Visitor Lois hoping to uncover more on her Wishart roots

Australian woman Lois Wishart Lindsay is looking forward to coming to the Hamefarin in June and discovering more about her roots. Here she writes about her Wishart forebears.

From childhood I have been conscious that Celtic and Norse blood courses through my veins. As well as being taken to watch pipe bands and highland dancing competitions, I have always felt especially stirred by Scottish fiddle music – years before learning that this is a Shetland specialty.

Like our Norse ancestors, several generations of my family have embarked for foreign lands, pursuing the dream of a better life.

I don’t know when my Wishart forebear left Scotland for Shetland, though as several Wisharts were prominent figures in the Scottish church over the centuries – one even managing to be martyred at St Andrews – I would not be surprised if he was a clergyman.
The name Wishart is reputedly derived from the Norman Giscard, so has a Norse origin.
My great-grandfather Andrew Wishart was born in 1836, in Northmavine, the sixth of eight children of Robert Wishart (b 1795) and Ann Inkster (b 1799). I know less about the Inksters, other than that a number of Inkster families lived at Gluss and it is an old Norse name.

Andrew grew up in the croft Da Orans at South Gluss. Other than his penetrating, deep-set eyes in a photograph taken in 1878, I know little about him. He probably became either a fisherman or a whaler, like most Shetland men. But the hardship and dangers of a life spent at sea was not for him. Gold having been discovered in Australia in 1851, Andrew was drawn by the lure of the Victorian goldrush.

On 18th April 1860, Andrew was one of 15 self-funded passengers who disembarked from London on the sailing ship Bonaventure for a voyage estimated at 140 days bound for Port Phillip (Melbourne) in the Australian colony of Victoria, arriving in August. Described in the shipping records as a labourer, the Ballarat Directories of 1869 and 1875 list him as a miner in nearby Sebastapol.

In 1860 Andrew Wishart married Alena (originally Alexandrina) McKenzie at her sister Isabella’s house in Clunes. The Ballarat goldfields were full of Scots. Alena had migrated in 1854 from Ullapool, with an elder brother and sister.

Several Wisharts, including Andrew’s elder brother Laurence (b 1833) also appear in the Ballarat directories. Laurence does not appear in the Victorian shipping records so I am not sure whether he migrated before or after Andrew and where he disembarked, but I understand that there are a number of descendants living in Western Australia.

While Andrew did not strike it lucky by finding a large nugget, evidently his prospecting was sufficiently successful to enable a change of career. By 1882 he is described as a grocer, and in 1884 he opened a general store in the small goldfields town of Allandale north of Ballarat.

Following his death in 1896, the probate papers record the stock in trade of the Wishart store in Allandale. This provides a fascinating insight into the lives of ordinary people in an Australian country town, listing goods as varied as collars, matches, macaroni, screws, tins of lobster, salmon, and sardines, envelopes, shoe laces, candles, yeast powder, taps, corn flour, mustard, knives and forks, treacle, French capers, stove polish, taps, bridles, borax, rabbit traps, gold dishes, dried eggs, various brushes, cake stands, scales and weights, jello, nine yards of frilling, lamp glasses, camp ovens and a boiler.

Andrew and Alena are buried at Coghills Creek, the tombstone proudly proclaiming that Andrew was born in Northmavine, Shetland and Alena at Loch Broom, Scotland.

Andrew and Alena had five children: Anne (1869), James Hector (1870-1950), Abigail (1872), Eliza Margaret (1874) and my grandfather Robert (1875-1938). On their father’s death, James and Robert took over the Wishart & Sons store.

James later moved to Wonthaggi in Gippsland (where he served for a time as mayor), then Coleraine in western Victoria, in each case opening a Wishart’s store. One of his daughters became the first woman to graduate in geology and metallurgy at the University of Melbourne.  The family was sufficiently affluent to travel to Britain – visiting relatives in Ullapool and the USA in the 1920s.

I know little about my grandfather’s early life. Robert was born at the short-lived goldrush settlement of Barry’s Reef. In the 1890s he won a bicycle race in Ballarat, being presented with a silver-plated biscuit barrel which now sits on my sideboard.

Australia is a land of booms and busts, and the 1890s Victoria was plagued by drought and economic depression. So Robert followed his father’s earlier example, seeking the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Armed with glowing character references from Ballarat businesses, in 1898 he set off for the South African goldfields – though pursuing business opportunities rather than as a miner.

However, the Anglo-Boer War broke out within a year, fuelled by the Boers’ alarm at the number of “uiltlander” (foreigners) pouring into the Witwatersrand in pursuit of the golden dream. As a loyal son of the motherland, and a country lad who had grown up on horseback, Robert joined a local mounted regiment.

After being mentioned in dispatches several times, while serving with the Johannesburg Mounted Rifles, Capt Wishart was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for riding back under fire to rescue one of his men who had been wounded and fallen from his horse.

Robert was evidently well respected among the troops, later being voted to represent the regiment at the coronation of Edward VI in London in 1901. His medals, ceremonial sword, official invitations to various London receptions and Boer War memorabilia are now in the Australian War Memorial museum.

After the war, with his namesake cousin Robert (son of Laurence Wishart), he went prospecting in Madagascar. While there my grandfather contracted malaria, and his health never fully recovered for he was ruled medically unfit to serve in the First World War. Nevertheless he was well enough to undertake a world tour with his wife and first baby in 1908.

I have a couple of very amusing photos of them posed against dramatic backdrops at Niagara Falls. Robert never returned to Australia, although in 1906 he married Edith Carr – also Australian-born. They had three children: Basil (1907-1998), my father Robert Carr (1909-2003) and Joan Edith (1916-1992).

My grandfather craved the country life so the family moved to a mixed wheat/dairy farm, which they named Austral Estates, at Holmdene near Standerton in the Southern Transvaal.
The family experienced their share of hard times. Joan contracted polio as a baby, which left her with crippled feet, although she was able to train as a nurse and topped the final nursing exams in South Africa in her year. The sons were packed off to boarding school while the parents concentrated on rehabilitating their baby.

My father became completely deaf at the age of eight after being neglected while recuperating during an epidemic of scarlet fever in 1918. This was a terrible blow for a musical child, limiting his opportunities and leaving him socially isolated and bitter.
Like so many of that generation, the family was also affected by Great Depression of the 1930s, although they managed to retain the farm and survived in better shape than many less fortunate.

I grew up in the late 1950s/1960s on a small farm in Hillcrest near Durban in Natal, South Africa. In the mid 1970s I completed a graduate diploma in museum studies at the University of Manchester in the UK and met my husband Ray. After working for the
University of Natal in Durban as a museum curator, I migrated to Australia in 1979.
We live in the Woden valley in Canberra (yes, even here there are Nordic names), where I have spent most of my career working in public sector arts and collections policy and administration. Currently I work in the heritage division of the Australian government department responsible for the environment, heritage and the arts. Living in Canberra also enables us to enjoy exhibitions at the various national galleries and museums in Canberra, two major annual folk festivals, and the Australian Opera at the Sydney Opera House.
I first visited Shetland with my British-born mother Dorothy in July 1976. At the time we knew nothing more than that my great-grandfather had been born in Shetland, but Mum wrote in advance to the postmaster in Lerwick asking if he or she could put us in touch with other Wisharts when we arrived.

The deputy postmaster, himself a Wishart although not related, responded. He turned out to be a very kindly man, who took time off to drive us around Shetland as far as the viewpoint overlooking Muckle Flugga, and to meet a Wishart family living in a croft somewhere on the mainland. The grandfather looked so like my uncle Basil.

In 2000 Ray and I spent a week in Shetland, discovering that we had just missed a Hamefarin. We visited the ruins of the Da Orans croft at South Gluss. A friendly local woman told us that it had been inhabited until the 1950s. By then the gables had largely collapsed, but it was a moving experience to stand within the small space in which my great-grandfather had lived.

During the Hamefarin I hope to spend more time exploring Northmavine.
I am also greatly looking forward to meeting Alan Blain, a third cousin once removed – all the more so since he is also a heritage officer. It would be lovely to meet other distant relatives. We may live at opposite ends of this small, blue planet, but we are all kin.


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