William Evan McFarlane (later spelled as MacFarlane) was initiated into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn at its Amen-Ra temple in Edinburgh, on 22 March 1897. He chose the Latin motto ‘Sic vos non vobis’. Miss Alice Jane Forsyth was also initiated that day; and the two of them are the last people on R A Gilbert’s list of Amen-Ra members. The records of the Amen-Ra temple haven’t survived but what evidence there is indicates that William Evan never pursued his membership of the GD any further. He was not initiated into the GD’s inner, 2nd Order.


I have been contacted by someone researching in the official archives in Pretoria with news about a period in William Evan’s life that I’ve found hard to document: his time in South Africa during and after the Boer War. Many thanks to Adolph Landman for plugging a gap in my sources with some additional information and some very detailed references.


The Atherton Table Land website now has a very good biography of William Evan, based on sources available locally. Thanks are due to Phillip Charlier who alerted me to it and sent me the link.

Kenneth Jack, who researches freemasons in Scotland, sent me details of William Evan’s life when I hadn’t been able to identify the man myself. Thanks for that Kenneth: he turned out to have led a most fascinating life. The GD attracted some keen travellers - Kate Bates; Henry Colvile and his wife Zélie; Mary Briggs Swan, for example - but I don’t think any other members lived in so many far-flung places as William Evan McFarlane.


Most members of the family spelled it McFarlane though of course both spellings appear in the census when census officials didn’t ask for the correct spelling. The GD’s William Evan was McFarlane for much of his life but then his surname seems to have morphed into the MAC spelling, possibly when he started work in Australia.


Missionary work sets my teeth on edge. My own spirituality isn’t the proselytising kind. In this account of the McFarlanes I shall try to remember that people called to missionary work believed they were saving souls and bringing civilisation; not destroying cultures.

The London Missionary Society was one of the earliest missionary efforts to be founded in Britain, sending its first workers to Guangzhou (Canton) in 1807. China remained an important focus of its work until the victory of Communism made it impossible for any personnel to remain. LMS was also strongly represented in South Africa where Robert and Mary Moffat and their son-in-law David Livingstone made the society famous. Although in theory not restricted to any one denomination, it did favour recruits from the Congregationalists and Methodists.

The association of the McFarlane family with the London Missionary Society lasted about 80 years and two generations. It began with Samuel McFarlane (1837-1911), a man who had worked as a mechanic for a railway company in Manchester before being Called to take up the challenge of missionary work. Samuel was trained as a missionary-cum-teacher at Cheshunt College, founded in 1768 by the Methodist Lady Huntingdon and strongly Evangelical in its leanings. Originally based in a house in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, since 1906 it has been one of Cambridge University’s theological colleges.

In 1858 at the end of his course, Samuel married Elizabeth Joyce, a daughter of John and Rachel Joyce, Nonconformists who ran a grocer’s shop and bakery in Kempston, Bedfordshire. One of Elizabeth’s brothers had studied with Samuel at Cheshunt College. Very soon after the wedding, Samuel and Elizabeth left for the third and least well-known arena of LMS activity, the islands of the Pacific. They were bound for Lifou (often written as ‘Lifu’), the largest island in the Loyalty Island group; geographically, a part of the archipelago named New Caledonia by James Cook when he came across it in 1774. Samuel and Elizabeth reached Lifou in time for their eldest child, Sewell Samuel, to be born there in May 1860, probably at Chépénéhé, where they had their house and church built and set up their schools. All their other children were born on Lifou - Harriet (1863); the GD’s William Evan (5 April 1866); a daughter (probably 1868) whose name I could not discover, who died young; Alfred James (1870) and George Walter (probably 1872).

Samuel and Elizabeth McFarlane were not the only Europeans on Lifou in the 1860s, nor the only missionaries; though their arrival with their colleage Mr Creagh, did represent an expansion of the LMS’s efforts there. The LMS had been there since 1841 and Christianity was at least familiar to the natives, some of whom had become converts. And Lifou was not quite as isolated as you would think, just nearly so. Trading ships did call in bringing letters from home as well as goods and news, so that the visits of the vessel John Williams were always a cause for celebration. The island received visits from bishops based in New Zealand. And all the LMS missionaries working on islands in the Pacific did try to meet once a year. However, although Pacific islands are often thought of as idyllic, they aren’t: Lifou was devastated from time to time by typhoons, when floodwater several feet deep would sweep through the McFarlanes’ house; fresh water will have been in short supply; the weather was hot and humid; and while the views of vast expanses of ocean might be awe-inspiring and breathtakingly beautiful, they can also encourage feelings of isolation - they certainly did in Samuel McFarlane although he tried hard to overcome them.

Though he never said so in his book on Lifou, Samuel McFarlane did not enjoy his time there and looked back at it with a sense of frustration and failure. His failure was not solely his own fault though his abrasive personality contributed to it. When he and Elizabeth started their work on Lifou it was still an independent nation or series of tribal nations; but in 1864 a French warship arrived from New Caledonia (a French possession since 1853) and deposited a small number of troops and a governor; and Jesuit missionaries soon followed. Samuel McFarlane argued furiously that the Loyalty Islands never had been part of New Caledonia; but the French just replied that they were now, and that all their inhabitants were subject to French law and administrative decisions. For several months the LMS was banned from doing any work at all while the governor sent to Paris to ask whether its workers could stay. When the answer came back, it was a good one, in theory: the LMS was allowed to remain, and even given the protection of the French government. However, there was a clever twist to the permission that made the work of the British missionaries all-but-impossible: their work and schools now had to abide by the French government’s educational regulations, which required French to be everyone’s main language, and that school lessons should be taught in it.

William Evan McFarlane was born a few months after the LMS grudgingly agreed to be bound by those rules; and in the wake of a breakdown of law and order on the island, during which the LMS church at Chépénéhé was burned down; and there was fighting, with casualties, at a mission station elsewhere on Lifou. In fact the French soon withdrew all their officials and most of their Jesuits from the island; but a Resident remained, to enforce French law and make sure the inhabitants couldn’t forget who was now in charge. The LMS’s missionaries on the Loyalty Islands began to think that they would do better elsewhere, and soon fastened on the Torres Straits Islands and Papua New Guinea; still outside the control of any empire (though Australia was comfortably nearby) and still without any missionary activity at all.

In May 1870, when William Evan McFarlane was about four, his father and the Rev A W Murray left Lifou on a fact-finding trip to the Torres Strait. They were away for nearly a year - much longer than expected, held up on the return voyage by contrary winds - and with no news of them reaching Lifou during that time, it must have been a very anxious period for Elizabeth and Mrs Murray, left behind with the children. The trip convinced Samuel and Rev Murray that a mission in New Guinea could work - a find example of religious fervour overcoming the realities on the ground - and it also set the pattern for the next decade of the McFarlanes’ lives. As a result of their report on the 1870 recce and one (possibly two) other trips made by Samuel around 1871/72, the LMS duly moved into the Torres Strait islands and Papua New Guinea; with Samuel McFarlane in charge of the whole operation. It’s obvious from his book on the LMS in Papua New Guinea that not only did Samuel prefer the scenery of the Torres Strait; he also much preferred his new job. As he had done in Lifou, he quickly learned two local dialects to the extent of being able to make translations from English into it; but he did very little actual missionary work from this time on. Instead, his time was taken up with exploration, the logistics of mission stations, administration and management of the project, and fund-raising; and to these ends he was away from his family often for months at a time. It was left to Elizabeth McFarlane to hold her family - and indeed, all the European missionaries’ wives - together through all the danger and uncertainty, which included attacks on newly-built missions and their occupants and being left behind to worry while her husband made continual voyages along the southern coast of New Guinea, whose waters were still completely uncharted. She also endured the death of one of her children. It was not unexpected in these tropical climates that children would die; and a Christian woman might console herself by thinking of her child as now with God and free of earthly care; but it wasn’t any easier to bear the grief, I’m sure. She was a remarkable woman.

For William Evan McFarlane and his siblings - five at the start, four at the end - the years from 1872 to around 1879/80 were ones of change in an atmosphere which mixed religious fervour and the excitement of new places and new challenges, with an understanding that personal safety must be disregarded while bringing God to the heathen. Being martyred - killed by hostile natives - comes over in Samuel’s books as something that might be in God’s plan for you, and you were not to turn from doing God’s work in order to avoid it. And LMS missionaries, both native and European, did not turn; and some were killed including people the McFarlanes knew, the best-known example being Rev James Chalmers, who was killed and almost certainly eaten in April 1901 in Papua New Guinea, along with one British LMS colleague and a number of local trainees.

Those years began in 1872 with the McFarlanes and other LMS missionaries packing up and leaving Lifou - the only home any of the McFarlane children had known so far. While Samuel McFarlane made a trip to England to take a period of leave, raise funds for the new mission, and see his book on Lifou through the publication process, I think his family remained behind, in Sydney NSW; the biggest town the McFarlane children will have seen, and full of Europeans. Samuel was in England in the middle of 1873 and was probably away for a year. In his books he doesn’t mention his family being with him on this trip home; so I suppose they weren’t. He came to collect them from Sydney in 1874, but rushed off ahead of them back to the new mission’s temporary headquarters at Cape York; so he was not on board ship with them when his younger daughter - William Evan’s nearest sibling - died, either of sea-sickness or a fever. She was buried at sea and it must have been a traumatic event for Elizabeth and the other children, made worse by having to leave her behind.

Samuel settled his family at Somerset, Cape York, where the new mission was temporarily based. When the mission station at Cooktown on Stacey Island was ready for them, they moved in there; this would have been in 1875, I think. By the end of 1877, though, they had moved on again, to Murray Island; and this was probably Samuel and Elizabeth’s last posting as missionaries in the field. Whether Elizabeth McFarlane had time at either of those places to found a school like the one she had run on Lifou isn’t clear. In his books, Samuel doesn’t pay his wife anything like what I consider to be her due, for her part in her husband’s missionary work; though he does seem to be suggesting that most of the teaching at the New Guinea mission was being done by natives of the Loyalty Island that he had brought with him for the purpose. Perhaps Elizabeth’s efforts were concentrated on the education of her own children: Sewell, the eldest, was in his late teens by the late 1870s. The fact that the young McFarlanes were growing up and needing to be prepared for the working lives that lay ahead of them, probably influenced Samuel and Elizabeth’s decision to return to Britain.

I think the evidence from William Evan McFarlane’s later life shows that he thought of Australia as a place where he had felt at home. Though it might have been when he was just a toddler that he first became fascinated by the evidence of God’s handiwork that he saw above him at night - the stars of the southern sky; his interest in astronomy continued throughout his life. How free the children of missionaries were to run about and play, and not wear many clothes if it was hot, I really don’t know. But William Evan’s choice, on two occasions, to accept work in remote districts in hot countries, suggests that he was never very keen on life in cities; nor on Britain’s climate - they just weren’t what he was used to.

Samuel McFarlane went home to a job at the LMS offices in Blomfield Street, near Liverpool Street station in the City of London. His family settled down near Elizabeth McFarlane’s relatives. By 1881, they were living at 24 Cauldwell Street Bedford; later they moved to Elmstone Lodge on Bromham Road - they were living there in 1888 when Samuel was writing his book on the New Guinea mission. On census day 1881, Samuel was (yet again) away from home. Sewell was studying medicine at Edinburgh University but was home for the holidays. William Evan, Alfred and Walter were all still at school. Harriet had left school; she was listed as having no occupation but may have been studying to be a teacher or already employed as one - census officials didn’t always ask women if they were working. All the family attended the Bunyan Meeting chapel in Mill Street.

The McFarlanes’ lives might still be organised around missionary work and chapel-going but they had come back to a rather different Britain to the one they had left. Two developments in particular were making changes to the intellectual landscape that they might have struggled to ignore; and I think the evidence shows that the younger generation didn’t ignore them completely. The first was the publication - on 22 November 1859, about the time that Samuel and Elizabeth reached Lifou - of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. The second had been going on longer but was becoming more widely accepted as legitimate: biblical criticism. Biblical criticism treated the Bible like any other book - as the product of human endeavour. It was a product of the Enlightenment, and Evangelicalism was a reaction to it, a restatement of the Bible as the words of God, written down by God’s chosen scribes, true in every detail and not for negotiation on any terms. During the mid-19th century the movement went on apace and began to move from its Protestant origins into Catholicism with the work of Renan (translated into English by the husband of GD member Katharine Julia Buckman). It reached a peak with Julius Wellhausen’s two-volume Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels published in Germany in 1878 and 1894 and seen as biblical criticism’s equivalent to The Origin of Species in terms of being a point from which there was no return. Wellhausen himself produced a short summary of his argument for the 1881 edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica, introducing it to a much wider audience; and the full first volume, translated by J Sutherland Black and Allan Menzies, was published in English in 1885 while William Evan McFarlane was still at school and his older brother Sewell had just begun work as a doctor.

There had been other developments too, in the twenty years Samuel and Elizabeth had been away. One in particular benefited their sons - greatly increased access to higher education, for those who could afford to pay. Samuel and Elizabeth took full advantage of this, at least for their sons, though their daughter Harriet had a more stereotypic education, studying music, probably with a local teacher and not to ‘professional’ level. Perhaps Samuel and Elizabeth thought that their sons’ upbringing would ensure that their faith would be proof against these intellectual challenges, and with Alfred and Sewell they seem to have been successful. However, I think the working life of William Evan McFarlane shows that he was influenced by the new intellectual environment, to the extent of believing that without due care for the body, you could not expect people to focus on the care of their soul.


Sewell, William Evan and Alfred all went to university; something that had not been an option for their father. The youngest brother, Walter, doesn’t seem to have done so: perhaps the money ran out at that point. Sewell studied medicine at Edinburgh University, and then spent several years in Bristol, gaining experience as a GP. He married Mary Dora Armstrong of Clifton in 1886 and the two of them went to China in 1887. Until 1900, Sewell was the senior doctor at the Chi Chou Medical Mission at Hsaio-chang. 1900, however, brought the anti-Christian, anti-foreign Boxer rebellion. Sewell and his wife and family hung on in Hsaio-chang until June 1900 when the rebels were virtually on their doorstep; but then they opted to live to do further missionary work, rather than stay put and be martyred. By 1907 they were back in England and Sewell had gone to work for the London Medical Mission at Endell Street, treating bodies and souls in the dark continent of St Giles Covent Garden. He died in 1920. Letters written by Sewell in 1894 and 1900 show that he had all his father’s Christian fervour; and that he was able to combine his science-based medical training with a belief in God’s providence.

Alfred James followed most closely in his father’s footsteps, by doing missionary work as a teacher. As the rules barring Nonconformists had been repealed, he was able to study at Mansfield College Oxford, before joining the LMS on graduation. He was also sent to China, and worked at various places in Hubei province - Siao-kan (then spelled Siaokan) (1896-99) and Hankou (then spelled Hankow) (from 1899); apparently continuing at his post right through the Boxer rebellion and beyond. At the end of the first World War he married another Oxford-graduate missionary, Dorothy Margaret Thorpe (born 1889). They worked together in China until 1935, when they retired to Weston-super-Mare, where Dorothy had grown up. Alfred died in 1957, Dorothy in 1961.

Although you couldn’t describe any of the McFarlane family as explorers in the purist sense, Samuel (elected 1886), William Evan (1895) and Sewell (1900) were all Fellows of the Royal Geographical Society. Samuel had work published in RGS publications and was for a time on an group which advised the RGS on affairs in New Guinea.


On the day of the 1891 census, Harriet was working in Bedford, teaching music; she didn’t mention being employed in a school so I presume she was giving lessons in her pupils’ homes. She married another teacher, Ralph Everitt Corbold, in 1893. They lived in Manchester where Ralph was on the staff of Manchester Grammar School. Walter was also working as a teacher in 1891 but his appearance on the 1891 census (still living with his parents) is the last information I have on him. I cannot find out what happened to him after that date.


The GD’s William Evan McFarlane was the third missionary brother. I get a sense of him, at least in his early adulthood, as not leading, but following very closely examples set by his elders. He left school with his father’s level of religious conviction and went to Cheshunt College as his father had done. Ordained in May 1891, he joined the LMS straight away and was sent out to join its mission in Mongolia, which was having a crisis of personnel to go with all its other problems.

When William Evan left England, the LMS was on its second attempt to find a foothold in Mongolia. Its first (1820-1841) had been authorised by one Russian tsar and then banned by another; so the second attempt went through China. It was essentially the work of one man, Rev James Gilmour, who had arrived in Mongolia in 1870 and finally got his first convert in 1885. It had been difficult to follow up even this small and belated success: Gilmour was on sick-leave in 1889 and 1890; and as soon as he returned to work his deputy, Dr G P Smith took leave of absence and doesn’t seem to have gone back. The situation went critical in May 1891 when Gilmour died suddenly, while he was in Tientsin for a meeting of the LMS’s North China Mission; so that Rev J Parker and his wife were the only LMS representatives left in Mongolia. They needed help; and William Evan was it. While William Evan was on his way, however, the political situation between the native Mongolians and newly-arrived Han Chinese, deteriorated; and in November 1891 the Parkers had to retreat to Tientsin; where William Evan found them when he reached north China.

It was the following April before Rev Parker thought that it was safe to return to Mongolia. He, his wife and William Evan arrived at the mission at Ch’ao Yang on 3 May 1892. The one convert of 1885 had become 50 converts by the end of the year so there was some room for optimism; but during those few months, William Evan caught dysentery. Perhaps weakened by the long journey he had had to make to reach his posting, he was unable to shake the illness off completely. After enduring repeated bouts of it for about 18 months he had to admit defeat: he left Mongolia in May 1894 and returned to England. Soon afterwards, hostilities broke out between Russia and Japan and the Parkers also had to leave.

William Evan may have continued to be a devout Nonconformist Christian all his life but he was never employed by a missionary society again as far as I know. He decided to follow the example of his eldest brother Sewell, and study medicine, even going to Edinburgh University medical school where Sewell had done his training. He started there in 1895 and joined the GD two years into his studies. Throughout his time as a student he lived at the same address - 28 Montpelier Park Edinburgh.


The GD’s Amen-Ra temple in Edinburgh had been set up in 1893. It had quite a few members who were doctors, including one whose name William Evan will have known: Dr Robert William Felkin, the medical school’s Lecturer in Diseases of the Tropics and an ex-missionary himself (though on behalf of the Church of England rather than a nonconformist mission). However, William Evan might just have missed Felkin, who moved to London to set up in private practice around the time William Evan began his studies. A much more likely GD member to have recommended William Evan for initiation was William Peck, Amen-Ra’s Hierophant (1896) and then its sub-Imperator (1897); husband of GD member Christina Peck, and brother of GD member Harriet Peck. Peck (1862-1925) was an inventor with a number of patents to his name; but he was also director of Edinburgh’s City Observatory and a great populariser of astronomy, through books and talks - a Patrick Moore of his day. During his time in China and Mongolia William Evan will have had ample time to get familiar with the northern sky. The City Observatory will have offered him what might have been his first opportunity to look at stars through a telescope. I’m sure he made a beeline for Peck’s domain whenever his medical studies permitted and it was inevitable that the two men should get friendly.

I’ve already said in the first paragraph of this biography that William Evan didn’t follow up his GD initiation. Nor did he join Edinburgh’s branch of the Theosophical Society - William Peck was an important member of that, as well. William Evan might no longer be a missionary but I think that some of the texts taught in the GD would have been rather too much like witchcraft and paganism for a man from such a devout Evangelical family. And the texts of the TS he might have regarded as heathen. He let the GD go and got on with his medical work; but perhaps he and the Pecks remained friendly.

William Evan graduated MB ChB from the University of Edinburgh in 1900 and went to gain some experience at the Wirral Children’s Hospital in Birkenhead. I imagine he was offered the job through family contacts in Lancashire: Samuel McFarlane had friends in the Manchester area and he and Elizabeth had chosen to retire to Southport; Harriet and her husband were living in Chorlton.


1900 and 1901 were calamitous times: the Boxer rebellion was on; and the Boer War was on. In South Africa, Britain’s scorched earth policy with regard to the farms of its Boer opponents had led to the displacement of thousands of women and children by mid-1900. The military authorities began to herd them into what the Secretary of State for War referred to (in June 1901) as “concentration camps”; but the numbers needing to go to the camps rapidly outstripped the manpower and organisation available to create suitable places to live out the rest of the war, however long it took. With only tents for shelter, no clean water, no properly-dug sewage treatment and not enough food, the measles epidemic that had already been raging got out of control and was joined by typhoid, diphtheria and William Evan’s old enemy, dysentery. Death rates shot up, particularly amongst children, but information on what was going on was censured by the Government; so it was not understood in Britain just how bad things were, until well into 1901. Even then, not everyone was in favour of sending help to the camps: politicians who had voted against the war opposed it; and others argued against helping the wives and children of Britain’s enemies. William Evan was not one of those who felt that way. He volunteered to go to South Africa as a medical officer. At the end of 1901, he arrived at his allotted camp: Mafeking.


Mafeking (now called by its correct name, Mahikeng) was a name known throughout the Empire by the time William Evan set out for South Africa. Everyone knew about the 217-day siege (from October 1899 to May 1900) and its eventual relief by Colonel B T Mahon and his troops. I’m not sure that quite as many people would have been able to say where the town was, however - it’s on the Upper Molopo River near the border with Botswana.

The handing over - you can call it an abandonment - of the camps by the military to the civilian authorities was hasty and ill-thought-out. There weren’t enough civilian workers to take over and there was no clear chain of bureaucratic command; so that decisions that desperately needed to be made, weren’t. Supplies of food and transport to get food to the camps were both lacking; and most of the camps were on starvation rations for months. At Mafeking these difficulties were made worse by the camp’s isolation and the lack of men in the camp to do the heavy work like digging sewers, and channels to drain off the rain which raged through the tents after every downpour. By the autumn of 1901 the situation at Mafeking was chaotic and deadly. At the end of October 1901 there were about 5000 people in the camp, mostly women and children; but until the end of that month the camp had no nursing staff at all; until December 1901 the camp also had no one of sufficient rank to take administrative decisions; two senior medical officers came and then went (their health broken by the conditions) between October 1901 and January 1902, without making any real impact on the appalling sanitary arrangements; and the epidemics continued to rage, felling even some members of the staff.

The tide began to turn at Mafeking late in 1901. Death rates peaked in November 1901 as the epidemics began to abate. Just before Christmas a good civilian administrator finally arrived: Herbert Kemball Cooke (or Cook, I’ve seen both spellings). A second replacement senior medical officer arrived and began work. The camp got a trained pharmacist/dispenser. An orphanage had been needed for several months, so many women in the camp had died; at last, one was set up. And - doing his bit to improve matters - William Evan McFarlane joined the staff, bringing the number of doctors to six (five men and one woman) and bringing also his welcome recent experience of work in a children’s hospital.

A couple of months after William Evan’s arrival, staff were at last able to have the odd evening off. To lighten the atmosphere in the camp and cheer people up, a series of concerts was organised during February and March 1902. And then, in late May, came the glad news of Peace.


Despite the fact that the refugees didn’t have farmhouses or crops to go back to, the British authorities began to hustle them out of the camps within days of peace being declared; most of the camps were empty by the end of 1902. The refugees in Mafeking concentration camp were all from the Zeerust and Rustenberg districts. It’s not clear from any of the sources I’ve read, whether medical officers from the camps were expected to accompany refugees on their journey back whence they had come; but on 26 October 1902 William Evan left the camp for Zeerust, to set up a general practice there. The British had taken control of Zeerust and the area around it as part of the Peace deal, and from July 1902 a British magistrate was in post there. Part of William Evan’s brief was to supervise the setting up of a hospital at Zeerust. It was described in official documents as a temporary hospital; and as the Colonial Secretary signed off the transport to it of three marquees and six bell tents, it may have been very temporary indeed. If something more permanent replaced the tents later, that may have happened after William Evan left. He was at Zeerust at least through 1903 and probably into 1904; but then he went back to England.


William Evan’s name first appears in the General Medical Council register in 1903, care of a PO Box number in Zeerust. Ancestry doesn’t have any registers between 1903 and 1907, but in 1907 his address was 53 Middle Hill, Englefield Green Surrey; though I think he had already left it by the time the register was published. One of the accounts of his life records him working for a Dr Beresford in Chertsey, Surrey; no date for that was given but I think it’s probably now, and that the Dr Beresford in question was William Hugh Beresford, a GP living at Bentley, Egham Hill in 1901 and 1907 though by 1911 he had moved to Esher and might have retired. After several years working in a hospital or field-hospital environment, perhaps William Evan felt it was time to get some more experience as a general practitioner. He was, I think, looking at last for a permanent appointment. And an appointment eventually came up in Australia.


Update June 2023. I’ve left my original text below but here are the details of the Atherton Table Land website’s biography of MacFarlane:


My text:

Irvinebank, beneath the Atherton Tablelands of Queensland, was a mining and smelting town, renamed (from Glen Creek) promoted, organised and generally run by John Moffat of the Glen Smelting Company of Herberton, after he had bought up some leases on tin mines, around 1884.

People were drawn to the area by the prospect of well-paid work, but the town was always a small one, its population peaking at 1264 in 1911. In 1906, William Evan MacFarlane (note the changed spelling) was appointed as doctor in residence and doctor in charge of Irvinebank’s Walsh District Hospital. Though most of his work was in Irvinebank he was also responsible for the Stannary Hills Hospital, making visits there twice a week. In fact, only a few years after he started work, Irvinebank began to decline, and people began to leave it, when the economic slump of the years before World War 1 drove metal prices down. Moffat was investing heavily in tramways and railways when this downturn occurred, and was badly caught out financially. He retired from the company in 1912 and Irvinebank’s decline accelerated. William Evan, however, worked in Irvinebank for the rest of his life and became a popular and generous member of its community.


A house next to the hospital came with the job; and possibly for the first time in his life, William Evan thought of himself as having a home. Certainly, he put down more roots at Irvinebank than he had ever done anywhere before. Some were roots of a particular and rather expensive kind - in 1917 he bought himself a telescope and built an observatory for it, in his garden. Whenever his work permitted - which wasn’t as often as he would have liked - he went out to do some serious work observing double stars. Double stars are groups of two or more stars which appear to be in close proximity. Some really are close to each other and orbiting around a point in between the two; these are binaries. Other stars are not close at all, they just look that way from Earth. Félix Savary had computed the orbits of one binary system in Ursa Major as early as 1827; but there was still a lot of systematic work needing to be done on double stars when William Evan began his observations.

The telescope William Evan chose was a Cooke equatorial, a well-known brand whose users included the Royal Observatory at Greenwich as well as many serious amateurs. William Evan was able by 1917 to afford one of the larger ones - his had a 17.8cm (7inches) refractor. He was well set up, therefore, to see - in the constellation of Aquila - the brightest nova since 1604. Although it was just about visible to the naked eye the previous night, on the night of 8-9 June 1918 it outshone every other star but two, an instant astronomical sensation. At that time the life and death of stars was not well understood and there was as much bafflement as excitement amongst astronomers as the news spread and all telescopes were trained on it. It was probably statistics on the nova, gathered by William Evan during August 1918 and sent to the Royal Astronomical Society in London, that got him elected a Fellow in January 1919. Just noting, here, that if William Evan was still a Christian, he had no problem with using the scientific method, and the latest scientific equipment, to investigate God’s handiwork further, to see how it worked. I’m not sure his brothers Sewell and Alfred would have felt the same. William Evan named the nova ‘Vulcan Star’ after the Irvinebank tin mine, and it continued to be called that locally for some years.

Novas are now known to be the ejection of extremely hot gas from an unstable star or binary system, making it shine far more brightly than up until then. The 1918 nova is rather dully called V603 Aquilae these days; there are photographs of it on the web. V603 Aquilae is one of the most studied novas. In 1964 Robert P Kraft was able to prove that the gas had been blown out of a binary system; observers in 1918 couldn’t see enough detail to be sure. And since then, instruments in space and on land have peered at its light in the ultra-violet and X-rays.

I’m sure William Evan would have continued to use his telescope to observe the nova and other interesting features of the sky, and would have sent more data to the RAS; but the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918-19 intervened; decisively.

The Australian government put quarantine restrictions in place to keep out Spanish flu for as long as possible. However, it came ashore at last, in January 1919, with more or less simultaneous outbreaks in Hobart, Melbourne and Sydney. As Irvinebank was rather isolated, the disease eventually broke out there in July 1919. For several weeks after he tended the first cases, William Evan was kept extremely busy, working through the kind of vile weather that the disease thrived on: statistics have shown that in hot and humid climates it was particularly virulent. By mid-August the worst seemed to be over and he began to contemplate taking a deserved holiday, perhaps visiting India. But the flu came for him (and it often came very quickly indeed): on a Thursday he didn’t feel well; by the Friday he was thinking he wasn’t up to making his usual visit to Stannary Hills Hospital; and on Sunday 18 August 1919 he died. The Spanish flu is known for having picked off the young (aged 20-40) rather than the older and youngest, so at 53 William Evan was a little above the age of maximum danger. However, he had lived for a great deal of his life in sapping climates; he had not spared himself, in those climates, to tend to the health (physical and spiritual) of others; and he had had dysentery in the past, which can weaken the heart. Virtually the whole of Irvinebank turned out for his funeral; he’s buried in the town cemetery.


William Evan died suddenly. All the evidence I’ve found indicates that he never married. And he lived far away from his closest relations. Consequently his legal affairs took some time to sort out. By 1921, however, his telescope was up for sale. It was bought by St Ignatius College Sydney NSW for the observatory Father Edward Francis Pigot was setting up in the school grounds. It’s still in use today.

BASIC SOURCES I USED for all Golden Dawn members.

Membership of the Golden Dawn: The Golden Dawn Companion by R A Gilbert. Northampton: The Aquarian Press 1986. Between pages 125 and 175, Gilbert lists the names, initiation dates and addresses of all those people who became members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn or its many daughter Orders between 1888 and 1914. The list is based on the Golden Dawn’s administrative records and its Members’ Roll - the large piece of parchment on which all new members signed their name at their initiation. All this information had been inherited by Gilbert but it’s now in the Freemasons’ Library at the United Grand Lodge of England building on Great Queen Street Covent Garden. Please note, though, that the records of the Amen-Ra Temple in Edinburgh were destroyed in 1900/01. I have recently (July 2014) discovered that some records of the Horus Temple at Bradford have survived, though most have not; however those that have survived are not yet accessible to the public.

For the history of the GD during the 1890s I usually use Ellic Howe’s The Magicians of the Golden Dawn: A Documentary History of a Magical Order 1887-1923. Published Routledge and Kegan Paul 1972. Foreword by Gerald Yorke. Howe is a historian of printing rather than of magic; he also makes no claims to be a magician himself, or even an occultist. He has no axe to grind.

Family history: freebmd; ancestry.co.uk (census and probate); findmypast.co.uk; familysearch; Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage; Burke’s Landed Gentry; Armorial Families; thepeerage.com; and a wide variety of family trees on the web.

Famous-people sources: mostly about men, of course, but very useful even for the female members of GD. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Who Was Who. Times Digital Archive.

Useful source for business and legal information: London Gazette and its Scottish counterpart Edinburgh Gazette. Now easy to find (with the right search information) on the web.

Catalogues: British Library; Freemasons’ Library.

Wikipedia; Google; Google Books - my three best resources. I also used other web pages, but with some caution, as - from the historian’s point of view - they vary in quality a great deal.


OUTLINE OF WILLIAM EVAN’s LIFE: sent to me by Kenneth Jack in two emails over the weekend of 16-18 May 2015.

A very short biography was in Loxton’s Medical Directory of Australia etc published by F W Loxton 1910: p146.


See clanmacfarlanegenealogy.info for information on Rev Dr Samuel MacFarlane DD’s Scottish birth and upbringing.


Most LMS documents are now at School of Oriental and African Studies, London University. Some of the artefacts collected by its employees are in the Horniman Museum, south London. And the National Library of Australia also has a large archive collection bought from LMS in 1961 and not just covering Austalia and its dependencies: see www.nla.gov.au for a short hist of the LMS. And see wikipedia. There’s also The London Missionary Society in Australia by Anna Johnston. Cambridge University Press 2003 though it appears only to cover 1800-60.


Familysearch England-ODM GS film number 952396 for his marriage to Elizabeth Ursula Joyce.

Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missionaries p448. This source did not have entries for any of Samuel’s sons.

A rather less positive view of Samuel’s career can be seen at adonbline.anu.edu.au/biogs.

Several works in the British Library:

As MAcFarlane:

1863 La Evangelia hna cinihane hnei Mataio. As translator. Published Nengone: LMS Press.

1873 Tusi Salamo. As translator, with John Sleigh. The BL’s copy is London: British and Foreign Bible Society though there may also have been copies printed in Lifou.

1888 British New Guinea Vocabularies Part II is by Samuel, edited by R N Cust. London: SPCK though printed by James Chalmers of Port Moresby.

As McFarlane:

1885 Euangelia Mareko Detarer: Gospel of St Mark in the Language of the Murray Island. Sydney NSW: NSW Auxiliary Bible Society.

Given the kind of person he was and the kind of work he did, you wouldn’t expect Samuel McFarlane to be interested in native artefacts. However, the British Museum has one item collected by him at Mabuiag in the Torres Strait - catalogue number Oc.2489, a mask in the style of a crocodile. It was first exhibited in 1886.

MCFARLANE HARBOUR at Port Moresby is probably named after Samuel.

Adventures in New Guinea by Rev James Chalmers. London: Religious Tract Society 1886 p69.

MURRAY ISLAND, which isn’t mentioned in Samuel’s book on the New Guinea mission:

Via the latrove online newspapers to Sydney Morning Herald 28 March 1878: letter written to a friend in Sydney by Mrs Chalmers on 27 January 1878 at the Chalmers’ base at Stacey Island.


See wikipedia: 1841 to 8 April 1901. And for his death:

Times Mon 22 April 1901 p6 Murder of British Missionaries.

Times Tue 23 April 1901 p9

Times Tue 30 April 1901 p5.

None of the reports in the Times suggest that Chalmers and his companions had been eaten.


Family history details, DOB and DOD, from rootsweb.ancestry.com

At h-net.msu.ed two items posted by michelle.renshaw@adelaide.edu.au in May 2006; transcriptions of letters written by Sewell in China during the 1890s.

Cross and Crown by Mary Isabella Bryson of Tientsin. Published London Missionary Society 1904: p153.

Via the latrove newspapers website to South Australian Register of 2 October 1900 p7: Hardships of Missionaries in China, a report based on a letter written 21 July [1900] at Kobe, Japan by Sewell S MacFarlane.

Burdett’s Hospitals and Charities: Being the Year Book of Philanthropy editor Sir Henry C Burdett. Published Scientific Press 1912: entry for the London Medical Mission.


Report of London Missionary Society vols 123-25 1918 p108, list of current staff with details including which chapel they had attended when young; and where they were educated.

At www.bunyanmeeting.co.uk a history of the Bunyan Meeting of Mill Street Bedford. See also wikipedia.

The Rise of the Laity in Evangelical Protestantism, editor Deryck Lovegrove. London: Routledge 2002.

Familysearch: Manifests of Passengers Arriving from Canada into Vermont 1929-49.


At www.british-history.ac.uk: histories of the current Cambridge University theological colleges, using information from the Victoria County History series: History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely, Volume 3: City and University of Cambridge. Published London 1959.


Wikipedia on New Caledonia. Also on the Loyalty Islands but this entry doesn’t give its sources. On Lifou.

More information in The Discovery of the Pacific Islands by Andrew Sharp. Oxford University Press 1960.



Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to the Torres Strait Islands; by Alfred Cort Haddon 1901: Introduction p3.


At web.esrc.unimelb.au details of that part of the London Missionary Society collection owned by the National Library of Australia which is now stored at the Papua New Guinea University Library with catalogue number NLS MS 3720.

Torres Strait Islanders: Custom and Colonialism by Jeremy Beckett. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1897: p242 in its bibliography, two reports made by Rev A W Murray and Rev S McFarlane 1871 and 1872.


Via archive.org to The History of the London Missionary Society 1795-1895 by Richard Lovett. Published in two volumes 1899 by Oxford University Press for the LMS: pp585-588; p610-614

When Lovett was preparing the book, the LMS still had not been able to return to Mongolia.


Royal Geographical Society Year-Book and Record published by the RGS 1 Savile Row. The British Library only has the issues for 1898 to 1901; these seem to have been the first 3 of the series. Year- book 1898 p135, p189. Year-Book 1900 p135. Year-Book 1901 p139.


Robert William Felkin: www.academia.edu/1906812/The_extraordinary_life_and_work_of_Robert_Felkin_-_Bahai_Mage. Article by Lil Osborn with details of early life based on his obituary in the British Medical Journal.

Who Was Who 1916-28 p824 entry for William Peck.


At discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk, an introduction to the Hospital’s records which are now in Wirral Record Office.


There’s plenty on the web about the siege, which made Robert Baden-Powell (founder of the Scouts) a household name.

See wikipedia and other sites which concentrate on the military aspects of it.

Wikipedia on what was known to the British as Mafeking but was later called Mafikeng and is now called Mahikeng.

Programmes of the Weekly Promenade Concerts held at the Burgher Refugee Camp Mafeking, February and March 1902.

Times Mon 7 July 1902 p5 a report on the land that was being annexed by the British in the wake of the war, which included the area around Zeerust.


Further Papers relating to the Working of the Refugee Camps in South Africa which continues from an earlier report Cd853 issued December 1901. This report: HMSO, issued January 1902 and presented by the king to both houses of Parliament. The documents contained in it were all prepared October-November 1901. P5, p42, p45, p88-89.

The Brunt of the War and Where it Fell by Emily Hobhouse. London: Methuen and Co 1902: p93-94; pp118-126. On p130 Emily prints a letter from St John Brodrick MP, Secretary of State for War, which specifically describes the camps in South Africa as “Concentration Camps”.

Wikipedia for the career of St John Brodrick 1856-1942. And Emily Hobhouse 1860-1926.

Further on Emily Hobhouse: John Hall’s That Bloody Woman: The Turbulent Life of Emily Hobhouse. Cornwall: Truran Press 2008.

Modern accounts of the concentration camps, which both use the papers of Herbert Kemball Cook (or Cooke).

Mourning Becomes...Post/Memory, Commemoration and the Concentration Camps of the South African War by Liz Stanley. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press 2006. Especially Introduction; p15; p16n11; p85; p122p pp138-140; pp157-159; p167-168n56; pp183-85; p190; p326 . A succinct account of the war, and lots of camp statistics.

Collective Violence and the Agrarian Origins of South African Apartheid by John Higginson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2014: p100.


Wikipedia for the founding and the geography of the district.

For the day that McFarlane left for Zeerust and the intention to found a general practice there: NAAIRS index to archival files: volume 124 reference Gen/744902 part 1 Burgher Camps General Report for October 1902; report of Superintendent Sutton of Mafeking Burgher Camp. Seen at the Pretoria Archives by Adolph Landman October 2023.

Application for a hospital at Zeerust: NAAIRS index to archival files: volume 190 reference 13805/02 part 1 Proposed Hospital at Zeerust 1902. Seen at the Pretoria Archives by Adolph Landman October 2023.

For the authorising of the tents: NAAIRS index to archival files: volume 57 reference 5147/02: Colonial Secretary. Seen at the Pretoria Archives by Adolph Landman October 2023.

Royal Geographical Society Year-book and Record issue of 1902 has an entry for W E McFarlane (sic) giving Zeerust as his address.


For Irvinebank’s geography and history and the important role played by John Moffat in the development of the town:

queenslandplaces.com, and particularly www.athertontablelandnetguide.com which reproduced contemporary accounts of the town; and had on it reproductions of articles in The Northern Herald of 20 August 1919 p9 including a photograph of McFarlane/MacFarlane at his telescope; and The Cairns Post of 19 August 1919 p4.

For the Atherton Table Land account of the McFarlane/MacFarlane family and Australia, see


The find-a-grave index has William Evan MacFarlane as buried in Irvinebank cemetery.


At www.ulo.ac.uk website of the University of London Observatory, which has a Cooke telescope named the Joynson telescope after the man who gave it to them in 1932. Made 1863, 6" refractor.

At the Royal Museums Greenwich website www.portcities.org.uk short report on the equatorial-style telescopes bought by Royal Observatory and sent with five different expeditions in 1874 to observe the 1874 transit of Venus; including Cooke refractors.

Classic Telescopes by Neil English. Published New York: Springer 2013. On p2 Figure 2.7 shows a 3" Cooke refractor built around 1900.

Wikipedia on double stars and binary stars; and V603 Aquilae - a white dwarf and a red dwarf orbiting a central point every 3 hour and 20 minutes.

Cataclysmic Events and How to Observe Them by Martin Mobberley. Published Springer 2009: p46.

For the excitement at the time: via the latrove newspaper website at trove.nla.gov.au to Western Mail (published Perth Western Australia) Friday 14 June 1918 p20.

At www.ras.org.uk/library/obituaries/1314-ras-obituaries-38 a one-paragraph obituary of William Evan. It gets a lot of its facts about his early life wrong though of course it’s pretty good on the reasons why he was elected FRAS.

Journal of the British Astronomical Association volume 28 1918 p236.

Australian Journal of Astronomy volumes 1-2 , published Astral Press 1985 p66.


See virus.stanford.edu/uda for some general statistics.

In Australia:

Website www.emknowledge.gov.au, www.migrationheritage.nsw.gov.au and www.themonthly.com.au, article by Malcolm Knox published in the edition of April 2010. Knox had interviewed Dr Keith Horsley who was writing a book on the history of flu in Australia.

RIVERVIEW OBSERVATORY still exists and is a weather-station, see www.bom.gov.au. Pigot began taking weather observations in 1905.

Journal for the History of Astronomy volumes 3-4 1912 p211 suggests that some attempt at systematic observation of the night sky was going on at St Ignatius College in 1909; but without a telescope.

Explorers of the Southern Sky: A History of Australian Astronomy by Raymond Haynes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1996: pp124-126.


5 August 2015

9 October 2023

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Find the web pages of Roger Wright and Sally Davis, including my list of people initiated into the Order of the Golden Dawn between 1888 and 1901, at: