Alexander McLennan and Mary Matheson
In the early 19th Century immigration by families from the Highlands of Scotland was chosen as an escape from the economic depression of their homeland. The Rev. John Dunmore Lang was an outspoken advocate of free immigration and went to Britain to seek government assistance to have ships made available to bring selected Highland families to Australia particularly those from overpopulated farming communities.
Alexander McLennan attended lectures given by the Rev. J. Dunmore Lang during his tour of the highlands and islands and came to the conclusion that the new Colony of New South Wales was the land of opportunity for industrious, hard working highlanders. So in 1837 Alexander decided to forsake immigration to Nova Scotia to join members of his family established there and to being his young wife and child to the colony.
Catherine, Alexander’s sister, joined the immigrants who journeyed, on foot, from Plockton, Ross-shire to Portree, Isle of Skye, where they were taken aboard the government chartered vessel “William Nicol” which was preparing to sail on July 6, 1837. It is noteworthy that this ship was about the same length as one and a half suburban passenger rail carriages of modern design. When the “William Nicol” left port it was carrying 148 adult immigrants and 180 children, plus officers and crew including Dr. George Roberts and a chaplain. Food was described as ample. Space of 18” feet only was allowed each person. Dr Robert’s knowledge and skillful attention given to the highland folk during this voyage prevented diseases spreading throughout the ship. The were only 10 child deaths and one female death recorded when the “William Nicol” arrived in Port Jackson on October 17, 1837. It is well to remember that few spoke English and the ship’s master, crew, and doctor did not speak the Gaelic, so communication was most difficult.
Alexander McLennan was engaged at ships side by John Dow., Esq., a squatter of Invermein, on the Hunter River as a stockman at thirty pounds per annum and rations. This was considered well above the ruling wage of that time.
Sister Catherine wits engaged as a housemaid at ten Pounds per annum by H. C. Sempill Esq., a squatter of Belltrees, near Invermein.
Alexander gained great knowledge of the country and experience as a stockman in the wide open spaces of the colony and he became a teamster as an alternate form of employment. Firstly he continued working for Dow, then moved to Sandy Creek where he was classified a "small farmer" for the Dumaresq Family who had taken up the St. Heliers run some ten years previously. This family also had several runs north of St. Heliers to Tillbuster in the New England area. Alexander was a teamster for the Dumaresq family delivering much needed supplies to the New England and after a short while he purchased a team and wagon and continued to carry Dumaresq supplies and on the return trip to the Hunter would be loaded with wool, grain and other produce. Many new settlers came north with the numerous teamsters who traveled the road.
Meanwhile, Catherine McLennan married William Freeman who was employed on Segenhoe Run, the marriage taking place in 1839 at Pages River (Murrurundi).
Alexander continued to look for land as a squatterage in the New England area. From documents which we have been permitted to study we have been able to establish that with other teamsters, Alexander came to the Elbow (Lawrence) with produce from Tilllbuster via Tenterfield for shipping to Sydney in 1842-43. This long journey was undertaken due to the impassable road from the New England to the shipping port at Morpeth.
In 1843 McLennan decided to secure land at the Guy Fawkes and he moved his family from Sandy Creek, St. Heliers Run to a humble home, made of slab walls, bark roof and earthen floor at Glenfernaigh. Meanwhile William reeman and his family scured land in the same area which they named "Greenwhich", this squatterage is better known today as "Wirrialpa". Life for the women folk among the early squatters was not easy, but it is surprising with what endurance and heroism it was borne. Life was not a hum-drum existence with the same round of' duties from day to day but there were innumerable instances, tragic and humorous, which lent a spicy variety Iife.
The McLennans were very hospitable people and travelers and friends alike came frequently to the homestead for food and overnight accommodation. The homestead being approximately half way between Armidale and the Clarence. It was also a popular stop over for the police troopers in charge of Constable A. B. Walker where they knew there was always lodgings and plenty of free fodder for their mounts. Constable Walker is reputed to have shot the notorious bushranger, "Thunderbolt" (Frederick Ward) at Uralla in 1870. Ward had previously been in the employ of the famous, (or infamous) Miss Isabella Kellv of Brimbin, on the Upper Manning River. Ministers of all religions were welcome at Glenfernaigh and non-denominational services were held there at which baptisms and marriages were celebrated and religious instructions and lectures were given and appreciated.
Wheat was grown at Glenfernaigh until rust made it uneconomical, then maize took its place. The women ground the grain in a small hand mill for use as flour in the home. Potatoes and other vegetables grew plentifully there but supplies from the stores took a long arrive. An orchard supplied fruit of all kinds and honey was always available from hives which were kept in orchard.
In the winter Mrs. McLennan and her daughters and their neighbors made a lot of butter and this was salted and put into casks to be kept. Cheese was produced throughout the year. Sufficient pigs were slaughtered and made into bacon to last through each winter. As it was very cold in the winter at Glenfernaigh the cattle would go away into the thick, scrubs and not return until the warmer weather came again.
For sometime the merchants and residents of New England District had spoken with many of teamsters who knew the area well and asked for opinions whether a short road could be established between Falconer and the Clarence. Through optimistic foresight and faith in their observations when traveling through forests on horseback, McLennan and Freeman went to Falconer and met with an interested party of businessmen and squatters and following a few days of talks it was agreed that together with James Hooke, the business mens representative, and 3 drays loaded with wool from the squatters with their drivers representing the owners McLennan and Freeman with a dray each loaded with road making equipment and supplies set out in '18 to establish a short (commercial) road from Falconer the Clarence, leaving the old Craig Line at the Guy Fawkes. The work was hard and many hazards were overcome, the drays often had to have a tree tied behind them to help hold the vehicles on steep down grades, this being known as a "drag".
Tile "cut" or roadway was to be 25 feel wide wherever possible and by avoiding the gullies and keeping to the ridges the party cut their way through virgin tort for about 4 months, when just before reaching Nymboida on a high range between West Camp (Hortons Creek) and the village, the men were held up by extremely wet weather and running short of food, they were forced kill one of their bullocks for meat, its name was "Lofty” and the spot is still known as Mount Lofty. Unfortunately the meat had to remain unsalted as the supply of salt the camp had long since gone, naturally most of it went bad, nevertheless "poor Lofty" tided them over the worst of the period while waiting for the water in the flooded Nymboida River to drop. The plight of the road making party attracted the attention of a resident on tile opposite bank of the river and in a shouted conversation made their position understood. The outcome was a half sheep being sent over in a washing tub, being controlled by native who swam across with it.
James Hooke left the rest of the party and continued on to his run at Buccarumbi, while the men and drays continued to the Clarence where they were able to deliver their loads in good order and condition, just five months after leaving Falconer.
This somewhat primitive roadway won from virgin forest was the foundation of the Armidale to Grafton road as we know it today.
When the Robertson Land Act was passed James Aitken, a longtime acquaintance of Alexander McLennan persuaded him to select land next to Bushy Park, no doubt being of the opinion "that better the devil you know than a stranger". McLennan selected portions 24 and 27 in his own name and portion 25, Parish of Elland, in that of his youngest son, Roderick. Portion 25, incidentally, was eventually owned and occupied by the Yardy family for many years and known as “Woodley Park”.
In the mid 1860s Alexander, his wife and two youngest daughters, Jessie and Mary, left Glenfernaigh to take up their section on the Orara. A bullock dray conveyed their belongings. Alexander and Mary McLennan and the two girls rode, accompanied by a packhorse. They came the first day to Shea’s at Clouds Creek, then to their son Farquhar at Blaxlands Creek and the third day to their new home. The dray, of course, was much longer on the road. There was no bridge at Coutt’s Crossing then and the McLennans came by way of the Poley Bridge on the Rushford road. It may be of interest to know there was then a bridge there and what is now known as the Rushforth road was then the main road from Armidale.
Descendents of Alexander and Mary McLennan continue to live in the Clarence District and carry on the traditions of their ancestors, such as hospitality to all irrespective of colour or creed, loyalty, integrity, unselfishness and love of God and man.
Alexander, born 1805 near Plockton, Ross-shire, Scotland, the son of Douglas McLennan, died at “Caledonian Park” in 1881, aged 75 years, and Mary, born 1815 near Plockton, Ross-shire, daughter of Alexander Matheson, died at her home in 1898, aged 83 years. Both are buried in the Presbyterian Section, South Grafton (old cemetery).
Source: A History of Coutts Crossing and Nymboida Districts