Unravelling the McKenna family

It has long been thought in the Cass family that James McKenna, aged 17.5 yrs, arrived Marion 1848 was part of this family even though it was a leap from Melbourn, Cambridge to Newcastle where he was tried in January 1845 for stealing a hank of worsted. Then sent to Millbank & Parkhurst, thence to prison hulk before being sent to Oz as an “exile”. Sentence was 7 yrs, and pardon granted immediately on arrival.  (Various documents are available on Ancestry).

It now seems unlikely this is the case. I also suspect the Melbourn Cambridgeshire may be a mistake against the shipping records obtained by my father-in-law some 30 odd years ago. Another immigration document on Ancestry shows Catherine and Peter coming from Monaghan but immediately under someone from Melbourn and I suspect this may have muddled the picture.

McKENNY aka MCKENNA Cath and Peter 1848 per Adelaide

Catherine and Peter McKenna at the bottom of image, on the Adelaide to Melbourne in 1848.

The situation now seems to be that the family most likely stayed in Ireland the whole time before emigrating some time after Elizabeth’s husband (Owen or Bryan?) died, pre 1848.

Elizabeth’s immigration says she’s leaving on her own account and looking for her son James McKenny.[i] Other researchers suggest that James McKenna who died in 1907 was part of this family.

McKENNA Elizabeth to Jas McKenny

Disposal list of immigrants on the Adelaide 1848, extract for Elizabeth McKenna, William and Catherine.

The immigration records also show that the family comes from Arragall Monaghan. This is neither a townland or a place and we have concluded that it is actually Errigal, Monaghan. Some family trees indicate that it is in the townland of Mullanacross aka Mullinacross in the Errigal Trough Civil Parish, but I can find no source for this information, which doesn’t mean it isn’t correct.

On the immigration records obtained by Les Cass back in the late 1980s, the family is shown together under the surname McKenny. The two youngest, Catherine 13 and Peter 12, are listed as having been born in Melbourn, Cambridgeshire. As per above I now believe this may have been an error. This is further reinforced by the fact that I’ve been unable to find Elizabeth, Peter or Catherine on the 1841 English census, even searching by first name and age.

So what was the family which arrived in Australia per the ship Adelaide on 22 June 1848. They had sailed from Plymouth on 1 March 1848[ii].They had been enumerated on the nominal lists as follows:

McKenna Elizabeth 44    house servant    neither

McKenna William 22       farm labourer    both read & write

McKenna Sarah 20           farm servant      both

McKenna Mary 17            housemaid         both

McKenna Catherine 13   daughter             read

McKenna Peter 12           son                         read

All were Roman Catholic and depending on which immigration documents, all state their home place as Monaghan.

Now let’s look at which James McKenna might have been the son who Elizabeth was looking for. We’ve discounted (at least for now), the convict from the Marion.

And in an oops moment I missed this notation on the bottom of the disposal lists.

McKENNA Elizabeth see re children 1848

Ancestry trees suggest that James McKenna arrived ahead of the rest of the family (which fits with the annotation mentioned). There are two possibilities then:  the George Fyfe on 23 July 1841 or the Frankfield also in July 1841.  James McKenna on the George Fyfe is aged 21, a labourer and a Catholic, who can neither read nor write. He is travelling with a Sally McKenna also aged 21, a dairymaid who could read and is also Catholic. At 21 he would be the eldest of Elizabeth’s children that we know about.

The James McKenna on the Frankfield is 19 and is Presbyterian. Given the religion of the rest of the family, it suggests to me that he is likely not the right one.

The James McKenna on the George Fyfe is 21 and is accompanied by his wife, Sally (not his sister as some seem to think[iii]) also 21, both Catholic and both from Monaghan[iv].  Sally is a nickname for Sarah so I went searching for (1) children and (2) her death. I was also puzzled (still am, really) about the listing of marriage details and children for James McKenna and Mary Tyrell. Is this the same James McKenna or a different one?

MCKENNA Sarah and Mary per Adelaide 1848

James and Sally McKenna on the George Fyfe, 1841


But first let’s look at Sarah McKenna. I found her death, aged 77, in Purnim shire, Warrnambool, Victoria on 20 October 1894. Her parents were Arthur McElmeal, farmer and Margaret Hacket. The informant is her grandson whose name is illegible due to fading. She is stated to have married in Donagh, Co Monaghan, Ireland at age 22 years to James McKenna[v].

James McKENNA & McELEEL Sarah Donagh parish Monaghan

I then looked at the Ancestry Catholic marriage records for Donagh (from the National Library of Ireland registers). I found the marriage by banns of James McKenna and Sarah McElmeel of Donagh on 17 February 1841 in the Catholic parish[vi].  It’s unclear to me whether it’s James or Sarah who comes from Donagh. The marriage had taken place just under a month from when the couple would sail on 15 March ex Plymouth.

Victorian indexes and Sarah’s death certificate provide the names of children to this couple: James 1841, Sarah (later McDonald) c1844, Mary Ann 1846, Susan (later McGrath) 1848, John 1849-1864, Peter c1852, Eugene c1855 and Margaret c1857. To confound things further, Sarah is stated to have spent three years in Tasmania and 50 years in Victoria – the initial year of arrival fits but not the stint in Tasmania for which I can find no records. I also can’t find the death of Sarah’s husband James in Warrnambool or buried in the cemetery.

Returning to the second option for James McKenna. There is a marriage for James McKenna in Victoria in 1846 to Mary Tyrell (various spellings in indexes). From the death certificate and the Victorian indexes their children are: William 1845, Elizabeth 1846, Sarah 1846, Thomas 1850, Owen c1852 , Peter c1852, Catherine c1860, Mary c1864, and James 1848 deceased. James died, aged 85, in 1907 at Penshurt, Victoria and was buried in the Boram Boram Cemetery by Rev Fr Walsh. James had been born in Monaghan and spent 66 years in Victoria (making his arrival c1841).  His father is stated as Owen and his mother as unknown.

It would suggest that there are two different James McKennas from Monaghan yet they don’t match up with the immigration records. I remain befuddled. There is nothing on either certificate to indicate whether Sarah was a widow or James a widower.

So which James McKenna is which, and does either belong to the family of Elizabeth McKenna?

Does it even matter, given that Mr Cassmob’s ancestry is through William McKenna from the Adelaide?  A further subject for analysis.

Thanks for listening. I’ll be back with Part 2 of my ruminations.

[i] Series: VPRS 14; Series Title: Register of Assisted Immigrants from the United Kingdom (refer to microform copy, VPRS 3502) on Ancestry

[ii] 1848 ‘Shipping Intelligence.’, The Port Phillip Patriot and Morning Advertiser (Vic. : 1845 – 1848), 20 June, p. 2. , viewed 23 Aug 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article226354034

[iii] James and Sally are among the couples and families, the unmarried males and females are listed separately and neither name appears there.

[iv] Series: VPRS 14; Series Title: Register of Assisted Immigrants from the United Kindom (refer to microform copy, VPRS 3502) Original data from Inward Overseas Passenger Lists (British Ports). Microfiche VPRS 7666, copy of VRPS 947. Public Record Office Victoria, North Melbourne, Victoria.

[v] Victorian death certificate 116/1894 #14731.

[vi] Through Ancestry or Findmypast from registers held at National Library of Ireland and digitised at registers.nli.gov.ie Catholic Parish Registers, The National Library of Ireland; Dublin, Ireland; Microfilm Number: Microfilm 05574 / 09


Irish Famine Orphan: Biddy Gollagher or Gallagher on the Lady Kennaway in 1848

Irish Famine Orphan Memorial in Sydney.

Irish Famine Orphan, Bridget Gollagher or Gallagher, is my husband’s ancestor. She arrived in Port Philip on the barque Lady Kennaway in December 1848. McLaughlin’s book Barefoot and Pregnant indicates that Victorian records show she came from Donegal although the NSW Agent’s lists give her place of origin as Galway. She was hired out to Mr Edward Curr[i] at St Hilliers (actually St Helier’s)[ii] for £14 for six months[iii]. The book also has information, which we believed to be a type-setting problem and related to Ellen Gollagher who appears next on the passenger list. So, how to resolve some of these ambiguities?

My first port of call was the Victorian historical indexes to check three things:

  1. Confirm the marriage listed in Barefoot and Pregnant and on the Famine Orphan website relates to Ellen Gollagher not to Bridget or Biddy, as she appears on the list.
  2. Confirm Bridget/Biddy’s marriage based on earlier family research.
  3. Determine Bridget’s county of origin and hopefully a townland[iv].
  1.      Gallagher/Gollagher marriage to McCahery

I checked this by obtaining an 1867 birth certificate for one of the children, hoping to get more details on the parents that way. It confirmed that it was Ellen Gallagher/Gollagher who married John McCahery, and according to their daughter’s birth certificate they married in Melbourne in November 1851. On this document Ellen states her age as 33, so a YOB of 1834, and born in Donegal. This fits with her being the orphan on the Lady Kennaway apart from the age difference. A YOB of 1834 would make her barely 14 on arrival in Melbourne in 1848 as opposed to the stated 18 (YOB 1830). Both ages fit within the preferred range for the orphans.  Ellen and her husband lived in the Kilmore area and she is reported to have died in 1872. Is she Bridget’s sister or relation or just someone with the same surname? As yet this is unknown, and may remain so.

2.      Marriage Gollagher/Gallagher and McKenna

Biddy Gallagher married William McKenna at St Francis’s RC church in Melbourne on 5 May 1850. Unfortunately the record is a basic one providing no supplementary details on the couple.[v] The witnesses were Mary Boyle and James McKenna. It’s quite possible (likely?) that this Mary Boyle was the Famine Orphan who had also travelled on the Lady Kennaway, aged 17 and from Donegal. Various attempts to obtain more information on the Gallagher-McKenna marriage have as yet been unsuccessful. At the time of Bridget’s marriage, Melbourne was again in a flurry of condemnation or defence of these poor Irish girls. Those who’d arrived on the Lady Kennaway seemed to have taken a particular verbal battering in the press.  They must have felt more than a little persecuted with a threatened sense of their self-worth.

My concern in relation to this marriage was whether the correct couple had been “chosen” since some of this research had been “inherited”. However working backwards from the known to the unknown via BDM documents we were able to confirm that this was the correct couple.

Next question: Was this the same Biddy/Bridget Gollagher/Gallagher who was the Famine Orphan?

3.      Children’s certificates

Foolishly I obtained James’ and Elvia’s (Elizabeth) from 1851 and 1853 respectively. These were church baptisms and had no supplementary parent information but did give witnesses: Robert Hogan and Sarah McKenna for James, and Patrick McGrath and Mary McKenna for Elizabeth. Did Bridget no longer have any friends to sponsor her children or did William’s relations take precedence?  On James’s registration, Bridget’s maiden name is still shown as Gollagher. Afterwards it becomes the more common Gallagher. Interestingly the baptisms were a month or more after the births, which while within church regulations suggests they either didn’t have the fee to pay, or were not so compliant in their observances.

A further certificate, for daughter Bridget in 1862, had the informant as a friend, Charlotte Harward of Emerald Hill. While some of the information was accurate, a new place of origin was introduced for Bridget as she was stated to come from Fermanagh, and William from Monaghan. At the time the family was living in Sutton Lane, off Little Burke Street and William was a storeman.

So now as options for Bridget’s place of birth we had Galway, Donegal and Fermanagh, but wait, there’s more to come!

Next certificate was that for son Patrick b 1865. This time Bridget was the informant and she mercifully gave her place of birth as Donegal and William’s as Fermanagh. They were still living in Sutton Lane and her age is fairly consistent throughout to give a YOB of 1833/1834.

Without buying every possible certificate this reassured me (1) that she was almost certainly the Famine Orphan and (2) her home place was Donegal.

On the 1865 certificate Bridget lists four children who had died. The online indexes do not show all of the named surviving children as stated on certificates, even using the broadest search parameters and wildcards.

Two generations on: Katie McKenna, Biddy Gallagher’s grand-daughter.

4.      Death of Bridget McKenna nee Gallagher

We had inherited this certificate from my husband’s father and it tells a sad story. Bridget died in the Immigrants’ Home in Melbourne on 12 December 1882, almost to the day 34 years earlier when she had been admitted to the immigrants’ depot. The cause of death was alcoholism and while she was stated to be married, there were no details available. She had been 31 years in Victoria (an error of three years) and came from Limerick! So now we have Limerick, Galway, Fermanagh and Donegal as potential places of origin!

At this point I became concerned that we also had the wrong death. A search of the indexes from 1870 to 1930, using Bri* not Bridget, gave only two possible options. I checked the alternate death and that was of a young woman born in Victoria so the 1882 death appears to be the correct one. . From the scarcity of the data on her death certificate it appears she had been alienated from, or ostracised by, her family. Another small anomaly is the age on her certificate: she is shown as 51 so YOB of 1831.

Does her alcoholism explain her children’s deaths or was it the other way round? Were the infant deaths attributable to her poor health from the Famine years: it’s possible as two of them were within a few years of her arrival, but likely? I’m not sure.

As Bridget had died of alcoholism it seemed likely she had been in trouble with the law so I searched the PROV online index to female prisoners. There are two entries for her, from which in due course we will need to obtain copies. With a little (lot?) of luck it may even give us a description of her. I also did a search of Trove hoping to find her in the court records for drunkenness, but could find only one reference in 1863 when she was fined 5 shillings. As yet she appears not to have fallen into the category of habitual drunkard, as those received a gaol sentence of three months. At this point she was still bearing children.

Bridget’s husband, William Peter McKenna, died in Melbourne in 1910. He is confirmed as the husband of Bridget Gallagher but this time his place of birth is Monaghan. Other family trees on Ancestry give a different date and place of death for Bridget’s husband but I think the official record is unambiguous.

This is a brief summary of the rather sad life of a Famine Orphan. There are still avenues to explore which may bring forward more evidence. It’s likely we’ll only know the shadows of her life – perhaps the light is the existence of many descendants.

[i] Reportedly known as the “Father of Separation” for his role in gaining Victoria’s separation from NSW. He was a staunch Catholic and had been a member of the first Legislative Council of Tasmania. He was also a member of the committee responsible for the welfare of the emigrant orphans on arrival in Melbourne.

[ii] Crown allotments 77 and 64 on the Yarra River at Abbotsford…In the late 1850s, Curr’s house was shown on a map of the Collingwood. The St Helier house garden featured a geometric layout, with pathways leading south to what was possibly an orchard on the river frontage. When Curr died in 1850, his trustees had leased the St Helier property in two parts. The house and house garden comprised one part, while the lower garden and riverbank paddock formed the other. In 1865, Curr’s widow, Elizabeth, sold the estate to the Right Rev. James A Goold for £4,000

Images of the house are at http://www.picturevictoria.vic.gov.au/site/yarra_melbourne/Collingwood/9464.html


[iii] Biddy was one of only three young women to receive such a high wage. One assumes that if Curr employed her, and paid her such a generous sum, he thought she was competent not inexperienced.

[iv] While in Donegal in 2006 we tried without success to find any records for these workhouse orphans and Board of Guardian registers.  Perhaps another attempt is merited, even from afar.

[v] My Queensland research has shown me that sometimes there’s another set of information which reveals far more detail. Approaches to the diocesan archives a few years ago have been unsuccessful so it’s time to revisit that.