Donald Laing and Sarah Higgins

Donald Laing was the son of James Laing, a Scottish convict and Isabella McLean, a Scottish immigrant. Born on January 25, 1852 at Braidwood (V18521947 38A/1852), he lived in Towamba from an early age.

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.

James is recorded on the Braidwood Electoral Roll in 1863, having Freehold Land at “Oak Hills”

By the 1860s, however, James and Isabella had moved to Towamba, near Eden.

Aged about twenty, Donald 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 was a spinster at Towamba.

Sarah Higgins was the daughter of Robert Higgins and Ellen Triggell. At the time of their marriage Donald was a farmer (according to his marriage certificate) and a woodman according to the postal directory.

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.

Donald Laing and Sarah Higgins were married 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.
Donald Laing and Sarah Higgins were married 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.

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.

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…

RETURN THANKS
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 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….

Donald Laing in The Sun, June 8, 1921
Donald Laing in The Sun, June 8, 1921

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!”

On August 5, 1921, ‘The Pambula Voice’ recorded…

In Memoriam
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.

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.

Towamba River

Children
* Donald was born in 1873 (1873/10197). He was baptised Bega Parish 8 September 1875. He married Johanna Whittaker at Bega in 1894 (2441/1894). According to researcher, Trish Moon, they had a daughter, Florence May who was born before they were married (born Montgomery, but raised as Laing). Donald Junior He died at North Sydney in 1940 (19001/1940)

* Isabella was born in 1874 (1874/10410). She was baptised Bega Parish on 8 September, 1875. She married James Gregson at Bega in 1906 (834/1906). She died in Bega in 1952 (15088/1952).

* Ellen Lang was born in 1875 (1875/10721). She had a relationship with, but never married, her first cousin, William Rixon, born 1868 at Towamba, near Eden, NSW who was the eldest son of Thomas Rixon and Jane Laing. They had several children together, including my grandmother, Bertha who was born at Pambula in 1902. In 1908, William Rixon married Bertha Ramsay. They had five children: Thomas William (1909), Gladys May (1911), Annie (1914), Bertha Dorothy (1923) and Marcus (1924) and all were born in Victoria. William Rixon died August 22, 1929 in Bairnsdale, Victoria. In 1921, when their daughter Bertha married, Ellen was living at Bombala. According to the 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 and Ellen worked as a Cook which, according to the Electoral Roll she still was in 1938. Fellow researcher, Kerrie Beers believes Ellen moved to Sydney with daughter, Ruby about that time and helped her run the boarding house at Henrietta Street Waverley. In 1940, Ruby divorced from Edward White and married Jack Alterator, who joined the army in February 1941, discharged twelve months later with shellshock. In about 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 the Electoral Rolls, she had left Lismore by 1946, presumably returning to live with Ruby and Jack who had returned to Sydney. Ellen Laing spent the end of her life at Newintong State Hospital and Home which had a history of providing support for destitute or aged women. Suffering with Chronic Myocarditis and Rhuematoid Arthritis, she died 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 was born in 1877 (1877/11421). He married Sara Jane Douch at Eden in 1899 (5771/1899). He died in 1952 at Marrickville (28693/1952)

* William (1879/13025). He died at Bega in 1945 (14831/1945).

* Sarah Ann (known as Annie) was born 1880. (1880/13763). According to Ann Murray (see comments below) Sarah Ann Laing married Edward Lawless at Bombala in 1902. He was killed in an accident in 1913, which was reported in “The Pambula Voice’ on June 6, 1913 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.. Sarah Ann remarried in 1931 to William Wright who was also a widow. Edward and Sarah had just one child, Sarah (also known as Annie) who died at Pambula in 1955.

* Archibald was born in 1884 (1884/18548). He married Emma J George in 1906 (7074/1906). He died in 1949 (16439/1949).

* Arthur was born in 1886 (1886/20059). He married Rachel L. Koerber in 1910 (11987/1910). He died in 1942 (26194/1942).

* Bertha J was born in 1888 (1888/21087). She died in 1905 (8664/1905).

* Florence was born in 1891 (1891/12607). She married Samuel Mahoney in 1911 (5326/1911).

Note:

* 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.

Greville’s Post Office Directory 1872.

Thanks

* Thanks to David Smith’s contribution to the Monaro Pioneers page.

Sharing Around: Please feel free to copy any of the information on this page which may help you in your own research. My feeling is that family research is hard enough, without the need to constantly re-invent the wheel. Please remember, though, this is a work in progress, and will be regularly updated with new information. It would be great, however, if you’d leave a comment below just to say “hi”.

23 thoughts on “Donald Laing and Sarah Higgins

Add yours

  1. HiJames – I am a relative of Donald Laing and Sarah Higgins my mother was Neta May Lawless her parents were Edward Lawless and Sarah Laing.
    would like to hear from you

  2. Hi Ann, it’s always lovely to discover someone else on this path of discovery! As I’ve only recently put all of my research online, I’m suddenly hearing from a whole bunch of people tracing the same or similar lines. If you’re keen to correspond, please drop me a line.
    James

  3. James,

    My husband, Peter Moon, is the GGGGrandson of James Laing and Isabella McLean through DonaldSnr, Donald Jnr (he lived at Rocky Hall so is probably the Donald mentioned in the shooting incident), Florence May Montgomery(Whittaker- born to Donald Jnr and Johanna Whittaker before they married – was brought up as Florence Laing) and finally Doris Montgomery who married Ronald Francis Moon in 1948 are my husband’s parents. I’m thrilled to see your info on Sarah Higgins as I suspected that she was the sister of Robert Higgins and therefore the daughter of Robert and Ellen but could not find proof!!! I would be happy to share my research.

    Trish Moon

    1. Hello Trish
      I am of this line as well, that is

      Donald was born in 1873 (1873/10197). He was baptised Bega Parish 8 September 1875. He married Johanna Whittaker at Bega in 1894 (2441/1894). According to researcher, Trish Moon, they had a daughter, Florence May who was born before they were married (born Montgomery, but raised as Laing). Donald Junior He died at North Sydney in 1940 (19001/1940)

      Jane O’Brien
      janekobr@gmail.com
      I am currently in Nepean Hospital, NSW, Australia for last 5 weeks.
      Would also love to exchange info and talk

  4. Trish , great to hear from you. Of all the parts of my family history, I find the Laing/Towamba connection the most interesting, as it sounded like they were living in real “frontier territory”. Thanks also for the heads-up about the newspaper article. You’re right, it makes much more sense that it was Donald Junior. If there’s anything you would be willing to share, especially information about Donald Junior, I would be keen to use it on the website, with your permission. Cheers, James

  5. Hi James,
    I am researching the family of Sarah Higgins (wife of William White) the sister of Robert Martin Higgins. I have a few death ends, hope you may be able to give me a few clues. Look forward to hearing from you.
    Regards,
    Garry.

  6. Hi Gary,
    Nice to hear from you and I hope I can help. At the moment, though, I am in Estonia. I’m travelling for about 6 more weeks, but will be back in Sydney then. I’ll drop you a line then, if that’s okay.
    James

  7. Hi James

    I saw the O’Brien/ Smith combination in Bega/ Eden on your website and thought I’d take a look since I too have those names in my family.

    It turns out I’m not related to them, but actually Donald & Sarah Laing! My great grandfather was their son, Archie Laing, who married Emma Jane George. Your info about Donald/ Sarah and their parents is great.

    Cheers
    Michelle

  8. Michelle – thanks for the feedback. I hope it helps your research. And if you find any further info to add, it would be great to hear back from you. James

    1. Hi James. Michelle Mc Cabe is my cousin and she forwarded this site onto me. I am descended from both the Laings and the O’ Briens.
      My grandmother (on my mothers side), Alma McCabe; was a daughter of Archie Laing. My grandfather (on my fathers side ) was William Albert O’Brien who married Sarah Piesley (Son of Peter OBrien and Mary Goward)

      1. Hi Monica,

        My mind is boggling at trying to do the sums of both of us being descended from both Laings and O’Briens, but we’re obviously quite closely related.

        The closest connection seems to be that your grandfather William O’Brien and my grandfather, James O’Brien were brothers.

        Like many families, I grew up knowing one side better than the others, and it’s really only been through this research I’m beginning to learn more about the O’Briens.

        I hope the info here is useful to you, and if you have anything you’re able to share that would be great also.

        Cheers

        James

  9. Hi James. I’m currently tracing my husbands family, Alterator, and have a query. Ruby Rixon/White was his grandmother, which he only meet once when he was 7 or 8 and cant really remember her. As a child he was told she was of aboriginal descent “Koori” and he has now been rocognised as being of aboriginal descent, after going to Brisbane they researched Ruby and confirmed aboriginal lineage on a database. I cant seem to find this in my investigations or yours, am I missing something?? Hope you can help clarify this for me, as it is definatley the right Ruby as confirmed by your photo of her. My husbands father, Rubys son has the facial bone structure of indigenous australians but fair skin, and One of my daughters and one of my sons has the “Koori” nose, broud at the bridge. I also have a fair bit of information about the Alterator’s/Alderete’s if anyone requires further infomation on that side of the family. Thanks. Kirstie Alterator.

    1. Hi Kirstie,
      Thanks for your email. It was certainly something I wasn’t aware of myself, hence nothing listed in the story. It would be great to hear some more information about Ruby’s ancestry. Was the Aboriginal heritage through her mother, father, both?
      James

      1. my mother is freda laing, daughter of james laing who married dora crawford. i am keen for any information about all 3 that you can give me.

  10. Hi James. Once more we overlap in a strange coincidence. The mother of my son’s daughter is a Mcdonald from Towamba and my granddaughter currently lives there wit the family. Its still frontier territory really. (The connection we have is through the Mcleans. You might recall me )
    Very interesting

    1. Hi Lynne, what wonderful co-incidences. And then of course the Sanders name turning up in both families, though not connected. Hope all is well. James

  11. Thomas Laing who died in WW1 – son of Allan and Ruth Laing nee Atkins.
    The Bega Valley Genealogy Society is at present researching all the servicemen who enlisted from the Bega Valley for WW1 and who died either in battle or from illness. When I have finished researching these 182 men, then we are going to publish a book on them. I am searching for a photo of Thomas, preferably in his uniform but, if not, any photo at all. Or maybe a photo of the house that he grew up in. Any photos relating to him or further information (post cards or letters he may have sent home) apart from what is found in his Service Records would assist greatly. If you don’t have a photo, maybe you can suggest someone else whom I could contact. I would appreciate any help that you can give us.
    Regards
    Pat Raymond, Research Officer, Bega Valley Genealogy Society (ra80122@bigpond.net.au)

    1. Hi Pat, good luck with the project. If you have the full list of the men can you send them through also, and I can share here, just in case anyone stumbles across the page and has other relatives? James

  12. Hi James I was about to apply for a death certificate for Donald Laing but have been unsuccessful in finding his death registered
    I checked the Monaro Pioneer site as well as new bdm also towamba Valley site.
    Have you ever looked for the registration No. of his death regards
    ann

    1. Hi Ann
      Yes it’s a bit of a mystery, have even tried different spellings and variations of Laing and Lang (as they seemed to change a bit from time to time). I guess maybe being a remote town, they didn’t worry so much? I even tried a year later just in case they didn’t make it to a larger centre until later.
      James

  13. Hi James,
    I am a descendant of Donald Laing and Sarah Ann Higgins, and was wondering if you have a copy of the records for the administration of her father’s estate, or where I could purchase them.

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