James Laing was born on Sunday, June 18, 1815, in Stonehaven, a charming seaside town on Scotland’s northeast coast, near Aberdeen. However, his Certificate of Freedom indicates that he was born in 1814.
The Gazetteer of Scotland (1806) describes the town in these terms.
There is very little trade transacted at Stonehaven, it derives its principal support from the sherrif court of the county, which has its seat here. Of late, a spirit of trade has manifested itself here, and the brown linen manufacture has been introduced. The town has also received a considerable increase in its extent, from the public spirit of Mr Barclay of Urie, who has feued a large and regular village adjoining the town on his estate in the neighbouring parish of Fetteresso.
In 1835, James Laing was convicted of housebreaking and stated during the trial that he was “born to a cartwright and has been working as a sailor between Scotland and Quebec since 1829.” He also revealed that he moved to Edinburgh in May of that same year.
Precognition against James Laing, Addison Mitchell for the crime of theft by housebreaking 1835
James Laing, Age: 22, cartwright and sailor, Address: Edinburgh, Origin: Native of Stonehaven
Addison Mitchell, Age: 15, shoemaker, Address: Blackfriars Wynd, High Street, EdinburghNational Records of Scotland AD14/35/450
According to his Australian convict records (Certificate of Freedom 43/836 1836), James Laing was described as 1.63m tall with a dark sallow (“sickly”) complexion, brown (almost black) hair, and brown eyes. He had a small mole on the upper part of his right arm and a scar on the back of his right thumb.
On August 20th, 1835, court records indicate that James Laing (aged twenty) and Addison Mitchell (aged fifteen) conducted break and enters on two houses in Elm Row, Edinburgh. The first break-in was at the house of James Thomson on Elm Row, where they stole a black cloth coat, a silver snuff-box, a pair of leather gloves, two or so silk handkerchiefs, and two pass keys. The second was at the house of David Brown, a tailor and clothier on Elm Row, where they stole a silver watch, a silk watch ribbon, a gold ring, a gold seal, a gold key, and a worsted shawl belonging to David Brown’s daughter Helen.
1835 High Court Indictment against Addison Mitchell and JA Laing. Theft of Housebreaking, hab rep and prev con.
ADDISON MITCHELL and JAMES LAING, present prisoners in the tolbooth of Edinburgh, you are Indicted and Accused at the instance of John ARCHIBALD MURRAY, Esquire, his Majesty’s Advocate, for his Majesty’s interest : THAT ALBEIT, by the laws of this and of every other well governed realm, THEFT, more especially when comunitted by means of HOUSEBREAKING, and by a person who is habite and repute a thief, and who has been previously convicted of theft, is a crime of an heinous nature, and severely punishable: YET TRUE IT IS AND OF VERITY, that you the said Addison Mitchell are guilty of the said crime, aggravated as aforesaid, and you the said James Laing are guilty of the said crime, aggravated by being comınitted by means of housebreaking, actors or actor, or art and part : IN SO FAR AS, on the
convicted nature, any that you the aforesaid, an Mitchell. IS AND mature, and is 20th day of August 1835, (Thursday.) or on one or other of the days of that month, or of July immediately preceding, or of September immediately following, within the house situated in Elm row, in or near Edinburgh, then and now or lately occupied by James Thomson, then and now or lately residing there, you the said Addison Mitchell and James Laing did, both and each, or one or other of you, wickedly and feloniously steal, and theftuously away take,
A black cloth coat, A silver snuff-box, A pair of leather gloves, Two or thereby silk handkerchiefs, Two or thereby pass keys,
the property or in the lawful possession of the said James Thomson: FARTHER, (2.)
Time above libelled,
you the said Addison Mitchell and James Laing did, both and each, or one or other of you, wickedly and feloniously break into and enter the house situated in Elm row aforesaid, then and now or lately occupied by David Brown, tailor and clothier, by open
one of the windows of said house, or in some other way to the Prosecutor unknown; and, haring thus obtained entrance into said house, you did, then and there, both and each, or one or other of you, wickedly and feloniously steal, and theftuously away take,
A silver watch, A silk watch ribbon, A gold ring, A gold seal, A gold key,
the property or in the lawful possession of Helen Brown, daughter of, and then and now or lately residing with, the said David Brown, or in the lawful possession of the said David Brown; as also
A worsted shawl,
the property or in the lawful possession of the said Helen Brown, or of Caroline Amelia Brown, daughter of the said David Brown, and now or lately residing in the Trades’ Maiden Hospital in Argyle square, in or near Edinburgh, or in the lawful possession of the said David Brown: And you the said Addison Mitchell are habite and repute a thief, and you have been previously convicted of theft : And you the said Addison Mitchell and James Laing having been apprehended and taken before John Fletcher Macfarlan, Esquire, one of the magistrates of Edinburgh, you did, each of you, in his presence at Edinburgh, on the
25th day of August 1835,
respectively emit and subscribe a declaration ; and having afterwards been taken before James Donaldson, Esquire, one of the magistrates of Edinburgh, you did, each of you, in his presence at Edinburgh, on the
27th day of August 1835, respectively emit and subscribe a declaration : Which declarations, being to be used in evidence against each of you respectively by whom the same were emitted ; as also the foresaid stolen articles, or part thereof, being to be used in evidence against you the said Addison Mitchell and James Laing, or one or other of you; as also extracts or certified copies of two several convictions of the crime of theft, obtained against you the said Addison Mitchell, before the police court of Edinburgh, dated respectively
8th July 1894, 16th June 1835,
being to be used in evidence against you the said Addison Mitchell, at your trial, will, for that purpose, be in due time lodged in the hands of the clerk of the High Court of Justiciary, before which you the said Addison Mitchell and James Laing are to be tried, that you may respectively have an opportunity of seeing the same: ALL WHICH, or part thereof, being found proven by the verdict of an Assize, or admitted by the respective judicial confessions of you the said Addison Mitchell and James Laing, before the Lord Justice-General, Lord Justice-Clerk; and Lords Commissioners of Justiciary, you the said Addison Mitchell and James Laing OUGHT to be punished with the pains of law, to deter others froin committing the like crimes in all time coming.
J. SHAW STEWART, A. D.
LIST OF WITNESSES.
1 James Donaldson, Esquire, now or lately one of the magis
trates of Edinburgh. 2 Robert Lockhart Dymock, procurator-fiscal of the city of
Edinburgh. 3 Robert Morham, now or lately clerk to Alexander Callender,
depute city clerk of Edinburgh. 4 Daniel Scrymgeour, now or lately city-officer in Edinburgh. 5 Alexander Stewart, now or lately city-officer in Edinburgh.
6 James Thomson, now or lately residing in Elm row, in or
near Edinburgh. 7 Mary Hunter or Lunardi, wife of Fortune Lunardi, now or
lately eating-house-keeper in Blackfriars’ wynd, Edin
burgh. 8 The foresaid Fortune Lunardi. 9 Walter Fraser, porter, now or lately residing in East James
street, Edinburgh. 10 George Rennie, now or lately criminal officer in the Edin
burgh police establishment. 11 David Brown, tailor and clothier, now or lately residing in
Elm row aforesaid. 12 Helen Brown, daughter of, and now or lately residing with,
the said David Brown. 13 Caroline Amelia Brown, daughter of the said David Brown,
and now or lately residing in the Trades’ Maiden Hospital,
in Argyle square, in or near Edinburgh. 14 Walter Turnbull Leitch, son of, and now or lately residing
with, John Leitch, tailor, in Antigua street, Leith Walk,
near Edinburgh. 15 James MCabe, porter, now or lately residing in Stevenlaw’s
close, High street, Edinburgh. 16 William Mulholand, now or lately general patrol in the Edin
burgh police establishment. 17 James M Levie, now or lately general patrol in the Edin
burgh police establishment. 18 John Ferguson, now or lately house-serjeant in the Edin
burgh police establishment. 19 Eric Cainpbell, now or lately criminal officer in the Edinburgh police establishment.
J. SHAW STEWART, A. D.
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.
Mitchell was transported to Australia on the Lady Kennaway, departing on 2nd June 1836 and arriving on 12th October 1836. The ship’s records indicate that there were 130 male convicts on board from the Justitia hulk at Woolwich.
On 2 May 1857, Mitchell was hanged at Bathurst for the murder of William Ablett between Carcoar and Cowra. According to court proceedings reported on the website https://timalderman.com/tag/convicts/, Mitchell and Ablett had been sharing a tent together, and Mitchell killed Ablett with a hammer.
Transportation to Australia
After being convicted, James Laing appears to have been imprisoned, likely on a convict hulk, at Sheerness in North Kent. He was then transported to Australia aboard “The John,” departing from Sheerness on September 30, 1836 and arriving in Sydney on February 7, 1837. Unfortunately, five of the 260 male convicts aboard the ship had died by the time it arrived in Sydney.
As reported here…https://www.jenwilletts.com/convict_ship_john_1837.htm
Charles Inches kept a Medical Journal on the voyage out however it was later lost in the shipwreck of the Medora and the journal he submitted in London was a summary……….
The prisoners generally looked in good condition at first especially those received at Sheerness from Chatham the others from Woolwich less so. It was soon found that of the 50 received from the Justitia a considerable proportion were unhealthy. The weather at the time of embarkation was exceedingly bad and severely trying to all.
Rains were almost incessant for nearly a months and gales of wind frequent. The decks above were subsequently always wet and below impracticable to be kept dry or well ventilated. We left Sheerness on the 30th September and anchored in the Downs same night. Here we were detained till the 6th October by heavy gales and contrary winds. For the next week we experienced a succession of gales and rainy weather which compelled us to sail for Falmouth where we anchored on the 13th. The morning after arrival here a prisoner James Sinclair (age 22) died. At Falmouth we were detained a week by mutiny of the crew who refused to proceed to sea in the ship. 
Twenty-one of the crew were implicated and 11 were landed and committed to the town prison for one month. Their names were Robert Gowlett, 45; Robert Colman, 25; Thomas Rosevear, 23; Peter Poor, 25; John Job, 37; Thomas Freeman, 22; Joseph Winlay, 33; George Jamieson 35; James Jones, 25; John Robins 28 and William Ralph 17.
The weather having improved our stay in this port was very beneficial to the Guard and prisoners allowing them to recover from sea sickness. By this time and shortly after several cases of intermittent fever presented all of which prisoners had come from the Justitia. On the Friday 21st October we put to sea and after a few days a case of scurvy presented in a boy who had previously laboured under this disease while in the Hulk and been much in hospital for it. Though he improved so much as to get quit of all external symptoms and to be twice discharged from the sick list he ultimately sank under it (Peter McQuade age 15).
A third fatal case of phthisis presented after being on board a fortnight. This man had been nearly twelve months in the hulk hospital for this complaint. Though he improved considerably on board, the heat of the tropics was too much and he sank rapidly. (Samuel Halford age 22). A fourth fatal case occasioned in a prisoner George Beamish age 44. Symptoms indicative of impending apoplexy presented and he sank exhausted while crossing the Equator. The fifth and last fatal case was that of Louis Gomsell a West Indian who during the voyage was always in very delicate health suffering from frequent colds coughs and debility. Chronic Bronchitis carried him off in the end just a few days from Sydney. 
Settlement in Australia
Soon after arrival, James was assigned to Francis Flanagan, who had extensive landholdings around Moruya on the NSW South Coast. It was there he met and married Isabella Mclean.
Isabella was born in Tiree, Scotland to Allan McLean and Janet McFarlane. Prior to migrating to Australia, she worked as a servant in Glasgow and had a basic understanding of English. At the age of twenty, she immigrated to Australia along with her parents and younger siblings, and they settled in the Broulee area near Moruya, where her father worked as a boat-builder.
The birth records of James and Isabella’s children indicate that they initially lived and worked on various properties in the Moruya district. They resided at Duga in 1843, Glenduart from 1844 to 1847, and Shannon View, owned by Flanagan, in 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”
The quote above is currently under further investigation – see comment below by Trish Moon.
Move to Towamba
By 1860 / 1861, James and Isabella had moved to Towamba, near Eden.
As noted in the book, “Looking for Blackfellas’ Point: An Australian History of Place” by Mark McKenna, the area around Towamba had been the traditional lands of the Kudingal people.
The Sydney Morning Herald of Saturday, October 8, 1860 reports land was being sold a Towamba for between three and eight pounds per are.
By the late 1880s, the Electoral Role states that James and Isabella had obtained freehold occupancy of land. Some of their children, including Donald and William also owned land at Towamba, whilst Allen owned land at nearby Bondi.
Death of James Laing
James Laing passed away on July 29, 1890 (registration number 1890/4983) due to “a decay of nature”. He was laid to rest on August 2, 1890, in an unmarked grave located at the Towamba Cemetery. However, there seems to be some confusion regarding the dates of his death and the probate of his estate. According to the State Records website, a deceased estate was claimed for a James Laing of Towamba who passed away on 24/7/1890, and the estate was claimed on 14/4/1891. This conflicting information needs clarification, and a visit to the State Records at Kingsford is planned to obtain more details about James Laing’s Deceased Estate.
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
Death of Isabella McLean
On March 10, 1891 (5798/1891) Isabella also died, and was buried soon after in an unmarked grave in the Towamba Cemetery.
* William Laing was born March 4 1843 (V18434720 47/1843) at Dooga, Moruya. In 1908, The Pambula Voice noted
‘Pambula Voice’ May 15, 1908
Mr. Wm. Laing of Towamba is very ill, his trouble being epilepsy. He is a very old resident of our village.
He died August 21, 1914 at Towamba. According to Kate Clery’s oral history book about Towamba, the evidence suggests he was probably the artist responsible for the Towamba Cricket Massacre painting held at the Eden Killer Whale Museum.
On September 4, 1914, ‘The Pambula Voice’ reported…
A terrible burning fatality happened here last Thursday Aug 20th, Mr. W. LAING being the victim. The old man had been subject to taking fits for some time. He was sitting by the fire and evidently had taken a fit and fallen in, and before his brother got to his assistance, his clothing was all in flames, and he was frightfully burnt about the head and body. Assistance was soon to hand, and all that could be to ease the poor sufferer was done. Dr. Fitzhardinge was sent for and arrived shortly afterwards, but could do nothing. The unfortunate man passed away at half past six on Friday morning. The deceased was 74 years of age. Mr. Coronor Martin held an enquiry on Saturday, when a verdict of accidental death by burning was returned. The remains were interred in the Presbyterian portion of the cemetery. Mr. Forbes conducted the burial service, and Mr .Summerill had charge of the funeral arrangements.
* Ann Laing was born April 1844 (V18445145 47/1844) at Glenduart, Moruya
* Jane Laing was born September 8, 1845 (V1845593 48/1845) at Glenduart, near Moruya, NSW, She married Thomas Rixon on February 14, 1867 at Towamba. Jane died in 1919. (23510/1919)
* Allan Laing was born October 24 1847 at Glenduart, near Moruya, NSW. He married Ruth Atkins on April 25, 1882 at Bombala, NSW. He died July 22, 1929 at Towamba. According to Monaroo Pioneers, their children were Isabella (b 1883, d August 16, 1974), William Allan (b 1884), Hector (b November 8, 1886 in Delegate) James (b September 23, 1889 in Bombala), Thomas (b 1890 in Delegate), Alice (b 1890), Charles Henry (b 1894), Ada (b 1896), Ruth (b 1899) and Sarah (b 1901).
‘Magnet’ August 3, 1929
MR. ALLAN LAING
The death occurred at the home of Mr. Hector Laing, Towamba, on the night of July 22, of Mr. Allan Laing, one of the oldest and best known identities of the Towamba district in which he had resided for some 40 years. For some years he resided at Rockton before moving to Towamba. He was a brother of 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. Other brothers are Jim (deceased) and Will. Mr. Laing who leaves a large family, all married, was a native of Moruya and was 81 years of age. Internment took place at the Presbyterian portion of Towamba cemetery. The Reverend J. Allison officiating at the graveside.
* Janet Laing was born February 2, 1850 at Shannon View, Moruya, NSW.
* Donald Laing/Lang was born January 25, 1852 at Braidwood, NSW. In 1872, he married Sarah Higgins (1872/2071). He died at Towamba in November 1932.
* Mary Ann Laing was born 1854. She married Robert Higgins in 1874. She died in 1915 at Drummoyne, Sydney, NSW.
* James Laing was born 1857 (V1857362 139/1857)
* Isabella Laing was born 1861 (7202/1861).
* Thanks to Kerrie Beers for tracking down the information about James Laing’s trial and birthplace.
* Thanks also to Ann Murray Burke for obtaining the trial records, as well as the newspaper clipping from The Sctosman. The trial records have helped fill in so much of the gap. Wonderful stuff.
* According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the property “Shannon View”, which James and Isabella lived on for a while still stands to the left off Larry’s Mountain Road. If you wish to see it head north out of Moruya along the Princes Highway and turn left at the sign for Mogendoura.”
* Mark McKenna’s “Looking for Blackfellas’ Point (An Australian History Of Place) (UNSW Press) notes the 1860s saw the largest influx of settlers into the broader Eden district (p. 162)
That decade saw the largest influx of settlers into the area, with the breakup of the large squatting runs in favour of the smaller holdings of free selectors.
Prior to this, I believe Ben Boyd had been the squatter who was in control of Towamba, as a further account in the book notes the following letter (p. 228) by J.G. Stephenson from Manly, dated October 18, 1958.
My mother was the first white child born at Towamba… on December 5, 1850… Our grandfather was in charge of Towamba for Ben Boyd, head stockmen. We believe it was the only house there then. The remains of their old cottage was across the river… old fruit trees there in our time at Towamba. Granny often told us of the wild blacks from the tablelands meeting the coastal tribes and holding corroborees on the flats where Bollman’s farm was in our time. Granny sat up all night and watched them while grandfather was away with cattle to Boydtown, all the company she had was a tame black gin.
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