Isabella MacDonald 1826 - 1914

Daughter of John MacDonald and Flora Grant, Isabella was the sister of my maternal Great Grandfather Donald MacDonald. She emigrated to Tasmania in 1855. Her story has been brought to life by Isabella's Great, Great Grand-daughter, Heather Moss, who lives in Victoria and has kindly sent me detailed information about their life after arrival in the New World and 80 year old correspondence between the family in the New World and those left behind.

Born and brought up in Balnaglaic, in 1854, Isabella married Owen McDonald a shoemaker whose family farmed Balcraggan behind Drumnadrochit at the eastern end of Glenurquhart on the edge of Loch Ness. The two families were separated by about 5 miles but probably met at the church in Milton which served both communities.

The spelling of the two surnames was different. Isabella was a Macdonald and Owen a McDonald - in that respect the marriage record (left) was incorrect. Although baptised Owen he was known as Evan. ( McDonald family tree)

Sailing from Glasgow, they emigrated to Tasmania on the ship Stormcloud arriving in Launceston on 27 August 1855. Stormcloud was an iron clipper ship built on the Clyde in 1854 specifically for the Australian passenger trade. The 1855 passage went down in history as Stromcloud logged a record 370 nautical miles in 24 hours. It was also the first to bring the news to the southern hemisphere that Sebastopol had fallen. The ship was wrecked in 1863.

Their arrival in Tasmania was recorded in a document entitled 'Return of Bounty tickets on which Immigrants have been introduced'.

Evan and Isabella took with them his shoemaking tools (photo) and a family bible inscribed 'John MacDonald, Balnaglaic, Glenurquhart 1846', both of which remain in the family.

Evan's older brother Donald also emigrated to Victoria at some stage. He married an Irish girl in Melbourne in 1861.


In Tasmania they were amongst the first free settlers arriving on an assisted passage scheme designed to populate the island. The passage was paid for anyone who agreed to stay at least three years.

Settling at Deloraine, Evan was in great demand as a bootmaker but it was a wild and lawless place with ill-treated convicts, women as bad as men. They never knew when they went to bed at night if they would wake up alive next morning. One night there was a commotion outside and in the morning they saw a man hung from a tree. Evan acquired a sword stick for self defence.

They decided that Tasmania was no place for them, saved every penny to pay the passage and in 1856 moved to Melbourne with Jessie the first of their eight children.


In Bulla, on the north west edge of Melbourne, they pitched a tent where Evan plied his trade. Life in Melbourne was very expensive – a 200lb bag of flour was £5. One week they went without tea, the next soap etc., to try and make ends meet. They remained there for about 10 years before moving out to Spring Plains near Heathcote where Evan carried on his trade as a shoemaker and became a governor of the local school in Mia Mia. One fateful day Evan borrowed a plough to make a vegetable garden. The plough became caught up on something like a root. Evan sustained severe leg injuries and was paralysed for six months until he died. On 27 July 1872, realising that he was dying, Evan wrote a will leaving everything to Isabella. In the event of her remarrying his property was to go to their children. Two days later he died in Spring Gully. In September 1873 William Cameron, who was the only literate witness to the signing of the will, was required to confirm its authenticity by signing an affidavit before a commissioner of the supreme court.

Isabella was left with seven children the youngest being 18 months.

In 1845 George Campbell Carlewis and Robert Campbell drove their flocks overland from Sydney into Northern Victoria creating Reedy Lake Station which stretched for many miles and included the Benjeroop district at the junction of the Lodden, Murray and Marrabor rivers. Before then Aborigines and been the only inhabitants. Until 1869 there had been no fences; one shepherd being in charge of about 1000 sheep and having his own hut and brush yard to hold the sheep at night.

In 1869, by powers granted under the Land Settlement Act, many hundreds of acres of land extending from Lake Boga to Kerang, 250 miles north west of Melbourne and close to the border with New South Wales, was resumed by the Crown and surveyed into blocks of approximately 320 acres and offered to the public for settlement at £1 per acre. Within the next 10 years practically all this land was applied for and so Benjeroop became settled.

By this time Isabella's eldest daughter, Jessie, had married George Heffer and they took up one of those blocks on the Murray (Benjeroop 2.7). In 1879 Isabella and the rest of the family followed, taking up a block of 318 acres on the other side of the road (2.8) now called Ivanhoe.

Isabella, described as an elderly Scotch lady with a dialect difficult to understand, acted as the local midwife although she probably had very little formal training other than the experience of having eight children of her own.

Life of the early pioneer was very difficult. Trees had to be cut down, buildings erected and irrigation needed to be set up. This was done by pumping, with steam powered engines, from the Murray River or, when the river was high enough, by gravitation down a channel through the blocks between her farm and the river. Isabella was said by one who knew her, to be "as Scotch is you can make them; she had very little opportunity of education and had all the Scotch superstitions in the world". A man cut for her a straight drain down which the water would not run; another man cut her a drain following the contours of the land down which water did run, she said he was possessed by the devil.

At other times flooding could be devastating. In one of the big floods, probably 1909, Isabella's house was flooded to the window sills. Isabella refused to leave and had to be carried out.

Isabella's children had to take any chance of a job to help the family finances. John worked on the railway and James went to Western Australia. Alexander managed tin and gold mines in Western Australia before he ended up managing the world's largest tin mine in Kuala Lumpur where he was killed by the local Chinese during the First World War. Donald stayed on at the farm and neighbouring blocks were bought up. Evan later moved to Western Australia like his brother (see below).

Isabella remained remarkably fit and well until 3 weeks before her death in 1914.

Evan Jnr. and his daughter Jessie Isabella born 1888

Sadly we have no photographs of the Isabella who left Scotland in 1855 but the photograph (left) is of her son Evan and his daughter Jessie Isabella known to the family as Isabel or Bella.

After Evan's common-law wife, Elizabeth Davey, died of 'multiple peripheral neurits and heart failure' in the Alfred Hospital Melbourne, Evan went to Western Australia where he drove a steam train for a gold mine (photo). His daughter Isabel was raised by her grandmother Isabella who insisted she remained in Benjeroop. His other daughter, Flora Emma, was brought up by Elizabeth's sister.

Evan later returned to live with his daughter.

Isabel was very active in the Benjeroop Literary and Debating Society of which she was secretary.The society's challenging syllabus demonstrates that there must have been some talented orators in Benjeroop at the time.

She also became a dressmaker. Her account book remains in the family- white sailor blouse 9d, four dungaree pants (Alfie Lane) 2/6, brown costume Mrs Henry) 6/-, tweed coat 3/6.

Isabel married John William Morison in 1914. They had a dairy farm in Murrabit West, south east of Benjeroop. In this photograph of Murrabit ladies, Isabel is kneeling 3rd from the left. Part of the first car in the area is visible on the lef of the picture.

Isabel was the grandmother of Heather Moss who has kindly made this history available to me.

The Morison Family

I am grateful to Ian Morrison from Portland in Victoria, Australia for this account of John William Morison's ancestry and the Morison family tree (the spellings of Morrison and Morison are correct).

William Cumine Morison was the son of John Morison, a school master at Balthangie in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. His mother Helen Cumine was the illegitimate offspring of a landed proprietor and his housemaid Elizabeth Leslie. The 1789 baptism recorded ' Captain Archibald Cumine at Auchry had a child begot in fornication baptised Helen'. Helen's death certificate gives her mother's name.

William was probably a bit wild in his youth and grew up fast. The story is that he was sent to Limerick in Ireland, in 1845 at age 10, after his father died, presumably to live with his eldest brother John Cumine Morison who was about 20 years older. William ran away and it is said he went to the California gold rush before going on to St Arnaud in Victoria, Australia in about 1862. In 1867 William married Mary Jane Hill who had emigrated to Australia from Cork in Ireland.

Initially a carter, he subesequently took up farming. He supported the temperance movement and for the last 13 years of his life was the proprietor of the St. Arnaud Coffee Palace, alcohol free accommodation where business-men and others could stay.

In 1893 George Morison sent a letter from Scotland to his brother William in Victoria which Ian Morrison has transcribed and added explanatory notes. Having finally tracked down his long lost brother, George described the difficulties of farming in Scotland at that time.

William and Mary's firstborn son, John Morison, worked as a miner in the Bendigo gold fields before becoming a farmer in Murrabit West where he became the keeper of the post-office. It was his son, John William Morison, who married Jessie Isabella McDonald - see photo right.

Letters from Scotland to Isabel

Isabella sent letters and the 'Weekly Time's to her relations in Scotland and in return she received correspondence from Scotland some of which has survived;

These letters give a vivid description of life in Britain in the first worl war and inter-war years and in Glentore in particular.


In 2011 after a massive flood, a one in one hundred year event affecting many areas of Australia, the Murrabit and Benjeroop communities really went under and the water stayed trapped between the three rivers. As a result of this Prince William visited the area. It was the best thing for the community who had been through so much. He was just wonderful and it was the talk of all the towns. He flew into Kerang in a big helicopter ( actually there were three of them). He greeted people in Kerang then flew to Murrabit where all the flood affected people were invited to a BBQ with him. He then flew in a smaller helicopter to Benjeroop to be shown around a farm that was badly flooded. The most extraordinary part of this story -- it was Isabella’s farm!

Page last updated - 21/11/16