Lovely Package

Airmail from Eire
Airmail from Eire

After few days on the road it was nice to come home to my own bed tonight.

But on checking the letterbox there was further reason to be happy; an envelope from Ireland which I’ve been anticipating for a few weeks Unfortunately the volcanic eruption has held up the mail somewhat, so I’ve needed to hold on that little bit longer for some court records relating to one of my ancestors, James Laing.

I knew a little about him, but the records tonight from fellow researcher, Ann Murray Burke, have helped fill in many of the gaps.

The story of James is quite an interesting one.

He was born in Stonehaven (a seaside town on Scotland’s north east coast) near Aberdeen, (probably) on Sunday 18 June 1815.

When convicted of housebreaking in 1835, he stated he was “bred of a cartwright and since 1929 has been going on voyages as a sailor between Scotland and Quebec” and that he moved to Edinburgh in May that year.

His convict records state that, by modern standards, he was a short man, (1.63m tall), with a dark sallow complexion, brown almost black hair and brown eyes. He also had a small mole on the upper part of his right arm and a scar on the back of his right thumb.

On the 20th day of August 1835, the court records state, he and fifteen year old Addison Mitchell conducted break and enters on two houses in Elm Row, Edinburgh.

The first was at the house of James Thomson on Elm Row, Edinburgh where they stole the following items: a black cloth coat; a silver snuff-box; a pair of leather gloves; two or thereby silk handkerchiefs; and two or thereby pass keys.

The second was at the house of David Brown, a tailor and clothier on Elm Row, where they stole the following items: a silver watch; a silk watch ribbon; a gold ring; a gold seal; a gold key; and, belonging to David Brown’s daughter Helen, “a worsted shawl”.

At conviction, the court records note that both young men had appeared before Magistrate John Fletcher on August 25 and before Magistrate James Donaldson on August 27 where some of the stolen items were presented as evidenced against them.

On November 9, 1835, he was found guilty of housebreaking and was sentenced to seven years transportation.

In sentencing them, the court records note that Addison Mitchell had previous convictions in Edinburgh on July 8, 1834 and June 16, 1835.

The Scotsman newspaper reported the case thus…

High Court of Justiciary. Addison Mitchell and James Laing were next brought up, charged with two acts of theft, one of them committed by means of housebreaking, aggravated in the case of Mitchell, by his being, habit and repute, and previously convicted of theft. The prisoners having pleaded guilty, Mitchell was sentenced to fourteen years, and Laing seven years transportation.

Soon after coming to Australia he met and married Isabella Mclean, the daughter of Allan McLean and Janet McFarlane from the Isle of Coll in the Inner Hebrides.

Before coming to Australia, the records indicate, she had been “in service” at Glasgow and could speak a little English. Aged twenty, she came to Australia with her parents and younger siblings, settled in the Broulee area (near Moruya), where her father worked as a boat-builder.

The birth records of the children of James and Isabella indicates they spent the early years of their marriage living and working on a number of properties in the Moruya district, including Duga (1843), Glenduart (1844-1847) and Shannon View (owned by Flanagan) (1850) before moving to Braidwood (1852) at the peak of gold mining in the area.

By the 1860s, however, James and Isabella had moved to Towamba, near Eden where they farmed for the rest of their lives.

His death was reported in The Bega Standard in 1890.

Mr. James LAING another old resident recently deceased left three sons and three daughters, who have all large families. The deceased was born on the day the Battle of Waterloo was fought, and although thousands of miles from his birthplace, strange to say he died while a rifle match was being shot off. ‘Bega Standard’ – 12 August, 1890

Interestingly, the obituary mentions nothing about his convict past.

Anyway, that’s how I’ve spent my Friday night… transcribing records… listening to the radio… and generally, just relaxing.

3 Replies to “Lovely Package”

  1. ‘she had been “in service” at Glasgow and could speak a little English’. I don’t know much about Scotland back then. She would have spoken Gaelic?

  2. I’m guessing Gaelic also, but even in those days language skills were defined by whether they were English or not. I remember reading a story about a group of Aboriginal people discovered in the Blue Mountains who spoke Gaelic because all of their European contact had been with Irish and Scottish people. Adds an interesting element to the story of Australia, doesn’t it?

  3. I remember stopping in Stonehaven around this time 5 years ago. It had a nice little harbour and Bondi was very keen to play with some of the dogs down there.

    I also had some ancestral records from Wales held up by the volcano. I’ve got a bit of transcribing to do too!

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