Connecting Largs to Brisbane

A few years ago in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, I got a chance to walk down Paton Street and Bell Street at Kangaroo Point. Both streets are short walks running parallel to each other off River Terrace, which provides a fantastic view of the city centre across the River Brisbane. My interest in the area lay in the fact that the two streets were named after emigrant members of my family in the 19th century.

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Paton Street, Kangaroo Point

Helen Paton was my four times great aunt (born 2 JAN 1813 Perth, Perthshire), the sister of my three times great grandfather William Paton. She married David Bell in Perth on 15 APR 1836, and in 1849 the couple emigrated to Australia on board the Chasely, a Presbyterian migrant ship (along with the Lima and the Fortitude), organised by the Reverend John Dunmore Lang, who as it happens, was from here in Largs. 

From contemporary Queensland newspapers I have discovered that having worked for a Captain Robert Towns for several years after his arrival (managing punts between Brisbane and Ipswich), David had built a store in Stanley Street in 1863, going into partnership with Harry Clifford Love, the husband of his daughter Anne. The partners were fined in May 1868 for breaching the Publicans’ Act, by selling spirits in measures less than two gallons, and three months later they dissolved their partnership. A Brisbane Courier article from July 1870 shows that David had by then expanded his business to three stores. The first was the city’s largest general store, the second concerned farm produce, whilst the third showed that David had been able to get in on the cotton act, with a gin-house built to bale and pack cotton grown in the area.

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Annie Paton Love, daughter of Helen Paton and David Bell

David’s standing in the community was certainly high. In 1868 the Duke of Edinburgh visited Brisbane, and David was one of the fully costumed Brisbane Highlanders to personally greet him at Queen’s Park. An article from May 1871 showed that as part of his Highland outfit, David had commissioned a local Brisbane craftsman to make him an expensive ornamented dirk, to promote the talents of the settlement’s skilled silversmiths. But had he become a councillor? I trawled the papers and found letters in the Brisbane Courier of February 4th 1874, asking David to accept the nomination to stand for election, which he did. He contested the town’s South Ward with a publican called John Nolan, but lost.

Over the next few years things took a turn for the worse, when on April 19th 1876, David was suddenly declared bankrupt. An examination of his accounts at a court hearing in May 1877 showed that there had been an unaccounted £650 shortfall in his books, forcing his bankruptcy, which was not discharged until 1879. In reading his obituary in May 1891 the real reason for his failure became clearer. With the construction of the Victoria Bridge and the advent of trams and buses, trade had simply bypassed him, and he had been unable to compete.

There were no further reports of David standing for election, and other than announcements of the children marrying, the family made little further appearance in the papers, though ironically, David’s and Helen’s son John was also to try his hand as a merchant before also being driven to bankruptcy in 1879.

It’s nice to know that in years to come, somewhere on the planet there is a wee corner named after my family which will continue to exist long after I’m gone. It’s not a long street, an important street, or even a particularly beautiful looking street. But that doesn’t matter – it’s Paton Street – and therefore the genealogical equivalent, as far as I am concerned, of a flag planted on the moon! 

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Brisbane, from Kangaroo Point

There was a subsequent follow up to this discovery back here in Largs. The connections to this North Ayrshire town and the Australian city of Brisbane are very deep – Brisbane itself was named after the local Brisbane family here, with Thomas Makdougall Brisbane the first governor of the colony (and later city) that still bears his name. Sir Thomas was later buried in a vault of Largs Old Kirk beside the museum, after being recalled to Scotland in 1825, just four years into the job. The Reverend John Dunmore Lang was also a local man, born near Greenock in 1799, just up the road, but raised in Largs as a child. A memorial to him is still to be found in the town today.

But imagine my surprise when travelling along the A78 from Greenock recently, when I discovered that there is a small enclosure on the outskirts of Largs named after the vessel that carried my four times great aunt down under. Chaseley Gardens is not a large place by any means – but it is another hidden link to a story that most Largs folk today will have little knowledge of.

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Chaseley Gardens, on the A78 north of Largs
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