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Tony Whelan


Family History
End of Life choices

Ballantyne/Ballintyne family history research

Hildebrand family

Whelan family
Ballantyne family

Williams family

The information summarised here was obtained partly by my own research, but much of it is also thanks to the work of other researchers with a common interest in this family. I am indebted to those cousins and others who have helped to put the pieces of the puzzle together and hope that further collaboration will eventually fill in some of the remaining mysteries, of which there are several. The research continues in sporadic bursts when I get the chance to do more, so this page will change over time.

The surname Ballantyne (Ballintyne) is Scottish. Though it is mostly spelled "Ballantyne" there have been a number of variants, and by the mid 1800s many of the Australian family branches to which I am related were spelling it as "Ballintyne". So you'll find both spellings in my documents.

Our ancestor Andrew Ballantyne was born in Scotland about 1827. We know very little about his family, save that his father was a shepherd named Walter and his mother was Helen Scott. (NB Helen, Ellen, Eleanor, and Nell appear to have been somewhat interchangeable names in the 19th century).

The 1841 census of Bottacks of Auchterneed, a small crofter village near Strathpeffer in the Highland parish of Fodderty in Ross and Cromarty Shire, shows Walter and Helen with five of their children. Helen's origins (and her fate) are as yet undiscovered, though the 1841 census indicated she was born in either England or Ireland, as were her daughters Helen and Agnes. Walter and his son Walter junior are however shown as born in Scotland but not in Ross-shire. Looking at the ages and origins of the children as shown on the census record, I suspect this was a "blended" family, with both parents having been married with children previously.

Walter's origin is not yet certain, though it's possible he was the child born born 13 May 1796 in Selkirk, the son of Robert Ballantyne and Jannet Lorrain who "had a child in fornacation" (sic) as noted reprovingly by the kirk official.

On that 1841 census night fourteen-year old Andrew is about 40km away, living and working on a sheep farm at Achnasheen run by Robert Laidlaw and wife Isabella. At the same address is a Beth or Betty Ballantyne, aged twenty. Both the Ballantynes and the Laidlaws shown there were born in Scotland but not in Ross-shire. A connection between the Laidlaw and Ballantyne families is suggested by the fact that the youngest Ballantyne son, born at KinLochLuichart (mid-way between Achnasheen and Bottacks) in 1837, was baptised Robert Laidlaw Ballantyne. I feel confident therefore that the Andrew Ballantyne at Achnasheen is the son of Walter and Helen in Bottacks.

In late May 1844, Andrew's father moved from Bottacks, to live several hundred kilometers south in the Lowlands town of Hawick (pronounced "Hoick"). Documents suggest that "they removed from Bottacks a few days before Whitsunday last"; Whitsunday in 1844 was Sunday 26th May, and Andrew appears to have been "assisting his father who was going to the south country to take a parcel of sheep along the road".

The ambiguity in the last quotation leaves it unclear whether the sheep were also going all the way to Hawick, but there were networks of droving tracks across Scotland and until the railways came a decade or so later there was a long tradition of droving animals including sheep and cattle from the Highlands to markets in the south of Scotland and then on into England. Drovers either rode a horse or walked these long distances.

When I first began researching family history I was under the misapprehension that people did not travel much in the 18th and 19th century. In fact it seems some travelled rather more often and much farther than many of us do today, albeit not for the purposes of holidaying!

It seems unlikely that Walter's wife and younger children would have walked the droving route. Perhaps they may have taken a coach from Dingwall to Edinburgh and beyond, or even gone by ship from Dingwall harbour. Alternatively, perhaps they travelled along the Caledonian Canal (linking Inverness and Fort William via Loch Ness and other lochs); this had been possible for several decades and although the canal was closed to shipping from around 1843/1844 till 1847 to rectify construction faults, it appears that internal traffic along parts of the canal continued.

Extensive roads in the Highlands had been built by the British for military purposes from 1725 onwards; the road built under the direction of General Wade between Fort William and Inverness was completed in 1726, and ran along the east side of Loch Ness. Later works that century added roads to Dingwall and across to Strathpeffer. There were extensive road networks on both sides of the loch at the time of the Ballantyne family move, and the post-rider who brought mail between Inverness and Fort Augustus travelled on "the north side of Loch Ness" (strictly the north side is on the west since the loch runs from N-E to S-W).

It seems the whole family relocated to Hawick except Andrew, but evidently the two youngest sons returned years later as Robert and James were married in Ross and Cromarty Shire in 1855 and 1863 respectively. 

Andrew's mother Helen appears to have been dead by 1863, but I am as yet unable to account for what happened to her, or when. However it appears that Walter re-married in December 1845, so Helen may have died in 1844-45. Walter seems to have relocated to the Isle of Lewis, according to the 1851 census, which shows youngest son Robert there also. Walter may have married yet again in 1866, but its a little unclear whether we are dealing with the same person.

Helen's daughter Agnes appears to have had several children without the benefit of a husband and survived to the age of 82, dying in Roxburgh County in 1913.

Walter and Helen's son James appears with his wife Barbara and son James on the 1871 census then in 1879 they emigrated to Dunedin in New Zealand. I have yet to find what happened after that, other than Barbara's death in 1908 and  James senior's death in 1917.

Walter's youngest son Robert and his family appear repeatedly in the censuses and in August 2013 I was fortunate enough to be contacted by a direct descendant of Robert Ballantyne in Scotland; you can see more about that branch at

Back in Bottacks, after his family had left, the seventeen-year-old Andrew was still in the area apparently having taken a contract (along with an un-named cousin) to build an extensive turf dyke near the town of Fort Augustus (situated at the southern end of Loch Ness). The Caledonian Canal was undergoing repairs at the time and this contract may well have been a part of the canal works. At about 1am on Saturday 8th June 1844, Andrew took a decision that would quickly cost him his freedom. He removed a small brown mare from the stable of farmer Kenneth Macrae at Bottacks, and rode it south along the western edge of Loch Ness to Fort Augustus.  The Ballintyne family had on occasion borrowed horses from Macrae, and when police questioned Andrew a few days later he claimed to have borrowed the horse with permission on this occasion also.

Unfortunately his claim was disputed by the owner's family, and to make matters rather more conclusive both the changekeeper at Ruskich, some 11 miles north of Fort Augustus, and the post rider at Fort Augustus testified that Andrew had badgered them to buy the horse from him. Not surprising, the 15-man jury found the youth guilty of horse-stealing.

The witness statements at the trial leave me perplexed as to why Andrew did what he did. From what he told others just before the event, he was owed money by someone in Bottacks, and intended to have a horse on his return to Fort Augustus. Clearly he had something planned, but it seems strange that he would broadcast his intentions and proposed whereabouts to others who would readily be able to testify against him.

Just a dozen years before, the act of stealing a horse would have been punished by execution. Fortunately for Andrew, in the preceding decade Sir Robert Peel's government had introduced various Bills to reduce the number of capital crimes. Shoplifting, and sheep, cattle and horse stealing were removed from the list of capital crimes in 1832.  Andrew was sentenced to 7 years transportation and was taken to Millbank prison and thence to Pentonville prison in London. Pentonville and Millbank were prisons designed to reform inmates. The routine was largely solitary confinement, interrupted only by bible study, reading and writing class, and lessons in a trade.

Britain had few large prisons and the number of prisoners in custody was increasing because of the reduced numbers of executions, and the impacts of landowners' forced clearances of small tenant farmers, the potato famines, and the industrial revolution. Where possible, the British Government had sought to remove its petty criminals altogether by transportation to overseas colonies as convicts.  However, the colony of New South Wales had ceased accepting convicts in 1840, though Van Diemans Land (Tasmania) was still taking prisoners till 1853. There was a shortage of places to send the growing number of prisoners, so they remained in prison rather than being transported promptly.

Around that time, a scheme was hatched to mitigate the problem of the growing number of prisoners, and meet a demand for labour in the colonies including those around the new settlement of Port Phillip (later to become Melbourne). Between 1844 and 1849 some 1751 prisoners from Pentonville and Millbank prisons and Parkhurst youth prison were dumped on the colonies by the ingenious expedient of granting the prisoners pardons conditional on their not returning till the expiration of their original sentence. Although resentment of the scheme by some colonists in Port Phillip was fairly loud (the Argus newspaper was quite virulent in its opposition), it did not sway the British Government.

So it was that on 9 Nov 1846 the vessel Maitland docked in Port Phillip carrying a load of newly-pardoned convicts including Andrew Ballantyne, by this time aged 19. The passenger manifest states that he could read and write, was formerly a shepherd, and the trade taught in prison was shoemaker. He was single, his crime was horse-stealing, and his sentence was 7 years transportation. His warrant of pardon was dated 10 June 1846.

The manifest shows that Andrew's initial employer was to be Montgomery & Wright, for a term of 1 year at 20 pounds per annum. James Montgomery and William Wright, together with fellow Scotsman Alexander Anderson, had from 1839 leased from the Crown approximately 21,000 acres for a sheep run which they named "Bamgamie", near the present town of Skipton (near Ballarat). We can assume that Andrew was employed as a permanent station worker on the property. Around 1851-52 Bamgamie was sold and eventually divided into several separate properties.

We know nothing more about Andrew till December 1851 when (describing himself as a member of the Scottish Church) he married a 22 year old Irish woman named Mary O'Dowd at St Francis Catholic Church in Melbourne. Mary had arrived in July of the same year on the John Knox as an assisted immigrant, and we may suppose she ended up working as a domestic servant on the same rural property as Andrew. In any event, it seems they soon joined the throng of people moving to the Castlemaine area because of the discovery of gold that year.

According to Castlemaine historian Robyn Annear, gold was found in many places in Victoria during the 1840s, mainly by shepherds and farm labourers. Their finds were mainly kept secret, as mining was illegal, all gold (and other metals) being the property of the Crown. The gold rush to New South Wales in 1851 made it evident that the new colony of Victoria (till then a district of NSW) might lose its entire labouring population to the NSW goldfields, so a committee was formed to promote and reward gold discovery in Victoria.

In July 1851 a shepherd found gold at Specimen Gully (5 km north-east of Castlemaine). Soon all of the area's streams were being scoured by hopefuls from all over the world. Annear says that by 1852 it is thought that there were some 25,000 people on the diggings around Castlemaine, living in shanty towns of canvas tents which housed stores, the first school (1852), dwellings, sly-grog shops and even an office of the Bank of NSW (also 1852).

Andrew Ballintyne's younger brother Walter was one of many assisted immigrants coming to the colonies to start a new life away from the destitution faced by the poor in England, Scotland and Ireland. He appears to have arrived in Tasmania on the Ocean Chief on 25 March 1855. He was described as single, a shepherd from Ross Shire. In 1858 he married Mary Flynn, a bounty immigrant from Ireland, and they had several children in Tasmania before moving to Victoria in the mid 1860s.

Of the four sons of Walter and Mary who reached adulthood, it appears that three never married and worked most of their lives as drovers and stockmen. One of them (Robert) worked in north-west Queensland as far away as the Gulf of Carpentaria, and in the Northern Territory. Walter's son William married Mary Jane Goodall in 1892 and they had four sons, three of whom had children.

Walter Ballintyne died in 1891 at "Tweedside", his home in the Melbourne suburb of Flemington, just three years after his brother Andrew had passed on. The death notices for the two brothers make no reference to other family members apart from the (deceased) parents in Scotland.

Andrew and Mary Ballintyne had ten children in the Castlemaine area between 1852 and 1870. As  early as 1855 they had a property in the Campbells Creek area, on what is now Monaghan Street, and a few years later had properties on the north-east edge of the township in Wattle Flat where they settled and apparently ran a dairying business. Around 1885 they appear to have sold up and moved to Melbourne. Andrew died in July 1888 but his widow Mary lived till May 1906. In late 2018 their grave in Melbourne General Cemetery was marked with a plaque contributed to by several family members.

It appears that Mary had a brother Michael O'Dowd who migrated to Melbourne in 1860 with his wife Ann (Guerin) and their four children. They too ended up in the Castlemaine area. The initial connection between the families was suggested by the fact that a single grave in the Castlemaine cemetery contains five O'Dowd children (4 died 1863, 1 in 1868) and two Ballintyne children (Andrew and Eliza, both died 1868). Looking at the death certificates, it is clear that epidemics of illnesses such as enteritis and diptheria claimed many young children. Michael and Ann O'Dowd had at least two children (both daughters) survive to adulthood and marry, and their families farmed land near Bendigo, Mildura and Winchelsea at various stages. Michael and his wife died at the home of their grandson John Malone in the early 1900s.

A more conclusive link between the families comes from the will of my great-grandmother Ellen Hildebrand (nee Ballantyne) who died in 1911. In that will, Ellen makes reference to "the life portrait of my Aunt and Uncle Kilbeg". Investigation of this reference shows that on 7 December 1854 a Daniel Kilbeg married 19-year-old Ellen Dowd from County Clare, who had emigrated in February of that year accompanied by her sister Anne. The marriage took place in Castlemaine, and Andrew Ballintyne was one of the witnesses. The bride shows her father as John Dowd, blacksmith, and her mother as Mary Looney. Ellen's sister Anne married John Droney in 1869 and her marriage certificate shows her father as John O'Dowd also; her mother's name is very hard to read but may say Mary Looney or Mary Downey.

Since Ellen Hildebrand (nee Ballantyne) was a niece of the Kilbegs, it seems that Ellen Kilbeg (nee Dowd) was the sister of Ellen Hildebrand's mother Mary O'Dowd, and that Michael O'Dowd was Mary's brother. (Note that the O' in Irish names was often omitted). On balance I think that Mary, Michael, Ellen and Anne O'Dowd from Clare are almost certainly siblings. There is a baptism record in Ennistymon Parish (County Clare) for Michael Dowd dated 28 Aug 1824, and for Anne Dowd dated 31 Aug 1835, parents in each case being John Dowd and Mary Looney. However the baptismal records in that parish are "riddled with gaps and omissions particularly during the 1820 to 1830 period", according to the Clare Heritage Society, so many of the family births are unrecorded. Note that this website says that in the 1600s, when English rule intensified, the prefixes O and Mac were widely dropped because it became extremely difficult to find work if you had an Irish sounding name. However, in the 1800s many families began reinstating the O and Mac prefixes.

Researchers of births in the Castlemaine area should note that although Catholic records were required to be submitted for inclusion in the state registers from 1855, there is no trace of some of our post-1855 family births in official records. However I located a number of the missing records in copies of the Catholic baptisms held by the Castlemaine Historical Society. The records in the early days of Victoria were rather patchy in relation to births.

Andrew and Mary Ballintyne lost four of their ten children as infants or toddlers. One of the surviving daughters was my great-grandmother Ellen, born in 1863 in Castlemaine. In 1883 at age 19 she married Edward Dwyer from Wilcannia, NSW, but had divorced him by 1890. In 1891 she married George Hildebrand and their daughter Bertha was my paternal grandmother. The grave of Ellen and George at Melbourne General Cemetery was marked in 2018 with a plaque to which several family members contributed.

Andrew and Mary's only son to survive to adulthood was John, who married his cousin Agnes (born in Tasmania to Andrew's brother Walter). John and Agnes moved from suburban Flemington to the Castlemaine (goldfields) area, then in late 1892 they relocated to the mining centre of Broken Hill, in far west New South Wales. John worked in the mining industry, as evidenced by an entry in the member's payment ledger for the Barrier Branch Amalgamated Mines Association of 31st March 1904. Three sons were born there, two of whom (John junior and William) survived.

Some time after fire destroyed their Broken Hill home in January 1909, the Ballintynes journeyed to Western Australia to seek work at the gold mines in Boulder. A number of related families also ended up in the west around that time, including John's daughter Annie and her husband Thomas Tupper.

The rail link to the west was not completed until 1917, so the only way to make the greater part of the trip would be by ship from Adelaide to Fremantle, or by going overland. The vast expanses of the continent were then being navigated by teams of Muslim cameleers from India and Afghanistan, and the oral tradition is that the families travelled from Broken Hill to Boulder in such a camel convoy; an enterprise which must have been extraordinarily demanding.

By 1916 John and Agnes are recorded on the electoral roll at Boulder, and John remained there till his death in 1923. Some time after 1925, Agnes moved to North Adelaide to live with family, and she died there in 1938 aged 78.

Agnes and John's son John junior served in World War One and on his return married in Adelaide but moved back to Boulder. He later divorced and married again, settling in Adelaide; the two families were apparently ignorant of each other's existence for decades. His second wife divorced him when the children were young and later in life John lived with his son Don in Melbourne and died there in 1962.

John's brother William married in Boulder but settled in Adelaide. He had four daughters and two sons, and died in 1954.

The two Scottish brothers (Andrew and Walter) who came to Australia a century and a half ago now have descendants carrying the Ballintyne/Ballantyne name in Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.

Despite many hours of research by a number of people, there is still no record of the birth of Andrew Ballantyne or his brother Walter. Some people have cited an 1841 census record showing an Andrew Ballintyne in Dumfriesshire, listed as born there around 1830. But that same Andrew and his parents are still in Dumfriesshire 10 years later at the 1851 Census. We are all capable of error, and the evidence is frequently ambiguous or conflicting, but this particular matter is  clear - the Andrew in the 1841 Dumfriesshire census record is not the Andrew Ballantyne transported to Australia in 1846.

Although Andrew's death certificate says he was born in Dumfriesshire, the informant was his son-in-law Patrick McAlister who wouldn't necessarily have known. When we look at the Victorian birth certificates for those four of Andrew's children for which a paternal birthplace is shown, we see two references to Inverness, one to Inverness-Shire and one to Ross Shire. Inverness is only a few kilometers from the border of Ross-Shire, and a mere 30km from Bottacks where Andrew lived in his teens. The informant for three of the birth certificates was Andrew's wife Mary, who was Irish and would have known her husband's reputed birthplace only in terms of the nearest city, which was Inverness.

However Andrew himself was the informant on the other child's certificate, and he states he was born in Ross-Shire. But he may not have known his true place of birth himself, given that the family had clearly moved about quite a bit. The family had been in Ross-shire since at least October 1834, at which time Andrew would have been about 7 years old; if they moved there even earlier, Andrew might have no memory of residence in another county. Remember also that there was no centralised system of registrations prior to 1855, so even a person who was able to read would have no way to verify his or her birth details if the family had moved any significant distance from the church where the baptism occurred. Any person wanting to know where they were born would have to ask a parent or older sibling for that information. In the alternative, they might just make an educated guess!

The 1841 census records indicate that the older children of the family were not born in Ross-Shire and since that information was provided by Andrew's parents it can reasonably be assumed to be first-hand knowledge and therefore more reliable. It is probable the older boys did come originally from the Lowlands region since that is where Walter senior seems to have returned in 1846. It is worth mentioning that at Andrew's trial he states he does not understand the Gaelic language - something we might expect a Highlander family to be conversant with, so we can assume the family originated elsewhere. The 1841 census indicates that Helen and two daughters were born either in Ireland or England, yet Walter junior (born between those two daughters) was born somewhere in Scotland (but not in Ross-shire). From that I conclude that Walter and Helen Ballantyne had a blended family, involving children from previous marriages, orphaned children of relatives, or children of an unmarried female relative. We will probably never know the details.

 Tony Whelan 2008-2022 This page was last updated on 9 February 2020