The Elder Family

elders composite FFP.jpg
The Elder Family
00:00 / 04:53

Temporary socially distanced recording

Dysart-born John McDouall Stuart is rightly lauded for his literally ground-breaking exploration of Australia.  

But there have been others from these parts who have had a huge impact on industry and culture down under.  

We look at the lives and legacies of the Elder family – a tale of 19th Century enterprise which may be new to many in Kirkcaldy but, like McDouall Stuart, has assuredly not been forgotten in Australia.  

In depth written study

Marble Surface

Kirkcaldy's Least Known Successful Family

Every town and every city has sons and daughters who find fame elsewhere.  Many have their names recognised in their native town, if not lauded and celebrated to the same extent as where they made their mark. Others are all but forgotten with little tangible evidence to remind people of their local connection.

Kirkcaldy is not unique in this respect, although it could be argued that too many have possibly slipped ‘under the radar’. This month’s object is a step outside our ‘comfort zone’, as to date each object already had a degree of familiarity to it. The Elder family is, according to our straw poll, almost unsung and unknown.

So just who are this Elder family? If that question was asked in Adelaide, or the wider South Australia, a tsunami of positive responses would be the result.

The Elder family originated in Leith, with William Elder settling in Kirkcaldy to follow his trade as a glove maker. William in time became a merchant and was in business with son George. The suggestion is that it was during the Napoleonic Wars that the family made their money by fitting out privateers.

George was soon established as a merchant, ships chandler and ship owner, along with two of his four sons – Alexander and Thomas. The family lived in Elder’s Brae which was a wynd, close to the Port Brae, running from the High Street to Hill Place. In total, there were four sons and three daughters. The other sons William and George initially followed other occupations. William as a seaman with George heading to Canada to seek his fortune.

George Snr. had learned of the opportunities which then existed in the infant colony of South Australia. A picture had been painted of probable success and wealth for those brave enough to seize the early opportunity of travelling to the other side of the world to set up in business.

In 1839, a family conference decided to take that bold and risky step of setting up as merchants in Adelaide as an extension to their existing business. Alexander was chosen as the pioneer.

Alexander sailed on the Minerva, a family ship, carrying a varied cargo sufficient to initially establish him in business. Almost from the first, despite some difficulties, including a sustained period of drought, Alexander achieved great success. The finding and subsequent mining of copper brought unexpected wealth to South Australia and also Alexander who had taken the opportunity to act as an agent.

Reinforcements were required and one by one his brothers joined the fledgling firm, with each making a major contribution to its growth. All became wealthy but the call of home saw each return to Britain, ultimately leaving only Thomas, in the company of his brother-in-law, as the owners. Their drive and vision saw the firm grow to extraordinary levels and the business still thrives today in its third century in business.

The Elder family to one degree or another were involved in building the State’s  infrastructure;  also benefitting and enhancing it through, pastoralism, legislative input, funding exploration and above all philanthropy on an unprecedented basis – especially in the field of education.

Langtonians should be justly proud of the achievements of four of her sons who, 182 years ago, laid the foundations of ‘Australia’s Leading Agribusiness’.

This story at kirkcaldyin50objects.com also covers some members of the wider family. In particular Elizabeth Elder’s husband, John Alexander, was involved in a seismic religious occurrence in 1843.

We hope that readers will agree the family deserve a spot in the sun.

Marble Surface