News of the Day

On this day in 1803, issue no. 5 of the Ayr Advertiser[1] went on sale. A copy of this issue, held by the South Ayrshire County libraries, is the earliest known surviving issue of Scotland’s first weekly newspaper. It was discovered in January 2015 in an attic in Edinburgh.[2]

Issue no. 5 provides an interesting snapshot of life in Ayr in the Napoleonic period. One article noted that the Ayr races for the season had been cancelled, as “almost every Nobleman and Gentleman is doing duty with one corps or another in defence of the country”.[3]

Charles Somerville McAlester, 12th of Loup, was at this time one of the ‘noblemen and gentlemen’ of Ayrshire. In the 1790s, his father Angus had (with Charles’s consent) resigned the family’s properties in Kintyre into the hands of trustees, to be sold in order to pay off heavy debts – an unfortunate position in which many Highland landowners of this period found themselves. (Most of these properties, after several owners, ended up in the possession of the Glenbarr family.) However, Charles’s marriage in 1792 to the heiress of the Somervilles of Kennox, in Ayr, had restored the Loup family’s fortunes and brought them to live in Ayrshire, where Charles seems to have quickly involved himself in the county’s social set. It is likely that this included maintaining an interest in horse racing, which was very much a part of Ayrshire landed society.

Although horse races had taken place since the 16th century all over Scotland, it was only in 1777, when the racecourse at Ayr was built, that racing really took off.[4] Many races were part of – though not the purpose of – annual local fairs, but racing as an organised sport was controlled by the area’s landowners: the nobles and gentry mentioned in the Advertiser article. These landholders were the only ones whose horses could be spared regularly from the demands of farming, and they also had the influence needed to protect a form of entertainment that did not always meet with approval from some quarters. John Burnett, in an interesting article on this topic, points out that it is no coincidence to find horse racing developing and surviving as a sport in places like Ayrshire and Renfrewshire, which had a large number of landed proprietors, rather than in places like Aberdeen, where this class of people were fewer.[5]

As it happened, however, in 1803 there was little point in holding the races. The Peace of Amiens – a treaty signed the previous year with France – had broken down several months before this, and Napoleon was now gathering his forces and preparing to cross the Channel and invade. The men who were needed to keep the races going – and no doubt many of those who just enjoyed watching them – were all away preparing to protect the country.

On the first of September 1803, Charles of Loup was serving as a captain with one of the corps mentioned in the article, the Ayrshire Militia. This force had been formed from the core of the 7th North British (Ayr and Renfrew) Militia, which had disbanded the previous year with the Peace of Amiens. It was reactivated (and renamed) in January 1803. The militias did not serve overseas, and as we now know, Napoleon never made it to Britain. However, local militias were considered an important part of homeland defence, and the Ayrshire Militia raised in response to the Napoleonic threat was not stood down until 1816.[6] On this day in 1803, they were stationed in Perth, with more important things to worry about than missing the races.

copyright © Lynn McAlister, 2015

[1] At this point it was actually the Air Advertiser; the spelling was changed in 1839 (British Newspapers On-line: Ayr Advertiser, accessed 31 August 2015).

[2] South Ayrshire Libraries, “Oldest known Ayrshire newspaper discovered“, South Ayrshire History blog, 10 January 2015.

[3] ibid

[4] John Burnett, “The Sites and Landscapes of Horse Racing in Scotland before 1860” in The Sports Historian, No. 18, 1 (May 1998): 64, accessed 31 August 2015.

[5] ibid, p. 57

[6] Records of the Ayrshire Militia, from 1802 to 1883 (privately printed in 1884; published 2011 by South Ayrshire Libraries).

McAllister’s Mill

On this day in 1836, a group of local abolitionists gathered at the home of James McAllister in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. McAllister and his family operated a mill on this property, and in the decades to come, the mill itself would serve the anti-slavery cause. 

The abolitionists who gathered at McAllister’s home went on to form the Adams County Anti-Slavery Society, one of the earliest such societies. The society did more than attend meetings, though. Society members established a network of safe houses around Gettysburg where slaves escaping from the south could find rest, food, and a place to hide between the legs of their journey. Between 1850 and 1858, hundreds of escaping slaves were hidden in McAllister’s mill, which became one of the first Underground Railroad stops north of the Mason-Dixon line.[1] This was risky not just for the slaves but also for the McAllisters. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made it a crime to harbour an escaped slave, even in ‘free’ states like Pennsylvania, and with bounty hunters using hound dogs particularly active in Adams County, the risk of being caught was fairly high.

Helping their father shelter the fugitives made a deep impression on McAllister’s children, who grew up hearing the harrowing stories of the people who hid in their mill. “Is it any wonder I grew up to young manhood hating slavery with a mortal hatred?” James’s son Theodore wrote years later.[2] When the American Civil War broke out, five of McAllister’s sons went to fight for the Union, and one of them died in battle. Theodore himself was a prisoner of war at the notorious Andersonville camp in Georgia.

But history was not finished with McAllister’s property – or his family. On the first of June 1863, twenty-seven years after the meeting at James McAllister’s house, Union soldiers faced off against Confederate soldiers right on McAllister’s doorstep. Macalisters (of various spellings) fought on both sides. The Battle of Gettysburg – one of the best-known battles in US history (partly because of President Lincoln’s famous speech there) – continued for three days, causing the deaths of many soldiers and considerable damage to the property.[3] As the battle went on, James McAllister’s house became a de facto hospital for wounded Union soldiers; a confederate hospital was set up near the mill. McAllister’s daughters Mary and Martha were at home during the battle and did whatever they could to help the wounded. Many of the dead were buried near their home. 

James McAllister died in 1872. The mill had not been used in years, and after the family left, it sank into disrepair. Today, almost nothing remains of the buildings that saw so much action in the fight against slavery. Although the actual battlefield has been preserved as a historical monument, McAllister’s property, which is privately owned, was forgotten; for much of the 20th century, it was used as a municipal dump. In 2002, a local preservation group began pushing for the dump to be moved and the property to be marked as a historic site. Though the borough initially dragged its feet, McAllister’s Mill was finally recognised in 2011 by the federal government as one of several hundred US properties that have a verifiable connection to the Underground Railroad. A marker was erected, and with the cooperation of the current owner, tours began the following year. Gettysburg National Military Park hopes to purchase the property eventually.[4]

More information about McAllister’s Mill can be found at the McAllister’s Mill Underground Railroad site and the web site of the Historical Gettysburgh-Adams County preservation society

Sources:

copyright © Lynn McAlister, 2015

[1] The Mason-Dixon line, established in the early 1700s to resolve a border dispute between Pennsylvania and Maryland, took on new meaning in the 19th century, when it became a symbolic division between states where slavery was allowed and Pennsylvania, where it was not. Technically, once a slave crossed the Mason-Dixon line, he or she was no longer a slave. However, after 1850 people fleeing slavery could still be hunted down north of the line.

[2] McAllister’s Mill finally gets historical recognition” 

[3] After it was all over, McAllister put in a claim for $1,200 in damages, according to the Battle of Gettysburg website (accessed 29 June 2015).

[4] Scot Andrew Pitzer, “Underground Railroad site recognizedGettysburgh Times on-line (4 May 2011). 

Siege of Sevastopol

On this day in 1854, the Siege of Sevastopol got under way with allied artillery and naval bombardment of the Crimean capital. The siege, which had technically begun the previous month, saw French and British armies attempting to take the port city of Sevastopol from Russia during the Crimean War. Although the most famous names associated with this conflict are those of Florence Nightingale and Leo Tolstoy, the thousands of soldiers from Britain included many members of our clan.

The 19th-century Crimean conflict is not well remembered these days, but it was significant in a number of ways. Historian Orlando Figes observes that it was both “the earliest example of a truly modern war” — making use of industrial technologies and weapons; being recorded for the folks at home by reporters and photographers on the spot; and foreshadowing the kind of trench warfare that would characterise WWI — and “the last war to be conducted by the old codes of chivalry, with . . . truces in the fighting to clear the dead and wounded from the killing fields”[1] and military commands primarily drawn from the upper levels of society.

More importantly, it was a turning point in European history. Although it had its roots in Russia’s relations with (and general European interference in) the Muslim east, it upset the political balance in Europe, creating new tensions that ultimately led to the First World War. Crimea, Figes writes, was “located on a deep historical fault-line separating Christendom from the Muslim world” and was “continuously in contention”.[2] Russia’s long-held belief that Moscow was the Third Rome, destined to rule Christendom, required that Constantinople be retaken from the Muslim Ottomans and Turks. Conflicts over Ottoman treatment of Greeks earlier in the century had been tempered by Tsar Alexander’s commitment to his treaty agreements, but his brother Nicholas I was more concerned with his perceived responsibility for his co-religionists.[3] Taking advantage of the weakness of the Ottoman Empire, Russia invaded, declaring itself the protector of Orthodox Christians in the Muslim territories. The tsar apparently expected Prussia and Austria (his erstwhile allies) and Britain (which, like Russia, was at odds with the French) to support him. But Russian control of the area threatened these countries more than the Ottomans, and they gave the tsar a deadline to withdraw his forces. While Europe sought a diplomatic resolution to the crisis, the Ottomans — against the advice of everyone — declared war on Russia. This left Britain and France, who had pledged support, little option but to “set aside their ongoing enmity [with each other] and support another former enemy, the Ottoman Turks”.[4] British, Turkish and French troops began arriving in Crimea in August 1854.

From the beginning, this war was characterised by a “catalogue of misunderstandings and misapprehensions”.[5] For example, an early opportunity to end the siege was missed because the French and English weren’t sure who was supposed to act first. The campaign was also badly planned, at least on the British side (the French army — having more recently fought a war — was somewhat better organised). British military command took for granted that the men would be home before winter, so they didn’t bother to learn about the severity of Crimean winters before sending their thousands of soldiers to war without adequate food, clothing or shelter.[6] Through bad communication, and sometimes the incompetence of commanders, lives were lost that might have been saved. On the other hand, the war was marked on all sides by acts of courage and an ability to improvise that won the admiration of enemies and countrymen alike.

Of the numerous Macalisters who took part in the Siege of Sevastopol, nine were awarded the Baltic Star for naval service, and at least 36 received awards for their infantry and support service.[7] Macalisters serving in English, Irish and Scottish regiments fought in all of the three major battles (Alma, Balaklava, and Inkerman) during the siege. Many of these died in battle, or because of it, and others were severely wounded. But illnesses such as cholera and exposure to the elements killed more British soldiers than battle did. By the end of November, the 46th Regiment of Foot (of which Charles McAlister, future 14th of Loup, was captain[8]), had buried 10 percent of its men, according to Lt.-Col. Colin Campbell[9]; on the first of December Campbell reported that eighty-five men from the 46th had died of a bowel complaint; of the men still living, McAlister is named among “those who have suffered most”.[10]

Despite six naval bombardments of the city, seemingly endless trench warfare at the city’s edge and two full-fledged battles nearby, it was not until September of 1855 that the city was taken, effectively ending the war.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2014

[1] Figes, Orlando, The Crimean War: A History (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010), pp. xix-xx.

[2] Ibid., p. 20

[3] Ibid., pp. 35-6 

[4] Brudenell, Anna Maria, “Lessons in leadership: the Battle of Balaklava, 1854” in Military Review (Mar.-Apr. 2008): 77+. General Reference Center. Web. 3 Oct. 2014.

[5] History of the 46th Regiment, 1854-1858

[6] Figes, p. 197

[7] Ancestry.com. UK, Military Campaign Medal and Award Rolls, 1793-1949 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010; UK, Naval Medal and Award Rolls, 1793-1972 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.

[8] Hart, H. G., The Army List and Militia List Exhibiting the Rank, Standing, and Various Services of Every Regimental Officer in the Army serving on full Pay . . . (London: John Murray, 1858), pp. 133ff.

[9] Campbell, Colin Frederick, Letters from Camp to His Relatives during the Siege of Sebastopol (London: Richard Bentley & Son, 1894), p. 28.

[10] Ibid., pp. 34-5

In the Line of Duty

On this day in 1895, Sgt. Henry H. McAllister, a three year veteran of the Manchester, New Hampshire, police department, was shot by former officer Fred Stockwell, to whom McAllister had been supervisor. Bullets struck the sergeant’s aorta, spleen, and kidney[1], killing him instantly. McAllister was 49.

The shooting took place in the police station, and Stockwell, who had resigned a week earlier, was immediately arrested. According to a news report at the time, he had made threats against not only McAllister but also “other members of the department”.[2] However, he had a particular grudge against Sgt. McAllister, who had recently reprimanded him for “intemperance and untruthfulness”, and at the time of the shooting, he said that this was the reason for his crime.[3] Stockwell was sentenced to 30 years in prison for second-degree murder, but in 1914 he was pardoned without explanation and promptly disappeared. Henry McAllister, an Irish immigrant survived only by his sister[4], was gradually forgotten.

Thanks to a current member of the Manchester police force, however, the story does not end there. More than a hundred years after McAllister’s death, Capt. Nick Willard began to wonder why the long-dead sergeant’s name did not appear on New Hampshire’s memorial for policemen killed in the line of duty. He decided to investigate, and he discovered that there was a bit more to the story.

Stockwell’s statement that he had killed McAllister because of the charges brought against him seems to have been accepted by everyone at the time, but Capt. Willard learned that Stockwell later changed his story. Several years into his sentence, Stockwell began to claim that McAllister had had an affair with his wife and that was the reason for the shooting. Willard found no evidence to support Stockwell’s claim, and he believes the killer was simply trying to smear his victim’s name. McAllister had no one around to defend him, however, and “over the course of time, the rumor morphed into fact”.[5] Willard concluded that this slur is the main reason McAllister was not included on the memorial, and he put in a request to have McAllister’s name added. In a television interview last June, Willard said he wanted the fallen officer to know that his reputation has been restored and his service with the Manchester Police Department is remembered.[6]

On Monday 19 May 2014, 119 years after he died, McAllister was among the 286 officers killed in the line of duty whose sacrifice was recognised in the New Hampshire Law Enforcement Officers Memorial ceremony.[7]

 Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2014

[1] New Hampshire Death and Disinterment Records, 1754-1947, online database, Ancestry.com (accessed 19 May 2014); record for Henry McAllister.

[2] “A Police Sergeant is Shot Down by an Ex-Policeman”, Sandusky (Ohio) Register, 23 May 1895, p. 2; digital image, Ancestry.com (accessed 20 May 2014); Historical Newspapers Collection. 

[3] “Fallen Officer to Be Added to NH Law Enforcement Memorial: Sgt. Henry McAllister shot in line of duty in 1895“, news report dated June 13, 2013, WMUR New Hampshire web site (www.wmur.com/news).

[4] ODMP Remembers . . . Sergeant Henry McAllister“, Officer Down Memorial Page web site (www.odmp.org), accessed 20 May 2014. A brief search of online records turned up a family of McAllisters who arrived in the US as famine immigrants in 1850 and settled in Manchester. The family had a son named Henry about the right age; according to McAllister’s death records, the father’s name, and the mother’s maiden name, are also right. If this is indeed Sgt. McAllister’s family, then his mother also survived him—although not by long: That woman died in 1898 “from Melancholia” [New Hampshire Death and Disinterment Records, 1754-1947, online database, Ancestry.com (accessed 19 May 2014); record for Jane McClelland McAllister]. However, none of the names involved are particularly unusual and it is very possible that these records pertain to an entirely different family. If McAllister left his homeland as an adult, it is also possible that he had family in Ireland.

[5] “Fallen Officer”, WMUR New Hampshire.

[6] Ibid.

[7] New Hampshire Law Enforcement Officers Memorial“, press release dated May 1, 2014, state of New Hampshire government web site (https://www.nh.gov). 

Macalisters in the Second Anglo-Boer War

On this day in 1899, the second Anglo-Boer War began. This war was the culmination of nearly a century of conflict between the British settlers and colonial authorities in South Africa and the Boers, descendants of Dutch traders established there for centuries. Many Macalisters fought for the empire.

Tensions in South Africa had worsened considerably since the end of the first Anglo-Boer War (1880-1). The Boers felt increasingly insecure in their two nominally self-governing republics. They objected to the sudden influx of ‘uitlanders’ (non-Boer settlers) that followed the discovery of gold in Transvaal (one of the Boer republics), and recent movements of British troops appeared sinister to many of them[1], especially in light of an attempted 1895 coup by Cecil Rhodes. On its part, in an era of competing empires the British government was nervous about attempts by Germans in the southwest of Africa to link up with the Boer republics[2] — particularly with potential profits from the Transvaal mines up for grabs.

An ultimatum was presented to the British government on the 9th of October listing the demands of the Boers; the British government, to whom the demands seemed very much like a declaration of independence, replied that “the conditions demanded by the Government of the South African Republic are such that Her Majesty’s Government deem it impossible to discuss”.[3] To the Boers, this refusal amounted to a declaration of war.  

Ultimately, the result of the war that began on this day was a united South Africa under British rule. But things got pretty nasty before then. The Boers resorted to guerrilla warfare, for which imperial forces were ill prepared, and quickly inflicted several defeats which stunned the British public. In return, British authorities undertook a scorched-earth policy that destroyed Boer farms and sent thousands of displaced civilians (mostly women and children) to concentration camps, where epidemics wiped many of them out. These tactics cut Boer forces off from needed supplies, and the widespread suffering that resulted eventually brought the Boers to negotiation.

However, the immediate result of Britain’s rejection of Boer demands was a Boer offensive on Natal, one of the areas under British control.[4] Before long, imperial forces from Britain and several colonies were headed for South Africa. Even with limited access to South African records, I have found nearly 100 Macalisters (of various spellings) among them. This number included Charles Godfrey Somerville McAlester, the future clan chief, who was captain of the 3rd Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers.[5]  Two McAllisters, both named William (but with different service numbers), arrived from Australia with the Army Medical Corps, and there were several of the name from New Zealand and Canada. Others of this clan fought with imperial units from Britain, Ireland, and British South Africa itself.

Macalisters were among the early casualties as well. Lance Corporal A McAllister of the Scots Guard was wounded in November, and Private D McAllister of the Highland Light Infantry was wounded 11 December; Private J McAllister and Private P McAllister of the Royal Irish Rifles were the first of quite a few of this name to be taken prisoner when they were captured on 10 December.  (Their fate is unclear, although most of the Macalisters captured during this war appear to have been released.) Over the course of the three-year war, nearly twenty Macalisters were wounded, five of them fatally: Trooper Angus Ian Macalister (Imperial Yeomanry), Private A McAllister (Liverpool Regiment), Private J McAllister (Royal Irish Rifles), Private W McAllister and Private J McCallister (both of the Cameronians, or Scottish Rifles). Additionally at least one, Corporal Arthur McAllister of the Imperial Yeomanry, died in an accident, at Standerton in September 1901. Less gloriously, Trooper H McAllister of Thorneycroft’s Mounted Infantry was discharged for misconduct on the 8th of December 1899.[6]

The second Anglo-Boer War ended on 31 May 1902 with the Treaty of Vereeniging.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013


[1]Hugh Williams & Frederick Charles Hicks, eds., Selected Official Documents of the South African Republic and Great Britain: A documentary perspective of the causes of the war in South Africa, 1900 (available on line at Project Gutenberg and the Anglo Boer War website), preface.  
[2] The Boer Wars; see Lawrence James, Rise and Fall of the British Empire (New York, 1994), pp. 263-5.
[4]The Transvaal‘, the Guardian, 13 October 1899
[5] War Service of Officers, 1905. In addition, W Macalister Hall, 4th regiment of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, and E J McAllister, Army Service Corps, were captains of their units.
[6]Most of this information is taken from the Anglo Boer War website, which is an excellent source of information about this conflict, and UK, Casualties of the Boer War, 1899-1902 at Ancestry.com.

A Baronet at Glasgow University

On this day in 1854 Donald (later Sir Donald) Macalister was born in Perth. Because of his long association with Glasgow University, he is probably the best known descendant of the Tarbert family, but the direct line of descent is unclear. He lived briefly in Aberdeen as a child before moving with his family to Liverpool at the age of ten.[1] 

Donald was the eldest of eight children and the brother of Sir John Young Walker Macalister. Like his brother he dreamt of a medical career; unlike John, Donald eventually fulfilled this dream, earning his doctorate from Cambridge in 1884 and being elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of London two years later.[2] However, much of his career was spent in academia, first as a tutor and lecturer at Cambridge, and later at Glasgow, where he was appointed principal in 1907 and chancellor in 1929. Sir Donald oversaw “an ambitious building programme” at Glasgow and the establishment of more than twenty new academic chairs,[3] including obstetrics and gynaecology, pathology, Scottish History and literature, bacteriology, mercantile law, and applied physics.[4] He published works on a similarly wide variety of topics, and was fluent in quite a number of languages. His many achievements were recognised formally with a knighthood in 1907 and a baronetcy in 1924.

Donald Macalister married later in life, and when he died in 1934, he left no children.[5] He was buried in Cambridge.[6]

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013


[1] The Incomparable Mac: A Biographical Study of Sir John Young Walker Macalister, p. 11 
[2]Obituary: Sir Donald MacAlister, Bt., K.C.B., M.D., D.C.L., LL.D., D.Sc., F.R.C.P., Chancellor of the University of Glasgow; late President of the General Medical Council’ in the British Medical Journal (20 January, 1934): 125-6. 
[3] University of Glasgow web site 
[4] obituary 
[5] obituary 
[6] Find-a-Grave

Archibald McAlister, Remittance Man

On this day in 1888, a prohibition order was granted in New Zealand against Archibald McAlister. McAlister, a remittance man, had been ‘wasting his substance’, and the agents to whom his money was sent wanted it stopped.[1]

‘Remittance man’ is not a term heard very often anymore, but in the 19th and early 20th centuries he was a well-known figure throughout the British Empire. Usually from well-off middle class or aristocratic families, these were men who for various reasons were sent abroad and literally paid not to go home. Many of them had disgraced themselves in one way or another, and their families hoped to avoid further scandal. But others have been described as ‘extraneous‘ sons, those who through no fault of their own simply could not be provided for in Britain, where traditional disdain among the upper classes for business or labour was clashing with new realities like the drop in child mortality: Many well-off families found themselves with too many adult children to provide for in socially acceptable ways. 

Whatever his story, the hope was that the remittance man would make something of himself in his new home, and some of them certainly did. Some were able to adapt to an entirely new mode of existence and with perseverance and a bit of luck became successful ranch owners, entrepreneurs or businessmen; at least one who went to Canada ended up in local government.[2] A new start in the far-flung empire was no guarantee of a better life, however, and the stereotype of a well-bred wastrel was in many cases well founded. In 1894 a New Zealand newspaper article complained that “Many otherwise sane and intelligent persons in the Old Country are firmly impressed with the belief that the man who has failed utterly to make his mark (or even his bread and cheese) in England, has only to set foot in Greater Britain to straightway become a dazzling success”.[3] Those who had already developed bad habits, or who had never lived without luxury and convenience, were ill equipped to face the demands of their new lives. In many cases these men conformed to expectations, frittering away their lives and money in drink, running up gambling debts, even falling afoul of the law. They did not work – perhaps some didn’t know how to do – and resented their situation. Quite a few of them ultimately took their own lives.[4] Even for those who accepted their lot and came to love their new homes, it must have been a bittersweet contentment, as illustrated in The Rhyme of the Remittance Man.

The fate of our Archibald McAlister is unclear. There are several of the name in New Zealand in the early 20th century, and I was unable to trace him with any certainty, but the name appears in news reports repeatedly over the next twenty years, mostly in the north island, almost always in connection with prohibition orders and drunkenness.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013 

———————-

[1] Mataura Ensign, Volume 10, Issue 757, 23 March 1888, p. 5; thanks to Helen Leggatt, whose blog Hunting Kiwis first directed me to the article about Archibald. 

[2]M. Harper and S. Constantine, Migration and Empire (Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 311 

[3]Papers Past: Observer, Volume XIV, Issue 786, 20 January 1894, p. 3 

[4]Many of the articles I found about remittance men in my research for this post were obituaries for suicides. 

¡Feliz Cumpleaños! (or, Macalisters in Argentina)

¡Feliz Cumpleaños! to argentino footballer Carlos Javier MacAllister, who represented his country three times in international matches during his career. He was born in Santa Rosa, La Pampa, Argentina, on this day in 1968.

As his name suggests, MacAllister is one of an estimated 100,000 argentinos of Scottish descent. According to a recent article in the Scottish Times, Argentina has the largest such population outside the English-speaking world.[1] Scots began to settle in Argentina in the first quarter of the 19th century. Some of the earliest, more than 200 people, arrived in 1825 as part of a planned settlement, only to discover that the arrangements made for them had fallen through and they would have to fend for themselves. There were no Macalisters in that unhappy group, but the name begins to appear in local records not long afterwards. In 1832, for example, Parlane M’Alister & Co. donated $1000 towards the building of the Scotch Presbyterian Church in Buenos Aires – the ‘& Co.’ suggests that this M’Alister had business as well as spiritual investments there.[2] Two years later Robert Macalister of Paisley, Scotland, married Anne Downes at the British Episcopal Church in the same city. Both parties gave Buenos Aires as their regular residence.[3]

By 1850, Macalisters were being born in the province, most of them with Spanish names. Some of them were the children of people whose own names have obviously been ‘Spanished’ and were probably immigrants, but others have at least one parent who appears to be Argentine, suggesting that the Macalister settlers were already marrying into the local population. In fact, most of the Scottish immigrants to Argentina appear to have assimilated quite thoroughly. Their descendants are argentinos – but their names, like that of Carlos Javier MacAllister, give them away.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013


[1]John Fitzpatrick, ‘Scots in South America: The Forgotten Diaspora‘, in the Scottish Times, 3 April 2012. 
[3]Jeremy Howat, ‘St. John’s Marriages, 1833-1839’, from British Settlers in Argentina and Uruguay, Studies in 19th and 20th Century Emigration, accessed 3 March 2013.

McAllister Convicts Bound for Australia

On this day in 1836, the convict ship Elphinstone left England for Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) carrying 240 transportees to punitive exile in Australia. Aboard were three McAllisters – Archibald and John, brothers from northeast Scotland who were convicted of assault and robbery[1], and another John, from England, convicted of stealing some clothes and cash from his lodgings.[2] All three were sentenced to transportation for 14 years.[3]

Transportation of criminals (and in some cases other ‘undesirables’) to Australia had been going on since 1788. The idea was not new. As early as the mid-1600s, prisoners of war as well as convicted lawbreakers were being transported to the North American colonies. In the mid-1700s, thousands of Jacobite prisoners were shipped off to Barbados and Antigua. Regardless of destination, transportation served several purposes: It got troublemakers out of Britain’s prisons and off the streets, it provided man- (and woman-)power to develop the resources of an enormous continent, and the threat of it was believed to deter crime. But in one respect, transportation to Australia was unique. Unlike the North American and West Indian colonies, and despite the presence of non-convict settlers, Australia was specifically “designed to be a vast penitentiary”.[4] The Australian government estimates that before the practice ended in the 1860s, roughly 162,000 convicts were transported. About 20 percent of them were women.[5]

What happened to the McAllisters who sailed for Van Diemen’s Land on this day in 1836 is not clear, but they probably spent the rest of their lives in Australia. Although in theory transportees were allowed to return to Britain once their sentences had been served, most lacked the means to return from so far away, and not all of them wished to do so anyway. Instead, many former convicts joined the free population of the growing colony and built a new nation out of what had been their prison.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013


[1]Tasmanian Archive & Heritage Office, Founders & Survivors: Archibald McAllister & John Allister Mc; Archibald’s wife and child followed on a later ship. 
[2]Tasmanian Archive & Heritage Office, Founders & Survivors: John Allister Mc
[4]Devine, Scotland’s Empire, p. 271
[5]australia.gov.au, ‘Convicts and the British Colony in Australia; the website Convict Records of Australia lists 28 Macalisters of various spellings, 5 of them women.

A Chiefly Obituary

On this day in 1891, Charles McAlester, 13th of Loup, died at Stewarton in Ayr. Many published sources (such as Burke’s Peerage and its ilk) give the date as 9 January. However, the death certificate puts it on the 6th, and an obituary appeared in the West Country and Galloway Journal on the 8th.[1] According to this obituary, “Colonel M’Alester was the chief of the M’Alesters of Loup in Kintyre, Argyleshire, a family of high and ancient lineage. . . . [A]uthority was given to the late Colonel’s father to bear the arms and supporters of the ancient family of Loup (or Loop) as Chief of the Clan Alester”. 

Charles was born in 1797, son of the chief whose marriage to an heiress had saved the family’s fortunes. He married an Irishwoman, Mary Brabazon Lyon, in 1828 and they had five children: Anne-Catherine, Charles, Jessie, Mary and Edward (who seems to have lived with his grandparents). By 1830 Charles was Justice of the Peace and Deputy Lieutenant of Ayrshire. Like his father, he served in the Ayrshire militia, becoming Lieutenant-Colonel in 1835. In 1847 he succeeded his father as McAlester of Loup and Kennnox, chief of the clan.

Despite the social prominence that came with being heir of a landed family and chief of one of the clans, Charles’s life wasn’t free of trouble. By 1841, he and his wife were apparently living apart, and in 1843 she sued him for custody of the children and alimony.[2]Although her suit was unsuccessful, the family had splintered: By the early 1850s, Anne-Catherine and Jessie had died and Charles the younger was away in the military; Edward, the youngest child, was still at Kennox with his grandmother, leaving Charles with only his daughter Mary for family. After she left home, he spent two decades living with a cook and domestic servant.

The last decade of his life is unknown to me. Charles does not appear in the 1881 census in Scotland, nor do either of his sons.[3] The cook and the domestic with whom he had lived for so long have both moved on. 

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013


[1]Information about the death certificate and obituary come from ‘Clan McAlester’, a report of research carried out for the Loup family in 1988 to establish the descent of Charles Godfrey Somerville McAlester; a copy of this report was provided by the current chief, William McAlister, 17th of Loup. 
[2]The Scots Revised Reports: Cases reported only in the Scottish Jurist, 1829 to 1865, No. 17, XVI Jurist 86, 2nd Division, pp. 407-8.  
[3]Edward was living in India, where he spent the rest of his life; Charles’s grandchildren – the children of Charles the younger – were in Edinburgh staying with what appear to be relatives of their mother.