My sister and I did not have the interest of knowing grandparents, and even uncles, aunts and cousins were thin on the ground. Perhaps this stimulated us to find out something about our forebears, all of whom were Scottish. First we decided to write to as many of the descendants of our great-grandfather as we could find. He was Robert Kerr, who came from Fife, Scotland. He married Catherine Hamilton at Scots Church, Melbourne in 1848. Catherine was born at Bowling, near Glasgow in 1825. She came to Melbourne in 1846 as nursemaid to the Mitchell family - Dame Nellie Melba's family.
My sister, Alison, had written in 1979 to a Mrs. Nancy Gulline, a granddaughter (like our mother) of Robert and Catherine Kerr. Nancy's reply gave us much useful information from which we could make up basic family trees, which we then sent off to as many other descendants as we could find, asking for corrections. From this we received many replies from Kerr families, all pleased to provide useful information, though this is only taken up to about 1900.
According to Nancy, our grandmother Janet Langlands Kerr was the first of Robert and Catherine's ten children, born in 1849. Then followed eight boys - James Kerr (born 1851), Robert Blythe Kerr (born 1853), George Kerr (born 1855), John Goodsir Kerr (born 1857), Alexander Mill Kerr (born 1859), David Kerr (born 1861), William Kerr (father of Nancy, born 1863), Henry Fleming Kerr (born 1865), and finally a second girl Florence Jane Kerr (born 1869).
Of this first Australian generation, David died in infancy; John, Alexander and Henry, though married, had no issue. Janet had five children; James and Robert each had seven; George had ten; William had two; and Florence Jane had six. So there were 37 grandchildren for Robert and Catherine but of this second generation 22 had no issue. However the remaining 15 grandchildren made up for this loss! My sister and I did not attempt to write to all the descendants - they were incorporated into individual 'trees' which by now must have a myriad of branches and twigs. My sister Alison and my two brothers belong to this third Australian generation and between us we have 13 children.
Robert and Catherine eventually settled in Bacchus Marsh, and ran a mixed farm - named "St. Monans." Our grandmother Janet married William Grant from Edinburgh, Scotland in 1875. William came to Bacchus Marsh during the goldrush years, joining his brother Dr. John Grant. James Kerr married Margaret Macdonald in 1885, and only Maggie-Isobel from that family had children. Robert Blythe Kerr married Jane Elizabeth Hine in 1880 and four of their seven children had families. George married Isobel Walker in 1879, but of their ten children eight had no descendants! The last of Robert and Catherine's eight boys was William who married Georgina Watts in 1899 and had two daughters, Lesley and Nancy. Nancy married William Gulline in 1933 and it is her letter in 1979 which has been such a useful source of information. The last of Robert and Catherine's children, Florence Jane, married her first cousin Robert Hamilton Hillhouse and only two of their seven children had families.
Nancy's letter of 1979 told us that Robert came to Victoria on the "Thomas Arbuthnot" in 1841. His elder brother James was already here and managed an Inn near Sale, "The Squatter's Rest." His original ledger is in the possession of Nancy's family. Her letter continued:- "Grandfather (Robert) was in America for some year(s). As a boy he went with an expedition to the north of Canada and on returning had a bootshop in Pittsburgh for some time. He went back to Scotland as his parents were ill, but when he arrived he found them alright and that his brother James was in Australia so followed him out here. Arrived with a consignment of footwear and fruit trees that he was unable to sell because of the depression in the early 1840's. He had a shop for awhile in Collins Street, and later travelled with groceries, etc. around the State. Grandmother (Catherine) came out to a sister that was out here. After they married they went to the Marsh and had a farm. A box of native plants used to be sent away to Scotland to an Uncle Peter. With love to all, Nancy."
My sister and I would dearly like to talk to Robert, our great-grandfather, about his experiences in Canada and America. An excerpt from the "Baccus Marsh Express"after his death stated that "he arrived on the "Thomas Arbuthnot", one of the first ships to bring free immigrants. He remembered going with the late J. P. Fawkner to see the first gold brought down from Ballarat and paid 1/- for the privilege." His life in Victoria and his farming would also be most interesting. There seemed to be an interest in horticulture also. One of the letters I received when writing for information in the 1980's, said "all the Kerrs had lovely gardens." If we talked to Robert, he could tell us about his Scottish family. Did he know Catherine before he came to Victoria? His own grandfather was a Messenger-at-Arms, a Scottish Court Official. His niece migrated to Canada, and supported ten children by writing short stories for the "People's Friend," a magazine which still exists. One of her children was the Professor of Geology at the University in San Francisco at the time of the 1906 earthquake and led a federal investigation into the earthquake. Another became Professor of Botany at Sydney University.
Robert and Catherine Kerr are recorded and remembered in the Tribute Garden at the Immigration Museum in Melbourne.
Alison and I are grateful to all members of the family who sent us information, particularly to Nancy's son Graeme Gulline and his wife Lib.
Contributed by Jean G. Gaze (PPPG Member No. 165)
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