Thoughts on “Farewell My Children” by Dr Richard Reid: Irish migration to Australia 1848-1870

If you have Irish ancestry in Australia, there’s a good chance that at some point you’ve referred to an index of Irish Assisted Immigrants to New South Wales (NSW) 1848-1870, available in most family history libraries around Australia.  I doubt I was alone in thinking, when I first used the index, that this was another very comprehensive genealogy-related index. In fact, it was a by-product of Dr Richard Reid’s doctoral thesis, awarded in 1992 by the Australian National University, the topic of which was Aspects of Irish Assisted Emigration to New South Wales 1848-1870. This thesis can only be read on-site at ANU.

What is exciting news for family historians with an Irish background is that in mid-2011 Richard released Farewell My Children – a book based largely on his thesis. I bought a copy at this year’s Shamrock in the Bush because I’d already read the thesis and I was desperately keen to have my own copy of this benchmark work. Read it, you won’t regret it!

You might be thinking that if this started life as an academic publication it will be too “heavy” and too difficult to read. Not at all! The topics are clearly presented throughout and add greatly to our understanding of our ancestors’ emigration experiences. What I most like about Farewell My Children, and Richard’s historical writing in general, is that he illuminates the topic with specific examples. This personalises the history revealing the nuances at the grassroots level as well as the bigger picture. Another feature of Richard’s work is that he views Ireland as an entity not just Eire or Northern Ireland. While the focus is on Irish migration to Australia, it would also offer a comparative understanding to anyone whose Irish ancestors migrated to North America –after all they are quite likely to have distant family in Australia –it’s surprising how family sometimes took divergent migration paths.

There are multiple strands in the book which address the emigration experience:

1.   The emigration process

If you’ve found it difficult to get your head around the nuts and bolts of how your ancestors obtained their government assisted passage, and what evidence they had to supply, you will find it here.

The practicalities of the Remittance Regulations[i] are also dealt with, including their occasional manipulation by representatives in Ireland and Australia.

2.  The journey to Australia and experience on arrival

The complex and careful management of the immigrants is highlighted. It is pertinent to note the difference between the Australian journey and that of many migrant experiences to North America. It may have been a much longer journey, but the government was particularly attentive to its immigrants. A further benefit of this is the wonderful detail available in the bureaucratic records and especially the Board’s Immigrants Lists where they survive.

3.   Who were the migrants?

Do you ever wonder how typical your Irish family really was? Richard talks about the characteristics of the immigrants, their literacy and skills, age and gender balance as well as their marital status. This is a fascinating insight into the differences between Irish and other immigrants.

4.   Clonoulty, Co Tipperary

The book and thesis train the research lens on the emigrants from Clonoulty. If you have ancestors from there, you will find this chapter especially useful.

5.  The poor of Ireland

The book talks in detail about the Irish Famine Orphan migration from Ireland’s workhouses, which is relevant to our family as my husband’s ancestor was a Famine Orphan. It’s pertinent to note that not all were actually orphans.

Wives and children of convicts also come under this heading as they were often impoverished by the breadwinner’s transportation. (Dr Perry McIntyre’s recent book Free passage : the reunion of Irish convicts and their families in Australia, 1788-1852 is also a must-read for anyone whose family fits this category).
6.   Donegal Relief Fund

When I read the thesis I had no reason to be particularly concerned about Donegal so I only skimmed this section. In the meantime I’ve learned my son-in-law’s paternal ancestry is tied into this migration from Donegal, so I found this chapter especially interesting.[ii

7.  Remittances and chain migration

Remittances played a key role in the chains of Irish migration in families and friendship groups and are what led me to Richard’s thesis in 2004. This was the link between this broader Irish research and my own East Clare research focused on Broadford, Parish of Kilseily where the parish priest and some key representatives in Australia appear to have manipulated the system to ensure a positive migration outcome for East Clare people.

It’s no doubt obvious that I regard this book as the door to Dr Reid’s benchmark research on Irish migration to Australia. I for one am very grateful this research made the transition from academic thesis to an accessible book I can keep on my shelves. There are any number of reasons why Richard’s book is particularly relevant to my own research (especially East Clare migration) but I’m confident that anyone with Irish ancestry, or others, would be able to add to their understanding of the migration experience by reading it. Dr Reid’s history-writing style has made him one of my own “history heroes”. In my library his book sits beside Oceans of Consolation by David Fitzpatrick and Robin Haines’ Life and Death in the Age of Sail.

With such significant and informative content Farewell my Children should become a prime resource for Irish family historians and anyone with an interest in Australian migration. If you’re looking for a Christmas gift for yourself, print out the book details and leave it lying around as a “hint” for the family gift-givers. Don’t forget, too, that if you live near a large reference library you can have the book sent on inter-library loan from the National Library of Australia.

If you are interested in Irish migration you might also be interested in the small Visible Immigrants series which are collaborative publications: their content vastly outweighs their slight appearance.

Visible women : female immigrants in colonial Australia / edited by Eric Richards

Poor Australian immigrants in the nineteenth century / edited by Eric Richards
Neglected sources for the history of Australian immigration / Eric Richards, Richard Reid & David Fitzpatrick

Disclosure: I have not been asked to comment on this book, nor did I receive any remuneration for promoting it. It stands entirely on its own merits.


[i] The Index to the NSW Immigration Deposit Journals 1853-1900 produced by Pastkeys is a valuable entry-point to the remittances at a name level.

[ii] A complementary source is the wonderful information on the Donegal Genealogy Resources webpage

Widdups from Urana & Bracewell-Hodgson connection

I originally posted this question on another site. My interest in the Widdups from Urana arises from the fact that Bridget Widdup nee O’Brien was the sister of my original Australian ancestor, Mary O’Brien later Kunkel. They came from the townland of Ballykelly in the Parish of Kilseily in East County Clare, Ireland. This is centred on the small town of Broadford which is not that far from Limerick.

The two girls emigrated from Ireland around the mid-1850s but no shipping records have been found (despite looking at every O’Brien entry in the records). Bridget O’Brien Widdup’s death record shows that she spent a year in Queensland before moving to New South Wales where she married John Widdup. Although rumour has it that he was a Danish seaman I have found no proof of this and I believe he was probably born in the north of England.  I have put what information I had on this family at the time into my family history of the Kunkel family, which also included the O’Briens from Ballykelly. The book is called Grass Roots Queenslanders: the Kunkel family and was published in 2003.

Information from another family historian suggests that there is a connection between this Widdup family and the Hodgsons in Victoria. There does not appear to be a connection to the Widdops in Victoria though spelling can vary as we all know.

This is a somewhat convoluted saga but hopefully someone, somewhere may know more….every tiny tip helps. 

I am seeking help in finding the origins of John Widdup born circa 1828 or 1829. He came to Australia in the 1850s and settled at a small place called Urana in southern NSW, near the Victorian border. He married a woman called Bridget O’Brien from Co Clare circa 1860. In theory his Australian marriage or death certificates should give his parents’ names and place of birth. However, neither of these appear to have been registered so no joy there! He is, in summary, elusive. Oral history suggests he was a mariner with the British Navy and born in Denmark. My own view is that his roots are almost certainly in Yorks-Lancs. I did find a mariner named John Widdup born 1829 living in Hartlepool and lodging with a couple on the 1851 census. He states his place of birth of Salterforth.  It is possible this could be him I suppose. 

His Salterforth origins may tie in with a posting on the OneguyfromBarlick site & also with a letter between a John BRACEWELL and John WIDDUP (late 19th century), searching for Jesse, Johnathan and Joseph HODGSON who had settled in Eaglehawk near Bendigo in Victoria. John Widdup is said to be John Bracewell’s cousin.  

By searching the IGI and also census records I think I have found the correct family of Hodgsons in 1841. In Hayfield & Glossop district, Derbyshire, Daniel Hodgson is head of household with his wife, Amelia (later Amy) and children including Jesse, Johnathan and Joseph who emigrated, as well as other children including Wright Hodgson and also John Bracewell (relationships not being stated as we know for 1841). Amy Wright’s birthplace is stated in later census records as Keighley, Yorks. 

Daniel married Amy Bracewell nee WRIGHT at Manchester cathedral in 1825. Amy had previously been married to Henry Bracewell in 1816 at St Bartholomew’s Colne (per an LDS member submission-not an extracted entry). Hence John Bracewell, baptised St Bart’s Colne in 1818, is probably half-brother to the Hodgson children incl Johnathan, Jesse and Joseph.  

Wright Hodgson remained in England and married a Martha WIDDUP on 29 April 1860 at Manchester Cathedral, Lancs. They had a daughter, Amy Hodgson, who was born c1861 in Derbyshire. It seems that she would be the one staying with James Widdup and wife Mary Wright at Sand Hole Foulridge on the 1871 census. This would mean that it was their daughter Martha (b 1834) who married Wright Hodgson.  

At this point I wondered if Amy Wright-Bracewell-Hodgson and Mary Wright-Widdup might be sisters as both are listed as born Keighley per the census. The IGI suggests this is the case as Amy DOB (1794) and Mary’s (1801) fit closely with census info.  

If so then this provides a possible link which would fit with John Widdup being cousin to John Bracewell and the Hodgson boys. HOWEVER, the John Widdup who is son to James and Mary Widdup apparently has died in England in 1882.

Perhaps people with more familiarity with the area might see something I’m missing or there might be a rellie out there who knows more. 

The following are the names of John & Bridget’s children with a note of which don’t “fit” with O’Brien naming patterns. 

Children of John & Bridget (O’Brien) Widdup (NSW):
Amelia                          c1859  (no known family link for name re O’B)

 Louisa                          c1860  (no known family link for name) married Edward (Harry) Luckie.

John                             c1863  (probably after father, John Widdup)

Michael James              1864    (after her father Michael O’Brien; James-may be his father ??)

Walter Ireland              1867    (no known family link for name re O’B)
Alfred England                c1869  (no known family link for name re O’B)

Martha                         1870    (no known family link for name re O’B)

Bridget Ellen                 1872    (her  sister Ellen O’Brien)
Catherine Agnes           1874    (her mother Catherine O’Brien; Agnes??)  

For interest: in Australia John Widdup became a pound-keeper in charge of impounding wandering stock. Some of his sons became shearers and drovers.

I’d be grateful for anyone’s insights/comments.