Antics of an Archivist by Grahame Gorrie, Brisbane.

Ancient researchers appear, to all but genealogists, as a pleasant avocation. Certainly, it is a fascinating pursuit. But no walk of life is more fraught with frustrations, obstacles, blind-turnings and the plain unvarnished ‘cussedness’ of the inanimate than family research.

National genealogy sprang from ancestor-worship and existed in detail among the Chinese for several thousand years. In the case of the Scot, he possessed a Narcissus-like complex and predilection for continuing by word of mouth. The Smiths, the Browns and the Joneses find their courage fail before the pages of the modern telephone directory.

The generality of Scotsmen are in a particularly favourable position for research and having passed the first couple of hundred years, approach the era of the clan system, where common knowledge aids in tracing families and septs. The Scot, too, because of his kinship with men of royal race, has a particular duty to seek and preserve those segments of history which, over a wide field of research, contain information: religious, sociological, national and genealogical, without which in permanent form future generations will be excluded from a birthright.

Despite the baulks and the bogies, and to encourage those who might wish to tread the same path, an account of several generations of examination into one of the septs from the Western Highlands and Isles is laid before you.

Leading from a combination of origins, Icelandic and Norse on the one hand, early Irish and Manx on the other: through Dalriad and Islesman ancestry, “The Gorraidh ” – a sept of Clan Donald – may be traced long into the mystical past, beyond all clan history in its united form. This is not alone the presentation of a clan and personal record, it includes a large sector of original Scottish history, of social climate over some fifteen centuries; it compasses, as well, the Culdee Church and the development of Roman Catholicism in Scotland to Reformation times. Flowing forward, finally, like some spillway from an over-full dam, to spread across the world in all walks of life, keeping withal the character and kinship of the great clan, which in the last stronghold of feudalism, marked the clan systems of the Western Isles.

From recent centuries, no sennachie or appointed scribe was there to set down in living, if flowery and bombastic, verse the records of the race. Sundered by internecine strife, driven like kine from home and fireside, proscribed, attainted, swept from dignity of dress and strength of arms, the Islesmen yet preserved and passed on to their progeny pride of blood. They retained staunchness of kinship, fealty to the clan and were a nation of men, dwelling as expatriates in distant places, yet standing instantly, shoulder to shoulder, with their fellows in a common cause. There is no closer brotherhood, nor more stubborn patriot, than the Long-descended Gael.

Being sib to the Siol Gorrie of Garmoran, through the sojourn in the braes of Lochaber, and final exodus, who knows where across the globe, an old Colonial Judge, Sir John Gorrie, more than eighty years ago, when upon the Bench in Mauritius, commenced, with the assistance of his young family, the history of the house, with that of the various branches of the ‘Gorraidh’ and the numerous septs and families which sprang from them. Later, in the Fijis, to which place – then under the Government of New Zealand where his friend, Sir Arthur Gordon, was then in office – he had the mantle of Chief Justice, the record was continued and expanded. With the active assistance of Malcolm Gorrie, his only son, libraries were searched, voluminous correspondence entered into with interested kin, until several large volumes were filled and embellished with painstakingly prepared trees of clan and family development.

Sir John, himself a constant correspondent of the local and general press, was able to add to the account many records of clansmen’s activities in the local and distant scene. Australia and New Zealand had proved attractive to many a stalwart from the north and these with their forebears found place in the account. From Fiji, in 1882 Sir John proceeded to the West Indies, again to fill the post of Chief Justice, and the search and record continued there. Another avocation of the versatile legislator was stamp collecting, in those more leisured days and when the long reign of Queen Victoria limited the numbers and changes in early British stamps, it was still possible for the assiduous to collect every issue of the principal countries of the world. Sir John’s collection at that time was well known to those of similar pursuits, and was rated among the more valuable then in existence. The Chief Justice died in Devon, England, in 1892.

In the year 1894 the decision was taken to place the results of these researches, along with the stamp collection, in the family home in Edinburgh, as a permanent and safe repository for what was intended to become a printed account of clan and family associations. Malcolm Gorrie was making a periodical voyage to the Old Country, and the vermin-proof metal-lined boxes containing the papers, with the stamp collection, became part of the effects shipped on the mail-steamer “Ituni,” on which he had booked passage. On 1st January 1895, the “Ituni” struck the Pears Rock when entering St. Michaels, in the Azores, and foundered. There was no loss of life, but a lifetime of effort was gone beyond recovery.

Malcolm Gorrie became a sugar planter in Tobago, from where he returned to Europe after Sir John’s death and was called to the Middle Temple Bar; at this time the family was laboriously recreating its notes and historical data. Malcolm became interested in Pome fruits in British Columbia, and the search continued with the present writer’s active co-operation. Framed by tables of Irish, Scottish and Norse kings of parallel date, into these areas we delved for early church and clan roots and family history. Gradually a connected, but by no means so complete an account emerged; we were progressing.

Such notables as Gorrie Crovan, Somerled, Angus Mor and Angus Oig, the Bruce supporter, took form and substance, closely associated with the Culdee Church: Bethog, first Prioress of lona, Christina and Amie MacRuari and so to the united Lordship of the Isles, the power that was to be Clan Donald reared up from the keeps and castles of antiquity, such as ‘Ellentirrim’ on Moydart.

Malcolm Gorrie died on Vancouver Island in 1921, but before that event such names as Douglass P. Gorie the Methodist historian (probably Orcadian in origin from the spelling with one ‘R’); Dr. John Gorrie, the pioneer of refrigeration; William and Archibald, foresters in the last century; Daniel of Kingskettle Church: Provost Thomas of Dunfermilne, with hundreds of lesser known names had been recorded.

Your correspondent whose work carried him alike over the western and Asiatic theatres came into correspondence with your present editor, himself a researcher and deeply interested in the ‘Gorraidh’ roots of Clan Donald. In India and Ceylon, far from libraries and sources of record except correspondence by which means, from Australia to Edinburgh: a voluminous amount of material on our ancient families has been brought together.

The curiosities of circumstance are well typified in the following, one of many similar puzzles which beset the path of all researchers. In the late twenties, having just come from Exeter in Devon where the old Judge had died, alone in 1892 and been buried in a grave then impossible to identify. Having obtained the copy of his death certificate, signed by a single L RCP the writer was preparing to follow a further train of search in Edinburgh. Finding myself near a gate of the Warriston (?) Cemetery and having purchased a picnic lunch selected a pleasant seat in these old-world surroundings. After a time, diverted perhaps by some passing noise, I turned about and faced the wall; right behind the seat was a grave with the name ” John Gorrie.” Having taken the number and particulars, it was no less surprising to find that the owner lived in a street at no great distance. Coming to a small house, among a dozen similar, I knocked: a woman came out and whispered to the effect that her husband was a shift worker and asleep, and to conduct any business in a suitably low voice. The upshot of this colloquy was that her father and mother, living there some thirty years before, had told her how a man had come to the house, seemingly old and ailing, and had persuaded them to rent him a room till he could recover his health. This they did, and he became one of the family, he told them his name was John Gorrie. He seldom went out, occupied himself much with books and papers, and seemed to have some small competence. Finally, he died. As there were no known relatives these good people buried him in their own lair. So, like ships on a darkling sea, we pass and wonder at the half-told tale.

In the United States, in modern times, Jack O. Gorrie was a senior officer of the State Department. A. J. Gorrie was prominent in railway operation. In India, Leslie Manifold Gorrie was a churchman of note. Hugh William Gorrie was the first instructor of horticulture at Gatton Agricultural College, in Queensland.

It may appear as though in tracing the Siol Gorrie and other septs, we do but lean towards one division of the Clan. Not so, for upon the groundwork of this article, the Lamonts, Grants, Allans, Beatons, Colsons, Gownes, Hewisons, Keenes, Kennells, Landers, Lambs, Martins, MacFifrish, Maclsaacs, Sorleys and Trains, to name but a few who owe fealty to Clan Donald, will be the better able to add their quota to the common record, and could in truth produce what has long been a vacant slot in our bookshelves: A full and complete Clan history. In the past hundred years it has been borne upon the minds of all too few historians, that here is a rewarding field, hardly touched by the pen of the researcher or genealogist.