Black McIntosh to Gold

An exquisitely detailed portrayal of settlement Australia in the 1800s, Black McIntosh to Gold spans a century as it traces a family’s migration from a fishing village in the far north of Scotland to the goldfields of New South Wales.

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An exquisitely detailed portrayal of settlement Australia in the 1800s, Black McIntosh to Gold spans a century as it traces a family’s migration from a fishing village in the far north of Scotland to the goldfields of New South Wales. One after another, members of the McIntosh clan are called to make the journey into unknown territory where dreams of happy families, workable land and perhaps even gold await.

Steeped in research and laced with the magic of folklore and the mystery of The Sight, a gift – or perhaps, curse – of visions passed along the generations, Black McIntosh to Gold is a fully ripened cultural experience of the ancestors.

This elegant and dramatic history offers a clear window into the birth of Australia. It gives voice to the country’s founders, to determined men, women and children who came to Australia hoping for opportunity and a better life.


Chapter 2
The Sight

Elspet McIntosh had “The Sight” (more correctly called “The Two Sights”) and those who have it can see both the present and the future at the same time. When the villagers asked her if the Lady McNaughton would reach New South Wales safely, she hadn’t been able to reassure anyone. So far, The Sight had told her nothing. She wondered if a vision would appear as their boat passed Chanonry Point.

She was always a little uncertain of her gift. In fact, some called it a curse. She remembered the story of the Seer of Brahan who dreamed the laird would be unfaithful to his wife. When he told that good lady what was going to happen, the seer was boiled in oil in a spiked barrel for his trouble. Of course all that happened a long time ago.

But that awful death had occurred at Chanonry Point. There in the daylight, as the cormorants dive, the shags soar and the dolphins play, no one need remember the seer’s agony. By night though, it is a dreadful place. When the clouds cover moon and stars, and the wind howls, then the spirit of the seer is abroad, wandering in its state of eternal pain.

This night, Hugh rowed without moon or stars. Their boat pushed through filmy blackness and Elspet searched the sky in vain for a chink of moonlight. She could barely make out the shapes of her children huddled together in the bottom of the boat. She listened to the rhythm of the oars splashing into the dark water and rising to drip back the black drops they’d borrowed. She listened to the accompanying creak, creak, creak of the rowlocks.

After a time, Hugh remarked, ‘I think we’re passing the point.’

Elspet looked shorewards but could see nothing. The little boat pressed on, the water lapping, the oars dipping, the rowlocks creaking…

Was that a shaft of white light shining from behind her, unfolding across the water’s surface? The wind dropped and at once the sea was mirror-smooth. Startled, Elspet turned toward the mouth of the Moray Firth and the source of the beam. Was it the outline of a huge sailing ship hovering above the white sea?

‘Och, dear Lord, is this the future?’ she whispered to herself.

The mysterious ship floated toward her, gaining speed as it approached and Elspet watched with apprehension. At times it seemed just a skeleton and she peered through its ribs to white water beyond. It drew alongside and her children stirred in their sleep, moaning softly and clutching each other tightly. Elspet looked up at the great apparition. Were there little faces looking down at her, becoming clearer and glowing white as they reflected the water? Elspet trembled. She looked up fearfully, yearning for a message.

Could she detect the faintest hint of a bagpipe drone on the light breeze? As the huge ship passed their rowboat, the music of the pipes grew to a gloriously full, triumphal anthem and Elspet heard the unmistakable sound of jubilant cries from the passengers.

Huzzah… Huzzah…

And as suddenly as it had appeared, the ship was swallowed by the pitch black night.

Elspet could hardly contain her exhilaration and her gratitude for the vision. If she could have easily knelt in their little boat, she would have prayed. She was glad there was no moonlight and that it was far too dark for Hugh to see her tears. She’d be able to reassure all her friends that the Lady McNaughton would arrive in New South Wales, safe and sound.

Hugh rowed on, entirely unaware. Sandy and his sister were in the deepest sleep in the bottom of the boat. Elspet clutched her baby ever so tightly to her bosom. When they pulled into the beach at Avoch, Hugh gently lifted his two older children in his great arms and carried them across the pebbles to their cottage next to the sea wall. Elspet, still brimming with relief, followed with her infant.

That night, Sandy McIntosh woke in fright. ‘Oh, Mither, I were in New South Wales and Faether Christmas couldnae find me,’ he sobbed.

Elspet bent over him, tucked the rug round him more tightly and kissed his cheek gently. ‘Och, Sandy laddie,’ she said lovingly. ‘If ye were to go tae New South Wales, I’d be sure tae tell Faether Christmas where to take the orange. Get ye tae sleep the now.’

Comforted, Sandy slept as the wind howled round the village. He dreamed contentedly of a land far across the sea where oranges lay everywhere amongst the heather, his for the taking.

Read more on Google Books


McIntosh Families in Australia

Braidwood Museum

Heritage Listed Braidwood: Visit Braidwood

Avoch Heritage Association site: Avoch’s Heritage

Ross and Cromarty Heritage Society Project – see the section about Avoch

Previous books by Lois Shepheard from IP:

Memories of Dr Shinichi Suzuki: Son of His Environment (2012)

The Rag Boiler’s Daughter (2012)

Lois Shepheard

Lois Shepheard was born in New South Wales to a father from Scotland and a mother descended from Scots. Lois Shepheard is an Australian of Scottish parentage. Lois studied in Australia. Lois was sent to learn the violin to play reels and hornpipes, and became a professional musician. Her lifetime in music included study at the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music and the Talent Education School of Music, Japan. She has played in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra with Dr Shinichi Suzuki and was a lecturer at the University of Melbourne and the State College of Victoria Institute of Early Childhood Development. Lois has taught at various schools and tertiary institutions in NSW and Victoria. For a time, she was Professor of Viola and Director of the Suzuki Program at Western Illinois University in the US. Recent exploration into her family’s Scottish history led her to research Dr Alexander Skinner, the subject of this book. In recent years, Lois was introduced to the fascination of family history. As she looked into the lives of her ancestors, she realised that each was a tale waiting to be written. Lois’s first book on things Scottish won the 2011 IP Picks competition for creative non-fiction. This great, great, great granddaughter of Black McIntosh from Scotland’s Black Isle, has a son and two grandsons in Melbourne and a daughter in Cologne, Germany. Lois’s first book on things Scottish, The Rag Boiler’s Daughter, won the 2011 IP Picks Award for Creative Non-fiction. Other books by Lois Shepheard published by IP: Memories of Dr Shinichi Suzuki – Son of His Environment and Black McIntosh to Gold.


New South Wales was short of sugar needed for the rum trade and in 1809 began to import it from places like Batavia, India and Canton in China. That same year, a baby was born in the fishing village of Avoch on the Black Isle, in the Highlands of Scotland. As his parents had him christened Alexander, there in the little church on the hill, they could not foresee his future connection with either sugar or New South Wales in the far away land called Terra Australis.

Alex Skinner, the eighth child of a master fisher, grew into a restless little boy, always looking for new entertainment. He did have one ongoing activity though. Every day, he and his grandmother went to Avoch’s pink-pebbled beach where they picked up driftwood, sea snails and mussel shells, broken and worn by the North Sea waves, to create the biggest, most ornate sand castles surrounded by labyrinths of streets and cottages.

Every afternoon, Alex cried when the fisher wives came to hang their nets out to dry and trampled his handiwork flat. His mother would meet him at the door and follow the sorrowful child into their cottage with: ‘I told ye no’ tae build there, Alex. Go further along the beach.’

‘But Mama,’ Alex answered. ‘That’s where Grandmama takes me.’

His mother sighed. One couldn’t reason with her mother in law; the poor lady had lost any ability to understand. The grandmother that went hand in hand to the beach with Alex was now a child herself.

Alex’s mother comforted the little boy, told him he was clever and that he’d be even smarter when he grew up. The laddie sat before the great open fire while she cooked on the griddle iron hanging over it. As he scoffed delicious griddle scones, he forgot his woes and went to the bed he shared with his brother, on the other side of the room. He dreamed of the biggest ever sand castles and each morning set off again for another disappointment.

‘Take him further along the beach today, Mither,’ his mother would call out to Grandmama. ‘Don’t go near the net lines.’

As Grandmama resolutely made her way to their accustomed spot, holding Alex’s hand tightly, the lad’s mother would watch them and sigh again. ‘Och! He’s a brave wee laddie.’

One afternoon, there were dolphins frolicking out in the bay. Alex’s granny smiled in delight at their antics and walked towards them into the sea. Alex followed, imploring her to come back. Soon the water was up to his chin and Grandmama was out much further, her voluminous skirts billowing round her like a bluebell flower. A fisher wife on the beach spied Grandmama, set out to rescue her and had already stepped into the sea before she saw the little auburn haired head marginally nearer the shore.

Over the next few months, Grandmama’s condition deteriorated and she was confined to the house. Alex dodged her clutching hands as he passed her chair. He backed away in abhorrence when she screamed with laughter, her long grey hair hanging over her face. How Alex wished for her company as he went away along the beach, past the fishing net lines, past the end of Henrietta Street where the stream empties into the bay and past the place where the High Street comes down near the shore.

There, he built the biggest, grandest sand castles. The only interruption now was from the seagulls as his digging produced delicious worms and dislodged morsels of razor clam from deep in the sand. The little boy was nervous at first but the birds trod delicately round his constructions and left them intact. Alex rushed home at the end of each afternoon and told his grandmother of his achievement. She smiled an uncomprehending smile.

Alex was six when Grandmama was buried in the Avoch churchyard. How Alex wished she were there, still able to take him to the shore, and at home, still able to tell him the tale of the Sutors of Cromarty.

Alex loved that ancient tale. Grandmama told it like this:

‘Once, a lang time since, there were two giant cobblers, Alex. In the Latin tongue they were called sutors. One sutor lived on the north headland and anither on the south. Och, they were sae tall! When they stood on their toes on the cliffs, their heads touched the clouds. But they had only one set o’ tools for the cobbling. They had tae share they by throwing them back and forth tae each other across the waters of the firth. No one can tell how the cliffs themselves came to be called “The Sutors”, Alex, or how long they’d stood there. But my ain grandpa told me this tale when I were wee, and he said the cliffs are even older than the story.’

Alex always searched for those shoemakers when he went to Cromarty but no matter how he peered and squinted, he never found them. He wondered how the giants could hide so well and concluded that he was just unlucky and that every time he looked, they had just gone behind the hills. Once he was sure he saw some tools flung from one of the headlands but they weren’t tossed to the other headland. They seemed to be hurtling straight towards Alex.

‘Look, Papa,’ the boy shouted gleefully. ‘Look at they giant tools. Can we catch them?’

But his father laughed. ‘They’re only birds, wee laddie,’ he chuckled.

‘No, they’re no’ birds, Papa,’ cried Alex. ‘Can we catch them?’

It was a flock of long-necked shags, grunting and croaking, that soared overhead. But Alex knew he hadn’t been mistaken; they had been tools at first.

He was quite sure the giant shoemakers were masters of miraculous magic and had transformed them. He already believed he was rarely mistaken.

Alex was sent to the Avoch Parish Church manse where, two afternoons a week, the minister’s wife tutored some of the village lads. By the time he was ten, he had proved his great aptitude for learning. His parents knew he was meant for a brilliant career of some kind. But the youngster who wouldn’t admit an error had developed into one of those annoying lads who thought he had to be superior at just everything. He spent his time convincing himself and everyone else of this fact. If his opinion on any subject were questioned or criticised, he busily set about proving he wasn’t wrong.

While this little Avoch boy worked at attaining superiority, out in the colonies a Scotsman considered the possibility of growing sugar in northern New South Wales. He was given permission to try and in no time, rum was produced at cane fields at Port Macquarie and a partnership was operating the Sydney Distillery. When bureaucracy deemed that particular Scotsman unqualified to manage sugar production and no one could be found to replace him, the scheme was abandoned.

Of course, news of the colonies held no interest for most of the boatmen and fishers of Avoch where they were born, married and died without venturing even to a nearby village such as Cromarty. The Skinners, though, were not a typical Avoch family; they had relatives out in India. Young Alex listened avidly to tales of the East and determined to see the world.

His father owned fishing boats that sailed in Avoch Bay and larger vessels moored in the firth of Cromarty, further up the coast. These went out between the Sutors, to fish in the North Sea.

As a lad, Alex watched those boats earnestly, always hoping for a glimpse of the giants. As he grew older, he helped his father with the fishing fleet for a time, sailing between the Sutors and smiling to himself as he remembered his childhood fancies. But Alex couldn’t imagine a career merely as his father’s assistant on a boat. So when he was seventeen, he became an apprentice in a newly opened whisky distillery. He could easily see himself as a future leader in this field and told his family and friends so.

When the distillery was forced to close and left its manager bankrupt, Alex was mortified that he’d ever been associated with it and announced, ‘I never thought it would be a success.’

ISBN : 9781922120830
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Ebook, PB


ePub, mobi(kindle), PB, pdf

Customer Reviews

1-5 of 4 reviews

  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    I have recently finished the beautiful book, Black McIntosh to Gold. I just couldn’t put it down and finished the read in a day and half!

    I have a strong interest in family history so thoroughly enjoyed reading the insight into the McIntosh family’s settlement in and around Braidwood, NSW. I loved reading the ancestors’ long journey from Scotland and their strength and resilience in settling and working in Australia. I adored the anecdotal nature of the romances; adventures and family events conveyed so vividly.

    I would recommend this book in a heartbeat. Most enjoyable for anyone interested in family history and the experience of migrating to Australia – an excellent read!

    – Margaret Tekell, Circus Oz Development Coordinator, Melbourne, Australia

    July 13, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    In this book I got to know all of these people so well, as I entered the lives and the times of a Scottish family in their village, and their transition from Scotland to early Australia. But it is far more than that. It is an accurate documentation of critical historical and political events in both countries, and how these events affected real people.

    Black McIntosh to Gold is a wonderful story of love, determination, wonder and intrigue, success and sadness.

    – Vilma Dyball, BA, TPTC, Senior English and French teacher

    July 13, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    Lois, I enjoyed your book, a wonderful, colourful story of our pioneers. I think the women the bravest of the brave, knowing the area and distance from hospital, doctors, chemist – and no disposable nappies! Congratulations on a job well done.

    – Ros Maddrell, Historian, Braidwood, New South Wales

    July 13, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    This story set around a Scottish family and their emigration to Australia uses fact and fiction, interwoven with folklore, to form a compelling tale of relationships, the trials of life and the hardship of starting again in a foreign country.

    – Jay Wickham, genealogist,

    July 13, 2023

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