Alexander and Elizabeth Maitland - 1848

The story starts with Alexander Maitland who was born in Renfrew, by the Clyde close to Glasgow in 1801, and settled in the Mount Pleasant area of South Australia about 50 km inland from Adelaide. His son described him as “from Ayrshire” so we suspect that his origin would have been the Maitlands of Dumfries and Galloway. Although Alexander is frequently used amongst these families, there is no mention of him in the Rogers Harrison pedigree, but this may suggest a connection with that area.

It was pretty adventurous of him to emigrate to Australia at the age of 47. He was old by the standards of the day, and died six years later.

He took with him his wife Elizabeth Cathcart, also born in Renfrew. (Lord Cathcart was a substantial landowner in Renfrew and Ayrshire.) They travelled in the newly built clipper barque Constance, 578 tons, which left London on 16thMay, Plymouth on the 26th and arrived in Adelaide on 30thAugust 1848 – a passage of 91 days, which the Master, Captain J. Godfrey considered slow because he was not permitted by the Emigration Commissioner to sail south of 40º for safety reasons.

It was not a happy voyage – their eldest daughter Elizabeth died a week after arriving in Australia, aged 19. A daughter, Elizabeth was born three months later.

Alexander got a job as a storeman when he arrived in Adelaide, but at his death in 1854 he was described as a labourer. The eldest son, James, started his working life as a 7 shillings a week shepherd boy, and finished with a 6,000 acre estate, President of the Clare Agricultural Society, chairman and councillor of the Hutt and Hill rivers District council an a JP. His estate was declared at £52,500 in 1922.  Not bad going!

James wrote an account of his life around 1920. We feature some highlights. In quotes we use James own words, but italics are the Editor’s paraphrase. For the full text, please e-mail the Chief

“We sailed from Leith on the 10thMay 1848 and joined the Constance in London, and waited a fortnight before we could get away, and picked up several families at Plymouth and Cornish ports. The ship Constance was a new ship of about 650 tons and nice and clean. We reached Port Adelaide on the 27thAugust 1848. It was a very primitive looking place in those days. There was not metal on any of the streets. Bullock teams were more in use than horse teams.

“The Burra Mines were in full swing. All those who could muster a team or two of  bullocks went off and carted copper ore to Port Adelaide.

“A little later on gold was found at Bathurst NSW in July 1851 and then at Ballarat and Mount Alexander. By the end of the year people were making off to Melbourne.

The diggers took their gold to the Commission at Castlemaine and got a receipt for it and posted the receipt to their wives or friends in Adelaide and when the receipt was presented at the treasury a similar quantity of gold was handed over to them.

“The gold escort was quite an imposing sight in those days, the gold was carried on a plain open cart with a seat for two men. Two troopers rode in front, two on the side and two behind, dressed in scarlet jumpers and fully armed with sword and pistol.  There were several pubs on the route. If they wanted a drink two of the troopers would go in at a time while the others kept guard. Money was very scarce as a medium of exchange and many of the business houses issued 2/6 and 5/- to get over the difficulty.

“On arrival at Port Adelaide it was customary for settlers to come down to the ship and engage new arrivals. My father got employment as a storeman, I was engaged as a shepherd at 7/- a week. It seems a low wage now, but everything was low and cheap at the time as there was no such thing as sending produce to Europe.”

James then joined the gold rush, in Melbourne, Forrest Creek diggings, Castlemain and Echunga 23 miles from Adelaide.

“Melbourne was not as far advanced at that time as Adelaide, the public buildings were of a poorer class, the Post Office for instance was weatherboard and stood where the present fine building stands.

“The evening of St. Patrick’s day was something to be remembered, the inrush of men from all parts of the world to the gold diggings and to look at the crowd that night one would think the riff-raff of the earth had been dumped down in Melbourne….Crowds of drunken men and women thronged the streets.

“My father joined us and we went to Echunga to try our luck and got a nice little lot of gold and stayed on till Christmas.”

They then tried Victoria, Daisy Hill, Jones Creek, Barkers’ Creek, Castlemaine, but his father died of dysentery on 21st March 1854 and was buried the following day. James gave up the gold rush and invested in a farm.

“At the end of 1855 I got a farm in the Hundred of South Rhine.  .. Ten years later in 1865 I bought land in the Hundred of Hart, 12 miles north west of Clare.

“At that time many of the crops were cut with a sickle, hay was cut with a scythe and ploughs were all single furrow.  ….Now the ploughs are multiplied four and fivefold and instead of two horses with teams of 8 and 10 horses”


James does not explain how he was transformed from digger to farmer. Perhaps his participation in the gold rush was the clue and he was more successful than his memoir suggests. 

He concluded his notes with some comments on the Stangways Land Act. This was clearly important to him, even if at this distance in time it may be difficult for us to appreciate its significance. However, it gives some background to an important period in Australian development. Before the new act settlers were limited to an 80 acre plot which was too small to be viable.

The Strangways Land Act of 1869 opened up land purchases to settlers and freed them from the need to pay cash down and the need to deal with local land agents who contrived to control land sales. Land was offered on credit at 20/- or £1 an acre, for a maximum of 1 square mile or 640 acres. The settler paid 10% down with five years credit to pay the balance. This enabled farmers to get virgin soil with large, viable holdings where crops could be properly rotated and the industry developed rapidly. a million acres were sold on these terms in three years in  However, the climate was – and still is difficult with little rainfall at best and severe droughts from time to time – so the present problems are nothing new.

Another reform of this period was the Torrens Act of 1868. The state guaranteed the vendors title to the land and the ability to sell it with good delivery. Lawyers did not like this because it reduced their work and fees!

The Chief recalls meeting Maitland kinsfolk from Clare about forty years ago who told him they were descended from early emigrants. Doubtless they were James Maitland’s great grandchildren!



Major General Gordon Maitland

Major General Gordon Maitland AO, OBE, RFD,ED, (Ret’d) the Chief’s Lieutenant in Australia and until

recently the President of Clan Maitland in Australia has produced yet another book, The Battle History of The New South Wales Regiment, 1939-1945. An earlier work covered the period from 1885 to 1918, and he has other books to his credit (see end of article).

Gordon enlisted at the age of 17 during World War II, and served in all three battalions of the regiment, finishing as commanding officer. On his retirement as a Major General he was appointed Colonel of the Regiment. A number of books on the regiment followed. 

In the latest work, Gordon covers the World War II period in considerable detail. Merely to look at the contents page reminds the reader of the wide spread of the Australian contribution to the campaigns. The story opens in North Africa, goes on to Greece before returning to Africa. 

All this happened before 1942. The 2ndbattalion then returned to the Asian theatre to rejoin their comrades in the campaign against the Japanese. For a Eurocentric reader whose knowledge of this period is largely concentrated on the European campaigns, the mere list of actions is a striking insight into the threat posed to Australia by the Japanese.

This is a thorough and well researched book. There are good chapters which provide a campaign overview followed by detailed accounts of the separate actions, with extensive material drawn from individual soldiers which provide a refreshing variety in style and content. Thus there is a clear exposition of the overall strategy as well as the tactics. The book is well illustrated with photographs and good maps, and in addition there is a remarkable section, unusual for a work of this type, devoted to paintings by Australian war artists. 

Australian troops brought a special character to the campaign. Being exceptionally aggressive in battle, they were also pretty lively when off duty. This caused some tension between the New South Wales Regiment and General Jumbo Maitland Wilson who commanded forces incorporating the regiment in Greece and Syria. Despite criticism of Jumbo in the text, the Greek campaign is described as "a story of a remarkable fighting withdrawal down the length of Greece".

The Syrian campaign, in which Maitland Wilson's forces of 15 battalions and no tanks were opposed by the French with 30 battalions and 90 tanks was completed in five weeks with the defeat of the French who were compelled to sign the instrument of surrender on 14 July – Bastille Day! 

The Australian commander's summary of the advantages the French enjoyed included the comments "(a) the nature of the country which was perfectly adapted to defensive tactics and was intimately known to the French leaders, (b) their superiority in certain items of vital equipment e.g. tanks and mortars. (c) their superiority in numbers in the early stages of the campaign." He concluded "in the circumstances, it is probably rather remarkable that the forces available should have been able to reduce a skilful, brave and stubborn enemy to the point of surrender in the comparatively short space of five weeks."

Jumbo's rather sybaritic headquarters and Olympian style of command clearly clashed with the Australian approach, but it did produce results. This is a very minor criticism, of Gordon’s work, stemming from the Editor’s interest in the General, and should not detract from a very well researched and written book. 

The Australians did not like their commander, our kinsman, but the Australian summary of the Syrian offensive showed a remarkable campaign against superior forces defending their own territory which resulted in their defeat and humiliation. It reflects great credit on the troops and their commanding officer.

Perhaps a fitting summary is the remark of General Montgomery's Chief of Staff during the D-Day landings in Normandy "I wish we had 9th Australian Division with us this morning'"

Gordon Maitland's other books are:

Tales of Valour from the Royal New South Wales Regiment

The Second World War and its Australian Army Battle Honours

The Battle History of The New South Wales Regiment 1885 to 1918