William Bellingham Cairnes and his family : Victorian Pioneer, Australia

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Category: Perth Western Australia

8. The Western Australia Cairnes : more descendants of William Bellingham Cairnes.

A VISIT TO PERTH November 2013.

These last few weeks have been busy finding out more about the Cairnes family who had made their way to Western Australia. I was fortunate in being welcomed into this far off part of the family and have been gifted with many stories.

This enclave of WBC and Elizabeth’s descendants made their way to the Perth area as early as the mid 1890’s.

WBC had 7 sons. William, the eldest, born in  Castlemaine in 1858,  died age 23 in Echuca. The second son Montgomery, was born in  Castlemaine in 1862. He married Alice Duncan Allison in Wilcannia in 1885.

We think this maybe him. A very handsome young man. This and other photos are to be found in an Album of WBC’s that he had with him, in his last years. They now belong to Terry Cairnes in Melbourne. WBC is Terry’s Great Grandfather. Most of photographs from this album will be included throughout this blog.

Montgomery Cairnes 1862- ?

Montgomery Cairnes 1862- ?

Wilcannia is way out in North West NSW on the way to Broken Hill. There is, so far, no evidence as to why Montgomery was out in this area of the outback at this time.

I have discovered that Alice’s father , Cuthbert Allison, was a Wilcannia town clerk for some time, before moving to Broken Hill and taking up the same position there.It is possible he knew WBC as a peripatetic magistrate in NSW.

In New South Wales , for over a century, the chief administrative officer of a city or borough was also legally designated the Town Clerk.

I have been told  by Dick Cairnes, (Alice and Montgomery’s grandson) , that Montgomery died in 1894, aged 32.  I have searched all death records for all states and find no record for his death so far. I have not found out where he is buried either. Their marriage is recorded.  As is the birth of their eldest son, Cuthbert, in 1885, also in NSW. There is a pamphlet that WBC created in 1900, that lists his children – alive and dead. There is no mention of Montgomery as deceased at this date. Its a mystery.

The only other record of Montgomery is on TROVE where he is found as the secretary of the Corowa Rifle Club in the years 1890/91. It then shows him resigning this post for some reason. Their second son Harry is recorded as being born here.

The cause of his death remains a mystery. We do know from the family in Perth that Alice and Montgomery had  a total of 3 sons, and  I have also found a daughter. Cuthbert ( 1885 – 1962) , Elspeth Allison Cairnes ( 1888 – ?) Henry Montgomery

( Harry) ( 1890 – 1970),  and George Alexander ( Alec)( 1892 – 1972) – named after Montgomery’s younger brother.

Up until this now, there seemed no explanation  as to why Montgomery’s widow had made her way,  aged  29, all the way to Perth accompanied by  her very young children. The earliest record I have of Alice Cairnes in Perth, is in 1897, where she was practising midwifery. The family in WA don’t seem to know why either.

However, in my searches for her on Trove I find a G A Cairnes advertising in the Western Australian Newspaper. He was selling hardware, furniture, building materials etc. An explanation is that WBC’s fourth son George Alexander Cairnes, born in Castlemaine in 1869, must have also been in Perth, around the same time Alice took her children there. I have also found a Frank and Olive Cairnes in Perth around the same time. Olive was found there as a nurse and got married there to a bank manager, H G Dolohery. Frank and Olive are the offspring of Elliot Moore Cairnes, WBC’s cousin. E M Cairnes was a geologist and worked for the Victorian Govt. He is also found visiting Perth, advising on mining in the latter part of the 19th C. It is quite likely that these members of the extended Cairnes family were there as part of a general entrepreneurial mission to find work in a growing state. Fremantle was the first port of call, for ships arriving from Europe, and the countryside was opening up and the population rising.

The first records of the elder G A Cairnes, (Alice’s brother in law) advertising his wares in Perth was in 1898. By mid 1899 he is being taken to court and made bankrupt. I found these mentions of him on Trove.

Here is a picture of George as a young man.

George Alexander Cairnes 1869 - 1948

George Alexander Cairnes 1869 – 1948

This ties in with a serious recession in the Australian economy in the late 1890’s.  He would have been quite young (30) and inexperienced in the world of commerce and perhaps overreached himself.

Or perhaps both he and Montgomery both went to Perth to set up in the family Business of hardware and ironmongery. Perhaps Montgomery died in Western Australia. So far there are no records anywhere.

G A Cairnes continues to advertise for a few months then disappears from view. Presumably he returns to Victoria, where he eventually marries Emily Jane Ellison in 1911. They have 4 children. G A Cairnes the elder dies in Rutherglen Victoria in 1949, aged 80.

So it seems Alice had some extended family present in the area when she initially settled in Western Australia.

It is still a puzzle as to why Alice remains in Perth for the rest of her life. She never remarries, and continues to use her married name for the rest of her life and is seen in records running a midwifery business at 128/ 132 Nicholson Rd, Subiaco, Perth, for many years. So far there are no early photographs of this part of the family  found belonging to succeeding generations.

There are still descendants of those 4 children of Alice and Montgomery Cairnes living in the Perth area. A new arrival was born in Perth in late November 2013. Ironically his dad is French Canadian, as was WBC’s mother Theresa.

I very much appreciate the hospitality given me by Justine Dorval ( nee Cairnes ) and her Uncle Dick Cairnes.

Below are the links to all the other posts.


1. William Bellingham Cairnes and Elizabeth Matthews

2. The Castlemaine Years 1854 to 1873

3. Echuca and Moama 1874 to 1883

4. The Yarrawonga Years 1884 to 1909

5. Endings 1909 to 1923

6. Past Belongings : a digital collection of historical belongings to share

7. W B Cairnes and Elizabeth Matthew’s Children in Chronological Order

8.The Western Australia Cairnes

9. Helen Dind – WBC’s Granddaughter – 100 years – a Celebration

10. Keith Beresford Cairnes : 26 Years in Muston St Mosman


7. W B Cairnes and Elizabeth Matthew’s Children in Chronological Order