McMillan’s of Grey Abbey

A Tale of Two Brothers
The McMillan’s from Grey Abbey, County Down, Ireland

(A fabulous story by Ian McMillan, former Chair of the Camberwell Art Show) 

It’s an eerie feeling wandering around a graveyard in an ancient abbey across the other side of the world. Tumble down and weathered grave stones lie everywhere with no apparent order to the overgrown jumble. Then after a long search in trying to decipher the faded inscriptions of generations long past and forgotten there comes a eureka moment when one of the stones finally yields the family name McMillan. But is it ours? Does it create the link from our forefathers in protestant Northern Ireland and the fleeing population to the new world in the mid 1800s.

More scraping of moss slowly reveals its secrets and the names appear. They match those on the piece of paper you hold which was
provided by a friend with a genealogical interest. There they lie those old bones of family members destined to remain in the old world. You wonder what they would think to have a Great Great Grandson with his daughter from a different world and time come to visit and pay respect and thanks for giving them life and opportunity.

Life in Grey Abbey
The Town of Grey Abbey named after its ancient abbey is located on
the shores of Strangford Lough 20 miles East of Belfast. King Charles 1st proclaimed it a port and by 1659 the population of the parish was only 117 people. When ancestor Hamilton McMillan was born in 1776, the parish population was 1550 with 97% Presbyterians. In 1834 the village consisted of one main street about 500 metres long leading from the shore and two short ones. There were 138 one-storey houses, all slate roofed & 27 two-storey houses. There was a row of new, stone, ground floor houses on either side of the street but even with back doors, the slops
and dirt were still flung into the road. There were 7 grocers, 25 spirit shops, 1 boot maker, 1 doctor, 2 woollen drapers. There was a school for males & females near the church and one policeman.
Most inhabitants were weavers of linen cloth which was made in large quantities. The village was neither lighted nor paved and was in a hollow and not visible until approached nearby. There was a
water mill & 2 windmills in the parish.
The 3 commonest surnames in this parish were Brown, Bailie and Hamilton showing Scottish heritage from the settlers led by Hugh Montgomery who arrived from 1606.
On to the New World
The protestant McMillan’s from lowlands Scottish heritage lived for at least a couple of generations in this confined rural environment. Then the potato famine, the lure of gold and a better life in the new world enticed them and millions like them to try their luck on the other side of the world.
The McMillan line can be traced back to Hamilton McMillan (b 1776; d 22 May 1828) who married Jane (b 1784; d 15 Mar 1826) in 1804. Both are buried in the family plot at Grey Abbey.
Hamilton and Jane had 5 children –
i. NATHANIEL MCMILLAN, b. 1807, Grey Abbey, Newtonards, Co Down, Ireland; d. 03 Oct 1843, Ballybrain, County Down, Ireland.
ii. SARAH MCMILLAN, b. 1822; d. Bef. 1828, County Down, Ireland.
iii. JOHN MCMILLAN, d. Bef. 1828, County Down, Ireland.
iv. JAMES MCMILLAN, d. Bef. 1828, County Down, Ireland.
v. ELIZABETH MCMILLAN, d. Bef. 1828, County Down, Ireland.
Our direct ancestor Nathaniel McMillan married Agnes McLeod in 1827 in County Down and had six sons. Agnes was born in 1809 and raised 11 children. She died in Chewton Victoria in 1896.

Children of NATHANIEL MCMILLAN and AGNES McLEOD are:
i. HAMILTON MCMILLAN, b. 1830, Newtonards Co. Down Ireland (nr Belfast); d. 28 Mar 1912, Chewton, Victoria.
ii. JOHN MCMILLAN, b. 1834, Ireland; d. 14 Mar 1913, Deniliquin, New South Wales.
iii. JAMES MCMILLAN, b. 1836, Ireland; d. 23 July 1877, Victoria.
iv. NATHANIEL MCMILLAN, b. 1838, Ireland d. 11 Feb 1882, Victoria.
v. THOMAS MCMILLAN, b. 1840, Ireland; d. 23 Mar 1895, North Deniliquin, New South Wales.
vi. ALEXANDER JAMES MCMILLAN, b. 1842, Ireland; d. 11 Jul 1924, Boulder, Western Australia.
Nathaniel died in October 1843 aged 36 under suspicious circumstances in BallyBrain. The family were evangelical Presbyterians and being an Orange Man it is believed he was murdered on his way home from a gathering.
Agnes then remarried to John McCance and together they had 4
children prior to migrating and then another child born in Victoria.
The extended McMillan and McCance family consisting of 15 adults
and children sailed from Liverpool as assisted passengers on two
ships in 1852.

On the first ship the Marion Moore sailed the two older McMillan
men, Hamilton 23 with wife Mary and baby and John 19 with wife
Mary. The Marian Moore was a new ship and birthed in Melbourne in February 1853 after a quick 92 day voyage.
John and Mary went into service with a farmer on the Saltwater River north of Melbourne for 6 months on a contract of 80 pounds. Hamilton had a contract with a squatter at King Parrot Creek on the Goulburn River.
The rest of the extended family of 10 members left Liverpool on the
Confiance and had a horror 125 day voyage. Of the 400 passengers
27 died of scurvy and whooping cough and on arrival in Geelong in April 1853, a quarter of the passengers were quarantined. On the Confiance with John McCance 33 and wife Agnes 44 were 4 of their children and 4 McMillan boys, James 17, Nathaniel 15, Thomas 13 and Alexander 11.
They initially worked in Geelong then moved to Barwon Heads for 2 years.
By 1856 the whole family reassembled in the Forest Creek Goldfields at Castlemaine / Chewton.
Oceans of Consolation.
We are able to gain an intimate insight into the family fortunes for a
decade after arrival in the goldfields. John McCance corresponded
with a trusted family acquaintance in Grey Abbey by the name of
William Orr who ran a business there. Luckily 9 of the McCance letters have survived and are published by Irish historian David Fitzpatrick in his book Oceans of Consolation, Personal Accounts of Irish Migration to Australia.

We learn from the letters that in 1856 John and Mary moved to Yankee Point (Taradale) and had a store there for a number of years. In 1858 Thomas aged 18 was living with his older brother John and wife Mary in Taradale. This close association continued in their later years with first Thomas and then John moving to Deniliquin.
The unsettled nature of the younger McMillan’s meant they treated Australia as a gateway to a wider world. From a sheltered village existence in Ireland their range of wandering was extensive in Australia and the NZ Otago goldfields. Younger brother Nathaniel when aged 22 even ventured across the Pacific to South America in 1860.
Since arriving in the colony the boys wandered wide and far seeking work in the bush or gold mining. They obviously needed high bushcraft skills and ability to turn their hands to making a living
in tough circumstances to prosper. In Oct 1860 Thomas is recorded as riding his horse from Chewton to Barwon Heads visiting the area where they first lived on arrival for two years.

Thomas and Alexander were working on bush stations in 1858. In 1860 they were in NSW and by 1862 Thomas was breaking horses at Wangaratta in North Eastern Victoria while Alexander was
share mining on the Lachlan River in Central NSW.
Gold mining was very much in the family’s blood with all 6 McMillan boys and their step father John McCance at various periods engaged in mining.
Thomas also tried his hand as a miner and “worked his hole” with John Regan who was John’s brother in law. The 1860 NZ gold rushes at Otago in the South Island saw all of the McMillan brothers except Thomas, head off to work claims. In April 1862 Hamilton and James were back from NZ. They sold off their horses and cart and almost everything and returned to NZ with John. In 1863 the brothers were still in NZ and applied for a sluice licence. Nathaniel was also in Otago together with Alexander who finished up staying for a few years and raising a family there.

The move to Deniliquin
John McMillan 1834 – 1913
Just before he departed Ireland for Australia, John aged 18 married the 17 year old Mary Regan on 04 Oct 1852 in Newtownards, County Down, Ireland. He died 14 Mar 1913 aged 81 in Deniliquin,
while his wife Mary died 03 Jan 1921 aged 89 at North Deniliquin.
John and Mary had 7 children all born in the goldfields at Chewton / Forest Creek and Taradale.
i. AGNES JANE MCMILLAN (Mrs A Venn), b. 25 Nov 1854, Chewton, Victoria; d. 23 May 1935, Richmond, Victoria,
ii. JAMES MCMILLAN, b. 1857, Taradale, Victoria, Australia; d. 1925, Bairnsdale, Victoria.
iii. MARY MCMILLAN (Mrs M McLaren), b. 1860, Forest Creek, Victoria, d. 1935, Deniliquin.
iv. ELIZABETH MCMILLAN (Mrs E Oyston), b. 1862, Chewton, Victoria, d. 23 Sep 1948, Western Australia.
v. JOHN MCMILLAN, b. 1865, Chewton, Victoria, d. 1867, Chewton, Victoria.
vi. ELLEN ANNE MCMILLAN (Mrs E McMillan), b. 1873, Chewton, Victoria, d. 26 Nov 1942, Deniliquin.
vii. ADA LOUISA MCMILLAN (Mrs A Walker), b. 1875, Chewton, Victoria, d. 08 May 1927, Deniliquin.
John had multiple trades in many locations including on arrival in Australia as station hand and as miner in Victoria and New Zealand. He relied on the extended family to assist wife Mary in their
Taradale store when frequently away from home on his mining pursuits. In 1867 he is recorded as a fruiterer in Chewton. At this stage his brother Thomas had moved to Deniliquin with John following and engaged in dam building on stations in the Riverina district.
Following this John and Mary moved the family to Deniliquin
where they had purchased “Pine Farm” on the Hay Road halfway
between Pretty Pine & Deniliquin.
John died at Pine Farm 14 March 1913.
The death was reported in the papers-
The death took place in the Deniliquin district on Friday last of Mr
John McMillan at the age of 81 years. He was an early resident of
the Chewton district and was brother of the late Mr Hamilton
McMillan and step brother to Mr E. McCance of Chewton. He
had followed the vocation of a farmer for many years and leaves
a widow and grown family. His remains were interred in the Deniliquin
Cemetery on Sunday last, there being 40 vehicles in the
cortège.

Thomas McMillan 1840 – 1895
Thomas was aged 13 when he arrived in Geelong with his family in 1853. By age 18 he was working on bush stations in NSW and in 1862 breaking horses in Wangaratta. Two years later in 1864 aged 24 he moved to Deniliquin and married 26 year old Annie Mulligan originally from Ballinabrackey, County Meath, Ireland. Thomas and Annie went on to have 6 children over 11 years with the first 2 dying as infants. Five children were born in the Riverina at Deniliquin, Moulamein and Hay as the family moved around the region following work.
Children of THOMAS MCMILLAN and ANNIE MULLIGAN:
i. AGNES MCMILLAN, b. 01 Mar 1865, Chewton, Victoria; d. 26 Mar 1865, Chewton, Victoria.
ii. JOHN MCMILLAN, b. 1866, Deniliquin, NSW; d. 1866, Deniliquin, NSW.
iii. MARY ELLEN MCMILLAN (Steel), b. 11 Mar 1869, Deniliquin, NSW,
iv. TERESA MCMILLAN (Blake), b. 02 Aug 1871, Moulamein, NSW.
v. THOMAS MCMILLAN, b. 11 Aug 1873, Deniliquin, NSW; d. 08 Jul 1940, Deniliquin,
vi. LILIAS MCMILLAN (Welch), b. 02 Oct 1876, Hay NSW; d. 13 Jun 1959.
Thomas settled back in Deniliquin and was appointed as Town Herdsman on 6 May 1878 for North and South Deniliquin. Around this time Thomas started a second family with Mary Elizabeth
Keogh with whom he had 5 children. Mary was born 1857 in Castlemaine, Victoria and died 13 Oct 1912 in Deniliquin. The Informant was her daughter Aura Marie Constance Perrin.

Children of Thomas McMillan and Mary Keogh:
i Thomasina Muriel Bernice McMillan (Willsmere), b 9 Oct 1881, Riddells Ck Vic, d 18 Dec 1966, Embleton, WA.
ii Elizabeth Gertrude McMillan (Edwards) b: 30 Apr 1883, Deniliquin, NSW. d: 30 Apr 1948, Deniliquin, NSW.
iii Ethel Eugene McMillan (Ford) b: 10 Sep 1885, Deniliquin, NSW. d: 1 Dec 1963, Bicton, Western Australia
iv Caroline Mary McMillan b 25 Feb 1886, Deniliquin, NSW. d 21 Dec 1903, Deniliquin, NSW.
v Aura Marie Constance McMillan (Perrin) b: 8 Oct 1887, Deniliquin, NSW. d: 8 May 1947, Deniliquin, NSW.
With the breakdown of her marriage to Thomas, Annie Mulligan found work on Ulonga Station on the One Tree Plain between Hay and Booligal. There aged 53 she died from Inflammation of the bowel on 17 Dec 1891.

Annie’s son Thomas (Jnr) was the informant and she was buried in the Roman Catholic section of Booligal cemetery.

Following the death of his first wife Annie, Thomas and Mary Keogh legalized their union the following month by marriage in Deniliquin on 13 January 1892. The children were christened at that time. 

 Thomas died in North Deniliquin 23 March 1895 aged 55 having spent 42 years in the colonies. He had a Presbyterian service at Deniliquin on 26 Mar 1895 with the Undertaker being George Henry Perrin, his son-in-law.

He is buried in the Deniliquin Cemetery in an unmarked grave.

  1. News article from the Mt Alexander Mail. – The Deniliquin Chronicle & Riverina Gazette of the 28th. Inst. refers to the death of Mr. Thomas McMillan, well known to the Chewton district & a relative of Mr. E. McCance the well-known cab proprietor. The deceased was a drover of sheep & about 60 years of age. About six months ago he left Deniliquin in charge of a flock of sheep for
    one of the Queensland Stations, & before arriving at his destination was seized with a stroke of paralysis, which completely rendered a portion of his system useless. Mr. McMillan recovered somewhat from the attack & visited Chewton recently. On Saturday week last he became ill however & died during the night, from what is supposed to be heart disease. The funeral was largely attended.
    The Family connection continues.
    John and Mary’s farm Pine Farm north of Deniliquin continued to be a family focal point. It was there on 29 Dec 1909 that cousins Ellen Anne McMillan and Thomas McMillan were married. They
    resided in Victoria Street North Deniliquin and established
    a carrier business carting wool with horse drawn teams from the stations of the black soil plains and timber out of the red gum forests. Thomas died in 1940 with Ellen Anne passing away 1942.
    Thomas and Ellen Anne had 3 children, Mary Ellen Anne (Austin), John Thomas and Leslie Ernest. The families of Mary and Leslie still live in Deniliquin. They are the fifth generation of McMillan’s and others from the female lines to call Deniliquin home.

Ian Thomas McMillan – Melbourne May 2020