first families 2001

Coghill 'Family Stories'

By Martyn Smith, 13 April, 2010

First Family Member Details
Family Stories
Family Contact, including related links

First Family Member Details

Surname: COGHILL
Given Name(s): Donald Murray Robertson
Occupation(s): clerk

Birth Details
Birth Town: Glasgow
Birth County,
Region, Province:
Birth Country: Scotland
Birth Date: 19 Apr 1842

Death Details
Death Town: Auburn
Death State/Territory: Victoria
Death Country: Australia
Death Date: 20 Jul 1912

Immigration Details
Air/Port Landed: Melbourne
Ship/Plane: Screamer
Year Arrived: December, 1857
Surname: RIX
Given Name(s): Frances Elizabeth
Occupation(s): unknown

Birth Details
Birth Town: Woolwich
Birth County,
Region, Province:
Birth Country: England
Birth Date: 21 Oct 1839

Death Details
Death Town: Armadale
Death State/Territory: Victoria
Death Country: Australia
Death Date: 4 Dec 1932

Immigration Details
Air/Port Landed: Geelong
Ship/Plane: Minerva
Year Arrived: June, 1853

Family Stories

Donald Murray Robertson COGHILL is a first father of the COGHILL surname in Australia.  His wife, Frances Elizabeth, is the eldest daughter of first family Thomas and Mary Ann RIX (nee FINCH), who are the subject of their own FF2001 page.


FEW JOYS FOR MARY ... Twenty-four years in the life of Mary Mccallum McLaren, first father Donald COGHILL's mother.  (Based on, and with quotations from, original documents held in the family.)


Twenty-one years old James McLearen (so spelt) marries Ann (so spelt) Gillespie, just eighteen, in the Parish of Canongate, near Edinburgh, County of Midlothian, Scotland.  They are to be the parents of Mary Mccallum McLaren.


Mary McLaren's fiancee, Reverend Donald Murray Robertson Coghill, in his third year of Wesleyan Methodist itinerant ministry and aged twenty-six, writes a loving letter to Mary, care of her father James, a twill manufacturer of Sidney Court, Glasgow.

Writing at length from Wigton, just south of the western end of the Scotland/England border, Donald is happy that Mary's ring pleased her, describes the arduous tribulations of his circuitous ministry, anticipates Mary's wedding dress and the wedding cake and yearns for her presence ..... "I wish I were just beside you for a sweet hour or two.  You observed in your letter 3rd September that you thought if you were beside me for half an hour I would cheer up.  I wish that half hour were at hand. Really there would be so many kisses and embraces that I would have no time to be melancholy ....... My dearest and loveliest Mary let me have a long sweet delightful letter from you in return for mine and send me some sweet kisses."

He closes by sending kind regards to Mary's mother and to "Maggie", presumably Mary's sister.  A further notation is added for "wee Jenny", another sister presumably.

Finally, Donald seals his letter with a poignant "My Dearest Mary Give me a kiss!"

24th AUGUST, 1838 : MARRIAGE

Nearly two years later, Donald and Mary are married in the Parish of Glasgow, County of Lanark, Scotland, by Mr Will France, Methodist Minister.


Resident in Wolsingham in north-eastern England, Reverend Donald is a preacher in the Wesleyan Methodist Circuit of Wolsingham.  Between April and October he preaches frequently at Wolsingham, Stanhope, Frosterley, High-House, Eastgate, Westgate, Rookhope and Lanehead but not at Burnhope, Snape Close, Horseley-Head or Thornley.


At the age of thirty, Reverend Donald is "seized with affliction, which unfitted him for the regular duties of a Circuit; he was therefore appointed as a Supernumerary."

In this foreboding year, James George McLaren Coghill is born, the first child of Donald and Mary.


At the beginning of April, Donald M. R. Coghill, 32, "gave up all hope of life.  After this he spoke on every subject as a dying man: and gave every one who heard him to feel that God was with him.  From that time his strength rapidly declined; and on the 9th of April, 1842, he yielded his happy spirit into the hands of his Saviour."

Ten days later, on the 19th of April and amidst her sorrow, Mary gives birth to her second son, Donald Murray Robertson Coghill.


James McLaren, 39, dies.


Aged forty, George McLaren, M.D., dies.

Three men dear to Mary have died prematurely within five and a half years whilst she raises two young sons as a single parent.  More sadness is to follow.


Four years later, with Mary's sons aged eleven and nine, her mother, Anne, dies at the age of seventy-two.


In Glasgow, James McLaren writes to "Mrs Coghill.  My dear daughter, With the view of preventing disputes after my death I think it advisable to declare in writing that I hereby make over to you all interest in my Household furniture & plate etc on account of your kind conduct towards me and because I have given to the other members of my family what I considered their fair and equitable portions according to their respective sincerity and my estimation of them.  Your affectionate father, James McLaren."  The witnesses to this were Mary's husband-to-be, J. Milne, and her older son, J. G. Coghill, both of whom signed their name to the document.

(Mary's daughter by her second marriage, Annabella Milne, is later to write in a letter to Mary's grandson, another Donald Murray Robertson Coghill, on the 8th of January, 1920, that James McLaren took the above action "to protect her from the action of his oldest daughter's" (Was this Maggie?) "second husband, an Englishman who was a very undesirable character & a pest to the family.")


Mary marries James Milne in the Parish of Govan, County of Lanark, Scotland, following the striking of a contract of marriage in which she retains exclusive ownership of "the personal means & effects Debs and sums of money pertaining and belonging to the said Mrs Mary McLaren or Coghill including the rents and revenues that shall accrue on her heritage and including also all her household Furniture Silver Plate and plenishings of every description, now belonging to her and contained in her house at Pollockshields .... as also all the means and Estate to which she .... may succeed ...."


At the age of seventy-nine, James McLaren dies on the 1st of April.  He had lived with Mary both before and after her marriage to James Milne.  Although he would have known that his daughter was pregnant, he was destined not to welcome baby Annabella into the world when she was born in Govan on the 19th of June.

For the second time in her life, Mary's emotions are wrenched apart as she experiences the death of a long-loved one and the birth of a newly-loved one in quick succession.


On the 4th of March, James, 17, and Donald, 14, write to their mother ..... "Dear Mamma, We acknowledge that for some time back, we have not conducted ourselves as we ought, & should you be pleased to overlook the same, we give you our word that you will not have reason to complain again, Yours most affectionately, James Coghill, Donald Coghill."

What had they done?  Perhaps a little insensitive to their mother's feelings and condition?  Feeling the early loss of a father and two uncles?  Jealous of the newcomers?  Who knows?!  A timely reconciliation nonetheless.

This note undoubtedly heartened Mary, whose spirits would have been lifted even more with the birth of her second daughter, Mary Elizabeth, on the 27th of May, in Govan.

During late September, however, Donald sails to the Colony of Victoria aboard the 'Screamer'.

Later, at the end of October, James, too, sails for Victoria.  He writes two bold and optimistic short notes to his mother and Mr Milne describing his affairs as he prepares to board the 'Anglo Saxon'.  At one point he moots the possibility of a reunion with them in Australia.  He also accounts for some wayward behaviour, including "smoking in the parlour, & kissing the girls in the kitchen", by, it seems, Donald, 15.

These notes are written from Liverpool on the 28th and 29th of October.  On both he adds the postscript "Kiss the Weans", presumably referring to his step-sisters.  A second postscript on the first note asks ..... "How is Miss Milne taking the loss of Jim Joss?"

Annabella Milne, in her 1920 letter to Donald Coghill mentioned above, explains ...... "I could not pronounce James George, so called him 'Jim-Joss'.  I took his departure quietly, because your father was my favourite.  My mother never understood why, but I would do anything for 'Dole' as I called him & was always at his heels.  Yet J.G. was far more thoughtfully concerned about me; 'Dole' being rather careless!  J.G. was never away from home without bringing me a present when he returned - Dole used to forget!"

1858 : TRAGEDY!

"My dear Mother & Mr Milne, I doubt not that you will be glad to hear of my safe arrival here, after a dreary, miserable & comfortless voyage of 106 days."

So opens James' letter from Melbourne dated the 15th of February, the day after the 'Anglo Saxon' had berthed at Williamstown.  Hastily written to catch "the English mail", James' letter briefly describes the voyage and goes on ..... "Captn. Davies a gentleman who discharged the 'Screamer' came on board the 'Anglo Saxon' & filled my heart with joy by informing me that Donald had communicated with Mr George" (Milne, James Milne's brother) "& left for Ballarat.  You cannot conceive how I received the news.  It was almost too much for me.  I had previously enquired at our Pilot if the 'Screamer' had arrived.  He told me he took her out three days ago.  This quite upset me, the hope of seeing Donald had tended greatly to keep up my spirits for the whole voyage, for you must know that I have been unwell the whole passage nearly, & had a stupid Doctor who knew as much about Medicine as it knew about him.  I had nothing but pills to administer.  So there I was for upwards of 100 days in bad health, and you may guess what effect the pilot's news had upon me.  I suppose Donald would write by last mail or perhaps just writes by this, giving you further particulars.  Of course I haven't seen him yet but as I said before I am about to write to Ballarat to Mr George, who I trust will get me a crib somewhere or other.  So I hope to send you a long long letter next mail giving you further particulars of the voyage, how I am settled, how Donald is, what Mr George is like and all the news of the Colony."

Closing his letter, James writes ..... "Believe me Yours very affectionately" and, once again, he fondly remembers the girls ..... "Kiss our little darlings."

Five weeks later, on the 23rd of March, he is dead, at only eighteen years of age.

The Deaths Register of the District of Melbourne in the Colony of Victoria records that James died in Queen Street, Melbourne.  (He had told his mother in his letter that mail for him should be addressed to "Mr Archd. B. Wardrop, Messrs. Hancock & Daffett, 30 Queen St., Melbourne.")  The Register shows that James was a clerk and that the cause of death was dropsy.  It records his brother Donald M. R. Coghill of Melbourne as being "Present at death."  Donald signs the Register as informant.  In a notation at the foot of James' February letter, added later by Annabella Milne, she writes ..... "I believe he was found lying dead on the floor of his bedroom in the morning.  It was supposed that, feeling ill, he had risen to ring the bell but could not do so."

From Melbourne, on the 14th of May, Mary's brother-in-law and guardian of her sons, George Milne, writes to Mary ..... "My dear Sister, Little did I imagine that my first letter to you would be the subject of such mournful intelligence as I have the painful duty to convey in informing you of the death of your eldest son James George who since his arrival in the Colony never recovered from an illness which as far as I could learn must have originated on board the vessel that brought him out."

Mary's stunned horror is compounded!

"I received with much joy into my hands your letters thinking the address was in the handwritting (sic) of my poor James George.  When I found my mistake and read the first half-dozen lines you may guess my feelings.  My anguish was only known to Him who sees the secrets of all hearts." ..... she writes back from Shawfield Villa, her home in Pollockshields, Glasgow, on the 15th of September.

Mary continues ..... "What poor short-sighted creatures we are.  How little did he think when so full of hope and anticipation that he was hastening to his grave.  I cannot yet dwell on the subject, my wounded heart bleeds afresh at every turn that even inadvertently leads to the remembrance of him & altho' I endeavour to bow with submission to the will of my Heavenly father knowing that he does all things well, that He is too wise to err & too good to be unkind.  Still nature will sometimes triumph & my grief becomes very poignant.  Our house was indeed a scene of desolation.  All felt the sad stroke with the exception of our two little darlings who in their young innocence never dream of Death."

Thus Mary mourns.

Her next paragraph recalls her parting with her dear James ..... "Dear James was aching at the time & what with the grief he felt himself & seeing me in so much agony of grief night & day it almost upset him & I was obliged to smother my feelings & get him to the coast.  I felt afraid of losing him too & then my state would have been desolate indeed ....."

Mary spends many paragraphs gaining hope from her Christian faith and, towards the end of her letter, turns her thoughts to Donald.

George Milne had done the same near the commencement and the conclusion of his letter ..... "By this mail I have written my brother conveying to him all the particulars that I am possessed of connected with this most painful subject, and I only trust that Donald who has delayed so long in writing you will avail himself of this opportunity of writing, for I imagine he appears diffident of doing so, nor can I offer any reason to account for it."

This is at the beginning. Later, he writes ..... "Death in every view is an important event.  It calls for seriousness of thought.  I trust that it will prove a beneficial & important lesson to Donald.  He feels it very much at present, as if bereft of a great & cherished comfort, a companion in the great battle of life.  I trust shortly to get him provided for in some situation where he will learn what in after years will prove beneficial."

Mary responds by expressing her gratitude for George's "kind intentions towards" James "& for substantial benefits conferred on his Brother Don foolish thoughtless boy if he is still with" (or "near") "you give him my warmest kindest love tell him I never forget him for a single day (moment I may say) & keep hoping & praying the Lord will change his heart then he will remember his duty both to Him & to me.  I pray that the Holy Spirit may restrain him from evil & incite him to good.  I hope you will write & tell us how he gets on it is 13" (an underlined adjective is indecipherable here) "months since he left me....."

As Mary's writing and punctuation deteriorate (a reflection of her despair?) she concludes her black-bordered letter by turning it ninety degrees to write at right angles across her preceding text.

Sixty-two years later, in 1920, Annabella Milne comments upon these tragic events to the wayward Donald's son ..... "You will see what an extraordinary letter uncle George's is.  So stilted and formal - like the manners of those days.  The shock nearly killed my mother.  Of course he should have written to my father at his office & let him break - if such tidings can be broken - to her."

And so is recorded the lonely, tragic death of James Coghill, the broken heart of his mother and the challenges facing his brother.


On the 5th of January, in Govan, Wilhemina Barbara Agnes Milne is born, a third daughter for Mary and James Milne.

Then ..... "My Dear Mamma, I don't know what you will think of me for not having written for so many months & I hardly know what to say in my defence - I have however seldom failed sending a paper by every mail."

One wonders at Mary's innermost thoughts as she read these probably all too familiar words penned on 24th April at 54 Chancery Lane, Melbourne, by her only living son, named after her long-lost, loving, first husband.

Young Donald, now eighteen, goes on to say that he has entered a Law Stationery partnership and to describe, with a little acrimony, life in the colony.  In the process, he writes ..... "I must conclude with thanks to Mr Milne for his kind attention writing so often in his last, recd. the other day, he says nothing of the 'Elephant' how does she get on.  I am thankful you are so well recovered & that things were not so serious as they might have been -- I trust that you are giving up that wretchedly foolish idea of coming out to this Country. I wish I had never seen it."

He remains in Australia, of course, for the rest of his life.

In a postscript, Donald makes two notes ..... "Mrs Geo Milne's Baby was christened last week 'Helen Eliza Blanche'  I will write to Annabella next mail.  I trust she keeps her health let me see she will be 5 yrs old on the 19th June I think and Mary Elizabeth 3 yrs on 29th May before this reaches you how time flies."

Annabella would have been pleased to know that she is remembered on this occasion -- and remembered accurately!  When notating this letter, however, she does correct Donald's error regarding Mary Elizabeth's birthday.  Annabella also notes that "Elephant" refers to "my sister Barbara."  A variation on 'Wilhemina' no doubt!


So ends this record of nearly a quarter of a century of life for Mary Mccallum McLaren -- the joys of love, marriage and motherhood constantly and tragically overhung by death and separation.

In Australia, her Donald Murray Robertson married Frances Elizabeth Rix (she, too, a young emigrant from the British Isles) at Ballarat, Victoria, on the 14th of April, 1870.  Together they had four children:-

  • Donald Murray Robertson  (born 15/4/1871),
  • James George McLaren  (born 10/11/1873),
  • Mary Rix  (born 22/12/1876) and
  • Henry Rix  (born 23/4/1880).

At one time (1872-1875), Donald was Town Clerk of Sebastopol, Victoria, and thereafter he and his family lived in various country towns of Victoria before spending some six years in Sydney, New South Wales.

In 1888 the family returned to Victoria and lived close by Donald's ailing father-in-law, Thomas Rix ... firstly at 50 Alfred Street, Prahran and later at 14 Alfred Street.

Donald died at his home at 15 Rathmines Grove, Auburn, on the 20th July, 1912.  He is buried in the Methodist B compartment of the Melbourne General Cemetery, Carlton, with his brother, James, and his wife, Frances (who succeeded him by twenty years).

The grave's headstone is inscribed thus:- "Sacred to the memory of James George McLaren died Melbourne 23rd March 1858 aged 18 years also his brother Donald Murray Robertson died Auburn 20th July 1912 aged 70 years sons of the Rev DMR Coghill of Glasgow also Frances Elizabeth Coghill wife of the above Donald MR died Armadale 4th December 1932 aged 93 years."

And, from the McLaren family Lair in the Glasgow Necropolis, half a globe away, there comes a distant, partial echo:-  "James McLaren In memory of His son in law The Revd D. M. R. Coghill Wesleyan Minister Aged 32 Died 9 April 1842 Also his son James who died 4 Janry 1845 Aged 39 George McLaren M. D. His son died 5 Decr 1847 aged 40 years Anne Gillespie His wife died 23rd Octr 1851 aged 72 James McLaren Died 1st April 1855 Aged 79 years James George Coghill His grandson died at Melbourne 23rd March 1858 aged 18 years"


In addition to the original documents detailed within the text, that are held by first family grandson Warwick Coghill, whose father was Henry Rix Coghill, the following sources were used:-

1.  International Genealogical Index, FamilySearch, State Library of Victoria.  (Details of the marriage of James McLearen and Ann Gillespie, the marriage of Rev. Donald M. R. Coghill and Mary McLaren, the marriage of James Milne and Mary Coghill, nee McLaren, the births of Annabella, Mary Elizabeth and Wilhemina Barbara Milne);

2.  Photocopy of an Extract from a register of Proclamation of Banns and Marriages, no. 20643, given under the Seal of the General Register Office, New Register House, Edinburgh, 12/7/1994.  (The marriage of Rev. Donald M. R. Coghill and Mary McLaren);

3.  The Lord's Day Plan of the Wesleyan Methodist Preachers in the Wolsingham Circuit, 1839.  (Rev. Donald M.R. Coghill's preaching appointments and residence);

4.  Photocopy of an extract from the Minutes, Wesleyan Methodist Conference, 1842.  (The illness and death of Rev. Donald M. R. Coghill);

5.  A handwritten transcription of the inscription on the McLaren family Lair in the Glasgow Necropolis.  (Dates of death and ages of Rev. Donald M. R. Coghill, James McLaren and his wife, sons and grandson, James George Coghill);

6.  Various Coghill/Rix family papers held by Warwick Coghill and first family great grandson Martyn Smith, whose mother Beth was Warwick Coghill's sister.  (Epilogue details)

M. G. Smith, 17th-20th May, 1996


Family Contact
Surname: SMITH
Given Name: Martyn
Related Links: Directory of Helen and Martyn Smith's FF2001 Webpages | Official WW1 records of first family oldest son Donald Murray Robertson Coghill.

Last updated by Martyn SMITH on 13 April 2010.