The Gurn is delighted to publish Frank Wilkinson's article that details his findings from research into the life and times of William Nairn born at Kildrummie in 1791.
My search for the birth place of my great, great ,great, grandfather William Nairn (known as Billy), started at the Family History Centre Inverness. They provided me with what they thought was a record of his birth at Delnies, January 8th 1791.
A trip to the Nairn Museum and the help of the ladies on the front counter led me to local historian Alan Baron; he soon sorted out the truth of Billys’ birth.
Like many Scots was a practical man, his many skills devoted to helping his family and friends.
He was born on the Rose Estate at Kildrummie on the 1st of January 1791 and christened in Denise.
Following an old Scots tradition many of the men present had the same name as the newly christened William.
Somewhere between 1805 and 1825 he entered an apprenticeship to train as a whitesmith (tinsmith) he may have had to move from Kildrummie to acquire those skills peculiar to white smithing.
Many years later we find him with his own business in High St Stepney. How he arrived there still needs further research.
Undoubtedly his business prospered, marrying Mary Ann Rawlinson and fathering four children a son 12yrs James, Margaret 5yrs, Charlotte 3yrs and baby William 1.
Unfortunately the area around Stepney was heavily bombed during WW2, no evidence of a workshop or residence is evident.
In 1829 many businesses were bankrupt white smithing as a trade was being replaced by machine made goods.
Recently returned from the antipodes Captain James Stirling approached the English Government with the proposition to set up a colony on the West coast of Australia, his argument was that the French had been there and had laid claim to the Southern most portion, some to this day have French names e.g. Cape Bouvard, Cape Naturaliste, Cape Clairault, Cape Mentelle and Pt D’Entrecasteaux.
To finance this venture the English Govt would offer land grants and what we would call today Real Estate Developers, made up of those with sufficient capital.
Colonel Peter Latour of the 11th Dragoons (retired) was one such a person he employed 27year old Richard Wells a manager of two farms for Latour, he in turn looked to Robert Menli Lyon to be his administrator. His real name was Robert Milne who claimed he came from Inverness and was an ex-army Lieutenant, who on retirement had become an agriculturalist.
Latour made a short list of the many applicants, Billy was on that list.
Although he did not include many of his skills in the application, only those he considered appropriate to such a venture whitesmith/blacksmith.
January 1829,snowing and bitterly cold Menli Lyon approached the Nairns’ with an offer too good to refuse.
In what is now called Gage Roads at 6pm .23August 1829 the Marquis of Anglesea dropped anchor. Billy, Mary Ann, James, Margaret, Charlotte and William had arrived in what was then called the Swan River Colony.
Due to the treacherous nature of the reefs lying off the west coast, the settlers were forced to camp on Garden Island in huts made from the timber in plentiful supply on the island.
Billy made good use of the tools and provisions they had brought with them.
On the 4th of September during a violent storm the Marquis of Anglesea ran aground at the mouth of the Swan River. Fortunately she remained intact and possessions preserved.
Billy built a hut for his family, later he extended it to include a small workshop however his services as a smithy were seldom used.
The situation for the settlers was fast deteriorating, many who believed they would be coming to a settlement like that of the eastern states, claimed for settlement in 1788 already had a head start of some 40 years.
In the early days all the major schemes for settlement collapsed. This meant little to Billy; the failure of the schemes was such that he was no longer obligated to carry out the wishes of Latour.
He was now free to go into business for himself. He was given a parcel of land in what is now King St stretching from what is now St Georges Tce. to Hay St .King St as yet had not been planned, as a consequence he forfeited a third of the granted land. He was compensated with a further grant in Adelaide Tce.
The trip up the Swan River to Perth in April 1830 was made on a flat bottomed boat loaded with all they possessed. Billy used a stout pole to propel the boat while Anne steered.
Once in Perth, Billy with the help of Anne and James built a humpy, and occupied it till their house was built. Tradesmen were in great demand, however being himself a tradesman brought him in contact with the right people that and the fact that he got on well with everyone, the house would be built he would see to it, he drew up the plans. Billy continued his trade as a blacksmith/whitesmith, helping out with the building of the house when needed.
Mid 1831 the house was far from complete to make the matter more urgent Anne was pregnant with her fifth child Jane born in January 1832.
The family could not have been happier with the newborn, secure in their newly completed home and Billys’ thriving business.
James became apprenticed to his father, working 9 hours a day, spending Sundays up river to greener country, until he found a scene that attracted him-a fresh setting for a new watercolour, his unrealised ambition was to become an artist.
On Sundays the Nairns’ attended the Rush Church built by the troops of the 63rd Regiment, it was timber framed with rushes interlacing the upright poles.
For seven years it was the colonies only Church of England, a church on Sundays a court on Saturdays and for the remainder of the week a school.
Billy by now was a respected member of the community; he and James were keen cricketers and played regularly for the Sons of Australia Benefit Society formed in 1837. Billy a staunch Anglican was a member of the committee that chose the permanent site for St Georges Anglican church situated on St Georges Tce, it was to be recognised as a cathedral in 1858.
Blessed with another son Charles in 1834 Billy began to wonder if he’d made the right choice in coming to Australia would his children have had more opportunities back in Stepney would all the boys choose to become smiths, not likely?
Not a problem for the girls, for the most part depended on the marriages they made.
James bought land at auction on Adelaide Tce in December 1838; the same year that his sister Ellen was born .Billy assisted James in financing the building of a house, completed early in 1840. Billy applied for a new building block grant as compensation for the land that was resumed for the construction of King St this’ block was on the west side of James’ block.
In March 1841 James married Sarah Pettit, in that year Billys’ family home was
completed .Margaret was the next Nairn to leave home marrying Thomas Grigson in
1842. Billy gave the block on King St to Charlotte who was engaged to be married
to Walter Padbury later to become Western Australias’ first millionaire, they
married in April 1844.Jane married Thomas Roach 28May 1850.William Jnr married
Jane Graves, Charles unmarried lost his life when the ship Emma was lost at sea in 1867.
Emma married James Ougden and Ellen married James Grieves after the death of Grieves married Richard Meares. Billy was a family man, gregarious, enterprising and generous.
The colony was small and Billy new everyone that could assist himself and his family prosper. I suggest that the Nairn motto “Touch not the cat without a glove” could be”It’s not only what you know, but who you know, that makes one a success”
My line in the family of Nairns’ comes from my mother, through her mother, my grandmother Margaret Sheppard nee Nairn, her father was Frank, his father James, his father Billy .Billys’ father James, James’ father Hugh, Hughs’father John born in 1702 married Anna Rose 28th October 1729.
Many thanks to Nairns’ local historian Alan Baron for tracing the records this far..
My name is Francis John Wilkinson (aka Frank)
|Frank left, pictured in Nairn meeting well kent local history experts Alan Barron and John Urquhart|