On my recently discovered Irishness

I was watching Antiques Roadshow on ABC last night: this episode

Fiona Bruce and the team return for another busy day at the Titanic Drawing Offices in Belfast.

Objects uncovered include a medicine chest from early Victorian times, complete with many intact medicines; an historic document marking the end of World War II; and a pair of rare Irish plate buckets worth the price of a new car.

I found myself fascinated by the accents I heard, as I had been many years ago at Cronulla Presbyterian Church by the accent of the then minister Thomas Peden McEvoy, born in Belfast in 1895. Back then I had no idea at all that my father’s family too had come not from Belfast, but not too far away in areas now divided between Northern Ireland and the Republic. I guess at one time they had the accent, or something near. The truth about my family only emerged less than 25 years ago.

In September 2011 I posted Returnee! It featured this photo of my grandnephew Nathan in an Irish landscape that year.


I am 99% sure he is the first of Jacob Whitfield’s descendants to set foot in the Old Country since the 1820s! Of course someone may have…

See among many posts here Irish again – new light on Jacob Whitfield’s 1820 crime? For an overview of the Irish in Australia see Australian Communities: Irish Australians and Richard Reid’s essay Irish in Australia.


St Patrick’s Day but no parade

Not in Sydney this year at any rate.

A significant funding shortfall has been blamed for the cancellation of this year’s St Patrick’s Day parade through the centre of Sydney.

Sydneysiders have been celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day with an annual parade through the CBD streets since the 1800s, and it will be the first year the city will go without a parade since 1979.

Poor weather on parade day for the past couple of years led to a funding shortfall of around $150,000, meaning this year’s event has to be scrapped, according to the President of the Sydney St Patrick’s Day Organisation, Robert Kineavy.

“In 2014, the parade was on in Hyde Park,” Mr Kineavy said.

“The weather during the day was very good to start with, but half an hour into the parade, the event was hit by thunderstorms … and it pretty much rained the event out.” he said.

He says the event costs are usually between $250,000 and $300,000 each year.

The event went ahead in 2015, with a hope that it would raise the additional funds to pay off the previous event.

In the end the day only broken even, and this year’s planners decided there was not enough money for a parade, despite 2016 being the 100-year anniversary of The Easter Rising against British rule.


As it was outside Sydney Town Hall

See also What is St Patrick’s Day? and my posts last year  Irish and Irish again – new light on Jacob Whitfield’s 1820 crime?


Posted on March 17, 2015 by Neil

As you may recall my father’s family descended from an Irish convict who arrived in Sydney 10 March 1822, and his son who joined him age 14 as a free settler in 1826. They came from this bit of Ireland, or nearby:


I am not sure where they would have stood on St Patrick’s Day – which is of course today. See National Museum of Australia.

Here in Wollongong one joint that will be jumping is Dicey Riley’s near the railway station. I won’t be there though.


Mount Keira Road this morning

My mother and the secret river; Ulster accent; class act

A mixed bag indeed.

My mother spent her infancy on the secret river, at this place:


See More tales from my mother 1 — Spencer, NSW. My mother was born in 1911, but her father had arrived at Spencer five years earlier – nearer in time to the events depicted in last night’s imaginative recreation of the life of Solomon Wiseman (Will Thornhill) than her birth is to us today. She recalls a settlement that in her day could still only be accessed by boat.


That’s Tim Minchin as the revolting Smasher Sullivan in The Secret River on ABC – a great over the top performance. This is interesting: “Tim Minchin reflects on the trauma of being a part of the … ABC mini-series The Secret River and the ultimate importance of the project.”

That Ulster accent! I reflected as I heard it that my ancestor Jacob Whitfield would almost certainly have sounded just like that in 1822 – though there is no evidence he was in any other way like Smasher Sullivan, though I fear it is likely Smasher’s type existed.

See A History of Aboriginal Sydney: 1800s and A History of Aboriginal Sydney: 1810s. It seems that “Green Hills” referred to several times last night is now known as Windsor, so that places the events of last night’s episode prior to November 1810, earlier than the historical Solomon Wiseman.

In November, 1810, Governor Macquarie set out to inspect the outer western Sydney districts. He travelled with Mrs Macquarie and a group of aides and surveyors, including Captain Antill, Dr Redfern and Mr Evans. The ‘tour of inspection’ followed the Hawkesbury and Nepean Rivers. Macquarie surveyed the available land and designated and named five settlements which would become known as the ‘Macquarie Towns’ – Windsor, Richmond, Castlereagh, Pitt Town and Wilberforce.

Finally, can anyone else recall when Bill Shorten was hailed as a “class act” by Miranda Devine? Yes indeed!

Whether the man suits the times or the times suit the man, it is clear that the diminutive, Jesuit-educated lawyer with an MBA covered himself in glory during the 14-day marathon rescue.

When the nation’s media were crying out for news on the trapped miners, it was Shorten who delivered. Available night and day, he spoke articulately and engagingly, and livened up his commentary with original descriptions of prosaic mining matters…

He gave excellent, generous sound bites. Authenticity cannot be learnt, and it is hard to think of Kim Beazley in the same position saying anything that didn’t appear to be shouted at an imaginary crowd.

Shorten also resisted the temptation when 60 Minutes reporter Richard Carleton prodded him to criticise mine management on safety issues: “I know that people … want explanations for this disaster. But we cannot afford to distract from the issue of rescuing the men. These men are still trapped in the earth and we want them back. And any behaviour that distracts from that, to be blunt, just has to wait.”

Wearing his trademark AWU chambray shirt with matching bomber jacket, Shorten managed to work in the union line liberally, but it always seemed appropriate: “It’s good workers are being recognised and, frankly, it’s good unions are being recognised.” He did more for the image of the union movement than any number of ACTU ads of working mothers weeping. “Today I rejoin the union,” wrote Dorin Suciu of Bronte, in a letter to the editor yesterday…

But thanks to Shorten, the Beaconsfield mine disaster showed the best of the union movement, perhaps enough for the public to question if the pendulum is swinging too far away from workers’ rights….

That was then, as they say!


See also north of Sydney on the Aboriginal History site at 1800s, 1810s and 1820s. Note that my brother married a direct descendant of Sophie Bungaree: Family stories 4 — A Guringai Family Story — Warren Whitfield.

How are things in Ballyhagen?

Sounds like something Bing Crosby might have sung, doesn’t it?


That photo is entitled “Ballyhagen house” and is from a gallery The World’s Best Photos of armagh. I just like it. Furthermore, it seems my Whitfield ancestors may have once been not far away.

At the beginning of June I posted:

At the funeral I unexpectedly found a family link. Prayers were led at one point by Jean Whitfield of St Marks Church. That made me do a double-take as that was my mother’s name. Turns out this Jean Whitfield is part of our Whitfields, the ones descended from Jacob the convict. We had quite a long talk about it after the funeral over tea and coffee in the church hall.

Jean Whitfield sent me her version of the family tree yesterday. As I had already worked out her late husband was the grandson of my grandfather’s brother William (Uncle Bill) of Picton, who died in 1957. I do remember him quite well.

The earliest available part of the Whitfield line takes us back to the time of King Billy.


Screenshot - 20_06_2015 , 9_59_44 AM

John, born 1695. We are descendants of his grandson Jacob.

Jacob was convicted of horse stealing 1820 and there is a report in The Belfast News Letter of Friday the 4th Aug 1820, no. 8084; page 4, column 3. He was found guilty and was sentenced to hang but was sent to Australia. – Stuart Daniels, currently Whitfield family historian.

That family tree is from Bob Starling, family historian. See also my original family history page – messy as it is with a decade or more of accretions by way of the comment thread – and posts on this blog. Bob Starling summarised on ancestry.com in 2012:

I have extensively researched the Whitfield family in Australia which began with the transportation of Jacob Whitfield in 1822. His Mother’s ancestry in Ireland whilst listed as Susanna Pearson born 1734, married John Whitfield 27 October 1758, no official documentation of the birth or marriage of Susanna has been sighted. John’s parents are listed as John Whitfield born 1695 and Sarah Pearson born 16 January 1701 married 4 March 1723 also unsubstantiated.

In 2014 Bob Starling noted:

The Quaker Data Base covering some 166 Whitfield names from Quaker Meetings in Grange, Lurgan, Dublin, Lisburn, Richhill, has Jacob Whitfield born 5/1774 residing at Ballyhagen to parents John and Susanna. These 166 records have been transcribed from official Quaker records.

So I wonder what world John Whitfield was born into in 1695. I found this detailed timeline. The links are those in the original, not created by me:

Late in the autumn of 1688, rumours began to spread that Irish Catholics loyal to James II were massacring Protestants. News came that a Catholic regiment was to be sent to Londonderry to relieve the old garrison. The people of Londonderry thought it unwise to have Catholic troops protect them. However, establishment figures demanded that the troops be let in, but thirteen apprentice boys locked the door against King James’ troops on 7th December 1688.


(April). The siege began, reaching its full intensity for six weeks in the summer. The Protestant soldier in command of the garrison, Robert Lundy (‘Lundy’ now means a weak Protestant), wanted to surrender, but the citizens opposed him and he was forced to flee. William of Orange’s ships arrived to relieve the city but withdrew.

(May). William’s ships reappeared. James’ men had put a wooden boom across the river Foyle and the relief ships decided not to proceed. 30,000 Protestants were stuck in Derry, starving and plagued by mortar fire. Thousands diedof starvation and disease. The besieging army were ill-trained and badly equipped; there was only one attempt to breach the walls. Eventually 10,000 non-combatants were let out. Once, the besieging commander tried to break the siege by rounding up local Protestants and threatening to let them starve to death in the open. The Derry citizens erected gallows and threatened to execute Catholic prisoners, forcing the release of the Protestant prisoners. The inhabitants of Derry responded to a demand to surrender with ‘No Surrender!’ which has been their watchword since.

(28th July). British ships in the Foyle broke the boom and relieved Derry. Their previous hesitation had left the northern Protestants with the awareness that they were on their own.

By 1695, the amount of land held by Catholics was to drop from 22% to 14%.


William of Orange landed in Ireland and defeated James II at the Boyne on July 1st.  The Battle of the Boyne is now marked by Protestants on July 12th every year.

(July). William’s army moved towards Dublin, pushing James’ forces onto the defensive. There was stern resistance to the Williamite army, but it ended in in defeat at Aughrim on 12th July.

All Catholic armies surrendered at Limerick under Patrick Sarsfield. His troops were exiled to serve Louis XIV and were known as ‘Wild Geese’. William III is still a hero to the Northern Irish Protestants, who refer to their enemiesas ‘Papists’.

After Catholic surrender there was more confiscation of their property and a rigid anti-Catholic penal code was introduced. The Treaty of Limerick supposedly ensured some tolerance for the Catholics, but this wasn’t carried out. The Protestants were feeling insecure after the recent dramatic Catholicisation of the army and law.

Following William III’s victory, the ‘penal laws’ regulated against Catholics, denying them the right to vote, buy land, be a lawyer, join the army or navy or hold any office of state. A Catholic landlord had to bequeath his inheritance equally to his children unless one turned Protestant, in which case he got the lot. Parish priests could still practise, but friars, bishops and archbishops could not. However, the laws were applied loosely enough to allow bishops etc to exist furtively, and so new priests could be ordained. This laxness was because the vast majority were Catholic; it was easier not to suppress them. Sometimes, as in Galway, the friars would bribe the authorities who had been ordered to crack down on them.


By the end of the seventeenth century, all land that could be put to profitable use had been converted into farms. Irelandentered the eighteenth century with a European  structure.  It was relatively populous, with most people living on the land. The principle exports were textiles and meat. Powerful landlords and the church owned most of the land. Hugehomes were built.

From the 1690s, the fundamental question over the Irish parliament was whether the Dublin assembly could originate legislation without it being adapted in London. This was sharpened by British attempts to restrict the Irish wool trade. The ‘Patriots’, who were nonetheless Protestants and committed to the British connection, didn’t want their parliament to be subordinate to London. The ‘Protestant Ascendancy’, who had been established by seventeenth century land redistributions, came to dominate. They were insecure, having survived a threat to the property settlement in 1689. Protestants looked back in bitterness to 1641 and 1685-89; the Catholics to the Treaty of Limerick.

The Church of Ireland at this time was undermanned but backed by huge reserves of landed property.

From the 1690s, Irish MPs took an oath denying Catholic beliefs


Funnily enough King Billy popped up on my TV last night on SBS: Secrets of the Manor House on Hampton Court Palace.

Learn how William and Mary demolished half of the Tudor palace to replace it with an exquisite baroque structure, making Hampton Court one of the most unusual palaces in the world. Go beneath the brick and stone of this true pleasure palace and now thriving tourist location to uncover an abundance of art and stories that bring Hampton Court alive.

See also this excellent blog post: The Brimstone Butterfly’s Hampton Court: The King’s Apartments.

The documentary in one part looked at the rather homoerotic paintings in William III’s private apartments and raised the question of his having been gay or bisexual.


William III – miniature by Charles Bolt

Andrea Zuvich, a Late Stuart Era Historian, Historical Consultant & Author, the owner of that miniature, thinks not.

He knew he was despised because he was a foreigner – a Dutchman on the throne of England. He felt more comfortable around his fellow Dutchmen, but this only served to make him all the more unpopular.

As a result of being so unpopular, he was subjected to malicious gossip about his sexual orientation in order to discredit him (just saying that someone was homosexual would taint them in those times, and if anything, William was merely not as lusty as his fellow Stuarts. But there is no evidence that he was either homosexual or bisexual. Think about it, he was a very unhealthy man, unlike his sexually voracious uncles Charles, James, and his cousin, Monmouth. Sadly, the rumours – which were largely created by Jacobite propaganda, and fuelled by the gossipy letters of the Duchess d’Orleans – persist to this day, although there is no solid evidence to support them.

On the other hand see Louis Crompton on glbtq.com:

…rumors were also rife among those favorable to the king. These include the redoubtable “Madame,” Duchess of Orléans, who was married to France’s most flamboyantly conspicuous homosexual, “Monsieur,” and whose correspondence makes up a veritable encyclopedia of homosexuality in that country and England. Her letters are admiring of the king but speak repeatedly of “men who share King William’s inclinations.”

Rumors also circulated in the Dutch army, which was fanatically loyal to the house of Orange.

Most telling, however, are the remarks of Bishop Gilbert Burnet, who praised William unstintingly as “a person raised up by God to resist the power of France and the progress of tyranny and persecution.” Yet in considering matters that might make it difficult for William to assume the English throne, Burnet refers to one “particular . . . too tender to be put in writing,” which under the circumstances can only be interpreted as a reference to William’s sexual nature.

To nineteenth-century liberal historians such as Thomas Macaulay, William III ranked as one of England’s greatest kings for his fostering of religious and political liberty and for his leadership of the European nations who fought Louis XIV.

Irish again – new light on Jacob Whitfield’s 1820 crime?

On St Patrick’s Day I posted:

As you may recall my father’s family descended from an Irish convict who arrived in Sydney 10 March 1822, and his son who joined him age 14 as a free settler in 1826. They came from this bit of Ireland, or nearby [followed by a scene from County Cavan].

Reminder of what constituted Ulster in 1820:


I needed that to follow a marvellous document sent to me by family historian Stuart Daniels that came his way through the research of Bob Starling. It is a transcript of a petition relating to a trial in County Tyrone in June 1820. The petition is addressed to Charles Chetwynd, 2nd Earl Talbot, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland at the time.


Charles Chetwynd, Earl Talbot

Here is a key part where my ancestor is mentioned:

Jacob Whit  trial1

The document goes on to argue that Fisher (the petitioner) is not getting a fair trial in County Tyrone because a number of witnesses for the defence are in County Cavan.

Jacob Whit  trial2

I am not sure what light this casts on my ancestor Jacob Whitfield, who was convicted in relation to this matter and sentenced to life in New South Wales. I am inclined to read it as suggesting that Jacob Whitfield framed the petitioner. Stuart Daniels reads it differently:

Also I have been reading the trial of Jacob Whitfield in Cavan Ireland , and I don’t think he got a fair trial. One of his witnesses could not travel to the court room that was 40 miles away. The trial was held in Tyrone and the witnesses lived in Cavan. Both men protested about the restriction of their witnesses. Makes you wonder was it a kangaroo court, or the Irish equivalent. Was he innocent? We will never know. Our ancestor might not have been such a bad person. The writing is very hard to decipher.

…the original copy of the trial is VERY hard to read as it is in a yellow and faded copy, but Bob [Starling] did a good job of getting a readable copy.

I found also this account of County Cavan in those days.

Cavan, the southernmost county of the old province of Ulster, was a bleak inland region of limited agricultural and commercial development, but it was populous and contained the disfranchised boroughs of Belturbet and Cavan, where county meetings and elections were held. The Catholic population greatly outnumbered, yet were electorally in thrall to, the almost exclusively Protestant gentry, of whom none individually had a sufficient interest to return a Member. The leading figure since the Union had been the only resident nobleman, the 2nd earl of Farnham, a Tory representative peer and joint-governor, whose large and comparatively advanced estate at Farnham gave him an interest which was described by the Irish government in 1818 as ‘very great’. His estimated 1,000 electors were enough to ensure control of one seat, since the potential electorate was only about 6,000 (although one calculation put it as high as nearly 8,000) and in practice was probably far smaller…