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The MUNROs of Avoch --- a micro diaspora

George MUNRO, a cabinet maker from the parish of Knockbain, Ross and Cromarty, married Janet Jessie MacRAE, from Inverness, in February 1818; their marriage was recorded in two parish registers, Inverness on the 23rd and Knockbain on the 25th. They lived first in Knockbain and then in Avoch, Ross and Cromarty, and together produced seven children: Christopher (1818), George (1820), May (1824), Duncan (1827), Elspeth (1829) and the twins James Gibson and William (1832).

George the elder died at some point before the 1841 census and the household in Avoch is listed then as comprising Janet (as a retailer of loaf bread), May, Elspet, James and William. By the 1851 census, Janet was living alone in Avoch and described as a pauper. She appears to have moved then to Inverness to live with her son George and died there on 2 December 1859.

The first son, Christopher, became a shoemaker and as a journeyman in that trade is shown in the 1841 census as living in Inverness in the household of Alexander Jack. He married Isabella MacDONALD in Inverness on 15 January 1844 and continued to ply his trade there while fathering nine children. He migrated to Ontario, Canada, in the late 1870s and died on 31 December 1903 in London, Ontario, Canada. His descendants are described in more detail at the Carter Lineage.

The second son, George, also entered the clothing trades. He is listed in the 1841 census as an apprentice tailor living with his master, William ALLAN, in Inverness. George married Williams daughter, Isabella ALLAN, on 31 December 1849, and they had three children. Isabella died before the 1861 census, in which George is shown as a widower, with his sister Elspeth evidently serving the household as housekeeper. George married Elizabeth McLEOD on 15 November 1861 and continued his apparently prosperous trade as a tailor and clothier until he died of stomach cancer in Inverness on 25 March 1885. Of the seven MUNRO siblings, only George remained in Scotland.

The third child, and first daughter, May, was still living in the Avoch household with her mother during the 1841 census. Somehow, she found herself in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, on 15 June 1850, where and when she married John DRAPER. [It has not been established how May got to Melbourne. It is conceivable she may have benefited from free transport as a convict and it seems probable that that is how her spouse found his way to the Antipodes. However, more innocently, May may have been caught up in one of the migration schemes associated with the highland clearances or she may have been a servant arriving with free settlers. It is odd, though, that she is recorded as Marion MUNRO in the marriage registration that it was her, is confirmed by her death registration which notes her marrying John DRAPER in Melbourne when she was 26 (that is, circa 1850).] John DRAPER came to an unfortunate end when he broke his neck in a buggy accident while working as a farmer out in the country on 30 October 1875. He left her reasonably well provided and she endured her widowhood at her residence at Avoch, Pakington Street, St Kilda, Melbourne, until she died of old age on 5 August 1904. They left no children.

The fourth child, Duncan, like brothers Christopher and George, had also left the Avoch household by the time the 1841 census was held. It may be he who is listed as a 14 year old servant in the household of Hector MUNRO, farmer at Leod, Avoch. And it is apparently he who is listed as a journeyman tailor lodging with an ostler named George PERKINS at 161 Rose Street, Edinburgh, in the 1851 census. Duncan married Georges daughter, Amelia PERKINS, in Edinburgh on 15 August 1852. Duncan and Amelia were probably the Duncan and Mrs MUNRO recorded among the passengers on the brig Courier which arrived in Melbourne on 23 December 1852, having departed Glasgow on 31 August. (Duncans death registration supports this by recording that at the time of his death in 1899 he had been in the Australian Colonies for 47 years.) If so, they were unassisted migrants implying that they or someone else paid for their passage and not the colonial government. Duncan continued to work as a tailor, settling in Sandhurst (the earlier name for Bendigo) and dying there on 9 November 1899 of heart disease. He and Amelia had five children, two of whom had predeceased him. Duncan was not as successful a tailor as his brother George back in Inverness: in August 1866 he was found to be insolvent, deficient by 368/8/9 because of bad debts and an adverse result in a law suit. He seems to have bounced back, however, and a newspaper report shows him running a business again in 1871.

The fifth child, Elspeth, also ended up in Australia. She married Alexander STEWART, a coachman, in Inverness in 1861 and after working their way down the length of Britain they emigrated in 1872. Elspeth MUNRO and Alexander STEWART are described in separate journals below.

Which leaves the sixth and seventh children, the twins James Gibson and William, who were born in Avoch on 26 December 1832. In 1841 they were living in their mothers household in Avoch. By the 1851 census they seem to have been parted: a James MUNRO is employed as an agricultural labourer by James Fraser near Avoch and a William MUNRO is a farm labourer in a household headed by Catherine Junor at Hilton near Inverness. Each is listed as being 18 years of age and as having been born in Avoch. In 1852 they, like their siblings May and Duncan before them (and sister Elspeth after them), found their way to the Australian colonies. Two 21 year old labourers, James and William MUNRO from Rossshire, are listed as emigrants arriving on the William Miles at Moreton Bay (modern Brisbane) on 27 January 1855. Ultimately they settled near Bendigo and took up farming (in the same area in which Mays husband John DRAPER met his end). James Gibson MUNRO married a widow, Mary MATHEWS (nee WOTHERSPOON) in 1890. James died on 15 September 1906. In a joint affidavit lodged by William and Mary with the application for probate, William deposed That the said William MUNRO and the said James Gibson MUNRO are twin brothers who came to this State in 1852 and have always lived together since then and kept a common fund into which we paid all our earnings and made common purchases. William died a few months later, on 24 January 1907. Neither James nor William were survived by children. Mary died on 18 June 1907. In her will, Mary distributed the residual estate among friends and relations (including bequeathing a gold watch previously owned by her sister-in-law May (MUNRO) DRAPER to Elspeth (MUNRO) STEWARTs son George STEWART).

One little MUNRO went to Canada, one little MUNRO stayed home ... and every other little MUNRO went all the way, way, way to Australia.

Eliza BODINNAR HOPKINS JAMES (1839 - 1914 )

Eliza HOPKINS appears in the JAMES family tree seemingly out of nowhere in 1900.

Christopher Oates JAMESs first wife, Elizabeth POLLARD, died in Daylesford, Victoria, on 24 September 1898. Christopher and Elizabeth married in Liskeard, Cornwall, on 16 October 1851 and emigrated to Australia at some time in the 1850s during the Victorian gold rush. Their first three children died in infancy but a further 8 survived the rigours of the Daylesford diggings: Emma (1860), Richard (1862), Christopher (1864), William John (1866), Benjamin (1868), Thomas Pollard (1870), Ernest Albert (1873) and Charles Henry (1875).

Christopher Oates JAMES was a mine manager, a respected citizen of Daylesford and evidently a staunch Methodist (perhaps even an examplar of the wowser kind: in 1901 he was a signatory of a petition to the Australian House of Representatives calling for a law to withhold postal facilities for promoting lotteries, fortune-telling, and other unlawful pursuits).

Christopher did not remain a widower for long: on 2 July 1900 he married Eliza HOPKINS in Daylesford according to the rites of the Bible Christian Church.

And here begins the mystery of Eliza HOPKINS. The marriage certificate imparts a little information about her: she was a widow and had become so on 7 December 1897; her birthplace was Cornwall; she was 60 years of age; her parents were James BODINNAR and Emma EDWARDS and her father was a farmer.

A search of the Cornwall OPC Database finds the baptism of Eliza BODINNER in the Cornish parish of Breage on 31 October 1839, her parents James and Emma residing at Herland Cross, the father a butcher. Her twin sister, Anne, was baptised with her; Anne did not survive long and was buried on 28 November 1839. (There are marginal notes in the parish registers signifying private baptisms, which may or may not be relevant.)

The 1941 census of England records James BODINNAR (35), butcher, Emma (40), Eliza (2) and James (3 months) living at Little Ruthdown in the parish of Breage.

There is an apparent inconsistency between the claim on Eliza HOPKINS marriage certificate that her parents were James BODINNAR and Emma EDWARDS and the actual marriage record for the latter.

The Cornwall OPC Database shows that James BODINNAR married Emma MOFFATT (not EDWARDS, as claimed on the JAMES-HOPKINS marriage certificate) in Breage on 30 May 1839. James is shown as a butcher and a widower and Emma as a widow. And this latter point of course explains the surname discrepancy: the parish marriage registration reveals that Emmas father is Nicolas EDWARDS and it follows that MOFFATT was the surname of Emmas first husband. Further searching reveals that Thomas MOFFATT married Emma EDWARDS in Breage on 3 August 1822 and that they went on to have 7 children of which 6 survived. Thomas MOFFATT was buried in Breage on 13 October 1836.

The six surviving MOFFATT children are recorded in the 1841 census as living at Little Ruthdown with James and Emma BODINNAR.

So far, so good: some apparent discrepancies in names are resolved by tracing the complex family relationships that arose in the early nineteenth century because of shorter life spans and multiple offspring.

However, where the mystery arises is in the report of Christopher Oates JAMES death in the Daylesford Herald of 24 March 1909, wherein it is reported that Mr. James second wife, who is blind and is the mother of townsman Mr. J. Bodinnar, also remains to mourn the loss of a good husband.

How is it that Eliza JAMES, formerly Eliza HOPKINS, nee Eliza BODINNAR could be the mother of James BODINNAR?

The 1909 electoral roll (Division of Laanecoorie, subdivision of Daylesford) lists James BODINNAR, labourer, and Keziah BODINNAR, home duties, as living at Perrins st., Daylesford. He is the only Daylesford townsman of that name. He can be traced to his death in East Malvern on 2 August 1936, aged 68 years (Argus, Monday, 3 August 1936). This would put his birth somewhere around 1868. The Australia Death Index (via shows his parents as James Symons BODINNAR and Eliza unknown.

So did Eliza BODINNAR marry a James Symons BODINNAR, deliver James BODINNAR into the world in 1868 and later marry some man whose surname was HOPKINS? Or is there a simpler explanation based on single parenthood? At this stage it is all a bit of a mystery.


Since the above was committed to journal, the death registration for Eliza JAMES has come to hand. It reveals that she died in Swan Hill, Victoria, on 30 September 1914 and was buried in the Swan Hill cemetery on 3 October. She was 73 and died from myocarditis (heart failure). She had been in Victoria for 29 years (implying she arrived from England about 1885) and had married William Farthing HOPKINS when she was 47 (about 1886). James BODINNAR was her only child by her first marriage.

The mystery is now reduced to why was her son named James BODINNAR and not James HOPKINS?

Elspeth "Elsie" MUNRO (1829 - 1894)

A debt to Hugh Carter's work on the MUNROs is acknowledged.

It is not unusual to find an endnote to death notices in colonial newspapers that certain other papers 'please copy'. Assuming that the original notice was paid for, did the other papers perform this service ex gratia?

The Sydney Morning Herald for 22 March 1894 carries the following death notice

STEWART.-- March 21, at her residence, 56 Raglan-street, Waterloo, late of Melbourne, Elsie, the dearly beloved wife of Alex. Stewart, aged 63. Melbourne papers please copy.

Two days later the Melbourne Argus obliged-

STEWART.-- On the 21st inst., at 56 Raglan-street, Sydney, Elsie, the beloved wife of Alexander Stewart, late of St Kilda, and only sister of Mrs Draper, Pakington-street, St Kilda. Inverness and Cromarty papers please copy.

Whether they did so is yet to be found.

Elspet MUNRO was born in the parish of Avoch, Ross and Cromarty, Scotland on 21 August 1829 and baptised on 6 November. According to the parish register her baptism was sponsored by her father, George MUNRO, a wright resident in Seatown (a settlement where the fishermen who worked out of Avoch lived). Her mother is given as Janet Macrae.

The parish register entry is written in an apparently feeble hand and is ruled off after a further four entries. It is signed "Ja(me)s Smith Mod(erato)r" and subsequent entries from December 1829 are written in a more vigorous hand. The Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae tells us that James Smith died on 9 December 1830 and that, being born in 1758, he would have been about 72. It is noted that the majority of the congregation had seceded from the church in "opposition to his settlement" so it would seem the MUNROs belonged to the faithful few that remained with the Smith flock.

Presumably George MUNRO died before the 1841 census was held. The head of the household in Avoch is Janet MUNRO (40), her occupation "retailing loaf of bread", and the children are listed as May (15), Elspet (11), James (8) and W(illia)m (8).

In the 1851 census, Janet is recorded living on her own in Avoch, a pauper. Some of her children had established their own households but it is not certain where Elspet was at this stage. The FORBES family at Pulrossie in the parish of Creich, Sutherland, had a 22 year old servant named Elspet MUNRO whose birthplace is shown as Alness, Rosshire. However, in later life Elspet seems to have been proud of her Avoch connection and it may be assumed as unlikely that she would declare a different birthplace.

In the 1861 census, Elspet, now 31 but listed as 30, is living with her brother George, at 10 Bridge Street, Inverness. George was a tailor and clothier and had become sufficiently prosperous to be employing 7 men and 1 boy. He had recently been made a widower and Elspet had taken on the role of housekeeper. Her birthplace is shown as Avoch.

Later in 1861, Elspet married Alexander STEWART and began her long journey to the far side of the world, where she was to be reunited with the soil 33 years later. (The wedding registration clarifies her father's occupation, shown in the 1829 Avoch parish register as a wright, identifying him as a cabinetmaker, deceased.)

Over the remainder of her life she was variously known as "Elspeth", "Elsped", "Alice", "Appy" and "Elsie".

Her last-used name was commemorated briefly in the firstborn daughter of her own daughter, Ellen JAMES. Elsie May JAMES (the "May" presumably from May MUNRO, who was the "Mrs Draper, Pakington-street, St Kilda" referred to in the death notice) was born in 1890 but died before Elspeth. In 1922, a great granddaughter was christened "Elspeth".

Elsie STEWART died following a stroke. Her son, John, was the informant for the registration of her death. The name of her parents is shown as "unknown" on her death certificate. Her husband, Alexander STEWART, and her children George Alexander, John, Jessie and Ellen all survived her.

Alexander STEWART (1831 - 1900)

Alexander STEWART was buried in the Presbyterian cemetery, Rookwood (described in Wikipedia as 'the largest multicultural necropolis in the Southern Hemisphere') in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, on 3 September 1900.

He died the previous day in the Rookwood Benevolent Asylum, having succumbed to 'senile decay'. He is described in the death certificate as being 80 years of age and seems thus to have led a hard life for he was in truth only 69.

Alexander was born in the parish of Fodderty, Ross and Cromarty, Scotland, on 26 April 1831 and the parish register lists his parents as George STUART and Nelly STUART, residence Cnocknain. Over the years George seemed to move up in the world: a carter (1841 census), a cattleman (1851 census) and an innkeeper (Alexander's wedding registration in 1861) and the 1861 census indicates that he was the hotel keeper at the Admiral Napier Hotel in Cromarty; however, his son's death certificate reduces him to a game keeper.

Alexander appears in the 1841 census, aged 10, living with his parents at Caul Wood in the parish of Contin, Ross and Cromarty. (His parents' marriage on 9 July 1830 is recorded in both the Contin and Fodderty parish registers; it seems George was a native of Contin and Helen (Nelly) of neighbouring Fodderty.) Alexander's siblings are listed as John (8), Margaret (6) and Catherine (3).

At this point it is not clear where Alexander STEWART resided when the 1851 census was held but a groom of that name, aged 19, born in Dingwall (a larger village near Fodderty), is included in the household of John Wilson at 70 Church Street, Inverness. In the same census, his parents resided at Knocknain in the parish of Fodderty, with four of Alexander's younger siblings: Margaret (15), Catherine (13), William (7) and George (5).

The next census was held overnight 7-8 April 1861 and the household at the (Admiral) Napier Hotel in Cromarty is recorded as: George, Hotel Keeper, 60; Helen, 46; Alexander, 26; John, 24; Catherine, 18; William, 16; and George, 14.

It appears that no great care was taken in reckoning one's age for the census.

Later that year, on 27 November 1861, Alexander married Elspeth MUNRO in Inverness. Maybe because the marriage is recorded in a statutory register, Alexander's age is correctly stated as 30. His profession is given as coachman, as it was earlier in the year for the census. His parents are listed as George STEWART, Inn Keeper and Helen STEWART (married surname STEWART). The only oddity is that his usual residence is shown as South Knapdale, which, it would appear, is a parish in Argyll. No other evidence has been found of him leaving Ross and Cromarty to this point.

Shortly after their marriage, Alexander and Elspeth began their long journey to the far side of the world.

George Alexander STEWART was born to Alexander, coachman, and Elspeth (m.s. MUNROE) at Gadgirth in the parish of Coylton, Ayrshire on 28 December 1863.

John STEWART was born to Alexander, coachman, and Alice [sic](m.s. MUNRO) at Cargan in the parish of Troqueer, Kircudbrightshire on 10 October 1865.

At some point in the next three years Alexander and Elspeth left Scotland, for aye.

Jessie STEWART was born to Alexander, coachman, and Elspeth MUNRO on 9 October 1868 and was baptised in the Belgrave Chelsea Presbyterian Church on 24 January 1869. Her parents resided at 11 Rutland Gate Mews in Kensington, London.

Ellen STEWART was born to Alexander, coachman, and Elsped (formerly MUNRO) at Bournside, Hatherley Road, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, on 25 May 1871. The 1871 census was held seven weeks earlier, overnight 2-3 April. The occupants of the coachhouse at Bournside are listed as Alexander, coachman (34), Elspet (32), George Alexander (7), John (5) and Jesse (2). Jesse is identified in the census record as a son, rather than the daughter she later certainly proved to be. The English air seems to have had a remarkable effect on Alexander, for according to the calendar he was nearly 40.

The STEWARTs left England, either from London or Plymouth in April 1872, aboard the clipper Queen of Nations, arriving in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia on 29 June. The passenger list records them as Alexander (30), Appy (32), George (7), John (5), Jessie (2) and Ellen (1). Again, the voyage seems to have rejuvenated Alexander.

And there, the STEWARTs seem to fade into colonial obscurity. About the only consistent feature of Alexander's journey through life is that he was a coachman (he is even identified as such on his death certificate). One imagines that a coachman could be either like a chauffeur, employed by a household, or a taxi driver, plying for hire, and certainly in the Old Country Alexander seems to have been the former, working his way from estate to estate.

It remains to be discovered how, or even if, he practised his profession in the colonies.

William John JAMES (1866 - 1941)

William John JAMES was born at Wombat Hill, Daylesford, Victoria, Australia on 26 October 1866.

He was the son of Christopher Oates JAMES and Elizabeth nee POLLARD who had emigrated to Australia from Cornwall in the 1850s and joined the gold rush.

William John married Ellen STEWART in Redfern, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia on 21 July 1890 according to the rites of the Presbyterian Church. The JAMES family were Methodists and this suggests a certain calling of the shots by Ellen's side of the family. The STEWARTs were highland Scots and Presbyterians. William John and Ellen had their first child, Elsie May JAMES, on 1 December 1890 so one may assume there was an element of urgency to the marriage. The marriage register records that "The consent of Alexander Stewart Father of the Bride was given to the marriage of Ellen Stewart and William John James the said Ellen Stewart being under the age of Twenty-one years". (She was 19.) A. Stewart and John Stewart (presumably Ellen's father and brother) were listed as witnesses.

At this stage William John is recorded as a grocer.

Elsie May Stewart JAMES died in Enmore, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia on 6 March 1892. William John is recorded in the death registration as a commercial traveller. A second daughter, Muriel Gladys Munro JAMES, was born in St Kilda, Victoria, Australia on 12 December 1892. William John is recorded as a traveller.

Marjorie Jessie Draper JAMES, the third child, was born in Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia on 7 November 1895. William John is a grocer again.

William John at this stage becomes somewhat settled. He appears in news reports in the local newspaper, the Newcastle Morning Herald, between May 1896 and May 1898. He was president of the Newcastle Shop Employees' Association and president of the Early Closing Movement.

The Newcastle Morning Herald for 21 December 1897 carried a court report in which William John emerges as a "grocer in the employ" of George Henry Ball. William John had pursued a thief and recovered a side of bacon stolen from the shop on 18 December.

[A feature article about Newcastle commerce in the Sydney Mail for 18 September 1897 includes an image of the Ball Bros grocery store in Newcastle. Five men stand at the shop front and two on a balcony above. It is highly probable that one of the five below, four of whom are wearing aprons, is William John.]

According to the Newcastle Morning Herald for 13 July 1898 William John had left the district. Not long before, on 6 March 1898, a fourth child had arrived, Stewart Christopher JAMES.

Then William John vanishes.

In March 1916 Helena JAMES (nee Ellen STEWART) married Ernest HEINER, a solicitor, in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. According to the marriage registration Helena was a widow. The marriage was conducted according to the rites of the Presbyterian Church (the HEINERs were Lutherans and Ernest's father had been a well regarded Lutheran pastor in nearby Ipswich). Evidently Ellen was one to get her way. William John and Ellen's second daughter, now known as Gladys (not Muriel) and her husband Alfred Gunn CRAWFORD were witnesses.

Much more happened after that, needless to say. But the most intriguing outcome was the registration of a death at the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum on 28 July 1941 of a William John JAMES, aged 74, a grocer, born in Daylesford and son of Christopher Oats James and Elizabeth Pollard. His children are listed as Elsie and Marjorie, there being no mention of either Gladys or the son Stewart Christopher who at the time was a prominent citizen of Brisbane.

There are 43 years to account for.