to Jessie Hawkin(g)s there in 1848 and her neice, Mary Bell was married there in 1866 to Alex Laurie. Mary’s sister Margaret was the witness to Mary’s wedding, and was probably bridesmaid. Mary gave her birthplace as Bandon Grove (1842).

Mulconda was granted to William Foster on 19 August 1840. In the 1841 Census, Mulconda had a population of 17 males and 8 females, 6 (including one of the Hawkins family) with convict pasts. Foster was a major player in the Williams as the town of Fosterton adjoins Mulconda. Tobacco was a major crop of the property, with a tobacco mill on the adjoining property on the current site of Bandon Grove.

Mount Pleasant was a common name for that area of Underbank adjoining the Williams River near Salisbury. One of the earliest settlers still remembered is Sampson Rapson, whose ancestors still farm the property. The naming of Mount Pleasant is attributed to Rapson in the 1850’s in the Fulton Papers (in the Mitchell Library), however it was used in the 1841 Census for the property of James Marshall who had 15 males and 3 females on the property. Since 1 of the females and none of the males was married, and 13 of them were Church of Scotland, it is possible that some of the family were here (though not Wilhelmina and James Bell). It is unlikely that Rapson could have employed Janey Mackay’s family as he was a small landholder initially.

Adjoining the Rapson property is an area known locally as Fulton’s Estate. The Fultons arrived in the area in 1900 and bought the property from the Coopers. By 1911, Barbera Rosalind Fulton (1899-1987) recalls collecting peaches from "wild" peach trees at the foot of Mellee Hill near the river flat. There had been a big bush fire in 1903 which wiped out a lot of fences and buildings. She recalls that it was a 3 hour trip by sulky into Dungog.

There were a large number of Scottish landowners around Dungog. There are many Mackays, a McLeod (none related that I can tell, though I understand some came out on the ‘James Moran’) including Lord Reay’s piper, mentioned in an 1848 publication.


Almost adjoining “Mulconda” near Fosterton was a 97 acre property owned by William Campbell, father of Thomas Campbell, who figures prominantly in the Tweed chapter of the family history.

The “Walter Samson & Co NSW National Directory 1867-68” mentions living on the Williams River:

Bell N – Malconda

Bell J – Malconda

Bignell J snr & J jnr – Willow Grove

Dinsey J – Bendolba (** this would be John, father of George who had already gone to the Tweed R)

McLeod D – Malconda

Quirk J – Brookfield.

Oral tradition also mentions Copeland, near Gloucester as a site of farming. It is likely that Norman Bell and possibly some of the family was farming there by the 1870’s. It seems unlikely that they were there much earlier. One of Jannet’s daughters, Anne Sutherland McLeod, married Joseph Laurie in 1874. (A very unpopular marriage in the Laurie family). He was a farmer from Rawdon Vale and was the father of her niece’s (Mary Bell) husband.

Wilhelmina married James Bell, a Scottish lowlander and freed convict, in September 1840 in Paterson. Following his death on Friday 6 Feb 1952 the family were still living as a group with Donald (who never married) living with his mother, sisters and his sister’s (Wilhelmina’s) children in the Dungog area. This is bourne out by Donald’s books. Mary Bell, Wilhelmina’s eldest daughter has scribbled her name and "Mt Pleasant" on a page at random in Donald’s copy of "Works of Virgil" which he has dated 1851. His Gaelic Bible has several inscriptions; Mt Pleasant, July 29 1855 and Aug 18 1860 also at Mt Pleasant. On another page is written "Norman Bell, Melconda Sept 19, 1863". Mary was married at Mulconda in 1866, with Margaret as witness. The two properties are not terribly far apart (probably no more than an hour on horseback or 2 hours by sulky, and it is highly likely that there was strong social interaction between the two.

Wilhelmina’s youngest daughter, Christina, was given the job of helping her grandmother at a very early age. From Jannet, Christina learned Gaelic, although it would have been the mother tongue of Jannet and her children. It is clear that all of Wilhelmina’s children would have spoken Gaelic as a second language at least (why give Norman a Gaelic Bible otherwise?).

Jannet died on 27 Jan 1872 at Dungog and was buried on 28 Jan 1872 at Anleys Flat. The informant on her death certificate was her daughter, Ann McLeod. Ann recorded her mother’s name as Jessie. According to the oral tradition, she never spoke anything but Gaelic in her life.

Jannet’s daughters all married. Anne married Joseph Laurie of Rawdon Vale late in life and they had no children. It was apparently a marriage that was very unpopular with his children. Following her husband’s death she appears to have rejoined the family group. She moved to the Tweed and is buried in the Old General Cemetary at Murwillumbah, just inside the main gate, although there is no marker there now.

Christine married Jesse Hawkins in 1848, had no children that anyone is aware of and died around 1850. Jesse Hawkins remarried in 1852. Nothing further is known other than that she is buried at Dungog.

Donald never married and died at North Tumbulgum on the Tweed in 1880. A Seventh Day Adventist church is now built near the site of his grave.

Margaret, the daughter who had remained in Scotland apparently married her beloved, Donald McLeod and is known to have had one child – Mary Davidson – who was present at her death in Thurso on 3 Dec 1898.


Thus, Wilhelmina was the only one of Jannet’s children in Australia to have a family.

Wilhelmina Bell’s oldest daughter, Mary, married Alex Laurie of Rawdon Vale via Barrington at Mulconda in 1866.

The family continued to live in the Dungog area until after 1867. At that time, Wilhelmina Bell’s second daughter Wilhelmina, married George Dinsey who convinced the majority of the family to move to the Tweed River area, where the last coastal land in NSW was being developed. With George and Wilhelmina and their baby son went Christina and possibly Elizabeth. George’s brothers John and Thomas also moved to the Tweed at this time. They travelled on horseback over the Nightcap range into the Tweed Valley at Eungella, and from there travelled by boat down river to George’s selection at Condong. John and Norman apparently went as well shortly after and started farming at Condong on the riverbank from the current site of the sugar mill to Condong Creek. Most of the family, including Donald McLead eventually came to the Tweed, however Wilhelmina Snr remained in the south for some time, according to oral tradition. Since she died in 1872 in Dungog she may never have moved to the Tweed and it is likely that some of the family delayed moving there until after her death in 1872.

John and Norman Bell planted maize or corn on the Tweed and the crop was a good one, however the bar of the Tweed silted up and was unnavigable and they were unable to get the crop out to market, so they left it standing in the field. Apparently they left the Tweed in disgust and returned to the Williams River. When they heard that the Tweed was navigable again they returned, threshed the crop and sold it. Harold had thought that they left the Tweed after that but it appears that John stayed until 1892 when he had an unfortunate accident (unspecified), possibly in a mill which left him an invalid. He and his wife Mary Ann McNeil then moved to the Camden Haven – Laurieton area. Norman appears to have returned south to farm at Barrington earlier than this, probably in the mid-1870’s when the Australian Agricultural Company gave up their lease around Barrington. His wife’s name was Agnes Fraser Higgins.

Margaret Bell married a Scot named John McEachran in 1880 and settled in the Tweed. They were close neighbours of the Quirks and Dinseys for a time.

Elizabeth married a Brisbane man named William Corcoran (Cochrane). It appears he was a friend of the family as Christina’s wedding to John Quirk in 1878 was held at his father’s house in Brisbane, prior to his marriage to Elizabeth. She had 2 daughters by this marriage. Following his death she remarried to a man named James Walker and had 2 sons by that marriage. For a time she was a seamstress and dressmaker in Tumbulgum. She was apparently left a saddlery and stable in Tumbulgum by her first husband, and had employed her future second husband to run it for her. In 1903 she was living at Unwin St, West Sydney in the area of Milsons Point. (The street no longer exists.) Her husband was a coal-lumper at this time, probably employed at the wharves. Elizabeth’s mother, Wilhelmina Bell died while living with them and Elizabeth was granted Letters of Administration for her mother’s estate. Elizabeth moved to Gloucester with her family within a few years of the death of her mother.

Norman died on 15 June 1924 at Barrington. According to what I have been told by Harold Quirk, Christina’s grandson who met Norman on a number of occassions, and also by Norman’s granddaughter Norman died from blood poisoning contracted after dye from a new pair of socks entered a fresh cut on his foot. Apparently he had cut himself trimming a corn.

Norman’s son John died from an accident involving a horse, but the details were vague. This was before Norman died.

Norman in his 70’s was tall and thin, with a thick head of woolly grey hair and very active for his age. He may have been quite deaf as a result from a blow to the head by a horse (Harold wasn’t positive).

Norman BELL

born 1845, probably at Bandon Grove near Dungog

(Entry 513, Vol 162)

died 15 June 1924

married: Agnes Fraser HIGGINS, 1870 (ref 1870/2163)


1. Jannet Laurie b. 1871 (ref 71/18216)

m. George BIGNELL 1898 (98/8182)

2. Wilhelmina A b. 1872 (72/18452)

m. ? (possibilities; Kench, Gunn)

died ?

3. James Walter b. 1874 (74/17973)

d. 1886 (86/09766)

4. Agnes Mary b. 1876 (76/19027)

m. Gordon CLARK (or Clarke)

living in Gloucester in 1916

5. Elizabeth Jane b. 1878 (78/20844)

m. John STACE 1903 (03/8318)

6. Margaret Christiana b. 1881 (81/15822)

m. Thomas CRICK

7. Mary Henrietta b. 1883 (83/18048)

m. William MARTIN

8. John James b. 1889 (89/21201)

m. ?

d. ?

9. Noreen (Noreine) Florence

b. 1893 (93/11904)


  1. Dear Mark,

    Is it possible for me to contact you with regards to the Bell family ? I am one of the grandaughters of John James Bell and perhaps can shed a little light on his life for you if you are interested as well as learning a little more about his family for myself if possible from you. I did recieve information that came from you many years ago from one of my aunts in the Barrington area.
    Regards Belle of Taree.

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