From Scotland to Fiji

Linda Callaghan nee Elliott (right) with her mother Susie Elliott (left) sitting on the grave of Miliana Elliot nee Masutawa. Picture: Supplied

THE Elliot clan of Fiji marked a milestone in their family’s origins — which dates back to Scotland — with the launch of “The Elliot(t) Family: From Scotland to Fiji” book earlier last month.

The book was authored by Yvonne McKissock with the help of Susie Elliott — the family historian and Linda Callaghan Elliott who hired Anthony Adolph — a renowned English genealogist writer, and broadcaster, to research their ancestor, John Roderick Grant Elliot.

According to the book, the pioneer, Mr Elliot, was born in Glasgow, Scotland and may have been in the Pacific by 1882 because he was not listed in the census there from 1881.

The book also assumes he arrived in Fiji via Australia.

John worked as an engineer for the Colonial Sugar Refining Company (CSR) in Fiji from 1884 until his death in 1912, and when he died his death certificate listed his profession as a coppersmith.

John married Miliana Masutawa of Nabuna Village, Koro, on December 8, 1900 in Ba and the couple had nine children: Thomas, Sili, Jack, Caroline, James, William, Isabella, Alice, and Ellen.

According to the book, John died of exhaustion on the banks of the Ba River on July 4, 1912. He was 51 and had lived in Fiji for about 29 years.

He was survived by his wife and seven of their nine children.

When Miliana died, she was buried in Savusavu, Vanua Levu.

According to Ms Susie, the first time she heard the two words “Elliott and Scotland” spoken together was from her mother, Sainimili.

“She was a lady who took a keen interest in family trees, especially in her iTaukei roots and in her Elliott in-laws,” she said.

“She also took an interest in everyone that ever came home, gently quizzing them about their names, their family connections, and joining the dots as she went.

“She delighted in discussing something about their lineage that they may not have known themselves. Her capacity to recall names and dates was unwavering. I once mistook her curiosity for rudeness and said as much. It was only later that I came to realise that her gift of recall came from her iTaukei upbringing where the proper code of behaviour when meeting someone for the first time required that you state your name and then describe where you hailed from.”

She said her mother catalogued and committed to memorise names and details of families and friends of past and present.

“So it was natural that she became my first go-to person when I started to question my Elliot roots. She told me that her knowledge of the Elliott families came from her mother-in-law (Mary Waucu Elliot), and what she had gleaned along the way during the years of her married life to my late father Dr Hubert Elliot. I am glad to say that some of her recollections of those years are included here in the book.

“And so it was from my mother I learnt that my paternal great-grandfather was a Scotsman who had come to Fiji via Australia and worked as an engineer for the CSR.

“When pressed to tell me more about my Scottish forebear, she’d say the families didn’t know and it was long before her time. Discussions with my father yielded the same result.

“From listening to her, a hunger to know more about this mysterious ancestor, was kindled. In the intervening years and wherever I could, I kept notes, contacting archives in Fiji and overseas in an effort to find something about him through databases, shipping logs, and so forth.

“I turned to reading what I could on the background of the Elliots of Scotland and Ireland. I looked at the history of CSR in Fiji during 1880s, 1900s and visited the Rarawai mill in Ba, now under Fiji Sugar Corporation.

“Once, accompanied by my late cousin Mark Campbell, we spoke with an official at the mill office about their archival records only to be told that when the sugar mill changed hands, all surviving records were boxed and sent to CSR headquarters in Australia.

“Nothing was left behind. Like many others, I tried unsuccessfully to locate his unmarked gravesite at the old CSR cemetery
in Rarawai.

“In the spring of 1997, I arrived in England and drove through the Scottish Borders towards Edinburgh. I spent a bewildering day at the Scottish House archives looking for a name combination that didn’t exist, following the trail of John Elliot’s Fiji records which erroneously gave his birthplace as that of ‘Campbellton’ in Scotland among others.

“I travelled north to Inverness, and west to the Isle of Skye, returning through Glasgow and down through the Lowlands
of Teviotdale, Elliot country, marvelling at the landscapes of mountains, lochs, and deep valleys that was the country of John
Elliot’s birth.

“And I still didn’t know where his family origins lay. What would prompt a man to travel halfway across the world to settle in Ba? Who was he? She said a determined group of cousins decided that it was time to organise the descendant families of John and Miliana into the Elliot clan of Fiji.

“In 2014, the Elliot clan reunion executive committee was formed. Its main objective was to educate our young about who their
forebears were and to inform our wider Elliot families about their heritage and connections to each other,” she stated.

“Guided by that, the committee’s task was twofold. First, to reach out to the seven surviving descendant families of our founders
in an effort to identify who we were and which of the families we were descendants from.

“Second, as a result of this outreach and through clan reunions, the next task was to compile a comprehensive family tree with a
future goal of publishing a family book.”

“A key feature of this family tree was to trace the bloodline of those members who were Elliot descendants by birth.

“This pared-back format meant that its members could quickly follow their Elliot lines of descent without the addition of extended family data, that is, their in-laws.”

The book was the result of the collaborative efforts of the family tree and additional data collected after the 2018 reunion from the families.

“It lists over one thousand direct descendants for the period from 1860 to 2018, not including the Scottish families known thus
far. This data does not pretend to have covered everyone to date, but it is a start towards that end.”

Ms Susie said the family wanted to thank the author, Ms McKissock for her efforts in getting this book published.

Next week: The origins of the children of John Roderick Grant Elliot and Miliana Masutawa.

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