Topic: Robert John Cumming Macmillan (1871-1912)

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Robert John Cumming Macmillan was the grandfather of Katikati Historian Ellen McCormack. Ellen wrote the following biography of her grandfather in 2012.

Looking strange? see an archived version here

Robert John Cumming Macmillan was born in St Croix in the West Indies on 5 June 1871. He was the eldest son of Donald Theodore Macmillan of Ballachulish, West Highlands. Donald was an Accountant and later a Sugar Planter in the West Indies. His mother, Marie Elise Jacobine De la Barca, was the Baroness Marie Elise Barca. She happened to be in the West Indies visiting the Governor's wife who was an old school friend when she met and married Donald Macmillan from Ballachulish in Scotland. Donald was in the West Indies to administer sugar plantations for his relatives, the Cumming family.

Due to the death of his two younger brothers from the harsh climate of St Croix, Robert and his young brother Charles were sent to their mother's family at Rendsburg, Schleswig-Holstein in Germany to be cared for and educated.

In 1878 there was an insurrection in St Croix. Marie and Donald, along with baby Evangeline, were fortunate to escape with their lives. They lost all their possession, including the family home. Collecting Charles and Robert from Germany they made their way to England where they tried to get recompense for their losses. As there was no insurance, the family joined the George Vesey Stewart settlement scheme for Te Puke and arrived in Tauranga aboard the May Queen in December 1881. As the land was unsuitable, Robert's father purchased 'Castle Grace' at Kauri Point in Katikati.

Robert went to school at Katikati and worked on the farm. At a later date he worked as a surveyor in various places including Fiji.

Robert's father Donald died at 'Castle Grace' on 24 May 1896. On 10 September 1896 Robert married Mabel Sanders Hart in Thames. She was born in Thames on 8 January 1877, the daughter of John Sanders Hart and Isobel Hart (nee Cooper). John Sanders was a Gunmaker with his own business in Thames. Their children were:

  1. John Donald Macmillan (1897-1977). Born in Thames on 7 July 1897. He married Alice Maryann Theobald at Rotorua on 26 July 1922. Alice was born in Pukeokahu (Taihape) on 14 May 1904. John died on 3 November 1977. 
  2. Colin Edward Macmillan (1899-1942). Born in Thames on 20 January 1899. He served in both World War I and World War II. Colin was killed in action in 1942.
  3. Vera Isobel Macmillan (1900-1999). Born in Wiri, Auckland, on 22 August 1900. She married Edwin Arnold Brown in NSW, Australia, in 1944. Vera died in Gosford, NSW, in 1999.
  4. Patricia Jean Macmillan (1910-1997). Born in Thames on 8 January 1910. She married Alan Francis Charlton in 1928. Patricia died in Auckland in 1997 and was cremated at Manukau.

The family lived at Wiri [out of Auckland] at one stage, then in 1906 Robert purchased “Ferndale” in Beach Road, Katikati. The Bay of Plenty Times reported Robert's rescue of some horses in 1909:

SAGACITY OF HORSES. Some time ago Mr William McClure took charge of three young horses to break in, driving them from Kauri Point to his farm at Matuhui, a distance by road of fully 15 miles. Last Monday morning Mr Robert Macmillan observed two horses, medium draught and valuable animals, upon Egg Island in Tauranga harbour. He promptly put up a notice upon the public road, setting forth a description of the animals, and giving a warning that they would probably die from thirst and hunger or by drowning. On returning from the township he observed them swimming in the direction of Kauri Point farm, where they were reared. They were observed there, some considerable distance from shore, standing up to their necks in water, but they subsequently disappeared, and it was conjectured that they were drowned. With daylight failing, no attempt of rescue could be made. However, on the following morning the horses turned up again on Egg Island. My theory is that they touched bottom on soft ground and fearing they might get logged swam back to the island, where Mr Macmillan again discovered them. He very kindly asked Mr George Leech to assist him in the work of rescue. They proceeded to the island in a boat and, as they had only a broken oar, Mr Macmillan divested himself of his clothing, and by swimming - with Mr Leech's assistance in the boat - safely guided the animals to terra firma upon his property. He then secured them in his stable paddock where they received food and water, but only in small quantities at the start. Such an act of disinterested kindness towards a fellow settler and of humanity to poor dumb animals by Mr Robert Macmillan deserves a tribute of gratitude and appreciation, which I regret to state, my pen is unable to adequately express (22 March 1909, p. 2).

Robert farmed at 'Ferndale' until his sudden death of peritonitis in Waihi Hospital on 9 May 1912. Apparently Robert fell ill with appendicitis and was taken to Waihi Hospital in a horse and cart. He died after the operation leaving a wife and four children. Robert was just one month short of his 41st birthday.

The Coroners Report makes very sad reading as it appears Robert’s brother Charles may have either been with Robert or been called to Waihi. Charles must have realized that Robert was dying, and so very quickly wrote out a will. As can be seen from Robert’s very shaky signature he was close to death.

For many years I heard whisperings from various relatives that the Doctor concerned with the operation was drunk and this I took with a grain of salt. However, while doing further research regarding other people, it became very obvious that it could possibly be true as this particular doctor’s name featured on far more than average death certificates of death's under many dubious circumstances. This may also be one of the reasons that researchers were later restricted in the use of these records which were eventually closed and sent to Wellington.

Robert was buried in Katikati Cemetery.

In 1914 Mabel remarried to Edward Thomas Rees (reg. 1914/583). She died, age 60, in 1937 (reg. 1937/15970).

This page was archived at Perma cc may 2017 https://perma.cc/dc26-a42l

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Robert John Cumming Macmillan (1871-1912)


Year:1912
First Names:Robert John Cumming
Last Name:Macmillan
Date of Birth:5 June 1871
Place of Birth:St Croix
Country of birth:West Indies
Date of death:9 May 1912
Place of death:Waihi Hospital
Place of burial:Katikati Cemetery
Date of Arrival:16 December 1881
Name of the ship:May Queen
Date of sailing:26 August 1881
Sailed from:London, England
Spouses name:Mabel Sanders Hart
Spouses date of birth:8 January 1877
Spouses place of birth:Thames
Spouses date of death:1937
Date of marriage:10 September 1896
Place of marriage:Thames
Fathers name:Donald Theodore Macmillan
Fathers date of birth:12 September 1833
Fathers place of birth:Ballachulish, Scotland
Fathers date of death:24 May 1896
Fathers place of death:Castle Grace, Katikati
Mothers name:Maria Elise Barca
Mothers date of birth:1841
Mothers place of birth:Holstein
Mothers date of death:20 April 1927
Mothers place of death:Tauranga, New Zealand
Name of the children:John Donald Macmillan , Colin Edward Macmillan , Vera Isobel Macmillan , and Patricia Jean Macmillan