52 Ancestors #22 – So Far Away – Donald MacKay

Week 22’s prompt for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks is So Far Away. It didn’t take me long to come up with the idea to write up a story about my husband Bob’s paternal family. The MacKay’s from Rogart in Sutherlandshire, Scotland. His father, Donald and uncle Jock (Jannetas) set sail in 1924 per Largs Bay, leaving behind 8 brothers and sisters to start a new life in the Midwest region of Western Australia.

Donald MacKay

Donald Mackay was born in Rogart on the 23 May 1901, the second eldest son of 11 children to James MacKay and Isabella Sutherland.

Sarah and Donald MacKay

Jannetas otherwise known as Jock is the third son and the sixth child, born on the 2 June 1902. They lived with the family at 228 Tannachy, a 15-acre property near Rogart, Sutherlandshire, Scotland.

Other siblings were Isabella, Georgina, John James, Jamina, Catherine, Mary, Robert and Angus.

MacKay Family in Scotland

Jamima Sutherland nee Oman, Georgina, Jannetas (Jock) on grandmothers knee, Johnny, James MacKay, Jamima, Isy (Isabella), Donald, Isabella MacKay nee Sutherland

Donald died in 1959, Bob was just 12 years old and his wife Sarah died in 1963, so Bob spent a lot of his time with his Uncle Jock. When I met him, Jock and Bob were sharing a house together and as years went by I started to ask Jock about the family they left behind in Scotland. Unfortunately, Donald nor Jock ever went back but there were several letters and photos showing that some of the family did keep in touch, via Sarah.

One story Jock told me was about his little sister who was lost on the moors near their home. On a visit to Scotland in 1998, a cousin found a newspaper article which told the very sad story.


FROM the parish of Rogart comes the startling and sad news that a child of seven years of age has been lost all trace of since Sunday. The child is a daughter of Mr James Mackay, crofter, Tannachy, Rogart.
In company with her elder sister, the two went for a ramble, and after spending some time in that way, the little mite felt tired and wanted home. As the elder sister had something to attend to, she could not go home with her, but as the little one persistently cried to get home, she consented, and conveyed her a part of the distance—as far as she was certain she could make the rest of the distance herself with safety. The elder sister then returned to her duties, and having performed them, she wended her way home, but on arriving she found that the little one had not turned up.
The alarm was at once given and search parties were immediately formed, all the people in the district willingly lending their assistance. The last that was seen of the child was when she was crossing over the bridge at Sciberscross. When the information was received by the search parties, they immediately went in that direction and scanned the whole district carefully, but no trace of the missing child could be found. The searchers did not end there, but armed with lanterns they continued the search all night and the next day. Diligent investigations were continued on Tuesday and yesterday, but up till late last night no trace had been found of the missing child.
It is feared, as the ground is very marshy in that district, that the child, overcome with exhaustion, may have fallen into one of the many bogs, or have slipped into the river or one of the burns. During Sunday night the rain came down in torrents, and taking all things into account, it is hardly possible to expect to find the child alive.
The sad incident has cast a gloom over the whole district, and sympathy on every hand is extended to the parents, who are overcome with grief.
A twin sister of the child that is missing is presently in the Lawson Memorial Hospital having been accidentally severely…..(unreadable)

Source: The Northern Times, Thursday, April 27, 1911

Mary MacKay’s cause of death is stated as ‘supposed to have been engulfed in a bog or drowned accidentally in Brora River in the neighbourhood of Tannachy, Rogart, but body not recovered at this date.’

One can only imagine the anguish of this close knit family. The mother and little twin sister must have been beside themselves in pain and sorrow.

The MacKay children attended the country school of Rhilochan about a mile south of Tannachy. A Miss MacKay was a teacher along with Mr MacDonald who was Jock’s first teacher for about six years. About 20 children attended the country school and he finished at the age of 14 to help his father as a road contractor.

Four or five of the children would walk together to school. A horse and sulky were used to go on outings. Sometimes they would walk or ride their bikes to dances at Rogart. To go to Golspie they would catch the train.

Cheviot sheep and black-faced cattle were allowed to roam on the grazing country and were identified by their ear tags. Potatoes, turnips and other veggies were grown also.

When he left school, Donald worked for his father as a road contractor. They used a horse and dray, broke up metal and rocks to put on the roads and used a machine driven road-roller to roll it out.

Jock and Donald helped their father build their two-storey house at Tannachy. The granite was blasted from the ground and wedges were then used to break the blocks. The house had a staircase between the two levels. Two bedrooms and a bathroom were upstairs and the bottom section had a bedroom, kitchen and lounge. The walls inside were of whiteboards. It was only just finished when they left to go to Australia. (We visited this home in 1998 and in 1995, Bob’s cousin’s daughter Isabel, gave us a clock made from one of the rocks from this wall.)

House in Tannachy Scotland

MacKay House, Tannachy, Rogart, Scotland

Jock and Donald were originally going to immigrate to Canada, but two of their friends and neighbours Alex and Donald Matheson were going to Australia and talked them into changing their minds. After much persuasion, they did give in.

The young men left for Australia early one morning of the 4th March 1924, from the London docks, saying goodbye to their mother in Scotland before they left. Millicent Coghill, their sister from Brora, recalled it being a very cold day when they left. It had been snowing and she remembers the snow being very deep.

Millicent Coghill nee MacKay

Bob’s Aunty Millicent Coghill nee MacKay, Bob & Jenny 1998

Jock had a girlfriend at the time by the name of Chrissy Thomson who stayed behind in Scotland. Chrissy’s father had died and she was looking after her mother who would have been alone if she had of left.

The trip aboard the “SS Largs Bay” took 28 days and arrived in Fremantle, Western Australia, 4th April 1924. The two men and their ship mates made their way to the YMCA in Perth, where employment agents would come and offer them work. Donald and Jock both gained their first jobs working for Cannon’s at Nabawa, north east of Geraldton. The two young men then caught a train to Northampton and went on the road-mail horse and buggy out to the property. They share farmed with Rupert Ash, clearing land and cropping for two years. This made them a good return. It was during this time that Donald met and married Sarah Thomas, the 8th child of Daniel Thomas and Maria Mansell.

The townsite of Nabawa is located in the northern agricultural area of Western Australia, 463 km from the city of Perth and 41 km north east of Geraldton. Latitude : 28 30 S Longitude : 114 47 E. It is the principal town in the Shire of Chapman Valley. Nabawa derives its name from Nabawar Pool, a pool in the Chapman River first recorded by a surveyor in 1857. This Aboriginal word is said to mean “camp far away”. Although originally spelt Nabawar, the current spelling of Nabawa has been used since 1872. A schoolsite was set aside here in 1897, and the spelling Nabawah was used, but a site for an agricultural hall in the same year used the Nabawa spelling. When the Upper Chapman railway was opened in 1910, a siding was opened near the pool and named Nabawa. The railway closed in 1961, but the Shire of Chapman Valley moved its administrative headquarters to Nabawa in the mid 1960s, and in 1965 a townsite was declared.

After Donald and Sarah married, they lived for a time at Billy Bridgeman’s, share farming until they purchased property from the Williamsons’. Donald named this property, Rogart, after the parish he was born in, in Scotland.

Donald farmed the property at Nabawa for many years before he took seriously ill and moved into Geraldton where he died on the 13th October 1959. Sarah too died at a young age on the 13th May 1963 leaving a family of three boys and two girls, James, Janet, Nancy, Angus and Robert.

The farm was leased to the Cannon family and Jock went to work for the Jupp’s in Yuna, a nearby farming community.

When the lease expired, Robert the youngest of the family went back and worked the farm with Jock. At this time, Angus the 4th child was away serving in the Vietnam war. On his return, he took over the running of Rogart and still lives on the property today although it is now leased out. Robert lives in Geraldton having moved off the farm in the 1970s.

Jock never married and lived a long life, mostly on Rogart Farm in Nabawa and served for 4 years in the Australian Imperial Forces in New Guinea during WWII. He died at the Geraldton Nursing Home aged 91 in 1993.

Three members of the Mackay family have served in the Australian Army:-
Janetas – New Guinea
James – Korea
Angus – Vietnam

About Jenny MacKay

Just a person who is looking forward to retirement and enjoying the golden years!
This entry was posted in 52-Ancestors-52-Weeks, Blog, MacKay, Surnames. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to 52 Ancestors #22 – So Far Away – Donald MacKay

  1. Pingback: 52 Ancestors #42 – Conflict | jenealogyscrapbook

  2. All those familiar names… Cannon, Bridgeman. And of course, the farm out past East Bowes. I didn’t know about the name “Rogart “… when I needed it writing The Bowes. And I was so sad reading about the little one who went missing- how would you ever recover????

    • Jenny MacKay says:

      Sue, I’m finding out a lot of things hen I reread, yes reread documents with a different outlook that suddenly makes sense. Like Sarah Darling, on their marriage certificate it says her residence was the Bowes. Servant maybe!?

  3. tstatton says:

    This was another very interesting read Jenny. Bob must be proud of his ancestors and how they managed to leave their family for the unknown and have done well. Thank you for sharing.

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