Founding a Family on the Far Side of the World

The hand-written diary of Patrick MacMahon (1831-1910) was transcribed and published in the January 31, 2014 edition of The Clare Champion. He’d written this family history at the age of 70 years, for the benefit of those who “come after me as being the founder of my family in Australia.” 

The County Clare newspaper published MacMahon’s diary to celebrate Irish connections with the continent Down Under. The diary’s contents were provided by his granddaughter, Elizabeth MacMahon Meyer, who was born in Australia.

It was fascinating to read MacMahon’s account of his early life in Ireland and his emigration to Australia. What follows are selected portions of the newspaper article:

My father, Patrick MacMahon, and grandfather, Thomas MacMahon, were comfortable farmers. The family lived for generations at a place called ‘Ballyroe’ near Six Mile Bridge, County Clare, Ireland…

1831: I was born at Clonteen on April 28, 1831 and baptized at Six Mile Bridge Catholic Chapel…

1837: The longest record of which I have a recollection is the Accession of Queen Victoria to the Throne of England this year.

1839: I have a distinct recollection of the great storm or hurricane that passed over Ireland on January 6, 1839, and always spoke of as “The night of the big wind.”

1840: My first schoolmaster was Pat Slattery, who for many years was the popular teacher at Six Mile Bridge. This man was a splendid scholar of the old school and was considered one of the best scholars in the South of Ireland and certainly one of the best mathematicians…

1845: This year, 1845, the potato crop failed in Ireland. At the close of the year they were found to be black and rotten when taken out of the ground.

1846: This year and the following year, 1847, were known as the Famine years. Great distress prevailed throughout the country. Public relief works were established by the Government and I may state here that such works were of a most unproductive and senseless character. It was nothing more or less than the cutting down of hills and the filling of hollows in the roads of Ireland.

1847: Thousands emigrated to Canada and the United States during this year. The Times English newspaper gloated over the misfortune and said “the Irish were going with a vengeance.” I fear the Irish carried the vengeance with them which has not been in the interest of the English Government.

1850: This year, my sister, Honora, a young woman of pluck, energy and enterprise, took the notion of emigrating to Sydney in company with a family who was leaving for that distant country. My father and mother and all the family did all they could to persuade her from such a project but she would persist and sailed for Sydney on board the ship Ramelies on April 18, 1850, arriving in Sydney on August 11, 1850.

About this time the first goldfields were discovered in Australia. Thousands of people flocked to them from all parts of the world. The glowing accounts from Australia of the rich gold finds gave me the first notion of trying my fortune in New South Wales.

1853: On July 22, this year, a shocking affair took place at an election in Six Mile Bridge… Through some small riot the 31st Regiment fired on the people, killing five men and wounding eight men, two of whom also died of the wounds in a few days. I was present at this deplorable event. The blame was traced to a gentleman named Delmege, a Magistrate of the county, who it was said who gave the orders to fire on the people.

1854: This year, my sister Honora paid my passage under assisted migration…

July 8, 1854 I sailed from Plymouth per ship Caroline… I arrived in Sydney on October 13, 1854, after a good passage of 96 days.

On arrival and before leaving the ship, I received an invitation from Mrs. Rosetta Terry, Pitt Street, widow of the late well-known Sam Terry, with whom my sister lived, to stay with her until such time I procured a situation…

On November 4, 1854, I took my first situation with Messrs. Morris and Moon, Timber Merchants…

1855: March 3, 1855, I went into the employ of John Garsed. This gentleman was joined by Mr. Hugh Dixon, a well-known tobacconist, and they opened an extensive timber yard… I took full charge and control of the timber yard…

On September 27, 1855, the first railway in New South Wales opened to Parramatta…

1856: January 7, 1856, I went into the employ of William Dean and Co… These gentlemen gave me the control and entire management of the timber branch of their business. I may here say that at this period of New South Wales history, before the introduction of sawmills or machinery into the Colony and before our colonial hardwood came generally into use, nearly all timber was imported from the United States by merchants in Sydney…My duty was to take up the invoice of the cargo, to employ men, receive on the wharf, stack, sort, measure and deliver to the different purchasers, taking receipts and forwarding returns to the head office, the whole of the cargo and when complete, to compare the deliveries with the original American invoice. In those days, there was no eight-hour business, no half holidays on Saturdays, working hours were from 6 o’clock in the morning until 6 o’clock in the evening, with a break of two hours for breakfast and dinner.

I remained with this firm from January 7, 1856 till October 31, 1866, nearly 11 years…

1857: September 26, 1857, I was married at St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, to a young lady named Dora MacDonough, from the famous City of Limerick, whose acquaintance I made in Ireland the first day I left home, June 28, 1854, and who came on the same ship with me to Sydney. She claims kindred with the renowned Patrick Sarsfield, the defender of Limerick. She has been to me a good and faithful wife, with whom I have lived happily and contentedly all my life, and whose advice and assistance were always an aid and comfort to me in the battles of life.

August 20, 1857, ship Dunbar was wrecked at the Gap, Sydney. All hands on board perished, with the exception of one man.

(1858-1888: MacMahon’s diary details purchases of real estate and his involvement in various business enterprises.)

1888: February 29, 1888, I left Sydney with mother for a visit to the Old Country, Europe and America, returning on February 1, 1889…

(1888-1900: More details provided about MacMahon’s business and civic affairs, including the construction of a family residence. An endnote to the article states Mr. and Mrs. Patrick MacMahon resided at Firsgrove, Willoughby until their deaths. Mrs. MacMahon died on February 24, 1908, aged 73 years. Patrick MacMahon died on March 7, 1910. aged 79 years.)

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