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
Source: http://www.gardenofireland.com/map.php

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.

My first trip to Ireland

This is the post excerpt.

King John's Castle, Limerick
Beside the River Shannon, Limerick, 1972

In January 1972 I set off to see the world, leaving South Australia behind forever (although I didn’t know that at the time). Ireland was my first stop.  I knew nothing about my ancestors, apart from my mother’s family, the Dempseys who were from County Cavan. Perhaps there was something in my blood which drew me back to Ireland.

It wasn’t a simple matter to get there. In those far-off days international air travel was still relatively expensive. The cheapest way to get to London from Adelaide was a domestic flight to Perth, then 6 days of sheer tedium on a Russian passenger ship, the Khabarovsk to Singapore and finally a charter flight to London. After recovering at a Youth Hostel in Holland Park, I took the four hour train journey to Holyhead in Wales, from where I caught a ferry across the Irish Sea to Dublin.

Dublin was cold, dark and wet, a stark contrast to the heat and brilliant sunshine I’d left behind in Adelaide.  It was not just the weather which was grim. This was a time when the Troubles in Northern Ireland dominated the news. A few weeks after my arrival, on 30 January 1972, the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry, Northern Ireland occurred. British soldiers shot dead 28 unarmed civilians during a peaceful protest march. The massacre was followed by huge protests throughout Ireland, and on 2 February the British Embassy was burnt down in Merrion Square. This was my introduction to Dublin.

I spent about three months in Dublin and found it an enchanting city. I had read quite of lot of Irish literature by this time. It was thrilling to walk the streets of the city and visit places which had figured in the books I’d read: the Martello Tower at Sandycove which features in the first chapter of James Joyce’s Ulysses, the Cliff Walk at Howth Head, to walk across the cobblestone courtyard of Trinity College and visit the Library (and yes, to see The Book of Kells), to attend a play at The Abbey Theatre. I took the bus to Dún Laoghaire Harbour and walked along the pier. Dún Laoghaire used to be called Kingstown. I wonder if any of my ancestors may have departed Ireland from this port?

 Somehow Ireland didn’t feel like a foreign country. Several times strangers stopped me in the streets of Dublin to ask for directions.  I was thrilled that they mistook me for a local. I realised then that I “fitted in,” that I looked Irish.

After three months I left Dublin for England. I went on to Canada, married and raised a family. I continued to travel the world for the next 40 years, returning to Ireland a couple of times, but never in search of my ancestors. Now I am ready to begin my ancestral search in earnest, to find those lost voices from the past before it is too late. I am on this quest because I want to know who these people were, but also in the hope that there may be other descendants who find this story interesting.