James Laing and Isabella McLean

James Laing

James Laing was born in Stonehaven (a seaside town on Scotland’s north east coast) near Aberdeen, on Sunday 18 June 1815 (the day of the Battle of Waterloo according to an obituary which appeared in the newspaper). When convicted of housebreaking in 1835, he stated he was “bred of a cartwright and since 1829 has been going on voyages as a sailor between Scotland and Quebec” and that he moved to Edinburgh in May that year.

His convict records state that, by modern standards, he was a reasonably short man, (1.63m tall), though was probably average height for the times. His convict record states he had a dark sallow complexion (which means a dark, sickly complexion), and the he had brown almost black hair and brown eyes. He also had a small mole on the upper part of his right arm and a scar on the back of his right thumb.

On the 20th of August 1835, the court records state, he and fifteen year old Addison Mitchell conducted break and enters on two houses in Elm Row, Edinburgh. The first was at the house of James Thomson on Elm Row, Edinburgh where they stole the following items: a black cloth coat; a silver snuff-box; a pair of leather gloves; two or thereby silk handkerchiefs; and two or thereby pass keys. The second was at the house of David Brown, a tailor and clothier on Elm Row, where they stole the following items: a silver watch; a silk watch ribbon; a gold ring; a gold seal; a gold key; and, belonging to David Brown’s daughter Helen, “a worsted shawl”.

The “Caledonian Mercury” of Monday 24 August, 1835 reported the case…

The "Caledonian Mercury" of Monday 24 August, 1835
The “Caledonian Mercury” of Monday 24 August, 1835 Addison Mitchell, an Edinburgh thief, and James Lang, an Aberdonian, committed two daring acts of theft one day last week. The first was in a house in Elm Row, the servant of which had left the door open, where they stole a black coat, two silk handkerchiefs, a pair of gloves, and a valuable silver snuff-box. In the same street the thieves got into the house No. 17, by lifting the area window, and stole a silver hunting watch and a valuable shawl. In coming to the street, however, they were met and apprehended by McLevie and Mulholland, criminal officers, who had been on the scent for them, and who, on searching, found the whole of the second theft and the two handkerchiefs of the first upon them. They have both been remitted to the High Court of Justiciary for trial.
James Laing court record page 1
James Laing court record page 1
James Laing court record page 2
James Laing court record page 2
James Laing court record page 3
James Laing court record page 3
James Laing court records page 4
James Laing court records page 4
James Laing court records page 5
James Laing court records page 5
James Laing court records page 6
James Laing court records page 6
James Laing court records page 7
James Laing court records page 7

At conviction, the court records note that both young men had appeared before Magistrate John Fletcher on August 25 and before Magistrate James Donaldson on August 27 where some of the stolen items were presented as evidenced against them. On November 9, 1835, he was found guilty of housebreaking and was sentenced to seven years transportation. In sentencing them, the court records note that Addison Mitchell had previous convictions in Edinburgh on July 8, 1834 and June 16, 1835.

The Scotsman newspaper reported the case thus…

The Scotsman
As featured in The Scotsman newspaper under those cases covered in the High Court of Justiciary. Addison Mitchell and James Laing were next brought up, charged with two acts of theft, one of them committed by means of housebreaking, aggravated in the case of Mitchell, by his being, habit and repute, and previously convicted of theft. The prisoners having pleaded guilty, Mitchell was sentenced to fourteen years, and Laing seven years transportation.

Addison Mitchell was later convicted in Bathurst for murder.

James came to Australia on board “The John”, leaving from Sheerness England on September 30, 1836 and arriving in Sydney on February 7, 1837. By the time the ship had arrived, five of the 260 male convicts on board had died.

James Laing Freedom Certificate

Soon after arrival, James was assigned to Francis Flanagan, who had extensive landholdings around Moruya on the NSW South Coast. It was there in 1841 he met and married Isabella Mclean.

Isabella McLean

Isabella was born at Tiree, Scotland, the daughter of Allan McLean and Janet McFarlane. Before coming to Australia, the records indicate, she had been “in service” at Glasgow and could speak a little English. Aged twenty, she came to Australia with her parents and younger siblings, settled in the Broulee area (near Moruya), where her father worked as a boat-builder.

The birth records of the children of James and Isabella indicates they spent the early years of their marriage living and working on a number of properties in the Moruya district, including Duga (1843), Glenduart (1844-1847) and Shannon View (owned by Flanagan) (1850).

…before moving to Braidwood (1852) at the peak of gold mining in the area. James is recorded on the Braidwood Electoral Roll in 1863, having Freehold Land at “Oak Hills”

The quote above is currently under further investigation – see comment below by Trish Moon.

Move to Towamba

By the 1860s, however, James and Isabella had moved to Towamba, near Eden. Until recently, the area had been under the control of the squatter, Ben Boyd, though it became available to selectors in about 1861. By the late 1880s, the Electoral Role states that James and Isabella had obtained freehold occupancy of land. Some of their children, including Donald and William also owned land at Towamba, whilst Allen owned land at nearby Bondi.

James Laing property at Towamba, NSW, Australia
In 1862, a number of local families were signatories to the establishment of a local school at Towamba.

Death of James Laing

On July 29, 1890 (1890/4983), James Laing died from “a decay of nature”. He was buried on August 2, 1890 in an unmarked grave in the Towamba Cemetery. There is a reference on the State Records website to a deceased estate for a James Laing of Towamba who died 24/7/1980, and for the estate claimed 14/4/1891, so clearly there is some confusion about the dates here. I’m planning a visit to State Records at Kingsford to clarify details of the Deceased Estate for James Laing.

On March 10, 1891 (5798/1891) Isabella also died, and was buried soon after in an unmarked grave in the Towamba Cemetery.

Mr. James LAING another old resident recently deceased left three sons and three daughters, who have all large families. The deceased was born on the day the Battle of Waterloo was fought, and although thousands of miles from his birthplace, strange to say he died while a rifle match was being shot off. ‘Bega Standard’ – 12 August, 1890

This quote about him being born on the day of the Battle of Waterloo needs to be taken with a grain of salt. The battle was on June 18, 1835, making James 20 (not 22 as stated on the records) when convicted. Of course the date may be correct, and the year may be correct, or both may be correct, but it shouldn’t be taken as gospel given the propensity for death records to be incorrect.

Sydney Morning Herald Friday 27 February 1891
Sydney Morning Herald Friday 27 February 1891
New South Wales Government Gazette (Sydney, NSW : 1832 – 1900), Friday 27 February 1891 (No.137), page 1660


* William Laing was born March 4 1843 (V18434720 47/1843) at Dooga, Moruya. In 1908, The Pambula Voice noted

‘Pambula Voice’ May 15, 1908
Mr. Wm. Laing of Towamba is very ill, his trouble being epilepsy. He is a very old resident of our village.

He died August 21, 1914 at Towamba. According to Kate Clery’s oral history book about Towamba, the evidence suggests he was probably the artist responsible for the Towamba Cricket Massacre painting held at the Eden Killer Whale Museum.

In 1889, following a cricket match at Millpoint Pass, when Towamba defeated nearby Pericoe, members of the losing team returned with guns to set about killing the victors. A reliable account of what occurred is unavailable, but this painting by William Laing at the Eden Killer Whale Museum provides, at least, a record of a bizarre event. In her book about Towamba, “The Forgotten Corner Interviews” Kate Clery asks Gloria Grant and Shirley Sproates about the origin of the painting. Gloria believes the painting may have been by William Laing, the eldest son of James and Isabella.
Visiting Eden, and being snapped by the local newspaper with the painting.

On September 4, 1914, ‘The Pambula Voice’ reported…

A terrible burning fatality happened here last Thursday Aug 20th, Mr. W. LAING being the victim. The old man had been subject to taking fits for some time. He was sitting by the fire and evidently had taken a fit and fallen in, and before his brother got to his assistance, his clothing was all in flames, and he was frightfully burnt about the head and body. Assistance was soon to hand, and all that could be to ease the poor sufferer was done. Dr. Fitzhardinge was sent for and arrived shortly afterwards, but could do nothing. The unfortunate man passed away at half past six on Friday morning. The deceased was 74 years of age. Mr. Coronor Martin held an enquiry on Saturday, when a verdict of accidental death by burning was returned. The remains were interred in the Presbyterian portion of the cemetery. Mr. Forbes conducted the burial service, and Mr .Summerill had charge of the funeral arrangements.

* Ann Laing was born April 1844 (V18445145 47/1844) at Glenduart, Moruya

* Jane Laing was born September 8, 1845 (V1845593 48/1845) at Glenduart, near Moruya, NSW, She married Thomas Rixon on February 14, 1867 at Towamba. Jane died in 1919. (23510/1919)

* Allan Laing was born October 24 1847 at Glenduart, near Moruya, NSW. He married Ruth Atkins on April 25, 1882 at Bombala, NSW. He died July 22, 1929 at Towamba. According to Monaroo Pioneers, their children were Isabella (b 1883, d August 16, 1974), William Allan (b 1884), Hector (b November 8, 1886 in Delegate) James (b September 23, 1889 in Bombala), Thomas (b 1890 in Delegate), Alice (b 1890), Charles Henry (b 1894), Ada (b 1896), Ruth (b 1899) and Sarah (b 1901).

‘Magnet’ August 3, 1929

The death occurred at the home of Mr. Hector Laing, Towamba, on the night of July 22, of Mr. Allan Laing, one of the oldest and best known identities of the Towamba district in which he had resided for some 40 years. For some years he resided at Rockton before moving to Towamba. He was a brother of Mr. Donald Laing, probably the oldest mail man in the state who for years conveyed the Eden-Pericoe mail by horse coach and who has since been running the Pambula-Nethercote mail by horse and sulky and for the last several years on horseback. Other brothers are Jim (deceased) and Will. Mr. Laing who leaves a large family, all married, was a native of Moruya and was 81 years of age. Internment took place at the Presbyterian portion of Towamba cemetery. The Reverend J. Allison officiating at the graveside.

* Janet Laing was born February 2, 1850 at Shannon View, Moruya, NSW.

* Donald Laing/Lang was born January 25, 1852 at Braidwood, NSW. In 1872, he married Sarah Higgins (1872/2071). He died at Towamba in November 1932.

* Mary Ann Laing was born 1854. She married Robert Higgins in 1874. She died in 1915 at Drummoyne, Sydney, NSW.

* James Laing was born 1857 (V1857362 139/1857)

* Isabella Laing was born 1861 (7202/1861).

Some Notes

* Thanks to Kerrie Beers for tracking down the information about James Laing’s trial and birthplace.

* Thanks also to Ann Murray Burke for obtaining the trial records, as well as the newspaper clipping from The Sctosman. The trial records have helped fill in so much of the gap. Wonderful stuff.

* According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the property “Shannon View”, which James and Isabella lived on for a while still stands to the left off Larry’s Mountain Road. If you wish to see it head north out of Moruya along the Princes Highway and turn left at the sign for Mogendoura.”

* Mark McKenna’s “Looking for Blackfellas’ Point (An Australian History Of Place) (UNSW Press) notes the 1860s saw the largest influx of settlers into the broader Eden district (p. 162)

That decade saw the largest influx of settlers into the area, with the breakup of the large squatting runs in favour of the smaller holdings of free selectors.

Prior to this, I believe Ben Boyd had been the squatter who was in control of Towamba, as a further account in the book notes the following letter (p. 228) by J.G. Stephenson from Manly, dated October 18, 1958.

My mother was the first white child born at Towamba… on December 5, 1850… Our grandfather was in charge of Towamba for Ben Boyd, head stockmen. We believe it was the only house there then. The remains of their old cottage was across the river… old fruit trees there in our time at Towamba. Granny often told us of the wild blacks from the tablelands meeting the coastal tribes and holding corroborees on the flats where Bollman’s farm was in our time. Granny sat up all night and watched them while grandfather was away with cattle to Boydtown, all the company she had was a tame black gin.

Sharing Around: Please feel free to copy any of the information on this page which may help you in your own research. My feeling is that family research is hard enough, without the need to constantly re-invent the wheel. It would be great, however, if you’d leave a comment below just to say “hi”.

40 thoughts on “James Laing and Isabella McLean

  • hi james,
    My mothers father was hector laing he was the son of
    allan laing and ruth atkin

    • Julie,
      I have recently visited the grave site of Allan Laing in the Towamba NSW and taken a photo which I can forward to you if you are interested.
      It is one of the few marked graves of the Laing family in Towamba.
      What I can say about his final resting place is that it is a very peaceful spot well located under the shade of a nice green tree. One could not wish for a better or a more picturesque resting place.
      There is a long list of Laing members who served in various wars on the Towamba War Memorial.
      I am currently trying to locate the place where James and Isabella were buried so that I can have a proper and fitting headstone put in place.
      There are a number of the Laing family members buried on a property at 2293 Towamba Rd, this property was in the family until around 1993. I am also trying to find out their names so that this spot can be clearly marked and identified.
      The homestead where James first worked “Shannon View” is still standing and in reasonable shape (constructed in the 1820’s). It is located on the corner of the Princes Highway and Larrys Mountain Road Moruya. I also have a photo of the old homestead.
      Glendurat the adjoining property where James also worked has been subdivided into smaller blocks of about 5 acres.
      If you want to contact me, my email is reglaing5@bigpond.com
      Best regards,

      • Hi Reg, if you are willing to share any of your photographs of the area, including the Glenduart photograph, I would be very keen to hear from you and would obviously attribute your contribution on this site. James

  • Hi Julie, great to hear from you. I have a feeling Hector and Allan both get a fair mention in the Kate Clery book about Towamba which is EXCELLENT. I’ve been to Towamba once and thought it was a very beautiful place. And it sounds like the people who lived there were a tough bunch. My branch of the family are VERY interesting to say the least. Hopefully we can exchange info about the Laings as we go about research. James

    • Hi James ,i did get a hold of Kate Clancy’s book wow it is great , Hector laing my grandfather and his family all lived around the Bombala ,delegate area ..where i grew up a s a kid i have really enjoyed reading your reasearch and amazed to read the actual items that my great great grandfather stole

  • Hi James
    I think I may have discovered James Laing’s native place, a kind Scot pointed me in the right direction.
    A search in the NAS catalogue found
    1835 Precognition against James Laing, Age 22, cartwright & sailor, Address Edinburgh, Origin: Native of Stonehaven for the crime of theft by housebreaking.
    Stonehaven is in the ancient county of Kincardineshire, only 24 kms south of Aberdeen.
    I am told a cartright & rough carpenter are much the same thing, the sailor bit threw me but Stonehaven has a lovely harbour, anything is possible.
    So it seems James was living in Edinburgh when he committed his crime of theft by housebreaking. He may have had an accomplice as Addison Mitchell, Age 15, shoemaker, Address: Blackfriars Wynd, High Street Edinburgh is accused with him.


  • Hi Kerrie,
    This looks really good. I’ve been searching for a while to find something definitive. I noticed there’s an Addison Mitchel who turns up in Bathurst in 1857 on a list of people sentecned to hang for a murder! I’ll keep hunting for confirmation, but I reckon you’ve found gold.

  • Hi James,
    I found a report in the Scotsman Newspaper regarding the preceedings of the Justiciary Court for 9th Nov., unfortunately it doesn’t give any more detail.
    THE SCOTSMAN : Wednesday 11.11.1835 : On Monday the court met for the first time in the new Justiciary Court House…5th before the court .. Addison Mitchell & James Laing were next bought up, charged with two acts of theft, one of them committed by means of housebreaking, aggrivated in the case of Mitchell, by his being habit & repute, & previously convicted of theft. The prisoners having pleaded guilty, Mitchell was sentenced to 14 years; & Laing to 7 years transportation.
    Exactly at 3 O’clock the court adjourned till next day having disposed of 11 cases in 5 hours.

    Addison Mitchell was sent to the colony on ship Lady Kennaway in 1836. He received his T/L in 1845. He married Bridget Macarty in 1855 at St Phillips Sydney with no issue that I can find. Addison was hung at Bathurst in 1857 aged 35 for murder.

    It seems the only way to get James trial papers is to hire a researcher in Scotland as NAS won’t undertake the work even with relevant paper numbers for OS clients.


  • Hi James

    Just found your site- Well done.

    We share a GGG grandfather James Laing-Convict. A cousin visited Bombala recently and met up with some wonderful locals who provided photos and great verbal accounts.

    Love the depth of your research. Look forward to ploughing through it and sharing some information.


    • Hi David you are also a cousin to me then James Laing is also my ggg father.
      i grew up in Bombala my mothers father was Hector Laing

  • To help fill in some gaps;
    My grandparents were Arthur Laing and Rachael Koerber.
    They had, I believe, two children Victor Vincent and Thelma.
    Victor married Beryl Una Parker (daughter of R.A.Parker of Eden). Beryl died tragically around 1946 (buried in South Sydney cemetry). Victor died mid to late sixties at Altona Vic, he was mid seventies.
    Victor and Beryl had three children.
    Kevin Victor Laing (Grays Point, NSW) born Pambula Hospital 241142 (two children, son Greg and daughter Allison)
    Reginald Arthur Laing (St Ives NSW), born Pambula Hospital 081143 (two sons John and Murray)
    Beverly Lynette Laing born Pambula Hospital 080845 (now deceased, no children)
    Thelma married Aubrey Newlyn and had four daughters, June (now deceased), Gwen, Pamela and Nolene

  • Hi James

    James Laing was gggg grandfather of my husband, through James’ son Donald,Archibald, Albert and then Keith ‘Jim’. We have not long started our family history journey and love to find other ‘relies’ doing the same.. Thanks for the info.. all helps

    Ted and Beau

  • Hi James,
    Came across the Laing family information will surfing the net. There is definitely a lot of history here. Thanks for putting it together and making it so accessible. My father was Donald Laing son of Donald William Laing and Charlotte. I have had little or no contact with side of my family so it is exciting to see all of the relatives that are out there. Happy New Year

    • Hi James
      Delighted to see more information on the Laing family since I looked on your site last- I am hoping to go to Archives in Edinburgh in next month or so and will look up James’s court case – I am in the midst of putting together my family tree being Lawless/Laing –
      Ann Murray

  • Hi James I am chasing McLEAN also Marian McLEAN who was born in 1842 (Goulburn county Argyll) parents listed as Allan and Janet McLean. Can you link this girl into your line at all?? She married a Lachlan ROBERTSON in 1863 Goulburn Many thanks Judy

    • Hi Marian, I’m unaware of any link, though it would be fascinating if she was a child born here in Australia. I don’t had the death certificates for either Alan or Janet, as they would presumably have listed a daughter called Marian. If she was born and married someone at Goulburn, though, it sounds like it may have been another family, as Alan and Janet (mine) spent their time on the South Coast. Checking the BDM, I couldn’t find a Marian McLean born in 1842, though I note there’s a Margaret born to Allan and Janet in 1844 V18442032 28/1844. If anyone writes in with further info, I’ll pass on. Good luck. James

  • Very interesting !! ,M y g g grandfather was James Laing and it is fascinating to read about him My father was Hector Laing, Julie Rands is my daughter and I have 9 other children. Thank you for giving me more of my history !! Muriel Russo,nee Laing

  • Hi Julie and Muriel, great to hear from you both. Yes, the story of James Laing is fascinating. It was wonderful to see the court records and the newspaper clipping thanks to Ann, and of course all of the other great work done by everyone. And yes, Kate’s book about Towamba is fantastic! James

  • Hi James, I’m another gg grand-daughter of James Laing, my father was Hector and I’m a sister to Muriel Russo, and aunt of Julie. Thank you for a great informative site, it’s fascinating !!

  • my grandparenst are james laing and dora crawford. my mother is freda liang. im amazed to see how many relatives i have that i havent had the pleasure of meeting.

  • and it was great to see the photo of my mother freda as well as my aunty lexie and grandfather james on the horses.

  • hi Mariea ,I have the original photos of your mother,Lexie,and james on the horses..my mum had them and gave them to me to send copies to Kate Cleary

    • hi julie. would it be possible to get a copy of the photo. and do you have any more of my mother. im willing to pay.

  • James,
    My name is Trish Moon and I contacted you 10 years ago. I have recently revisited your blog and
    I think that the James Laing at Braidwood is not “our” James Laing. A James Laing married Jael Bassingthwaite in Braidwood in 1845 and lived there for the rest of his life. James died in 1903 and Jael died in 1889 – they are both buried in the Braidwood Cemetery. It seems that both have become the one James Laing but they are definitely different men and not related. Information on – line backs this up. I don’t believe that James ever left Towamba and went to Braidwood.
    For your information.


  • Fabulous Blog James
    My grandfather was Alans son Charles and I have fond memories of delivering groceries in a T model Ford to the farms around Tenterfield. I have devoted some time to establishing the Wiki entries in this branch of our family but so little time though. It would be great if anyone can contribute.

  • Hi James,
    I am the G G Granddaughter of Robert Elliott and Sarah Laing.
    My G Grandmother was Jean Isabelle Lane nee Elliott who had my Grandfather William Hooper to William A Hooper (they never married).
    My Grandfather married Robyn Dreis and had my Mother Deborah Milne nee Hooper. She married David Milne who then had Me, Tamie Cooper nee Milne.

  • Sarah Annie born 11/3/1857she was the Daughter of Donald jr (son of Donald sr to Sarah Higgins) and Johann Whitaker

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: