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  • Kylie Sprott

Finding Mary Jane and Margaret

The main reason I came to visit Rothesay and the Isle of Bute is because of my Scottish Gran, Mary Jane. This is where she grew up and this is the place she spoke of when she talked about Scotland.

My Gran was not the happiest of people. In fact, as I remember her, I struggle to remember her smiling much or having much joy in her face. I remember the touches of Scotland around her modest home in Toowoomba - her tartan kilt, her brooch that featured heather, her love of the bagpipes, tea and shortbread.

But she didn't talk that much about her childhood. She never mentioned her own mother (Margaret) to me, although I know that my mum loved her so. She did tell me once about the long journey from Scotland to Australia on a ship that took months and the few possessions she was permitted to bring.

When I eventually visited Rothesay back in 1991, I rang her from there. I found her old home and took copious photos. I bought every souvenir I could find, including a framed, Victorian photo of Rothesay as it would have looked back in her day. That photo now hangs in my home in Brisbane. I remember studying her face as I presented her with this bounty of gifts. I think I was hoping for a huge emotional reaction, but there was only a wistful look.

On that first visit, it was incredibly swift - literally we arrived one afternoon and left the next morning. When I returned in 2022, I stayed for a lot longer and really had a good look around. I found her house again and it really had not changed on the outside since 1991.

Their old house is very close to my new flat - and I am now even more curious about what it was like to live there. We have so little information and now, my curiosity about my Gran, her mother Margaret and the rest of their family has only heightened.

As in most families, there are a lot of stories surrounding Mary Jane and Margaret. There are more questions and speculation than there are facts. So, I decided it was time to get to the bottom of things.

At the Museum of Bute, I discovered a resident genealogist, Isabel. Although she was not at the museum on either of my visits to Bute, the museum was very helpful and provided me with her email address.

Isabel has commenced her research and already she has started to uncover some exciting new pieces of information. The first was the real birth date of my Gran - which is actually different to the one we always celebrated. The second was the name of my Gran's father - William Morris. William didn't travel to Australia with his wife Margaret and daughter Mary-Jane, but stayed behind in Rothesay. He was a fisherman and it looks like he died on Rothesay, so he is likely to be buried there too. I am excited to find out more about him and his side of the family.

Isabel is also busily tracing back Margaret's side - the McVicar family. As she delves deeper into this side, my curiosity has only increased. I am interested to understand their history on Bute and how they lived. It will be amazing to have this newfound knowledge the next time I visit.

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