From the Scottish Highlands to Nambucca

McKay descendants (from left) Elizabeth, Alice, Alexander, Eva, Lottie and Archie
McKay descendants (from left) Elizabeth, Alice, Alexander, Eva, Lottie and Archie

The McKays, Part 2. Nambucca Bound. You can read Part 1 here.

WHEN Angus and Christina McKay and family set sail to NSW leaving behind the Scottish Highlands they went with heavy hearts.

Looking back now you would think the struggle of life in temperatures well below freezing and primitive living conditions would be easy to turn your back on.

However in this isolated community ties of clans, family and the land ran deep.

The Sutherland (Suorland in Danish) County of Angus' birth was named from the era of Viking rule.

The northwest corner of Sutherland was the home of the powerful and warlike Clan Mackay and its Gaelic name translated as 'the Homeland of Mackay'.

So our McKays, the name which historians regard as interchangeable with MacKay, had proud ancestral ties going back many centuries.

With their arrival in Sydney in 1839 they would have experienced a great change. It is likely with his soldiering background that Angus would have spoken English as well as his native Gaelic. His family could well have spoken Gaelic only.

Descendant Alexander McKay

Descendant Alexander McKay

The difference in climate could not have been more marked as even a balmy 20 degrees centigrade would have been unheard of in a chilly, icy Sutherland.

The sleepy highland villages they left behind would have made even an infant Sydney look like a confusing bustling metropolis. Add in the Indigenous population and the wild native animals, the new migrants would have had much to amaze them.

Fortunately the family were not the only Highlanders who migrated. In fact there were 18 ship-loads bearing over 4000 of them headed to Sydney or Melbourne in the years 1837 to 1840.

The credit for this can be given to the Presbyterian parson of NSW, John Dunmore Lang, who petitioned the English in an effort to help the Highlanders and populate the colony with "hardy peasantry and tradesmen".

On arrival in Sydney, Angus worked at his carpentry trade for a brief time before taking his family to Dungog. Other MacKay/McKay families were landowners in Dungog for some years before they arrived so like most migrants the family sought out compatriots.

Their first child born in the colony was in March 1840. During this time all record of their son William who was 18 months old when they came to Sydney is lost. Therefore it is assumed he passed away in the time before the 1841 Census.

Further births are recorded, Robert in 1842 and Duncan in 1845.

There are records of the achievements of Angus and his family at Dungog, one being the building of the first water mill in the district.

Granddaughter Christina Sheridan related, "He and cousin Sackville MacKay built the mill and used spikes instead of nails to splice it together".

Descendant Angus McKay

Descendant Angus McKay

In 1857 there was flooding on the Williams River reported in the Empire newspaper as "the greatest flood on the Williams since this district was first trodden by the white man". A family of eight were drowned and the mill was destroyed as the river rose to a massive 12 metres.

There is now no trace of our McKays in Dungog, the flood likely sweeping away all evidence. The link to Dungog was only uncovered by the inscription on daughter Jane's grave at Bowraville which reads "born Dungog".

After the devastating floods, Angus and family returned to Sydney where he joined the constabulary.

At this time many of his children were married adults with their own landholdings. They spread out to Rolland Plains, Oxley Island, Wauchope and the Nambucca.

By the time Angus and Christina settled at Bowraville they were said to be of an advanced age in their 70s. This for the McKay family seems to be no obstacle, with many of them living long lives.

Angus died in 1894 at the age of 99 years with Christina dying a year later at the age of 95. They are buried at the Bowraville Cemetery. Family histories estimate their descendants at over 10,000.

This article was written from the records of the Nambucca Headland Museum and the Bowraville Folk Museum.

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