A history of a wandering branch of the McLean Clan
Harris District, Scotland to Victoria, Australia

"From the lone shieling of the misty island
Mountains divide us, and the waste of seas - 
Yet still the blood is strong, the heart is Highland,
And we in dreams behold the Hebrides.


Taransay, off the coast of Harris, Outer Hebrides

My tale of McLeans begins on the isle of Taransay, on the wild North Western edge of Scotland, where the 1841 census showed that Roderick McLean, age 32, and his wife Mary (formerly McLeod) age 30, lived with their children - Mgt 7, Norman 5, Kitty 3, Richard 2 and William 1. Norman was my great grandfather. 

Roderick had been born in the Harris Parish, while Mary was born 'out of the district' - which is somewhat ironic, because Harris is McLeod country, and the McLean clan's traditional lands are far to the south - around the isle of Mull. It seems that they too were the descendants of wanderers... although they may not have had a choice.

Oral history has my McLean family as 'retainers' of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and that they were involved in helping him to escape to the Isle of Skye, after the defeat at Culloden in 1746. If this be the case, retribution for aiding the 'Young Pretender' was savage, and perhaps this was the time my McLean ancestors came to Taransay. Perhaps they were moved there in the previous century as part of the earlier wave of Highland Clearances - but then again, perhaps they had chosen to move there voluntarily many years before...

My truest knowledge of this area is that I have loved 'Skye Boat Song' since I first heard it as a very young girl, an attraction that feels part of some ancient memory - I have had the same attraction for the Isle of Skye, as well as the area in England where my father's family originated from - well before I knew my roots were in these places. I'm just a touch 'fey'!

If you'd like to know more of Taransay, please see my separate page on it here.A stunningly beautiful place with a long, long history. There is also a blistering denunciation of it's use in the BBC 2001 Castaway series, that I recommend for further information, to be found here.

Two of Roderick's son Norman's children's birth certificates show Norman's birthplace   as 'Bambi' and 'Banbi' which had me a little stumped for a while! His birthplace was normally given as 'Harris District', but (like the above) was also reported twice (by other people), when reporting his children's births, as 'Fort William' - so it became highly likely that 'Banbi' and 'Bambi' were in fact Banavie, near Fort William - and another small piece of the absolute jigsaw puzzle of the family's movements dropped into place. 

The 1851 census shows Roderick and Mary living in Claigionn in the Kilmonivaig district.  Claigionn is next to Nevis Bridge, Fort William. At that time the family had both shrunk - and grown, surprisingly so for me, more to come on this later.... In the household in 1851 were:

Roderick McLean head mar Shepherd 40 born Harris, Inverness-shire 
Mary 36 
Norman son 14 
Richard son 12 
William son 10 
Finlay son 7 
Mary dau. 2 

and Mary McPherson visitor unm 40 born Strontian Argyll.

Margaret and Kitty  were not in evidence, but were to reappear later, so may have been visiting out of the area, maybe had been left back in the Harris district with other family.  By the ages of 17 and 13, they may well have been living and working elsewhere, and rejoined the family to emigrate. Finlay and Mary had been born since the last census.

Roderick and family next appeared on the ship Persia on their way to Australia in 1853. By this time Roderick and Mary's youngest son John had been born in 1852. Only three children being born in the eight year period may indicate more deaths, or possibly that Mary's age meant that the family attempted to avoid more children. There is no mention of Richard, he may have died, or may have stayed behind. There are actually NO records at all of ANY Richard's, of ANY surname, having emigrated to Australia from Scotland on the shipping records...

The list of McLeans on the Persia (by page number) are as follows:

Family Name, Given Name, Age, Month, Year, Ship, Book, Page 

McLean Roderick 42 MAR 1854 PERSIA 9 406
 McLean Mary 40 MAR 1854 PERSIA 9 406 
McLean William 12 MAR 1854 PERSIA 9 406
McLean Finlay 10 MAR 1854 PERSIA 9 406 
McLean Mary 5 MAR 1854 PERSIA 9 406 
McLean John I MAR 1854 PERSIA 9 406 

McLean Finlay 44 MAR 1854 PERSIA 9 411
McLean Norman 18 MAR 1854 PERSIA 9 411 
McLean Duncan 14 MAR 1854 PERSIA 9 411 

McLean Margt 33 MAR 1854 PERSIA 9 412 
McLean Unity 22 MAR 1854 PERSIA 9 412 
McLean Margaret 20 MAR 1854 PERSIA 9 412 

McLean Rachel 18 MAR 1854 PERSIA 9 413 
McLean Catherine 16 MAR 1854 PERSIA 9 413
McLean Christina 17 MAR 1854 PERSIA 9 413 

It appears that Roderick and Mary were fortunate enough to be in a family area of the ship with the younger children, but the rest were in separate mens and womens quarters.

This listing, and further information recieved recently, has led me to an absolute mystery . I had always assumed that either Christina or Catherine (one of whom would have been 'Kitty' as in the 1841 census) belonged to Rod and Mary, but that the other girl, and possibly Rachel, belonged to Finlay and Margaret. I had been told that Rachel had given her parents names as Roderick and Mary though, so had no idea where she would have been on the 1841 census. I have since found, according to their death records, that not only Rachel, but also BOTH Christina and Catherine were the daughters of Rod and Mary. I have no idea where the other two girls were in 1841 - but at the ages of 5, and 6 or 7, they were either accidentally omitted from the census, not at home - or hiding! 

The full list, then, of Roderick and Mary's children were - Margaret b. abt 1834, Norman and Rachel b. abt 1836, Christina b. abt 1837,  Richard and Catherine b. abt 1838, William b. abt 1840, Finlay b. abt 1843, Mary .b abt 1849 and John b. abt 1852. It is likely that the two sets of children born in the same years were not twins, but born close on a year apart.

The other family on board Persia seems to be that of Finlay aged 44. I'm assuming his wife was Margaret age 33, and children were Duncan, and Unity. Possibly Roderick's brother? Maybe. Then again... I would also not be surprised to find that either Duncan or Unity belonged to Rod and Mary as well!

The family only spoke Gaelic.

The Highlands were not a pleasant place at the time Roderick and family left. The second wave of Highland Clearances was from 1837 to 1854, and many who had escaped the purges of earlier years finally left the country, adding their numbers to the tens of thousands of poor families fleeing to the 'new world'. See Timeline 1836-54. The first wave of clearances saw many removed from their lands inland to the coast, where they were forced to become fishermen or kelp farmers to enable the spread of the profitable sheep through the country. This may have been how the McLeans came to Taransay. Roderick's occupation is given as 'shepherd' in the 1841 census, which may have been working for others, or may have been caring for his own flock. Many were given 'crofts' at that time, often on otherwise unprofitable and unsustainable land. If the land was good, the rents went up, so the crofters were forced into the kelp industry anyway. When kelping collapsed, the crofters unable to keep up the rents, and those on poor land were forced out to make way for more sheep, which still showed a profit for the landowners. There was also the spread of red deer on land previously used for sheep. Roderick's occupation was given as 'shepherd' both in the 1841 census, and oral history of my family. It is not difficult to see that he and his family were at great risk of starvation if they were unable to pay rents, or became unemployable due to the deer, which is likely to have been the case. Taransay is now populated only by red deer, sheep, mink and mice! Large families had been encouraged by the landowners to farm the kelp, but they were unable or unwilling to support all these people when kelp was no longer profitable. The final catastrophe for many was the potato famine, and leaving the land (either willingly, or in many cases unwillingly) was preferable to starving.  The only options were to look elsewhere for work, or to emigrate to the other side of the world.This is likely to be the reason Roderick's family were in Banavie (where the completion of the Caledonian Canal employed hundreds of Highlanders), and then in Australia by the next decade.

The HIghland Clearances were among the most heinous acts carried out by the British, from both England and Scotland, with tens of thousands murdered or dispossessed of their homelands. My people, and many thousands of other Highlanders, were scattered throughout the world. Many of their descendants are still in ignorance of the reason why, because this dark period of history has been mostly documented by the same people who perpetrated it. If you are unaware of these events, an excellent history is to be found here. I can't help but carry over some anger with it, although it was 150 years ago that my family left the country. Scots are renowned for having long memories of injustice! 

I am left with toes that tap and a heart that sings to bagpipes, and a racial memory of my homeland. I still identify as a member of my clan for the same reason that Australian Aborigines still identify as such even when it is impossible to see the evidence of this in many individuals. We did not ask to be wiped out and removed from our ancestral lands, and do not have to accept that our watered down blood is any the less pure. 

More than anything though, I am an Australian, and grateful that Roderick and Norman were able to find a welcome in this incredible land.

Little is known of the earliest experiences of Roderick and family by my family. My grandmother wrote out all she could remember about her husband's family in about 1980, some years prior to her death. My grandfather had died quite a long time before this. Fortunately, public records have helped me to enlarge on and clarify much of her information. The following is the story...

Roderick and family settled in Lancefield, Victoria. They took up some of the freely available land and farmed it for a few years. Norman left for the goldfields with his brothers. When they returned they discovered that a new law had come into place where all land holdings had to be registered, and the family had not known of this until too late and lost the land. Both Norman and his brother Finlay  married and had children in Lancefield. Christina was unmarried, and died at the age of 28 in 1859. Margaret married Robert Whiteside, and died in Footscray, Melbourne, at the age of 80 in 1915. Catherine married Walter Langdon Edwards, and died in Maroopna, Victoria at the age of 67 in 1905.  Rachel married David Junor, lived and died at 'Glen Junor' in Gisborne, Victoria at the age of 65 in 1904 - and by then had a rather famous relative about to enter the world stage! More family details on all these to be found through the links below.

Roderick died 30th December 1868, and was buried in Lancefield. Mary died in Lancefield, age given as 82 in 1895. Over all records for her, she was born either 1811, 1813, 1814 or 1815. By some of the standards of age-keeping for the family... this is pretty close.

I can find no records for any other family members that are verifiable, although that may change! I would very much like to know what happened to them if anyone out there knows! The only real clues I originally had in my search were the family names that kept right on cropping up for a number of generations in Norman and Finlay's families, and then in others. I love the Scottish naming system! 

Continuation of Main McLean Pages 
The details get more accurate as time rolls on!

Family of Norman and Lucy Jane (Silk) McLean

List of descendants of Roderick and Mary McLean

Other family members

Family of Norman and Sarah (Kennedy) McLean

Margaret McLean & George Whiteside

Rachel McLean & David Junor

Christina McLean

Catherine McLean and Walter Langdon Edwards

Finlay and Ann (Holden) McLean

TE Lawrence (of Arabia)

I'm a member of Clan McLean as are such notables as Sean Connery and the Countess of Wessex, formerly Sophie Rhys-Jones. A full history, membership and details of the Clan may be found here.

My mother's a McLean but my father's a Burge 
Burge Family History Page

Taransay Feature Page

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