The Nicoll Talisman

Just to remind you, in case you are just joining us here, I’m speaking of my 3x Great Grandfather’s manuscript I discovered at the National Library of Australia.

The Life and Adventures of Mr George Robertson Nicoll.

I don’t know how to describe it without sounding so trite but holding the manuscript, it is a magical experience, that is the definition of a Talisman so I will stick with that.

I’m not sure it would have the same power if I wasn’t directly linked to the Author. This is my clan and his words are my family history. George inspired me to start this blog, I can only hope that some GGG Grandchildren of mine stumble upon this blog 150 years from now and have the same experience as me with George’s manuscript. I know it will be a digital experience rather than a physical one but hopefully that will ensure that it survives and hopefully jam packing it with photos and documents will make up for the lack of a tactile experience.

I just had a thought, imagine if this post is them finding out about the manuscript, your welcome GGG Grandkids. It will be 300 years old by your time, check it out at the National library, if is still standing. (Hey it is the age of Climate Change, Pack Ice dying and Trump potentially getting a 2nd term, just saying.)

To say that I am loving George’s manuscript and the level of detail he has packed into it, is a bit of an understatement. I’m dishing it out to myself in small amounts to make it last as long as possible. Reading what I have so far has really whetted my interest in George’s world and to really discover as much as I can about him and the family. So, I started digging around online and wait till you see what I have come up with.

I’m just going to jump straight in from the beginning and see what I can find digitally to go with George’s words and build upon the amazing context he has already set out. I’m seeing this like one of those renovation shows where the couple are renovating a Grade 2 listed ruin and the new extension has to sit along side the ancient structure and enhance it, that is my hope here anyway.

Below is a copy of George’s opening paragraph from the manuscript.

The Life and Adventures of Mr George Robertson Nicoll.

Below is a copy of his birth and baptism record from Scotland’s People website confirming these details. The third column interestingly records in this case, who George was named after.

Well, I paid for this one, so it’s courtesy of me, via the Scotland’s People website.

Now look what I found, Campbell’s Close in the High Street is still standing.

Figure 1: Courtesy of Douglas MacKenzie/Alamy stock photo.

“The sadly neglected Campbell’s Close on the High Street in Dundee is a typical Scottish “close”, 1.2 metres wide at the entrance, is a passageway giving access to entrances of several buildings. It features a decorative iron gateway.” (

High Street, Dundee, showing Campbell’s Close entrance on the right under the awning with the 77 on it.
Figure 2: Courtesy Google Maps 2017

This following map is from 1857 confirming the actual position as in the photo above.

Figure 3: Courtesy National Library Scotland

The following photo shows the position in a 3D view. How lucky are we in 2019, 3D? Thanks Google.

Figure 4: Courtesy Google Maps 2017

To plot it correctly, it’s the 5th building from the left hand corner of this row of buildings above. The corner curved building being 1. I confirmed on the Scottish Heritage site called Canmore that the building was built in the early 1800’s obviously sometime before Sept 1824 when George was born. The building immediately to the left of it with the raised yellow chimney in the center of the facade is actually dated from the 1400’s. It is the Dundee Backpackers at the moment.

I had the great fortune of finding this amazing site that has lots of historic photos of Dundee uploaded to it called, Photopolis. After lots of scrolling came across these gems.

High Street, Dundee
Figure 5: Courtesy Photopolis.

I can’t find a specific date for this photo, but I’m guesstimating it is in the 1890’s sometime. Campbell’s Close is the entrance way just to the left of the J in J.P Smith sign. Interesting note, you can just make out the writing on the top rim of the building it says, “The Garden”, this is reputed to be Dundee’s first full vegetarian restaurant. (I would credit this info but I can’t remember or find where I read this, flying by the seat of my pants people!)

High Street, Dundee, showing Campbell’s Close entrance under the & between Wilson and Co.
Figure 6: Courtesy Photopolis.

This photo is from 1896.

High Street, Dundee, showing Campbell’s Close entrance to the left of the J .P. Smith banner.
Figure 7: Courtesy Photopolis.
High Street, Dundee, showing Campbell’s Close entrance to the left of the Kidd & Wallace banner.
Figure 8: Courtesy Photopolis.

Again, no specific date on this but I wonder if it is early 1890’s, J P Smith and Sons have not expanded into the Kidd and Wallace premises as they are in the previous photos.

Figure 9: Courtesy Google Maps 2010

I think this shot is a great one for comparison with the one above in the 1890’s.

Hoping I’ve been successful in showing, how a handful of photos and a couple of maps gives so much depth and colour to George’s first 2 sentences. As an old Irish Friend of mine likes to say, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph”, 2 sentences. At 300 odd pages of Manuscript hope you are all in for the long haul? Well what a great way to spend the next couple of years, for me anyhow.

Next section of the manuscript:

The Life and Adventures of Mr George Robertson Nicoll.
Dundee Directories listing for 1809.
Figure 10: Courtesy of National Library of Scotland

1809! The age of these records and the fact that they are so readily available is phenomenal. The Fifh-market as you can see from the map below runs off the Green market. From my reading it is also known as Shore Terrace. All the listings in the Dundee Directory that I have been able to find place the Nicoll businesses around this area, Green market, East Shore and King William 4th Dock.

Dundee City Docks and Markets 1846,
Figure 11: Courtesy of National Library of Scotland
Figure 12: Courtesy Photopolis.

Fish Market runs out to the right at the bottom of this picture. The alleyway between the two buildings at the back of the square is Crichton Street and leads up to High Street and then across to the left hand side of the road and Campbell’s Close.

The photo below is looking in the opposite direction from the photo above, towards the Earl Grey dock, to the left you can just make out the Victoria Arch, (which is facing the Fish Market) built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s visit on the 11th September 1844 (George’s 20th Birthday) and on the other side of this is the King William 4th Dock.

Figure 13: Courtesy of Dundee City Archives.

This photo above from another fantastic site, Dundee City Archives on Flickr.

Figure 14: Courtesy Photopolis.

This photo above is from the edge of the Earl Grey Dock (shown in in the previous photo) looking up the Green market and Shore Terrace/ Fish Market going to the right.

Photo below is the other end of the Shore Terrace/Fish Market at the corner of Castle Street. The left of this picture joins the right of the previous photo.

Figure 14: Courtesy Photopolis.
Figure 15: Courtesy Photopolis.

And here we are back at the Green market end, somewhere down that alley to the right of this picture which is Shore Terrace/Fish Market is Thomas Nicoll’s workshop and then James Nicoll.

After all that just found a photo of the whole area.

Figure 15: Courtesy Photopolis.

Of course, we have to keep in mind that the photos are probably around the 1890’s – early 1900’s, so 50 to 70 years after James and Thomas’s time, so there could have been any other number of structures or buildings in the area that they were housed in. But it still gives us a pretty good idea of where they were living and working.

Dundee Directories listing for 1819.

James is mid 20’s in 1819 and obviously out in his own workshop.

Dundee Directories listing for 1822.
Pigot & Co listing from 1837

Looking at the above listing you can see the entry for James, George’s Father, block, mas and pump maker at King William’s dock. I wonder if the George listed above him is our George as he was aged 14 at that time and 14 is listed at the end of his line. James is in his early 40’s now and Thomas, his father is now 80.

Dundee Directories listing for 1846.

Note that the James R, iron merchant, listed under James in the 1846 listing above could be George Robertson’s elder Brother, James Robertson as he was in the iron trade at this stage. James is mid 50’s now and Thomas, his Father has been dead for 5 years.

Heading back to the manuscript now.

The Life and Adventures of Mr George Robertson Nicoll.

Here is a copy of Margaret and James’s marriage record from 5th June 1817. I love these original source documents that lock in so many details, blockmaker and watchmaker so we can be certain we have the correct information.

I paid for this one as well, so it’s courtesy of me and again via the Scotland’s People website.

Here is a copy of James’s birth details below. This was an amazing find as it confirms not only James’s birth details but also confirms the names of George’s Grandparents and his Great Grandfather on his Dad’s Mum side of the Family.This was just fantastic.

As above in last.

When you read the next section of the manuscript below you will also see why the info above is so important to us.

George, doesn’t actually refer to his “…Grandmother Nicoll” by name, so we now know that she was Jean Chalmers and her Father who was Butler to the Earl of Strathmore, was, James Chalmers, who George’s Father was named for. Isn’t that just brilliant. (That’s rhetorical by the way.)

And here is Glamis Castle. The ancestral home of the Queen Mother (Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyons) and the work place of my 6x Great Grandfather, James Chalmers.

Figure 16: Courtesy The Castles of Scotland.
Figure 17: Courtesy The Castles of Scotland.
Figure 18: Courtesy The Castles of Scotland.
Figure 19: Courtesy Shahbaz Majeed

What a place to live and work and now I have a direct link to this ancient place on the other side of the globe to me. All because George wrote those few lines in his manuscript.

The Earl in 1890 when George was writing the above, was:

Claude [Lyon-Bowes later Bowes-Lyon], 13th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

Which would make his Grandfather:

Thomas [Bowes later Lyon-Bowes], 11th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne,

This is the Earl that “Grandmother Nicoll”, (Jean Chalmers) Father, (James Chalmers) was butler to. The problem with this is that Thomas didn’t become Earl until 1820 when James was 90 years of age, if still alive. (I haven’t been able to confirm a death date for James as yet) So I suspect that James was working for the 10th Earl, Thomas’s elder Brother and perhaps his Father the 9th Earl.

Figure 20 Courtesy Insiders Scotland Guide

Pictured above: John Bowes, 9th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne (17 July 1737 – 7 March 1776)

This fine looking gentleman below, his Son.

Figure 21 Courtesy Glamis Castle

Pictured above: John Bowes, 10th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne (14 April 1769 – 3 July 1820)

I emailed the Archivist at Glamis Castle (Ingrid) to inquire if they had any details on James and his service. Ingrid very kindly confirmed that I had the Earl’s correct but unfortunately the names of staff were rarely recorded individually in the Factor Accounts (Wages Book).

She did go through the information that she had as she said being butler meant there was a greater chance of James being mentioned but again no luck. Apparently, there is a big hole in the Factor Accounts, for 1785-1863. Still great to now have the name of my ancestor confirmed.

Figure 22 Courtesy of Glamis Castle

I found this wonderful picture in the Castle’s online archives of this staff wedding party in front of the castle entrance. It’s roughly 100 years after Jame’s time so imagine them in Georgian clothing instead of Victorian.

David Allan’s “The Highland Wedding” 1780
Figure 23 Courtesy of Wikimedia

This portrait below was painted around the same time that James was working at the Castle and depicts the style of clothing he might have been wearing at that time.

Young Man in a Fawn Coat, c.1772-3, by Tilly Kettle.
Figure 24 Courtesy of Tate Museum

On another interesting note, James was 15 when the second Jacobite rebellion started in 1745. The final attempt by “Bonnie Prince Charles” to reinstate his Father and the Stuart line to the throne of England and Scotland. And James was living right in the path of the advancing and retreating Jacobite’s and English troops. Imagine the manuscript he would have written.

I find it fascinating that those 5 lines from the manuscript about the castle and George’s Grandmother and Great Grandfather has enabled me to find so much information about them and the time that they were living in. Talk about context.

I know there are no photos of them but to see how they most likely would have been dressed and to read about the times that they were living in and to actually see the places that James and presumably Jean were at, just brings them to life for me.

Road Trip -Final Stage (part 2)

I know, this trip has been going on for months but I promise this is the final, final installment.

Still in Albury Pioneer Cemetery, thought we had no one else buried there and then I jumped online and did a search on the cemetery site before we left and found these members of the family.

Albury Pioneer Cemetery

This is the final resting place of Helen Elizabeth Macvean, nee Griffith. She is my 4x Great Grand Aunt by marriage.

I knew nothing about Helen until I found her in the cemetery search. It did take us a while to count out exactly where her grave was, Xander and Calan found her and it wasn’t just a headstone but a full body stone monolith rising from out of the dirt with that beautiful wrought iron border crowning it.

Albury Pioneer Cemetery

As you can see from the inscription above she was married to Dr Peter Macvean who was my 3x Great Grandfather, John Hugh Macvean’s Brother. (the Macvean who brought us out to Australia.)

Photo courtesy of Sally McPhee (Cousin)

They were married on the 3rd of July 1867 at Mount Pleasant Wedderburn. Peter was 38 and Helen 25 years of age.

Completely random find on my part, this is a picture of Mount Pleasant in Wedderburn from the State Library of Victoria and I’m pretty sure it is the residence of Elizabeth’s Uncle, Henry Hunter mentioned above.

Courtesy of State Library of Victoria,

Below is a copy of Helen’s Birth and Baptismal records. This is what I love about this whole process of researching you start with nothing and then with a bit of digging around, a whole lot of luck, a picture starts to emerge out of the mist of a person with a real life story.

You’ll note the Slave and Free People heading, that’s right, Helen was born, 17th Sept, 1840 on a Slavers Sugar Plantation on St Croix, in what was known at the time as the Danish West Indies.

Courtesy of

From what I can gather from Census records of the time, Helen’s Father was a Planter on his Brother, David’s plantation estate called Two Williams Estate.

Courtesy of

If you refer back to the Marriage notice above you will see that it states that her Father is from the Whim Plantation in St Croix, Wow, throw that into Google and a truckload of stuff comes up. The house Helen was born in still stands and is now a museum.

Great House Whim Plantation
Interior of Great House Whim Estate, (photo courtesy of Simona Sacri)

The information below, about Helen and her Family comes from the Landmark website on the history of St Croix and reads like a precis of some 19th Century novel. Helen’s Father wasn’t just working for his Brother as the earlier census document indicated.

An evil sadistic slaver for a Father, fleeing the slavery rebellion and the only home she had known, traveling to Ireland from the West Indies and having to come to terms with a life in a country so different from her own. I wonder if Helen ever spoke about her early life, or was it just to painful and full of shame? This is only the tip that I have uncovered but what a story.

I found this obituary for Helen and after reading it I can only imagine what a strong woman she must have been. Having survived the ordeals of her early childhood she then makes the long arduous journey to Australia when she was just 22 with her Aunt, Elizabeth Hunter, to begin a new life in the Colonies.

She marries Peter 5 years later then spends the next 30 years being a Surgeon and Stock Owners Wife in the central west of Victoria and Melbourne. Becomes a Widow at the age of 55 and then spends the next 17 years living in Albury. There is so much in there that is unknown. Would love to find a manuscript that Helen wrote about her life.

Unfortunately I can’t find a photo of Helen but I did come across a picture of the home she was living in when she passed away. It’s not the same as an actual image of her but it gives an anchor for her in the story, seeing somewhere where she would have been. You can almost see her coming out the front door.

Vaucluse on the left and Pembroke House on the right

The final two members of the family we found resting in Albury were, William Hill Macvean and his Wife, Edith Nellie Macvean, nee Hill. William is my 2x Great Grand Uncle, and Brother to my Great Grandfather Alexander Ballantyne Smith Macvean.

Albury Pioneer Cemetery
William Hill Macvean,
Photo Courtesy of Sally McPhee (Cousin)
Albury Pioneer Cemetery
Edith & William Macvean
Photo Courtesy of Sally McPhee (Cousin)

Unfortunately there is next to nothing on Trove in relation to William or Edith. William’s birth notice.|||l-year=1892|||l-category=Family+Notices#

His death notices. Interesting to note that the Tuesday and Thursday listings are for different parts of the Family, I wonder if that was coordinated as neither is duplicated in print on the same day.|||l-category=Family+Notices|||l-year=1956|||l-category=Family+Notices|||l-year=1956

Little bit of luck, just found Williams war record from WW1.

He fought in Egypt and France, where he was wounded in action three times. In one of the incidences he sustained a serious shrapnel wound to his right thigh and abdomen. He suffered with scabies and trench fever and was hospitalised a number of times as a result. William also had a number of AWOL’s on his record which resulted in about 2 weeks confinement and multiple days of forfeited pay.

He and Nellie obviously meet in the UK, his war record had a copy of an extract of info from the original marriage registration details.

William enlisted with the AIF on the 21st July 1915. He was initially in the 29th Battalion and was then transferred to the the 39th on the 30th June 1917. He embarked Australia 18th February 1916 and ultimately survived his time in the war but he would not see Australia again until 19th December 1919, when the Ormonde made its first stop in Fremantle, almost 4 years later.

When William did arrive it was into Port Melbourne.|||l-month=12|||l-decade=191|||sortby=dateAsc|||l-state=Victoria#

When he disembarked, he was not alone.|||l-month=12|||l-decade=191|||sortby=dateAsc|||l-state=Victoria

Apart from those history laden names in the top of the article, William disembarked on to New Pier at 10am on Boxing Day 1919 with Nellie and their 8 month old Daughter, Jessie Edith Macvean.

I can only imagine how excited the family must have been for his return, take a look at this gossip section listing I found from the Herald.|||l-year=1919|||l-month=12#

Again, what a ride and only the tip of the ice berg in terms of their story. Unfortunately (as is becoming the norm on this journey if it is a female member of the family I’m tracing), there is no further mentions of Nellie that I can find. I know she passes in 1982 but there are no death or funeral notices on Trove for that period yet and Nellie doesn’t come up in The Ryerson Index. (Funeral and Death database)

As all four of Jessie and William’s children have passed on as well, I’m really hoping that one of their Grandchildren, if there are any, reaches out somewhere down the track. I would love to know more of their story but it maybe that it is already lost to time like so many others.

Road Trip -Final Stage. (part 1)

So, last post we left off in Wagga which was, in relation to family history discoveries a bit of a mother-load of information and emotional connections, next stop was Albury.

We arrived about mid afternoon after a three or so hour drive from Wagga of course stopping for morning tea, elevensies and lunch on the way. Have to share that Calan and Xander were doing so well at this stage in showing that they were still interested in what we were doing, by the end of the following day and a couple of hours in Holbrook, not as much.

Note to self and anyone else interested, three days of family history discoveries for 14 and 15 year old’s might be a little too much. (Boys, if you find this in 50 years time, can’t thank you enough for your patience, now stop reading, I’m sure my butt needs wiping, I’m 100 and the contract is still binding.)

The Macveans at Albury Pioneer Cemetery 2018

Of course, I was aware that my 3x Great Grandparents were buried there with my Great Grandfather but didn’t have any information on why this was chosen as their final resting place. After this visit to Albury I think I can hazard a guess as to why.

Albury Pioneer Cemetery

This is the view from the Family Plot, towards the Gate of the Pioneer Cemetery.

The rear of the Macvean Family Plot Albury 2018

The Macvean Family Plot Albury 2018

Another great find, multiple members of the family buried in these two plots. The Obelisk must have cost a fortune but as I’m fully aware now the Family could afford it. It has been standing here in the elements for 125 years.

Albury Pioneer Cemetery 2018

This is my 3x Great Grandparents, John Hugh and Hannah Macvean. Parents of Alexander who I introduced you to in my last post and who is buried at Wagga. John is the Macvean who established us here in Australia. It is believed by some other family history researches that he arrived in Australia on the 3rd of August 1841 but I have been unable to confirm this. There are no shipping arrivals that I can find for this date. The closest I can come to confirming he was here around that time is this mention below.|||sortby=dateAsc#

An unclaimed letter listing from Geelong Post Office. A scan of a few scratches of ink almost ineligible, printed 177 years ago. I keep trying to imagine how people did this before computers, databases and search algorithms. This only came up for me after a number of different permutations on the spelling of the name and leaving out the a and the c just MVean. Here is a picture of my 3x Great Grandfather. There is no doubt that I come from this stock.

John Hugh Macvean, courtesy of Sally McPhee (Cousin)

I am also again, so lucky to have this picture of him later in his life.

John Hugh Macvean, Courtesy of Sally McPhee (Cousin)

This was a real bonus to find in the folder shared by Cousin Sally of ancient Macvean photos. Hannah Macvean nee Hill, my 3x Great Grandmother.

Hannah Macvean nee Hill, Courtesy of Sally McPhee (Cousin)

I know hardly anything about Hannah but I have a huge admiration for her. She and John married on the 23rd September 1844 in Geelong Victoria.

Courtesy of Victorian Birth Deaths and Marriages

Hannah gave birth to their first child, Annie on the 23rd July 1845 and then proceeded to have another 7 children over the next 13 years on stock runs in central Victoria.

Photos courtesy of Sally McPhee (Cousin)

I can’t help but notice in the marriage extract above the almost minuscule cross from Hannah’s hand, showing that she couldn’t write. I hope she didn’t feel that small. I can only imagine how strong she must have been to establish and maintain a home for all of those children in the middle of the Victorian bush in the mid 19th century.

The other side of the obelisk is dedicated to their second born Grandson, my Great Grandfather, Alexander Ballantyne Smith Macvean.

Albury Pioneer Cemetery 2018

It is hard to not make the assumption here of how close they must have been as a family. My Great Grandmother and Grandfather and all of his siblings were still living at Rooksdale at Germanton. Alexander’s Father was still alive but his Mother was buried in Wagga yet the decision was made to bury him in Albury with his Grandparents a good 2- 3 hour buggy ride away from Germanton and the family. Alexander died at Meramie Private Hospital in Albury.|||l-decade=192|||l-year=1922|||l-month=2

I happened to come across a document in the family history folder containing some reminiscences from my Great Aunt Jean Isabel Moffat nee Macvean, my Grandfather’s Sister. Again an echo from the past and few lines that breaths life into their story.

Courtesy of Ross Moffat (Cousin)

I found a picture of the Hospital from 1963 when it was operating as an Inn.

Amazing to see the place my Great Grandfather passed away in. I wasn’t aware of this information when we were on the road trip and unfortunately the building has been demolished. In its place is the Meramie Motor Inn.

I’m sure it won’t have the same feeling as sitting in the church that his Parent’s helped build but I’m still going to go visit next trip to Albury.

The next plot over is the final resting place of Samuel Hill, my 4x Great Uncle, his Wife, Mary Hill, nee Macvean, their youngest Daughter Eliza and their Grandson, Alexander Peter Macvean Cameron, Great Nephew of John and Hannah and 2nd Cousin of Alexander buried next to him.

Albury Pioneer Cemetery 2018

Sad to see the damage to the headstones but very lucky that they are still there considering that they have been there so long.

This photo above is of Samuel Hill. He is actually my 4x Great Uncle by birth and marriage. He is Brother to my 3x Great Grandmother Hannah Macvean, nee Hill pictured earlier in this post and his Wife, is Hannah’s Husband, John Hugh Macvean, my 3x Great Grandfather’s Sister, Mary Macvean, pictured below. (Did you manage to follow that? it was damn hard to write.)

Courtesy of Sally McPhee (Cousin)|||l-month=2|||l-decade=188|||l-category=Family+Notices|||sortby=dateDesc#

There is no photo I can find at this stage of Eliza but here is her death notice from The Argus.|||l-year=1903|||l-category=Family+Notices|||l-month=2#

Alex below, was the son of Samuel and Mary’s eldest Daughter, Margaret. Margaret married a gentleman by the name of John Hugh Cameron and they all lived in Howlong. (Howlong is so the first stop on my next road trip, considering that the whole family came from or settled there.)

Albury Pioneer Cemetery 2018

This is his Mother, Margaret Cameron nee Hill, my 1st Cousin 4x removed.

Courtesy of Sally McPhee (Cousin)

And here is a picture of her Husband and Alex’s Father, John Hugh Cameron.

Courtesy of Sally McPhee (Cousin)

The Riverina which Howlong, Albury and Germanton/Holbrook are apart of has really revealed itself as a significant area for my family. A significance that a century and a half later has all but been erased from memory. I’m hoping that these post although shallow compared to the lives they describe go a small way to restoring those memories.

I’m going to end this post here as it is getting a bit lengthy and I still have a number of other family members stories to share from Albury Pioneer Cemetery as well as an Ancestor who’s significance to the area I was unaware of whilst on the road trip and who I only discovered whilst conducting research for my last post. Look forward to sharing that with you soon.

Road Trip continued…

Last post finished on Howlong Station, the property owned by my 2x Great Grandfather but before we change focus, we haven’t quite finished in Holbrook yet. I shared the Parish map of the land owners. Here is a close up of an area of interest.

Courtesy of Woolpack Inn Museum.

This section in yellow crossing the Highway is Little Billabong Creek. Here is another of the Macvean surprises. By chance we found this exact spot on our way out of town.

You can stop on the Southern side of the creek and look straight across to Rooksdale Estate. I haven’t been able to pin down where exactly the homestead was or even if it is still standing but its on the to do list.

This is where my Grandfather grew up, a place my family lived for a quarter of a century and their mark is now blown away into time yet I feel this strong sense of connection. It is such a weird feeling.

Trove delivered again. Came across this wonderful description of the property.|||l-year=1921|||l-month=10

Another advertisement for the sale describes the homestead as having 12 rooms and that the property has been dug out of all rabbits and useless trees. So hope that some photos will turn up sometime.

The Museum at Holbrook had another surprise for us before we left. They have the original Little Billabong school house that my Grandfather went to, in their backyard. It was going to be demolished some years ago and someone had the thought to save it and it is now rebuilt and is part of the Museums exhibitions.

How crazy is that? Funnily enough the Little Billabong phrase I have been aware of since I was a child. I knew it had something to do with my Grandfather’s life but was never quite sure what the connection was. My Grandfather died 2 weeks after my 1st birthday so no first hand knowledge. There is no photo that I can find of the two of us together which is strange considering I was the first Grandson born with the Macvean name. For some context meet my Grandad, John Hugh Macvean.

I love the fact that I am named for this man and carry his Father and Grandfathers name with me.

On an aside, the Little Billabong phrase helped me break through a years old brick wall I had hit in relation to another 3x Great Grandmother, Christina Russell. This one phrase broke through that wall and the information that flowed was incredible. Will post about that shortly.

So between this and the last post, I’d say that Holbrook was pretty good to us on revealing some great information on the family. I will pick up on the Howlong Station thread soon but I want to now move to Wagga Wagga. It is the end of my 2x Great Grandfather’s story (Alexander Macvean Snr) just to remind you, but our first stop on the road trip. For a bit of context, this from Trove.|||l-year=1926|||l-month=2|||l-title=486

This was the second find in Wagga,

“Lumeah” in Coleman Street still stands. This is where my 2x Great Grandfather died.

I shared the above picture first as it fits with the article above, but this picture below was our first find at the Wagga Wagga Pioneer Cemetery.

My 2x Great Grandparents graves as well as my 2x Great Grandfather’s 2nd Wife’s grave.

I keep trying to rationalise the act of putting flowers on graves decades old, in a lot of the cases over 100 years old but there is no rationalising it. It just feels like the right thing to do. For me it is knowing that they are right there, 6 or so feet below. This is what it means to pay your respects to your Ancestor’s. Just like when you get to hold some item that you know was held in their hands or stand in spot that you know for certain they stood, it has a powerful spiritual pull for me.

Wagga Wagga Pioneer Cemetery 2018

I wondered this day we visited, (100 years after Jessie’s and 96 years after Alexander’s burials) how long since the last family member made the trek out to this cemetery?

Wagga Wagga wasn’t done with us just yet. I remembered from my readings on Trove that my 2x Great Grandparents were heavily involved in the Presbyterian church and I had the idea that we might go check out the church see if the one they belonged to was still standing.

St Andrews Wagga Wagga 2018

What a find it was. St Andrews Presbyterian, now Uniting Church. Foundation stone laid in 1869 and completed in 1872. (Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga) Mon 28 Nov 1938 page 6)

St Andrews Wagga Wagga 2018

The spire was added between 1911-1915 as well as the School Hall situated right next to the church. (Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga) Mon 28 Nov 1938 page 6)

St Andrews School Hall 2018

So imagine how surprised we were when we came across this.

St Andrews School Hall 2018

This is the foundation stone of the School Hall. This was one of those moments I mentioned above. I couldn’t stop running my hands over the stone. Talk about an Outlander moment, if a tear in the fabric of time was going to happen this would be it. You know I looked over my shoulder right? Only this mob behind me and what a great mob to share this moment with.

The Macvean’s in Wagga Wagga Oct 2018

I of course turned to Trove and found a number of articles that show the link between the family and the Church. Discovered that my 2x Great Grandfather was an Elder of the Church.|||l-year=1896

Their Daughter Edith married in the church.

Jessie Davina Macvean, my 2x Great Grandmother also had a memorial service held at the church. This section of her obituary below highlights.

There are a number of mentions of her donating money to different war causes and running a number of different tables for the Presbyterian Ladies guild and I think this part of another obituary written on her sums it up nicely. I can only imagine she would have been pretty happy with the description of her below but would probably never have admitted it.|||l-year=1918|||l-month=7

My 2x Great Grandfather also had his memorial service held at St Andrews.|||l-year=1926|||l-month=2|||l-year=1926|||l-month=2#

This is my 2x Great Grandmother, Jessie Davina Macvean, nee Ballantyne.

Courtesy of Sally MacPhee (Cousin)

And another shot of my 2x Great Grandfather, Alexander Macvean Snr.

Courtesy of Sally MacPhee (Cousin)

There was a billboard on the outside of the Church and it had the current Pastor’s name and contact details on it. Alex rang him and explained who we were and he invited us back the next day and said he would open up the Church and the School Hall so that we could walk through were the family once walked.

Interior of St Andrews Wagga School Hall
Interior of St Andrews Presbyterian Church Wagga
Interior of St Andrews Presbyterian Church Wagga

I got the chance to sit inside with Alex and our boys for about 15-20minutes and had a good chance to just soak it in. I know it’s nothing fancy but I couldn’t help feeling like I had just found something really valuable.

Final leg of the road trip in the next post.

Family History Road Trip

October 2018 School Holiday’s, main plan was to get on down to Canberra, the National Capital to visit Alex and the Boys’s Aunty Judith, which is definitely what happened.

Out Front of the National Museum
At the Planetarium
Yum Cha at the Tang Dynasty in Kingston

Awesome catching up with you Aunty Jude! But I may have hijacked the itinerary a little.

Of course we knew that George Nicoll’s manuscript was going to be on the agenda in Canberra but we were also aware that the Macvean clan had settled in the Holbrook, Albury and Wagga Wagga area back in the late 1800’s and being that Canberra was so close (sort of ) it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

As if viewing George’s manuscript wasn’t enough for this trip, the Macvean’s threw out some great surprises as well. I have to start in Holbrook for this post to give some context but on our road trip we headed straight to Wagga Wagga as it was the furthest West. That way we could work our way back East towards Albury, Holbrook and then Canberra.

The family lore I grew up with was that Holbrook was the Family seat of power for a number of decades and that the Local Historical Museum had some great info on the Family. I knew from previous Trove diggings that the property that my Grandfather grew up on was called The Rooksdale Estate.

Courtesy of Greg Palmer
Courtesy of Greg Palmer

I’m aware I say this a lot but I’m so lucky again, to have this photo. It is the only photo I have of most of the Family together and the only one I can find of Rooksdale.

My Grandfather, John Hugh Macvean is the boy sitting down on the right. Next to him is his Sister, Marjorie and then his Brother, Alexander Douglas Macvean next to her. The two women behind are their older Sister’s Jessie and Jean. No names for the blokes unfortunately but assuming that they might be their partners and eventual husbands, John and James Moffatt. Yes the Macvean Sisters married the Moffatt Brothers.|||l-year=1924#

A B S Macvean is my Great Grandfather and Mrs Macvean, my Great Grandmother is Agnes Brookman Macvean nee Cox. This fantastic picture below is the only photo I have of her, again thanks to my Cousin Greg Palmer for sharing.

Courtesy Greg Palmer

You can’t fight genetics, a friend who saw this said that it looked like me in drag. I think I can see the resemblance. This is from a while back, when my Son Calan was born but it might be a good comparison.

For many years the was no picture of my Great Grandfather, I searched to no avail and then all of a sudden Trove updated its content and this came up

A very grainy newspaper print from 1938 of a photo that was from 34 years earlier.

I counted and counted to make sure I had his position correct and came up with the fact that my Great Grandfather was the bloke leaning against the post, at the bottom of the stairs with the bowler hat and his left leg up on the first step.

No way to trace any original source material as the Paper was long gone

Now to the first of the Macvean surprises. You know where this is going right?

This is us on our road trip in Holbrook. About 96 years give or take since the Macvean’s left.

The Local History Society is in this beautiful old former pub called the Woolpack Inn.

The place is filled to the rafters with antiques and every single room is set up as it most likely would have looked in the 19th century. They have these amazing old shop display counters filled with items and look what appeared.

I was stunned. It was like winning some contest. The excitement was a little much for the poor old volunteer on that morning. It was locked in this cabinet, did he have the key, can I get it out, can I take a picture? No, no key, wouldn’t be able to take it out anyway, it’s a permanent display item. After about 10 mins of trying to photograph it through the glass, Volunteer comes back, they have a digital copy of it in their records, would I like a copy? I don’t think he appreciated the wet kiss on his bald head.

Do you think I could find a thumbdrive? No! Newsagent open at other end of town, Xander and Calan very kindly went and purchased. Meet my Great Grandfather, Alexander Ballantyne Macvean.

Courtesy of the Woolpack Museum Holbrook

Wouldn’t you know it, 10mins later came across another one in the bottom of this cabinet.

Courtesy of Woolpack Museum Holbrook

My Great Grandfather is on the top left with the wing collar and white bowtie. In the next cabinet this was resting on top.

Courtesy of the Woolpack Museum Holbrook.

Parish map with the landowners names marked on it. This shows exactly where the Rooksdale Estate was and bloody hell, look how much of it there was. Of course now I want to know as much as I can about the place. Take a look at what I just found on Trove.

One line from 1895 and it just emerges from the depths of time with a couple of key strokes. Mr A McVean is my 2x Great Grandfather he owned Howlong Station for over 40 years. My Great Grandfather, worked very closely with him before taking over Rooksdale.

Alexander Macvean Snr

This is my 2x Great Grandfather, Alexander Macvean Snr, shared with me by another very generous Cousin, Sally MacPhee.

I was aware that he owned a property called Howlong but hadn’t done any digging on that. Look what I have uncovered in the last 24 hours

I have just realised that this post is becoming a novel, not sure what the rules are but I will give you a break, for now. Road Trip to be continued……

Resources and Where to Start Your Family History Research

Since I began sharing my story in this Blog a few of you have asked, where do you start and what sites do you use? Of course this is one of those no right or wrong answer scenario’s. I think if there is something that you know of about your family and it stirs your interest that is the best spot to start digging. What I can share are the amazing tools that I have stumbled across or have had shared with me by some very generous people.

Now wait, I can hear some of you scoffing and saying about the fact that it is an ongoing payment, I hear you, if that doesn’t work for you that is fine but you can use it to start you off. Sign up for the 2 week free trial. Start inputting your info beginning with yourself, Siblings, Parents, Grandparents and Great Grandparents. Once you commence building up that information you will be surprised at how quickly you will start to generate hints.

Courtesy of

See the little leaf on the right of Henry John Blackwood’s name? These are gold. Click on this and it can lead you to information that might already be stored on your ancestor from someone else’s tree or from some government body that holds certified information on a life event. You do need to be aware that what is being shared especially if it is from another person’s tree might not be correct. Check the source and the information that is being shared and try to verify with what you already know.

The amazing thing with Ancestry is that there are so many people out there willing to share information that they might have, like photos or original source documents that can instantly add to your story. Nothing more generous in family history terms, than someone willing to make their tree and research public.

The other benefit with Ancestry is that it will potentially put you in contact with other’s who have an interest in some shared branch of your tree which is phenomenal. A number of the family photo’s I have came to me in this generous manner.

Courtesy of

Having said all that if you still don’t want to pay an ongoing cost, download the information from your tree to a ged file, (Ancestry will even walk you through this) to your computer and you can then upload that to any genealogy software program you might have available. Any photos or documents will not be in that file but you can save that from the tree directly to your hard drive. Cancel your subscription to Ancestry and then go back to it when and if you are ready for a paid subscription.

Full disclosure: I love and am a fully paid up card carrying member. It has been invaluable to me and my search for my family story.

Now on to the free tools. My absolute favourite:

I have been banging on about Trove for ages. What a resource, what a treasure Trove of information….(see what I did then? skills people, skills) It is phenomenal. Put in your names and start searching. Refine your results with dates, states and places. Set up a login and you can save any articles or information you find on your family into lists that you can then share with others. Example of a couple of mine below.

The Ryerson Index, a free death index appearing in Australian Newspapers. The really handy thing with this index is that it will list death and funeral notices, their dates and publications they appeared in . You can then take this back to Trove and drill down to the exact notice without having to wade through miles of information.

The Ryerson Index

The following are fairly self evident, put your names in and search.

NSW Birth Deaths and Marriages
NSW State Archives & Records
National Archives of Australia
State Library of NSW
National Library of Australia

Don’t forget your Local Council’s Archive’s and Local Library and Historical Society.

Good luck and if you need any help, just drop me a message here in the blog on the Contact page and I will get back to you as soon as I can.



Lost Words Unearthed

City of Sydney Archives, what a fantastic resource

The Assessment Books and ArchivePix collections have provided me with invaluable information on the Nicoll, Skinner and Blackwood family histories so far and then yesterday it just provided again.

I hadn’t used the Archives Investigator before and threw in Nicoll to see what would come up, now knowing, as my last post showed, that George Robertson Nicoll had the row of terraces in the Rocks and look what came up. A list of correspondence.

And to my amazement all the letters from George R have been digitised. Just like the Manuscript, this is an amazing opportunity to hear George in his own words. Of all the letters, this one below is my favorite, apart from the subject matter, the information contained on this as a copy of an original source document is gold.\Item\528065\Item\528065

First off, the syntax George uses, it reads for me like something from a Dickens novel, “…roaming at their own servant with tyranny over dust” I mean come on, that is a lost art isn’t it? and then “…manuring the newly cleaned door steps.” Shitting all over the friggin clean step, just doesn’t come anywhere near it.

Now to the other golden info, check out the address. Gowrie Terrace, that is the first time I have seen that written. 96 is the final terrace in the row from my previous post so we now know that George was living there for a time as well as no 84 as mentioned in the Sands directory and that the building had a title. Found a couple of entries in Trove for Gowrie Terrace.|||anyWords|||notWords|||requestHandler|||dateFrom=1860-01-01|||dateTo=1910-12-31|||sortby|||l-state=New+South+Wales#|||anyWords|||notWords|||requestHandler|||dateFrom=1860-01-01|||dateTo=1910-12-31|||sortby|||l-state=New+South+Wales|||anyWords|||notWords|||requestHandler|||dateFrom=1860-01-01|||dateTo=1910-12-31|||sortby

The other thing to note is that George is using letterhead from his Son Bruce Baird Nicoll and not his own which is fantastic because I didn’t know anything about the Warehouse and Office at 171 Kent St. This is how the story grows most of the time, from the most interesting small morsels of information. You’ll notice the same thing from the following letters.\Item\528065

Here we learn that George owns 70 Gloucester Street as well and has done so for 25 years, since 1856. He penned this letter in 1881 and it looks like he might be staying with my 2x Great Grandfather who had his property in Canterbury at that stage.\Item\632151\Item\632151

Again, more new info. Hadn’t seen anything about George residing in Chandos Street North Sydney. The Hart’s Stairs he is referring to is depicted in one of the photo’s of my last post. I can understand his frustration, it would have been a phenomenal view of late 19th century Circular Quay.

The above photo is believed to have been taken between 1860-1880 and would be very close to the vantage point of the Terrace’s. A view that George and the family would have been very familiar with having been in the area since the early 1850’s.

This final letter again is brimming over with information. George is alluding to the fact that he is the one responsible for building the terraces as he mentions that he has only just finished them. This time he is using the letterhead of my 2x Great Grandfather, George W, which brilliantly confirms where his business was operating from and the ships that he was still running at that time.

The stamp in the top right hand corner is very interesting. I have never come across the Tirzah Steam Saw Mill in Tweed River, so looking forward to chasing that up.

I definitely hear George’s voice coming through loud and clear from his letters which is such a gift when you consider that he put pen to paper nearly 130 years ago.

Nicoll’s Millionaires Row

I chose this title for this next section because it is, as my latest discovery has revealed, what my 3x Great Grandfather George Robertson Nicoll was sitting on. If only it was still in the family.

So I’ve had this article for sometime now and thought to do some digging on it’s details.

It is referring to a parcel of land in The Rocks. I found a very cool set of old maps on the NSW State Library website and hazard a guess that it was in this area that I have marked in yellow.

Now the problem was that I just couldn’t find anything to confirm that it was George’s property. Property research for me just seems to be a bit hit and miss and so damn complicated. I’m sure it is a lack of skills on my part but I haven’t been able to tap that silo of info as yet. (Not giving up) Luckily for me though, I remembered on one of my visits to the NSW State Archives and Records center at Kingswood ( that I had seen something about property in the Rocks.

Seven houses, in Gloucester Street and numbered. What a find! Only issue, which I am discovering comes up quite a lot, small mistakes in names or details. The re: reads, “…Estate of G W Nicoll deceased” but it should read G R Nicoll as G W was still very much alive in Sept 1901. The next document also backs these details up and sealed my fate as a future poverty line fringe dweller.

Bruce Baird Nicoll is my 2x Great Grandfather’s Brother. You’ll note that this Memo’ is dated Nov 1901. The 08 stamp date will refer to my 2x Great Grandfathers probate hearing, I think as these 2 documents were in with the papers stored in his will paperwork. So lucky to find them. You will also see the Rocks Resumption Act has come up, this bit of info has lead to another couple of lucky finds.

This Act was enabled by the NSW Government to help combat the effects of the bubonic plague that was rife in the area at the time. Plans were drawn up as to the area that would be resumed, over 900 houses, wharves, shops and warehouses, encompassing most of the headland. (

I started digging into the maps, (which are awesome) and this appeared.

There it was, the confirmation I was looking for, his name and the property numbers, 84-96. I then wondered if there might be a photo of the property. Along with the maps a whole range of photographs were taken of the area at the time. So I started searching. The markings above the final E in GLOUCESTER in the map above are the entrance to a very famous historic pub, The Whaler’s Arms.

If you compare the line of sight in the map with this photo, it has to be one of those buildings down on the left, just which one?

I then worked out that the building in the center of this photo is The Ship and Mermaid, another very famous and infamous pub of the Rocks. On the map above it is shown as the stepped back property from the road and numbered as 374, which matches up with what is shown in this photo. The next property is vacant with the wall around and marked as 375 on the map, we then have the set of stairs in both the photo and the map which means…

This is George’s building, 84 – 96 Gloucester Street, note the 7 doors. I also found it in the background of another few photos.

That is the back of No. 96 at the top of the stairs on the right. The Pub at the top in front of George’s building is the Ocean Wave and the building to the left of George’s is T Holdaway, Fruitier and Grocer.

What a great find and an actual look into what George’s world was like. This is what it looks like today.

Google Maps

This is from as close as I can get to the vantage point in the earlier photo of the Whalers Arms. See how they have an outline of the old Pub on the screen above. This site is now an archeological dig site known as “The Big Dig” The pic below is almost the same position as the Ship and Mermaid photo.

Below is the only listing I could find in the Sands Directory for George ever having resided at the property.

And then on a very interesting final note, remember how I mentioned earlier that the Ship and Mermaid Hotel, one door up from 84 was famous and infamous, well check these out:

I also came across articles on Trove where it was stated that it was used to hold coronial inquiries on many occasions. What a shame that amazing piece of Sydney history and George’s row of town houses are gone.

Description of Blog Banner

West Side of High Street Dundee 1836

This beautiful image is an engraving on steel by John Swan, Glasgow and is courtesy of the Dundee City Archives Flickr account. I chose it as the blog banner as it has a lot of significance for my family. It is the home town of George Robertson Nicoll my 3x Great Grandfather and author of the Manuscript. He is 12 years of age at the time of the depiction. He was born in the building directly attached to the building on the right hand side of the etching. If the etching continued you would be able to see it. (Spoilers, I have images to share later.)

The building in the center of the etching at the back of the square (not the one set back with the cross on top but the one to the right of that) is where George’s Grandfather, James Robertson, my 5x Great Grandfather lived and operated his clock and watch making business from for over half a century. (It stood until the mid 60’s)

And finally, the building on the left with the spire a top is the old Dundee Town House, to the right of that you can just see a line of horses depicted coming from in between the buildings, well that was a street that led the way to the Green Market where George’s Father, James Nicoll, my 4x Great Grandfather and his Father, Thomas Nicoll, my 5x Great Grandfather were Master Block and Pump makers.

I know, nuts right? To have this window into their time, it’s not a photograph but the very next best thing I’m thinking. You might be asking, well how does he know all this? Well, George’s manuscript and hours of late trawling through websites to confirm. I will share that part of the journey but just wanted to explain why I was using this picture.

So, What To Share First?

A mind blowing find at the National Library of Australia.

The Macvean’s visit October 2018

I found out back in 2012 from an article at the time, that my 3 x Great Grandfather, George Robertson Nicoll had written a book and that the library had a copy of it and the original handwritten manuscript in its collection.

The article written by Judy Cannon (no relation to Alex) and titled “For the Love of Travel”, was inspiring and really piqued my interest.

It took another 6 years but I finally got to see both the book and the manuscript in Oct 2018.

There were only 25 copies of the book printed, the Mitchel Library in Sydney has one, this one at the NLA and presumably the rest are scattered around the world. My Cousin Viv in Scotland who is undertaking a proper research study of the Nicoll’s has mentioned that her family lore says that there are a couple more floating around that were dedicated to George’s Neice’s.

Now we come to the manuscript. I half expected it to be some loose bound pages in a folio sleeve, huh! Out comes a big satin bean bag cushion and gloves and a very pensive glowering Librarian instructing me on how to handle the manuscript. He delivers to me a large grey box with a number of different manuscripts housed together. Taking up most of the space was this huge tome of a thing that looked like it was straight from the set of “Gringotts” in “Harry Potter”.

I very gingerly opened it up and was stunned to see that it was filled with the most amazing handwritten script, 319 pages to be precise from my 3x Great Grandfather and then a further 40 pages by his son John Baird Nicoll on a cruise he took with his Wife around the South Pacific. I was gobsmaked. Just look at the title page below.

I couldn’t believe what I was reading, 1890, from memory and about my family. Can’t wait to share more with you. Will post soon.