James Dewar 1829-1907
from Pilkington Family Collection
My great-grandfather James Dewar was born in the village of Kincardine, on the Firth of Forth in Perthshire, Scotland on 20 April 1829. He was the seventh of eight children born to James Dewar, a baker, and his wife Margaret Abercrombie.
In times past Kincardine was a prosperous sea port and major ferry point for crossing the Firth. In the early 1800’s it comprised major ship-building yards and associated industries, salt-mining works, a distillery and collieries. In 1819 Kincardine village had a population of 1200, although many more people would have lived in the surrounding area.
By 1841, James senior had moved his bakery business to Dunfermline, ten miles away in the neighbouring county of Fifeshire. Only James junior and his younger brother Alexander were still living with their parents. Later, the family moved again, to the village of Calderbank in Lanarkshire, where Margaret Abercrombie had come from. The 1851 census recorded James (senior), Margaret and Alexander living at Pettigrew’s Land, Calderbank. James was still listed as a baker, while 19 year old Alexander was employed as a puddler in the local coal mining industry. There is no record of great-grandfather James with the family at this time, and I have been unable to conclusively identify him in the 1851 census in Scotland.
The circumstances surrounding James’s emigration to Australia are subject to speculation as I have been unable to establish with any certainty when and why he arrived. His death certificate states his time in the colony as 51 years in Victoria, giving an arrival year of 1856. The closest match I have found is 20 year old James Dewar who sailed from Glasgow on the Brooksby, arriving in Port Phillip on 14 October 1852.
The 1850’s were the height of the Gold Rush to Victoria, and it is reasonable to assume the goldfields would have been the destination of most single young men arriving in the colony at this time. In 1856 there is a James Dewar on the Electoral Roll listed as having a Miner’s Right at Golden Point near Castlemaine. The following year, a newspaper report of a land sale at Castlemaine records James Dewar as having purchased 28 acres on Golden Point Road for the sum of £36.10.0. There are newspaper listings of unclaimed mail for James Dewar, held at the GPO Melbourne between 1852 and 1854, and at Castlemaine Post Office between 1855 and 1857. Although this scenario would fit with what we know about James’ life, there is no certainty that this is the same man.
|Golden Point diggings 1852|
Ham, Thomas, and D. Tulloch. GOLDEN POINT, MT. ALEXANDER. [picture], 1852. http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/266975
The first conclusive evidence of James in Victoria is his 1859 marriage to Margaret Hill in Geelong. English-born Margaret arrived in Port Phillip in 1856, giving her occupation as housemaid. According to their marriage certificate, James was a quarryman. They settled in the Geelong area, where six children were born between 1860 and 1870. At the time that daughter Rosa was born in 1866, James was a ratepayer in nearby Batesford.
James was a member of the Corio branch of the Sons of Temperance Society between 1867 and 1869. This was a brotherhood movement founded to support its members in resisting the evils of alcohol, spread the temperance message and provide assistance in times of distress.
By 1871, the family were living at Tootgarook on the other side of Port Phillip Bay, where James was appointed to the Primary School committee. In 1872 a seventh child was born, and in 1874 my grandmother Evelyn completed the family. On both birth certificates, James’ occupation is Limeburner. Lime was an important ingredient for Melbourne’s building trade, and lime kilns were established in the area from the 1830’s.
In 1874, reports appeared in the news about a potential site for development of a lime industry at Waratah Bay on Victoria’s southern coast. By 1878 James was appointed manager of the new works, a position he held until his death. The settlement of Waratah, later renamed Walkerville, grew around the kilns on the foreshore, with access only by sea in the early years. (I have previously written about the history of Walkerville in another post.) Additional civic duties James performed were Post Master, Electoral Registrar and Assistant Inspector of Fisheries. Throughout his time at Walkerville, James held the contract for maintenance of the wharf and jetty lights, being paid an additional £15 per annum. Family stories suggest he also acted in the capacity of Undertaker. Margaret undertook teaching the children of the settlement until a teacher was appointed.
In a memoir of her life at Walkerville, grand-daughter Hope remembers her grandfather’s broad Scots accent and sometimes lurid language as he supervised the loading of bagged lime into the ships at the jetty. The loading required meticulous attention because of the combustible nature of lime should it come into contact with water during the voyage to Melbourne. Hope also recalled James spending time in his extensive vegetable garden behind his home.
In his later years, James had a leg amputated after a wound became infected, a potentially fatal condition in the years before antibiotics. On the 4th October 1907, the men working on the jetty noticed smoke billowing from the bedroom window of the manager’s house. They hurried back to find the old Scotsman unconscious on the floor. Apparently he had been lighting a candle and suffered a stroke. The burning mattress was dragged onto the beach, where Hope remembers it smouldering all day. James lingered for 6 days, passing away on 10th October 1907.
James was interred beside Margaret, who had died in 1899, in the cemetery on the hill above the bay where he had lived and worked for 30 years. His estate valued at £2438 was divided equally between his eight children.
|Dewar graves - Walkerville Cemetery|
Today, Walkerville is a quiet and picturesque place, popular in summer for boating and fishing. A few holiday homes dot the hillside behind the remains of the kiln chimneys, and a single timber pillar remains of the long jetty which once curved out into the bay. The wall containing the fireplace of James Dewar’s home has been incorporated into a retaining wall along the roadside leading to the beach.
This work was originally written for the "Introduction to Family History" unit, University of Tasmania's Diploma of Family History. A fully referenced PDF of this biography is available on request.