Irish

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:

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

St Patrick’s Day has always been the day for the Irish in Australia. On 17 March 1795 there were rowdy festivities among the Irish convicts, and the cells were filled with prisoners. Later the occasion gained in respectability, marked by formal dinners attended by the colonial elite, many with no Irish connections.

By the early 20th century, parades were held in capital cities and rural centres. These were demonstrations of connections with an Irish Catholic past, or support for Irish political causes.

Today, St Patrick’s Day in Australia has evolved into a fun day marked by revelry, green beer and comical hats. On that day, some say, there are only two kinds of people — those who are Irish, and those who wish they were.

While “the wearing of the green” apparently commemorates the United Irishmen of the late 18th century, many of whose leaders were Protestants, it is now rather associated with the Catholic majority. My ancestors were not Catholic, presumably descended from the 17th century Plantations. They certainly lived in the Six Counties. The picture above is near Cootehill in County Cavan.

Whatever, I refer you to an item in today’s Sydney Morning Herald:

From its humble St James Gate brewery beginnings in Dublin to its position as one of the world’s most recognised beer brands, the black brew with the stark white head can come with some turf wars. Some Guinness enthusiasts may cry “It tastes better in Ireland!”, but the black stuff is now brewed in more than 55 countries and the distinction is best settled from pub to pub.

Sydney’s raft of Irish pubs may lay claim to the best Guinness in town, but it’s sometimes in the spots you least suspect it that the black nectar finds its best expressions. Sydney’s pubs host a wealth of bartenders serious about their Guinness pouring but, in the end, the cream rises to the top.

Surry Hills pub The Porterhouse heads the list. Now that brings back memories!

Sunday lunch was at the Porter House

Posted on December 14, 2008 by Neil

How long have we been coming here, I asked Sirdan. We couldn’t remember for sure, but suspect it may go back to last century… It certainly goes back to 2000 or 2001, as I recall The Rabbit coming here… This is a real Irish Pub with real Irish people, and a great $12 Sunday roast.

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Neil’s personal decades: 7 – more 1845

You may recall that it was about this time William and Caroline Whitfield left Sydney, eventually settling in Picton. That remnant housing in Surry Hills from the 1840s at McElhone Place shown in the last post looked like this earlier in the 20th century – pre-trendy!

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The Harbour was of course already splendid, as this 1845 painting by Jacob Janssen in the Art Gallery of South Australia shows.

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That is on the My Place site – an excellent resource for background decade by decade, designed originally to support the excellent ABC children’s television series My Place based on the book by Nadia Wheatley and Donna Rawlins.

I wonder if the Whitfields of the 1840s kept any kind of contact with their old country, Ulster, which they had left in 1821 (Jacob) and 1825 (William). I also wonder what they would have sounded like those old Ulstermen….

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There’s County Cavan on the left. Not such a good place to have been in 1845, it would appear. See The Great Famine in Cavan.

The Great Irish Famine was, to quote a cliché, a disaster waiting to happen. Between 1750 and 1850 Ireland’s population grew beyond a level at which it could sustain itself. Much of this demographic growth was based on the availability of one food item and when this was withdrawn not just once, but on successive occasions, it resulted in widespread destitution. This was worsened by the structural and ideological failure of those in authority to provide for their sustenance and to prevent the resultant spread of disease.

The population of Ireland on the eve of the Famine stood in excess of 8 millions. The population of Co. Cavan alone was just short of 250,000 – nearly five times its present population. The reasons for this demographic ballooning, which had occurred in the space of little over a century, can be traced to the availability of the potato which provided food security for peasant farmers with little land of indifferent quality. Not surprisingly the potato was adopted with alacrity throughout Ireland, unlike the hostile reception it initially received elsewhere in Europe.

n Cavan and throughout the northern half of Ireland the advent of flax cultivation and domestic linen production had augmented a further security. Areas supplying linen markets like Cootehill became semi-industrialised, as cottages and cabins were modified to deal with the various processes involved in the process of turning flax fibres into cloth. This was sometimes accompanied by the neglect of farm-based food production. When, after 1825 the cottage linen industry collapsed in the face of mechanised production in factories near Belfast, many areas of Ireland, including Co. Cavan, experienced widespread destitution. Ireland lacked industries which could have absorbed surplus agricultural populations, as was the case in the north of England. However there was a growth in urban populations as towns, including Cavan and Cootehill (amongst others) attracted settlers from their rural hinterlands in search of greater though non-existent prosperity of the towns who were confined to unhealthy yet extensive shanty-towns on their peripheries.

The mid 1840s were years of increased tension in Cavan. Acts of physical violence became common. In May 1845 James Gallagher, the under-agent on the Enerys’ estates at Ballyconnell was badly assaulted and died later the same day with forgiveness on his lips for his assailants. Three months later the unpopular George Bell Booth of Crossdoney was assassinated. December 1847 saw the death of the well-known controversialist Father Thomas Maguire. His passing was widely attributed to poisoning, though as the late Fr Dan Gallogly pointed out, this might have been administered by members of his own erstwhile flock who were dissatisfied with his denunciations of physical force methods…

The Famine in Cavan, in common with the rest of Ireland, had its winners and losers. Alas the latter numerically surpassed the former. Those who were already poor and badly-fed were most vulnerable to the food disruption and attendant diseases, and those who came into contact with them, like doctors, were also prone to fall victim to the lethal cocktail of viruses that escaped from the Famine’s Pandora’s box. Others whose positions in society allowed them to eschew contact with the teeming masses, who could afford better food, enjoy more favourable hygiene and heating were insulated from its effects. It is true that while Ireland was in the grip of famine there was no shortage of food in the country. Profits were also made by merchants who exported agricultural items…

The potato famine also affected Scotland.

The eviction of Highlanders from their homes reached a peak in the 1840s and early 1850s. The decision by landlords to take this course of action was based on the fact that the Highland economy had collapsed, while at the same time the population was still rising.

As income from kelp production and black cattle dried up, the landlords saw sheep as a more profitable alternative. The introduction of sheep meant the removal of people. The crofting population was already relying on a potato diet and when the crop failed in the late 1830s and again in the late 1840s, emigration seemed the only alternative to mass starvation.

The policy of the landlord was to clear the poorest Highlanders from the land and maintain those crofters who were capable of paying rent. The Dukes of Argyll and Sutherland and other large landowners financed emigration schemes. Offers of funding were linked to eviction, which left little choice to the crofter. However, the Emigration Act of 1851 made emigration more freely available to the poorest.

The Highlands and Islands Emigration Society was set up to oversee the process of resettlement. Under the scheme a landlord could secure a passage to Australia for a nominee at the cost of £1. Between 1846 and 1857, around 16,533 people of the poorest types, mainly young men, were assisted to emigrate. The greatest loss occurred in the islands, particularly Skye, Mull, the Long Island and the mainland parishes of the Inner Sound….

My maternal ancestors, the Christisons, were still in this part of their old country in 1845.

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As I previously posted: On my mother’s side of my family – the Christisons – I note my great-great-great-grandfather David was a teenager in 1815, having been born in 1799 in Fettercairn, Kincardine. Seems the poor old sod died in the poorhouse July 21, 1860 of chronic bronchitis. His wife had also died July 2, 1859 in Poorhouse, Luthermuir, Marykirk, Kincardine.  That I’d never known before. Note Poorhouses in Scotland “provided medical and nursing care of the elderly and the sick, at a time when there were few hospitals and private medical treatment was beyond the means of the poor.”

And that brings us back to our local area, to Shellharbour where one branch of the Whitfield family would settle in the late 19th century and in due course marry into the Christison family in 1935.

Caroline Chisholm Park

In 1843 Mrs. Chisholm took up 4 acres at Shellharbour for the settlement of immigrants.  In December, 1843 Mrs. Chisholm left Sydney with thirty families totalling 240 people to settle at Shellharbour.

One hundred years later Sir Joseph Carruthers said “Work such as this great and noble woman did ought never be forgotten, least of all in places like Shell Harbour where she did so much for settlement.”

See also:

Caroline Chisholm ‘The Emigrants Friend’ was renowned for assisting immigrant women and families to settle in Australia.

On the 6th December 1843, Caroline brought 23 families of some 240 persons to the harbour at Shellharbour where Captain Robert Towns (son-in-law of D’Arcy Wentworth) as part of Dr Lang’s immigration scheme offered some 4000 acres of land on the Peterborough Estate for families to settle on clearing leases. This allowed families to live rent-free for 6 to 7 years on the land on the condition they clear the land of trees for future farming.

Caroline Chisholm’s diary relates, that when the families boarded the ‘Wollongong’ steamer for the voyage to Shellharbour on 6 December 1843, all stayed on deck until the ship cleared the darkening Heads, then settled down to sleep, while the sea sick lined the rails. The party awoke to a distant view of the beautiful south coast. Some of the children were sea-sick by the time they landed at Shellharbour, the spot most convenient to the proposed settlement’. ‘Fifty-one Pieces of Wedding Cake’-A Biography of Caroline Chisholm – Mary Hoban.

One such family, Matthew Dorrough his wife Martha and their children came with Caroline Chisholm and farmed the area known today as Shell Cove. The family spent their first night under the stars, with the children huddled up under the roots of a large fig tree at the edge of the beach. Next morning they were picked up by bullock dray and transported to the site of their proposed farm. Matthew’s house was adjacent to the beach and he was delegated the job of retaining and issuing the stores to the other settlers on the Estate. He was an experienced farmer and their crops were good, and with the help of his eldest children and Martha, the family prospered.

By 1857, many of the Immigrants had secured or leased homes and properties. The settlers turned mainly to dairy farming. By 1861 the population had grown to 1,415 and land began to open up throughout the whole of the new Municipality of Shellharbour.

Hoban, MC ‘Fifty One Pieces of Wedding Cake: A Biography of Caroline Chisholm, Lowden, 1973.

And this article (PDF) by Neroli Pinkerton:

In 1840, NSW was passing into a depression. Sydney was experiencing high rates of unemployment. Rural labour was needed but the government had no plans for dispersing the throngs of assisted immigrants who remained in Sydney without employment. Caroline Chisholm sent circulars to leading country men seeking
information and enlisting help. In November 1843 she spoke to the Select Committee on Distressed Labourers, telling them that most immigrants emigrate to “live and have land” and she outlined a scheme for settling families on the land with long leases. The government, however. was slow to take up the challenge and unwilling to invest in her schemes. Undaunted, she began the arrangements to settle 23 families on land provided by Robert Towns at Shellharbour …

Incidentally this probably helps to explain why William and Caroline Whitfield left Sydney when they did.

Neil’s personal decades: 1 — 1815

We all know this year is the centenary of Anzac and Gallipoli. I have decided to start a series going back through my “personal” decades – that is mentioning things from family history – starting with 1815, when most of my family connections were elsewhere. One exception — my former sister-in-law’s family: see Family stories 4 — A Guringai Family Story — Warren Whitfield. My former sister-in-law is a descendant of the family of Bungaree.

Sydney was a tad different c.1815:

C 359 Joseph Lycett's painting of Natives and the North Shore of Sydney Harbour, courtesy of Mitchell Library.lightbox

1815

Jane Brooks writes of how Koorie people live in the Domain ‘in their gunyahs made of bushes.’ She also remembers seeing ‘the very tiny canoes with a gin (Koorie woman) fishing in them, quite alone, sometimes with a streak of smoke from it, and we supposed she was cooking.’ (Karskens, p. 209)

See also Bungaree and the George’s Head Settlement: 31 January 1815

On Tuesday last, at an early hour, HIS EXCELLENCY the GOVERNOR and Mrs. MACQUARIE, accompanied by a large party of Ladies and Gentlemen, proceeded in boats down the Harbour to George’s Head. The object of this excursion, we understand, was to form an establishment for a certain number of Natives who had shewn a desire to settle on some favourable spot of land, with a view to proceed to the cultivation of it; — The ground assigned them for this purpose (the peninsular of George’s Head) appears to have been judiciously chosen, as well from the fertility of the soil as from its requiring little exertions of labour to clear and cultivate; added to which, it possesses a peculiar advantage of situation; from being nearly surrounded on all sides by the sea; thereby affording its new possessors the constant opportunity of pursuing their favorite occupation of fishing, which has always furnished the principal source of their subsistence.

On this occasion, sixteen of the Natives, with their wives and families were assembled, and HIS EXCELLENCY the GOVERNOR, in consideration of the general wish previously expressed by them, appointed Boongaree (who has been long known as one of the most friendly of this race, and well acquainted with our language), to be their Chief, at the same time presenting him with a badge distinguishing his quality as “Chief of the Broken Bay Tribe,” and the more effectually to promote the objects of this establishment, each of them was furnished with a full suit of slop clothing, together with a variety of useful articles and implements of husbandry, by which they would be enabled to proceed in the necessary pursuits of agriculture; — A boat (called the Boongaree was likewise presented them for the purpose of fishing.

About noon, after the foregoing ceremony had been concluded, HIS EXCELLENCY and party returned to Sydney, having left the Natives with their Chief in possession of their newly assigned settlement, evidently much pleased with it, and the kindness they experienced on the occasion.

We Whitfields were presumably in this part of the world in 1815:

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Near Drumgoon, Cavan, Ireland

Before the next decade the first one of them would arrive in Sydney involuntarily. I note a new family history source, by the way, on Wikitree, maintained by a distant relative, Sandra Green, which reminds us that my great-great-grandfather William Whitfield was born 16 Mar 1812 , Parish of Drumgoon, Cootehill, Co. Cavan, Ireland, arrived on the “Thames” from Cork via Brazil and Cape Horn, age 14, married Caroline Philadelphia West 1836, died  Sydney 1897. The Wikitree page includes copies of the inquest finding into his death and his death certificate, and this portrait with his wife Caroline:

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On my mother’s side of my family – the Christisons – I note my great-great-great-grandfather David was a teenager in 1815, having been born in 1799 in Fettercairn, Kincardine. Seems the poor old sod died in the poorhouse July 21, 1860 of chronic bronchitis. His wife had also died July 2, 1859 in Poorhouse, Luthermuir, Marykirk, Kincardine.  That I’d never known before. Note Poorhouses in Scotland “provided medical and nursing care of the elderly and the sick, at a time when there were few hospitals and private medical treatment was beyond the means of the poor.”

David’s son, also David (b May 1828), ended up in Australia when his son, John Hampton Christison, brought him here from Brechin in Scotland. Or did he? Is this Brechin David the same as Fettercairn David? The family pictured below are definitely my ancestors and in the later 19th century for sure they were in Brechin. That is surely J H Christison’s parents and siblings.

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David Hampton Christison, father of of my grandfather John, in Scotland. Exactly when and where  was he born?

The photo is from Arbroath near Brechin.

Fettercairn David Senior married a Hampton or Hanton; this suggests that they are my maternal family: the Hampton name persists to this day.   The date on David Junior’s gravestone is one year out though. So I am left wondering if we have two families here…  Mind you, Fettercairn and Brechin are not all that far apart. That poorhouse is halfway between. Perhaps the family just moved a bit south.

The Niven Family Tree claims David Hampton Christison was born July 13 1829 in Fife,Ceres Scotland. That makes even less sense of the gravestone! And Fife doesn’t seem right, given the photo above.

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See also Fascinated still by (family) history (November 2013) and My great-grandfather: “morally dubious to say the least.” (October 2013).

Meantime in the big world in July 1815:

Napoleon on board the "Bellerophon".  Illustration from Highroads of History series (Thomas Nelson, c 1920). NB: Scan of small illustration.

Sir William Quiller Orchardson — “Napoleon on Board the Bellerophon”

Good read

I have enjoyed The Soldier’s Return by Alan Monaghan (2011).

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Battered and broken by three years of fighting, Stephen Ryan returns to Ireland – to the woman he loves, and in the hope of a return to his old life. But, instead, he finds the seeds of a new conflict are being sown in Dublin. Sinn Fein is resurgent, and more determined than ever to gain independence for Ireland. Stephen’s own brother is among those who are prepared to fight for their cause, and there is growing civil unrest at the shocking losses of the First World War and the threat of conscription looming over Ireland. With the mood of the whole country changing, Stephen must ask himself if he has chosen the right side. All he knows is that he cannot stay at home. Despite his wounds, and his growing addiction to the morphine he needs to ease his pain, Stephen feels compelled to return to the front, where he has some hope of laying his ghosts to rest and where at least he knows where his loyalties lie. But war is deceitful – whether at home or abroad – and Stephen eventually finds himself dragged into a complex web of deceit and violence. He must think fast, as everything that he holds dear is threatened – this new Ireland has new, unpredictable rules.

There are two interesting reviews in the Irish Independent.

It seems like a crowded market, book-ended by two great and very different Irish classics: Jennifer Johnston’s How Many Miles to Babylon in 1974 and Sebastian Barry’s A Long, Long Way, published 31 years later. Yet although writers who experienced it at first hand — and contemporary writers as diverse as James Plunkett, Tom Phelan and John MacKenna — have captured the conflicting loyalties of those years, it is still relatively unexplored for a conflict with more than 200,000 Irish combatants and 30,000 Irish casualties.

While Alan Monaghan cannot be unaware of such Irish shadows on his shoulder, not to mention the oeuvre of British writers like Pat Barker and Sebastian Faulks, he has very much created his own imaginative space in this ambitious trilogy in progress, which describes the physical and intellectual journey of one working-class Dubliner, Stephen Ryan, who becomes actively involved in the war in Europe at the same time as his older brother, Joe, becomes involved in the struggle of Sinn Fein for Irish Independence.

The Soldier’s Return is the second part of this trilogy.

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There is a telling scene in Alan Monaghan’s new novel, which is the second installment of a trilogy covering the period 1914-1922. Stephen Ryan, just back from a gruelling stint serving with the Dublin Fusiliers in the trenches, is beaten up in Dublin because he’s wearing a British army greatcoat.

Because we have followed his progress in France and retreated with him before the German offensive, and because we know that the lovely Lillian Bryce is waiting for him, our sensibilities rise up at the unfairness of this attack.

Were these not the very same people who lined the streets to cheer off the thousands of Irish volunteers? Monaghan does not labour the point, but Stephen’s predicament is well described: he is now hated by the people he fought to liberate….

We are all familiar with certain aspects of the First World War: the horror of the trenches, the shellshock, the manly bonding. They have been explored artistically in many forms, from Upstairs Downstairs to Blackadder.

We are also familiar with historical tropes from closer to home: the Auxiliaries, the Croke Park massacre, the execution of the Cairo gang, the one-step-ahead-of-the-British ingenuity of Collins and his men.

So the danger of stereotyping is real, but Monaghan avoids it. He balances his story nicely: enough action to keep things moving, and enough introspection to let it all sink in…

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Having in recent  years established that my paternal ancestry goes back to Ireland, albeit not Green it appears, I have a renewed interest in the Irish story. I also find the early 20th century through to World War 2 fascinating. Monaghan’s novel is well researched and, it seems to me, scrupulously fair.

Here in The Gong I see a local author, Noel Beddoe, has a new novel called On Cringila Hill.

The 12 years Noel Beddoe spent as the principal of Warrawong High School helps to give his novel On Cringila Hill a strong sense of authenticity.

It’s a book that starts with the drive-by execution of the teenaged Abdul Hijazi and follows the investigation of his murder. But it’s also a book that focuses on the suburb of Cringila and tells the story of those who live there but who seldom appear in fiction.

“I certainly think the people of Cringila are worth a book,” Beddoe says.

And, as a principal of the local high school, Beddoe got to know the area and its people very well.

“In those days, I could tell you where in Wollongong the brothels were, because I had kids whose mothers worked in them,” Beddoe says.

“Not uncommonly I’d have parents in my office addicted to heroin and going through withdrawal. These are a minority of cases; the vast majority of people who came through were wonderful.

“I’m appalled at the bad press the Islamic community get. If I had an Islamic kid who was off the rails I’d ring dad, and dad would come around with older brothers and the problem was solved from the time everyone sat down together.

“Everything that can happen in a society happens in places like Port Kembla and Warrawong and Cringila.”…

I want to read it.