Wednesday, 13 April 2016

6 Degrees of Separation- It's a small world for David Allan and Sophia Johnston

Genealogy always turns up surprises. A few days ago I made a chance discovery while checking something on my family tree. Today I'm reading from my local council’s website about this relative and a land grant he received in the early days of the Sydney colony. What’s amazing is that they are from Edinburgh, Scotland and I living in the Illawarra, south of Sydney can almost see the land from my front yard. David Allan married Sophia Johnston the sister of my 3x great grandmother Matilda Strelley nee Johnston

David Allan

The land near Red Point and known as Illawarra Farm was granted to David Allen, Deputy Commissary by Governor Lachlan Macquarie in 1816.
A Panoramic View of Port Jackson on the day of Fortune's arrival
He arrived on the “Fortune”, a convict ship transporting over 200 male convicts... He first held land in the Airds District in 1815, and took up his land grant in 1816. With him came his wife Sophia Johnston and his 8 children.
Andrew born 1798.
David Hendrie born 1800.
Robert Innes born 1801.
Henry Blair Watson born 1804.
Sophia born c1805.
John McMahon born c1808.
William Osborne born c1810.
Maria Antoinette born c1812.

George Octavius c1817. and Erskine Johnston 1818 were born in the Colony
The Fortune

David Allen was one of the first five land grantees in the Illawarra (and his son had another- see below).

The grant 85 km south of Sydney is known as portion 53 on the Parish of Wollongong map. It's bounded on the east side by the ocean(1), to the north by Tom Thumb lagoon (2) Allan’s Creek (3)and a line southerly to Lake Illawarra at Griffin's Bay (4)and easterly to Red Point(5). It's now the residential and industrial land of Port Kembla

The grant was 2200 acres (890 ha) and from this land he supplied the government extensively with meat and timber having over 2200 Sheep, 850 cattle and 20 horses. He was entitled to 8 convicts to work the land.

Governor Macquarie's diary entry written during his visit in 1822 talks about his journey to Allan's land meeting there with 100 native aboriginals who came to welcome him to the land.
Here’s an extract from his diary of 15/1/1822
Having Breakfasted we pursued our Journey at 11. a.m. along the Sea shore towards Mr. Allan's Farm at Red Point, riding chiefly on a soft Beach for 12 miles -- and through very barren unprofitable Land. ---We crossed the Entrance of Tom Thumb's Lagoon which was at this time dry -- and soon afterwards arrived at Mr. Allan's Lands, meeting there with about 100 Natives, who had assembled at this place to meet and welcome me to Illawarra. They were of various Tribes, and some of them had come all the way from Jervis's Bay -- and they all appeared to be very intimate with Mr. O'Brien. ---They all knew who I was, and most of them pronounced my name (Govr. Macquarie) very distinctly. ---They were very civil, and I regretted exceedingly that I had no Tobacco for them. Having remained with them for about Ten minutes, we resumed our Journey to Mr. Allan's Establishment. It is a pretty enough Farm, and a good deal of it is cultivated, but it is too near the Sea, and falls far short of the fine description I have heard the Proprietor and others give of it. ---We ascended a Hill at the Eastern extremity of this Farm, from whence we had a very fine view of the Coast to the Southward as far as Basse's Head, as well as of the grand Sheet of Inland Water or Lake called Allowrie or Illawarra -- which is about 20 miles in circumference, and has a communication with the Sea by a very narrow channel.---

Eventually the land was sold by Jones in 1827 and then to Wentworth who renamed the land Five Islands Estate. Today the area hosts major industrial and residential land with the uses including shipping of coal, copper smelting. steelworks and harbour facilities.

Upon arriving in NSW Allan received the following authority “placing the whole of the Commissariat Department, Civil and Military, in the said Territory and its Dependencies, under his entire Direction and Control". It appears Allan may have taken advantage of his position and exceeded his authority and Macquarie because The Australian Dictionary of Biography - David Allan doesn’t exactly give him a good reference as they say. 

Apparently the governor thought that Allan indulged in 'considerable private and Clandestine commercial Speculations' as well, setting an example which had 'a most prejudicial effect' on the conduct of his subordinates, two of whom were later convicted of robbery and fraud. The attraction of Government issued Promissory notes can be a bit tempting it seems.  At the time Allan was described by pastoralist George Johnston junior, as 'a compound of perfidy, hypocrisy and I may even add dishonesty', It may have been sour grapes as his tenders for beef supplies were being rejected by Allan. I’m sure it had nothing to do with Allan’s appointment of his own son as a Commissariat clerk which Johnston was not happy about...

Anyhow the Treasury sent out Frederick Drennan who replaced him in January 1819 and by July David Allan and the family who had sold all their furniture from their “Woolloomooloo House “ were sailing for home in the “Surry”. Sophia died suddenly back in England in 1821on the eve of David’s departure to take up a Commissariat position in Barbados.

He married a second wife, Elizabeth, née Ronnie, and their son, Maxwell Rennie, was born in Scotland in 1828 Back in Portobello Edinburgh Allan was examined about his Administration of the Colony. He must have been exonerated as he and the family returned to NSW on the “Prince Regent” in August 1829.

 David died on 26 April 1852 at Paddington, Sydney after remaining on the payroll on half pay until his death.

Eventually all the children except David were reunited in the colony. Andrew not highly respected for his work in the Commissariat married Augusta a daughter of Nicholas Bayly.
He had also been given a land grant near Jamberoo called "Waterloo". Robert married Sophia Dewes and was a grazier (squatter) on Balls Run near Port Phillip Victoria. Sophia returned and married John Tyre from the Commissariat. Maria Antoinette married George Rattray in Sydney. 

Henry, John and William became early settlers in the Victorian Port Phillip area. In 1839 the brothers William and Henry Allan took up their ‘Allandale’ pastoral run adjoining the Hopkins River near Warnambool Victoria. Brother, John Allan, owned an adjoining property ‘Tooram’.

Maxwell became the Principal under Secretary of the Colonial Secretary’s Department and Eliza, unmarried continued to live in Sydney until her death.

I’m sure there was some divine intervention when my eye suddenly caught Sophia Johnston’s name in the Ancestry records. My Dad (related to Matilda Johnston and the Strelleys) would be chuffed to be related to some early colonial “royalty” especially in Sydney town and the Illawarra. I’m sure he continues his “research “up in the heavens. “I knew some Allans from Sydney” or " I’m related to the Strelleys- where do you fit in?”  
Might I add that the Johnston family was involved in a very shrinking world back then in the 1800s? Talk about 6 degrees of separation. Sophia’s nephew Harley Johnston joined the West Australian Company, formed by a number of prominent people in England to establish a settlement in an area called Australind just north of Bunbury. Harley sailed to the new colony of Western Australia in the “Island Queen” in August 1840. Harley’s son, Harry Johnston, also a surveyor, eventually became Surveyor General of Western Australia. His son, Frederick Johnston, born in 1885 was Commonwealth Surveyor General.

In another degree of separation Matilda’s sister in law Lucy Strelley had gone with her Husband and family to the colony of WA in 1833. Dr Harris was very briefly the company doctor for Australind and his and Lucy’s sons William Edward Strelley Harris and Joseph Harris were early settlers and public servants. Another daughter Lucy married Yule of Houghton’s Winery fame and Mary married one of the Gregory explorers.

David Allan >>Sophia Johnston>>Harley Johnston>>Dr Joseph Harris>>Gregory Explorers (visited the Illawarra)

David Allan>>Sophia Johnston>>William Strelley>>Lucy Strelley>> Harris Children >> Yule and Gregory explorers

Amazing – we think the world is shrinking now with Facebook, internet and fast travel but these were new unexplored colonies in the early 1800s and thousands of kilometres away from their home base. My relatives, their wives and children had collectively covered so much of the world in slow boats and extreme conditions communicating over months not seconds. They are documented for their part in the settlement of NSW, Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland- not bad.


  1. Here's an email post from my mate Kevin
    Congratulations, Robyn, on a very readable and fascinating account of David Allan along with your Strelley and Johnston ancestors.

    It's great to be able to make connection with Australia's settlement pioneers.

    Your blogs are getting even better.

    Kevin Anderson

  2. Hi Robyn
    What a great read. David Allan was my 4th Great Grandfather, and all of this has been a revelation to me. Thanks for your post and research. Annemaree Clementson

  3. Hi Anne Maree, yes it was fun to discover this and now I have found lots of others related to David and Sophia plus a DNA match. How do you fit into the tree? Email me on
    cheers Robyn