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THE KATY TREE

Set in the mid 1820s when Hobart Town  was still largely a rough penal settlement, The Katy Tree traces the relationships and dark secrets of a Scottish family who emigrate to Van Diemen’s Land to take up land as free settlers. 

After having lost both parents in a tragic house fire, Lady Catherine MacGregor, Kate, along with her older brother, Sir Angus, and his wife, Lady Marguerite, set sail for the new colony and a fresh start.  With her, Kate brings the seeds of the Katy Tree, so named because it had been planted on the day she was born. However, nothing turns out as they had hoped, and the wonderful new life they had all envisaged awaiting them in their new homeland ends up tearing them apart. 

This is a compelling saga of family members being pitted against one another in the struggle for prestige and property, of love, lies, deception and murder.  But it is also a spiritual journey of forgiveness and hope for the future.

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ISBN: 978-1-921574-40-5
Format: Paperback
Number of pages:344
Genre: Fiction

Cover: Clive Dalkins

 

 

Author: Dorothy Dart
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2009
Language: English

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Author Biography 

For over twenty years Dorothy Dart has been a popular writer of Christian fiction for pre and early teens, her first book, Jo’s Search having received a commendation by the Australian Christian Literature Society in 1985. Since then she has had four other books for young people published and one historical novel based on the life of her husband’s ancestor, Madeline Sandilands Morgan. 

Now she has branched into the genre of the historical novel again with the fictional story of the MacGregor family who emigrate from Scotland to Van Diemen’s Land to take up land as free settlers in the mid 1820s. 

Dorothy grew up as the daughter of a Methodist minister and as such in her early years moved extensively throughout the state of Queensland. But she has a very soft spot for Tasmania which she has visited on several occasions, thus providing much of the inspiration for The Katy Tree. She is a mother of four adult children and grandmother of eleven, and lives with her husband Ken, at Belivah, Queensland.

Author’s Note 

This is entirely a work of fiction and except for famous entities mentioned in passing none of the characters bear any resemblance to any person living or dead. No disrespect is intended to descendants of the Sorell family for making use of the well-documented domestic arrangements of Governor Sorell in the telling of this story. Nor are the properties of Carrick Park and Glen Carrick intended to bear any resemblance to the town of Carrick in Tasmania or County Carrick in Scotland as they are totally of my own creation. 

The Katy Tree is envisaged by the author as being a Chinese Tree Peony, for thousands of years referred to in China as the ‘King of Flowers’ and noted for its medicinal properties. The significance of Kate’s mother planting this tree when Kate was born reinforces the belief of the MacGregors that they were indeed descended from Scottish royalty, and as such Kate was, to her mother at any rate, a royal child. The Tree Peony is also symbolic of healing.

Although the story is fictitious and the author has taken certain creative liberties here and there, The Katy Tree leaves the reader with a deeper understanding of the word forgiveness and a sense of hope for the future.

Prologue to The Katy Tree:

 

H

 

e was tall, ruddy of countenance and with flame-coloured hair that fell to his shoulders. The brambles sliced his bare legs like knives as he clambered through the shadowy glen, stopping breathlessly every now and then and looking over his shoulder to see if he was still being pursued. He could still hear the hounds baying in the distance, but the sound of it was growing fainter now. At last he reached the spot where his horse was hidden, leapt onto its back and galloped homewards.

Slung across the horse’s neck he carried a bull calf with its throat cut for fear it betrayed him. It was all he had managed to steal before he’d heard the dogs. But at least he and his mother would eat tonight. His name was Alexander MacGregor, descendant of the great Gregor of Argyle.

The MacGregors upon whose shields were inscribed the proud words, ‘My tribe is royal’ had for centuries been unfairly dispossessed of their lands and as a result been forced to thieve and plunder to exist, to the extent that Queen Mary in 1563 had commissioned all nobles and clansmen to pursue and annihilate them. They, in turn had fought back engaging in feuds and bloodshed that had culminated in the blood of two hundred Colquohouns being spilt by the MacGregors at the massacre at Glen Fruin three months ago. This time James the Sixth had intervened by passing an Act of Parliament that all MacGregors, whether guilty or innocent, be pursued and killed, and that it be a capital offence to bear the name of MacGregor in Scotland ever again. Thus causing many MacGregors to flee the country or at the very least adopt another name.

How had he come to this? Alexander asked himself. In ancient times the name MacGregor had instilled respect in the hearer, but now it instilled only hatred and fear. He had lost his land and his home. He had no wish to live this way any longer.

At last he reached his hideout in a cave on the side of Ben Lomond, and he could smell the wood-smoke that drifted up from his mother’s fire. She was old now, her face lined with age and tragedy. She’d have to come with him, of course. Back to her home in the lowlands from whence she had come as a bride thirty-five years ago. But she would be pleased.

Aye, tonight he’d tell her that he was ready. His father and brothers were long dead. He, the youngest was ready to give up the fight. Up until now it had seemed the cowardly thing to do, but he had so nearly been caught tonight. Now he knew the time had finally come to leave his beloved highlands and take up the inheritance as laird of the feudal lands of Carrick Park that had become his on the death of his mother’s brother, Sir Douglas Kennedy, six months ago. 

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Book One – 1824

 

Chapter 1 

 

A

re you sure you’ll be all right, Mags? I’ll stay if you really want me to, I will really, despite what Angus says.” Kate MacGregor held her sister-in-law at arms’ length and looked into the brown eyes that were shimmering with tears.

“Aye, of course I’ll be all right.” Marguerite MacGregor strove bravely to hold back her tears. “I’ve got Bridie here with me, and she’ll see I come to no harm. It’s just oh this awful nausea that I’m plagued with day after day. It makes me feel so wretched. And besides, I don’t like partings. You know that. I hate to have you and Angus leave me behind. I wish I was coming with you only as you know Angus won’t hear of it. And Angus is right of course, as he always is,” Marguerite finished with a determined sniff and nod of her dark coiffured head.

“Oh aye, I’m afraid in this instance he is. You are in no condition to be travelling these rough roads. You must, after all, think of your bairn – the son and heir you might be carrying. Or the wee daughter,” she added with a little laugh, knowing full well that it was a son for whom they were both hoping. “Come now, it’s little enough sacrifice to make when you think of it like that, isn’t it me darlin’?” Kate said gently.

“Oh I know. I’d do anything to ensure that this time I carry the babe to term,” Marguerite insisted vehemently adding, “That’s the only reason I agreed to stay here while you and Angus go gallivanting off to see your land. But now that you’re actually away, I…I just can’t help having a weep. It’s just so far that you’re going, and so fraught with danger what with wild Aborigines and escaped convicts and bushrangers roaming the country…somehow I don’t know…I just feel as if…Well, if you must know yesterday a black cat ran across my path when I was walking in the garden and I…I sort of saw it as an omen. Oh, nothing bad’s going to happen, is it? To you…or to Angus? If it did I couldn’t bear it.” Again Marguerite’s eyes filled with tears.

“No, my dear Maggie, nothing bad is going to happen,” Kate cut in, hugging Marguerite close. Although they had attended the Misses Drummond’s College for Young Gentlewomen together in Scotland, and been friends in fact since young children, Marguerite always seemed so much younger than the precociously headstrong Kate. “Nothing bad is going to happen, not to any of us. I for one don’t believe in omens, and neither should you, especially not in your condition. Now promise me you won’t think another minute on the matter,” Kate finished, taking a step back and wagging her finger in mock severity, adding with a jerk of her head in the direction of the verandah, “Oh, and just remember to water my Katy tree every day, won’t you?

“Oh Kate, whatever you wanted to go bothering with those ridiculous seeds for I don’t know. You’ve brought them half way round the world and for what? Anyone could see they were dead by the time you planted them in that enormous wooden tub,” Marguerite said petulantly.

“Aha, but they weren’t you see, and one day you’ll see for yourself, that tree will be a mass of pink flowers just like the one in poor dear Mama’s conservatory back home,” Kate cut in, a triumphant look in her shining blue eyes.

“Well, you know as well as I do how often it used to bear. Oh I know your Mama had it planted the day you were born so it was special to you both, haven’t I been told often enough? But you must admit its buds were deceptive. They always held such promise, but more often than not they dropped off before they reached maturity,” Marguerite scowled.

“Ah, but when they did bloom the fragrance was divine and filled a whole room,” Kate laughed, adding wistfully, “Mama loved that tree so, but since Angus forbade me to bring it, I brought all I could, a few miserable seeds. I thought if I could get them to grow here I would feel as if Mama were close by watching over me. Besides, the tree will make a fitting memorial to her for generations to come. So you will look after it for me, won’t you?”

“Oh aye,” Marguerite nodded, her mind already returning to the fact that soon she would be left in the rambling two-storey stone mansion alone.

“Come on then, Kate lass, it’s time we were off. If we want to reach our land within three days we’ve got to get as far as we can before dusk today. It’s the ferry across the Derwent that’ll be holding us up if we don’t look sharp about it,” Sir Angus MacGregor called gruffly. He appeared from the coach house at the side of the house leading a horse harnessed to a German wagon stocked full of tentage and poles, together with stretchers and an old wooden kitchen table, cast iron cooking pots, billies, crockery and chairs; to say nothing of their two trunks of clothes, a meat safe and a chest of flour, tea, sugar and other victuals to last them for a fortnight.

“Well, I’m afraid ’tis goodbye then my dearest.” Kate kissed Marguerite on the cheek and, hoisting her skirts above her dainty ankles, walked down the four stone steps towards the picket gate where her brother was impatiently waiting for her to climb into the wagon.

“Angus, have ye no’ forgotten something?” Kate asked softly when Angus, in his eagerness to be off, placed his foot on the step, about to follow her.

Angus shook his head. “I believe I have all the maps and papers of entitlement, plus sufficient supplies and goods, so I declare, to last us for a month at least when we are only away for two weeks,” he said.

“No, not that, you fool. You haven’t…you know…said goodbye properly,” Kate replied with a jerk of her bonneted head in the direction of the porch where Marguerite stood openly weeping now with the arm of Bridie, their convict servant, about her trembling shoulders.

“Och!” Angus exclaimed half in frustration at the delay and half in annoyance at female foibles such as kissing in public. To say nothing of the vapours which seemed to go with having married such a weak woman that she dissolved into tears every time he had to go away.

Nevertheless he leapt to the ground with an alacrity that belied his huge frame and in three strides was at the picket gate. He climbed the steps to where Marguerite stood and with great embarrassment kissed her on the forehead, his black bushy beard tickling her nose as he did so.

“There, there now, lass, don’t take on so or you’ll be making yourself ill. We’ll be back before you know it,” he said in a clumsy attempt at gentleness.

Then with a, “Take good care of your mistress, Bridie, or it’ll be back to the Women’s Prison for you,” he turned and retraced his steps to the wagon, leapt back aboard and picked up the reins. With two clicks of his tongue to which Socks, the Clydesdale lazily responded, the horse was soon clopping heavily down the road, while within Angus’ breast there burned a sense of excitement that, for him, was rare indeed. Both Angus and Kate turned to wave when they reached the corner, but by then there was nobody standing on the porch.

For a while Kate and Angus rode in silence, he dreaming of the land that he had been allocated in this exciting new colony in exchange for the selling of his inheritance in Scotland. Letters of recommendation for orders for grants of land as free settlers had been given both he and his sister by the Colonial Office before they had left Britain. On arriving in Hobart Town just three weeks ago, both had made declarations of their resources according to regulations, to determine the acreage to which they would be entitled. Angus brought with him cash, silverware and furniture to the value of fifteen thousand pounds. He thus received an order for 2,600 acres, which was the maximum allowed initially, while Kate, whose assets totalled five hundred and ten pounds had been allocated 800 acres bounding his, in country that was being opened up in the Midlands.

Kate, although feeling a little guilty at having left the forlorn Marguerite behind was, deep down in her heart, beginning to savour the first fruits of a new kind of freedom. She had an adventurous spirit, which up until now had largely been curbed in the school room and then the drawing room at home, where her Mama had been determined that she comport herself like the young gentlewoman she was born to be.

 Here, though, in this new country where she had already fallen under the spell of the wide blue skies and the wild rugged ranges, she suddenly felt alive in a way that she never had before, and ready for whatever this beautiful raw land had to offer. So much so that she longed to grasp it with her two hands, to live it in her own right as a free settler and not just an appendage to Angus and Marguerite for, after all, she was twenty-one, and had a right to a life of her own. For the time being though, as an unmarried woman, she knew her brother considered himself responsible for her and she would always be considered part of his household until such time as she married. And if she didn’t marry, then forever.

In spite of their long friendship, sometimes Kate had to admit that she chafed under the constraints that Marguerite had placed on her ever since coming as a bride of nineteen to live at the family home of Carrick Hall. And now, emigrating to a new land had seemed to be the ideal time to loosen that dependency a little. Kate had looked forward to that, only to find soon after they had arrived in the colony that Marguerite was pregnant again for the fourth time. Thus she hadn’t the heart to loosen the ties after all. In fact Marguerite’s pregnancy seemed only to have bound her tighter because after three miscarriages in two years the poor girl really did have need of her now, especially since she was so far away from her dear Mama.

However, just for two blessed weeks now Kate was free, and on her way to see her very own land for the first time. According to the map her boundary abutted Angus’ to the east. This was pleasing to know since when she did in fact branch out on her own, it would be comforting to have her brother close by – even though right now she suspected that he saw her land simply as an extension of his own. Wisely she had not yet pressed the point of ever living separately on her own place, because since she knew nothing about farming, that day was obviously a long way off. But now that the day of the Big Adventure was here her heart sang for the joy of being alive.

 

As Socks’ hooves clip clopped along, Kate found herself reminiscing about her bizarre Scottish history and how their departure as proud descendants of the ancient MacGregor clan had come about.

Her father, Sir Guy, had been a colonel in the Royal Scots Fusiliers who, upon his older brother’s death had inherited the lairdship and ancient feudal lands of Carrick Park in County Carrick. This estate with its rolling woodlands, tied cottages and picturesque but crumbling 15th century renaissance-style manor house had originally been inherited by his once fiery ancestor, Alexander MacGregor, on the death of the latter’s maternal uncle in 1603. And so Alexander, outlawed from his beloved highlands after the massacre of the Colquhouns by the MacGregors, and the very name of MacGregor banned on pain of death from the whole of Scotland, had fled south, converted to Protestantism and embarked upon an exemplary life in anonymity as the new feudal lord of Carrick Park – under the assumed name of Laird Alexander Grant.

 It was not until 1704 that honour was restored to the MacGregor family name through Angus and Kate’s grandfather having a baronetcy bestowed on him in his own right for distinguished service under the Duke of Marlborough in the Battle of Blenheim, and he had assumed the title of Sir Douglas Grant MacGregor. From then on his descendants had proudly reintroduced their old clan name and tacked it onto the name Grant, Angus and Kate only finally dropping the Grant altogether on written documents when applying to emigrate.

A shiver passed through Kate as she thought about the events that had led up to their departure from the mist-enshrouded land they had always called home. It all seemed so long ago now, like a nightmare really, but it was only eleven months since their lives had been irrevocably changed forever that dark windy night when her parents, Sir Guy and Lady Vivienne, had died in the fire.

She would never forget that awful night, 4th February 1823, when she’d been woken by the barking of the dogs and immediately smelled smoke, and heard a horrible roaring sound. On throwing open her window she had seen that flames were leaping from the second floor of the west wing bedroom where her parents slept. Not waiting to grasp even her robe or slippers, she had dashed out into the corridor screaming for Angus and Marguerite who slept in the same wing as she, to wake up, that the west wing was on fire.

Her screaming had disturbed Todd the butler, Mrs Ferguson the housekeeper, and Mrs Murray the cook and together they had all run to find buckets of water to throw on the flames, but it was far too late for that. The old timbers and hangings had burned like paper and both Angus and Kate knew that their parents hadn’t stood a chance. In fact by the time Kate had woken they were probably already dead from smoke inhalation.

It seemed as if the whole county had come to mourn the deaths of Sir Guy and his second wife, Lady Vivienne, and the estate chapel from whence they were buried had been packed to overflowing with people streaming out into the grounds. It rained for the interment and Kate, who’d had nobody to lean on since Angus had had his hands full looking after Marguerite, wished not for the first time, that her older brother, Alexander, had still been alive. He had been four years older than Angus who now at thirty, was nine years older than Kate; and he had been the son of Sir Guy’s first wife, Mary, who had died in childbirth. However, at the age of eighteen he’d left home after a blazing row with his father, to join the British army and been killed fighting the French at the Battle of Waterloo seven years later.

Both Sir Guy and his father before him had inherited the lairdship on the deaths of their older brothers since traditionally it was the duty of the eldest son to stay at home and assume the responsibilities of laird, while the younger sons were free to follow their chosen careers. As the elder son and future laird, Sir Guy had wanted Alexander to stay and learn the running of the estate. But he’d declared he cared little for estate matters since as a true MacGregor fighting was in his blood, and as a military man himself his father ought to understand. He had never returned to patch up the quarrel between his father and himself.

Even though Kate was only twelve at the time he was killed, she could still remember the day a messenger from the War Office had called unexpectedly. After being closeted with her father in the library for some ten minutes he had rather hurriedly taken his leave, whereupon Kate’s father, looking more distraught than she could ever remember having seen him, called the family together and told them brokenly that his elder son was dead. Soon after, he had altered his will, naming Angus as his heir. Thus, Angus at the age of twenty-one had been primed to take over the position of laird.

As a little girl Kate used to fantasize about the big brother she had never really known somehow miraculously returning home as a hero from battle. She was quite sure he would have been a hero, judging by the oil portrait of him that used to hang in the hall until Papa had had it taken away because he could no longer bear to look upon it after his death. In it he’d looked ever so strong and handsome and brave, standing there in his kilt with matching plaid thrown over one shoulder and secured with a MacGregor crested badge, his tam-o’-shanter perched jauntily on his head.

But if Kate had glorified Alexander in her childish fantasies, Angus most certainly had not, claiming his half-brother had always been a bit of a troublemaker, and making no secret of the fact that there had been no love lost between them. Whether a troublemaker or not, however, Alexander had been rarely spoken of in Kate’s hearing while she was growing up. And any questions she had asked her elders about him had always been brushed off, except by Nanny Hancock. Nanny had been nurse to all of the Grant MacGregor children in her time, the poor motherless Alexander having been her favourite. But she had left when her youngest charge was eight years old, and since then Kate had ceased asking questions and dreamed her own private dreams.

After the funeral Mr Brown, Papa’s long time solicitor, had read the will in which there was no mention made of Alexander, but simply stated that Angus was to be declared the new laird and principal beneficiary, while at the same time ample provision had been made for Sir Guy’s only other surviving child, Catherine Isobel. Since neither Angus nor Kate felt they could continue to live at Carrick Hall with their sad memories, Angus had sold the lairdship and what remained of the estate, including Kate’s precious mare, Honey, paid off the servants and applied to make a new start in the colony of Van Diemen’s Land.

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