Donald Laing was born on January 25, 1852, in Braidwood to James Laing, a Scottish convict, and Isabella McLean, a Scottish immigrant. He spent his early years in Towamba, where his family had settled.
Records show that James and Isabella lived and worked on several properties in the Moruya district before moving to Braidwood in 1852 during the gold rush. James owned Freehold Land at “Oak Hills” and is recorded on the Braidwood Electoral Roll in 1863. However, the family relocated to Towamba, near Eden, in the 1860s.
At the age of twenty, Donald married Sarah Higgins on October 8, 1872, in a Church of England ceremony in Eden. Witnesses to the marriage were Frank Russell and Eliza Higgins. While the marriage certificate provides little information about the couple, it does reveal that Donald was a farmer in Towamba, and Sarah was a spinster from the same area.
Sarah Higgins was the daughter of Robert Higgins and Ellen Triggell. At the time of their marriage, Donald was listed as a farmer on their marriage certificate, while the postal directory stated that he was a woodman.
The Local Mailman For Decades
Also about this time, Donald became the local mailman. In fact, the death notice for his brother, Allan, in the “Eden Magnet”, records…
….Mr. Donald Laing, probably the oldest mail man in the state who for years conveyed the Eden-Pericoe mail by horse coach and who has since been running the Pambula-Nethercote mail by horse and sulky and for the last several years on horseback.
The Commonwealth Gazette of January 30, 1915 reports the conditions of his mailrun
Pambula and Eden, via Nethereote (Contractor to travel the Coast road to Eden, thence lo Nethereote, and return that, route in time of flood), three times a week.—Donald Laing, Pambula, sulky, one horse, three years, £80 per annum. Conditionally.
In 1916, Donald suffered an accident, which was reported on several occasions in “The Pambula Voice”…
On July 7, 1916, ‘The Pambula Voice’ reported…
A serious accident befell our worthy Nethercote-Eden mailman, Mr. Donald LAING. A few days ago he was breaking some limbs from a tree at Eden, when one struck him in the eye causing the services of the doctor. He is only making slow recovery. Mr. LAING has not had the sight of the other eye for some years, so he is completely laid up. If any person is missed on the road of his travels, it is “Donald” LAING. The obliging friend of everyone, and all hope to soon see him on the track again, from which he has not been off for over 25 years.
On July 21, 1916, ‘The Pambula Voice’ reported…
A Deserving Case:
We regret to again report that Mr. Donald LAING, mail contractor Pambula, Eden via Nethercote, is making very little progress towards recovery with his injured eye. As mentioned in a previous issue “Donald” is greatly missed from the road, as he was the friend of all roadside residents, ever ready and willing to carry parcels, etc. gratis. Seldom a day passed but on his arrival at Pambula, after delivering the mail he would be seen going from one store to another delivering orders for goods, and was seldom known to make an error. What did he get for all the trouble he has gone to, to oblige the public? Perhaps abuse if he did happen to forget a cake of tobacco, or the bit of trimming for the young lady’s ball dress. Anyhow Mr. LAING has not been fully recompensed for his past valued services, and now a number of those “who have used him freely”, desire to do something for him in his hour of trouble, and rightly so too. We have been requested to open a subscription list in the “Voice”, and Mr.V. Herman has kindly taken the onerous duties of secretary to the movement. Now then all those who have any sympathy with the object are kindly reminded to come along.
On August 11, 1916, ‘The Pambula Voice’ reported…
Nethercote: I am pleased to report that Mr. D. LAING, our mailman, is on the road to recovery. The collection taken up here amounted to five pound eight shillings. I wish it had been more for Mr. LAING’S services are worth it. (Grand total contributed from the whole area – 14 pounds 16/-d.)
On August 25, 1916, ‘The Pambula Voice’ reported…
At the Red Cross meeting on Wednesday, Mr. Donald LAING was presented with the money collected for his past valued services to the public on his mail road line, Pambula to Eden via Nethercote. Mr. Wilkins made the presentation and handed Mr. LAING the sum of fifteen pounds ten shillings. Mr. English responded on behalf of Mr. LAING, who was not up to speaking. Mr. LAING is slowly gaining his sight, but it will be some time before it becomes normal again.
Death of Sarah Higgins
Sarah died in 1920 (11406/1920). Her death certificate states she was 68 years old, meaning she was probably born in 1852.
On August 6, 1920 ‘The Pambula Voice’ reported…
We have to chronicle the death of Mrs. Donald LAING senr., at the age of 68 years, which took place at her residence Pambula, on Sunday night last. Deceased had been practically an invalid for a number of years. She leaves a husband seven sons and four daughters to mourn her loss. The funeral took place on Tuesday, when the remains were laid to rest in the Church of England cemetery. The Rev. H.E. Hetherington conducted the service and Messrs T. Manning & Son had charge of the funeral arrangements. We extend our sympathy to the numerous relatives.
On August 7, 1920, ‘The Eden Magnet’ reported…
The death took place at Pambula on Sunday last of Mrs. Donald LAING senr. at the age of 68 years.
On August 13, 1920, ‘The Pambula Voice’ recorded…
Mr. D. LAING senr. and family desire to tender their sincere thanks to all those who sent cards, telegrams and letters of sympathy in their recent sad bereavement; also desire to thank Dr Macarthur for his kind and unremitting attention, also all those friends who assisted in many ways.
On August 5, 1921, ‘The Pambula Voice’ recorded…
LAING – In loving memory of my dear wife and our mother, Sarah LAING, who departed this life Aug 1, 1920.
Her cheerful smile and pleasant face
Are pleasant to recall
She had a kindly word for each
And died, beloved by all.
Inserted by her loving husband D. LAING and family.
Visit to Sydney for Divorce Trial
On June 18, 1921, The ‘Cobargo Chronicle’ reported…
Donald LAING a coachdriver of a lifetime in Eden district, and who has lived beyond the allotted three score and ten, gave evidence in the Fourter divorce case in Sydney. Donald was nothing abashed by the proceedings in Court and was quite hail fellow well met with His Honor and the members of the Bar. He said it was his first trip to Sydney and the first time he had ever seen a tram. “My word” he concluded, “it’s an eye opener and a fellow like me has to keep his eyes skinned here alright”. The Sydney papers literally “featured” the old man by printing his photograph.
On June 18, 1921 the ‘Eden Magnet’ reported….
A Veteran Coachman: On the occasion of his recent visit, with several other district residents, to Sydney, to give evidence in the Fourter case, Mr. Don LAING, of Pambula, was interviewed by several pressmen, who obtained a brief outline of his life history, which subsequently appeared in the “Sun” and “Evening News”, the latter containing a splendid photo of the veteran South Coast coachman. From the “Sun” we take the following: “There are few New South Welshmen who haven’t seen the city of Sydney and heard the interminable noise of its trams. Donald LAING, of Pambula, is an exception. Wearing a beard which the patriarchs of old might have envied, and with a toll of years more than threescore and ten, he gave evidence in the Divorce Court in the Fourter restitution suit. He knows much about horses and coaches – he drove a coach in the Pambula district – but little about electric trams and the bustle of a populous city. Mr. Toose (counsel for Fourter): “Mr.. LAING. this, I understand, is your first visit to Sydney?” “That’s right” proudly declared the veteran. “It’s my first visit to Sydney” he added, “and the first time I’ve ever seen a tram!”
Death of Donald Laing
Donald’s death notice, which was reported in the “Eden Magnet” of November 19th, 1932, also gives some insight into his life story:
Mr. Donald Laing of Pambula, a well known identity in the Far South Coast, died in the district hospital at Pambula last Sunday aged 82 years. He was a native of Moruya and as a youth arrived with his parents at Eden by steamer. At the age of 21 Donald took up mail contracting, the first being the Eden-Towamba service on a bridle track over the mountain between the Towamba and Nullica valleys. Later he ran the Pambula – Nethercote mail, which he continued till the end of 1931, thus completing 61 years of continuous mail contracting service, most of it carried out on horseback.
Donald Laing was born on 1873 (registration number 10197) and baptized in Bega Parish on September 8, 1875. In 1894 (registration number 2441/1894), he married Johanna Whittaker in Bega. According to researcher Trish Moon, the couple had a daughter named Florence May, who was born before their marriage and raised as a Laing, even though she was born as a Montgomery. Donald and Johanna had a son named Donald Junior. Donald Senior passed away in North Sydney in 1940 (registration number 19001/1940).
Isabella Laing was born on June 29, 1874, in Towamba, New South Wales, Australia (1874/10410). She was baptized in the Bega Parish on September 8, 1875. Isabella married James Gregson on September 26, 1906, in Bega (834/1906). Isabella passed away in Bega in 1952 (15088/1952).
Ellen Lang was born in 1875 (1875/10721) and had a relationship with her first cousin, William Rixon, who was born in 1868 in Towamba, near Eden, NSW. They never married but had several children together, including the author’s grandmother, Bertha, who was born in Pambula in 1902. William Rixon later married Bertha Ramsay in 1908 and they had five children together. William passed away in Bairnsdale, Victoria in 1929.
In 1921, when their daughter Bertha married, Ellen was living in Bombala. According to Electoral Rolls, by 1926, Ellen’s daughter, Ruby Amelia White, was living with her at Maybe Street, Bombala. Sometime between 1930 and 1934, Ellen and Ruby moved to Forbes Street, Bombala, where Ellen worked as a cook. According to the Electoral Roll, she was still working as a cook in 1938.
Another researcher, Kerrie Beers, believes that Ellen moved to Sydney with her daughter Ruby around that time to help her run a boarding house in Henrietta Street, Waverley. In 1940, Ruby divorced Edward White and married Jack Alterator, who joined the army in February 1941 and was discharged twelve months later due to shellshock. Around 1942 or 1943, Ruby and Jack moved to Brisbane, during which time Ellen lived with her other daughter, Bertha, and son-in-law, Charles Dunn. According to Electoral Rolls, Ellen had left Lismore by 1946, presumably returning to live with Ruby and Jack who had returned to Sydney.
Ellen Lang spent the end of her life at Newintong State Hospital and Home, which had a history of providing support for destitute or aged women. She suffered from Chronic Myocarditis and Rheumatoid Arthritis and passed away on June 16, 1950. Myocarditis is inflammation or degeneration of the heart muscle. On June 20, she was buried in the Presbyterian section of Liverpool Cemetery.
Robert James Laing was born on August 25, 1877 (registration number 1877/11421) and was baptized in Bega Parish on November 11, 1877. He married Sara Jane Douch on September 27, 1899, in Eden (registration number 5771/1899). They had several children together, including Ethel May, Stanley, and Ruby. Robert James passed away on November 6, 1952, at his residence in Marrickville (registration number 28693/1952).
William Laing was born in 1879 (1879/13025). He spent most of his life in Bega and its surrounding areas. He passed away in Bega in 1945 (14831/1945).
Sarah Ann Laing, also known as Annie, was born in 1880 (1880/13763). According to Ann Murray (see comments below), she married Edward Lawless at Bombala in 1902. They had one child together, Sarah (also known as Annie). Edward was tragically killed in an accident in 1913, which was reported in “The Pambula Voice” on June 6, 1913. Sarah Ann later remarried in 1931 to William Wright, who was also a widower. Sarah (Annie) Lawless, their daughter, died in Pambula in 1955.
A Sad Fatality: A fatal accident befell Mr. Edward LAWLESS at Eden on Sunday last while loading poles on to the s.s. Sydney. It appears that LAWLESS had fastened the steamers winch rope to a telegraph pole, 30 ft long, lying on the wharf. He then gave the order to haul away. The pole was being dragged along the wharf, when the end came in contact with a pile head, LAWLESS and Warren released it when the pole swung round, being then a few feet in the air. Warren ran out of danger, but the deceased being on the opposite side to get away from any danger tried to duck under the pole, when just in the act of stooping, the pole came down on his back breaking the spinal cord, when death was instantaneous. The deceased was 38 years of age, and leaves a wife and infant child. He was highly respected and was employed by the Melbourne s.s. Company at Eden. Mr. Coroner Martin held an inquiry on Monday when a verdict of accidental death was returned. The funeral was one of the largest in the district, fully 400 following the hearse. The local Oddfellows marched in procession and carried out the burial ceremony. The Rev. Upjohn officiated at the graveside. Mr. Alex Greig had charge of the funeral arrangements. The deceased was married to Annie, daughter of our popular mail contractor, Mr. D. LAING of Pambula. We extend our sympathy to the bereaved relatives.
Archibald Laing was born on the 27th of July, 1884 (1884/18548) in New South Wales, Australia. He married Emma J George in 1906 (7074/1906), and together they had several children. Archibald worked as a farmer in the area for many years. He passed away on the 16th of August, 1949 (16439/1949).
Arthur Laing was born on 1886, as indicated by his birth registration number (1886/20059). He married Rachel L. Koerber in 1910 (11987/1910). Arthur passed away in 1942, as noted in his death registration number (26194/1942).
Bertha J Laing was born in Bega in 1888 (1888/21087). She died in Bega in 1905 (8664/1905).
Florence Laing was born on June 26, 1891, in Bega, New South Wales (registration number 1891/12607). She married Samuel Mahoney on August 2, 1911, in Bega (registration number 5326/1911).
* Many of the newspaper references are sourced from the Laing Page on the Towamba Valley History Website. It’s a terrific page.
* There’s a report on the Towamba Valley History website which mentions someone called Donald Laing. Although it’s possible the article refers to another Donald, the timing and location suggests Donald’s involvement, although researcher Trish Moon believes this probably involved Donald Junior.
‘Pambula Voice’ January 28, 1898
SAD SHOOTING FATALITY
News reached Pambula early on Wednesday morning that a young man named Arthur Smith had been shot dead the previous evening in between Rocky Hall and Burragate. The District Coroner Mr. C. A. Baddeley, on receiving news of the occurrence immediately proceeded to Rocky Hall to hold an inquiry and was accompanied by Dr. Stoney. Our Rocky Hall correspondent, writing on January 26, supplies the following particulars:
An accident of a fatal nature occurred here on Tuesday evening, the victim being Arthur Smith, a young man, 19 or 20 years of age and a resident of this neighbourhood. It appears that the deceased in company with a man named Donald Laing left his home about noon for the purpose of shooting hares and wallabies. When they reached the vicinity of the game they separated being within hearing of each other. Between five and six o’clock in the evening, having walked a considerable distance, Laing decided to return home so he “coo-eed” to Smith. As no response was forthcoming he grew somewhat anxious and proceeded to the spot where he last heard Smith fire a shot. After searching around for while he discovered the dead body of his comrade with a bullet wound in his head; the ball having entered just under the right eye and passed out at the back of his head. It is not known how the accident happened. Some are of the opinion that it was caused through the accidental explosion of a cartridge in the deceased’s rifle, whilst others think it must have been stray bullet which occasioned the fatality.
A Coroner’s inquiry is being held today. The deceased was a quiet and inoffensive young fellow and his loss will be keenly felt by his parents who were much dependent on him for support. Mr. and Mrs. Smith have the deepest sympathy of the whole community in their sad bereavement.
The Pambula Voice also reported…
An inquiry was held on the 26th January before Mr. C. A. Baddeley, District Coroner and jury of five at the residence of Mr. John Robinson Snr, Burragate, touching the death of a young man named Arthur Smith who was shot dead while out wallaby shooting on the previous day. The jury was composed of the following gentlemen: Messers J. H. Martin (foreman), David Binnie, David Collins, H. A. Kraanstuyver and John McDonald. Evidence was given as under:
Vincent Meek as being duly sworn stated: Am a constable of police stationed at Wyndham. About twenty minutes past six yesterday evening I received a memo from the post master at Wyndham informing me that Arthur Smith had been found dead at ‘Stony Batter’ on the road from Wyndham to Rocky Hall. I proceeded at once to the place and there saw a body lying on the ground which I identified as that of Arthur Smith, son of William Smith of ‘Reedy Creek’. The body was lying face downwards and both hands were under the body; the ground was uneven. About eight feet above the body I saw a Winchester rifle which I examined and found it contained an empty cartridge case No. 44 caliber. A loaded cartridge was also lying beside the rifle. Found a wound on the right cheek near the nose and another at the back of the head.
The jury returned the following verdict: We find that Arthur Smith of New Building, near Rocky Hall, in the District of Eden, and colony of New South Wales, on the 25th January, 1898, died from the effects of a rifle shot in the head and that the shot was accidentally discharged.
* Donald Laing married Sarah Higgins on October 8, 1872 (1872/2071) at Eden in a Church of England ceremony. Witnesses to the marriage were Frank Russell and Eliza Higgins. Unfortunately, the marriage certificate reveals little further information, except that donald was a farmer at Towamba and that Sarah as a spinster at Towamba.
* Although there is no birth record for Sarah Higgins, the records for the administration of her father’s estate confirms Sarah was their child.
* Thanks to David Smith’s contribution to the Monaro Pioneers page.
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