Irish Settlers in South Australia: The first review of my book has been published!

A review of my book, Irish Settlers in South Australia: The Hayes and O’Toole Families was  published on 10 August 2020 in the online magazine Tintean. The reviewer is Dr Dymphna Lonergan, a researcher and media expert in the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at Flinders University.

From the review:

“[T]his is the story of Bernadette Thakur’s Hayes and O’Toole ancestors who migrated to South Australia in 1840 from Galway and County Wicklow.”

“This is also a handsome book”.

“This author’s style is varied and warm but grounded in truth-finding and truth-telling. The reader cannot help but appreciate the translation of dedicated scholarship into an easy read for those who might not have a personal connection with the people involved.

“Thakur says that ‘writing about my ancestors was very challenging as they left so little mark in the records. They were poor immigrants who arrived with nothing. They did their best to take care of their families and build new lives for themselves as farmers. Their story of honest hard work over many years is totally at odds with the generally negative stereotype of the Irish’. She has succeeded in lifting their lives out of the world of documents and photos. The book could be used as a template for writers’ groups in how to write a family history.

The full review can be found at the link below.

Irish Settlers in South Australia

A Winter Wedding

Rain was falling as my great-grandmother Catherine O’Toole woke up on the morning of Saturday 15 July 1865, but this did not dampen her spirits. Catherine was twenty-one years old, and this was her wedding day. It had been raining all week and her family had some distance to go to reach the church, St Mary’s in Mintaro. Catherine must have hoped they would not get bogged on the rough and slippery roads. The local correspondent for the newspaper reported that some very heavy rains had fallen within the last 24 hours, and “it still looks very gloomy with every appearance of more wet.”[1] His prediction of more rain was correct, for a few days later he reported “Since my last communication we have had constant rains with but few hours intermission.”[2]

Catherine was born in Adelaide in 1844. Her parents, grandparents, aunt and uncles arrived in South Australia in 1840. They were Irish immigrants from County Wicklow. By 1865 Catherine was living with her parents and extended family on a farm in the Hundred of Apoinga, a few kilometres south of the big copper mine at Burra. There was no direct road to Mintaro and the O’Toole family would have travelled a circuitous route via Black Springs and Farrell Flat.

I wondered why St Mary’s Church was the location for the wedding as the O’Toole family did not have any connection with Mintaro. The answer could lie in an event which occurred a couple of years earlier. In April 1863, a joint wedding ceremony for Catherine’s sisters Mary and Margaret had taken place at the O’Tooles’ home in Apoinga. Perhaps Catherine thought that when it was her turn to marry, she would like to have a church ceremony. The nearest church was Saint Mary’s which opened on 23 November 1856.[3]

The young man she was to marry on this rainy day, Patrick Hayes, had arrived in South Australia in 1849 as a nine-year old boy with his parents, sister and infant brother. They were immigrants from County Galway. The experience of living through the Famine as a young child must have left memories which could not easily be forgotten and may have been a formative influence on his character.

It was customary for boys to begin working from about the age of fourteen, so Patrick was probably earning his keep from a young age. His father Thomas bought land near Kapunda in 1858, and thereafter Patrick helped his father on the land.[4] As well as helping the family with farming, Patrick wanted to earn his own income. He started working as a bullocky, carting copper between the mine at Burra to the railway terminus at Kapunda. He would have been very young to do this hazardous and dangerous work. Sometimes a load overturned on the rough roads, killing both bullocks and driver.

bullock-tracks-mapPatrick and Catherine may have met at Apoinga, one of the resting stops for the bullock teams.[5] Many of the bullockies were Irish and would have had connections amongst the Irish families living in the area. The bullock teams operated in spring and autumn – the summers were too hot for the animals and in winter muddy road conditions made carting heavy loads impossible. This could be the reason why a date in mid-winter was chosen for the wedding.

On 27 May 1865, seven weeks before the wedding, Patrick took out a lease for one of the sections owned by his father for a term of four years.[6] Patrick now had a place of his own to bring his young bride. He was on the path to independence.

The wedding

Catherine and Patrick were married by the Austrian Jesuit priest, Father Joseph Tappeiner. He was the district’s first parish priest and rode by horseback to Mintaro to say Sunday Mass once a fortnight.[7] The wedding was probably a solemn occasion with only family members present. Patrick and Catherine both signed the marriage certificate with their (x) mark. Patrick was illiterate but Catherine may not have been. She may have signed with her (x) mark as a symbol of solidarity with her husband.[8]

St Mary’s Church, Mintaro (September 2016) Photo:Ramesh Thakur

Given the distance between Kapunda and Mintaro, I can’t be sure who from Patrick’s side of the family may have attended the wedding. Patrick was the eldest and his younger sisters were aged only eight and five. Given the cold and wet weather, I think it unlikely that they all would have travelled the distance, but perhaps his parents were there.

It may have been late in the day when the wedding was over and the weather continued to be intensely cold.[9] I imagine that Patrick and Catherine may have spent the night in one of Mintaro’s two hotels, the Magpie and Stump (1850) or the Devonshire Arms (1856). Perhaps they commenced the long journey to Kapunda after attending Sunday Mass at St Mary’s and receiving the congratulations of the parishioners.

I cannot help but think of my great-grandparents with affection. They were a young couple with hope in their hearts. I wonder about their conversation on the way to Kapunda as they planned their future together. Their 12th and youngest child was my grandfather, William Michael Hayes, born in 1890.

[1] ‘Mintaro’, Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 – 1904) Saturday 15 July 1865, page 2

[2] Since my last communication we have had constant rains with but few hours intermission. It is at the present moment raining very heavily. It is to be hoped sincerely that the Far North may have had the same benefit conferred on it which we all in some measure feel. ‘Mintaro’, South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900) 21 July 1865, page 4

[3] I have many ancestors buried in the graveyard of this church, but none from the Hayes or O’Toole families.

[4] 3 December 1858. Land Grant to Thomas Hayes for Sections 242 and 243, Hundred of Belvidere, County Light. Register Book 3, Folio 36. South Australian Integrated Land Information System (SAILIS) Historical Name Index Search 1858-1863, page 30.

[5] Apoinga Lagoon was an unexpected spread of fresh water in a dry region.

[6] The agreement was that £16 would be paid on 27 May each year. The section contained 72 acres. Memorial 141, Book 237. Old System Records, General Registry Office, Netley, Adelaide.

[7] Father Joseph Tappeiner arrived in South Australia from Austria in 1852. He was much beloved by his Irish parishioners. “At that period Mintaro and district contained a strong Irish element fresh from the ‘old land’, which is ever noted for the wonderful love of the Soggarth Aroon, (Gaelic for ‘dear priest’) but even in that country it would have been impossible to equal the bonds of affection which existed between the Irish settlers and the Austrian Jesuits.” Gerald A. Lally, A Landmark of Faith, Church of the Immaculate Conception Mintaro and its Parishioners 1856 – 2006, Clare South Australia 2006, p 10

[8] Catherine’s father John O’Toole witnessed the document with his (x) mark, but Margaret Larkin signed her name. If her younger sister Margaret could sign her name, it would seem to be highly likely that Catherine could also.

[9] ‘Kapunda’, Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 – 1904) 15 July 1865, page 1

Is this it? Searching for Derrygoolin

My quest to discover my Irish ancestors began with my paternal ancestors, the Hayes family.  I learnt about the challenges of Irish family history research by studying my Hayes ancestors. The beginning was easy, looking at ship arrivals in South Australia. I soon discovered that they arrived in South Australia on 23 August 1849 on the ship Eliza. The passenger list recorded that they were from County Galway: Thomas and Honora Hayes, aged 38 and 34, and their three children, Mary aged 10, Patrick aged 9 and Thomas who was an infant.

Where had they come from in County Galway? This next step in my research was much harder. It took me the best part of a year to learn that they were from the townland of Derrygoolin, in the far south-eastern corner of County Galway, bordering on County Clare and Lough Derg. One day, I thought, I will go to this townland to see it for myself.

On a warm summer’s day in June this year, that day finally arrived. It was with a great sense of anticipation that we set off from Ennis and drove across the pleasant but unremarkable countryside of eastern County Clare, so different from the rugged and dramatic Atlantic coastline. From Scarriff we turned northwards to follow the shoreline of Lough Derg, a long narrow lake and the third largest in Ireland. We stopped along the way to get a closer look at the Holy Island of Inishcaltra and its ancient monastic site and Round Tower.

Soon after we crossed the Clare/Galway border, we turned on to a local road in what we hoped was the right direction. We knew that Derrygoolin was well off the beaten track and we wouldn’t find it near any main roads. We climbed slowly up the hills on the narrow road, through a spare and barren landscape, with no sign of any human habitation. There were a few cows resting in a rocky field and a clear view down to Lough Derg. We stopped, took a few photographs, and began to wonder “Could this be it? Was this Derrygoolin?”

Loch Derg
Cows grazing on the hillside, Derrygoolin townland, Co. Galway. Co. Tipperary is on the other side of Lough Derg


The GPS kept telling us we were nearly there. As we came down the hill, it guided us into a left turn on to what looked like a dead-end road. Sure enough, the road petered out into the entrance gate of an obvious farmhouse 50 metres away when the GPS told us: “After 80 metres on the left, you have arrived at your destination.” My husband and I looked at each other with a mixture of bafflement, consternation and merriment. Had our drive been in vain? All we could see was a secluded house, hidden behind a high stone wall, with a formidable large gate. It was the only house visible for miles around. It seemed worthwhile to try asking the owners if this was Derrygoolin.

As I approached the gate two dogs came running down the long driveway, barking ferociously. I stood wondering what to do and was about to leave when the figure of a woman appeared in the distance. She must have decided that I wasn’t a threat and began to walk hesitantly down the drive. By this time the dogs had decided that they liked me and were wagging their tails happily. When I explained my reason for stopping by, she confirmed that “Yes, this is Derrygoolin”.

We then proceeded into the village of Woodford about 5km away. With hindsight now I regret not stopping longer in Derrygoolin, to look around me, and reflect that it was on this land that my ancestors lived. It is difficult to imagine the family’s poor living conditions, let alone how they survived the Famine on this stony bare hillside.

Loch Derg
Derrygoolin townland, Co. Galway

This was the land where my great grandfather Patrick Hayes spent his first nine years.  What an exciting time it must have been for a young boy when the family made their way down to Cobh harbour to take a boat across to Plymouth, where they boarded the big ship, the Eliza on 11 May 1849, for their journey to the other side of the world. They travelled without family or friends, for there were only 22 Irish on board and 305 English passengers.

The main street, Woodford village, Co. Galway

Woodford was a delight, charming and picturesque. The ladies in the public library on the main street were interested and friendly. The waitress in the café across the street was married to a Hayes. We found the graves of many deceased Hayes in the Catholic cemetery a short stroll up the hill. I felt that I was in Hayes territory.


A stroll through Woodford village, as neat as a pin


The East Galway Family History Society had been very helpful to me in the early days of my research, and I wanted to see the Woodford Heritage Centre where it is located. The building itself is of historical interest as it was formerly a National School built in 1834. We were there on a Saturday and I expected the Centre to be closed, but to my surprise, the door was open. The people inside looked astonished when I stepped through the door, but in typical Irish fashion they were generous with their time and eager to help.

Woodford Heritage Centre – the door is open!

It was another instance of the serendipitous events which occurred during my visit to Ireland where I felt the spirits of my ancestors were watching over me and helping me on my journey.

Stopping to say hello to the horses outside Woodford. Derrygoolin and Lough Derg in the distance.
Co. Galway Ireland

The Voyage of the Constance

The continuing story of the emigrants from the Shirley estate

On 24 March 2018, Qantas flew the first direct non-stop 14,498 km flight from Australia to the UK in a little over 17 hours. The earliest Qantas flight between the two countries had taken four days and required seven stops along the “Kangaroo route.” Several VIPs were aboard to celebrate the inaugural flight with Qantas CEO Alan Joyce departing Perth on the 24th and landing at Heathrow on the 25th. Joyce was born and grew up in Ireland and moved to Australia in 1996. He has no reason to be aware that 169 years earlier, a ship laden with Irish immigrants had broken the record for the Plymouth–Adelaide route and created a buzz in its day. In contrast to the Dreamliner flight of 2018, the 1849 shipping voyage was something of a nightmare for the passengers. It was also a fateful journey for the story of my ancestors in South Australia.

The arrival of the Constance at Port Adelaide on 5 November 1849 caused a sensation in the shipping world. It had sailed in the record breaking time of 77 days, when the norm was closer to 120 days. It was the first (and last) government chartered vessel to sail the far southern latitudes of the Great Circle route. The British Admiralty was subsequently to prohibit government ships from sailing into the higher freezing latitudes close to the Antarctic. Of such fame was the voyage of the Constance that a painting of the ship was commissioned in 1853. It is held in the National Library of Australia.

Constance painting
The Constance, 578 tons, off Kerguelens Land, 20th October 1849, on her passage from Plymouth to Adelaide in 77 days. The artist was Thomas G Dutton.   Out of copyright. 

A voyage to forget

The voyage did not begin well. Within four days of leaving Plymouth on 19 August, there was sickness on the ship. Fever, diarrhoea, cholera and pleurisy had spread among the passengers. Before three weeks had elapsed, general sickness prevailed on board. The first death occurred only eight days after the voyage had started.

The Shirley emigrants from County Monaghan probably had no experience of sea travel. Not only was their journey from Plymouth to Adelaide an ordeal, but their passage from Dublin to Plymouth was not a good omen for what lay ahead of them. The surgeon superintendent on the Constance was later to report that the Shirley passengers had suffered severely from sea sickness on a rough Dublin–Plymouth steamer passage. Their relief at ultimately arriving on dry land in South Australia must have been immense.

For unknown reasons, Captain G B Godfrey decided to take the Great Circle Route, sailing down the coast of Brazil and South America into the higher latitudes close to the Antarctic, then east, where the ship caught the strong winds known as the “roaring forties” which blow around the Antarctic. Icebergs can occur at any time of the year but especially between May and October, making the area even more treacherous for shipping. The captain achieved a record sailing time, but the lives of the crew and passengers were put at risk.

clipper route to adelaide

It is difficult to imagine what it must have been like for the passengers as the Constance battled mountainous seas and freezing temperatures in the southern latitudes. They would have stayed below deck, listening as the ship creaked and groaned and possibly wondering if the end of their days was nigh. It must have been a relief for them when the Constance sailed into the calm waters of St Vincent’s Gulf, and they were able to go on deck, see blue sky and feel the warmth of the sun.

Twenty three deaths, mainly from cholera, occurred during the voyage, a 9.4 per cent loss rate for the ship.[1] There was only one other ship with a higher death rate among 323 government-assisted voyages to South Australia between 1848 and 1885. It is remarkable that under epidemic conditions, the surgeon superintendent on board was able to contain the number of deaths to twenty-three. After arrival the passengers on the Constance declared their gratitude to the surgeon-superintendent for his attention.

Were they the victims of a nautical experiment or did illness on board influence the decision of the captain to sail the Great Circle Route? It is possible that if the captain had taken the usual but longer route, down the coast of Africa, round the Cape of Good Hope, and crossing the Indian Ocean, the death toll could have been higher.

Four more people died immediately after disembarking in Adelaide. Eleven others still suffering from fever were taken to the government funded Adelaide hospital. On recovery they were housed in the government Immigration Depot with their families. Another sixteen were visited at their lodgings by the Colonial Surgeon because the hospital was full.

Scapegoating the Shirley emigrants

The Destitute Board in Adelaide, which bore the cost of looking after the sick emigrants, was overwhelmed by the arrival of the Constance. The Board complained to Lieutenant Governor Sir H.E.F. Young, pointing the blame for the level of sickness amongst the passengers at the emigrants from the Shirley estate.

A great increase to the numbers receiving relief from the Destitute Board has taken place since the arrival of the “Constance” on 5th November, with Government emigrants. The greater part of the emigrants by this vessel were Irish and I am informed were in a very emaciated state when put on board in Plymouth in consequence of which low fever to a great extent, prevailed on board all the voyage . . . I am informed that nearly half those people were from one estate in Monaghan, and I beg leave to express an opinion that such a selection is highly objectionable, for considering the wretched state to which the peasantry of the south of Ireland have been reduced by famine and disease, it is not probable that a number of Irish emigrants, especially if taken from one neighbourhood, will be of that healthy and robust character so requisite in persons selected with the view of supplying the colony with an eligible description of labourers.

When I first read this critique, I pictured my ancestors disembarking in a bedraggled and emaciated state. And indeed, Peter Holland was admitted to Adelaide Hospital on 30 November, suffering continuous fever after 21 days in the colony.[2] Yet the criticism turned out to be unfair. Of the twenty one deaths on board, only four were from the Shirley emigrants: one adult woman and three children. Evidence was later produced that the Shirley emigrants had satisfied health criteria before departure.

The criticism of the Shirley emigrants received a strong rebuttal from the Shirley’s shipping agent in South Australia, in a letter to the Colonial Lands and Emigration Commission in London. In his letter, which is rather full of bluster and hyperbole, he denounced any claims that the Shirley estate was responsible for off loading persons unfit for such a voyage.

 ‘Mr Shirley’s emigrants’ letters teem with praises of South Australia: . . . they gloat in anticipation of their saving money, remitted it to their relatives, and being joined by them . . . the people sent by Mr Shirley were neither emaciated, ill provided, or ill suited for the colony of South Australia, but that on the contrary they were rough sturdy labourers, well provided for an ordinary passage to Australia, and I am delighted to assure you, by their letters, a well employed happy, moneymaking lot’.[3]

The journey of the Shirley emigrants on the Trafalgar in December 1849 was closer to the norm: their journey took 105 days and there was only one death on board.

There were no further efforts made to send out emigrants in a group from the Shirley estate to South Australia. Individuals and families later emigrated, following relatives who had preceded them, but there was no further organised emigration.Thereafter emigration to the United States became the most convenient and popular destination for all concerned.

There is a touching appeal from a tenant, written from the workhouse in Carrickmacross to Evelyn John Shirley in 1852. Members of his family had sailed on the Trafalgar in December 1849:

I beg to remind you that in the month of December 1849 you were pleased to emigrate four of my family to Adelaide in Australia for which act you have earned their most fervent blessing as they state it’s second to no other country in the world . . . Shortly after they landed there they sent me [a sum of money] on receipt of which I moved my family from the Workhouse and did not return until I could hold out no longer.

His appeal for assistance to emigrate to South Australia was granted.

An ancestral bond is formed

Among the other Irish emigrants on the Constance was a family from County Tipperary: Cornelius Guidera, aged 24, Margaret Guidera aged 18, and Johanna Guidera age 13. Their story will follow in my next blog post.

There are no records to tell us what happened to these young people, the Hollands and the Guideras, in the years immediately after their arrival. They arrived penniless and without friends or relatives who could have lent them a helping hand. They would have had no choice but to obtain employment as quickly as they could, for new emigrants were expected to fend for themselves.

Two years after they arrived in South Australia, on 20 February 1852, my great great grandparents George Holland and Margaret Guidera were married at a Catholic Church in Adelaide. Their daughter Margaret was my great grandmother. She was born in 1861 on the family farm near Stanley Flat, a few miles north of Clare. I shall follow their story another time.

Peter Holland & Johanna Guidera
Peter Holland and Johanna Guidera.  The date of Peter’s photograph is unknown. The photograph of Johanna was taken in Broken Hill when she was in her seventies.

These two families were joined together in another marriage, when Peter Holland married Johanna Guidera on 26 January 1854 at St Patrick’s Church, Adelaide. Peter and Johanna were to have fifteen children. Peter died aged 53 (not 56 as appeared in the death notice in The Northern Argus, the local Clare newspaper). Their youngest child was only two years old. Johanna was left to raise her large family on her own. She was much beloved by her children and grandchildren. She died aged 83 in Shepparton, Victoria.



Peter Holland grave
Peter Holland is buried on the hillside in the beautiful and historic St Aloysius cemetery at Sevenhill
Celtic Cross Catholic Cemetery Sevenhill
St Aloysius Cemetery, Sevenhill. Many of my relatives lie buried here.                                September 2016.  © Ramesh Thakur


[1] Robin Haines, Doctors at Sea, Emigrant Voyages to Colonial Australia, Palgrave MacMillan, 2005, p.27

[2] Trevor McLlaughlin, Stephanie James and Simon O’Reilley, Migration to Australia mid-nineteenth century: emigration from the Shirley estate at the time of the Famin, Clogher Record, Vol 20, No 2 (2010) p. 313

[3] Lorraine O’Reilly, ‘The Shirley estate 1814-1906 : the development and demise of a landed estate in County Monaghan’, [thesis], Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland). Department of History, 2014, pp 183-4

The Hollands from County Monaghan

George Holland (1829 – 1883) was my maternal great great grandfather. When I began my ancestral journey, I knew nothing about him.

In 2016 when on holiday in South Australia, we stopped on the main road a few kilometres north of Clare, where George Holland had a farm. My great grandmother Margaret Holland was born there in 1861, the 5th child to be born in South Australia. As I gazed at the land that was once their farm, I wondered what their lives were like in 1861.

The exact location of the Holland farm, Sections 48 and 49 on the road north of Clare. This is what it looked like in September 2016

George Holland is buried in the Jamestown cemetery. As I stood beside his grave, I realised how little I knew about his life. What county was he from in Ireland? Why did he emigrate to the far-away colony of South Australia?

Jamestown Cemetery-2
Holland family graves, Jamestown Cemetery

George Holland/Margaret Guidera

Some ancestors are very elusive. It can be very difficult to find any trace of them in the records. This was not the case with George Holland. The Holland family were tenants on the estate of Evelyn John Shirley (1788-1856). This estate was located in the southern part of County Monaghan in the Province of Ulster. It was the largest estate in the county, covering 26,000 acres with a tenant population exceeding 20,000 people in the early 1840s.

As a family history researcher I was delighted to find that a vast archive of documents relating to the affairs of the Shirley estate was deposited in the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) in 1982. The Shirley papers document generations of history across several hundred years. Of particular interest to me was the detailed information on the assisted emigration from the Shirley estate between the years 1843-1854, when 2,000 people were assisted to go to the United States, Canada, England and Australia. Even more importantly, there is material relating specifically to two ships, the Constance and the Trafalgar which carried Shirley emigrants to South Australia in August and December 1849. My ancestor George Holland and his brother Peter were passengers on the Constance.

The Shirley estate had been in the hands of the Shirley family since 1646. The original Irish owners of the land were dispossessed in 1576 when Queen Elizabeth I granted this estate and the neighbouring Bath estate to the First Earl of Essex, Walter Deveraux.[1] When the third Earl of Essex died in 1646 leaving no heirs, his estate passed to his two sisters, one of whom was married to Sir Henry Shirley. The Shirleys lived on their English estate, Ettington Park, near Stratford-upon-Avon, County Warwickshire and their estate in Ireland was managed by land agents for hundreds of years. In 1826, Evelyn John Shirley commenced building a mansion on the estate, Lough Fea House, which still stands today. From 1829 onwards, Evelyn John Shirley and his family spent a few months each summer in residence at Lough Fea, though the house was not finally completed until 1837.

Lough Fea House
Lough Fea House, near Carrickmacross, County Monaghan

Source: National Library of Ireland. No copyright restrictions

Background to the emigration of George and Peter Holland

The vast majority of tenants on the estate were living at subsistence level in the mid-19th century. Ninety-three percent of the tenants were Catholic, a proportion utterly different from other large estates in Ulster where most tenants were Protestants. The poor quality of housing meant that diseases such as typhus, dysentery and typhoid fever were common. The agent managing the estate between the years 1830 and 1843, Alexander Mitchell, was a tyrant who was feared and hated. Upon taking up his appointment, he surveyed the estate and increased rents by as much as 30 per cent. He infringed on the tenants’ ancient rights to cut peat on bog land to use for fuel for heating and cooking. He trampled on the rights of the Catholic tenants, particularly in regard to the education of their children, and being the agent of an absentee landlord there was no limit to his authority.

Mitchell died suddenly in 1843 of apoplexy in Monaghan town while attending the Spring Assizes as a member of the Grand Jury. It was recorded that when news of his death made its way to the inhabitants of the Shirley estate, bonfires were lit on every hilltop to celebrate the death of the ‘unscrupulous monster’.[2]

Mitchell’s successor, William Steuart Trench did a survey of the estate in 1843 when he assumed office. He reported that having visited a great number of homes across the estate he found that ‘even in Ireland, it has never fallen to my lot to witness destitution to the same degree and over such a large extent, as I have seen it on this property.[3] Trench was a strong advocate of assisted emigration as a way of reducing the numbers of poor tenants who were a drain on the estate.

Following the passage of the Poor Law in 1838, workhouses were constructed throughout the country to house the poor. The workhouse in Carrickmacross opened in 1840. The Poor Law tax bore most heavily on estates with large pauper populations. Agents and landowners calculated that it would cost less to send paupers to the New World than to maintain them in the workhouse for a year.

The records of those who were assisted refer constantly to the landholding status of the potential emigrant and that he/she will give up the land or has had his/her house knocked down. Among the petitions from the poor seeking assistance to emigrate there are many poignant examples of small farmers who had had their cottages demolished and were left penniless and homeless. Landowners wished to consolidate their estates by getting rid of tenants on the smallest plots of land. Evelyn John Shirley and his agent George Morant were strongly criticised for their eviction policies during the famine.

County Monaghan suffered greatly during the Famine. The population fell by 29 per cent between the years 1841 and 1851, from 200,407 to 141,758.[4] Yet even during the Famine, tenants were being ejected from their homes. Estate papers indicate that between 1846 and 1856, there were over 650 ejectment processes served on tenants. In the decade 1841-51 the population of the Shirley estate decreased by 44 per cent while the number of houses decreased by a substantial 42 per cent.[5] It is difficult to comprehend the suffering which lies behind these figures.

Some of those emigrants who were ‘key’ tenants from the point of view of farm consolidation on the estate, had to be coaxed and cajoled to go. This was especially true of the earlier forties, and of the Australian emigration in 1849.[6]

The policy of assisted emigration left an indefinable scar on local folklore. It was often depicted as highly exploitative of pauper tenants who were ‘exiled’, ‘rejected’, ‘dispossessed’ and ‘exterminated’ from their land.[7] This may not be entirely true. It was the memory constructed by those left behind and does not reflect the level of popular support for assisted emigration at the time. This support is evident in the numerous petitions to the Shirley estate office by people appealing for assistance to emigrate.

 George Holland was born on 23 June 1829 in the townland of Latinalbany, near Carrickmacross. His parents were Patrick and Catherine Holland.

The townland of Latinalbany, in the civil parish of Magheross. The size of the townland was 182 acres.  Source:

There is a document, dated 2 July 1845 granting Patrick Holland a lease for 16 acres, 32 perches in the townland of Latinalbany for a yearly rent of £10-14-0. Patrick Holland died sometime before December 1846. A cottier named Patrick Byrne then lived on the property. He was a son- in- law of Patrick Holland.[8]Patrick Holland Shirley estate

In 1849 the names of Peter, George and Ellen Holland appeared on a list of emigrants for South Australia. Beside their names was written “10 acres”, presumably the amount of land that had been given up. Assisted migrants were drawn largely from among the sons and daughters of small farmers.[9] Irish immigrants to Australia were not drawn from the poorest of the poor.

Although Ellen’s name was on the list, she did not go. She was aged 17 at the time. Perhaps she decided to stay behind to care for her widowed mother. Catherine Holland died in 1852, three years after her sons left for South Australia. At some point Ellen emigrated to the United States, where she died in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on 25 July 1890 aged 58.

I wondered why South Australia was chosen as a destination for the Shirley emigrants, and not New Zealand or one of the other Australian colonies. The answer may lie with the family connection which Evelyn John Shirley had with the colony. In 1843 his daughter Louise Shirley had married Neill Malcolm, 13th Laird of Poltalloch estate in Argyllshire, Scotland. In 1839 Malcolm had purchased 4,000 acres of land in South Australia near Lake Alexandrina which he had named Poltalloch Station. Because of this large land purchase, Evelyn John Shirley was allowed to nominate emigrants from his estate at minimal cost. The emigrants to South Australia were subsidised by the Colonial Land and Emigration Commission in London. The cost to the Shirley estate was only £2 per head for the fare.

I do not know if Peter and George had to be persuaded and cajoled to go to South Australia or if they went willingly. The list of tenants selected to emigrate to South Australia began with 335 names, but in the end only 140 people left, 95 of whom were on the Constance. The Shirley estate agent George Morant said in writing to London on 28 July I know not what the government may think of our failure in providing the full complement of Emigrants but if the people are fools enough to refuse they can not be compelled…..There could be numerous reasons why the number of selected emigrants fell so dramatically but I suspect some of them may have been reluctant to go to a destination on the far side of the earth.

The Colonial Land and Emigration Commission  required all emigrants bound for South Australia to be properly outfitted for the journey. The clothing requirements each emigrant had to meet before boarding the ship proved to be more costly than the Shirley estate had anticipated.[10] There were also other sundry expenses such as sheets, towels, soap and luggage boxes. The correspondence reveals that outfitting the emigrants was very troublesome for the agents and the preparations were somewhat frantic. They regarded the regulations as red tape, but their successful implementation meant that there were no coffin ships to Australia, as there were to North America.

Finally, on the morning of 14 August 1849, the departing emigrants were gathered for inspection in Carrickmacross. I imagine that it was with heavy hearts that Peter and George said goodbye to their mother and sister. The emigrants then travelled to Dundalk where they took a train for the short journey to Drogheda. They stayed overnight at lodgings in Dublin and from there they sailed to Plymouth, where they boarded the Constance on 19 August 1849.

Little did the departing passengers know that a horrendous voyage lay ahead of them, a voyage which became infamous in the history of sailing to Australia in the 19th century and became the subject of several official enquiries. George and Peter were to meet their future wives on the voyage of the Constance, young sisters from County Tipperary. But that is the subject for another story.

Griffith’s Valuation in the 1850s and the 1901 and 1911 Census returns reveal that many Hollands continued to live in the vicinity of Carrickmacross, including Latinalbany townland itself. Perhaps I may meet some distant Holland relatives when I visit Carrickmacross.



[3] Lorraine O’Reilly, ‘The Shirley estate 1814-1906 : the development and demise of a landed estate in County Monaghan’, [thesis], Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland). Department of History, 2014, p 131

[4] Ibid, p 191

[5] Patrick J Duffy ‘ “Disencumbering our crowded places”; theory and practice of estate emigration schemes in mid-nineteenth century Ireland’ in Patrick J Duffy (ed) To and From Ireland: Planned Migration Schemes c.1600-2000 (Dublin, 2004), p. 102

[6] Patrick J Duffy, Assisted Emigration from the Shirley Estate 1844-1854, Clogher Record, xiv (2), (1992), p. 17

[7] O’Reilly, op cit, p 192

[8] PRONI catalogue number D3531/S/58 (1844): Book recording names of tenants in occupation on the Shirley estate.

[9] Trevor McLaughlin, Stephanie James, Simon O’Reilly, Migration to Australia mid-nineteenth century: emigration from the Shirley Estate at the time of the Famine, Clogher Record, xx (2) (2010),  p.290

[10] Each of the males were allocated 5 shirts, 5 pairs of stockings, 2 pairs of shoes, 1 jacket, vest and trousers and 1 ‘suit reserved’. The females were allocated 5 shifts, 5 pairs of stockings, 2 pairs of shoes and one gown and petticoat each.


The Hayes family from County Galway

I knew little about the Hayes family when I was growing up. Dad never talked about his family much. We did not know any Hayes relatives. We knew the bare bones of Dad’s life story: that he was born in Wirrabara in 1916, the first child of William Michael Hayes and Catherine Veronica Kennedy. His parents owned a picturesque farm on rolling hills a few miles north-east of Wirrabara. The farm was bequeathed to William Michael by his father, Patrick Hayes on the occasion of his marriage in 1915.

Hayes' farm ruins

The ruins of the Hayes farm near Wirrabara, built by my great grandfather Patrick Hayes (1840-1918). My father spent the first 14 years of his life here.

© Photograph by Ramesh Thakur 2016

Opp. Hayes' farm ruins-2

The Hayes farm, September 2016

© Photograph by Ramesh Thakur

This blog post is not about my father or grandfather,  but about the Irish origins of my great grandfather Patrick Hayes and his parents before him.  Patrick arrived in South Australia as a nine year old boy on the ship Eliza on 23 August 1849. As a child born in 1840 he probably witnessed many harrowing sights during the Famine.  In his later life he signed legal documents with his “X” mark, so we assume he was illiterate. There was probably little opportunity to get much education after he arrived in South Australia. As a very young man he worked as a ‘bullocky’ carting copper from the mine at Burra to Port Wakefield. He married my great grandmother Catherine O’Toole in Mintaro in 1865 and they raised twelve children. My grandfather, William Michael, was the youngest. Patrick became a land-owner and lease-holder in the region around Wirrabara and Melrose. His is a remarkable story of hard work and achievement against the odds.

With Patrick on the Eliza were his parents Thomas Hayes and Honora Hennessy, his sister Mary aged ten and infant brother Thomas. The passenger list states that they were from County Galway, and Thomas’ occupation was given as a “husbandman”. That is all I knew about their Irish origins.

I began my search with the history of the surnames Hayes and Hennessy. In mid-19th century Ireland these names were not common in County Galway. They were mostly clustered in County Cork, followed by counties Tipperary and Limerick.

Hayes distribution

The distribution of the Hayes surname at the time of Griffith’s Valuation (1847-64)


When searching historic land records, I had a great stroke of luck: there was only one Hennessy name in County Galway, that of Pat Hennessy, who lived in the townland of Derrygoolin, Civil Parish of Ballynakill/Catholic parish of Woodford in 1834. He was a tenant of the Marquis of Clanricarde and occupied 160 acres of land.

I next discovered that Michael, William and John Hayes were also tenants of the Marquis of Clanricarde in the same townland, each with 80 acres. Derrygoolin is located about 3  miles south west of the village of Woodford. County Clare forms the southern boundary of the townland and Lough Derg is to the east. Derrygoolin is in the foothills of the Slieve Aughty mountains which form the boundary between County Galway and County Clare. The hills of the Slieve Aughty range contain vast tracks of some of the most desolate landscapes in Ireland. The highest point in the townlanland is 669 metres. The Slieve Aughty Bog, now a protected conservation area, is not far away from Derrygoolin.

DerrygoolinThe townland of Derrygoolin, 3 ¼ miles SW of Woodford,-8.448,13z

I was hopeful that I was on the right track in my ancestral search. I next examined  the Catholic parish records for further evidence that this was in fact their place of origin. I did not find a marriage record for Thomas and Honora but I did find a baptism record for their son John who was baptised on 6 February 1842 in the Catholic parish of Woodford. This infant did not survive the Famine years but his date of death is unknown.

The Hayes and Hennessy families were tenants of the Marquis of Clanricarde, Ulick John de Burgh (1802-1874). The history of this family dates back to the Norman invasion of Ireland in the late 12th/early 13th century. The de Burgh family, or Burkes as they later became known, succeeded in subjugating the local Gaelic population and at times they dominated the whole province of Connacht. Much has been written about this family and their historic role over the centuries. In Woodford at the time my ancestors lived there they were one of the leading landowning families in County Galway, with 52,000 acres. A book has been written about the Earl of Clanricarde, A Galway Landlord during the Great Famine. He staunchly defended the interests of the landlord class during the Famine, but did not entirely ignore the misery of his tenants.

The quality of the land my ancestors occupied was very poor. A total of only seventeen families lived there. In the mid 19th century Derrygoolin townland was described as

A large townland very partially cultivated being composed of bog and mountain. There are only a few cabins of a very inferior description in the townland. There is nothing remarkable in the townland.

In this harsh landscape it must have been difficult for these families to eke out a subsistence livelihood, even in the good years. What it was like during the Famine is hard to imagine. There is a Workhouse in nearby Portumna which I hope to visit when I am in Ireland, but as far as I know none of my ancestors had to enter the Workhouse.

Galway suffered severely during the Great Famine. Over 73,000 people died in the County between 1845 and 1850 and approximately 11% of the population emigrated in the succeeding five years. Between 1841 and 1871, the population of the Clanricarde estates in Galway fell from nearly 22,000 to under 10,000. In the aftermath of the Famine, the land agents of the Earl of Clanricarde promoted the assisted emigration of his tenants. There are no records for the individual tenants who left. Nor is it known what assistance the land agents gave the tenants to leave: whether the estate paid part of the fares or assisted the tenants to successfully apply for a government assisted passage. There are no records to indicate if the estate assisted the departing tenants with the cost of equipping themselves with the required outfit of clothing, other sundry expenses, or the cost of reaching the port of embarkation.

Postscript: From Derrygoolin to Caltowie

The lives of Thomas and Honora after their arrival in South Australia are another story. Briefly, four more children were born. We know from the children’s baptism records that the family were living in Kapunda. It seems highly likely that Thomas worked as a labourer in the copper mine in the years immediately after their arrival. He must have worked hard, for on 3 December 1858 he bought his first land in the colony, 168 acres in the Hundred of Belvidere, County of Light. This land is just on the outskirts of Kapunda. In 1873 he purchased 312 acres of land near Caltowie in the mid-north. Thomas died in Caltowie in 1887. Honora lived to the age of 85, taken care of in her old age by her daughters Catherine and Bridget who were born in South Australia. She died in 1899.

While they no doubt endured much hardship in their lives, I would like to think Thomas and Honora felt a sense of relief and security when they bought their own land in South Australia. No longer would they or their children be at the mercy of an absentee landlord, at risk of eviction or starvation. I have visited their final resting place in the Caltowie cemetery. I now look forward to seeing where their journey began, Derrygoolin townland in County Galway.

Caltowie Cemetery-2

Caltowie Cemetery,  where Thomas and Honora and some of their children are buried.

© Photograph by Ramesh Thakur

Michael Naughton from County Westmeath


My great grandmother with my mothe, 1915 approx.

Mary Ann Dempsey, nee Naughton with her grand-daughters. My mother, Mary Imelda Dempsey is the baby sitting on her grandmother’s knee. The little girl is her sister, Patricia Dempsey (1915)

 Michael Naughton was the first of my mother’s ancestors to arrive in South Australia. Naughton is an Irish Gaelic surname. Before the Anglo-Norman invasion the Naughtons lived in the plain around Loughrea in Co. Galway. After the invasion they settled in the Fews, Barony of Athlone, Co. Roscommon. The land between Ballinasloe in Galway and Athlone in Roscommon is traditionally known as Naughton country. The surname Naughton has many variants in Ireland: Connaughton, Knockton, McNaghten, Naghton, Naughtan, Naughten, Nochtin, Norton (anglicised version of Naghten), Noughton, etc.

When I was growing up, I remember my mother talking fondly of her grandmother, Grannie Dempsey. When my mother was at boarding school she enjoyed visiting her Dempsey grandparents at their home on Molesworth Street, North Adelaide, where they lived when they retired from farming in the mid-north of South Australia.

124 Molesworth St, North Adelaide

The Dempsey home on Molesworth Street as it is today

Grannie Dempsey’s maiden name was Mary Ann Naughton. She was born on 20 September 1861 near Farrell Flat, South Australia, a farming community about 20km east of Clare. Her parents were Michael Naughton and Bridget O’Loughlin. When I started my ancestral journey, I knew nothing about them.

This project is an attempt to trace the history of my ancestors from Ireland to South Australia. It is impossible to find glimmers of what their hopes and fears in the new land might have been without first trying to understand the circumstances that led them to leave behind all that was familiar and to sever their strong bonds to family and community in Ireland.This blog post is about my attempt to discover the Irish origins of my great great grandfather, Michael Naughton.

I came across An article by Eric Richards on Irish life in colonial South Australia which refered to Sir Montagu Chapman of Co. Westmeath who in 1847 assisted 200 of his tenants to emigrate to South Australia. They sailed on three ships, the Trafalgar (arrived 2 July 1847), the Aboukir (4 September 1847) and the Lady McNaughten (13 October 1847). Michael Naughton, Rose Naughton and Margaret Naughton were all passengers on the Trafalgar.

Westmeath Catholic parish

Catholic Parishes in County Westmeath

 There is a record in the Catholic parish registers for the baptism of Michael Naghten in the Catholic parish of Clonmellon, Co. Westmeath on 7 October 1824. He was the son of Patrick Naghten and Ann Egan. The family’s address was the townland of Cloran. The Sponsors were Patrick Conelon and Margaret Kiernan.

The townland of Cloran (now called Cloran and Corcullentry), just 1.42 square miles in size, is in the Catholic parish of Clonmellon, bordering on County Meath. The nearest village is Clonmellon.  Not surprisingly, a search of those listed as tenants of Sir Montagu in the townland of Cloran and Corcullentry revealed many of the same names as the passengers on the Trafalgar.

Sir Montagu Chapman was a descendant of Benjamin Chapman, a captain in Cromwell’s army. As a reward for serving in the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, he was granted a 9000-acre estate at Killua, County Westmeath on land which had been confiscated from the Knights Hospitallers of St John. Killua Castle, situated near the village of Clonmellon, was built for the Chapman family in the mid-1780s. It was left as a ruin for many years and is currently undergoing restoration by its new owners.


Killua Castle. By Gavigan 01 at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

 Sir Montagu succeeded his father as baronet in 1837. He visited Australia in 1841 and on 14 June 1842 was granted title to a large estate in Adelaide, which he leased out as smaller farms. Originally named Montagu’s Farm, the area is now part of the suburb of Gepp’s Cross. He died in 1852 on a sea voyage from Melbourne to Adelaide, when the vessel in which he was sailing disappeared without trace. He had never married and his Irish and Australian estates were inherited by his younger brother Benjamin.

Leaving Cloran

An assisted passage was not a free passage. Emigrants from Ireland were expected to meet their own travel costs to Plymouth. They also had to meet the strict requirements for the essential clothing needed for the voyage. Emigrants were subject to pre-embarkation checks at the Depot in Plymouth before they could board their vessel for departure. The Chairman of the Board of the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners, came down from London

expressly to inspect the emigrants about to sail for Adelaide in the splendid ship Trafalgar…. Shortly after his arrival, Mr Elliott examined those among the people not then embarked, inquiring into all their circumstances, prospects, &c. He then went on board the Trafalgar, and minutely examined all the arrangements, as well as the emigrants on board….

On the following day Mr Elliott again visited the ship, the whole of the emigrants being then embarked. A minute inspection then took place, after which the emigrants were mustered on the quarter-deck, and addressed by Mr Elliott in a most kind and feeling manner. After alluding to the painful emotions which many of them were probably experiencing at the separation from friends, he encouraged them to look forward hopefully to the prospect before them, and the improved circumstances which would assuredly attend their honest and industrious exertions — that in the fine colony to which they were about to proceed labour was abundant and food plentiful, and it therefore depended on themselves to realise comforts which at home they could never aspire to. He then gave them some excellent advice for the regulation of their conduct on board, insisting strongly on the paramount necessity of cleanly habits to ensure health, and goodwill and brotherly kindness towards each other, to make the passage happy and agreeable…. The whole address was marked by deep and earnest feeling, and the utmost solicitude for the welfare of the people; it was listened to with profound attention, and at its conclusion the kind-hearted speaker was greeted with a most enthusiastic round of cheering.

The tenants from the Chapman estate were probably in no position to pay for their passage to Plymouth or for the personal effects required for the voyage. It was reported in the Westmeath Guardian that Sir Montagu fitted out the tenants from his estate at his own expense with all their needs for the voyage.

It is hard to imagine the sorrow of the parents who were left behind as these young people left their homes at the height of the Famine and set off for the long journey to South Australia. After the death of Michael Naughton in 1891, a heartfelt and admiring obituary for him was published in the local newspapers which says in part:

The late Mr Naughton was one of the old stock of faithful and virtuous Catholic Irishmen, whom the providence of God directed to Australian shores in the days when Ireland’s stalwart sons were forced, through unjust laws and tyrannical Government, to seek a home and a livelihood in a foreign land…. At the age of about twenty-one he left his native land, just as the harrowing scenes of the great Irish famine were being witnessed.

It is clear that the memory of the Famine lingered on amongst the Catholic Irish in South Australia for many years afterwards.

Rose and Margaret Naughton

Margaret Naughton married William Munday on 14 January 1850 at Saint Patrick’s Church, Adelaide. Rose Naughton died in Adelaide on 26 May 1850 aged 28. Michael Naughton’s eldest daughter was named Rose and a younger daughter was named Margaret. Although the evidence is not conclusive, I am inclined to think that the Rose and Margaret Naughton who travelled on the Trafalgar were Michael’s sisters.

Rose and Mary Ann Naughton
Rose Naughton (standing) and Mary Ann Naughton (my great grandmother). This photograph was taken in 1877. Rose was aged 20 and Mary Ann was 16. Rose Naughton joined the Sisters of Saint Joseph


This blog post is about Michael Naughton’s place of origin in Ireland, not about his life in South Australia. Briefly however, I can say that on 5 November 1856 at the Catholic Church in Sevenhills, Michael Naughton married Bridget O’Loughlin, a young woman of twenty from County Meath. They must have had high hopes as they began their married life together in the colony of South Australia. They became successful farmers, raised a family of eight children, and died as much loved and highly respected members of their community. They are buried side by side in the Peterborough Cemetery.

Michael & Bridget Naughton graves


The Kelly Family from County Clare

After the arrival of my O’Toole ancestors in South Australia in 1840, there was a gap of six years before my next ancestors arrived. The gap was due to the fact that assisted emigration ceased for several years when the colony came close to bankruptcy. The economic fortunes of South Australia began to improve with the discovery of major copper deposits at Kapunda in 1842. Mines were opened at Kapunda in 1844 and at Burra in 1846. In 1845 assisted immigration resumed. In 1846 approximately 150 ships arrived in Adelaide. The population of the colony at the census in February 1846 was 22,390.

My great great grandparents Michael Kelly and Winifred Diviny and their six children arrived in Adelaide on Saturday 24 October 1846 on the ship Hooghly.  The Hooghly sailed from Plymouth on 3 July.  The Kelly family probably left Ireland from the port of Cobh, the harbour near Cork and sailed over to Plymouth to join the ship. Over 2.5 million Irish emigrants departed from Cobh (renamed Queenstown in 1849 following a visit from Queen Victoria. It was changed back to Cobh in 1921). It was the single most important port of emigration in Ireland.

October is a lovely time of year in Adelaide. I hope it was a beautiful spring day when they arrived, about to begin a new life in a land of opportunity, far away from the catastrophe of the Great Famine taking place in Ireland.

The Hooghly was described in an advertisement at the time as a ‘fine fast-sailing full-poop ship’ of 466 tons. It carried 240 passengers. The official passenger list from this ship has been lost so it is unknown how many of the passengers were Irish or English. The passenger list published in The Register newspaper is the principal source of information about the ship. Some of the immigrants were from Cornwall, brought out by the English Mining Company to work as labourers on the copper mine at Kapunda.


The ship Hooghly, approx. 1840.

This picture is from the Ship Collection, State Library of South Australia. No known copyright restrictions.

Four ships arrived on the same day and according to The Register (28 October 1846), there was much excitement in Adelaide on the day the ships arrived. “Only once before has the colony been greeted by the arrival of four English ships in a day; but it was a memorable occurrence…..the prospective arrivals will be but as drops in the bucket compared with the almost unlimited demand for labour in town and county.”

What the family did immediately after their arrival is unknown, but land records show they settled in the Adelaide Hills. Michael Kelly bought land in the Hundred of Kanmantoo, County of Sturt. The area where he farmed is close to the township of Nairne, not far from Mount Barker.

Winifred had five more children, one of whom was my great grandmother, Margaret Helena Kelly, who was born in 1853. Winifred died in 1858 at the age of 42. My great grandmother was five years old when her mother died. Michael married again. He and his second wife, Margaret Cronon, had four children.

Michael Kelly was a hard working farmer and died at the age of 62 in 1874 after a lingering illness. He made a lengthy Will a few months before he died and left an estate of £900.

Michael, Winifred and some of their children are buried in the Mount Barker Catholic Cemetery in a picturesque and peaceful setting.

Upper Skilly Rd Watervale

Evening light through the trees, Adelaide Hills

© Ramesh Thakur, September 2016





The O’Tooles of County Wicklow

The O’Tooles of County Wicklow


Wicklow map
County Wicklow

My O’Toole ancestors were from County Wicklow, “The Garden of Ireland.” They arrived in Adelaide on 7 July 1840 on a small ship named the William Nichol. It was carrying Scottish and Irish immigrants from Greenock and Dublin. The William Nichol was built in Greenock in 1834. In 1842 it was condemned at Mauritius after being dismasted in a hurricane and running upon a reef.

The O’Tooles were the first of all my ancestors to arrive in South Australia. They travelled as a family: my 3X great grandparents, John O’Toole and Catherine O’Brien who were aged 57 and 50, my 2X great grandparents John Thomas O’Toole and his wife Ellen Murphy, plus their daughter Mary and sons Dennis and James.

Under the assisted emigration scheme, labouring classes received free passage if they were aged 15 to 30 years of age and had two references. Preference was given to married applicants. John Thomas Toole (the name as written in their official documents), aged 23 and Dennis Toole aged 25 received approval for an assisted passage on 27 January 1840. It is possible that the rest of the family paid their own way. It is unlikely that John O’Toole and Catherine O’Brien would have received an assisted passage as they would have been considered too old.

It is remarkable that they were successful in their application because at that time the distribution of emigration agents in the British Isles gave less opportunity to the Irish than anyone else. In the first five years of the colony’s existence the Irish made up less than 7 per cent of immigrants.

The O’Tooles are unusual in another respect, as very few Irish immigrants to South Australia came from County Wicklow. Most came from the northern counties of Cavan and Monaghan, and the southern counties of Clare and Tipperary.

It is hard to imagine the scene which must have greeted them on their arrival. Adelaide had been settled just four years previously and the white population was only 14,600 people. It is not known how many Aborigines were living in South Australia before the arrival of Europeans. Estimates of the pre-contact indigenous population vary between 10,000 and 15,000.

The Kaurna people lived in the area around Adelaide. During the first few years of settlement race relations were amicable. The colony started out with high ideals of safeguarding the Aborigines’ interests and 20 per cent of the proceeds of land sales was to be used for their benefit. This scheme was never implemented. But I must get back to the story of the O’Tooles.

View of Port Adelaide. - Photograph courtesy of the State Library of South Australia
“View on the Port Creek” from a watercolour by Colonel William Light. The original is in the S.A. Art Gallery. Date of original: 1838
Photographer : Colin Ballantyne. Photograph courtesy of the State Library of South Australia

After arrival in Adelaide the emigrants were allowed to stay for only a short time in the Emigration Depot before they were required to leave and start fending for themselves. The Emigration Depot, established in 1838, was located in the West Parklands opposite what is now Hindley Street.

My 2X great grandmother Ellen gave birth to a daughter in the Emigration Depot on 26 July, just a few weeks after their arrival. Ellen and her mother-in-law Catherine O’Toole received relief assistance for ten days. They had to leave the Emigration Depot when Ellen’s baby was a few days old. The baby, named Catherine, died a few days later, on 3 August. It was a sad beginning to their lives in South Australia.

Their early years in the colony must have been a struggle for survival, for the colony itself fell on hard times, became bankrupt, and all assisted immigration was stopped between 1841 and 1845. The British Government had very inadequate knowledge of conditions in the colony. The third Governor, George Grey was ordered to carry out a stern policy of retrenchment. He continued with zeal the austerity measures begun by Governor George Gawler. He suspended work on Adelaide’s public buildings and greatly reduced all government expenditure, including the scale of relief for the unemployed and destitute. People who had been engaged on government contracts lost all means of livelihood.

The Board of Commissioners informed Grey that all who held no contract with the Board might conveniently be left to starve. Lord Stanley, Secretary of the State for the Colonies, ordered Grey to ship the unemployed to other colonies and to throw the destitute on their own resources or their relations.

The new policy engendered deep distress and discontent. Grey defied orders by drawing bills on the British Treasury for £25,000 for poor relief. The British authorities condemned these expenditures, censured the Governor and abolished his discretionary power.

It is most likely that the O’Toole’s got work as agricultural labourers. They lived in Morphett Vale, now one of Adelaide’s southern suburbs. Times must have been difficult. In April 1846, my 3X great grandfather John O’Toole and his sons, James and John, and one other were charged with stealing timber from the parklands in North Adelaide. The case was reported in The Register on 20 April. I can’t help but feel sympathetic towards my ancestors.



Col Light lookout
Colonel William Light statue overlooking city of Adelaide

Photograph taken by Michael Coghlan, 12 January 2011 (Flickr Creative Commons)

The parklands between the city and North Adelaide are well manicured today, but in 1846 I imagine they were untamed Australian bush. North Adelaide now is one of the most prestigious suburbs of Adelaide. There is a statue of Colonel William Light on a hill in the Parklands overlooking the City.

More O’Tooles from County Wicklow arrived in South Australia over the next few decades. My guess is these people were related to John O’Toole in some way and came to South Australia in a pattern of chain migration for which the Irish were famous.

In 1844 my 2X great grandmother Ellen gave birth to another daughter, also named Catherine. This baby was my great grandmother, and the first of my ancestors to be born in Australia. Ellen gave birth to more children: Mary, Margaret, James, Thomas and Denis. Sadly, the youngest two died in infancy.

All of the O’Tooles who arrived in 1840 became owners of their own land, something they could never have dreamed of back in Ireland.

In September 2016 my husband and I had a holiday in South Australia, visiting the places where my ancestors had once lived. We found the burial place of John and Ellen O’Toole in the Whyte Yarcowie cemetery.

My mother Mary Dempsey grew up on a farm a few miles from Whyte Yarcowie. One hundred years ago Whyte Yarcowie was a thriving small community. Now it is a ghost town. Even the small cemetery was difficult to find.

Whyte Yarcowie-Jamestown Rd-2
Ruined farmhouses between Whyte Yarcowie and Jamestown
Photo credit: © Ramesh Thakur, September 2016

Whyte Yarcowie-Jamestown Rd-3

It was a cold day which made the cemetery seem even more bleak and desolate. As I stood at the graveside of John Thomas O’Toole and Ellen O’Toole, I wondered about their lives, particularly my 2X great grandmother. Ellen lived into the next century and died on 1 July 1901 aged 89 years. I thought of her giving birth to her first baby in the Emigration Depot. Who were her parents? Where was she born and grew up? When and where did she marry John Thomas O’Toole? Once she was a young woman with hopes and dreams. I knew I had to try to find out more about her.

Whyte Yarcowie
Whyte Yarcowie Cemetery, South Australia. The farm where my mother grew up is a few miles over these hills in the distance.