Sweets to Australia

Sweets to Australia 

Sweet Holm taken about 100 years after the Sweets left , courtesy of Carol Butler and Graeme Watson

When Robert Sweet and his wife, Anne Lyon Sweet, left Yetholm in the Scottish Borders, in 1853,  with their three daughters and one son, so ended 280 years of Sweets in the village. Robert was born in Newcastle, Northumberland in 1798 and Anne, his cousin and daughter of Thomas Sweet was born in Glasgow in 1801. They embarked on a journey to Glasgow to board the sailing ship Anne McClean bound for Adelaide. They would board on a day of fine weather as reported in the Glasgow Herald on 3rd October 1853  “Yesterday, however, the weather seemed to take up, for the sky was bright and not a drop of rain fell…”  The temperature was about 50 degrees F (10C).

It will have been a very significant decision for them to emigrate, Robert was 55 years old and Anne 52 years old. On the 13th of August, an auction was held in Yetholm to sell the implements from the nursery garden, the crops in the ground (Wheat, Oats, Pease, Turnip and Potatoes) and all their household possessions. In addition they were hoping to let their home: Dwelling-house, Shop, Six stalled Stable and Granary, occupied by Mr Sweet, who is leaving for Australia. The shop has been occupied as a Grocery, Seed and Meal Shop for the last sixteen years”

This advertisement in the Kelso Chronicle would be referring to the home, now known as Mertoun Cottage, in which they had lived since their marriage in 1835. In Pigot’s directory for 1837 there is an entry Shopkeepers and dealers in groceries Robert Sweet Town Yetholm. In addition, Robert was a seedsman and gardener of some renown, see ‘Sweets in Yetholm’.

There is no image of the “Anne MacLean” but she would have been similar to the ship shown here. She was a 320 ton three-masted wooden barque. Built by Barr & Shearer at Ardrossan and launched on 6 August 1847 for Thomas Hamlin & Co, a ship’s agent, in Greenock.
Courtesy of websites: Scottish Built Ships, Flickr and the Mitchell Library.

Robert and Anne Sweet had four children, who were all born in Yetholm:

Jean (or Jane) Hogarth Sweet born in 1836 named after Anne’s aunt Jane who married Archibald Hogarth,,

Catherine Robertson Sweet born in 1838 named after Anne’s mother Catherine Robertson who married Thomas Sweet,

Mary Shirra Sweet born in 1840 named after the Yetholm minister Rev Robert Shirra and his wife Mary Gibb and

John Sweet born in 1842 named after Robert’s father.

I can only speculate as to the reason they left for Australia and I think the most likely is that South Australia, to where they emigrated, did not take in any convict transportees and the local authorities acknowledged that they needed immigrants to improve the development of the territory. They employed agents to recruit candidates from the UK and possibly this was how the Sweets heard of the opportunities in Australia. They may have heard from others who went before and were encouraged by available land at low cost. It may have coincided with poor performance of the market garden and shops run by Robert in Yetholm. An alternative is that the Sweets were members of Rev. Robert Shirra’s congregation. He seceded from the Established Church in the 1840s and was a part of the Associate congregation. The church joined with the United Free Church in 1852. Perhaps this was enough to encourage them to leave

   Under the command of Master McGaw, the  Anne Maclean carried cargo as well as passengers. It is reported in the  Adelaide Observer January 21, 1854, that there were 3 passengers as well as the Sweet family Messrs Taylor, Steel and Orgres, Mr and Mrs Sweet and family in the cabin. And judging from the manifest there was a wide range of goods carried as cargo. There were many boxes, bales, hogs heads, barrels, pillars, gates, wheels, axles, springs and 10,000 fire bricks. 

   The South Australian Government has comprehensive list of immigrants travelling on assisted passages and the fact that the Sweets are not on these lists would suggest that they were travelling at their own cost. Also the immigrant ships tended to have a greater number of passengers on them whereas the Anne Maclean appears to have had only one cabin.

From a UK Government publication published in May 1854 it would appear that the cost of a passage from the Clyde ports to South Australia in a cabin would cost (including provisions) between £35 and £45; Intermediate would cost (with provisions) between £20 and £25 and Steerage would cost (with provisions) between £18 and £20. Children aged between 1 and 14 years were half price. According to the CPI inflation calculator £100 in 1853 would be worth £12,789 today. So the fare of £35 equates to about £4,500 in today’s money. The website “the man in seat 61” reports that a single ticket on a freighter sailing to Australia from Europe in 2020 will cost in excess of  £4,000. If they were on an unassisted passage, this level of expense would be very significant to them; 6 people at £35 a head!

The voyage would not be without its risks: The Caledonian Mercury of 3 October 1853 carried a report of “The Waverley from the Clyde to Adelaide, South Australia, with loss of all three topmasts….” 

The Government of South Australia State Library has an interesting exhibit which is the “Diary of voyage of James and Mary Ann Hastwell (née Ashead), leaving from Bristol 15 July 1853 aboard the ‘Cotfield’ under Captain Waite, and arriving in Port Adelaide 30 November 1853”. One can imagine the references to the experiences on the voyage would be alarming to those unaccustomed to travel…rough crossing the Tropic of Cancer; strong headwind lost a deal of canvas; gale increase, shipped tons of water; fore top sail carried away; short water commenced ; Spanker boom broken in a squall; fore top sail broke off; top Stunsail boom broke; squall carried way jib; strong gale shipped tons of water; all the butter gone; meat short, half rations; rice, butter, peas, potatoes all gone; serving out simply biscuits and water for the last fortnight- biscuits pudding, biscuits soup; flying fish; porpoises; sharks; dolphins; whales; sighted Australia.

There are no reports of the Anne Maclean encountering problems but it must be assumed that the voyage would not be without incident and would be a very strange experience for the Sweet family. During the voyage both Mary and John would have celebrated birthdays. Adelaide was reached on the 17th January, 1854, 107 days after leaving Glasgow. The temperature would be in the range of 17 degrees C to 29 degrees C, probably quite hostile for the immigrants.

The Anne Maclean’s normal route was to proceed to the Swan River, Perth, Western Australia. However on this occasion she lay in Adelaide until March 1st when she headed for Sourabaya which is probably Surabaya in Indonesia (In the 18th and 19th centuries, up to 1945, Surabaya was the largest city in the Dutch East Indies, larger than present day Jakarta, and the centre of trading in the nation: Wikipedia) 

After their arrival at Adelaide the earliest “formal sighting”of Robert is in 1857 in the South Australia Land Titles records. On 22 September 1857, Maurice Marks and Bezaleel Gollin, both of Adelaide, leased to Robert Sweet, for a period of seven years, commencing on 20 September 1857, Section 1813 in the Hundred of Strathalbyn. Robert was described as being of Woodchester “in the said province, Farmer” The annual rent was thirty eight pounds and there was an option to purchase the property, at the termination of the lease, for five hundred Pounds. On the 21st April, 1863 Robert purchased the property fort hundred and fifty Pounds, the landlords appeared to have run into financial difficulties prompting a lower sale price than that stipulated in the lease.

Prior to that he may have been farming in Adelaide as Alexander Sweet asserts in his article in Scottish Gardener and Northern Forester, published in 1908 “bought a farm, Sweetholm, and much of Adelaide is built thereon.”  There is ample evidence that Alexander and his family communicated with the Australian Sweets, so it is probable that Alexander is well informed.  Malcolm Prentis in his book “The Scots in Australia”  has the following anecdote: In South Australia, areas with concentrations of Scottish farmers included Smithfield north of Adelaide and Strathalbyn to the south . 

Smithfield was laid out by John Smith from Lanark beginning in 1850. Smith planned a town and by 1853 section 3165 of the Hundred of Munno Para was surveyed and subdivided: Wkipedia. There is ample evidence that the town expanded to become a suburb of Adelaide and consumed the agricultural land.

It is just possible that Robert had previously made contact with Smith and he may have initially farmed in this area validating Alexander Sweet’s article. There is nothing to verify this and the evidence is, at best, flimsy however it could have some merit.

The rental and then purchase of Section 1813 in the Strathalbyn Hundreds provided a homestead and 172 acres with the River Bremer providing the eastern boundary.  Robert farmed here from 1857 (as tenant and from 1863 as owner) until his death in 1866 aged 67. There is a record of his 96 sheep being wrongly impounded in the Public Pound in Woodchester but there is no record of what else he farmed.


Sweets Cottage 1947
Sometimes known as the Top House at Woodchester farm.
The Hassam family owned this from 1884, John R Hassam and Annie Hassam lived here until John’s death in 1984 when Don Hassam purchased the farm land with the trees on the horizon.

In addition to running the farm Robert was in partnership with Alexander McDonald as Blacksmiths; they made hauling chains, wedges, bogies and paling knives. The date of the partnership is not known but is of interest as Jane, his daughter, married Alexander in 1865. 


Sweet Cottage: part of the blacksmith workshops, 2015

Robert died in 1866 and so did not live to see their son, John, married. Anne would appear to have kept running the farm as this was not sold until November1878; Anne died at Newton, the home Alexander McDonald and her daughter, Jane, in April 1879.

Anne and Robert Sweet are buried in Woodchester Cemetery, near to Strathalbyn, their headstone is badly worn, however the inscription is:

Robert Sweet died 1866 and Anne Lyon Sweet died 1878 aged 75 years and infant grandchildren William and Edith MacDonald.

Interestingly, Robert’s death was announced in the Kelso Chronicle.

Anne Lyon Sweet funeral card.

The grandchildren mentioned on the inscription were born to Jane Hogarth Sweet and Alexander McDonald (see below). William died ten days after his birth in Jan 1868 and Edith, born in 1874, died in 1876.

Of Robert and Anne’s four children Catherine was the first to marry. She married John Ramsay a storekeeper in Meadows, about 9 miles from Strathalbyn. They were married by the Rev. John Anderson at Sweet’s Cottage on 30 October, 1861. They had two children: Robert Edgar Ramsay (1863 – 1948) and Catherine Sweet Ramsay (1866 -?). Sadly, Catherine died shortly after the birth of her daughter.


Mary Shirra Sweet (1840 – 1921), above, was married to George  Sturgeon Harvey (1843-1920)  in 1864 at Sweet’s Cottage by the Rev. John Anderson. George was a farmer at Rose Hill and was also a wheat buyer and miller, they had five sons:

Charles Albert Harvey (1865 –  ) born at Rose Hill. Charles had a bacon factory in Winulta, Arthurton on the Yorke Peninsula was successful with his pig farming and bacon curing and exported to Western Australia where he moved to shortly after his marriage in 1894. He moved to York, WA (outside Perth).

Robert Sweet Harvey (1867-1876) born at Rose Hill. Robert died in his youth after a long and painful illness aged 8 years and 10 months.

David Henry Harvey (1869-1889 ) born at Rose Hill. David moved to Western Australia in 1898 to work on the goldfields. He married in 1905 and became a farmer.

George Sturgeon Harvey (1870-1940 ) born at Rose Hill, moved to Western Australia and opened a butchery business in Boulder. He married his first cousin, Maude Mary Shirra McDonald. He was a very successful businessman, moved to Perth in 1929. They had no children.

John Alexander Harvey (1876-1947) born at Koolunga and married Janet Louisa Josephine Barron in 1902. He had various businesses in Western Australia and also tried farming.

Edgar Bruce Harvey (1879-1936 ) born at Koolunga and married Evelyn May Barron (sister to Janet above) in 1903. He and John had a number of businesses together in Western Australia around Perth.

At Mary Shirra Harvey’s (Sweet) funeral there were a large number of mourners, both family and friends. She was buried in the cemetery at York, Perth W.A. where her husband was buried the year before.

Rose Hill, first home of George Sturgeon Harvey and Mary Shirra Sweet

Jane Hogarth Sweet, the eldest child of Robert and Anne, successfully applied to be teacher at the Woodchester School in 1860; it had opened the previous year. The school had 22 pupils in 1861 rising to 35 by 1865. The subjects taught were Writing, Arithmetic, Grammar, Geography and History.  School inspectors awarded her a “highly satisfactory” rating in 1862 and in 1864 a further inspection went very well. She resigned her position on 6th June, 1865 and married Alexander McDonald on the 24th August of that year. Alexander McDonald was a ploughman from Marnoch, Banffshire and had married Ann Paterson, also of Marnoch, in 1848. They had two daughters, Margaret and Mary, both born in Banffshire. They left from Plymouth on board the ‘Thetis’ on a Government Assisted passage to Adelaide on 30 May 1851. They arrived in Adelaide on 6th September 1851. In Australia they had three further children, Alexander, Ellen and Walter. They would appear to have settled at Mount Barker near the River Bremer, and Alexander is described as a Blacksmith. Ann, his wife, died in 1864 leaving him with five children ranging in age from four to 15 years old. Alexander was in partnership with Robert Sweet (Jane’s father) running a Blacksmith shop and this would be where Jane met him. At the time of their marriage Jane was 29 and Alexander was 41. There are two Land Title Records for Alexander that predate the digitised records but for those that are digitised, Alexander was clearly successful and bought parcels of land adjoining one another over the years: in 1863 he bought three Sections that totalled 353 acres, in 1874 a further 198 acres, in 1879 he bought 94 acres and in 1898 , 239 acres. In all he farmed 884 acres plus what he owned prior to these records.

Children of Alexander McDonald’s first marriage to Ann Paterson:

Margaret McDonald (1849-after 1905 ) born in Marnoch, Banffshire married James Ness in 1886.

Mary McDonald (1850- ) born in Marnoch, Banffshire married Berry Smith in 1873.

Alexander McDonald (1853-1886 ) born in Mount Barker, S.A.

Ellen McDonald (1859-) born in South Australia married Edward Hamp in 1905.

Walter McDonald (1860-1905) farmed at Nilpena Station, did not marry.  

Children born to Alexander McDonald and Jane Hogarth Sweet:

Robert Sweet McDonald (1866-1941) Born at Newton Farm, married Marion Greenwood and they had six children, five of whom lived to adulthood. Their first daughter, Flora McDonald, corresponded with Mary Sweet, the daughter of Alexander Sweet of Cathcart and Skermorlie. Robin Grant stayed with Robert and Marion around 1928/29 with a view to living in Australia, but did not. Robert and Marion bought a large area of land which they called Preamimma, at the time of his death when Marion put the farm up for sale it comprised 1846 acres and contained many farm buildings associated with a large sheep farm. He also had a quarter share in Section 1296 on which there was a silver and lead mine called the Aclare Mine which his syndicate leased to mining companies; judging by the many references to it, it was a successful mine. Both he and his wife, Marion, were active in the community, he was chairman of Monarto District Council in 1905 and Marion raised funds for local charities. He would appear to have been a successful farmer and accumulated considerable assets. In 1936 he gave 223 acres of mallee scrubland to the State which with a further 588 acres in 1938 from Mr G Lemmey of Two Wells formed the beginning of a nature park. With a donation from Mr James Ferries a further 279 acres of adjoining land was bought and the Ferries-McDonald Conservation Park was formed.

After Robert Sweet McDonald’s death in September 1941, Marion tried to sell the farm in November 1941 and April 1942 but was still there when she died in August 1943.

William McDonald (Jan 1868- Feb 1868) Born and died at Newton Farm

Anna Sweet McDonald (1869-1958) Born at Newton Farm, married William Henry Heaslip a sheep farmer in Appila. It was their granddaughter, Rosalie Heaslip, with whom I corresponded until her death in 2012.

Anna Sweet McDonald (Heaslip)

Catherine Ramsay McDonald (Feb 1871- Jul 1872) Born at Newton Farm, the younger twin with sister,

Jane Copland McDonald (1971-1952) Born at Newton Farm, married Robert Hugh Fairbairn in 1911.

Maude Shirra McDonald (1872-1945) Born at Newton Farm, married George Sturgeon Harvey in 1903. They moved to Western Australia and were very successful. See above.

Edith Bruce McDonald (1874-1876) Born at Newton Farm, died of croup.

A stillborn son (1879) born at Kangarilla (near Adelaide) 

Newton Farm, home of Alexander McDonald and Jane Hogarth Sweet.

Robert and Anne Sweet’s youngest child, John Sweet (1842-1919) married Rebecca Argal Jacka in January 1869 at which time he was a farmer in Callington. However, in late April he had a serious accident when the six horses pulling his waggon bolted he was thrown from the waggon and a wheel ran over his leg below the knee smashing it in a frightful manner. By 1880 he was described as Saddler in Callington, so sometime after his accident he changed his profession. In Nov 1880 the Land Titles Register records him buying 260 acres for £260 at Black Rock Plains and selling the land on again in May 1881. And again 380 acres for £380 in March 1883 sold on again.

John and Rebecca had nine children:

Mary Sweet (1869-1937) born Bremer married John Grant in 1896. They had three sons and a daughter.

Robert Sweet (1871-1922) born Bremer, married Elizabeth Wilke in 1901. They had three sons and a daughter. The elder son, Arthur Leslie Sweet(1900-1983), is grandfather to Russell Sweet of Sydney with whom we stayed in 2015.

Annie Sweet (1873-1923) born Bremer, married John Scobell in 1901

Jean Hogarth Sweet (1876-1960) born in ‘Yetholm’, Black Rock Plains, married Ernest Abbot in 1903. They had two daughters and a son.

Ethel Lavinia Jacka Sweet (1877- ) born in Black Rock Plains, married Nathaniel Mitchell Stewart,

Katie Lilian Sweet (1878- ) born in Black Rock Plains,

Mabel Floyd Sweet (1880- ) born in Black Rock Plains, married William Tasker Davis,

William Jacka Sweet (1883-1962 ) born in Eurilpa, Frome S.A.,, married Jessie Dawson in 1922 and

Alan Richard Glanville sweet (1887-1951) born in Eurilpa, Frome S.A.,,married Hilda Doris Robertson in 1911. They had four sons.

Alexander McDonald died in March 1904 and Jane clearly kept the farm going after his death; her name appears in the results of wool sales in Adelaide each year until November 1910. Jane wrote her will on 6th June, 1910.

Sweet’s Cottage, Woodchester

Sweet’s Cottage, Woodchester,130 years after the Sweets sold it. Front view and back view.

We met Don Hassam whose family owned the property from 1881 until 1984 when it was bought by Marian Harvey, and her siblings, a descendant from the Mary Shirra Sweet Harvey’s, whom we also met..

   If you would like a family tree in diagram form, please contact me with the name of the family in which you are interested and I will send you the tree.

May 2020