The McKenna maze Part II

Let’s return to the McKenna family of immigrants: Elizabeth McKenna and her children William, Sarah, Mary, Catherine and Peter. What happened to them? Who did they marry and where did they settle?

I will leave William for a moment and address the others first.

Sarah McKenna (20 years old on arrival) was employed by John Macpherson in Melbourne for L20 pa for three months. She married William Thomson in Melbourne in 1848. I wondered if he had arrived on the Adelaide as well but it seems not. Sarah died only a few years later, age 23, in Melbourne. She had given birth to one child, William, in 1849. No parents’ names are listed on her death index.

HORGAN Mary nee McKENNA funeral

Ballarat Star 9 June 1922.

Mary McKenna, 17 on arrival, was recruited by James Simpson in Melbourne for three months at L18 pa. She married Robert (Douglas) Horgan on 8 September 1851 in the Anglican church of St James in Melbourne. Mary’s sister, Catherine, was one of the witnesses.  Mary and Robert’s children were Mary (1861-), James (1863), Matilda (1869) and William (Henry) Owen (1871 – 1957) and possibly also Robert (1853-1933). Mary died in June 1922 and is buried in the Ballarat New Cemetery.  Her parents are listed in the indexes as Owen McKenna and Unknown mother.

KELLY William Mt Alexander Mail 9 April 1894

Mount Alexander Mail 9 April 1894.

Catherine McKenna and brothers William and Peter left the ship with their mother Elizabeth to find brother James. Catherine married William Kelly in 1853. They apparently had nine children though I can only find some of them. William and Catherine lived at Strangways near Castlemaine. William died in April 1894.  Catherine died on 2 January 1919, age 83, and was buried at Newstead Cemetery at Green Gully near Ballarat. Her parents are listed as William McKenna and Elizabeth.

William McKenna has been discussed in an earlier post about his wife Bridget Gallagher aka Gollagher, a Famine Orphan from Donegal (or Galway or Limerick or…) The witnesses to the marriage in 1850 were Mary Boyle and James McKenna. This links back to my previous post about James McKenna, who was whom, and when he arrived.

When their first son, James, was baptised in Melbourne, the witnesses were Robert Horgan (previously thought to be Hogan) and Sarah McKenna. It is almost certain that this is Mary’s husband Robert. Initially I thought the female witness was William’s sister but now I wonder if it was his sister-in-law Sally McKenna, wife of James, as by 1851 his sister had become Sarah Thomson.

At the baptism of their daughter in 1853 (registered as Elvia but seemingly known as Elizabeth), the witnesses were Patrick McGrath and Mary McKenna. This is a bit odd as by then Mary had married Robert Horgan. Were the women using their maiden names?

I am confident that the correct death for William McKenna is 27 June 1910 in the Austin Hospital, Melbourne. At the time he was working as a carrier and living at Holmwood Place off Cardigan St, Carlton. His death certificate clearly states that his wife was Bridget Gallagher, though an annotation incorrectly states she is still alive. Despite this, I have eliminated all other instances of deaths for Bridget Gallagher McKenna as being incorrect based on index information or actual certificates. As Bridget died from alcoholism in 1882, it seems most likely the family had lost touch with her and had no idea she’d died. I’m a doubting Thomas so other potential deaths would need to be convincing.

The children listed on William’s death certificate also match the children born to Bridget and William (a circular argument perhaps), with one exception: son Myles is shown as Giles.

Peter and Elizabeth McKenna have completely defeated me. I have been unable to find marriages or deaths which convince me they are the correct people. Several Ancestry trees attribute Peter to one who lived at Purnim near Warrnambool and who married Bridget McGinnis. However, this Peter seems to have completely different parents based on death indexes but more importantly on his marriage certificate where he states that his parents are James McKenna and Sarah Cassidy. He stated he was from Monaghan, lived at Purnim Springs Valley, Warrnambool and was 25 years old in 1855 (too old as well). So that pretty much eliminates him from consideration I think.  Given that there are a few McKennas at Purnim Springs are they related in some other way than as siblings?

I wonder if Elizabeth and Peter perhaps re-emigrated to another location? I did check New Zealand deaths without success.

What I find quite sad, is that despite Elizabeth travelling around the world with her family at age 44 (at least), her descendants seem to have completely forgotten her – her name only appears on one of her children’s deaths. This is a further reason for wondering if she moved away, because you’d think if she lived in Victoria, her grandchildren would have had a chance to know her.

Thanks for “listening” to my perambulations on the McKenna family. Putting it in writing was one way of sending the message into the ether but mainly getting my thoughts clarified and set out for future review.

Sadly for once, also, my good friend Trove did not add much to my family knowledge.

There are some research investigations that leave one completely muddled and this is one of them….feeling rather like a novice investigator. Bright ideas welcomed.

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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

http://www.picturevictoria.vic.gov.au/site/yarra_melbourne/Collingwood/9379.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.