South Ronaldsay Orkney
The McGhie's lived on that hill in the centre of the photograph in the early 1800's at a cottage called "Purgatory"

My Ancestors
The McGhie side

My thoughts, William Richard McGhie.

Adding to as I have time.

I had little interest in where my ancestors were from until of recent times. I made a small attempt to ask my father many decades ago, and his response to the question, "where did we come from" was

"Oh a Captain McGhie jumped ship in Geraldton"

Well this proved wrong in terms of how the McGhie's came to Australia, but did have an element of truth well after the McGhie's had come to Australia, way back in 1853, when George McGhie arrived in Melbourne.

The name McGhie most probably was Scottish or Irish. I always thought Scottish but for no reason. I pictured the ancestors living in a country farm house on the side of a small hill with trees in the back ground. Idle thoughts. It would be good to know, but researching, I believed, would have required time I was not prepared to find. All the many visits to all sorts of librarys and places of documents. Just too hard and not interested enough.

I knew the man that could have known the man who immigrated to Australia.

Jumping ahead a bit, but it is interesting how close we can be to our ancestors. My grand father William McGhie I knew up until 1959. He died when I was 10, could have known his grand father George McGhie who immigrated to Australia. Even though my grand father moved, as a small child from Victoria, where his grand father lived, and came to Western Australia, he could have had many a long conversation with him, as his grand father died when my grand father was 16. There could have been first hand accounts of life in Orkney, but of course at my young age, when I knew my grand father, you have no interest or even know the questions to ask. So close but so far.

The Internet

Along came the Internet and primarily It took only a couple of hours to indicate that Orkney looked like the source of my ancestors. I was amazed at how easy it was to track down an ancestry path. It required many hours of cross checking, but yes the McGhie's had come from one of the main Islands in the Orkney, South Ronaldsay. At least that was as far back as I could go, the early 1800's.

How far back...?

The question is how far back do you try to go when doing ancestry research? Going back beyond the 1800's becomes more difficult, unless you have a famous ancestor. For me the fairly recent ancestors were more important, because with every generation back you are in a sense less connected. We all know we have ancestors going back thousands of years, but they are far removed in your DNA, diluted by generations.

Visiting Orkney

I would never have visited Orkney without the encouragement of my partner Jill. A born traveler, it all made sense to her to go to Orkney, so we did, twice so far, first in 2010 and then in 2013. The first visit was for only 3 days, not long enough to discover much, but amazing in its importance, of being the first time I had set foot on where my ancestors, on the McGhie side, had lived. Perhaps I'm the only McGhie, an ancestor of George McGhie, who immigrated to Australia in 1853, to have done so. Very special if that is true.

All too late

I have often wondered how my father would have reacted to what I no know. He did not know of the Orkney connection, and probably as I have said, knew nothing of his ancestors. His past was from a broken marriage between his parents and the past was not what he cared about, ancestors or not. However that said, I believe he would have been astounded to be told what I have discovered. Sadly he died before my interest led me to the "where did we come from" was answered,

Being there

The first visit in 2010, despite being brief, was eerie. We had researched as much as we could about the McGhie's and knew where they had lived from the early 1800's to the early 1900's. The name has largely died out and later generations diluted down other genealogical paths, still related, but at a distance. Standing in a country I hardly knew existed, right where my ancestors walked and talked is a strange experience, at least I found it that way. From research we knew all the houses they had lived in had gone. More about this later.

First impressions of Orkney

Orkney, even in summer, at least while we were there, was cool to cold and windy. There are few trees, just green rolling hills with many farm houses. The main town is Kirkwall, where you fly into from Scotland. A small prop driven 20 seater plane. It is an open country side due to the lack of trees. You are never far from the sea, with a mixture of sandy bays and tall cliffs. Medium size wind turbines are all over the island, on farm land, where the owner gets free electricity and a cash return. The roads are easy to drive on, all be it a bit narrow in places. It is the wind that can get to you. At least on our first trip it never seemed to stop.

First morning, Parkhouse was somewhere in the square...Not the small building.

First visit to Parkhouse

On our first visit we stayed in the bay, Houton Bay Orphir, where the McGhie's lived from about 1840 onwards. Unfortunately we had not calculated exactly where Parkhouse was and were about 300 metres from the exact location. The area is a peninsular of farm land. The thick grass was wet even in mid summer when we were there. To know your ancestors lived, farmed and fished right where you were was amazing. There are many words to describe it, but for me it was unbelievable. Never ever thought this would have been possible. Living in a remote isolated location is something I would enjoy. I'm not really a city person. But the hardship of living in a stone cottage with none of the modern conveniences we enjoy was easy to imagine. Every task many times harder than the way we live today. No hot showers at the turn of a tap or light at the flick of a switch. We walked over Parkhouse and took video and photographs, but did not know it. Discovering Parkhouse had to wait until our next visit.

We did not know when this photograph was taken that Parkhouse was in the area marked.

Trying to locate Purgatory

We knew from Google Earth and old maps of the area that Purgatory was much harder to get to. It was on private farm land but a fair way from any roads. Even though Parkhouse is on private farm land, it was close to a road. Access is taken as a right, as long as you close any gates. However Purgatory was just too far but we did drive down a gravel road that took us to within a kilometre of the hill on which Purgatory had once stood.

Finding George McGhie

We knew that George McGhie (My GGG Grand father) who lived the latter part of his life in Parkhouse then Sorpool, and The Old School House, where he died, were all in the same location, Orphir (pronounced orfa). Stopping at a local tavern in Orphir for food and drink we asked the owner if there was a nearby cemetery. "Yes a kilometer down the road". We dove there and the second grave stone we looked at was George's, all a bit eerie (fate)..?

George McGhie and his son John, Orphir Orkney.

Photographs of Orkney

Near lake Harray main Island early morning.

Near lake Harray Main Island.

Sunset Lake Harray Main Island.

St  Margaret's Hope South Ronaldsay.

Jetty in Houton Bay Main Island. My ancestors live here in the mid to late 1800.

Houton Bay with Quoy of Ness in background.

Wind generator Houton Bay

Ferry terminal at Houton Bay.

St. Margaret's Hope South Ronaldsay.

Orkney Thistle.

Ring of Brodgar.

Stone cottage and modern houses.

Old stone cottage. The holes in the roof are for letting the smoke out. When it rained it ran inside.

St. Margaret's Hope South Ronaldsay.

Looking across from St. Margaret's Hope South Ronaldsay on a sea mist day.

Looking towards Ward Hill on Hoy.

Orkney country side.

Looking across Houton bay to the West.

Houton bay looking towards island Holm of Houton.

Our accommodation on the right, Houton bay, early evening.

Where my ancestors lived in foreground during the late 1800s, Parkhouse long gone. Structure behind a later unknown.

Wind turbines in the early morning mist.

Heather at  
Ring of Brodgar.

Heather at  Ring of Brodgar.

Lightning damage at Ring of Brodgar.

St. Margaret's Hope Orkney.

The graves of my GGG Grand father, his son John and on the right George's son in law.   My second cousin Jenny and her grand son Jake to my right.

Very large historical dig at Brodgar main island. Only a small fraction has been uncovered.

One of the several causeways between islands on a sea mist day.

Somewhere about here is where my ancestors lived up till 1838 when they were evicted. It was called Purgatory...Long gone as road base. Terrible foggy day to get your bearings.

Said to be a part of the original first undersea telegraph cable between England and the USA, recovered 1866, as displayed in the Kirkwall historical wireless museum Orkney.

Quite reflection Lake Harray Main island Orkney .

Lake Harray Main Island.

Lake Harray...The hotel was on the lake and a well know fishing location.