SS Clan Macalister at Dunkirk

On this day in 1940, the steamer SS Clan Macalister was destroyed by the Luftwaffe while taking part in ‘Operation Dynamo’, the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk in France. Eighteen people died in the attack and fourteen were wounded.[1]

The evacuation of the B E F, which had been fighting with France and the Low Countries against the advancing German army, became necessary when the Germans broke through the Allied line and overran Belgium and France in a matter of days. Germany now held most of the coast. As unoccupied territory shrank by the day, nearly the entire British Expeditionary Force, as well as French troops and fleeing Belgian units, began to converge in desperation on the tiny strip of coast that remained free. Sir Winston Churchill recalled, “The whole root and core and brain of the British Army . . . seemed about to perish upon the field or to be led into an ignominious and starving captivity”[2] – and if the war against the Third Reich was to be won, there would have to be an army left to win it. On Sunday, 26th May, no other options remaining, an emergency evacuation got underway.

Unfortunately, the coast at that point is blocked by sandbars and shoals, so larger ships could not approach at all; even smaller craft were hindered by the wreckage of what had once been a port:

[T]he docks were useless. Bombed incessantly over a period of weeks they were a mass of battered metal and broken walls; the basins were open to the tide; the gates wrecked and jammed; the cranes stood weakly on three legs or lay like stricken birds along the quays. And over them, all through the evacuation, hung the pall that was lit on its underside by the red flame of the burning warehouses.[3]

This meant that some method had to be found for picking up hundreds of thousands of men straight off the beaches. Part of the answer was the use of the now-famous “little ships” – more than 700 mostly private-owned yachts, lifeboats, fishing boats, etc., whose owners responded immediately to the government’s request for small craft that could be used closer to the shore.[4] But these boats could take only small numbers of passengers, and those they carried were vulnerable to attack from above.

What was really needed were small motor craft to ferry men out to the bigger ships that waited off shore – ideally something armoured, to offer some protection from the shells coming at them from enemy planes. As luck would have it, about a dozen such craft had been built recently, and crews were being trained to operate them. These assault landing craft [ALCs] “could carry 50 men per trip. . . . [they] had the shallow draught needed for moving over the shallows between beach and ships. They had twin engines and steel armour which was to prove its worth” under nearly constant shelling and bombs.[5] “[T]he Admiralty . . . said they wanted the lot,” Bernard Fergusson reports, “and were sending a ship to collect them”.[6]

That ship was the SS Clan Macalister, a British cargo steamer built in 1930 for Clan Line Steamers, Ltd., of Glasgow. It was the third ship owned by the Clan Line to be so named. The first Clan Macalister had been sold in 1902; the second was a casualty of the first world war, torpedoed by a U-boat in 1915. At 6,787 tons, the third Clan Macalister was “nearly twice the size . . . of any other ship that took part” in the evacuation, according to A. D. Devine,[7] and it had been requisitioned by the military specifically for Operation Dynamo. Its size, and the fact that it carried cranes, made it better suited than most to transport and then unload the ALCs. The ship also carried 45 sailors and two officers to manage and operate the ALCs.[8] W J R Garner calls the landing craft that were brought by Clan Macalister “[t]he most important arrivals” of 29 May.[9]

The scene into which the Clan Macalister sailed with its valuable cargo was chaotic and hazardous. Thick smoke from weapon fire made it extremely difficult to see, adding to the challenge of navigating around the shoals and sandbars (which had always been there) and the wreckage of the docks and of other ships that now littered the harbour. The ship’s captain, Captain Mackie, felt uneasy about “proceeding in the dark through the Downs among those wrecks and so many ships at anchor without lights. . . .”[10] Worst of all, the ships and the harbour were under nearly incessant attack. Churchill told Parliament,

Pressing in upon the narrow exit, both from the east and from the west, the enemy began to fire with cannon upon the beaches by which alone the shipping could approach or depart. They sowed magnetic mines in the channels and seas; they sent repeated waves of hostile aircraft, sometimes more than a hundred strong in one formation, to cast their bombs upon the single pier that remained, and upon the sand dunes upon which the troops had their eyes for shelter. Their U-boats . . . and their motor launches took their toll.[11]

But arriving in one piece was only half the battle. From the start, the Clan Macalister‘s mission ran into trouble. Captain Mackie remembered that “We started to discharge the [ALCs] and had just lifted our first into the air when the destroyer Vanquisher dashed past at full speed and set up so much wash as to cause the ship to roll . . . heavily”[12]; the men moving ALC no. 4 lost control of it and it crashed down on ALC no. 18, leaving both unfit for service.

At 15.45, as the other ALCs were being unloaded, the Clan Macalister was hit three times in an air raid, setting boilers on fire and igniting part of the magazine.[13] Most of the evacuees who had been transferred to Clan Macalister from smaller ships, and some of the military personnel who had arrived with the ALCs, were taken on board the destroyer HMS Malcolm. Though Capt. Mackie resisted giving up on his ship and valiant attempts were made to put out the fires, eventually he was convinced to abandon ship and was picked up with the rest of the survivors by the minesweeper HMT Pangbourne. The Clan Macalister did not sink straight away; still visible from the air, the ship was hit repeatedly by German aircraft and burned for days. When it finally went down, it took five of the badly needed ALCs with it.

Yet despite being sunk on its first run to Dunkirk, the SS Clan Macalister had made a significant contribution to the mission. Its cargo, the surviving ALCs, ferried thousands of troops from the beaches over the remaining days of the evacuation. It was partly because of these landing craft that nearly twice as many soldiers were rescued on the 29th (and again in the days that followed) than on the first days of the operation put together. Fergusson concludes, “the new landing-craft had proved their worth”.[14]

Though necessitated by military disaster, Operation Dynamo itself was an unparalleled success. Instead of the 20,000 – 50,000 men that those in the know thought might, at best, be evacuated, nearly 350,000 British and French soldiers were taken from the beaches of Dunkirk over the course of nine days. Devine, who was there, called it “the greatest rescue expedition in the history of mankind”.[15] Stephan Wilkinson suggests that were it not for the evacuation of “almost the entire British Expeditionary Force and tens of thousands of French poilus” from Dunkirk, Britain might well have fallen to the Nazis, leaving the US, when it finally entered the war, to fight alone, without allies and without a staging ground for its air war against the enemy. There would have been no D-Day invasion, and the world might look very different today.[16] 

As Churchill told the British people, “We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations. But there was a victory inside this deliverance. . . .”[17]. The SS Clan Macalister played a part in that victory.

Today the ship lies on the ocean floor, classified by the UK Hydrographic Office as a ‘dangerous wreck, depth unknown’.[18]

copyright © Lynn McAlister, 2016

[1] Wreck report 138 (pdf): ‘SS Clan MacAlister’ (, accessed 19 May 2016); p. 3.

[2] Winston Churchill, speech delivered to the House of Commons on 4 June 1940; published in the Guardian, 20 April 2007.

[3] A.D. Devine, Dunkirk (New York: E. P. Dutton & Company, Inc. 1948), p. 27.

[4] This aspect of Dunkirk is so remarkable that it remains the image most people associate with the evacuation. A. D. Devine remarks that “the vast majority [of boat owners] made free and unconditional offers of their vessels for any purpose for which the Admiralty might see fit to use them; and with their boats a very remarkable proportion of the owners offered their own services” (Dunkirk, p. 34). Some – like the estuary cruiser the Elvin – were “refused [by the Navy] . . . and went anyway” (‘29th May 1940 – Nightmare‘, from The Dunkirk Project: An interactive installment by Liz Mathews).

[5] An account of the last days in the life of Robert Owen Wilcoxon

[6] Bernard Fergusson, The Watery Maze: The Story of Combined Operations (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Wilson, 1961), p. 44.

[7] Devine, p. 107. Presumably he means ‘non-military ships’, because the destroyers at least were considerably larger.

[8]Clan MacAlister‘ in “Carte: Les épaves au large de Dunkerque”

[9] W.J.R. Gardner, The Evacuation from Dunkirk: ‘Operation Dynamo’, 26 May-June 1940 (Routledge, 2014), pp. 51-2.

[10] Devine, p. 93

[11] Churchill, speech, 4 June 1940

[12] Devine, p. 93

[13] Mechanic FC Turner of the HMS Malcolm, in ‘Dunkirk: A Personal Perspective – HMS Malcolm‘ (BBC Overseas Service, first broadcast 29 May 1950)

[14] Fergusson, p. 44

[15] Devine, p. 33

[16] S. Wilkinson, ‘From Dunkirk, 1940‘ in Military History, November 2013: 23. General Reference Center, Web. 14 May 2016.

[17] Churchill, speech, 4 June 1940

[18] wreck report 138 (pdf): p. 5.


A McAllister (Almost) in the World Cup

On this day in 1990, Scotland’s national football team lost 0-1 to Brazil in the first round of the World Cup in Italy. Although Scotland had qualified for the Cup on six previous occasions — and would do so again in 1998 this was the only time that the name McAllister has appeared on the roster of any qualifying team in World Cup history.  

The McAllister in question, Gary McAllister of Motherwell in Scotland, was born on Christmas day, 1964. He started his football career with his hometown side, but spent the rest of his professional career with a succession of English clubs, among them Liverpool FC and Leeds United, before retiring from play to take on managerial responsibilities.[1]

However, McAllister also played for nine years on the Scottish national team, serving for part of that time as captain. His abilities on the field helped Scotland get to the World Cup in 1990, but he did not take the field in the first game and the team’s failure to advance to the next round cost him his chance to play in the Cup. The next time Scotland qualified, eight years later, he was recovering from a serious knee injury and unable to participate.

Although he missed the chance to play in a World Cup, Gary McAllister had a successful career and was well regarded as a player. In 2001 he was awarded an MBE for his services to the game. He retired from play in 2004, but he continues to contribute to the world of football as a commentator for BT Sport. His prediction for the winner of the 2014 World Cup? Argentina or Brazil, he thinks, probably Argentina.[2]

 Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2014

[1]Details of McAllister’s career can be found at a number of web sites, including Wikipedia, Football Aid, and Premier League.

[2]BT Sport’s World Cup Predictions’, BT Sport online, 4 June 2014.

A McAlister Governor (or, the Right Man for the Job)

On this day in 1959, Harry Hill McAlister died at the age of 84. McAlister, who was born in Nashville in 1875, served as Tennessee’s governor from 1933 to 1937. He began his political career as the city attorney for Nashville, and in the 1920s he served as state treasurer before being elected for two terms in the state senate. During this decade, he warned repeatedly that the state was facing a financial crisis – and this was before the stock market crashed in 1929. 

When Governor McAlister took office, the country was in the grips of the Great Depression and Tennessee had an operating deficit of $6 million. Many banks and businesses had failed. McAlister sharply cut back expenditures, reducing state spending by $7 million, and worked to restore trust in the banks. In his first term, he managed to balance the state budget.[1] He also worked closely with the federal government to implement many of Roosevelt’s New Deal programmes in Tennessee,  putting people back to work and developing the state’s infrastructure. In 1934, he was reelected by a significant majority.

During his second term, Governor McAlister fell out with Ed H. Crump, a Memphis political ‘boss’ who had been his primary supporter to that point. The former allies disagreed on the repeal of prohibition (McAlister was reluctant to follow the federal government’s example and overturn the law) and on a sales tax that the governor hoped to introduce as a means of reducing debt and helping underfunded public schools. Crump’s associates in the state legislature defeated the sales tax, and with Crump now in opposition, McAlister decided not to run for a third term.[2] He retired from political life after only four years as governor. But he had accomplished a lot in those four years. McAlister had managed to turn Tennessee’s disastrous finances around, and he left the state in better shape economically than it had been in when he took office – no small feat in the midst of the century’s worst economic crisis.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013

[1] Pierce, Dan, “Hill McAlister”, in Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, accessed 29 October 2013.
[2] National Governors Association, Tennessee Governor Harry Hill McAlister, accessed 29 October 2013.

A McCallister Olympian

On this day in 1932, nearly 100,000 people “swarmed into Olympic Stadium” in Los Angeles to witness the closing ceremonies of the Tenth Olympiad in the modern era.[1] Among the athletes who had won medals was C. Harold McCallister, a member of the United States’ bronze-winning water polo team.

McCallister was born in South Dakota in 1903 but moved with his family to California at the age of ten. He played water polo in high school and for a year he was captain of the water polo team at Stamford University. After completing his medical degree at the University of Colorado, he established a career in Los Angeles, but he continued to play water polo. At the time of the Olympics, McCallister was 29 – “pretty old for an athlete” by his own admission.[2]

With the world in the grips of the Great Depression, some people thought that holding the 1932 Olympics at all was a bad idea. Only 37 countries were able to send teams to compete, and there were fears that construction costs alone would be unsustainable. In addition to new venues for the various competitions, an entire Olympic village had been constructed – the first in modern Olympic history.  The village, which included a postal office, several dining rooms, and entertainment options like a movie cinema and a radio station, offered accommodation to athletes from every country participating at a cost to each athlete of only $2 a night.[3] There were doubts about the wisdom of this, too – according to an article in the Los Angeles Times, many predicted that housing athletes from so many countries together was asking for trouble.[4]

But the Los Angeles games of 1932 surprised everyone. Despite taking place in the midst of the Depression, the games succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest hopes. Rather than losing money, they became the first modern games to actually make a profit. The costs of construction were much lower than nay-sayers predicted, because every single house built for the Olympic village was sold after the games ended – for $140, or a bit more if furnished.[5] By the time the closing ceremonies began, seats in Olympic Stadium had sold out. And as for all those athletes living together? Harold McCallister recalls that “the camaraderie was terrific. People of the various countries, although they could only say, ‘hello’ or ‘how are you,’ were all friends.”[6]

McCallister competed again in the 1936 Olympics, attended several later games as a spectator and was involved in organising the Los Angeles games of 1984. He continued to participate in sports, playing badminton, handball and table tennis with the Los Angeles Athletic Club long after his retirement from medicine in 1975. He died in October 1997.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013

[1]The Games of the Xth Olympiad, Los Angeles 1932, Official Report’ (published 1933), p. 771.

[2]Charles H. McCallister, interviewed by George Hodak for An Olympian’s Oral History, Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles, 1988; p. 8.

[3] Xia Gao & Te Bu, ‘Research on Historical Origin of Olympic Village, Asian Social Science, Vol. 7, No. 3 (March 2011): 6.

[4]Abby Chin-Martin, ‘The First-Ever Olympic Village Was Built in Los Angeles‘.

[5]Chin-Martin, ibid.

[6]Hodak, An Olympian’s Oral History, p. 8.

A Star Is Born

On this day in 1909, ‘Little’ Mary McAllister, whom Hans J. Wollstein calls “the First Baby Star of the Films”[1], was born in Los Angeles, the grand-daughter of two Scotsmen. Mary appeared in her first silent film short, Despair (1915), at the age of six and went on to make a total of forty-four films in her fifteen-year career. Newspaper mentions make it clear that she was quite the media darling, loved by children particularly[2] but also doing her part for society as a whole. During the First World War, for example, she was made a (presumably honorary) sergeant in the US Army by President Woodrow Wilson in recognition of her work encouraging recruitment in Chicago.[3] In addition to appearing on the silver screen, Mary starred on stage, most notably as the lead in a travelling production of ‘the Little Princess’, based on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s story.

When Essanay Studios folded in 1918, Mary went back to school, disappearing from the public eye just long enough for questions to begin about what had happened to her. But after graduating from Hollywood High she was back,[4] no longer ‘Little’ Mary McAllister, destined to appear as an adult in 15 further films. Once again she was in the spotlight, appearing at various public events and now the focus of speculation about romances with costars. She was named one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars for 1927, and her future in cinema seemed preordained. Yet it was not to be. After a minor role in the 1930 film On the Level when she was only 21, Mary never appeared on screen again.

At this time, of course, silent films were being replaced by ‘talkies’, and several online biographies conclude that she was unable to make the transition to the new medium. In fact, it seems that Mary simply retired to lead a private life. She married businessman Robert Brigham in 1930, the year of her final film; she and Robert had two children, and the family evidently travelled extensively. Mary’s occasional appearances on stage after this were, according to author George Katchmer, “just for fun”.[5] Her marriage appears to have ended in the early 1950s, just as her son’s was beginning, but she lived on for another four decades, dying of cancer in 1991.

Mary McAllister died in Del Mar, California, and was cremated.[6]

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013

[1] Hans J. Wollstein, Mary McAllister, Actor, New York Times website.  

[2]‘Tiny Film Favorite Vies with Vaudeville Artists for Favor’, Nevada State Journal, 17 September 1917.

[3]‘Little Film Star to Be Recruit Speaker’, Oakland Tribune, 14 October 1919; Nevada State Journal, 17 September 1917.

[4]Wollstein, ibid.

[5]G. Katchmer, A Biographical Dictionary of Silent Film Western Actors and Actresses (McFarland, 2009), p. 241.

[6]Mary McAllister, Find a Grave Memorial, #9102667

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

Hillsborough Disaster, 1989

On this day in 1989, Francis Joseph McAllister was one of 96 Liverpool Football Club supporters crushed to death at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield during a semi-final match against Nottingham Forest.[1] 

Francis McAllister grew up in Liverpool, but at the time of the disaster he was working as a fireman in London. On the day of the match, he drove up to Sheffield and met with a crowd of friends who had travelled together from Liverpool.[2] His brother-in-law, John Thomas, was among them. Although they met in a pub, none of them appeared inebriated to the independent witnesses who later testified at various inquests; Francis himself did not drink at all. The men had tickets for different sections, so they split up when they arrived at the grounds. McAllister’s ticket was for a seated part of the venue, but he preferred to stand and so he had swapped tickets with one of his friends. In the confusion of the crowd outside the gates on Leppings Lane, however, nobody collected his ticket. There was no one to direct the crowd, either, and when the gates were opened and the waiting fans surged in, Francis was one of far too many who went straight down the tunnel into pen number 3.  

A few minutes into the game, when people began to climb over the perimeter fence or be pulled by others into the stands above, the match was stopped. Liverpool fans had become notorious for hooliganism, and initially even some of the other fans believed a pitch invasion was underway. But those who made it over the fence did not rush the field; instead, they collapsed onto the ground.[3] Unfortunately, the police had been so thoroughly prepared for unruly fans that some of them found it difficult to grasp what was actually happening. Instead, it was mostly other fans, some injured themselves, who pulled people out, tearing down advertising boards to use as stretchers for the dead and dying, and tried to save lives.

After the game had been abandoned and the fans asked to leave, Francis’s friends met as planned in the car park. But he and Nicholas Joynes,
another of the group, never turned up. The others waited until about 7 pm and then went looking for their missing mates. They searched local hospitals and consulted the growing list of injured, but it wasn’t until nearly midnight that two of them were admitted to the makeshift mortuary set up at the football ground. There they identified the bodies of Francis McAllister and Nicholas Joynes.

The Hillsborough disaster was the worst stadium disaster in UK history (which has seen a few) and one of the worst sports-related disasters in the world. It was a tragedy because it could have been avoided to begin with, because lives might have been saved had it been handled differently, and because of the infamous cover-up by South Yorkshire Police, which saw the fans themselves blamed for a disaster that in fact resulted from a combination of poor stadium design and police mismanagement. Details of the families’ 23-year quest for justice are available elsewhere, but none of those most responsible have been prosecuted, and it was not until last year – when an independent panel of inquiry issued a damning indictment of just about everyone except the victims – that the government formally apologised for its own role in obstructing the search for truth.[4]

Francis Joseph McAllister was laid to rest at Yew Tree Cemetery on the 21st of April, after a memorial service at St Margaret’s Church in Huyton.[5]

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013

[1] Ninety-four, including McAllister, died at the grounds. Two more died later in hospital having never regained consciousness. The youngest victim was ten years old. 
[2] The events of McAllister’s last day are reconstructed based on the inquest into the death of Francis Joseph McAllister and witness statements by the following people: McAllister’s father; John Thomas; Leslie Guy; Roy Williams; witness N9152, an unidentified Liverpool supporter; and witness N6467, a local woman who assisted McAllister’s friends in the disaster’s aftermath.
[3] They were the lucky ones. Many survivors recall that the crush in pens 3 and 4 became so great they literally could not move, let alone climb over the fence; indeed, most of those who died did so because they were simply unable to expand their lungs to breathe. An excellent collection of first-hand accounts can be found in The Day of the Hillsborough Disaster: A Narrative Account (Taylor, Ward and Newburn, eds.).
[4] British PM sorry for Hillsborough disaster ‘injustice’; coincidentally, one of the two people pictured in the photograph that accompanies this article is Francis McAllister. See also FA apologises for Hillsborough disaster.

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.

A New Kind of Evidence

On this day in 1939, New Zealand Crown Prosecutor H J Macalister obtained the first conviction in that country based exclusively on the evidence of fingerprints found at the scene of a crime. Macalister successfully prosecuted Sandford Robert Young for breaking into an office and stealing a safe.

Fingerprinting as a method of identification had been investigated in the 1800s by several different people working independently of one another.[1]The possibility that it could be used to identify criminals was first asserted by Dr Henry Faulds in the October 1880 issue of Nature magazine, sparking a feud with another pioneer, William Herschel; twelve years later Francis Galton advanced the argument in his book Finger Prints. Despite their research, it took years for police forces to adopt the technique. 

By 1939, fingerprints had already been used as evidence in New Zealand, most notably in a murder case heard by the Auckland Supreme Court in 1920. In that case, however, other evidence was also presented, including the discovery of stolen articles near the home of the accused and forensic evidence tying bullets found in the victim to his gun. The accused had also been seen near the scene of the crime by a prison warden who knew him from a previous sentence.[2]

In the case prosecuted by Mr Macalister, the only evidence presented was the identification of fingerprints belonging to the accused on pieces of broken glass at the point of entry. The case was heard at the Supreme Court in Invercargill, where a jury found Mr Young guilty as charged.[3]

 Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013

[1]According to ‘History on Fingerprints‘, fingerprints as a means of identification were used much earlier in China and had briefly been considered in the West in the late 1600s. 
[2]Fingerprints help convict murderer‘, New Zealand History online 
[3]Conviction on finger print evidence‘, The Southland Times, February 23, 1939