Read­ers re­veal a gem from their fam­ily tree John Wat­son’s an­ces­tor Ge­orge Don­ald was the son of ‘Bounty im­mi­grants’ who rose to be­come a cel­e­brated MP

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS - Gail Dixon

John Wat­son’s im­mi­grant an­ces­tor be­came an Aus­tralian MP

Aus­tralia was a land of op­por­tu­nity for Bri­tish work­ing-class peo­ple in the 19th cen­tury. Many em­i­grated to leave a life of grind­ing poverty be­hind them. How­ever, it was a tough choice, start­ing afresh in a land that was so alien to their own.

John Wat­son’s fam­ily did just that, and were among the fa­mous ‘Bounty im­mi­grants’ of the 1830s and 1840s, whose pas­sage to Aus­tralia was paid for by the colo­nial govern­ment. Skilled and man­ual labour­ers were in great de­mand in the colonies. Shep­herds, black­smiths, tai­lors and needle­women were among the work­force re­cruited by agents in Bri­tain, who would be paid large sums of money for their safe ar­rival.

“My ma­ter­nal great grand­fa­ther Ge­orge Don­ald was a stone­ma­son and among the Bounty im­mi­grants who sailed on the

Eng­land in 1837,” says John. “The Don­alds lived in Ayr­shire and hailed from the Western Isles. Ge­orge made the jour­ney to New South Wales at the age of 28, with his wife Jane and two in­fant chil­dren. It’s hard to imag­ine what the voy­age was like for the young fam­ily.”

The Don­alds set­tled in Syd­ney, and had six more chil­dren, the youngest of whom is John’s fam­ily hero Ge­orge McGarvie Don­ald. Ge­orge was born in Padding­ton, in 1846, be­fore the fam­ily moved to the town of Yass, not far from Can­berra. He later dropped ‘McGarvie’ be­cause it was the name of a Pres­by­te­rian min­is­ter whom he dis­liked.

“As a youth, Ge­orge was ap­pren­ticed to his father to learn the build­ing trade. He worked on the stone arches of the Zig Zag Rail­way, which climbs the western side of the Blue Moun­tains and is now a pop­u­lar tourist at­trac­tion. He also laboured on the viaducts over the Middle River near Mar­ran­ga­roo, when the Great Western Rail­way was ex­tended. Ge­orge and his fel­low work­ers helped cre­ate the in­fra­struc­ture of mod­ern-day Aus­tralia.”

Ge­orge fell in love with Mar­ion Wiles and they were mar­ried at Sod­walls in the late 1860s. When work was com­pleted on the rail­way, the cou­ple moved to Hill End, near Bathurst, close to Hawkins Hill where more than £10 mil­lion worth of gold was mined.

The Don­alds had nine chil­dren. At this time, Ge­orge branched out into build­ing churches, mu­nic­i­pal cen­tres and pri­vate homes. His rep­u­ta­tion grew and he was asked to erect a num­ber of im­por­tant build­ings in Hill End, in­clud­ing the Church of Eng­land, which still stands to­day, and the grand Coo­er­wull Academy at Bowen­fels. The cou­ple then moved to Lith­gow near Syd­ney, where he formed a very suc­cess­ful part­ner­ship with Thomas Crowe. The pair con­structed some of the finest build­ings in the area un­til Thomas’s un­timely death.

St John’s Angli­can Church, which Ge­orge built in Waller­awang, is con­sid­ered a par­tic­u­larly fine ex­am­ple of the Vic­to­rian Gothic style and is still in use as a church to­day as well as a her­itage vis­i­tor site. By this time, Ge­orge had be­come Lith­gow’s most cel­e­brated builder. He was clearly re­spected in the com­mu­nity and was elected as Lith­gow’s first mayor in 1889.

Two years later, a cou­ple of par­lia­men­tary con­stituen­cies were formed and Ge­orge stood for Hart­ley as an in­de­pen­dent can­di­date. He was voted in and joined the New South Wales Leg­isla­tive As­sem­bly. The son of a Bounty im­mi­grant had be­come an MP in the Aus­tralian par­lia­ment. At the end of Ge­orge’s first term in 1894, a dep­u­ta­tion ap­proached him to stand for Hart­ley again, but he de­clined be­cause his busi­ness was be­ing ne­glected. At that time, MPs did not re­ceive any salary or ex­penses. His build­ing busi­ness con­tin­ued to flour­ish and in 1908, Ge­orge moved to Syd­ney and won a large con­tract to con­struct tele­phone tun­nels.

“Fam­ily mem­bers have told me a lot about Ge­orge. He was a per­fec­tion­ist and all his work was crafted to the high­est stan­dards. He was also a lover of na­ture – and hated the mo­tor car. When he had any spare time, he would go for long walks in the bush with his dog. Ge­orge was a gen­er­ous man and of­ten gave money and goods to peo­ple in dis­tress. He was also strictly tee­to­tal.”

Ge­orge died at Mar­rickville, Syd­ney, in 1930 aged 84, and was buried at Woronora Ceme­tery in Suther­land, Syd­ney. How does John feel about his high-achiev­ing grand­fa­ther? “I am of­ten sur­prised and proud of the en­ter­prise of an­ces­tors in spite of the dif­fi­cul­ties of the places and sit­u­a­tions they found them­selves in.”

Ge­orge was clearly re­spected in the com­mu­nity as he was elected

Lith­gow’s first mayor in 1889

St John’s Angli­can Church, which Ge­orge Don­ald built in Waller­awang, New South Wales, Aus­tralia


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