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], ‘Convicts and the British Colony in Australia; the website Convict Records of Australia lists 28 Macalisters of various spellings, 5 of them women.

Death of Samuel McAllister

On this day in 1903, Samuel McAllister, Irish-born recipient of the American Medal of Honor, died at sea. Samuel was born in Belfast on the 23rd of January 1869, though both of his parents were born in Scotland.[1] He moved to the United States in 1886, and by the time of the 1900 federal census, he was already serving in the US Navy. In June of that year, when the Boxer Rebellion in China finally broke out into open war, Samuel was serving on the USS Newark

The Boxer Rebellion was a war against foreigners. The spread of foreign influence through trade, religion, and (in one case) actual invasion was resented by many Chinese, and this resentment led to the rise of a nationalist movement called the Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists – soon dubbed ‘Boxers’ by the Europeans. The Boxers comprised mainly peasants and artisans whose jobs or land had been lost as a result of foreign involvement in China, but they had friends in high places: In early June 1900, as violence increased, the Dowager Empress authorised war on foreign powers. By the end of that month, hundreds of foreigners from various places, and literally thousands of Chinese Christians, were trapped in two locations in Beijing, where they remained under siege for 55 days.[2]

The governments of eight nations, including the US and Great Britain, sent military forces to try to free their besieged citizens. Among the ships carrying American troops was the Newark. According to his citation, on “20 June 1900, while . . . [c]rossing the river in a small boat while under heavy enemy fire, Ordinary Seaman McAllister assisted in destroying buildings occupied by the enemy.” This “extraordinary heroism in action against the enemy at Tientsin, China” earned him the Medal of Honor, which he received from President Theodore Roosevelt on the 22nd of March 1902.[3]

Just over a year later, while serving aboard the USS Wisconsin, Samuel McAllister was lost at sea.[4]
Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012.

[1] “1900 United States Federal Census,” database, (accessed 12 December 2012), entry for Samuel McAllister, [b.] 1869, in Ireland. 
[2] For more information on the Boxer Rebellion, see Cultural China, “Origins of the Boxers, and Department of the Navy, Naval History and Heritage Command, “The Boxer Rebellion and the U.S. Navy, 1900-1901“. (This site also links to an extensive bibliography.)
[3] Military Times Hall of Valor:  Samuel McAllister (accessed 10 December 2012).
[4] Find-a-Grave: Samuel McAllister

The Last Earl of Stirling

On this day in 1739, Henry Alexander, the fifth Earl of Stirling, died. The earls of Stirling belonged to the Alexander family of Menstrie Castle in Stirlingshire. They are thought to descend from Gilbert ‘de Insula’, a son of Alasdair Mòr, who settled in the Lowlands in the mid-1300s. Although the exact descent is unclear, it has always been accepted that the Menstrie family – unlike many other Scottish Alexanders – do in fact belong to the Clann Alasdair. Certainly earlier generations of this family had a good deal of interaction with the Macalisters of Kintyre.

The fifth earl was a private individual who refrained from civic participation, and little is known of his life. His family, however, once wielded considerable influence. They first appear on record in 1505, when Thomas MacAlexander ‘de Menstray’ is named as arbiter in a local land dispute. The fact that he is ‘of’ Menstrie suggests he was the owner of this property; his role as arbiter suggests some degree of local authority. Thomas’s descendant Sir William Alexander (d. 1640) was part of James VI’s court in Scotland and in 1603 he followed the king to London, where he served as tutor to both of James’s crown princes.[1]He was acclaimed as a poet and was an active coloniser, establishing a settlement in Ireland and a colony at Nova Scotia. He already held several titles by the time he was named Earl of Stirling in 1633. Sir William’s eldest son was knighted, briefly governed the Nova Scotia colony, and served on the Privy Council; the second son, a noted architect who served as King’s Master of Work in Scotland, was also knighted. Henry’s grandfather, the third earl, succeeded his brother as Master of Work[2]and established a trading company, and his father was elected Member of Parliament for Berkshire.

The Alexanders’ close association with the Stuarts cost them their position in Scotland after the Civil Wars, and by Henry’s time Menstrie Castle had long since passed out of their possession. With Henry, the family’s titles too would be lost. The fifth earl left no heirs, nor did his brothers, and when Henry Alexander died on this day in 1739, his titles fell dormant. Although the earldom has been claimed by other branches of the family[3], none of these claims have ever been recognised.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1]Sir William’s first charge was James’s eldest son, Crown Prince Henry. After Prince Henry died in 1612, William became tutor to the second son, the future Charles I.
[2]R. S. Mylne, ‘The Masters of Work to the Crown of Scotland’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. xxx (January 10, 1896).  
[3] Unlike titles in the English and, later, British peerage, some Scottish titles can pass to female heirs should the male lines fail. Although none of the 4th earl’s sons had children, some of his daughters did.

This Week in Macalister History . . .

Major events in the history of the Macalisters take a bit of a break in October, so I thought it might be fun to take a look at what’s happening in the Macalister world at the start of October of this year. Macalisters in the arts and entertainment have certainly been busy. David McAllister, artistic director of the Australian Ballet, is hard at work preparing for the 10 October opening of Romeo and Juliet. The company celebrates its 50th anniversary on 2 November of this year, which has led to quite a bit of media attention. Back in the UK, Irish actress Amy McAllister (whose television work includes roles in Call the Midwife and Emmerdale) is currently appearing as Nellie, the female lead in The Man on Her Mind at Charing Cross Theatre in London’s West End. Performances are given six nights a week, with an additional matinee performance Saturdays. The play runs through 27 October. To the north, award-winning Scottish comedian Keir McAllister (whom the Edinburgh Evening News called “…a gifted comedian destined for much bigger things”) has been touring the west coast with his Walking in My Shoes tour. This week he appeared in Tyree, Fort William and the Isle of Mull.

Macalisters were also busy studying insects, of all things. Dr Erica McAlister, curator of entomology at the Natural History Museum in London, undertook the last Specimen Collecting Field Trip of the season. This is part of a research project she and others in her department have been doing for the Ministry of Defence at a ‘top secret military testing station called Porton Down’. Details of the excursion can be found in her blog. Meanwhile, in the US, mosquito control expert Janet McAllister of the Center for Disease Control has been kept quite busy working to contain this year’s deadly outbreak of the West Nile Virus.

Charitable undertakings by members of this clan were also celebrated this week. On Sunday, the Wellesley (Mass.) Mothers Forum celebrated its 21st birthday; this non-profit community organisation, now 600-members strong, was established in 1991 by Lisa Macalaster and Maureen Bousa. Also on Sunday, but across the ocean, Leona McAlister, her daughter Maria McAlister, and her sister Pauline Murty, all of the Isle of Bute, were featured in the Buteman for their participation in September’s Great Scottish Run (a half-marathon), by which they raised £2,676 for the Beatson Oncology Centre.[1] Taking a slightly different approach to helping others was Don McAlister in Cape Town (S. Africa), whose latest editorial beseeched his readers to pay building contractors fairly.

Other Macalisters have been occupied with violence prevention this week. On Monday Detective Sergeant Randy McAlister of the Cottage Grove (Minn.) Police Department was interviewed by the local television news after a recent workplace shooting in that state. McAlister is a pioneer in the emerging field of threat assessment, which attempts to predict and prevent such events. He and his colleague spoke about the ‘red flags’ that often precede these tragedies and how to recognise them in time. The next day, Fort Morgan (Colo.) mayor Terry McAlister signed a proclamation making October National Domestic Violence Awareness month in his town. Various activities and programmes have been planned “to work toward improving victim safety and holding perpetrators of domestic abuse accountable”. The town council will be working in conjunction with S.H.A.R.E., Inc., a nonprofit group that serves battered women and their children in northeast Colorado.

And finally, Macalisters were also busy in politics this week. Wayne McAllister, Controller of Naugatuck Borough in Connecticut, reported on Wednesday that the borough had finished its fiscal year with a surplus of about US$1 million. Perhaps he should be running the country. The following day the Scotsman named Colin McAllister as one of those chosen by Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond to serve as political advisers to the Scottish government. This follows the loss of two senior advisers who left to serve in the Scottish National Party and the Yes Scotland independence campaign. And on Friday, Sinn Féin councillor Noreen McAllister was also in the news, doing what she was elected to do: speaking for the people. Councillor McAllister is trying to get the Moyle District Council (N. Ireland) to make structural changes that will eliminate the flooding problem experienced by some of her constituents.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1] This is probably cheating, as neither his accomplishment nor his media recognition took place in the past week, but 10-year-old James McAllister of Darlington (England) also ran for charity in September. He completed the 4km Junior Great North Run in 22 minutes, running to raise money for leukaemia and lymphoma research. Well done, James!

New Zealand 40, Scotland 0

On this day in 2007, New Zealand beat Scotland 40-0 in the Rugby World Cup. The only Macalister involved was New Zealander Luke McAlister, who accumulated a total of 17 points over the course of the whole tournament.[1] The win against Scotland put the All Blacks through to the quarter finals, where they were defeated by France 20-18 – the first time in World Cup history that New Zealand failed to reach the semi-final.[2] Some commentators blamed the loss on the fact that McAlister was ‘sin-binned’ partway through the game, removing a serious threat to the French team. 

Ironically, only a few years later McAlister would prove quite an asset for a French team, when in his first season with Stade Toulousain he was the only team member to score in either the semi-final or the final of the Bouclier de Brennus (the French Rugby Union domestic league championship). A report of that match described McAlister as Toulouse’s “most dangerous player”, who was “unerring with his trusty right boot”. Thanks largely to his efforts, Toulouse won the game 18-12. It was the team’s 19th French championship win.[3]

You can read more about Luke McAlister’s career here.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1]BBC Sport match report: “Scotland 0-40 New Zealand” by Thomas McGuigan (
[2]BBC Sport match report: “New Zealand 18-20 France” by Julian Shea (
[3]“Toulouse defend Top 14 title”, 9 June 2012 (,25883,9818_7803752,00.html)

By Order of Hitler

On this day in 1944, John Kenneth Macalister died at Buchenwald concentration camp, executed as an Allied spy on the personal order of Adolf Hitler. He was 30 years old.

Macalister, a native of Guelph, Ontario, was the only son of the editor of the Guelph Mercury. After completing a degree at the University of Toronto, he went as a Rhodes Scholar to Oxford, and then passed the Bar exams in London. He was studying at the Institute of Corporate Law in Paris when WWII broke out in 1939 and immediately tried to enlist in the French infantry, but his need for thick eyeglasses disqualified him for active service. Instead, he returned to Britain and joined the Special Operations Executive. This organisation, established by Churchill specifically to locate, support, and build resistance groups in occupied countries, was “like something out of a John le Carré novel”. U.S. General Eisenhower believed that its efforts “shortened the war by months”[1], but the work was so dangerous that hopeful agents were warned they had only a 50% chance of surviving the war.[2]

On 24 June 1943, Captain Macalister and another Canadian, Frank Pickersgill, were parachuted into occupied France to set up an SOE wireless network, codenamed ‘Arch-deacon’. Although the men connected with resistance agents as planned, they were almost immediately arrested by the Gestapo – as spies rather than prisoners of war, which meant their rights were not protected by the Geneva Convention.  Several explanations are given for their quick capture. Most sources suggest that the Gestapo had been tipped off, possibly by a mole within the resistance, though such a person has never been identified. One of the other airmen captured by the Nazis blamed their exposure on Macalister’s ‘terrible French’ (which seems odd considering he had studied the language enthusiastically for years, had lived in France, and had a French wife). In fact, it seems likely that the Gestapo needed neither a mole nor bad French to discover the spies. Only days before the men were dropped in France, a preparatory drop of explosives had been made. The explosives went off upon landing, and about 2,000 German soldiers “poured into the area to investigate.” If the Germans thought these explosions suspicious enough to send so many soldiers, surely they would have been actively looking for the explosives’ intended recipients. The SOE agent on the ground certainly believed Archdeacon endangered: He immediately radioed London advising that the second drop (of Macalister and Pickersgill) be aborted. Whether the message was received or not is unknown, but the mission went ahead.

Macalister and Pickersgill were interrogated and tortured by the Gestapo for some time. The Nazis hoped to convince the men to set up the wireless network as planned; the Nazis could then use it to lure other Allied agents into a trap. But SOE agents were trained to resist torture, and neither would agree to help. They were finally sent to Buchenwald[3], where they arrived on 27 August. Only two and a half weeks later, as the Allies closed in, Hitler ordered they be hanged and their bodies destroyed, so that their fate would never be known. Several of their fellow inmates survived, however, and before too long the story of Macalister and Pickersgill emerged. Today they are remembered as war heroes.

John Kenneth Macalister is commemorated on a memorial in Surrey, England, and by a plaque in Scotland (where the SOE men underwent training) as one of the agents who died for the liberation of France. He is listed in the Roll of Honour at the Valençay SOE memorial in France itself; there is a park named after him in Guelph, and a Pickersgill-Macalister garden at the University of Toronto. In 1995, late University College principal Douglas LePan, who was also a poet and had known Macalister personally, produced the epic poem Macalister, or Dying in the Dark in his honour.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1]A. Scott, Behind Enemy Lines, University of Toronto magazine on-line, Autumn 2012. The SOE was originally intended to be part of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), but its particular mission led to its establishment as a separate organisation. Known as ‘Churchill’s Secret Army’ and ‘The Baker Street Irregulars’, its existence was not even officially acknowledged until years after the war had ended. When the group was dissolved in 1946, most of its responsibilities were given back to the SIS.[2] Of the first 10 Canadians parachuted into occupied France, seven – including Macalister – would never return (Requiem for the Brave, University of Toronto magazine on-line).
[3] Buchenwald Concentration Camp was one of the first camps established on German soil. Between July 1937 and April 1945 about 250,000 people were imprisoned there, roughly 56,000 of them dying. It was the first camp to be liberated by the US army, 13 months after Macalister’s death.

Macalisters in the First US Federal Census

On this day in 1790, the first federal census of the newly independent United States was taken. The states at that time were New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia (which included Alabama and Mississippi). Also enumerated were the districts of Kentucky, Maine and Vermont, and the Southwest Territory, now called Tennessee.

The results of this first census are extremely useful for establishing the approximate number, and the whereabouts, of Macalisters in the U.S. at that time. We can see, for instance, that although Pennsylvania had 31 Macalister households, there were none at all in Rhode Island or Connecticut. North Carolina had 21 Macalister households; Maryland had 16; New Hampshire, 14; South Carolina, 13; and New York, 5. Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts had 4, 3, and 2, respectively.[1] 

Unfortunately the picture is less clear for other areas. The returns for Virginia, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, New Jersey, and Tennessee were destroyed in the early 1800s – most of them when Washington DC was burned during the War of 1812. State censuses, tax lists, and other contemporary documents have allowed the Census Bureau to re-compile much of the information that was lost with these returns, but the dates vary slightly and the totals are less clear. In Virginia, for example, although numerous Macalister men are named in tax, military and other records between the years 1764 and 1801, the Records of the State Enumerations, 1782-1785 don’t list a single Macalister household. On the other hand, Bob McAllister of the Clan McAlister of America found at least 21 using the actual Virginia state census records of only a few counties. I found 14 in New Jersey and 22 in Georgia (including areas that now make up Mississippi and Alabama).  

Despite these limitations, the U.S. federal census of 1790 offers a valuable glimpse of the Clan Alister in that country’s early history. Fortunately, other countries also held censuses early in their history; future posts will look at what they have to say about their own Macalisters.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1] One of the things I found particularly interesting was how consistently the name tends to be spelled within any given area. This is likely to be a reflection of the enumerator’s preference rather than a true indication of how individual families actually spelt their names.

William Alexander and the Union of Crowns

On this day in 1603, King James VI of Scotland was crowned James I of England. He succeeded Elizabeth I, his second cousin, who had died without heirs. Among the many Scots who followed James to London was William Alexander, head of the Menstrie family, whose claim to be a branch of the Clan Alister is generally accepted (most importantly, by the clan itself) despite patchy documentation. 

William Alexander had been introduced to the Scottish court by the Earl of Argyll, to whom he was once tutor. When the court moved south Alexander went along as tutor to Crown Prince Henry, and on Henry’s death in 1612 he became tutor to Henry’s younger brother, the future Charles I. Alexander remained in service to Charles for the rest of his life. His association with the royal family led to a knighthood (1609), a viscountcy (1630), and ultimately an earldom (1633). He also held important positions under the crown, including Scottish Privy Councillor and Secretary for Scotland. (Before these, he was appointed Master of Requests for Scotland, “whose chief duty was to ward off needy Scots from the English court”![1]

In 1621, William was granted a considerable extent of land in what is now Canada and set about establishing a Scottish colony in North America. The colony he founded there eventually became Nova Scotia. To help finance his plans, he suggested a money-making scheme whereby interested parties could be named Baronets of Nova Scotia — if they were willing to pay for the honour. (This was not Alexander’s idea, originally. King James had done exactly the same thing in Ulster a decade earlier.) Still, the settlement of Nova Scotia entailed repeated set-backs and required considerable investment from Alexander himself. When the lands granted to him in 1621 were returned to France by treaty nine years later, Alexander’s colonial enterprise was simply shut down, leaving him deeply in debt.

William Alexander’s association with James VI took him to London and brought him national prominence. His elder sons, two of whom predeceased him, also held prominent positions under the crown (see Anthony Alexander, Master of Works), but an Episcopalian family known for its service to the Stuart kings was unlikely to prosper in Scotland after the mid-40s. Alexander’s home at Menstrie was mortgaged to a relative, who foreclosed after his death in 1640[2], and by the time Charles I was executed in 1649, “the family’s estates had been lost and the country was in the hands of its political enemies”.[3] The third Earl of Stirling, William’s oldest surviving son Henry, died in obscurity, probably in England; his mother and most of his siblings settled in Ulster.

 Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1]  ‘William Alexander, Earl of Stirling’ in Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
[2] Robert Menzies FergusonLogie: A Parish History (Paisley: 1905), p. 171

[3] Stevenson, Origins of Freemasonry, p. 72

Aussie Macallister Makes History in Iceland

On this day in 2011, Australian Dylan Macallister scored the first goal ever made by Icelandic football team Breiðablik in a European Championship League. The goal took place 28 minutes into Breiðablik’s second game against the Norwegian team Rosenborg in qualifying round competition. Although they were the top team in their own country, Breiðablik had never before made it into the European league, and a week earlier Rosenborg had defeated them 5-0.

The teams were more evenly matched than they had been the first time they met; even so there were several near misses in the first half, where Rosenborg came close to scoring a goal. But it was 29-year-old Macallister who scored first, pulling Breiðablik into the lead. In the second half of the game, Macallister helped set up a another goal, this one made by his teammate Kristinn Steindórsson, who brought the final score to 2-0 Breiðablik

Rosenborg’s earlier victory was too significant to overcome, and the Norwegian team went on to the next round. But Breiðablik’s win in the second game was well deserved, and it was partly thanks to Macallister. Although he has since left to play in New Zealand, Dylan Macallister will go down in Breiðablik history as the first of their players to ever score in UEFA competition.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

Germany’s ‘Conservative in a Kilt’

On this day in 2010, David McAllister became the Prime Minister of Lower Saxony in Germany. McAllister was born in West Berlin, one of an increasingly visible group in modern Germany: The children of British soldiers who have settled in Germany and married local women. His father James, a Glaswegian, was stationed in West Berlin from 1969 with the Royal Corps of Signals. David McAllister, who still has relatives in Glasgow, holds dual citizenship and is bilingual.

McAllister took a traditional route to politics by training as a lawyer. He joined the Christian Democratic Union while still a teen and is so well regarded in that party that Chancellor Angela Merkel once asked him to serve as its general secretary. McAllister declined, preferring to remain for a while at the state level, and two years ago he became the youngest person ever to hold the premiership of a German state.

Like members of the Scottish diaspora everywhere, McAllister’s loyalties are with the land of his birth but Scotland is unmistakably part of his identity: He is known as ‘Mac’, supports Rangers Football Club and, after proposing to his future wife at Loch Ness, he was married wearing a kilt. It is, he explained, a family tradition.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012


Note: ‘Conservative in a Kilt’ is the name given McAllister by the Guardian in an article that appeared 4 June 2010; it is available here.