Clan Donald Magazine No13 (1995) Online
MacDonell of Aberarder
(Or a character called " Blackjack McDonell")
by Robert MacFarlane
I wrote the article on the history of the MacDonells of Aberarder, a
cadet of Keppoch, in November 1990 for "Clan Donald Magazine Number
12" (Centenary Edition), I concluded with
George's death in 1869, the direct line of Aberarder came to an end
after approximately 250 years. The present Aberarder would have to
be found among the descendants of Captain Alexander of Moy, brother
to John Dubh, 5th of Aberarder. As genealogy becomes more and more
popular, the task of discovering
not be that difficult. Whoever that man may be
or wherever he
may be found, he will have a fascinating history to look back on, at
least I think so !!!"
I completed the article I was conscious of the many "unanswered"
questions, so decided to reopen the investigation. I found an answer
in the end, but as usual it left open even more mysteries!
me recap on previous research:
Ranald John (8th) died at Victoria British Columbia, Canada in 1887
and although I had found no evidence of a wife or children, Clan
Donald had stated that he had married a sister of Capt. MacLean of
Lakefield, with issue. So I decided to pursue this line again by
writing to the British Columbia archives to see if they had any
further information, in particular a will for Ranald. Eventually I
received an obituary, letters written by Ranald, cemetery records
and a vague newspaper article. From this I could add the following
to my knowledge of Ranald:
From a letter
written by Ranald, he arrived in California 1850, moved to
Island, British Columbia, in 1858. Was appointed Clerk of
and was seeking
a better appointment.
against dismissal for incident in 1859 when he was accused
permission to "put up a house on the grounds within the
of the Park, for
the purpose of affording accommodation to respectable
visiting Beacon Hill. The want of such a house as I allude
Goes on to say he is a married man and that the house would
be supervised by
denied at this time.
appointment of Post Master at Kennedy Town.
build a hotel on "Loch River trail".
fill vacancy at Yale in the civil department. He says he is
married man with
three children and has been on the Island since 1858.
appointment of Deputy Adjutant General of Militia for the
of British Columbia.
Street Ward - Victoria B.C.
McDonell Ronald (Catholic) aged 68 born Scotland.
Episcopalean) aged 56 born England.
states that Ranald's residence was Birdcage Walk, had a
funeral and was interred at Ross Bay cemetery.
Masonic records Ranald is described as a Hotel Keeper.
here was the first real evidence of a wife and children. His wife
did open a Boarding House on what was then known as Birdcage Walk,
where the legislators who came to the Capital made their seasonal
residences. Birdcage Walk is no more, it was the original
legislative buildings in the days of Fort Victoria.
article in the Daily Colonist of 23rd March 1973 had the following
OF THE NORTH LURED BLACKJACK"
"Hardy & generous, Ranald McDonell was born
in San Francisco in 1853, the son of a former British naval officer.
Soon the senior McDonell had moved his family to B.C., locating in
New Westminster before moving to Esquimau and, finally, to Victoria,
was evident that this "Blackjack MacDonell" was a son of Ranald John
who moved to Victoria
in 1858. He probably never realised it, but
Blackjack would have been 9th Aberarder after the death of his
father in 1887.
information to date on "Blackjack" comes from the above mentioned
article of 1973, an obituary on his death in 1932 and brief
correspondence with his granddaughter, who died suddenly shortly
before her 80th birthday in 1992.
Referring back to my opening gambit on the next Aberarder "whoever
that man will be", I could hardly have dreamed
up this character called "Blackjack".
character he obviously was, as a youngster he was involved as a
barman in some of the best saloons in town, from whence he opened a
hotel in San Francisco in partnership with another man. By the
1880's he was back north and opened the Grand Hotel & Theatre in
Vancouver's Water Street. In 1899, along with his latest partner, a
man called Jackson, he opened the Savoy. This was a "first class"
music hall (burlesque) and gambling establishment. Although
Blackjack was making plenty of money, he had itchy feet, so he sold
out and headed for the new "Eldorado," the gold of the Klondyke.
There he provided the "necessities" of life for the rough, tough
goldminers of that area. From there he headed for the construction
of the "Grand Trunk Pacific" railway and opened at Port Essington
the "longest bar" in America. He moved in 1913 to New Haselton where
he built the Northern Hotel. He finally retired to Smithers, where
he suffered a stroke in January 1932, dying in St. Paul's Hospital,
Vancouver and was buried at Ross Bay on 21st September 1932.
this character "Blackjack" was moulded from the toughest environment
of the "wild" west of Canada in the times he lived. However, all
written accounts of him stress his gentle and kind nature to all,
especially those who he had known in his pioneering days of the
Klondyke and had fallen out of luck. His granddaughter, the late
Jean Cimolini, remembered him enthralling her College friends with
his stories of the past, but regretted not writing any of them down
at the time. Jean said his first wife, Mary Ann Jones, was a "half
breed" from the Songee reservation (Songhees Property) near
Victoria, who gave him twelve children, all of whom predeceased
Blackjack. Although l
Jean, I never did discover the names of any of Blackjack's children.
It would seem that the only living descendants of Blackjack, at the
time of his death, were Jean Cimolini and her half brother Clarence
Goodacre of Smithers. Jean believed that Blackjack had a brother,
but I have no information whatsoever on him. Records in Canada have
given me endless headaches as I keep coming up with the surname of
"Etheridge" where I would have expected to find "McDonell" for
Blackjack's family. Blackjack's mother is described in one
publication as "Mrs Etheridge McDonell" and in an old music book
handed down through the family is written:-
'To Mary Etheridge -
from her husband John.
August 1854 - San Francisco"
something is not right, but then again can you imagine how boring
this type of research would be if everything
fell into place
in a matter
of minutes? However,
the 9th representative of Aberarder, Ranald John (Blackjack)
McDonell, has been found.
the advent of modern technological wonders like "Internet", "CD ROM"
etc., it will not be too long till I can sit at my "PC" and trace
the "10th representative of Aberarder."
Donald Magazine number 12
Provincial Archives of British Columbia - Victoria B.C. Canada
Cemelery records - Victoria B.C. City Hall Archives
(Late) Jean Cimolini - New Westminster,
Phyllis Lindsay - Sydney, B.C. Canada
Barbara Rodgers - Vancouver, B.C. Canada
Elna Verhoef - Brits, South Africa (Drawing of Blackjack
a photograph in the Daily Colonist of March 23rd 1972.)
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