Thomas Greenough and the Green family in South Australia

“The City of Adelaide, from the Torrens near the Reed Beds” George French Angus. approximately 1846. State Library of South Australia B 15276/1. Out of copyright

A couple of months ago I published my family history book, Irish Settlers in South Australia: The Hayes and O’Toole Families. In the book I wrote briefly about the life of my great-great-aunt Mary O’Toole (1821–1881). Mary was my great–great–grandfather John Thomas O’Toole’s sister. Since then I have made more discoveries about Mary’s life and the mystery surrounding the convict past of her first husband Thomas Greenough. The article which emerged from my research, A man of many names, was published in The South Australian Genealogist Volume 47 No 4 November 2020. This blog post is a modified version of that article. It includes an Epilogue about the discovery of Mary O’Toole’s grave in 1990 by her great-grandson John Lawrence Green.

A man of many names

My 3X great-aunt Mary O’Toole was a young woman of 19 when she arrived in South Australia on 7 July 1840. Mary, her parents and brothers were passengers on the William Nicol, the first ship to sail directly from Dublin to South Australia.[1] The Taggart family from Dublin were also passengers on this ship. Mary was not to know that some years in the future, John Taggart would become her second husband. This story is about the early years of Mary’s life in South Australia, and in particular her marriage to her first husband, a ‘man of many names’.

  1. On 17 January 1842 Mary married in a Catholic ceremony in Adelaide.[2] The name of the groom on the marriage certificate was James GREENHAM. Both James and Mary made a declaration that they were Catholics. The celebrant was Father William Benson[3].
  2. On 6 April 1844 their son Thomas Peter Green was baptised. On the baptism record, the father’s name is given as Thomas GREEN. All of the six children of the marriage were given the surname Green.
  3. At the Coroner’s Inquest following his death on 6 May 1851, Mary’s husband was named as Thomas GREENOUGH.

Who was this man with multiple names?


I searched numerous records to see what I could learn about ‘James Greenham’. A James Greenham arrived in Adelaide on 27 November 1837 on the ship Eudora from Hobart via Pt Phillip.[4] I searched Trove to see if I could find out anything more about him, with a nil result.

There are eight Greenham names in the Biographical Index of South Australians, but they all relate to one couple, Henry Greenham, born circa 1811 in England and his wife Isabella Davis.[5] The other Greenham entries are for the children of this couple. There are no death or cemetery records for a James Greenham in South Australia.

After mulling over the problem for some time, it dawned on me that I may have been wasting my time searching for the name James Greenham in South Australia. The explanation for the  mystery could be very simple: a mistake on the marriage certificate. It is possible that when the celebrant or whoever was filling out the form asked for the groom’s name, this person mis-heard the name “Greenough” as “Greenham.” This could have happened very easily. (I know this from personal experience. I have an Indian last name and I have grown accustomed to it being mis-spelt and mis-pronounced for 45 years.) Such mistakes occurred frequently in the nineteenth century, when the hearer did not understand the phonetic delivery of the person speaking.

The first name ‘James’ on the marriage record is also likely to be a mistake. This reasoning is supported by an entry in The Biographical Index of South Australians, where his name is written as James (Thomas) Greenham.[6] Perhaps James was the name of a witness to the marriage. Civil Registration of births, death and marriages became compulsory in South Australia in July 1842, six months after the marriage took place, so the only evidence we have is the church record.

Thomas GREEN

A daughter named Martha was born in 1842, but there is no baptism record for her. On 6 April 1844 their first son Thomas Peter Green was baptised by Father Edmond Mahoney. The sponsors were Patrick and Mary Dehane. The father’s name was recorded as Thomas GREEN.

Thomas Peter Green 1844–1918, the eldest son of Thomas Greenough and Mary O’Toole. Date of photograph is unknown. Author photo collection.

Following the births of Martha and Thomas Peter, four more children were born to Thomas Green and Mary O’Toole: John 1845, Mary Ann 1847, James William 1849 and Catherine 1850. All of the children of the marriage were given the GREEN surname. On each of the baptism records, the father’s name was given as Thomas GREEN and the mother’s name as Mary Toole.[7] None of these births was officially registered.


On 6 May 1851 Mary’s husband drowned in the River Torrens. At the Coroner’s Inquest, he was named as Thomas GREENOUGH. On Thomas Greenough’s death certificate he was described as a Labourer of Walkerville. The informant was the Coroner, Charles Bonney, MP of Norwood.[8]

I searched to see if I could find any information about people with the name of Greenhough living in South Australia in the mid-nineteenth century. I found records for only two families: James William Greenough and his wife Mary Jane Guy who arrived in 1849 on the ship Stebonheath from Plymouth. Unfortunately the passenger list for this ship, which may have held some valuable information, is lost. This couple had a daughter named Martha in September 1849. Baby Martha died less than a month old. A son named James William Greenough died aged 7 months in December 1851. The names Martha and James William also occur in the family of Thomas Greenough and Mary O’Toole, so perhaps this is an indication of a family connection. The second Greenough name I found was Joseph Greenough who arrived in 1852 on the Standard. I do not think this man has any connection to our Thomas Greenough.[9]

It was clear that Greenough is a very uncommon name in South Australia. The Greenough surname is an ancient name derived from a geographical locality in the Lancashire region of England. I decided to broaden my search for the identity of Thomas Greenough.

On 3 August 1829 a Thomas Greenough was convicted at the Lancaster Quarter Sessions of stealing chickens. He was sentenced to seven years transportation to Van Diemen’s Land. On 15 December 1829 he sailed on the ship Mary with 167 other convicts. The Mary, a small ship of 361 tons, made seven voyages between 1819 and 1836 carrying convicts to Van Diemen’s Land. The average sentence of the convicts on Thomas Greenough’s voyage was 10 years. Fifty-one of the convicts on board had been sentenced to life sentences.

The Mary arrived in Van Diemen’s Land on 10 April 1830. Soon after arrival, the convicts were processed: a detailed physical description was made and their occupation or skills recorded so it could be determined where they would be sent to work. There are four convict records for Thomas Greenough: the Appropriation List, Conduct Record, Description List and Muster Roll.[10] These records yield the following information: Convict No 641. Age 21. Trade: Ploughman. Place where tried: Lancaster. Native place: Prescot, Lancashire. Height (without shoes) 5 feet 6 inches. Grey eyes, dark complexion, a long face.

Thomas Greenough had a very poor conduct record. Between 1830 and 1835 some of the offences recorded on his Conduct Record were: repeated insolence and neglect of duty, neglect of duty and general misconduct and being absent from his post without leave. His punishments grew more severe over time: from 25 lashes to 50 lashes to 75 lashes and being sent to hard labour on a chain gang for 12 months. In October 1835 he was charged with having a loaf of bread concealed under his jacket for which he could not satisfactorily account and a month later he was charged with being absent from his post, for which he was sentenced to the treadwheel for 6 days. The sentencing magistrate in most instances was Richard Willis.

There are no records for Thomas Greenhough’s departure from Tasmania, so he may have left under another name. I have not found his Ticket of Leave or Certificate of Freedom.  On 19 December 1836 a Thomas Green departed from Launceston on the schooner Eagle bound for Port Phillip.[11] This would have been a few months after Thomas Greenough completed his seven year sentence. When he arrived in South Australia may never be known, as records were not kept for domestic arrivals.

Background to his death

On Friday 9 May 1851, there was a report of a “Disappearance” in an Adelaide newspaper.

On Monday night a Port carman named Green, whose family live at Walkerville, left home and has not since been heard of. He had been drinking very copiously and it is feared has met with some accident. The police are in search of him.[12]

On Sunday 12 May there was another newspaper report that a Mr J. W. McDonald had discovered the body in a hole in the River Torrens near his residence where it had been for almost a week. He immediately called for assistance ‘and on the body being taken out he identified it as being that of Thomas Greenough.’ The inquest was held at the Sussex Arms in Walkerville on the same day ‘owing to the decomposed state in which the remains of the deceased were taken from the river.’[13] The publican, Charles Harvey Earle stated that the deceased came to his hotel:

about 11 o’clock on the night of the 5th May, in company with two men named Alfred Ward and William Hill: they remained until 1 o’clock on Tuesday morning. The deceased went away by himself; he had apparently been drinking before he came to witness’s house, but he was not intoxicated then, or even when he left. The night was very dark, and it was raining when deceased started for home.

J. W. Macdonald, giving evidence stated that, on attempting to cross the river about 7.30 on the following Sunday morning, six days after the disappearance of Thomas Greenough, he observed a round substance in the water, which, on examination, he discovered to be the head of a submerged human body. There were no marks of injury on the body, apart from some scratches on the forehead. The Jury returned a verdict of accidental death.[14]

We don’t know if Thomas’ late night drinking on the night of his death was an isolated occurrence or part of a regular pattern of behaviour. Mary was at home with six very young children, the eldest Martha aged about eight, and the youngest Catherine aged six months. One can only try to imagine Mary’s worry when he did not return home and continued to be missing for the next week.

 Mary’s personal circumstances at this time were difficult, for she was alone and did not have the support of her extended family. In their early years in Adelaide, the O’Tooles lived in Walkerville, but in the autumn/winter of 1848 Mary’s parents and brothers moved to an 80 acre farming block near Salisbury. For reasons unknown, Mary, Thomas and their children remained in Walkerville. Two more children were born after the departure of the rest of the family to Salisbury: James William in February 1849 and daughter Catherine in November 1850. At the time of his death, Thomas Greenough was working as a “carman,” a driver of a horse-drawn vehicle used for transporting goods, the equivalent to a labouring job – which is the occupation given on his death certificate.

Thomas Greenough was buried in an unmarked grave in an unknown location. In 1990, Ruth Green (wife of John Lawrence Green, a great-grandson of Thomas Greenough and Mary O’Toole) wrote letters to the Works Supervisor at West Terrace cemetery, the research co-ordinator at the South Australian Genealogy and Heraldry Society and the Archivist of the Adelaide Archdiocese. None of them could find any trace of a burial for Thomas Greenough. A letter from the Adelaide Archdiocese Archivist stated that “In Thomas’s case, it is possible, given the circumstances of his death and the harshness of Church law at the time, that he was not buried by a priest. If that is so, and his family was too poor to be able to afford a headstone for his grave, I am afraid that we will never be able to locate it.”[15]

His age on his death certificate was recorded as 38 years. The Coroner, Charles Bonney, MP was the informant, but he may not have known Thomas Greenough’s correct age. It is more likely he was aged 42 years. Thomas Greenough was aged 21 when he arrived in Van Dieman’s Land in 1830. As accurate records were kept in the convict system I am inclined to accept that his year of birth was 1809. I also found a baptism record for a Thomas Greenough which took place on 4 June 1809 in St Helens Lancashire.[16] St Helens is about 5 km from Prescot, the town given as Thomas Greenough’s native place on his convict record.

Mary’s life after the death of Thomas Greenough

When Thomas Greenough died in May, Mary faced the winter months trying to provide for her small children. I can’t imagine how she survived the next eighteen months. On 22 December 1852 Mary married John Taggart, a widower. John Taggart’s first wife Bridget Cleary and their infant daughter Margaret died in 1848.

The error of her husband’s name on her first marriage certificate may have caused problems for Mary when  she wished to re-marry. The baptism records for her children may have proved useful in convincing the Catholic Church that her married name was GREEN, not GREENHAM. Her name as recorded on her marriage to John Taggart is Mary GREEN, not Greenham. My great-great grandmother Ellen O’Toole was a witness to the marriage and the celebrant was Father Michael Ryan.

Soon after their marriage, John and Mary Taggart moved to the Salisbury area where they lived close to the rest of the O’Toole family. I imagine this must have been a comfort to Mary. Her youngest daughter Catherine Green died aged 12 years, but the other five children lived to adulthood. Mary had six more children with her second husband. She was to face many more challenges in her life, but that is another story.

My analysis of the evidence

When I began pursuing this story, I was sceptical as to whether Thomas Greenough the convict and Thomas Greenough who drowned in the River Torrens were the same person. I now believe, on the balance of probability, that they were the same person.

One aspect of this case which made the search easier is that Greenough is a very uncommon name in Tasmania and South Australia. Ordinarily one expects families to take a degree of pride in the family name, especially if it is unusual and of an ancient lineage. Thomas Greenough had three sons to carry on the family name, yet it appears that he wanted his children to have the common surname Green, and the unusual surname Greenough to disappear from the family tree. The name Green is very numerous in South Australia. There are six pages of Greens in the South Australian Biographical Index covering many families. A search of the surname Green on the database of the Genealogy and Heraldry Society of South Australia reveals 1572 birth registrations, 966 marriage registrations, 1268 death registrations and so on for the Green surname.

Perhaps Thomas Greenough struggled with grief, guilt and shame for being transported as a convict to Van Diemen’s Land. It is sad to reflect that in the period in which he lived, the shame of having a convict past led him to keep his family name and heritage a secret from his children and their descendants. Today we can look with compassion on the harsh sentence meted out to a young man for the crime of stealing chickens, presumably because his family was poor and hungry. He then endured the horror of harsh penal servitude for what appear to be minor offences.

Thomas Greenough almost succeeded in obscuring his past, were it not for the inquest into his death which lead to a trail of evidence waiting to be discovered by a curious researcher delving into his past 170 years after his death.


On a hot summer day in 1990, Mary O’Toole’s great-grandson John Lawrence Green and his wife Ruth went in search of her burial place. Ruth Green (nee Hewitt) wrote a poignant description of their efforts to locate Mary’s grave.

Early in the year 1990 Jack and I spent a day in the Balaklava and Port Wakefield area searching for the grave sites of Jack’s two great-grandmothers; namely Mary Taggert, formerly Green, born Toole; and Mary Ann Chatfield, born Burgess. With the help of the information I had already researched we had no problem finding the grave of Mary Ann Chatfield in a large family plot in the Balaklava cemetery. The headstone was very informative and we learned more family history from the inscription.

At the District Council of Wakefield Plains, we could get little help about Mary Taggert except her plot was No. 24, Catholic section in the OLD cemetery at Port Wakefield. We journeyed across to Port Wakefield and spent a very trying afternoon. We made five house calls to various identities, some saying there was no old cemetery, others not telling us where we could locate it. We were sent out to the present day cemetery, told it would have to be there as there was nothing left of the old cemetery. It was sold years ago, now belonged privately and was a stock paddock. We went to the present day cemetery also knowing this was not the place we were looking for. It was a very hot day and the air-conditioner in the car had broken, but Jack insisted we go back to Port Wakefield and continue our search.

We went to a dear lady we had been told about, a Mrs Underwood. She told us there was an OLD cemetery and where to go to find it. Two more house stops for directions and we ended in a very sad place, in the middle of a swamp, salt bush, stock paddock. There were remains of graves, broken slate, wrought iron surround, concrete, a couple of broken head stones with writing. We searched and walked to the corner of the paddock nearest, knowing each denomination in the early years had separate burial allotments. No luck. We walked back and while I photographed the ruins, Jack drove by car to the far corner of the paddock, coming back to tell me he had found it.

We stood at Mary’s gravesite in awe and sadness. It was dilapidated and vandalized. Why had this old cemetery been allowed to disintegrate in this way? We vowed this day to restore Mary’s grave. It was from her our present day Green family generated.

The lonely grave of Mary O’Toole in what was once the Old Port Wakefield Cemetery. It is now private land and little trace remains of the cemetery. Photo credit: Riverton History Centre, Riverton, SA. April 2017

There are photographs of the gravesite as they found it on that day. There were obscene words chipped into the headstone and what appeared to be bullet holes. Jack and Ruth re-visited the gravesite, retrieved the headstone and delivered it to a Monumental Mason for repair and restoration. The gravesite has been tidied up and fenced off. It sits all alone in the middle of a paddock. Of the other 26 graves there is not much evidence that they ever existed.

[1]     I have written about the O’Toole family in my book, Irish Settlers in South Australia: The Hayes and O’Toole Families.

[2]     James Greenham and Mary Toole, Marriage Certificate, 17 January 1842, Roman Catholic Church Register, Adelaide, Certificate No. 1. The Library and Research Centre of the South Australian Genealogy and Heraldry Society has this record on fiche. The originals are held in the Archives of the Catholic Archdiocese in Wakefield St, Adelaide.

[3]     Father William Benson had arrived in Adelaide on the Dorset on 14 February 1841.

[4]           Early Shipping and Passenger Lists, FamilyHistorySA.

[5]      Biographical Index of South Australians 1836-1885, Jill Statton (ed.) Adelaide, South Australian Genealogy and Heraldry Society, 1986.

[6]      The Biographical Index of South Australians has a listing for James (Thomas) Greenham, religion Roman Catholic, marriage to Mary Toole on 17 January 1842 and a child, Martha born in 1842.

[7]     Letter from Sister Marie Therese Foale, Adelaide Archdiocesan Archivist, Catholic Diocesan Centre, Wakefield Street, Adelaide. 4 October 1988. Family records compiled by Ruth Green, Leaves from a branch of the Green tree, Descendants of Thomas Peter and Phillis Green, 1990, page 6

[8]     Thomas Greenough, Death Certificate, 5 May 1851, South Australia Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Book/page 2/82.

[9]     He was a miner and storekeeper in Kapunda. His religion was Wesleyan. He died aged 61 in 1875 in Kapunda.

[10]   Appropriation List CON27/1/4 Image 94/Image 98; Conduct Record CON31/1/16 Image 5; Description List CON18/1/15 page 184; Muster Roll CSO1/1/361 page 8292. The full convict record of Thomas Greenough can be found here:

[11]   Thomas Green. Departures. Departure Port: Launceston. Record ID: Name_Indexes: 555633. Resource: POL458/1/2p55 . Libraries Tasmania website.

[12]   “Local News.” South Australian (Adelaide, SA : 1844 – 1851) 9 May 1851, p 2.

[13]   “A Man Found Drowned.” South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900) 12 May 1851, p 2.

[14]     “Report of Coroner’s Inquest.” South Australian Register, (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900) 13 May 1851, p 3.

[15]   Sister Marie Therese Foale, Adelaide Diocesan Archivist, 28 March 1990.

[16]   Transcription of the 1809 Baptism record of Thomas Greenough found on FindMyPast.

One thought on “Thomas Greenough and the Green family in South Australia”

  1. Have been searching for my convict g-g-grandfather, James Greenough, born Prescot lancashire circa 1815. Parents John and hannah. Convicted at Kirkdale 1833 and arrived on the Fairlea 1834. have a lot of data on James including crimes in melbourne 1856 and marriage to Margaret Fitzgerald in 1853.


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