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Rediscovering Ginninderra:
Hugh 'Ewan' McPherson

Born: 1805; Died: 1879; Married: Isabella [McKay]

Hugh Ewan McPherson was born in Ross and Cromarty in Ross-shire, Scotland in 1805. He was the son of schoolmaster John McPherson and Eliza Stewart. Hugh, also known as Ewan, was a cooper by occupation, a person who made wooden barrels. In 1824, he married Isabella McKay daughter of David McKay and Margaret McIntosh.

In 1838, he was brought out as an assisted migrant by the government to work on Robert Campbell’s property, Duntroon, in the Limestone Plains. By that time they had five children: Eliza, John, Margaret, David, James and Catherine (Kitty). They left Cromarty on the 17th September 1838. Hugh and his family arrived in Sydney on May 10th 1839 on the ship ‘Asia'. Isabella gave birth to another daughter, Jemima in Sydney, 1840.

The family moved to Duntroon and Hugh became the Head-Shepherd working for Robert Campbell. He was stationed at Mugga Mugga where his hut was situated. Patrick Curley, a thirteen year old ‘junior shepherd’ worked and lived with the McPherson family for quite a number of years.

Shumack describes a horrible event regarding one of the children:

The first drowning fatality at Canberra was in 1843 in the Molonglo River south of the Glebe farm. David Macpherson, a youth of twelve years, was the victim. St John’s Church was in course of construction and the builder, a man named Cameron, was a friend of the Macpherson family, who lived at the Cross Roads, Ainslie. Cameron and some of his men used to visit the Macpherson home periodically and pass a couple of hours away. One evening Mrs Macpherson called to her husband, ‘Here come the men, Hugh. There are some strangers with them and they are carrying something.’ Macpherson went to look while she cleared away the dishes after the evening meal. He called out, ‘Where are the men you spoke of? I can see no one.’ His wife had another look and then said, ‘My goodness! Where have they gone? There were six men and they were carrying something.’ Macpherson then had a good look around but found nothing, and he and his wife were greatly upset. The following evening at the same hour a party of six men were seen approaching the Macpherson home carrying a burden. It was the body of their son David, who was drowned half an hour previously when swimming in the river. The bereaved mother’s vision was a household story for many years. Macpherson’s wife and son David are buried in the Honeysuckle Reserve, where a headstone was erected to their memory. This stone was later destroyed by stock, and the fence enclosing the plot wherein lie buried a dozen or more pioneers was destroyed by fire in 1870 and was never renewed.

In November 1959, Hugh purchased 50 acres in the Parish of Goorooyarroo, next to John Winter’s property, Red Hill. Many neighbours ended up marrying children of Hugh, including the Gozzards, Camerons and Winters. Hugh was now working as a farmer on his property. Lyall Gillespie describes an incident relating to the Aboriginal people living in the area:

'Isabella McPherson.........was frightened when Aborigines gathered near her home, but her husband, Hugh, temporarily solved the problem. He presented the chief with a plug of tobacco, provided that he dispersed his men'.

Hugh and Isabella had in total seven children, of which only one was born in Australia; Eliza, John, Margaret, David, James, Catherine (Kitty) and Jemima. Eliza married John McIntosh of Majura. Their son, James grew up to be a senior police sergeant – he helped capture the bushranger, Captain Moonlite as well as single-handedly arresting Thomas Rogan, another bushranger.

In 1875, Hugh’s wife, Isabella McKay died at their home in Ginninderra. Hugh died at Majura four years later at the age of 74. Both of them are buried at St John the Baptist church in Reid, next to their daughter Jemima Winter, and grand-daughter Elizabeth Ginn.

[contributed by Dylan Rattenbury]

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