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John McKail

By: Grant Peake, Member of the Wajarri Yamatji people

Published: 25 March 2024


One might refer to John McKail as a ‘rebel with a cause’, a colourful character, who traversed the Swan River Colony with his fiery nature, acts of insurrection and irascible nature. Relocating to Albany altered McKail into a man of his word.

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FOREWORD: The following is a summary of the life of John McKail who settled in Albany in 1835 and became a prosperous businessman by the time he died in 1871. Something of a wild man in his early manhood, McKail had an eventful and controversial life. Settling down in later years, McKail made good and firmly established himself in the growing town of Albany.


This by no means covers the achievements and wrong doings of McKail in entirety but serves as a guide for the reader.


John McKail was born in Deptford, Kent, England on 22nd January 1810. Other sources quote the years 1808 or 1812.  Of Scottish Covenanter ancestry, the family were related to the aristocracy. A descendant of John McKail, Cecily McKail, has done some extensive research on the man and authored a book ‘Reflections on the McKail family’ published in 2003. From Cecily’s book we are enlightened more about the enigmatic John McKail and his background.


John’s father, Nathaniel McKail was born in Antigua, West Indies in 1776 and eventually emigrated to London, where John was born. Nathaniel McKail was married twice; his second wife, Mary Belcher, was mother to his children and was apparently the illegitimate daughter of the 7th Earl of Scarbrough, John Lumley-Savile (1760-1835). The spelling of ‘Scarbrough’ is correct according to records.

The Earl, who was twenty years of age at the time, and unmarried, did not give the baby girl, Mary, his name. Instead another well-established naval family raised the child, who were paid-off financially in the case of aristocratic indiscretions!

Mary’s ‘adopted parents’ were Thomas and Mary Belchur. It seems that the spelling of the family name later became altered to ‘Belcher.’

We may assume, quite rightly, that John McKail grew up disenchanted and especially being a neglected by-product of a liaison with his mother and the higher echelons of British society. McKail became embittered and developed a deep-seated dislike for anything to do with law and order.


His father, Nathaniel McKail was a naval architect employed at the Deptford Dockyard on the River Thames in London. He had hoped that his second son, John would follow in his footsteps, yet the lad had other ideas.


Disillusioned with the downturn in ship building due to Deptford being situated too far up-stream, caused the closure of the ship building docks in 1821. McKail’s ship building apprenticeship was completed maintaining vessels and his future seemed uncertain.


McKail’s union interest to represent the worker did not go unnoticed at the Deptford Dockyards. Noted for his intense discussions with the dockyard employers on behalf of the workers, were a trademark of McKail’s dockyard union movements. Prone to political dissidence and dissatisfied with the ruling establishment of elitism, McKail turned his attentions to better horizons.


The young John, who was known for being strong willed and feisty had ideas to secure opportunities in the proposed Swan River Colony.  McKail was granted a passage on the ship Parmelia due to family connections. Captain James Stirling and Nathaniel McKail were acquainted through Stirling’s wife, Ellen (nee Mangles).


This was a fortunate opportunity for the ambitious McKail, and he prepared himself for the journey of a lifetime. John was nineteen years old and full of motivation and was amongst the first Swan River Colony settlers who sailed with Captain James Stirling. On board were a retinue of colonial staff, their wives and servants who arrived at the Swan River Colony, as it became known, on 1st June 1829.


McKail took with him a box of tools which was stored in the cargo hold along with the colonial stores and other goods for the lengthy sailing. The young John McKail was granted a contract to work on Government projects initiated by Captain James Stirling.


On the long voyage, McKail gained a reputation for being difficult and rude, prone to outbursts of irascible conduct. On board were a host of people with political loyalty to the Crown and grand designs as the first settlers in this vast island continent.


McKail’s difficult behaviour sparked an aloofness from those senior to the young troublemaker. McKail was accompanied by a friend, George Mangles, a cousin to Ellen Mangles, now married to Captain James Stirling. 


Being indentured as a carpenter, McKail’s passage was paid for under the terms of his contract. McKail’s position as a Colonial Artificer was something of a privilege and held hopes of eventual prospects in the Swan River Colony. This was a prospect that most young men would have relished but McKail seems to have scant regard for anything other than his own ideas.


Upon arrival in the Swan River Colony, the head strong McKail was informed that his box of tools could not be found. It is more than likely that McKail’s tools had accidently been included in the colonial stores. When located, records indicate that Colonial Storekeeper, James Morgan had the task of delivering McKail’s tools to him.


However it seems that Morgan, or his staff, did not deliver the tools but chose to leave the tools at a designated spot for McKail to collect. It is quite feasible that McKail’s attitude on board the ship Parmelia had caused some alarm and dislike amongst the upper levels of colonial authority.


Naturally when the young firebrand got to the designated area, the tools were not there, according to McKail. Angry with the supposed loss of his tools and livelihood, McKail is said to have resigned his post. This was refused on account of McKail’s contractual obligations. McKail proceeded to file for compensation which Captain James Stirling recognised and sent McKail five pounds as recompense.

Still enraged, McKail promptly returned the money along with a scathing letter to Captain Stirling. Informing Stirling that the tools were worth more than twenty pounds, and if that was all Stirling thought he was worth, then Stirling could do without him altogether! Labelled as an agitator with an obvious dislike of authority, McKail’s letter seemed to be ignored.


McKail, along with fellow carpenter, Stephen Henry Knight, was commissioned in February 1830 by Colonial Engineer Henry Reveley to commence the construction of government buildings. McKail and Knight established a campsite at the base of Mount Eliza which overlooked the fledgling Swan River Colony.


Ironically McKail worked on the erection of a house for Major Frederick Irwin on St George’s Terrace for a brief time.  It was Major Irwin who McKail would summarily revolt against in the not-too-distant future. It was not long before the argumentative McKail, who strongly objected to colonial power, became entangled with the law.


Given McKail’s manner and history, we can rightly assume that he was associated with a group of rebels who were responsible for disorderly conduct and violence. Tensions between settler and the Aborigines were high and the raucous mob took ownership of the streets. Causing mayhem and constant unrest there are accounts of riotous parties from Perth to Fremantle over the summer of 1832/33. We can rightly assume that McKail was involved with this unruly crowd.


By this time Major Frederick Irwin was Acting Governor as Captain James Stirling had sailed to England to receive his knighthood in early 1832. Continuing trouble between the local Aborigines and the settlers erupted over the killings of the Velnick, or Velvick brothers in April 1833 at Cannington.


The Velnick murders were specially targeted by the Noongars due to the Velnick’s unpleasant dispositions and extreme dislike of the Aboriginals.  A previous deadly attack three months prior against the Noongars on the road to Fremantle, was led by John Velnick and/or his brother, Thomas. This attack was particularly gruesome and premeditated.


The Noongar community considered this to be an act of war and were not known previously for targeted attacks. It is not clear, but McKail could have joined a radical faction who were intent on hunting down those responsible for the Velnick brothers’ murders.


The three Noongars who were being hunted down, Yagan, Munday and Midgegooroo became wanted men. Midgegooroo was rounded up swiftly and executed just three weeks following the Velnick murders. The execution took place outside the Perth lock-up and was ordered under the authority of the Acting Governor, Major Frederick Irwin.


Seven weeks later, Yagan was betrayed and killed by the Keats brothers near Guildford without being taken into captivity by the authorities.  This unjustifiable act was frowned upon by some of the Swan River Colony settlers and continued to flame heightened hostilities between Aboriginals and the colony’s population. Munday, still at large, made a daring appearance in late July to Major Irwin. The background surrounding this encounter is not documented. Munday, realising his life was in the balance, proposed a truce.  Major Irwin was faced with a dilemma.


What should Irwin do? Appease the settlers or grant a pardon to Munday with the possibility of further reprisals from the settlers?


Irwin acknowledged that Yagan’s death had been handled with treachery and was totally unacceptable. In addition, Irwin knew he had acted hastily in the execution of Midgegooroo at his command. This action had not been assented to by majority of people and therefore Major Irwin lifted the bounty on Munday setting him free. It was this decision that led to the following events.


Around ten o’clock on the night of 29th September 1833, McKail led a protest of about forty rowdy people on the streets of Perth. They kicked and burnt an effigy of the Acting Governor of the Swan River Colony and Commander of the 63rd Regiment, Major Frederick Irwin. Mayhem ensued threatening law and order in the colony. McKail was promptly arrested and imprisoned.


Irwin struggled to hold control as dissention arose throughout the community. The intentional revolt to Irwin’s colonial power led by the rebellious John McKail, was a powerful message of disdain and disrespect of those in control.


This seems to have been a deliberate act of the riotous pack to incite tension and conflict. Why McKail led the gang of drunken and wild thugs is unclear, but his actions were designed to cause social turbulence and discord within the Swan River Colony.


McKail’s reputation before sailing from England was one of stirring negative sentiment throughout the Deptford Dockyard workers with his leftist ideas. This behaviour grant’s us an insight into the intrepid mind of the young John McKail.


This is a period in the early history of the Swan River Colony that is not spoken of or well documented. The colonial authority’s loss of control coupled with the evidence of the audacious display of violent rebellion amongst the settlers over a length of time, would certainly question the effectiveness of colonial rule.


If anything was close to a downfall of British Colonial power being challenged by motley, riotous rebels, then it was the days that followed this act of deliberate insurgence. The same night of the effigy burning, Major Irwin, the Acting Governor, fled the Swan River Colony by ship, making his way back to London to explain his side of the story to the colonial authorities. Irwin left the colony in total disarray, his character and respect in shreds.


This lack of leadership resulted in chaotic conditions until the unrest in the community was brought under control.


The effrontery of John McKail knew no bounds when upon his release from prison he issued civil court proceedings against hastily appointed, Acting Government Magistrate John (James) Morgan for unlawful incarceration. One can only imagine the boldness and impudence displayed by McKail in orchestrating further unsettling actions. John Morgan who had previously been the Colonial Storekeeper, had the onerous task to ensure law and order in the colony beyond all opposition.


This was the same man who had been responsible for McKail’s box of missing tools on board the ship Parmelia in 1829. Whether McKail had a grudge against Morgan for the loss of his tools is open to debate.


McKail claimed an exorbitant amount of one hundred pounds in damages for his arrest and imprisonment. The lawyer hearing the case, George Fletcher Moore, dismissed it saying that Morgan had acted in accordance with the law. Furthermore, Moore went on to say that McKail was extremely fortunate that he had not been imprisoned longer for his part in deliberately provoking and discrediting the 63rd’s Commanding Officer, Major Frederick Irwin.


McKail was given a ruling to pay the costs which he refused or could not comply with. Following the incident of the effigy burning, McKail was once again charged with riotous behaviour later in 1833.


Without any response from McKail by April 1834, Morgan had McKail’s small cottage and adjoining parcel of land on the bottom of Mill Street seized by the Civil Court Bailiff, Lawrence Welch.  The properties were placed into public auction and sold on 5th April 1835.


Just to put matters into closer perspective, the newly knighted Sir James Stirling arrived back in Albany from England on the James Pattison in May 1834. Stirling remained in Albany not reaching Perth until September 1834.


Stirling’s prolonged absence from Perth had only fuelled discontent and escalated disharmonious relations with the local Noongars and settlers. Governor Stirling once informed of the heinous events in Perth, as it was now known, had chosen to remain in Albany until fractious relations had been quelled. Stirling finally made the journey back to Perth in September.


Meanwhile, McKail had been severely admonished and was abiding in makeshift accommodation in another area on the Mounts Bay slope. There McKail would consider his bleak future and what he could do to establish himself. John McKail was not popular in many circles for a variety of reasons. McKail had made a name for himself in the burgeoning Swan River Colony!


Not only was John McKail an educated man with radical ideas and a distinct dislike for authority; he was also known to be violent and loved nothing better than organising a rowdy throng to support him. We must remember that McKail had previously been involved with a union movement on the Deptford Dockyards in England.


Enflaming others with his ideology had won McKail a reputation to hold his audience and earnt their loyalty in any situation.  His persuasive verbosity and ability to captivate an audience was a special talent that McKail utilised with amazing effect.


In the early days of the Swan River Colony, McKail found a platform where he could express his extremist policies. During his six years stay in Perth, McKail had notched up a reputation as an upstart and lawless thug. His arrogance and shamelessness knew no bounds!


On 2nd May and 9th May 1835, McKail advertised in the Perth Gazette that he was leaving the colony and any person owing him money should settle their debt. McKail was likely in need of capital and his indentureship to the colonial authorities had expired.


Whether McKail had truly intended to depart Perth permanently is questionable; however given McKail’s propensity to create an illusion of importance and self-reliance is quite realistic.


Just when matters for McKail had settled, he enhances his character even more with another act of irrational conduct. McKail, still abiding in makeshift premises on the lower face of Mount Eliza, returned to his hut on the night of 26th May 1835. He had been at the house of a friend, George Mangles, now Colonial Superintendent of Stock.


Observing someone running from his hut, McKail assumed that the person had been stealing. Not long later, McKail all fired up with wrath and indignation rushed into a nearby Aboriginal camp.  A fight broke out with the culprit, and then McKail accidentally shot who he imagined was the thief.


The victim was Gogalee, the seventeen-year-old son of the Noongar elder, Yellagonga. He was the leader of the Perth Mooro tribe strongly associated with the surviving family of Yagan. Apparently McKail was under the impression that the young Gogalee had stolen flour and raised his gun as a warning. There was a struggle, and the trigger was accidently activated by McKail, wounding Gogalee in the leg. A few days later Gogalee died from his wounds.


Ironically, Yagan’s nine-year-old son, Narral was hit in the lip by shrapnel and was a key witness at the initial hearing. Whilst McKail reportedly admitted to the shooting of Gogalee, the circumstances were insufficient to lay further charges. It was unlikely that a jury would convict McKail, and he was released.


The trial was coloured with the unwitnessed account of Constable Thomas Hunt, to whom McKail reported the shooting that same night. Hunt, who was a fellow drinker at ‘The Happy Immigrant’ was himself known for his dislike of the local Aborigines and a zealot in leading those who had been tracking down Yagan and Midgegooroo.


Constable Hunt confirmed McKail’s account and chose to exaggerate the details in favour of his friend. By this time, Governor Stirling was back in Perth and eagerly endeavouring to squash any further retribution from the Noongar elders. McKail was behind bars awaiting trial, his future dismal.


The situation in Perth was even more fraught with acutely strained relations between Aboriginal and the colonists. After negotiations with the Noongar elders, it was decided that instead of a trial, McKail should pay ‘blood money’ to Gogalee’s family. McKail had been charged with manslaughter, a non-hangable offence. Disliked and a definite threat to the community at the hand of the Noongars, the authorities were in a quandary what to do with McKail.


Rather than set a precedent and convict McKail of the murder of an Aboriginal, and as there were no other settler witnesses to the shooting, the court chose to disregard the Aboriginal witness accounts. These testimonies, according to Governor Stirling’s legal counsellors, were considered untenable to warrant a conviction!


The trial was cancelled and McKail was issued a conditional pardon on the proviso that he distributed flour and blankets to the affected family. According to one account, McKail pleaded for his life which surely hung in the balance prior to his release and pardon. McKail was banished from the Swan River Colony, and he made the journey to Albany in October 1835 on the cutter vessel Fanny.   


It is feasible that McKail had already visited Albany in 1831 doing contract work on Government buildings but nothing has been recorded to support this theory. We do know that McKail had become acquainted with Anthony Curtis, an ex-Navy seaman turned businessman, sometime in the early 1830’s. The pair soon forged a friendship which gave McKail a reliable contact in Albany.


If McKail had visited Albany earlier, he quite undoubtedly would have observed the cordial interactions between the local Aboriginals, the residents of Albany and the militia. This would have been in stark contrast to Perth where hostility was constantly emerging with associated bloodshed.


Albany, to any new arrival, was a sleepy paradise where progress had been slow. The residents and the local Noongar enjoyed mostly friendly interactions. Anthony Curtis, who ironically owned the cutter Fanny, had recently commenced a coastal trading enterprise between Fremantle and Albany in May 1835. He employed McKail as a commercial agent upon McKail’s arrival in Albany.  Initially, the early business deals were written in McKail’s name probably with the backing of Curtis.


McKail family documents record that on McKail’s arrival in Albany he purchased a cottage on Stirling Terrace which had belonged to Sergeant Philip Baker of the local 21st Regiment. The cottage was located at Lot 36 and close to the western intersection of York Street.


However this may be incorrect as the Baker family appear to have had ownership of the cottage for many years later. Perhaps McKail rented the cottage is the more likely explanation.

McKail began his exploits soon after his arrival in Albany when in February 1836, he landed a cargo of undeclared alcohol. Attempting to sell the alcohol for a profit, the bounty was discovered and McKail was fined twenty pounds.


McKail either could not pay or refused to comply. After much wrangling amongst the authorities, Sir Richard Spencer, the Resident Governor, had McKail confined in ‘the black hole’ to await trial.


This experience brought profuse apology from McKail and eventually he was released. Albany was a haven for illicit alcohol which was a common element in the town. As one writer of the time observed in 1837, there were four hotels and one bakery!


Always eager to earn monetary gain with dubious intent, McKail furthered his record making unreliability when he sold barrels of salted pork to wealthy businessman Thomas Brooker Sherratt.


The barrels were the property of Anthony Curtis which McKail was acting as agent for. Sherratt paid more than thirty-six pounds for the barrels only to find the meat was rotten! When accused by Sherratt, McKail and Curtis promptly informed Sherratt that he should have checked the barrels before purchase and refused to reimburse the irate Sherratt. Sherratt was once again a victim of McKail’s shady dealings. In late 1836 the pair commenced a joint shore-based whaling venture at Doubtful Island Bay, one hundred and twenty miles east of Albany.


Sherratt’s abilities and business acumen were either lacking or he had grossly miscalculated the yield of whale oil. Claiming a shortfall of more than 50% in the yield left a lot of questions unanswered. Further investigation reveals that McKail had a parallel deal with Hobart based, William Lovett. Lovett had business relations with Sherratt as well but apparently joined up with John McKail to out-manoeuvre Thomas Sherratt.


The whale oil shortfall was substantial, rendering an estimated figure of six hundred pounds. This cashflow would have enhanced McKail’s financial standing immensely. Sherratt and Lovett were left empty handed in the dubious deal. Six hundred pounds was a sizeable sum of money in 1836 which would have financially established McKail beyond any doubt.


Knowing that Sherratt and Lovett would come back the following year to obtain whale oil, McKail got in first. He applied for the rights to the area in question which forced Sherratt and Lovett to come to him before they could commence their operations. A skilful use of ingenuity even if it was dishonest!


Deals of all manner were made by various parties in those early days of Albany’s history. Cash was scarce and the fulfilment of one party’s promise and obligation, might result in something entirely different to the receiving party. It was a case of ‘buyer beware.’

McKail and Lovett were responsible for the rotten pork affair with the aim to jeopardise the food supply to Sherratt’s whaling workforce. Sherratt was incensed with the whole matter, and we can clearly see that McKail was not afraid of using his wily talents to ensure gain fell his way.


In the census of 1836, Sir Richard Spencer, the Resident Governor, recorded John McKail as being a lowly born Indian labourer.  A little understated considering McKail’s prior activities! Perhaps John had a darker complexion due to his West Indies ancestry.


In the late 1830’s, McKail had established himself well enough financially to purchase two hotels, which he leased, and a large storage warehouse. One of these hotels was the London Hotel. There has been a suggestion obtained from McKail family records that McKail purchased, The Ship Inn immediately upon his arrival in Albany, along with the cottage on Stirling Terrace. No concrete evidence that McKail made these transactions exists, and we must consider the fact that McKail was cash poor. Therefore it is highly unlikely that this occurred.


As a point of interest, McKail’s father, Nathaniel, did not die until 1854 in England. John would not have been in receipt of any fortune to enable these real estate purchases. The hotel business was lucrative as Albany was visited by American whaling ships. The seamen spent their leisure time in the hotels and the obstinate McKail, never one to miss an opportunity, saw the enormous potentials.


McKail was contracted to construct the town’s first jetty in 1837 along with John Dunn, another early Albany settler who had arrived in 1834. Both men knew each other in England and had become friends.


This liaison of the two men would bring about life changing elements in their lives. The new jetty was to be built to the east of the now demolished second jetty and was located at Point Wakefield, at the bottom of what is now called Bridges Street. The value of the contract was one hundred pounds.


During construction of the jetty, it is assumed that McKail shared accommodation with James Dunn in a cottage on Stirling Terrace. Work on the jetty had not long commenced as the tender was not granted until mid-August 1837.


In September 1837 Patrick Taylor and Mary Bussell were arriving at the harbour aboard the ship Champion after being married in Perth. Dunn and McKail saw the ship entering the harbour and wishing to welcome the couple, they set about firing a newly installed cannon.

Whether the pair were intoxicated or not is open to conjecture however we do know that the firing mechanism shattered, and James Dunn lost his hand. There has been supposition that Dunn either lost his hand or his arm.


From extensive research, we have concluded that James Dunn’s hand was initially blown off with the explosion. A photograph of Dunn could indicate that he subsequently lost his arm, possibly because of infection. This tragic event seemed to have played heavily upon the normally confident McKail.


In later years it is detailed in records that McKail assisted Dunn and his family settle in the Porongorups. The families had a particularly close relationship, along with the Gillam family. Dunn and his family shared in the generosity of John McKail. We can only imagine that through the terrible accident in 1837 that saw Dunn lose his livelihood as a carpenter, McKail felt some sort of responsibility and endeavoured to assist Dunn and his family.


Whilst McKail never lost his ability to speak his mind he never encountered the law again and maintained harmonious relations with the local Aboriginals. John McKail had the ability as an educated man to mix with those of equal standing in the Albany community. An additional advantage was McKail’s aptitude to mix freely with the seedy maritime crowd of the day. Furthering his business interests, McKail charted a brig, named the Emily Smith, which was used to trade sandalwood with Singapore and China. The ship would return with a cargo of sugar and tea which was later sold in Adelaide.


McKail had interests in whaling and acquired large tracts of land for his pastoral activities in the Porongorups, the Hay River and Torbay.  It is known that McKail had long running disputes with fellow Albany settler, George Cheyne. Both men had extensive interests in whaling, pastoral ventures, and maritime activities, to name a few.


McKail married Henrietta Jenkins (8th Nov 1822 – 5th May 1888) on 23rd May or September 1839, the sixteen-year-old daughter of an indentured carpenter servant who arrived with Sir Richard Spencer in September 1833.


John and Henrietta bore two sons and seven daughters. Henrietta had two sisters, one being Elizabeth who married fellow shipwright and carpenter, Thomas Meadows Gillam. James Dunn married Elizabeth Henderson and the three families became permanently associated. McKail provided financially and assumed the leadership of the three families.

Documents support the fact that McKail was able to purchase The Ship Inn on 23rd October 1840 from Sergeant Philip Baker. McKail was licensee for a couple of years. The Ship Inn had already earned itself considerable notoriety as a licentious haven of iniquity sprinkled with drunkenness and prostitution!  


From January 1843 to March 1846 McKail operated a school for Aboriginal children in Albany.  We must acknowledge McKail’s sincere intentions to assist the local Aboriginals. McKail offered the Resident Governor, John Randall Phillips, to run the school on the proviso that he was appointed Postmaster and granted an annual salary of twenty pounds. This was approved and McKail set about running the school. Whilst McKail tried his best, the school was not a success and closed.


Later in 1848, McKail was involved with the building of St John’s Anglican Church in York Street, splitting the shingles for the roof himself. It appears that John McKail became quite involved with the church in later years.


Using his business acumen and prowess once again, McKail leased the entire area of the Porongorup Ranges in 1859. It was a risky venture but one that paid handsomely as time went by. Soon after, McKail secured the most lucrative forty acre lots and purchased one lot for his wife’s relations, the Gillam family.


Around 1860, James Dunn took up land in the Porongorup area. It is quite likely that McKail assisted the Dunn family to purchase the land. James Dunn’s earning capacity had been greatly reduced since the cannon accident with McKail. There is also some evidence to support the fact that McKail had financially aided Dunn with his hotel business in the 1850’s. In later life, John McKail had become a wealthy man with an extended family. It is alluded to in historic documentation that McKail held a tight rein on his business pursuits.

Another of John McKail’s interests was being the owner of the company that built the first telegraph line between Albany and Perth. Further to this, McKail was appointed the first Consul for the German Empire. Of note is McKail’s purchase of property, one at the Three Mile Peg on the Perth Road, referred to as McKail’s Lake. The other property was at the Five Mile Peg on the Perth Road.


McKail had a successful poultry farm at McKail’s Lake, and a large dairy farm on the other. It is significant to note that McKail’s Lake is now a popular grassed area for picnics and families to enjoy in the Albany suburb of McKail.  Some stately old trees that would have been planted around the time McKail purchased the land still grace the area.


A substantial property was purchased by McKail at Cheyne’s Creek which ran sheep, managed by a reliable shepherd. McKail built a butcher’s shop in Albany at Lot S21 on Stirling Terrace for James Colefax in the 1860’s. Lamb from the Cheyne’s Creek farm was supplied to Colefax for butchering.


On the neighbouring Lot S22, McKail build a baker’s shop for Mr John Ward where the old National Bank now stands. Alongside the bakery, McKail had his substantial warehouse. Additionally, McKail was the first to introduce bee keeping to Albany and experiment with sugar cane and plantains.


According to a documented interview with an elderly Albany resident in 1936, John McKail was a highly respected businessman. He was also an extremely talented first-class carpenter, joiner, and cabinet maker of some repute.


Another of McKail’s achievements was the opening of a drapey store on Stirling Terrace. Later this was taken over by Drew Robinson to become a department store.


A highlight of McKail’s life was winning the seat of Albany in the first official elections held in Western Australia on 18th October 1870. The background to McKail’s appointment is interesting and gives us an insight into the first official elections in this state.


A change in government in the early 1870’s brought about the creation of an Albany electorate for the recently established Legislative Council. Initially the first elections were to be held in September 1870 with one member elected from Albany’s eligible twenty-five registered voters.


This posed a difficultly as no one could be found suitable to nominate for the position. The reason being that Membership of the Legislative Council demanded lengthy unpaid periods away from Albany.


As majority of the possible candidates were either professionals or businessmen who could not be absent from Albany; it was John McKail who eventually came forward offering his services for the position.  McKail was elected unopposed and served for less than six months, resigning his seat on 4th April 1871, possibly due to ill health.


McKail was the first member of the Legislative Council to resign his seat. We must point out that the arduous journey to Perth took around six to seven days, one way, which may have impacted on McKail’s already fragile health, as he died in Albany on 6th August 1871 aged sixty-one.


Upon McKail’s death the lengthy process of untangling his vast business empire began. So complex was McKail’s legacy that it took his family decades to complete.   John’s two sons took over the empire and managed prosperous farming ventures themselves. It is interesting to note that the elder son was named Nathaniel, after John’s father.

John McKail is buried with his beloved wife, Elizabeth at the Memorial Park Cemetery on Middleton Road, Albany.

In summary, one might refer to John McKail as a ‘rebel with a cause’, a colourful character, who traversed the Swan River Colony with his fiery nature, acts of insurrection and irascible nature.

Relocating to Albany changed John McKail’s outlook on life and maturity altered McKail into a man of his word. McKail certainly left his mark without a doubt yet his contribution to Albany must not be forgotten or over shadowed.

His generosity to his friends and the early settlers of Albany and the local Noongars should not be underestimated or overlooked.

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