George Ferguson, my grandfather, came from Nairn, Nairnshire, Scotland.  According to my father, George Leonard Ferguson the family was Jacobite; it supported the Stewart Monarchy and not the Hanoverians.  George drank the health of the “King over the Water” and had no time for the “German lot”.  The “German Lot” was Queen Victoria and her family, the Saxe-Coburg-Gothas that later, during World War I changed their name to Windsor.  However, most Ferguson families were loyalists except the Fergusons of Atholl who were staunch Stewart supporters.  But perhaps George was more of a radical than a Stewart supporter.

There is a strong tradition of radicalism in Scotland.  Primarily it was and still is rebellion against rule from Westminster.  This showed up in many ways.  For example few Tories were ever elected in Scotland and support generally went to the Labour Party, the Liberals and the SNP (Scottish National Party) and their predecessors the Whigs.  Drinking the Health of the “King-over-the-water” was popular even in regular Scottish Regiments in the British Army.  The drink was waved over a glass of water when the Royal Toast was proposed.

The roots of radicalism can be traced back to William and Mary who deposed James II of England (James VII of Scotland).  Mary was James’s daughter and William his nephew and son-in-law.  The reason given for this act of treachery was that James intended to allow Catholics to have political and military power.  In fact what he proposed was and act of tolerance that would allow more religious freedom in England.  James was himself a Catholic and not popular.  The Parliament saw its chance and invited William and Mary who were Protestants to take the throne in 1688.  Essentially it was family brawl over an inheritance; in this case the thrones of two kingdoms.

The rebellion was accepted in England.  William & Mary, then Mary on her own and finally her sister Anne ruled in turn.  They were of course all Stewarts; William’s mother was James II sister.  The Scots did not accept the change so readily and there was unrest and rebellion in Scotland against William and Mary.  The Scots thought that either James should remain King or his infant son, Prince James, should inherit.  Prince James was Mary’s stepbrother and the son of James’ second wife the Catholic Mary d’Este of Modena.  He became known as the “Old Pretender”.

On Anne’s death the throne of England was to go the Elector of Hanover who was also a Stewart descendent.  George I was the great grandson of James I of England (James VI of Scotland).  His inheritance ahead of James II son was shaky to say the least but he was a protestant.  Ironically he could not speak English.

The Scots saw no reason to agree to the Hanoverian succession.  They considered that their King should be James VII (i.e.  James II of England) son Prince James Francis Edward Stewart, Mary’s and Anne’s stepbrother, who later became James VIII of Scotland, and was known as “The Old Pretender”.  But because he was Catholic he was unacceptable to the English Tory Party.

In 1707 in order to overcome this problem and add legitimacy to the Hanoverians the Scottish Parliament passed the Act of Union after being paid massive bribes by the English.  This Act gave control of Scotland to Westminster.  The Scottish Parliament was dissolved and Scottish Peers and MPs took their seats in the English Parliament.  Many Scots were outraged at the betrayal and trouble started.  There was open rebellion for more than 100 years.

The Scottish Parliament was not a democratic organization in the sense of a modern parliament.  It was more a collection of the rich and powerful and had a very limited franchise of about 5000 voters in a population of around one million.  Hence, bribing the parliament was not as difficult as it would be today.

The English knew they had problems north of the border.  However their attitudes were clear.  The Speaker of the House of Commons put the English view plainly.  The English “had catcht Scotland and would make her fast”.  The Lord Treasurer backed him saying, “Have we not bought the Scots and the right to tax them?” The Scots believed, rightly or wrongly that they were exploited by the English.  Certainly the evidence is clear that the standard of living in Scotland remained below that of England well into the 20th Century.  This was in spite of the fact that much of the wealth of Great Britain was generated in the factories, shipyards and coalmines of Scotland.

Scottish culture and Gaelic were under attack.  In 1711 Parliament increased the number of English Schools in Scotland from 12 to 128.  This was the first of a number of attempts to reduce Scottish culture and the Gaelic language.  Indeed the very name of Scotland was changed to North Britain.

By the time Queen Anne died and the Elector of Hanover became George I many Scots had had enough.  Lord Seafield proposed the first Bill for Self Government for Scotland and like many similar bills afterwards the vast English majority in Parliament defeated it.  Of 500 members only 61 were Scots.

In 1715 the Earl of Marr raised the Scottish Standard at Castleton.  James VIII landed in Scotland but by February 1716 it was all over.  Nevertheless the unrest continued and there were uprisings in 1719 and 1720.  By 1725 aversion to the Union was very high.

In 1745 the Stewarts had another go with Prince Charles Edward Stewart the son of “The Old Pretender”.  He had his father reconfirmed as James VIII and won a series of victories.  There is little doubt that he would have succeeded had he been willing to become the King of Scotland only.  But he wanted the English crown as well.  The outcome was Culloden and the atrocities of “Butcher” Cumberland, brother of King George II.

After that the radical movement turned towards reform of the existing system.  In 1762 the Poker Club was formed to bring about reform.  In 1792 The Friends of the People openly advocated repeal of the Union.  Leaders of this group included many prominent men such as Lord Daer, Lord Sempill (son of Selkirk), Colonel McLeod of McLeod, and Lord Kinnaird as well as many more ordinary people.

The Clearances added to the general unrest.  The Scottish landowners found that sheep were much more profitable than people so the crofters had to go.  The methods used were often brutal in the extreme.  The roofs of crofts were stove in and the people left to flee or perish.  Many Scots went to Canada and, later, to Australia as a result.  1792 was referred to as the “Year of the Sheep”.

Advocating repeal of the Union was called sedition and many were tried, convicted and transported.  Often these trials were either in England or before stacked juries.  It was illegal to try Scotsmen in England for crimes committed in Scotland according to the Act of Union.  However the English realised that few convictions would result if the prisoners were tried in Scotland.

The expectation of few convictions was due to two factors.  Firstly, Scotsmen were unlikely to punish their own countrymen for saying what many thought.  The reality was that the union was and remains unpopular with the majority of the people.  Hence the action of the “rebels” was seen as a legitimate protest against tyranny.

Secondly the Scottish law was much less harsh than the law of England.  According to Manning Clark, in the late 18th Century the English were hanging 10 to 12 people a day whilst the Scots might hang 6 per year.  Scottish sentences were milder and the judges had much more discretion.  Transportation was used but usually for only three, five or ten years as opposed to seven or fourteen years or life.

Finally there was the 1820 Radical rebellion.  The outcome was that three were hanged and a number transported to Botany Bay.

Most of those arrested during these disturbances were acquitted, but three, James Wilson, Andrew Hardie and John Baird, were convicted of sedition and sentenced to death, a number of others were transported and later pardoned.  On the 1st September 1820, James Wilson was publicly hanged on Glasgow Green then beheaded.  The other two were publicly hanged in Stirling.  Wilson's remains were secretly taken from the paupers' grave in the Glasgow High Church by his daughter and niece, to be interred in a family plot in Strathaven, where there is now a monument to his martyrdom.  In Stirling, a plaque on a wall marks the martyrdom of Hardie and Baird.

Finally in 1832 the first Reform Bill was passed and the people stared to gain more power.


In general the Ferguson families were not Jacobites.  In his book James Fergusson only identifies the Perthshire Fergusons as followers of the faction.  “Finlay Fergusson of Baledmund was out, apparently against his will in 1715.  John Fergusson of Dunfallandy and Thomas Fergusson of Balyoukan both supported the Prince in 1745.  Dunfallandy was lucky to escape condemnation after being captured and tried at Carlisle”.  Baledmund, Dunfallandy and Balyoukan are estates in Perthshire.  James Fergusson goes on to say that “Many of the Argyll Fergussons served in the Argyll militia….  and some fought at Falkirk and Culloden” for King George.

Most of the Fergusons who followed Prince Charles Edward Stewart were from Perth.  The Muster Roll of the Prince’s Army lists 26 soldiers named Ferguson and eighteen are from Perth in three regiments, Atholl Brigade, Strathallan’s Perthshire Horse and the Duke of Perth’s Regiment.  Three more enlisted in the Forfarshire Regiment and all of them were from around Dundee.  Forfarshire is the old name for Angus the county immediately to the east of Perth.  The city of Dundee is only about 22 miles from Perth.  The remaining five enlisted in different regiments.  There was also a Lieutenant Ferguson recorded as in exile with James III, the “Old Pretender”.

Although considered one clan there are at least six distinct groups of Ferguson families located in Argyll, Ayr, Fife, Perth (Atholl), Dumfries and Aberdeen and many more scattered throughout Scotland.  The Fergusons of Aberdeen, the nearest family to Nairn, were loyalists.  The origins of the clan are not known but clearly it is a very old Scottish or Pictish name and not Norman (e.g.  Ross, Rose) nor Norse (e.g.  Ralf, Main).  The present chief is Sir Charles Fergusson of Kilkerran, 9th Baronet.  Kilkerran is a village in Argyll on the Kintyre peninsular.

There are Pictish examples of the name Fergus as Forcus.  The list of Pictish Kings includes Urguist, Wirguist and Wrguist, again variations of the name Fergus.  There is no reason to assume that any present day Ferguson families are descended from these kings but it does highlight the fact that the name Fergus is very old.  The earliest reference to the name provided by Black is “56 tenants of the lord of FERMARTYNE neglected to pay “second tithes” to the bishop of Aberdeen in 1382 and were place under excommunication.  They included FERGUSIUS de PETY”.  Names were often “Latinised” in the early records.  In the 14th Century surnames were just starting to be used and patronymics were common.  Other examples are Allan Fergusii, Burgess of Glasgow 1422 and Johanes filius Fergusii who witnessed a Royal Charter about 1316-18.

All that we know about the Nairn Ferguson families is that they were there for a long time.  The earliest records so far found show that Margaret Ferguson married Alexr Mill in Nairn in 1680 and John Farqusone married Marg Stephan in Forres, Moray in 1694.  However, there is no evidence to suggest that Neil, George’s grandfather, was born in Nairn.

Neil’s family may have come from Perthshire.  Mary Catherine Mackenzie (my mother) wrote in her diary after a visit to Scone Castle near Perth that she now knew “why Ferg (George Leonard) was called Leonard”.  She also visited a Mrs Ferguson of Pitlochry at the same time but kept no note of the visit.

They may also be from Ross and Cromarty where many Ferguson families lived.  There was a regular ferry service from Cromarty to Nairn in the late 18th and early 19th centuries .  This would be a very easy way to travel then.  Smout gives a very clear picture of the difficulties of land travel in those days.  Hence Cromarty was possibly easier to get to from Nairn than any other centre.  A small sailing vessel would make the trip in two or three hours.

The Rev.  John Morrison in his report for the Statistical Accounts of Scotland in 1791 gives a clear picture of the state of the roads.  “The great military road from Forres to Fort George (now the A96) is in very good repair”.  This road presumably continued to Inverness.  He also said that “the ...  road from Nairn to the Bridge of Dulsie is remarkably bad.  This was probably the main road south.  He added, “The … bridge in Nairn … built in 1632 … in 1782 was carried off by a flood.” Only temporary repairs were completed.  Thus in the late 18th century travel to and from Nairn was clearly very difficult.

Certainly John Rose-Miller thinks that Neil was connected to the building industry.  There was and influx of masons and carpenters into Nairn in the period.  A witness at James’ christening was James Yule and the Yule family were masons.  Also, Charles Ferguson of Nairn was a mason who married Ann McIntosh and came from Cromarty and was probably a relation of Neil’s.

In summary then it seems that we are probably descended from a highland Jacobite family.  The Jacobite connection suggests Perth but ease of travel suggests Cromarty.


Neil Ferguson, a Day Labourer, is the earliest fully documented ancestor of the Ferguson family.  James Ferguson’s death certificate identifies his father as Neil and his mother as Mary McIntosh.

Neil married Mary McIntosh in 1811.   They had four children:

a.  Donald   born  1814
b.  Mary     born  1816
c.  James    born  1820
d.  Helen    born  about 1824

His marriage and three of the children are recorded in the Old Parish Register (OPR) as follow:

a. 1811 “March 27th.  Neil Fargurherson and Mary McIntosh, both of this parish being matrimonially contracted were married.” In fact this is not actually a record of marriage but a record of the proclamation (equivalent to the Banns in the Anglican Church).  Generally, the OPR records are of proclamations.  Hence it is possible that no marriage took place.  The record should be checked again when the image is on-line to see if there is an actual marriage record.

b. 1814 May 22nd.  Neil Ferguson labourer (?) in Town and Mary McIntosh his wife had a child baptised named Donald.  Witnesses Donald McIntosh, Donald Bain, Donald McIntosh, Margaret Rose.  The child was born on 14th Inst.

c. 1816 Octr 16th Neil Ferguson in Town and Mary McIntosh his wife had a child baptised Mary.  Witnesses Colin Ross (or Rose), Hugh McIntosh, John McIntosh, Mary Mcley.  The child was born on the 10th Inst.

d. 1820 March 26th.  Neil Ferguson labourer in Town and Mary McIntosh his spouse had a child baptised named James.  Witnesses James Frazer Couper (?) in Town and James Yule Mason.  The child was born on 17th Inst.

No record of Helen’s birth exists but she is recorded in the 1841 census.  She may also be recorded in the census records of Nairn or Leith as Helen McDonald, her married name.

Neil died before 1841.  The 1841 census records give the following information:

Ferguson  Mary  55  Widow           Macleans Close Nairn Yes
Ferguson  James 15  Son  App Joiner Macleans Close Nairn Yes
Ferguson  Helen 15  Daughter        Macleans Close Nairn Yes
Ferguson  Mary  20  F/S             Fairhall       Nairn Yes

Ages given are rounded down to the nearest 5 or 0.  Hence James could have been 19, 18, 17, 16 or 15 and Mary between 20 and 24.  Later censuses give exact ages.  Sometimes the 1841 census gives the exact ages particularly for children under 15.  The enumerators were told to record exact ages for children under 15 but often did not.

James was an apprentice joiner and he could therefore become a house carpenter.

Mary (the younger) was the senior servant of three in Fairhall, a large house in Nairn.  The name of the house given in the census is wrong, it is actually Firhall and it still exists.  The household included Dr Boyne, his wife, eight children, Mary and the other two servants.

“Yes” means they were born in the county of Nairn.  “No” in the 1841 census means they were born outside the county.  The census records actually read y, yes born in the county, n not born in the county but born in Scotland, e born England, i Ireland, f Foreign.  Later censuses give the place of birth.

Macleans Close took its same from the Flesher (i.e.  butcher) Hector Maclean.  It no longer exists.


James married Margaret Slorach 15 Dec 1848 in Nairn.  The OPR record states “Nairn, 25th November 1848 James Ferguson Carpenter and Margaret Slorach (from Forres) both of this Parish, having been matrimonially contracted and regularly proclaimed in the Parish Church of Nairn were married Dec 15th by the Rev Mr Grant Forres”(The Reverend Mr Duncan Grant of the Parish of Forres).  Note the difference in this OPR record where the dates of the marriage and the proclamation are recorded and Neil’s marriage record above.

The marriage actually took place in Forres according to John Ferguson’s birth certificate.  Although recorded in the Parish Register and conducted by the Minister the ceremony was performed in the Manse or elsewhere.  There is presumably a proclamation record in Forres but not yet found in either GROS or the IGI.

The Slorachs originally came from Banff but Margaret came from Forres in Moray.  The Slorach family is a sept of the Davidson Clan.  The counties were, going east, Nairn, Moray, and Banff and Aberdeen.

James died in 1863 and Margaret in 1879, both in Nairn.

The census data for James suggest he was born in 1822 and not 1820.  His death certificate suggests he was born in 1821.  However, his son John’s birth certificate who was born in 1855 states that he (James) was 35 and that suggests a birth date of 1820.  Two possible explanations for this discrepancy are:

a.  James made a mistake and underestimated his age by two years.  This was quite a common error.  For example, note the wide variations in Margaret Slorach’s age in the census, birth and death records.
b.  The James born in 1820 died and a further son also named James was born to Neil Ferguson and Mary McIntosh in 1821 or 1822.

The latter explanation is quite possible.  Both in Australia and Scotland it was common to name later children after older siblings who died.  There are examples in the Fergusons of Nairn and the Clarke family in NSW.

Secondly, we know that Helen’s birth is not recorded in GROS or the IGI.  Prior to 1855 reports of deaths are quite sparse and the lack of a record of the death of the older James is not surprising.

James and Margaret are included in the 1851 census in Nairn.  Details are:

1.  James Ferguson Age 28.  Status Head.  Profession or Occupation House Carpenter Journeyman.  Address 77 High Street Nairn, Nairnshire.  Born Nairnshire Birth Town Nairn.
2.  Margaret Ferguson Age 23 wife Born Forres Morayshire.

A “Journeyman” is a tradesman who has completed his training and works for another person or company.

They shared the house with Jean Gunn, Dressmaker, Head.  After James death in 1863 Margaret became a dressmaker.  Perhaps she worked as a dressmaker at 77 High Street.  Margaret was illiterate; she made her mark on James’ Death Certificate.  Could a dressmaker be totally unable to read? Surely she would need to be able to measure, do simple addition and subtraction and use patterns? Perhaps she could read and do simple arithmetic but not write.

Their children were:

Unnamed boy born probably 1849
James 1851
William 1853
John 1855
Hugh 1857
George 1859
Eliza 1861

The only record of the first child is John’s birth certificate.

The 1861 census recorded:

James Ferguson 38 Head Joiner 7 Mackenzie Close Four rooms with
Margaret Ferguson no age Wife 7 Mackenzie Close windows
James Ferguson 9 Son Schol
William 7 Son Schol
John 6 Son Schol
Hugh 2
George 1

The 1871 census recorded:

Margaret Ferguson 47 Widow Dressmaker 7 Mackenzie Close
William 18 Son Painter(House)
John 15 Son Printer(Compositor)
Hugh 13 Son Schol
George 11 Son Schol
Eliza 9 Daughter Schol

Where was James junior? His death was not reported in Scotland between 1861 and 1881.  He may have been away from Nairn for the census.  After 1855 records are much more complete and accurate because civil registration replaced the OPR records that year.  Thus it is safe to assume James was still alive in 1871.  Perhaps James was away from Nairn by 1871 in Australia by 1881.

There is a James Ferguson age 24 who immigrated to Victoria in November 1876 in the Northumberland (see Fiche 346 page 2).  The age is within a year; this may well be our James.  Another James Ferguson arrived in Sydney in 1871 in the Sabraon on 28th December.

OPR records are “James, lawful son of James Ferguson carpenter in town and Margaret Slorach his wife was born on 4th August 1851 and publicly baptised in the Free Church in Nairn”.  Note the reference to the Free Church; the records were kept in the Parish (i.e.  Church of Scotland) registers.  The parents were charged a fee for their children to be registered and this presumably ensured a number of children were never recorded.

William was born in 1853.  He died in 1878 aged 25.  OPR records are “William, son of James Ferguson carpenter in town and Margaret Slorach was born on 26th April 1853 and publicly baptised in the Free Church in Nairn”.  He was House Painter (Journeyman) and died from TB on 12th October 1878.

John was born on 8 Aug 1855.  He was not in Scotland for the 1881 census.  There is no death certificate for him in Scotland between 1870 and 1881.  There is a John Ferguson age 23 who arrived in Sydney 24th December 1880 in the Northampton from Plymouth.  He was an assisted immigrant to Queensland.

Hugh was born on 4 Aug 1857.  He became a Railway Clerk with younger brother George but died of TB on 24th July 1880.  He was living at 374 High Street Forres at the time.

George born on 15th May 1859 and he came to Australia in 1882.

Eliza was born on 3 Feb 1862.  She died in Nairn in 1880 aged 18 of TB according to her death certificate.

So of a family of nine, four died from TB in a short period of three years.  Father James had died from a heart attack some years earlier.  TB primarily attacked teenagers and young adults.  It was associated with overcrowding and towns and was a common cause of death in Scotland (Reference 5 page 259).

The only member of the family included in the 1881 Census in Scotland is George.  There are no records of James or John anywhere in Scotland at the time of the census.  Perhaps they had already immigrated to Australia.  This seems reasonable because they may well have felt like a fresh start.  After all mother Margaret, brothers William and Hugh and little sister Eliza all died within three years and all from TB.

Family lore is that George came to Australia with brothers or cousins.  The brothers or cousins were supposed to have settled in the Darling Downs in Queensland.

In the late 1950s Peter knew some Fergusons from the Darling Downs area who claimed to be related.  Unfortunately they lost touch with one another.


George was the fifth son of James and Margaret Slorrach born in Nairn 15 May 1859.  He left Scotland sometime after 4th April 1881.  The 1881 Census in Scotland provides the following information about George:

Address 280 High Street, Forres, Elgin (Moray)

FERGUSON, George, unmarried, 20 years old, Male, Born Nairn, Nairn, occupation Railway Ticket Clerk, a boarder in the house.

He arrived in Sydney in the SS SORATA on 30th March 1882 (Reel 449 in the State Archives) travelling Third Class having paid his own way.  The archives provided the following:
“SS SORATA from London Alfred Cooper Master 2573 tonnes (see below, this appears to be an error).  The passenger lists includes “Geo.  Fergueson (sic) 3rd Class” 30th March 1882”.

He married Rosanna Connelly of Smithfield at St James’ Church Smithfield on 15 Nov 1893.  See marriage certificate.  The witnesses were J.  M McCrae, J Morrison McCrae Jnr, Alfred James Jelfs, Isabelle Mary Sprowls and Edith Annie Griffith.  Alfred Jelfs was Rosanna’s brother-in-law.  He married her sister Mary.

Rosanna’s sister Mary’s married name, Mrs.  Jelfs, is recorded on George Leonard’s Birth Certificate as the name of the witness together with that of Dr Kelly.

When married he was living in Sydney and Rosanna in Smithfield.  They were probably living in Balmain when the two older children were born.  They moved to Hamilton, Newcastle in about 1897 and Ysabel (Belle) was born there.  George Leonard was born in Balmain but it seems likely they were still living in Newcastle.  Photographs of George Leonard as a small boy were taken in a studio in Newcastle.

The Jelfs, George Leonard’s aunt and uncle, were living in Rozelle in 1905 and Mrs Jelfs was present at his birth.  It was recorded as occurring in Rountree Street but the Jelfs lived in Wellington Street.  Certainly the Fergusons were not living in Rountree Street at the time of the 1901 census.  There was a Ferguson family at 1 Rountree Street at the time of the census but they were not related.

George and Rosanna’s children were:

Rose Cora 1894 5478/1894 Balmain South

Edna M 1895 19582/1895 Balmain South

Ysabel L B 1899 12475/1899 Hamilton, a suburb of Newcastle

George Leonard 26 Dec 1900 1330/1901 Balmain South

George died 19 Jun1923 and Rosanah died 31 Aug 1940 after being hit by a tram.

In Scotland he was a Railway Ticket Clerk, when married a storeman and then, when George Leonard was born, a Clerk on Railway Works.  He was later described as a Railway Clerk and then Accountant.