Ian and Blanche


1.2.1 Alexander McKenzie McRae (1819-1899)

In contrast to his father, the forceful Quartermaster Sergeant, Alexander McK. grew to be an unmilitary young man. His erudition and studious demeanor inspired the nickname "the schoolteacher."

AustraliaPrincipleFamilyLocations-200x200.jpg (8996 bytes)"The schoolteacher" studied law and was articled—that is, apprenticed—in that profession in Perth, Scotland.  He married Jean MacDonald at Lochalsh in 1850.  For a time the couple lived in Perth, where their first child was born on 28 November the same year.  The following year (or possibly as late as 1852) Alexander McK. abandoned law and emigrated with his wife and child to the colony of Victoria in Australia [click the eastern red rectangle].

Why did Alexander McK. give up a professional career for an arduous and uncertain life in the colonies? One possible reason: Perhaps the wedding was forced after Jean found herself pregnant in March or April 1850. Unless the wedding date10  were before March, or the birth were premature, Alexander McK.’s parents—people of high social standing in their community—may have been reluctant to accept Jean into the family.

For whatever reason, Alexander McK. and Jean left for Australia as soon as they conveniently could after the wedding.  With the help of relatives who had already emigrated, the family settled in the district of Clunes, 50 miles west of Melbourne. The rest of the eight children and most of the 29 grand-children from the marriage were born in Victoria:

Jean b.1850 m. Jack McKay (Jack, Alex, Isabel, Jean)
Anne b.1852 m. [first name unknown] Draffin (William, Bert, Mary, Elizabeth, Anne).
Betty b.1854 m. [first name unknown] McCutcheon (Alex, James, William, Elizabeth).
Catherine b.1856 m. William Wilson (John, George, William, Jane).
Alexander Charles David (1858—1940) m.1892 Sarah Ann Oliver (1865—1935)
    (David, Marion, Roderick, Dorothy, Ian).
Margaret b.1865 m. Thomas Guest (Hilda, Elsie, Olive, Alice, William, Alex, Charlotte).
Christina (1862—1863).
Roderick John b.1866 m. Nelly Fleay.

In Australia the Scottish immigrants contended with conditions different from any they could have known in their misty, green and hilly homeland.  In summer, they endured the furnace-blast of the north wind that for days at a time sweeps out of the central desert across the plains of Victoria, depositing a fine red grit on every exposed surface and threatening deadly bush fires.  In every season, but particularly in summer, they had to accept one of the realities of life anywhere in Australia: the swarms of flies ready to settle on every person, every animal, and every item of food.

In the 1850s Alexander McK. supported his burgeoning family by farm work, but he was not well suited to life on the land and he took advantage of his better-than-average education to turn his hand to other occupations.  Because land use was expanding rapidly in Victoria at the time, surveyors were in demand and Alexander McK. may have qualified and worked in that capacity.  Then, in 1866, "the schoolmaster" became a schoolmaster in fact.  He founded a school at Glengower, 7½ miles north-east of Clunes, and soon had 20 pupils each paying one shilling per week.  An excerpt from Victorian Government school records11  gives a glimpse of the school and of life in rural Victoria in the 1860s:

"Alexander McKenzie McRae’s letter of the 17th of April 1866 shows that, as early as 1865, settlers had appointed a provisional Committee to organise establishment of a common school, that a building 26ft x 16ft x 10ft, costing £50, was erected on the Hamlet Reserve, and that application had been made to the Lands Department for the reservation of a 2 acre site.  The school opened on the 1st of October 1866 with A. McK. McRae as HT [Head Teacher].  It had an a.a. [average attendance] exceeding 20; pupils paid 1s weekly.... DI [District Inspector?] Main recommended that aid by way of salary should be given and this was granted as from 1st of July 1867.  On 30th of July 1867 the committee unanimously agreed to vest the school with the Board of Education and a grant of £50 was received towards the erection of a residence.  Although enlarged in 1870 the four rooms were described as ‘pokey’.  Immediately opposite the school by two hotels the teamsters rested their bullock teams on the way to Clunes.  Bullocks grazed around the school and were such a danger that the site had to be fenced…."

The report goes on to say that by 1871 the a.a. had risen to 56, and the building was enlarged.  However, "in 1892 only 8 children attended on the occasion of the Inspector’s visit, and the school became temporarily unclassified.  In 1894 only three families attended...."

The school venture so buoyantly initiated was attended by tragedy for the McRae family: on 12 February 1866, Jean died at Glengower two weeks after giving birth to her eighth child.  The cause of death was "extravasation of fluid into the cavity of the abdomen from abscess of liver."  She was 41.

Other family misfortunes followed soon afterwards when the second and third girls entered into disastrous marriages.  In the end Anne Draffin’s husband abandoned her and five children, and Betty McCutcheon’s husband, a drunkard, "fell in a creek and drowned" (he was probably attempting while drunk to ford a creek that had risen suddenly, and lost his footing) leaving Betty to support her four children by "taking in washing."12 

Alexander McK.’s spirits declined and never fully recovered from these reverses.   He sought solace in whiskey, and became as helpless a drunkard as his son-in-law McCutcheon.13     He took over the school as planned, and ran it with what may be inferred from the government archives to have been only temporary success.  It is not clear how long he continued with the school.  On his son Alexander’s 1892 marriage certificate he was identified as a "School Teacher," but this was likely out of courtesy only; when he died seven years later of liver cancer, his occupation was listed, not as teacher or farmer but as "farm labourer."  In his last years he was cared for by his daughter Margaret Guest at the Guest’s farm in Brim, near Clunes, and his earlier achievements and status had been forgotten.

The following verbatim entry in the McRae Family Register gives something of the flavor of Alexander McK.’s life and times:

"ALEXANDER McRAE son of Qr. Master Sergt. McRAE was married to JEAN McDONALD daughter of Rodk. McDONALD by the Rev. John McKinnon of Strath at LOCHALSH in the year of our Lord Eighteen hundred & fifty (1850).

JEAN was born 28th November at 4a.m. 1850
ANNE was born 10th August at 8a.m. 1852
BETTY was born 26th November at 12p.m. 1854
CATHERINE was born 19th October at 10p.m. 1856
ALEXANDER was born 7th July at 11a.m. 1858
MARGARET was born 18th September at 5p.m. 1860
CHRISTINA was born 25th September at 1p.m. 1862
RODERICK JOHN was born 28th January at 7p.m. 1866

And my much beloved and attached wife departed this life on Monday Feb. 12th 1866.

The remains of my beloved wife and daughter were interred in the Clunes Cemetery, Victoria. No. 170. [signed] A. McRae"

The following was added by Alexander McK.’s son Alexander:
"A. McRAE, the writer of the above died in Warricknabeal at the age of 80 years 10 months. The remains were interred into the BRIM cemetery No. 6.

His affectionate son,
Alexander McRae"

Continue Reading: 1.2.2 Alexander McRae (1858-1940) Youth (-1892)

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1.2 First Foothold in Australia

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(click footnote number to go between footnote and text)

10. Presumably available in the original Lockalsh parish records, but not shown in the McRae Family Register signed by Alexander McK.

11. This and other documents quoted in this section were transmitted by John M. McRae.

12. Recollections of Alexander McK.’s granddaughter Dorothy Fraser née McRae (1984).

13. Source: "Mac" (MacDermott) Wilson, a grandson of Catherine and William Wilson.