Andrew and Elizabeth Wotherspoon, 11 December 1838

Andrew Wotherspoon was born on 31st July 1811 in Glasgow, Scotland. On 10 July 1836, he married Elizabeth Watson at Greenock, Scotland. Elizabeth Watson was born on 11 March 1817 in Glasgow, Scotland. She lived to the age of 76 years, dying on 13 September 1893. Andrew had predeceased her, dying on 18 April 1887, at the age of 75. Elizabeth is buried with Andrew in the North Lismore Cemetery. They are my great-great-great-grandparents.

Andrew and Elizabeth, later in life

Soon after they married, they boarded the ship James Pattison to sail to the Colonies. The ship, under the charge of James Cromarty, Master, set sail from Plymouth on 1 August 1838; it arrived in Port Jackson from England on 11 December 1838 with 300 emigrants in good health, including Andrew and Elizabeth Wotherspoon. So that arrival is 184 years ago today!

The James Pattison had twice sailed from England to the colonies with convicts (1829–30, and 1837). In between those trips, in 1835–36, the ship transported 238 free women, emigrating from Ireland to New South Wales. The 1838 trip was yet another journey bringing 300 emigrants to a new life in the colony. They were supplemented by the birth of five children during the voyage—although 11 people on board died during this trip to the colony, during which the ship became becalmed; she had to sail around Van Dieman’s Land rather than through the Bass Straight.

Prior to his marriage, Andrew had attended Glasgow University, taking courses in Latin and Greek; he completed his course in 1831, but did not matriculate, because he was a Free Presbyterian who held supreme allegiance to God, rather than any human monarch. Matriculation required swearing allegiance to the King, so he declined to participate.

Relatively few people, at that time, received education to such a level. Andrew, with his above-average educational achievements, spent much of his time in the Colony of New South Wales as a teacher—first, at the School of St John the Baptist’s Church in what is now the suburb of Reid on Canberra (in those days, it was part of the Queanbeyan district); then in Lismore, in the northern rivers region to the far north of NSW. He also worked as Postmaster in Lismore.

Before securing the teacher’s position at St John’s, probably in the mid-1840s, the records show that Andrew worked as a trunk maker in Sydney (1839), an ironmonger in Parramatta (1841), a clerk in Goulburn (1844), and then a teacher at Long Swamp near Bungendore (1846). These are the occupations that are noted in the church records for the baptism of the first four children of Elizabeth and Andrew.

Elizabeth was busy, of course, keeping home, giving birth to children, and being responsible for raising them. There were nine children in all. The firstborn, Janet Bell, bore the name of her maternal grandmother, Elizabeth’s mother, Janet Bell. She was born in Sydney on 24 Jan 1839.

Two years later, James was born in Sydney (born 29 April 1841, died 16 July 1923). Then came Walter, given the name of Elizabeth’s father, Walter Watson (born Goulburn 13.12.1843; died 20.3.1909), Robert Scott (born Goulburn 6. 5.1846; died 9.8.1893), and my great-grandmother, Eliza Jane (born Ginninderra 23.10.1848; died 22.8.1924).

There followed William Watson (born Yass 23.10.1851; died 30.3.1894); Violet (born Ginninderra 17. 2.1854; died 27.3.1934); Andrew Morton (born Ginninderra 22.12.1857; died 10.10.1928) and Kenneth McDonald (born Queanbeyan, 13.3.1860; died 5.5.1943).

Andrew and Elizabeth with their sons
(but not daughters!!)

St. John’s Church was established on land owned by the Campbells of Duntroon in 1841 and St. John’s school was set up 4 years later. Andrew is recorded as the school teacher in 1848, but may have been teaching there earlier. He was dismissed by Charles Campbell after a disagreement between them in 1853. Wotherspoon left the school and took up farming at Goat Station, near Coppins Crossing.

Following a tragedy in the family on 3 March 1859, when his 20-year old daughter Janet was drowned, Andrew opened a school at Ginninderra which he conducted for a few years, whilst also running a sheep station there. He was again offered the St John’s school and he taught there in 1861 and 1862.

The schoolhouse beside St John the Baptist Church at Reid is now a Museum

Of course, at this time, there was no Canberra. Copping Crossing, Gininnderra, and the St John the Baptist church, all were outliers to the town of Queanbeyan, which grew from the residence established by an ex-convict and inn keeper, Timothy Beard, who squatted on the banks of the Molonglo River.

By 1838, when there were 50 people resident in the district, Queanbeyan was officially proclaimed a township. By 1860, the town had a regular newspaper, The Golden Age (it subsequently became the Queanbeyan Age). A regular letter-writer to this newspaper was one Andrew Wotherspoon. In my research I have discovered that my ancestor, a staunch Presbyterian, was aggrieved that, whilst he was able to teach at St John the Baptist, the Presbyterians were denied the use of the church for worship.

His letters, initially sent anonymously, were full-on, calling out the bigotry of the so-called Christians of the Anglican church. Mr George Campbell and Rev. P. G. Smith resented the implica­tions in these letters, and when the identity of the author finally became known they tried to have Wotherspoon dismissed. They failed. The letters to the press continued—bitter but truthful.

In the end, Wotherspoon was dismissed from his post, and he took his wife and children to Lismore on the north coast of New South Wales in 1863, where he became the first schoolteacher, and then the local Postmaster, from 1864 to 1871. It seems that his departure from St John’s School was also driven by reports of Andrew Wotherspoon’s involvement with a younger female person in the area.

There is a detailed discussion of events both in Queanbeyan (now Canberra) and then in Lismore, at https://archibaldcurrie.page.tl/Andrew-Wotherspoons-family.htm

Andrew was rarely free of public controversy, which the local newspapers happily reported. In 1867, for instance, six parents of schoolchildren taught by him had petitioned the Council of Education to investigate the incompetency of Mr Wotherspoon, alleging that their children’s education was being “neglected and retarded”. A School Inspector was sent to deal with the matter in 1870, and another in 1872, as a result of which Andrew was to be “severely reprimanded and cautioned”.

There was another petition in 1874, which upheld Andrew’s view of matters; but the opening of a rival school by the disgruntled parents led to a decline in enrolments at Andrew’s school, and he ceased teaching later in 1874. He opened a store in Woodlark St in 1876. He died in 1887 and Elizabeth died in 1893.

One of Andrew’s descendants, Noel Wotherspoon, has compiled a biography of Andrew and Elizabeth with an extensive family tree; he sorties, “Possibly some of Andrew’s (now) distant descendants may consider him to have been narrow minded—by today’s standards. However, no one could deny that he had the public courage of his convictions and does deserve great credit for a meritorious life.”

Eliza Jane, my great-great-grandmother,
with her second husband, James Walker,
and her children from both marriages.
Herbert Taylor is at the left rear.

My line of descent from Andrew and Elizabeth is through Eliza Jane (1848–1924), Herbert Taylor (1873–1931), Jack Leslie Taylor (1897–1968), and my mother, Joan Hazel Squires, née Taylor. I am grateful that Elizabeth and Andrew made the decision to travel to the Colony all those years ago!

Author: John T Squires

My name is John Squires. I live in the Australian Capital Territory. I have been an active participant in the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) since it was formed in 1977, and was ordained as a Minister of the Word in this church in 1980. I have served in rural, regional, and urban congregations and as a Presbytery Resource Minister and Intentional Interim Minister. For two decades I taught Biblical Studies at a theological college and most recently I was Director of Education and Formation and Principal of the Perth Theological Hall. I've studied the scriptures in depth; I hold a number of degrees, including a PhD in early Christian literature. I am committed to providing the best opportunities for education within the church, so that people can hold to an informed faith, which is how the UCA Basis of Union describes it. This blog is one contribution to that ongoing task.

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