[Dilys Yap]

Dilys Yap Guides Us Through the Life of Andrew Muirson McCrae, Writer to the Signet.

By profession, Dilys Yap was a ballet teacher and Accredited Govennment Dance Assessor. Her love of history has come from her father who was fascinated with Tudor England and her husband, whose great grandfather founded Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

During her own time in Malaysia Dilys did extensive research on buildings in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, acting as a tour guide with the Penang Heritage Trust. Her published history, "The Convent Light Street"(1), is in its second printing.

Dilys became particulalry interested in Andrew McCrae during the 11 years she worked as a voluntary guide for the National Trust at McCrae Homestead on the Mornington Peninsular. She noted that whilst his wife, Georgiana McCrae has been sanctified, Andew has been consistently vilified. With the idea of writing a book on Andrew McCrae, Dilys, who is a descendant of the McCrae's daughter Octavia Frances Gordon Moore, was given access to unpublished family documents.

Andrew Muirson McCrae was born in 1800 in Edinburgh, Scotland. His grandfather, a sugar plantation owner in Jamaica, used slave labour, but following his death, Andrew's father freed the slaves and the property was returned to the Jamaican Government. Andrew became a lawyer and Writer to the Signet in Edinburgh. A distant relative of the Gordon family, in January 1830, he proposed marriage (2) to Georgiana Huntly Gordon, the illegitimate daughter of the 5th Duke of Gordon. Georgiana accepted the proposal although she was in love with another suitor.

Money seemed always a problem and an expected regular income for Georgiana from her father's estate did not eventuate because her father had died without signing his Will. Alexander and Georgiana moved to London where Andrew became a Parliamentarian writer. They had five children whilst living in Scotland and London, but sadly their first child died aged three.

Having heard about job opportunities in Australia, Alexander sailed to Sydney on the "Royal Saxon" arriving on the 1st April 1839 whilst Georgiana travelled later because she was unwell after the birth of their 5th child. She arrived in the Port Phillip District on the "Argyle" in March 1841 with their four sons.

Whilst Andrew was working in a partnership in a law firm he wrote constitutions for the Port Phillip Club and the Mechanic's Institute, however the company was ruined by the 1840s depression and he decided to take up a lease of 21,360 acres on the Mornington Peninsular at Arthur's Seat. The family moved there to live around 1844, but before long Andrew was offered a position as Police Magistrate, a job which took him away from home. Georgiana returned to Melbourne to live in 1850.

Family stories describe Andrew as a failure as a solicitor both in England and Australia and a failure as a grazier. He was said to be a dour Scot, and a no-hoper. Sir George Gipps in Sydney didn't give him the patronage he had hoped for and in his marriage Georgiana never seemed to be happy which eventually led to their separation.

Despite all, Andrew McCrae maintained his optimism and made worthwhile contributions to early life in Victoria. He was never declared bankrupt as so many others were.

In 1847, he was elected to be on the Committee for Separation. He was inaugral Secretary of the Australia Felix Pastoral and Agricultural Society and he was Vice President of the Port Phillip Club. He worked as a Police Magistrate in country towns including Alberton and Kilmore. These were very lonely years away from his family but he was popular in his role as Magistrate being regarded as gentlemanly and generous. On retiring from Kilmore, his last posting, he received many letters of appreciation.

Well educated, well-mannered and personable he was described as quite charming. He had a love of music and poetry and was himself a writer of verse. One of his poems was described as 'quite charming' and another poem was set to music.

He inculcated an interest in literature and science into his children. He investigated the possibilities of Banksia as cabinet timber, an utilisation of seaweed as a food, and hydrology on Arthur's Seat.

Andrew has been described as obstinate, impetuous, improvident and uncaring but Dilys Yap's research of Andrew's journal and family letters has revealed that he was loved and respectedf by his family who described him as 'noble' and the 'old major.' Whilst absent from home, his letters to the family were very descriptive. So much correspondence came from the children that letters were numbered to keep them in order. The children often stayed with him. Lucia (born 1841) used to love bare back horse riding.

Andrew returned to Britain in 1867 to minimise gossip about their marriage. When he decided in 1874 to settle in New Zealand. Georgiana asked him to live with her in Melbourne. Unfortunately he was not to live much longer, and died on 24th July 1874. He was buried at Boroondara Cemetery, Kew, Melbourne.

Dilys has tried to be objective in her research. Her belief is that whilst Andrew struggled to please Georgiana, he loved and admired her, and their children, and despite some imperfections, should be regarded as a successful man. Her book is yet to be written.

(1) My relative, Anna Ying Ping Khor Ng, attended this school and loved it.
(2) This letter and other McCrae journals are at the State Library of Victoria.

( The above is a report on Dilys Yap's address at the General Meeting on 12 November 2015 )

( Contributed by Jan Hanslow. PPPG Member No. 1057 )

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