George McCallum Photograph contributed by Laurie McCallum

George McCallum c. 1851 - 1889

Born:    c. 1851 Scotland, presume Glasgow per siblings and as per death certificate.

Parents: Robert McCallum and Agnes McCulloch

Name: George, as second son, after maternal grandfather.

1880 12 April, Arrives New York from London with brother Robert McCallum, on the S.S. California (Anchor Line) sailing cabin class. Age listed as 30, occupation, ‘farmer’.

1880 14 June, Federal Census Elgin Township, Plymouth County, Iowa, United States of America. Listed as white; male; 29(at birthday prior to June 1, 1880); baching?; single; farmer; born in Scotland; parents born in Scotland.  Brother Robert, age 21also listed.

1881 01 Feb, Listed in Decree Granting Warrant to Malcolm McCallum as Trustee of his father, Robert McCallum’s estate, as “presently residing at Le Mars, in the State of Iowa, in the United States of America, the second son of the said Robert McCallum.”


Plymouth County in northwest Iowa was the focus of a colonisation experiment by William B Close and his brothers Frederick and James in the period 1877 – 1890. Described in “Gentlemen on the Prairie”  by Curtis Harnack(1985, Iowa  State University Press) it was an attempt to transpose the culture of the British gentry to the Iowa prairie.

A colony was set up to the south east of Le Mars. Elgin Township(a township is not as known in NZ as the whole county was split into about fifteen townships) where George and Robert were located at the time of the 1880 census is to the north of Le Mars. Some hundreds of the British gentry along with their polo ponies, grooms, butlers, maids and the odd wife and other accoutrements were transplanted to the raw prairie. Previously it was German, Dutch, Scandinavian and some British immigrants who had arrived steerage class who were locked in a struggle to survive on the treeless prairie. Most of the gentry eventually disappeared back to Britain or other parts of the Empire, including NZ, but not before making a memorable mark.

1882 24 Jan,   Listed on Passenger List of the “Loch Lomond” arriving in Melbourne from Glasgow, farmer; age 30;single; “Scotch”; along with his sister Annie Sinclair McCallum age 28. Both as Cabin Passengers(as opposed to Steerage).

Died: 1889  9 December   Paynesville, Colony of Victoria.  age c.37(Death certificate says 42 years).

Inquest:        1889 13 December   A Magisterial Inquiry conducted by Joseph Bull, JP at Cox’s Hotel, Paynesville, found George drowned accidentally on the evening of Monday 9 December 1889  while attempting to cross to Raymond Island in his own boat, despite being offered a ride in another boat. George left Cox’s Hotel about 11.00pm, being described as  “…not quite sober”  and “…about half drunk”.  Athelstane Metcalf, a fisherman of Raymond Island, described George “as a mate of mine” and said how he had resided with him for about two months. George’s body was discovered floating in the water opposite Paynesville by James Alexander about 6.30am on the Tuesday. The Death Certificate where the informant was the local policeman, Constable McCormick, gives George’s occupation as fisherman.

They drank at taverns in Le Mars(population 2,500 in 1880) named the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the Windsor Castle. Their favourite hotel was Albion House and the Prairie Club, burned to the ground in 1896, was their social centre.  In 1880 their horse racing meet, “the Derby” was held, along with the Race Ball, a glittering affair with men in white tie and tails and women bedecked in jewelry. There was a “Pup” scheme whereby greenhorns could learn about farming and with their father’s money, buy a farm from the Close Brothers. Many settlers in the colony kept trying to import a yeoman class from home, but when they arrived most of these workingmen were lured away by other opportunities, including buying their own farms and working them. Anyone with a small amount of capital could buy some land and commence farming.
One can only speculate at how George fitted into this social scene. Was he a yeoman farmer or a “Pup” who then bought his own land? What was his motivation for settling with his brother in Iowa for at least a couple of years?  There were some Scottish settlers including one from Dumbarton. Later there were articles in British magazines such as Harpers and the Field but George had left for home and then Victoria, Australia by then.

Buried: 1889  14 December   Bairnsdale Cemetery, Colony of Victoria

1889 14 Dec,     The Bairnsdale Advertiser – news item that “The body of a young man named George McCallum, who was drowned on Monday evening whilst returning home from Paynesville to Raymond Island, was found by Constable C.E.McCormick at seven o’clock yesterday morning (the Inquest says 6.30am by James Alexander on Tuesday 10 December) at Raymond Island entangled in reeds. At the inquest conducted at Cox’s Hotel, Paynesville by Constable McCormick (inquest conducted by Joseph Bull J.P.), a verdict of accidently drowned was returned.”  

                        The Fishing Station Paynesville Raymond Island
                                    Samuel Calvert, Engraver, 7 June 1879
                                                State Library of  Victoria



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