After British settlement in 1788, Australia was used as a convict settlement to relieve the over-crowded prisons of Britain. The convict settlements were a feature of Australian society for nearly a century until the transportation system was progressively withdrawn from 1840 onward.
One of the earliest McCubbins to arrive on Australian shores was a convict. Aboard, ‘The Susan’ was Thomas McCubbin, age 48, single, born in Belfast and tried in Ayrshire for Assualt on 15th April, 1835. He had been a gardener’s labourer and silk dyer. Thomas was not the ideal prisoner. He absconded in 1840 from his employer in Maitland and was recaptured and punished accordingly. Thomas did not marry.
Janet (Riddell) McCubbin arrived in Sydney aboard the ‘Mary Ann’ 13th December 1843. Janet was married to William McCubbin, a Master Mason in Lanark, and had children before she was transported. Two children we know of were John and James. They likely never saw their mother again. Janet’s crime was ‘house breaking’. She was sentenced to 7 years. It seems Janet was somewhat of a martyr in the family back in Scotland. Janet Riddell McCubbin’s name occurs among her descendants. She remarried in Australia after receiving her Certificate of Freedom and has living descendants there.
Australian colonists came to regard the convict system as a stigma on those who had chosen to emigrate. As well, there was criticism in both Britain and Australia because of the inevitable brutality of certain aspects of the convict system.
In order to boost the population, the British Government soon offered assisted passage for immigrants to the fledgling outpost. Few free settlers were attracted to Australia during the first thirty years of its existence, despite the free passages, land grants and other incentives offered at various times during this period. The sea voyage was long and treacherous often taking three or four months. The roads were little more than tracks and living conditions were harsh and foreign for the new settlers.
The proportion of free settlers and native-born increased during the 1820s. Immigrants began arriving in greater numbers. With increasing prosperity came a growing demand for skilled labour, and the Government responded to this need by introducing a number of bounty or assisted immigration schemes from 1832 until 1861.
One of the earliest McCUBBIN families to settle in Australia was that of James McCubbin (a Bootmaker) and wife, Elizabeth Lowry. In the mid 1840s they were in Tasmania, then moved on to Victoria and South Australia, finally settling in the booming mining community of Broken Hill. They worked in the silver mines. The male children followed in their fathers’ footsteps, working long days and at times in dangerous conditions. Many of their descendants are living in Australia today.
From the very early days of settlement, convicts told stories of finding gold as they worked. By the mid 19th century, the news of gold had reached Europe. Soon, a gold rush was in full swing. Tent cities sprang up around the creeks and rivers of New South Wales and Victoria as the population swelled with the influx of diggers.
From Ayrshire, came William & Catherine (Menzies) McCUBBIN and their six children. They arrived aboard the ‘Lord Raglan’ in November of 1860.
Alexander McCubbin of Leswalt, Wigtownshire, did well during the gold rush days. He lived in the gold area and had land holdings. Alexander, with his wife Elizabeth Simpson and their five children, was able to afford the costly voyage back to ‘the old country’ for a visit. They returned to their home at Learmonth, via the ship ‘Great Britain’, disembarking in Victoria, Australia. They had probably done very well indeed!
Others arriving during the gold rush brought various skills with them. Among them were bakers, such as Master Baker, Alexander McCubbin, along with his wife Anne McWilliam. Setting up a bakery in Melbourne, they and their children worked together in the business. Frederick McCubbin, one of their sons, worked in the business, then struck out on his own to become one of the most well known and loved artists in Australia.
New Zealand attracted the siblings of the above Baker, Alexander McCubbin, where Sarah, Jane, John, Wilhemina, and Mary McCubbin arrived in the 1860s.
In Australia, enterprising McCUBBINS became involved as Publicans & Innkeepers and anything else they could turn their hand to. At the height of the gold rush John McCubbin, who may be a descendant of Andrew McCubbin & Agnes Black of Keir, Dumfries, was a licensed Publican, a Blacksmith, a Postmaster, a local agent & Reporter for the newspaper in Coolah, and a Storekeeper.
Those emigrants who arranged their travel to Australia were generally better off than those who left for North America. The costs involved in shipping out to Australia were obviously much higher. Australia, therefore, attracted a significant proportion of emigrants with the resources to set themselves up in business or on the land. Thus we find McCubbins arriving in Australia, whose families had been established in skilled trades or were landed farmers.
To name a few:
Master Builder of Penpont, Dumfries – George McCubbin & wife Agnes Lorimer.
Ship Carpenter & Master Boat Builders of Annan, Dumfries – James McCubbin & wife Jane Nelson & family.
Master Draper (Tailor) of Stratford on Avon, Warwick – John McCubbin & wife Martha Chubb.
Master Mariner of Lanark – Thomas McCubbin & wife Margaret Wells.
Walter McCubbin and his wife Margaret Motte, of Annan, Dumfries, were among the adventuresome families who made the long trip by unassisted passage to Victoria. Aboard the ‘King of Algeria’, January 1860, they arrived with their children, Isabella, 10, Jane, 6, James, 11, & Margaret, 2. Both Walter and Margaret were 34 years of age.
McCubbins have continued to emigrate to Australia up to the present day. No doubt similar tales as the one below enticed many to leave cooler climes.
“We are employed in the Governor’s botanic gardens…we could reach almost off our scaffolds to the lemons and oranges, fig trees, pomegranates, peaches, etc, and the parrots sitting on the trees beside us in flocks….all differing from the northern part of the globe.” (David Fairley, a carpenter who emigrated to Australia in the mid-1830s.)