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Clan Donald Magazine No13 (1995) Online

MacDonell of Aberarder (Or a character called " Blackjack McDonell")
by Robert MacFarlane

When 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 the following:-

"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 'Aberarder' may 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 !!!"

After 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!

Let 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:

1858

From a letter written by Ranald, he arrived in California 1850, moved to Victoria Island, British Columbia, in 1858. Was appointed Clerk of the Court and was seeking a better appointment.

July 1859 Suspended from office
1861 Appealing against dismissal for incident in 1859 when he was accused of taking money.
April 1864 

Requesting permission to "put up a house on the grounds within the Boundary of the Park, for the purpose of affording accommodation to respectable parties & families visiting Beacon Hill. The want of such a house as I allude to being much felt"
Goes on to say he is a married man and that the house would be supervised by
his wife.
R
equest denied at this time.

Dec. 1864 Applied for appointment of Post Master at Kennedy Town.
Jan. 1865 Request to build a hotel on "Loch River trail".
Dec. 1869

Application to fill vacancy at Yale in the civil department. He says he is a married man with three children and has been on the Island since 1858.

1872   

Application for appointment of Deputy Adjutant General of Militia for the Province of British Columbia.

1881 census Johnstone Street Ward - Victoria B.C.
McDonell Ronald (Catholic) aged 68 born Scotland
. McDonell Mary (Anglican / Episcopalean) aged 56 born England.
1887

Death notice states that Ranald's residence was Birdcage Walk, had a "Masons / Military" funeral and was interred at Ross Bay cemetery. In the Masonic records Ranald is described as a Hotel Keeper.

So 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.

An article in the Daily Colonist of 23rd March 1973 had the following heading:

"CALL 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, in 1858."

It 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.

My 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".

A 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.

So 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 made an exciting brief correspondence with 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"

So 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.

With 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."

Acknowledgements:

Clan 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 Westmi
nster, B.C. Canada
Phyllis Lindsay - Sydney, B.C. Canada
Barbara Rodgers - Vancouver, B.C. Canada
Elna Verhoef - Brits, South Africa (Drawing of Blackjack
From a photograph in the Daily Colonist of March 23rd 1972.)

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