Widow who left remote Scots isle 164 years ago honoured for creating '˜dynasty'

A Scottish widow who left the Hebrides in search of a new life with her ten children has been honoured in her homeland for her family's legacy in Australia.

A widow who left a tiny Scottish isle in search of a 
new life 164 years ago founded 
Australian dynasty. Picture: JP
A widow who left a tiny Scottish isle in search of a new life 164 years ago founded Australian dynasty. Picture: JP

The descendants of Catherine McDonald, who left the poverty-stricken isle of Gometra and set sail from Liverpool 164 years ago today, went on to become pillars of the Australian workforce.

A plaque has been unveiled at a ceremony on Gometra to commemorate the family, as Mrs McDonald’s descendants of more than 2,000 have included generations of farmers, teachers, nurses, bank and government employees and computer experts.

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Her great grandson, Donald Kelso McKellar, who died in 1986, served the Australian state of Victoria as an MP.

The plaque matches one erected at an earlier reunion of 200 descendants at the farm allocated to the family after they emigrated to Victoria.

Mrs McDonald’s great great grandson Jim Gough, 78, who lives in a house named Gometra in Branxholme Victoria, two miles south of where the widow once lived, told how his ancestor had applied to the Highlands and Islands Emigration Society to win passage to Australia.

He said: “Her husband Donald McDonald had died and Catherine and her two sons and eight daughters left Scotland under the auspices of the Highlands and Islands Emigration.”

He said his ancestor was so desperate to be accepted that she lied about her age and added: “The society was set up by Sir Charles Trevelyan in 1852, to relieve the suffering in the Highlands, but it had a rule of not taking people over 45, and she must have been more like 49, while the list shows 44.”

However, the society recorded them as “one of the best families for emigration to meet with”. Mr Gough said: “Presumably this was because there was a shortage of women in the colony.”

He added: “Bonds formed between families on the voyage were strengthened when both boys, and one of the girls, married people they met on board, and another four also found Scottish-born spouses.”

Roc Sandford, the present day owner of Gometra, and postmistress Rhoda Munro, who run the only two permanent households on the island, unveiled the plaque.

Mr Sandford met Mr Gough when he visited Gometra last year and added: “I am so pleased that, thanks to the generosity of Catherine’s descendants in sending us a plaque in her memory, we have been able to commemorate Catherine and her children here on Gometra, in Baileclaidh, the village which was once their home.”