John Macadam / Earthwords, geologist & writer


Macadam, MacAdam and McAdam  ... and tarmac and Macadamia   


You may have ended up at this website after searching for Macadam,  MacAdam, or McAdam (or Macadams, MacAdams or McAdams), or even M'Adam, so to save you from a totally wasted time here is a little information about some people with these surnames - and something about Macadamia nuts and macadam roads. 

First, macadam roads:
John Loudon MacAdam
(1756-1836) was born in Ayr, Scotland, and when his father died in 1770 he was sent to his uncle, a merchant in New York.  He made a lot of  money as an 'agent for prizes' (selling captured or confiscated goods) and then, after being on the wrong side during the War of Independence, judiciously returned to Scotland in 1783 with what he could salvage of his fortune and bought an estate. Around 1798 he was employed as the agent to revictual (reprovision) navy ships in the western ports. While in the south-west he experimented with road design around Falmouth, a major port in Cornwall. He designed an improved way of making roads so traffic load was spread and the cambered surface shed water: Macadam roads. It has been described as the first improvement in road-making since the Romans, and, indeed, according to the second edition (1906) of  the Concise Dictionary of National Biography (published by Oxford University Press) "his process adopted in all parts of the civilised world" - so maybe Macadam roads define civilisation for you!  He published "Present State of Road-making" in 1820.  He died in Moffat in Scotland where his tomb is in the old cemetery.  'Tarmac', a proprietary term dating from 1903, consisted of crushed stone coated with tar: tar was either from natural tar-pits or else a by-product of gasworks, which used to make gas ('town gas') from coal, before there were major supplies of natural gas. Bitumen, made from crude oil,  is now used as a binder (hence 'bitmac' for non-cement-bound roads), but whatever the binder modern roads are still based on John MacAdam's principles (i.e. the soil beneath is kept dry, the load is spread and the soil below supports the traffic - see this short US paper).  Incidentally, Thomas Telford's roads were considered a better design at the time, but as they required shaped stone ('setts') they were more expensive and were not generally adopted. John McAdam's design for roads, published in 1820, is very similar to that published by the Irish polymath Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1744-1817) in his 1813 paper "An Essay on the Construction of Roads & Carriages" so possibly macadam roads should really be called edgeworth roads! Edgeworth had been asked to investigate the damage caused to existing roads by the wheels of carriages so, being thorough, he investigated improvements to both roads and carriage wheels (he is also credited with the invention of the caterpillar track and other technical devices, and was also interested in the education of children: he sired 22, whether to provide a statistically valid sample for his research is not recorded). What is true is that Edgeworth wrote about improvements to roads in 1813 then moved on to other topics,  dying just 4 years later, whereas MacAdam was heavily involved in road-making after his 1820 publication and lived for another 16 years. Macadam got the credit, whether justly or unjustly. There are two slightly contradictory accounts of John Loudon MacAdam's life on the McAdams Historical Society website.

Now, Macadamia nuts:Macadamia nuts
Dr. John Macadam (1827-1865) gave his name to Macadamia nuts. The genus Macadamia was first described botanically in 1857 by Dr. Ferdinand Mueller (1825-1896), naming the new genus in honour of his friend Dr John Macadam: ".... a beautiful genus dedicated to John Macadam, M.D. the talented and deserving secretary of our institute" (the Philosophical Institute of Victoria, now the Royal Society of Victoria). Although the genus may have been new to science the aboriginal Australians had been enjoying the nuts for quite some years, and had their own names for them: there's more about Macadamia below

John Macadam was a doctor of medicine, government chemical analyst, Melbourne city health officer, lecturer in Melbourne University, and member of parliament and minister of Victoria, Australia. He studied chemistry at Anderson's (now Strathclyde) University and Edinburgh University, then medicine at Glasgow University, graduating in 1854, and arrived in Australia the following year.  Initially he taught chemistry and natural science at the Scotch College in Melbourne, and is also celebrated as one of the two umpires of the first recorded game of Australian-rules football in 1858. In 1862 he began lecturing in chemistry for the new medical school in Melbourne, giving the very first lecture on March 3 (to a class of 3!), and then becoming the first Professor of Theoretical and Practical Chemistry of the Medical School of Melbourne University in 1865. He also entered politics, serving in the legislative assembly of Victoria from 1859 to 1864, including being postmaster-general in 1861. He died in 1865, at the age of 38, on board the S.S. Alhambra en route to New Zealand, where he had gone as an expert witness in the second Jarvey murder trial: he had suffered broken ribs with complications on his journey back from New Zealand after the first trial. The newspapers had fulsome obituaries (the image is from the Australian News) and his spectacular funeral was attended by the Mayor of Melbourne, the Chief Justice of Victoria, the chancellor of the university, members of parliament and of the Royal Society of Victoria, and many others, including his youngest brother, George Robert Macadam (1837-1918), a teacher who is buried in Avoca, a hundred or so miles from Melbourne.  John's grave, topped by a marble obelisk, is in Melbourne General Cemetery, and there is a short paper about him and his assistant, Kirkland, published by the University of Melbourne and he also has an entry in the on-line Australian Dictionary of Biography ("a skilled, popular and eloquent lecturer...") and in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.  He had two sons who died in infancy and are recorded on the obelisk. George Robert had a son (George) and a daughter, and later grandchildren. At least one family member of the next generation emigrated from Scotland to Australia. This was William Macadam, born 30 August 1847, who had 9 children and was living in Radium in 1906. He died in a fire in Broken Hill on 15th September 1914 (the report in Broken Hill's The Barrier Miner of the inquest gives his occupation as platelayer) and  it was good to hear recently from Margaret, one of his descendants. There are probably also descendants of George Robert still in Australia. (There are 9 people with the surname Macadam in the Australian phone directories. All live on the south and east, from Brisbane to Adelaide. If any of them read this they might like to get in touch!). 

Australia has been celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Burke and Wills Expedition - originally known as the Victorian Exploring Expedition, a south to north continental traverse which ended in the deaths of both Burke and Wills in June/July 1861. John Macadam was the honorary secretary of the Royal Society of Victoria which initiated the expedition: his hand-written notes (Instructions furnished to Scientific Observers attached to the Victorian Exploring Expedition ... ) and much of the observers' records have been preserved and were the subject of a book published by CSIRO in late 2011 - with a reprint needed. You can order it in Australia using this form - or you can buy it from Amazon (e.g. here for the UK). Ironically John Macadam, as Honorary Secretary of the Exploration Committee, wrote to the Government of Victoria on 20th August 1863 - he "earnestly hoped that the Government will liberally support the Exploration Committee in giving to the world this accumulated mass of valuable geographical and other information in a suitable and permanent form" but this was never done and some records have been lost. The new book finally fulfils this earnest hope, as far as it is now possible: its title is Burke and Wills: The Scientific Legacy of the Victorian Exploring Expedition. There is an excellent website about Burke and Wills, and (of course) even a Facebook page about the anniversary.

Two more of John Macadam's brothers:
Stevenson Macadam (1829-1901) ("Stevie") became professor of chemistry in Edinburgh, and a founder member of the Institute of Chemistry. His PhD was from Giessen, and he worked for a time with Bunsen, of bunsen burner fame.  One of Stevenson's sons, William Ivison Macadam (1855-1902), ("Willie"), also became a professor of chemistry (at Edinburgh's Royal College of Surgeons) but he was shot dead in his lab, along with a student, by one of his staff, "by a lunatic" according to a contemporary account.  William Ivison Macadam was also a Brigade Major in the Forth Volunteer Brigade of the Royal Scots, with the rank of Colonel: the murderer was also a volunteer so the fact that he was armed was not considered surprising, apparently. Another of John Macadam's brothers, Charles Thomas Macadam (1832-1906), ("Charlie"), was my great-grandfather.  As a young man he moved south and joined Odams, a major importer of guano from South America, which was later taken over by Fisons (later taken over by ICI, which was taken over by Akzo Nobel), and eventually became the manager, and on his retirement a director of the company. He had a royal warrant as "Purveyor of Chemical Manures" to Queen Victoria.  One of William Ivison's son's, Ivison Stevenson Macadam (1894-1974) ("Ivison"), helped set up the National Union of Students and was its first president.  He married an American (Caroline Ladd Corbett - from Portland, Oregon - where there is an area called Macadam - there is a roadside webcam on I-5 at Macadam! Sadly it is only in black and white. Is this Macadam named after a person, or a road?). Ivison studied at King's College, University of London, where the Student Union building - the Macadam Building - is named in his honour. He was the Director-General of Chatham House (Royal Institute of International Affairs) from 1946 to 1955, and was knighted in 1955. His wikipedia entry has more information.  All three - Stevenson, William Ivison and Ivison Stevenson - were elected Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1855, 1888 and 1945 respectively).

Around 1800 the spelling of the family name seems to have changed from MacAdam to Macadam, but at least one member of the family is still using MacAdam in a letter as late as 1877.   The left hand picture shows William Macadam  (or MacAdam William Macadam, 1783-1853 - it is spelt both ways on his contemporaneous documents), (1783-1853), who was the father of Dr John, Stevenson, Charles Thomas, George Robert and their 3 sisters (Helen Grindlay, Mary Elison and Margaret). William was a bailie (magistrate), and also a burgess (see below) both of Glasgow (as was his father - John McAdam, born about 1750/60) and of Calton, and had a factory in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire (printing calico).  People called McAdam are thick on the ground in that area: John MacAdam (/ McAdam / M'Adam) was a weaver and there seems to have been another John MacAdam who was a weaver and guild brother in Glasgow at the same time. The profession of John McAdam is given as weaver on the register of births and baptisms recording William's birth in 1783, and on his burgess ticket of 1786 it is given as merchant, while that of his father-in-law, William ffinlay, is given as wright (i.e. carpenter). On William ffinlay's ticket of 1754 the profession of his father - John ffinlay - is given as maltman (i.e. brewer. In 1783/4 a William Findlay had a pub in Trongate - and earlier Findlays were maltmen back to the mid-C17. Most of the other Findlays in John Tait's Glasgow Directory of 1783/4 were wrights.). [ffinlay, Finlay and Findlay are interchangeable spellings]  On William's burgess ticket of 25 August 1815 his father (John McAdam) is given as 'deceased'. William Macadam married first Rachel Helen Macadam, nee Stevenson, 1803-1857Gentle in 1813, then in 1825 he married Helen Ann Stevenson (1803-1857) - the second picture shows her late in life. Her father farmed at Park Farm in Clackmannan. William had a sister, Margaret, born in 1788, who married and emigrated to America, and a brother, John, who may have died in infancy as only his birth is recorded (in 1794) and family records do not mention him, nor did he become a burgess and guild brother - or maybe he emigrated too?  In a late note in the family records it says William also had a half-brother, John, who emigrated to America - but maybe there was some confusion about brother, half-brother and brother-in-law? William's child with Rachel Gentle was also called William (who went to live in Liverpool and had a family, and seems to have been the first chemist in the family), and then with Helen Stevenson he had 7 children, producing another brew of chemists (and others!). According to Hazel Wyle, and the late Joe McAdams of the McAdams Historical Society, who have researched the connections there seem to be McAdam/Stevenson links going back to the 1600s so maybe William Macadam and Helen Anne Stevenson were 'kissing cousins' who married.


Edwin Laming Macadam has produced a growing and well-structured Macadam history from the 18th century based mostly on his own researches but partly on Hazel's work and also on stuff  I have dug out from the family records. Most of the records were collected and organised by my grandfather (Charles Leslie Bernard Macadam, 1866-1955 - "Leslie" - who also worked in Odams), who was an executor to the will of his father, Charles Thomas (1832-1906).  Charles Thomas' grandmother - Helen Stevenson (nee Grindlay) left a rather complicated will with named descendants having a life interest which was to be then subdivided among their children. The latter (so I was told by my father - Douglas Leslie Dehane Macadam, 1899-1984) ("Douglas" or "Dooks") were hard to trace across the globe.  By the time solicitors had found as many as they could each received half a crown (or something - "half a crown" - 12 1/2 p - signified not much, financially!) and were no doubt grateful that their great/great-great grandmother had made provision for them; the legal profession was no doubt grateful too. The Dehanes come in via my grandmother, Kate Sophia Tabrum, ("Kits") as her maternal grandmother was Sarah Dehane (c. 1795-1877) who came from a line of Huguenots, probably from near Amiens ("de Haan"?), who arrived as refugees in Leith (Edinburgh's port) probably sometime after 1704. They were not totally destitute as we can presume they brought silverware with them because in the C19 the Dehane family silver was given away, outside the family, and when the generous donor was reproached by another family member, saying it really wasn't his to give away, he replied in a letter, writing that he had far more silver than he could ever use! Ouch!

More about Macadamia
Macadamia integrifolia
There appear to be about 9 species of which 6 are endemic to Australia, the others being native to New Caledonia and the Celebes. Only M. integrifolia (see left) and M. tetraphylla produce edible nuts and are cultivated, while others have poisonous cyanide-rich nuts.  Cultivation is now worldwide where there is a suitable frost-free climate e.g. in Australia, Hawaii, California, Brazil, Colombia, China, South Africa, Kenya and Zimbabwe... as a web-search will soon show you!  The cultivated nuts are sometimes known as 'Queensland nuts' but there were, and are, other names - including Mullimbimby Nut (so the genus could have easily been called Mullimbimbia: "One pistachio and one mullimbimbia ice cream, please"), and Boomera, Burrawang and Kindal Kindal in Aboriginal languages.  The Australian Macadamia Society has useful information about their cultivation and use.  Australia's scientific research organisation, CSIRO, has lots of  information on Macadamia and its gene bank, and there's information from Purdue University, and a Macadamia file on the ASGAP pages (Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants - Macadamias are worth around $A120 million p.a. to the Australian economy). In Sydney you can find Macadamia in the Royal Botanic Gardens (between the Opera House and the Art Gallery of NSW), and there's a botanical drawing of M. integrifolia.  For those living in the UK there's a 30 year old  Macadamia integrifolia, plus a younger M. tetraphylla, growing in the glasshouses at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, plus a single small one in the Palm House in Oxford Botanic Garden, and in Cornwall  there's one in the tropical biome at the Eden Project, just beside the last banana as you walk through (but it looked a bit sick in March 2007).  You can see what the enormous greenhouses at Eden look like by watching the James Bond film, Die Another Day. Visitors to Kew may be surprised that the 30 year old M. integrifolia - in the Temperate House - is a mere shrub whereas the much more recently planted M. tetraphylla - in the Palm House - is much larger: the reason is the monarchy (or Monarchy).  The tetraphylla was planted by the late HM the Queen Mother when she re-opened the restored Palm House in around 1990: you do not give royalty little seedlings to plant!  The integrifolia, on the other hand, was probably grown by Kew gardeners from seed - or so I was told by the gardener who was responsible for that area.

Probably the best information is in the Rosengarten's Book of Edible Nuts, starting from page 116, and now scanned by Google Books (the book is still in copyright). There is also a Wikipedia entry on Macadamia with information on cultivars, while the Australian Plant Name Index has references to the different species of Macadamia.

Macadam web fictions
Despite what you may find on the web Dr John Macadam did NOT discover Macadamias, and he did NOT first cultivate them. You can even find the remarkable statement that "Dr. Macadam then introduced this wonderful find to Hawaii around 1881" ..... that's over a decade after his death! John Loudon MacAdam would also no doubt turn in his grave about some of the description of macadam roads!  Even when he was alive he had problems with workers not following his specifications about stone size, and consequently the so-called Macadam roads failing.

Throughout Dr John's life he spelled his surname 'Macadam', and this is also reflected in all contemporary accounts I have seen (so ignore misspellings in Wikipedia, etc!).  I do not know if John Loudon MacAdam used various spellings - quite possibly so as the spelling of surnames was not fixed when he was alive.

Macadam and McAdam place-names
As well as Macadamia there are three 'Macadam' landscape features (Macadam Range, Macadam Plains, and Macadam Creek) and four McAdam features (Mount McAdam, McAdam Gap, McAdam Hill and McAdams Vineyard - all in Victoria) in Australia.  Some may be named after John Macadam, possibly as a result of the Burke and Wills Expedition, for which he was the honorary secretary of the expedition committee.  Some of John Loudon MacAdam's family also went to New Zealand.  Ferdinand Mueller, who named Macadamia, later became Baron Ferdinand von Mueller, as well as a knight, and a Fellow of the Royal Society; there are more places in Australia named after him than anyone else.

John Macadam and John MacAdam
Whether John Loudon MacAdam is a distant relative is unknown - Loudon/Louden appears in one of 'our' names too, and it is a place-name in Ayrshire. Dr John Macadam obviously found Moffat - where John Loudon MacAdam died - attractive, as he ends a Report on, and chemical analyses of, the Moffat mineral waters, published in the Glasgow Medical Journal in 1854 with "the ancient reputation of the spas of Moffat may thus have a well-assured and rational basis, and the wanderer after that greatest of all earthly blessings, HEALTH, may have his attention directed towards the most delightful of villages - to its salubrious streams, its still lakes, its rural quiet, and bracing mountain air."  They don't write scientific papers like that any more! Were the two men related?  Both seem to have come from the MacAdam family of Waterhead - but the common ancestor could well have been several generations earlier.

Macadam DNA
There's a Clan McGregor family DNA project in which McAdams (of all spellings) are taking part. You can find out more on the McAdam/MacGregor DNA Project page, and the McAdams DNA Project pages, and if you are interested in genealogy there's lots more family history. The Y DNA for this branch of the Macadam family (i.e. mine) looks like this:
393/13    390/24    19/14   391/10    385a/11    385b/14    426/12    388/12  439/12  389-1/13    392/13  389-2/30
There are four McAdams recorded in North America with identical DNA on these 12 markers, but three trace their ancestors back to Northern Ireland, where presumably McAdams had migrated to as part of the Scottish colonisation of Ireland in the seventeenth century,
while the 4th has a family tale of emigration from Rosneath, on the Firth of Clyde near Glasgow. [Rosneath is across Gare Loch from Helenburgh]. Malcolm McGregor, chief of Clan McGregor, has the same DNA markers, so probably Macadams were McGregors before the name was proscribed. The McAdams Historical Society is always keen to have other McAdams - however spelled! - join the DNA database. My DNA has now been analysed on 67 markers, but this won't be of much use unless other people have more than 12 markers identified. There's a blog about the MacGregor DNA results with lots of charts so maybe you can see where you fit in (if you're a member of Clan McGregor and you have had your DNA tested): the 2013 update has a chart of McAdams' results. Also worth a look is the Clan Gregor pages on FamilyTreeDNA: if you look at the Y-DNA results (be patient as it's a large file!) you'll find my results in the Adam/McAdam(s) (for 67 markers - kit 49834. My earliest ancestor is John M'Adam, a weaver born c.1750-60, in/near Glasgow - see above).

Burgesses and Guild Brothers
Burgesses were the men who had voting rights and who managed a town.  They had to be over 21 and live in the town, and usually they inherited the status from their fathers, though a burgess-ship could also be purchased, or in exceptional circumstances granted gratis. Son-in-laws of burgesses could also be made burgesses, thus making the daughters of burgesses rather attractive in the marriage market.

Guild brothers were members of one of the trade guilds, and most, but not all, were also burgesses.  The guild trades included maltman (brewer), cooper (barrel-maker), weaver, cordiner (shoemaker), tailor, baxter (baker), tanner, hammerman (blacksmith/armourer), mason and wright (carpenter/shipwright). Guilds governed themselves, maintaining standards and training apprentices. They also had a charitable function for their members and widows who fell on hard times.

The trade guilds fixed prices and protected their members’ livelihoods from outside competition, charging market dues on others who wished to bring goods to market, and on tradesmen from other towns. This trading monopoly was abolished in 1846.

Those without voting rights – ‘unfreemen’ – worked for a wage (i.e. as ‘journeymen’) for burgesses/guild brothers, or were unskilled labourers, carters, drovers, etc, while their wives and daughters might have been working as maids. The guilds protected their members from falling into this underclass. The guilds themselves seem to have been stratified with merchants having higher status (and wealth!) compared to mere tradesmen.

So possibly the 'first' John McAdam was a weaver who was an unfreeman but who became a burgess by marrying Margaret Finlay, the daughter of a burgess, William ffinlay.  But on his son William's burgess ticket of 1786 his occupation is given as merchant so he had come a long way! Another possibility is that John McAdam was born somewhere else, and may have been in a guild in another town.

The burgesses and guild brothers of Glasgow are recorded in two volumes published in 1925 by the Scottish Record Society and edited by James R. Anderson:
The Burgesses and Guild Brethren of Glasgow, 1573 - 1750.
The Burgesses and Guild Brethren of Glasgow, 1751 - 1846.


Dr John Macadam's two children were:
John Melnotte Macadam, 29 August 1858 - 30 January 1859, and William Castlemaine Macadam, 2 July 1860 - 17 December 1865.
John Macadam represented Castlemaine in the Victoria parliament but Melnotte is a name not otherwise known in the family so maybe it came from his wife, Elizabeth Clark, who he married in 1856 in Melbourne, and who was married again, after his death, to Reverend John Dalziel Dickie. She was the second daughter of John Clark and Mary McGregor who lived in Levenfield House, a large house in Dumbartonshire in Scotland. The parish record of the death for Mary Clark (née McGregor) states that her husband was a 'calico printer' as was her father. I believe John McGregor was co-owner of a textile works (Robert Alexander & Co), from 1845-1860. This was one of several in and around Bonhill and Alexandria in the Vale of Leven, below Loch Lomond. After he graduated John Macadam lectured in Scotland before being invited to take up the job at the Scotch College in Melbourne: he arrived in Hobson's Bay (Melbourne's port) on the Admiral on 8th September 1855, from London.  John Macadam's exact dates are: born 29 May 1827, married 18 September 1856, died 2 September 1865 (i.e. he died 3 months before his second son).

There is another possibility for 'Melnotte'. A romantic drama, The Lady of Lyons, by Edward Bulwer Lytton was published in 1838 and remained one of the most performed plays for the rest of the century. The plot is one of the interchangeable operatic story lines. French lady is tricked by rejected suitor, a marquis, to marry a 'foreign prince', who was in fact her gardener's son (Claude Melnotte) in disguise. Lady learns the truth. Broken-hearted Melnotte leaves to join the army and the marriage is annulled. Lady is persuaded to marry the marquis (to save her father from bankruptcy). Melnotte returns from the war(s) a hero - lady realises she truly loved him all along. So maybe using 'Melnotte' as their first child's second name had some special meaning for John Macadam and his bride? Maybe they had seen the play together in Scotland?


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