Aitchison Family - F49

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Aitchison Family
Robert and Agnes - F49
William Aitchison.jpg
William Aitchison (1847-1917) [1]
Name Robert Aitchison
Lived (1818 - 1 May 1897)
Nationality  Scotland
Name Agnes Brown
Lived (1811 - 2 December 1899)
Nationality  Scotland
Margaret (1840)
Jean (1842)
Robert Forester Proudfoot (1845)
William (1847)
John (1851)

In 1871 Robert Aitchison 53, his wife Agnes 58 and their 20 years old son John arrived at Port Adelaide on the City of Adelaide.

Life in Scotland

Robert Aitchison (1818-1897) had been born in the farming parish of Dunbar, East Lothian, Scotland, and grew up to become an agricultural labourer like his father. By the time he was 21 he had met Agnes Brown (1811-1899), and in March 1839 they were married at Duns, in Berwickshire, the neighbouring county in which she had been born. Berwickshire is in the south-east corner of Scotland, adjacent to the North Sea and the border with England.

East Barns Farm Carthouse & Granary, built 1847. [2]

Robert chose employment and accommodation on a farm in Fogo parish, Berwickshire, where he and Agnes raised a family of Margaret (1840), Jean (1842), Robert Forester Proudfoot (1845), William (1847), and John (1851).

Once their children were starting to leave school and needing to find employment, Robert moved his family to his native parish of Dunbar. Here they settled in the village on East Barns Farm, a major estate of sufficient size to provide employment as agricultural labourers and farm servants for whole families.

Migration to South Australia

In January 1865, 22 years old Jane (Jean), described as a servant, and her 19 years old brother Robert Aitchison, shepherd, responded to advertisements seeking healthy young men, women and families to migrate to South Australia and help develop the young colony. At their age and with their farm experience, the young Aitchisons were ideal applicants for free or assisted passages (depending on the current official scheme). They sailed from Plymouth, England as ‘government passengers’ on the Burlington and arrived at Port Adelaide four months later.

They would have had no trouble finding work on farms, enjoying plentiful food, and experiencing much better weather than they had ever known in Scotland. Obviously they wrote back to their parents urging them to come out to sunny South Australia, and they responded by doing so as passengers paying the second class fare on the City of Adelaide in 1871.

Robert Aitchison senior and Agnes were living at Bagot’s Well, 5 miles (8 km) north of Kapunda in 1873, when their daughter Jane 28 married David Bone 31 in their home.

In these times wheat farming on family farms was seen to be an excellent path to prosperity, but it was no longer possible to make a living on a standard country section of 80 acres (32 hectares). To make it possible for small farmers to afford the purchase of up to eight sections of designated Crown Lands, from 1869 the Government had provided sales on credit terms of 20% deposit with the balance payable over four years. In 1872 the deposit was lowered to 10% and credit was eased to six years.

In 1875 Robert senior and his son John took the opportunity to purchase 324 acres at Boucaut, just north of Brinkworth, at £1-0s-0d per acre. This purchase was completed in 1881. A pine hut with an iron roof there cost them an additional £7-10s-0d. They subsequently purchased another 170 acres at Condowie Plains, east of Snowtown.

Life in Mundoora

Wheat Cart on Railway between Port Broughton and Mundoora. [3]

Among the new lands being opened up in the mid-north of the State was the very highly regarded agricultural area of Broughton. The town was surveyed and a jetty was erected in 1871, a ‘rush’ ensued and 23,000 acres in the area was already applied for within the first few weeks. The average distance from the shipping port was 26 miles (40 km).

"Pie-Cart" Tram on Port Broughton-Mundoora Railway [4]

The Hundred of Mundoora, 10 miles (15 km) inland to the east of the port, was surveyed in 1874. A horse-drawn railway was opened in 1876 to transport bags of grain from Mundoora to the port for shipping overseas on the 'windjammers'. A passenger tram, known as “The Pie-Cart” and formerly used between Goolwa and Port Elliott, was part of the service and made a daily trip in each direction.

Robert F P Aitchison (1845-1925) had been attracted to participate in this development by 1875, when at 29 he married SA-born Caroline Blight 20 in her parents’ home at Broughton Extension. They settled in Mundoora, where they raised a family of Robert (1876), William (1878), Mary Agnes (1880), John (1881), Herbert Forester (1883), Ethel (1885) and Stanley (1888).

In 1877 Robert F P committed the 10% deposit to purchase 127 acres at Mundoora. At the same time his father Robert senior also purchased 316 acres there at £1-0s-6d per acre.

SA Map.jpg

William Aitchison (1847-1917) had not joined the extended family at this time. Working on East Barns Farm, he married local girl Margaret Murray, also 23, in 1870 and they had set up a separate household within the hamlet. There Margaret gave birth to Agnes Brown (1874), Mary Jane (1876) and Margaret (1877), before William also decided to take his household to South Australia to join the others. Three more children Robert (1879-1898), James Murray (1882) and William (1885) were born at Mundoora in South Australia.

At some stage Robert and Agnes’ other daughter Margaret had also migrated to South Australia. In 1882, at the age of 40, she married William Dawson 39 in Condowie.

John had continued to work closely with his father in South Australia. It was not until he was 46 that he married Catherine Roach 42 at Penwortham in 1898, the year after his father died.

In 1882 and 1885 Robert Aitchison senior surrendered his land sections to be taken up by each of his three sons Robert F P, William and John, who also exchanged a property or two between them.

Robert senior died at Penwortham in 1897 aged 79 and Agnes was 88 when she died two years later in Condowie. They were buried in the Clare Cemetery.

Their sons Robert F P and William Aitchinson soon became leading members of the Mundoora community. In 1881 a ‘Mr Aitchison’ was elected to a committee to petition the Government to provide a water supply for the district.

Mundoora Football Club 1911 ........ At the right hand end of the third row from the front appear Willam Aitchison's sons William jnr (left) and James, both wearing moustaches. [5]

For many years Robert F P and William were both Vice-Presidents of the Mundoora Football Club (Australian Rules). Silver medals were presented to their respective sons John and James, captain and vice-captain, for being the club’s best all-round players of the 1903 season. Through the decade that followed John’s brothers Herbert and Stanley, and James’ brother William jnr also played football for Mundoora.

When the foundation stone of the Mundoora Institute was laid in 1904, Robert P F had made a free gift of the ground (about ½ acre), and William was a Trustee. Subequent generations of the Aitchison family have been closely associated with the Institute’s administration into the 21st century, when they successfully fought off a plan to demolish the hall and sell the block of land.

Robert F P was obtaining 5½d and 6d per pound for his wool from 1901, he purchased four more sections in the Mundoora district in 1904, and in one year Elder Smith sold 320 of his fat ewes and lambs.

Robert F P was a good singer, had many phonographs, and recorded songs on cylindrical records. It was through singing that he met his wife Caroline, who was also musical and played the church harmonium.

The Agricultural Advice Bureau of South Australia is a non-profit voluntary organisation run by farmers for farmers. It was established in 1888, and membership is for everyone associated with or interested in farming, agricultural development and education. The Bureau helps to bridge the gap between scientist and farmer and assists its members in working together on issues such as management and marketing. Like all the other active branches spread throughout the state, the Mundoora group met regularly to exchange ideas, discuss farming practice and keep abreast of the latest developments, and Robert and William were inaugural members. In 1891 the prospect of establishing a condensed milk plant in the district was discussed, but it was agreed that there was insufficient dairy activity. William Aitchison could report in 1892 that he “had enclosed his orchard with a mallee brush fence, and the protective trees had made surprising growth”. In the same year he delivered the first load of a new wheat, and it was considered to be “very good, weighing about 65 pounds to the bushel”.

William was made a life-member of the State’s Advisory Board of Agriculture in 1912, having served the Mundoora branch for 22 years, and acting as its vice-chairman and chairman for some years.


  1. Photographer: Stump @ Co, Adelaide, courtesy of Ann Aitchison
  2. © Copyright Lisa Jarvis and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence
  3. courtesy Port Broughton Heritage Centre.
  4. courtesy Port Broughton Heritage Centre.
  5. courtesy Port Broughton Heritage Centre.

This article is based on the extensive genealogical information gathered by Grace Aitchison, whose husband Trevor is a great-grandson of Robert and Agnes Aitchison, and by Ann Aitchison, a great-great-granddaughter. Trevor and Grace were formerly Mundoora farmers but are now retired in Port Broughton, and their son Kenneth now represents the fifth generation of the extended family still farming those Mundoora properties into the 21st century.