Irish Professionals in Australia: Connecting CAN Partners

Richard Reid is curating the much-anticipated Irish in Australia exhibition for the National Museum of Australia. It cuts across a wide range of themes but the Collections Australia Network (CAN) has decided to focus on the success stories of Irish professionals to showcase the collections of its CAN Partners. From notorious bushranger Ned Kelly in Victoria to celebrated South Australian mineowner Charles Hervey Bagot, this story travels across the country from first settlement until the end of WWII. Our CAN Partners have provided the Outreach Blog with some fascinating and inspiring stories about Irish settlers. Australia boasts the world’s largest population of Irish descendants per capita outside Ireland, offering many more stories that can be found in collections across the country. CAN has worked in partnership with the National Museum to assist in collection research, as well as help promote our Partners’ collections and the national exhibition which opens on St Patrick’s Day 2011.

Google Earth image mapping organisations holding material relating to Irish professionals in Australia.

Western Australia
Durack Collection / State Library of Western Australia collection on CAN
Durack 6
The Durack family surveyed land across the Kimberley, Western Australia in 1882-83 that would be fit for cattle. Michael Patrick Durack, the eldest of four sons was sent in 1886 to the head-station, Argyle Downs, arriving just in time for the Halls Creek goldrush. As a pastoral entrepeneur, Durack developed overseas markets for his cattle from the Philippines and Brazil. He became a leader of his community as justice of the peace and in 1917 entered State parliament as a Nationalist member of the Legislative Assembly for Kimberley. Under his guidance, Argyle Downs was known for looking after its Aboriginal employees.

This passport was issued to Tommy Chrongen 4 August 1904 by Michael Patrick Durack stating the bearer was returning to his native country for two moons holiday and for anyone on the way to assist with food and transport if required and bill to Argyle Downs Station.

South Australia
Kapunda Historical Society collection on CAN
Kapunda has the distinction of being the oldest copper mining town in Australia – the birthplace of Australia’s commercial mining history and key to the early development of South Australia. In 1842, Charles Hervey Bagot’s youngest son discovered an outcrop of copper ore in Kapunda. Bagot’s management of the mine hauled South Australia back from the brink of bankruptcy and helped finance the construction of some of the most impressive buildings in the State. The town gave the Captain Bagot a sterling silver cup on his retirement and departure back to England for his role in the mine’s success, known as Bagot’s Cup.

Doctor Matthew Blood was the first official doctor at the mines and first resident general practitioner in the district. He also became renowned as an enthusiastic amateur photographer. Blood was mayor of Kapunda when the Duke of Edinburgh visited the town and the mines in 1867. In 1859, the Reverend William Oldham took over the management of the Kapunda mine from his retiring friend of many years and ran Mine Rifles Company.

Discover Eumundi collection on CAN
Samuel Kelly left Ballydrain in Northern Ireland in 1871 with his family when he was just five years old and developed a taste for the working the land in Geelong. When Samuel was sixteen his family decided to return to Northern Ireland and he stayed on to forge his future in becoming a pioneer in the Eumundi area. fire in his belly and a sparkle in his eye, the young twenty year old man started his career by transporting felled trees by bullock and by water to Pettigrew’s Mill at Maroochydore. The timber industry was flourishing and within a short period of time he purchased 20 acres of land for herding his bullocks. Kelly turned his attention to grazing and dairying, leaving the operation of the bullock teams to his three sons. Over the next forty years was an active member of Caboolture Divisional Board, now known as the Maroochy Shire, the dairy industry, school, farmers’ co-operative, community hall. He even set up a butcher shop. The Eumundi Discovery Centre has an extensive collection of settler stories like this one of Irishman Samuel Kelly.

Central Highlands Regional Library Corporation collection on CAN
Francis Wilson Niven left Dublin for Victoria with his wife Elizabeth Close in search of gold in the 1850s. After limited success, Niven purchased a small lithographic plant for £40, and despite having no practical knowledge of the art, taught himself lithography. Soon he was able to import one of the earliest known commercial steam lithographic presses into Australia. He produced the beautiful History of Ballarat by W. B. Withers and The Cyclopedia of Victoria which provides an extraordinary resource of historical and biographical information, now in the Central Highlands Regional Library collection. Niven & Co also produced mining plans, maps and panoramas of Ballarat that contributed to extension of the mining industry. This is the first issue of the first edition of the History of Ballarat published in 1870, with the coloured title page and colophon F.W. Niven Steam Litho.

Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery collection collection on CAN
Martin Edwards was convicted and sentenced to seven years imprisonment on 17th August 1819, and transported to Van Diemen’s Land, when he was 19 years old. His crime is not certain, but it was possibly forgery. He is listed in convict records as an assistant teacher in a school in Dublin but he was also described as a labourer. He became a fairly prominent landowner and businessman in Launceston, Tasmania, within two years of the expiry of his sentence, and was regarded as a ‘gentleman’. The Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery have photographs of his premises taken by Frank Hurley and the original land grants.

This map of Launceston, Tasmania 1856 is a land survey map showing the land grants for Martin Edwards at the corner of Wellman and Arthur streets and on the corner of Brisbane and Charles Streets.

National Gallery of Australia collection online
Sidney Nolan, Death of Constable Scanlon, 1946, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, gift of Sunday Reed 1977

Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly series is a significant part of the National Gallery of Australia’s collection. It can be accessed through the gallery’s own collection search, on the CAN database and through Picture Australia on CAN.

Ned Kelly won the hearts of the common people by reacting against the unscrupulous squatter practices of forcing small selectors off their land. He justified the thievery by playing up to his Irish heritage and claiming that he, and others like him, were victims of their establishment and anti-Irish police – even though 80% of police were Irish at the time. and his brothers were forced to resort to stock stealing and other unlawful activities just to survive. Glenrowan, the hometown of the Kelly family and the place where most notorious bushranger had his last shoot-out, boasts a striking seven metre high statue of Ned Kelly with his rifle. At Stringbark Creek, Kelly shot two of the four policemen dead including Constable Scanlon which became the subject of one of Sidney Nolan’s paintings began his best known series of works based on Ned Kelly and the bushranger legend in 1945, which were exhibited in Paris in 1948. These two artworks are part in the National Gallery of Australia.

Northern Territory
Katherine Museum (secondary material not online)
In 1909, Timothy and Catherine (O’Keefe) O’Shea arrived in Port Darwin ready to start prospecting for gold. They found their way to Pine Creek where they built a home and pegged down the rights to the Enterprise Mine. O’Shea then went on to build a billiard saloon, a hotel and worked on the railway line from Pine Creek to Emungalan from 1917 to 1926.

Timothy O’Shea is pictured standing beside his wife on their wedding day with very dusty shoes. They had walked from Tralee to Killarney in Ireland to the ceremony in 1907. He hired his suit, hat and gloves for the occasion. They went on to have six children.

4 Responses to “Irish Professionals in Australia: Connecting CAN Partners”

  1. Barry McDonald Says:

    I’m putting the finishing touches on research into the history of my 16 great-great grandparents, no less than 15 of whom came from Ireland to NSW, the earliest of them arriving in 1836, none later than 1864.
    Their wide sociological canvas spreads from John Barry, convict, to D.J. O’Neill who occupied ten thousand square miles of grazing country on his death in 1884. D.J. O’Neill’s land was located in western NSW, north Qld, the Northern Terrtory, and the Kimberley. The Duracks purchased some of their Kimberley holdings from D.J. O’Neill’s estate. I have stories, some (very few) photographs, and no artefacts. If you’re interested in getting in touch with me, please feel free. regards, Barry

  2. Barry McDonald Says:

    Just further to my last comment. The descendants of these 15 Irish emigrants pretty well all ended up in professions. There are many, many lawyers, doctors, teachers etc amongst em, as well as a swag of high-ranking nuns and priests. I’m not blowing a trumpet here, but I noticed that you’re interested in Irish (descended?) professionals. Cheers.

  3. Hellen Boblett Says:

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  4. Christine Ryan Says:

    I’ve been looking for this info for a while now. thanks.

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