skip to content

McDonald, Mr Martin Livingstone 'Thomas'

Thomas McDonald was a teacher in the Canberra district for around twenty years - firstly at the Part Time schools of Carwoola and Foxhole (1888-1891), then at Michelago (1891-1895), and finally Gundaroo (1895-1907). Biographical notes have been contributed by his descendant Chris McDonald:

Martin Livingston 'Thomas'  McDonald - Pioneering School Teacher/Headmaster, NSW

Martin Livingston 'Thomas' McDonald was born 3rd May 1865 near Tenterfield NSW. He was the first of his family to be born in Australia. He married Isabella Love (b. 12th August 1867 in Braidwood NSW) on the 26th May 1883 at Bethel House, George Street, North Sydney. Thomas was 21, Isabella was 16.  Isabella's father, John Love, (see below) owned a shop in Armidale, NSW, where they met during the early stages of Thomas's teaching career.

Thomas McDonald was first appointed as a pupil teacher at Armidale on January 5th, 1880. On the tenth of May 1883, he resigned. However, a local Church Minister decided to reemploy him as a teacher at Square Mountain on the 29th August, 1883. A year later, he was transferred to Binda Public School, then Michelago (1891-1895).

From 1895 to 1907, the McDonald family engaged in many activities at Gundaroo. The local school, community hall, library and church is the centre of this activity as Thomas Martin McDonald the school teacher, teaches his own, as well as the local children. He is also a skilled firstst aid worker and amateur 'medico' and dentist.  Although the conditions are harsh (no electricity) they all still have an enjoyable and active lifestyle.

Activities include cricket, tennis, board games, artistic competitions, dancing, singing, music, poetic and comic recitations. These are often held in conjunction with other local schools and community groups including the annual 'Rockley Exhibition'. Thomas McDonald is also involved in raising money for various causes such as the Gundaroo Cricket Club (Secretary), the school and the local library.
In 1907 Thomas was transferred to MacPhail Public School (near the Tomingley Gold mine) north of  Peak Hill, in the Dubbo region. From 1911-1918  Thomas is Head Master at Shepherdstown Public School near Adelong. A bible was presented to him by the students in 1918, and he helped to set up a bank account through the Red Cross to raise funds for a WW1 Soldiers memorial - still at Adelong today.

He went on to teach at many more schools, the last being Karangi, near Coffs Harbour, in 1926. On 7th June 1927 he retired to  farm-life.  He died in aged 70 years old on 2nd July 1935 at Sawtell, south of Coffs Harbour. He had a stroke while milking a cow on his farm. The cow stood on him and caused severe injuries, from which he died several weeks later in Coffs Harbour hospital. He is buried at Coffs Harbour historic Cemetery – Row A Plot 27.

[Grateful thanks to Chris McDonald]

Errol Lea-Scarlett has written of thomas McDonald's time at Gundaroo. He was transferred to Gundaroo from Michelago in 1891:

"........bringing with him his wife and five children who endured discomfort in trying to fit into the cramped four-roomed teacher's residence.

"With a roll call of about 50 children in the old school building of 1869, McDonald found in summer time a situation which reversed the winter problems of the frost-bound teachers in the outlying bush schools "Daily the teacher is compelled to go out in the open air to recover sufficient strength and energy to proceed with his duties", wrote J.F. Cox in 1897, "while every child has to carry a bottle of drinking water to school owing to the bad state of the school tank water which really stinks and is a floating mass of insects etc." Miss Annie Anderson, as local medical authority, had already warned of the danger of epidemic disease breaking out in the overcrowded school and Affleck persuaded the Minister of Public Instruction to visit Gundaroo, but it appeared to be principally owing to the efforts of E.W. O'Sullivan that the decision to build a new school was taken early in 1898 against the objections of Inspector D.J. Cooper who believed that Gundaroo provided an example of "wants which have either never existed, or have quickly disappeared, leaving mementoes of hopes that were too sanguine, or of opportunities not wisely directed". In spite of that, O'Sullivan had still to obtain permission for the school to be conducted in the Courthouse during the early months of 1898 although the expected move there was not made on account of the early onset of cold weather" [Errol Lea-Scarlett, Gundaroo, p.115]

Elsewhere Lea-Scarlett observes that McDonald was a source of medical aid in the community, where this was in scarce supply: "He could not do much for one of his pupils who fell and broke a leg while playing with other children, but armed with Mrs Wales's forceps he proved to be an intrepid dentist by extracting thirty teeth in one week from youthful patients lined up on the school verandah" [ibid 97]. He was also the owner of a celebrated buggy [made famous in a song by local luminary William Clemenger]:

'Clear Cork Street and give friend Mac a chance
His pair of fiery equines to control'.

When John Still O'Hara, who invented the game, brought rockley - a cross between cricket and rounders - to Gundaroo, Tom McDonald was a supporter, and allowed O'Hara to instruct the children join the game and form a Rockley team [ibid 135].

McDonald was also an enthusiastic contributor to William Clemenger's very popular annual variety concerts, which came to an end shortly after Tom - co-producer since 1895 - was transferred to Macphail, near Dubbo:

In the days which thus reached their end McDonald was a never-failing 'hit' in his Scottish songs. although on one occasion he almost terminated his stage career when, in kilts, he allowed himself to be carried away to expose his bare knees to the shocked and angered ladies in the audience. As well as his own part as producer and script-writer, Clemenger frequently appealed in person, too. Thoroughly enjoying the negro minstrel acts in which he always played "Tambo" to his brother-in-law Bob Booth's "Bones", with either Les Dyce or Jack Affleck acting as interlocutors. In more carefully prepared pieces neither Affleck nor Clemenger could ever remember their lines, so McDonald used to hide backstage and prompt Clemenger line by line as he pranced about before the audience. At times the dramatic tension of the concerts reached great pitch, and once when McDonald, saw in hand, was about to amputate a leg from a cadaver represented by Clemenger, an old lady in the audience, Mrs Harold Dyce, rushed up to the stage crying "Don't do it! Don't do it!". Bob Booth, although not trusted with the more eloquent roles, acquired fame by his response to congratulations on the expert manner in which he led a kerosene-tin percussion band behind one of Charley Clemenger's songs: "I'd ha' been all right, only I belted the 'harse' out o'me can". [ibid 137]

Thomas McDonald teacher - Service record.

Date of Birth: 3.5.1865

5.1.1880 Pupil teacher, Armidale Public School
10.5.1883 Resigned
29.8.1883 Re-employed as temnporary teacher, Square Mountain Public School
17.5. 1884 Teacher of Binda Public School
30.4.1885 Resigned
3.3.1888 Re-employed as Temporary teacher of Carwoola and Foxlowe HT Schools
16.12.1891 Teacher of Michelago Public School
19.7.1895 Teacher of Gundaroo Public School
15.10.1907 Teacher of McPhail Public School (Peak Hill, Dubbo)
6.11.1909 Teacher of Brocklehurst Public School (Dubbo West)
17.1.1911 Teacher of Sheperdstown Public School (Adelong)
5.12.1918 Teacher of Picton Public School
23.12.1921 Teacher of Comboyne West Public School (Port Macquarie)
1923-1926 Temporary teacher or Assistant teacher at: Eungai, Ben Venue, Wangat, Maitland West, Pelaw Main, Putney, Eumungerie, Duntroon, Narrabri West, Minmi, Neutral Bay
13.4.1926 Teacher of Karangi Public School (Coffs Harbour)

7.6.1927 Retired


Teachers >

<< Early Canberra Government Schools