McMahon/ Conyngham Family – by Frank McMahon

The Family History of Francis McMahon (Ca.1815 – 1897)


The first – in 1841 – of his extended Co Monaghan family to emigrate.

[In two parts. Post 1900 part is here.]

By Frank McMahon in 2009.




There are a lot of McMahons in Australia and our immediate family is a small part of a large group that was generated by the migration of one man to Sydney in 1841. That man was Francis McMahon, a 26year old farming labourer from Ballybay in County Monaghan, Ireland. He was the eldest son of Matthew and Elizabeth McMahon of Aghabog, County Monaghan. The family farmed 15 acres of the Faltagh Townland, which they had leased for the annual sum of 15s6d. I do not have a date of their marriage, but, it was probably in about 1814 and their union, over time, resulted in the birth of many children of whom, it would appear, at least 10 ultimately migrated to Australia. The known family tree of that McMahon family is included here , but there may have been more children born than shown in the ‘tree’. Although apparently at least 10 siblings of Francis immigrated to Australia after him, this account of the McMahon family really only considers Francis, his wife Catherine, nee Conyngham and their children, with additional emphasis on the family of Francis John McMahon, my grandfather. Other Irish born family members are referred to occasionally as they interact with the above named.




Fifteen acres of farmland in Ireland was quite a parcel of land at that time, although it probably would have been difficult for it to maintain an ever- increasing family. I therefore wondered what would have prompted Francis to leave the family farm and seek his fortune in Sydney, half a world away. In addition, the method of getting to Sydney was also problematic and America and Canada were much closer. In the 1840s, a trip to Australia involved a 120-day voyage by sailing ship, from London to Cape Town, South Africa, or sometimes to Cape Town via Rio De Janeiro, then across the Southern Ocean, around Tasmania and up the east coast of NSW to Sydney, often in sailing conditions that were very dangerous.




I spoke to an Irish woman last year, who herself had migrated to Sydney about 40 years ago and who had an historical knowledge of what Ireland’s living conditions were like in the early 1800s. She believed the decision would have been the result of a general family discussion on what the future held for them all. She believed that the discussions led to the decision that Francis, the eldest, should investigate the possibilities of a new life in Australia on behalf of members of the family, particularly as transportation of convicts had ended in May 1840 and the Government was offering assisted passages to attract migrants. This was prescribed by the English Colonial Government’s Order~in-Council ending transportation to New South Wales on 22 May 1840. There was a push by the English Government for free settlers to migrate to Australia to help populate the country and provide skilled labour to help develop the new colony’s economy.




The assisted passages they were offering included a charge of only £5 ($10) for single males under the age of 30 years. As Francis was the eldest and obviously the most experienced, they probably considered he was the one most likely to be able to set up some form of business in Sydney after he arrived. He may have been entrusted with some family funds to do that, with the hope that he would be successful and be able to bring some of his siblings out to Sydney as the business developed. He must have been under some pressure to succeed, for his whole family would have been depending on him and it appears that he certainly did not let them down. The prosperity gained by Francis and his siblings in the first 40 years of Francis‘ life in NSW, show that they knew the quality of the man in whom they had placed their trust. Publications that I have been able to access over tjme from placed their trust. Publications that I have been able to access over time from other researchers looking at various members of the extended McMahon family, seem to indicate that Francis continued to act as a ‘father’ figure for his siblings and other people to whom they became associated throughout his life.




From information provided by another researcher, Mrs Joan (Murray) Dawes of Roseville NSW, I have been able to confirm which of the siblings migrated and most of their birth dates and also list most of the dates of their arrival in Australia and where they were living at their death. As far as I have been able to determine, the family members who migrated were: Francis (1815-1897) ‘Pearl” 1841, died Annandale NSW Rose (1820-1876) ‘United Kingdom’ in 1848; died St George NSW. Edward (1821-1911) ‘Rajastan’ in 1855; Ulladulla, NSW. Margaret (1824-?) ‘Victoria’ in 1849 Bernard (1826-1863) ‘Elizabeth’ in1844; Ulladulla NSW Michael (1828-1904) ‘Victoria’ in 1849; Annandale, NSW. Thomas (1828-1911) Ulladulla NSW James (1830-1909) ‘Samuel Plimsoll’ in1874; Wooroowoolgen, NSW. Catherine (1834-1912) and Ann ( 1836-?)also died in Ulladulla, NSW.




I have not attempted to track down the progress of these people or any of their families but copies of descendant records also given to me by Joan Dawes, give more details of these McMahon families and are included herewith. Where information given to me, which includes the connection of other early families to Francis Snr or his siblings is of interest, I have included that also. If you inspect the south coast parish maps or check Lands Dept vendor records, that Francis and many of his siblings were active in properly transactions in Sydney, Milton, Ulladulla and other areas of NSW throughout the 1800s.




The problems that were developing in Ireland in the early 1800s, included, among other things; the increase in Ireland’s population and the progress of the industrial revolution in Britain, which was changing the prosperity of Ireland. The population increased from 2.5 million in 1760s to over 5 million by the early 1800s and 8 million at the time of the first census in 1841. About 2/3rds of the people depended on the land for a living at that time, often producing agricultural products for export to Britain. This population increase might have been due, in part, to the increased cultivation of potatoes throughout the country, which provided a sustainable source of healthy food for families on relatively small plots of land. This increase in the consumption of potatoes caused a rapid subdivision of land, which would have led to increasing rental costs of land and as this subdivision trend increased, croppers often found that they had to sell a large portion of their crop just to survive. There is an interesting history of Ireland in our bookshelf by Robert Kee, should you wish to find out more about those times.




Thus poverty was again returning to the farmers of Ireland and this trend was probably at about the time the McMahon family discussions would have been taking place. I assume the family could see what was ahead of them and together with the other problems that were also developing in Ireland at the time, both political and industrial, decided that they should take some action to safeguard their future. Also, there was a threat to the country’s potato crops starting to occur in different counties. Potato crop failures had occurred almost yearly in different counties from 1817 onward. The potato fungus, causing the crop failures, ultimately decimated the total potato crop in Ireland, causing the terrible famine from 1846 to 1848. This famine was estimated to have caused the deaths of about of 1 million people as well as the migration of 1.5 million to America and Canada. Francis must have been very worried about the fate of his family when that news reached him in Sydney.




Francis may have spent time working in England before boarding the ship to take him on his journey, possibly getting as much information as he could about his new venture as well as extra funds. He boarded the sailing ship ‘Pearl’, which left London on 16 April 1841, arriving in Sydney on 17 August 1841, that is, about 11 months before Sydney was proclaimed a city on 20 July 1842. The voyage took 124 days and probably included a stopover at Capetown , South Africa.. It should also be remembered that the 1st fleet took 8 months to reach Port Jackson, spending 6 months at sea.




The average passage times improved gradually with improved ship design from about 140 days in 1820, 120 days in 1849 and when the fast American Clipper sailing ships started bringing out tea shipments for Sydney and prospectors for the gold fields, using the grand circle route of the far southern ocean, passage times dropped to below 80 days. The Clippers were exciting sailing vessels with huge sail areas and skippers whose sole aim was to beat the competition to deliver their goods. Even after steamships became more popular it took some while before they were able to match the passage times of the ‘clippers’, and photographs of Sydney harbour taken in the early 1900s still show large sailing ships at dock.




The ship’s documents listed in Volume 53 in the Mitchell Library show that Francis was listed as ‘an immigrant British subject who had been imported into the Colony or Government County by the shipping company Nicholas Samuel’. This was in pursuance of an authority granted to them by the Colonial Government hearing of May 1840 and that he had arrived by the ship ’Pearl’ on 17-8-1841. The shipping papers list his age as 23 not 26; this may have been an error of transcription; a ploy of his to ensure he was given a suitable passage, or maybe under 25s had some benefit offered to them, who knows. Whatever the reason, as shown by his death at the age of 82 in 1897, he was 26yrs of age when he landed in Sydney in 1841.




On the ship were a total of 207 persons comprising: 49 single males 73 single females 85 in family groups (36 males; 34 females; 15 children.) Religions: Protestants 83; Roman Catholics 124. Source of immigrants: England 3; Scotland nil; Ireland 204. List of Trades: Male: Agric labourer74; Carpenter 3; Shepherd 1;Gardener 2; House servant 3; Blacksmith 1; Groom 1.        Female: House servant 30;Dairymaid 1;.Nursemaid 4; Dressmaker 2; Farm Servant 12; Kitchen maid 5; Needlewoman 1; Governess 1;Cook 2; Laundress 1;Housemaid 14. The total bounty paid to the shipping company was £3723, a lot of money in those days and a very large sum in today’s equivalent currency.




Francis McMahon Sr    1815-1897. [Painting by Joseph Backler,(1813-1895) donated to Mitchell Library in 1986 by Frank McMahon.]

While he arrived in Sydney in August 1841, the Sands records in the Mitchell Library in Sydney do not show evidence of his grocery shop before 1844; that is, the business that he developed and which brought him success in Sydney and provided the funds for his successful return to farming in the south coast. He could have been investigating the possible businesses available, or earning money and learning the ropes by working in another business till he had enough to set himself up. No family records indicate how he established himself; all they seem to say is that he arrived in 1844 (sic) and immediately set up the grocery business. The shipping records discount that concept and it does not seem reasonable that he would have set up a business immediately on his arrival. All l have been able to find out is that he was first registered as a grocer, tea and provision merchant at a warehouse at No.219, on the western side of George St., Sydney in 1844. Depending on when the records were compiled, being registered in 1844 could also mean that he may have started the business after registration time in the previous year, so we should say for accuracy, that he started the grocery business at 219 George St. in 1843/4. lt is recorded that the business was near the “Jew’s Harp” Hotel, which was at the northern corner of Goulburn Street. My original thought was that his original address would have situated his first shop in the Sydney ‘Rocks’ area, but recent information discounts that, because in 1844 George St. was numbered from the southern end and numbering from the northern end did not occur until 1855.




The 2nd shop was at 209 George in 1847, that is, further towards ‘Brickfield Hill’ and the 3rd expansion was in 1851 ,when he opened, firstly, a warehouse at 171 George St and in addition, a shop at 245 George St. that is, northward and further back towards the ‘Rocks’ area than his first establishment.




The next move was again northward in the renumbered George St., to No 400 in 1855, now on the western side of the street, probably about where Market St is now and north of where the Sydney Town Hall now stands at No. 483 George St and north of the QVB at Nos 429-481. The records show that the business was on that site from 1855 to 1857.The street numbering was from the northern end but the even numbers were on the western side. This was changed again in 1858 when the odd numbers were changed to the westem side of the street, as it is today.




Adding a further bit of history, the Sydney Town Hall, completed in 1889, was on the site of the

Old Sydney Burial Ground after its closure in 1820 and its transfer to the Brickfield Hill site. This latter site was taken over for the Central Railway Station and then Rookwood became Sydney’s main cemetery. The QVB construction on the site of the old Sydney Markets was completed In 1898. In 1858 Francis again moved the business, this time, to 553 George St, which was shown by Lands Dept records as being part of the Ultimo Estate, which probably meant that it was a reasonably large property. The current site at that address is only a small block and is currently the site of the “3 Monkeys” hotel, and is on the north western corner of George and Liverpool Sts diagonally opposite where the Anthony Horderns store was built in 1856, that is, 2 years before Francis Snr., moved the business to No 553.




Francis John McMahon Jun.. Oldest in Show. 1935. Did not miss a Sydney Show in 65 years.

My Grandfather, Francis John, who was an excellent horse rider by all accounts, as told by my father and by the newspapers of the early 1900s, said that he had learnt to ride while being carried around as an infant on horseback in the stockyards of his father’s property on Brickfield Hill. This comment, which is recorded in the clippings accompanying the family history, would support the premise that this particular site was quite large and would also support my father’s claims that his grandfather’s business had stables and paddocks for his horses near the Anthony Horderns store.




The Mitchell Library Sands records show that the McMahon grocery business was on the No 553 site during 1858 and 1859, but not after that, so I assumed that 1860 was when the business was sold and the move to Milton took place. l found confirmation of this sale date on checking the Lands Dept records. There, I found that Francis was in partnership in the grocery business on this final site with one Lawrence Bergin and that the partners sold the property to Francis Oakes and George Allen on 2nd July 1860 for the sum of £1400. Shortly after that, Francis sold his share of the land to his partner, Lawrence Bergin, for £450, who continued in the wholesale grocery business at No 529 George Street after the split up of the partnership.




A retail store continued on the No.553 site at least till 1870. A John Hurst was shown as a grocer there till 1863 and Griffith Thomas & Co till 1865 and then the Dalys took over till 1867. The site then seems to have become a retail painter’s store till at least 1870. The Sands records can give you more information if required. l’ve not been able to find records yet that gives the information as for how much the business was sold, but no doubt it was a reasonable amount considering the land Francis was able to purchase in Milton.




Additional information regarding one of Francis’ siblings was supplied in a booklet by researcher Keith McLaren entitled; “Tracing people and properties in the Haymarket area 1830-1880”. it indicated that the Waugh & Cox’s 1855 directory listed both Francis and his younger brother Michael as grocers but not at the same address. While Francis was shown at No. 400 as previously listed, Michael was at No. 460 George St., maybe in or near the Sydney Markets. Michael, who arrived in 1849. married Emmerline. the daughter of John and Ellen Beriy in 1856. John was a convict transported for life in 1822 at the age of 20 for stealing a handkerchief, valued at 4s, and in 1832 was assigned to David Warden, a corn chandler. ln 1834, Warden allowed John Berry to marry Ellen McCrone, a free settler, who arrived in 1832 and they subsequently developed their own corn handling business and I suppose Michael could have also been involved. The same booklet also seems to indicate that the McMahon Snr.and Berry families had business and residences near each other.




We can be sure, that following the sale of the business and land at 553 George St., 1860 was the year when the family of the 45-year-old Francis McMahon moved to Milton. This was after he and Kate had run the grocery business for 16 years and over that time probably assisted 6 or more siblings to migrate to Australia.




The family then comprised: Catherine (or Kate) aged 30, together with their children; Matthew Bernard (10), Francis John (7), Rose Clare (4) and Edward (2). Two young girls, Mary Anne (1852) and Elizabeth Clare (1855). were born earlier in Francis and , Catherine’s partnership, but had died in the first year of their lives. Another male child, Austin John was born in Ulladulla in 1869 and l believe he may have died in Sydney in1948. Also Edward died from a farm accident in 1884.




l gave my colleague Stuart the wrong information about the grocery business when he was living in Muswellbrook. The business had not been on the site of the Horderns store nor had his business been sold to the Horderns. My father who put on paper his memories of what had happened when l asked for information of our family’s history, put this allegation in the notes he gave me a couple of years before he died. While l am correcting what l believe to be incorrect stories, l should also correct what I believe to be the misinformation about the alleged business association of Francis and Quong Tart, the well-known 19 Centuiy Chinese businessman who was attacked in his office in the late 1880s.




That story, which was also listed in my father’s notes, was that Francis and Quong had jointly opened teashops around Sydney using the tea from the shipments that Francis imported. l am confident that this is incorrect for a number of reasons. As mentioned above, Francis and Kate had sold their grocery business in 1860 and left Sydney for Milton and did not retum to Sydney till May 1891. Francis was 76years of age when they returned and by his photo at that time, looked rather frail. Apparently he had been suffering from heart problems for some time and subsequently died of that problem in 1897. On their return to Sydney they rented the house at Annandale from a Sydney Smith and l believe, looking at the time factors outlined below, it would have been most unlikely that Francis would have joined in a business venture with Quong Tart after he left Sydney.




Quong was born in 1850, arriving in the NSW goldfields as a boy in 1859. He came to Sydney in the late 1870s and set up as a fabric merchant. The story then goes that he used to offer tea to his customers while sewing them and realised that there was an opening for tearooms; so, opened his 1st tearoom in the Sydney Arcade in 1881 and his 2nd in the Royal Arcade in 1883. He married a lady by the name of Margaret Scarlet in 1886 and l think Margaret was a forebear of the Rorke family. The Rorkes include the NSW cricketer Gordon Rorke and his sons, Gordon Rugby Club players Bernie and Hayden, and they told me that they are related to the family of Quong Tart. Also, when I put the proposition of the partnership of Francis with Quong Tart to Mrs Rorke, she strongly denied any possibility of such an association. A further factor confirming the denial of any association is the lack of mention of such an activity in Francis’ will on his death.




Investigations have proved these stories to be incorrect, but I now believe that my grand parents would have been traumatised by the sudden loss of their wealth and lifestyle when Francis and Kate died 11 months apart in 1897 and 1898. These deaths happened in the middle of the 1890 depression and after the declaration of the wills in 1899, two of their children, my grandparents‘ siblings, challenged the wills in the Equity Court. The reasons for the challenge were not initially clear, but subsequent information seems to indicate that not all of Francis’ and Kate’s assets had been included in their wills. Maybe the children who issued the challenge, Rose Clare and Austin John, knew something of this and felt that only by going to the court would they get answers, not knowing that the result would be devastating to everyone.




The challenge resulted in a punishing court decision and the families had no way of resolving the financial problems involved except by selling off all their assets. Because it became a court action, all the relevant creditors got involved; such as the banks, finance companies, vendors, suppliers, employees etc. It took 11 years to clear up the mess resulting from the court ruling; much as it does in bankruptcy situations now and also as is now, the only people to gain from the case was the legal teams. What they had to endure through that 11 years must have been very difficult for them and so it may have been that my grandparents invented some stories to try and relieve some of their children’s pain. I believe this distress was still evident when my father wrote home in various letters while he was away at the war and which are in the folder of letters I gave you. I will deal in more detail with the families’ losses and what I believe to be the reasons later in this story.




This begins another part of the McMahon family story.

I must back track a little here, because whilst developing the store at 209 George St., Francis

Catherine (Conyngham) McMahon 1830 – 1898. [Painting by Joseph Backler (1813-1895), donated to Mitchell Library in 1986  by Frank McMahon.]

married Catherine Mary Conyngham in St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Sydney, on 1August 1849. Catherine, often called ‘Kate’, was the grand daughter of Mary McCarroll and George Marshall, two convicts, who were transported to Sydney after being found guilty of crimes in England and Ireland. George Marshall, a ‘clothier’, born in 1783, was sentenced at the English Somerset Assizes on 4″‘ April 1808 after being found guilty of stealing cloth and clothing to the value of £14-16s. He was given a life sentence and transported to Sydney on the ‘SS Indian’ arriving on 16″‘ December 1810. On his arrival in Sydney, because of his experience with fabrics, he was assigned to work for a Simeon Lord, an ex convict who became a textile manufacturer, making blankets and similar products. George Marshall was given a conditional pardon in 1818 and granted 300 acres at Botany in 1826 and an absolute pardon in 1828 shortly before he died. Mary McCarrol, also known as McArdle, was given a 14 year sentence on her conviction in Dublin in October 1812 and transported to Sydney aboard the ‘SS Catherine’, nominally as a widow, arriving on the 4″‘ May 1814. Mary and George were married in St. Phillips Church, Sydney in 1815 and their union produced two children, Mary Anne Marshall, who was born in 1815 and Charles born in 1817. Mary McCarrol received a certificate of freedom in 1826 at the age of 45 and died in Sydney in 1838.




Mary Anne, at the age of 15 yrs, married Edward Conyngham on the 11 January 1830. Edward was an Irishman from Dublin, who arrived in Sydney (via shipwreck at Cape Verde) as a free settler in 1829. Mary Anne gave birth to 5 children before her death in July 1844 at the age of 29. Early marriage, large families and the early deaths of mothers were not uncommon in those days, nor was the early death of children. After Mary Anne’s death, Edward Conyngham, who died in Milton on 28 October 1868 at the age of 68, married again to Mary Anne Greenwood and that union resulted in the birth of a further 8 children but I am only considering Catherine’s family and to some extent, that of Elizabeth.




Mary Anne’s five children were: Catherine Mary (Kate), born 7″‘ November 1830 died 10″‘ April 1898. George Mathias 1833-52; Mary1835-38; Elizabeth Clare 1837-1921. and Edward who died about 1845.




Catherine Conyngham, the eldest child of Edward’s first marriage, as mentioned above, married Francis in 1849 at the age of 19yrs and became his partner in life, bearing his children and apparently helping him every step of the way with his grocery business and other business interests as well. This is shown by the frequency of her name on property purchase and sale documents both in her own name or jointly with Francis. She was obviously very much a partner in Francis’ life. I am unsure where they lived while running the business but probably in or near the shop premises.




Catherine’s younger sister, Elizabeth, known as ‘Lizzie’, married Charles Murray in 1856, also at the age of 19, and they settled in Milton. My father mentioned that Elizabeth persuaded Francis and Catherine to move to Milton and this certainly looks to be the reason for the sale of their grocery business in Sydney in 1860, their move to Milton and Francis taking up farming again. ln fact, records show that Francis, listed as Francis John, obtained property in Woodburn in 1858, so he did not appear to have needed much convincing. A publication called ‘Men of Mark’ Version 2, now held at the Wollongong City Library, gives details in pages 182-4 of Francis Snr’s successes in Sydney and Milton and this article, which was published in 1899 written from an interview of my grandfather Francis Jnr, supports comments by my father in the notes he gave me. However, details of the estates of Francis and Kate on their death tell another story, and I believe other factors not previously known or considered by our family should be taken into account, including the 1890 financial depression and Francis’ interest in purchasing land around the State. I will look further at this part of the family history later on in this story. From what I have been able to gather from my father and others; and little bits of information I seem to have gathered over time, the McMahon lifestyle in the Milton area was that of well-to-do farmers with interests in cattle, property and other activities associated with living on a successful country property. This would also seem to be borne out by my father’s adventures with well-to-do families in England, which he enjoyed while he was recovering from the wounds he received in Gallipoli, as also related in the wartime letter file I mentioned previously.

McMahon land NSW South Coast

Francis and Kate achieved a land grant of 220 acres in 1860 and over time the McMahon family purchased a total of over 700 acres of property in the Conjola, Milton, Ulladulla, Woodburn and Mimosa Park areas as shown on the Parish maps. They apparently ran cattle, particularly dairy, and had a considerable interest in horses. It would seem that Francis Snr. ran the properties with the help of his son, Francis John, until he married the eldest daughter of the Ewin family, Emma Lee, on Monday 7 August 1882 at Woodstock, the Ewin’s property. Emma, my grandmother, who died in 1912 long before I was born, received an inheritance from her father’s estate, with some of it not distributed until after her death and I hold letters from the Ewin estate trustees to my aunt Cecilia which mention her claims on Emma Lee’s estate.




This latter part of the inheritance was responsible for our branch of the McMahon family, that is, my grandfather and his eldest daughter my aunt Cecilia being able to purchase what became the family home in James St, Manly in 1912. So the family were finally able to move into their own home after living in rented properties around Sydney while my grandparents sorted out the financial problems caused by the Equity Court judgement. The stress of this affair may have contributed to the death of my grandmother from a brain haemorrhage at the age of 47.




The 1890 depression and the prolonged recovery from it, probably affected the viability of the estate of William Walter Ewin as well as the McMahons. His estate was handled differently to that of Francis and Catherine in that he had appointed mainly non-family trustees to look after his affairs and despite having their own legal problems, they seemed more able to weather the depression than the McMahon family. Although, they did not have to deal with an Equity Court will challenge. It would appear that they withheld funds from the recipients till a recovery occurred and ultimately distributed the funds that became available and so Emma Lee’s share of her father’s estate was finally distributed after her death. The Ewin family were staunch Congregationalists and Emma, marrying into a Roman Catholic family, no doubt caused considerable family upset. How much so, can possibly be seen by the details of the wedding. The marriage of Francis Jnr, who was a member of a very well-to-do Milton family at that time, to Emma Lee the eldest daughter of another wealthy Milton farming family, was held at 11am on a Monday morning at the Ewins’ home, ‘Woodstock’, celebrated by a Catholic Clergyman. This was instead of being a town social event with the couple being married in a church with all the trimmings one would normally expect such a wedding to enjoy.




The wedding invitation, a copy of which is shown in Joanne Ewin’s publication ‘The Ewins of Milton’ does not even mention the groom’s name, which I think one could regard as unusual and would give some indication of the turmoil that the wedding caused. Also, because Emma was under the age of 21, her mother had to give her consent to the marriage. This consent was recorded by the Priest as given by the ’Mother of the Bride’ and her mother’s name was not mentioned anywhere on the document, which to me also name was not mentioned anywhere on the document, which to me also seemed unusual.




My father mentions in his notes, that Emma’s mother’s relations, the Hindmarshs, shunned her and because of religious attitudes at that time I believe that could have been the case. I also wonder what was her mother’s reaction to the wedding. It should be realised, that at that time and for quite a while after, marriages between Catholics and Protestants were not popular with those of the Protestant faith. They were rare and usually meant that the non-catholic had to change religions or agree to the children of such a marriage being raised as Roman Catholics before the wedding would be accepted by the Catholic Church. This requirement was something that Protestant families rarely liked. It certainly happened in this case as all the McMahon children were raised as Catholics and I believe Emma converted to the Catholic faith. l don’t know what the attitude was with the rest of the family, but because she was treated similarly to her sisters in her father’s will and my father speaks well and knowingly of the Ewin family members, I doubt there were any problems from her siblings in fact it would appear they were a very close family. Admittedly, because Emma’s father had died some 4 years before the marriage, the will details could not have been changed in any case, so the will cannot be considered as a guide to attitude.




This situation between Protestants and Catholics continued until late into the 20C, when fortunately, it started to be overcome with a person’s religion not being regarded as an important feature when partners of different faith now marry. Emma Lee was born at ‘Woodstock’ on 17 December 1864. Her father was Walter William Ewin, a farmer, who arrived from England about 1853 and married Cecilia Sophia Hindmarsh at the Hindmarsh family home “Alne Bank” at Gerringong on 12 March 1858. The other forbears of the Ewin family of whom Emma Lee was a member, were also English migrants. Michael Hindmarsh, who was Emma’s maternal grandfather, had arrived in Tasmania in 1822 and moved to NSW soon after. In 1826 he married Cecilia Sophia Rutter, also an English migrant, but of Dutch descent, and then sired 14 children of whom Emma’s mother was the 5th born. The Hindmarshes farmed at Campbelltown until they received the grant of 640 acres at Gerringong. The Ewin family lived with the Hindmarshes at ‘Alne Bank’ for the first 2 years of their married life, then the family moved to a leased property at Croobyar before purchasing 1100 acres of the ‘Woodstock’ property for £6000. This purchase was part of the 2560 acres that had been granted to William Wason.




Two little girls, Susan and Cecilia, were born at Gerringong, but sadly the 3 and 4 year-olds died from scarlet fever within 3 days of each other in 1864 at Woodstock. Their home at Woodstock was only a short distance from Ulladulla harbour and sailors used to stay at the farm and it is believed that the infection was brought to the property by someone off one of the boats. This was not uncommon in those days; sailors landing in Australia from overseas often brought in infectious diseases; in fact common diseases such as measles seriously affected the Aborigine population when the First Fleet arrived.




A further 8 children were born at ‘Woodstock’, most living to adulthood. Emma’s siblings were; her brothers; William, Arthur, George and David; and her sisters; Jane, Florence, Alice and Margaret. Emma and her sisters were educated at a college in Ashfield, Sydney, after Primarv school, probablv the.lllawarra Steamship. Line, from Ulladulla. Emma was an excellent horsewoman and won many trophies in her own right as well as in partnership with her future husband, Francis John, my grandfather.




Possibly their interest in horse riding led to the mutual attraction of the 18yr old Emma to the 28yr old Francis John. Emma’s father, William, died due to a horse accident at the age of 56 in May 1878, when Emma was 14. Her mother, Cecilia Sophia survived her husband by 35 years and apparently was a remarkable woman. After having 11 children, she managed her deceased husband’s property till her sons were old enough to take over, acted as a midwife and travelled the country helping sick people and looking after aborigines for many years. More details of Emma’s family can be obtained from Joanne and Lyall Ewin’s publication ‘The ‘Ewins of Milton’ published in February 1985. Lyall Ewin, the grandson of David Robert Ewin, Emma’s youngest brother, married Joanne Ross-Smith and they have 4 children; Michael, Melinda, Philippa and Sophia. Lyell and Michael now farm the ‘Chase’ at Milton in the area known as ‘Woodstock’ after Lyell and Joanne purcnased ‘|the Chase in 1972 and part of ‘Woodstock’ in 1980. We met Joanne and Lyall at the Ewin family reunion in February 1985 and we have kept in contact ever since.




Francis and Kate gave the newly-weds a 1280-acre property at Brooman on the Clyde River as a wedding present, but l don’t know whether Francis J. and Emma lived there for any length of time because Emma’s household records show that they were operating out of Mimosa Park in 1889. Also comments in the same record book indicate that they thought the Brooman property was a very lonely place, so it is more likely that they set up the property and then leased it out. The same record book also shows that Francis and Emma stayed at Milton till 1897 when they moved to Sydney to help look after Francis Snr till his death on 22 May. Then, in June, they rented a house at 16s per week in Sydney while they helped look after Kate till her death on 10 April 1898.




Francis and Emma then rented a house called ‘Careel’ in Oxford St Sydney in1899 at a rent of £3-12-0 per month. Unfortunately Emma died of a cerebral haemorrhage at the age of 47 in Lewisham, Sydney on 11″‘ February 1912, that is, 15 years after they had left Milton. The Brooman property was included for sale with other properties when the Equity Court judgement as handed down and was sold in March 1901., My father reminisced about Brooman in the written notes he gave me. Gwen and l went looking for this property with Joanne Ewin in May of this year. l had been able to obtain a parish map indicating that it was on a bend of the Clyde River. We were successful in locating the area and it now appears to be the property called ‘Clyde View’ listed on state forest and topographical maps of the area near Prospect hill. It is about 35 kms southwest of Milton, that is south of the Pigeon House Mountain and l can understand why Emma and Francis were not keen on the property. It is very isolated even now, with access only by a gravel road and with only a few old timber houses built there, some of which are derelict. The property is quite hilly and a long way from the their friends and families in the Milton and Ulladulla areas. We were lucky to see the property on a dry day. A few weeks later over an inch of rain fell in the area and Joanne told us that she thinks we would have had difficulty getting out, if it had rained while we were there, due to the road conditions resulting.




Like his father before him, Francis Jnr continued with dairying but apparently his main love was horses. l would assume Emma also enjoyed this aspect of their farming life as she and her husband both competed in shows, but looking after her family would have curtailed her riding activities. After her wedding in 1882 she gave birth to 8 children of whom 4 died in infancy. The children were; Cecilia Sophia 1883-1966, Catherine 1885, Emma 1886-7, Francis William 18.87-1968. Edward David 1890-1962, Walter 1892-3, Mary 1897-8, William 1887-1968, Edward David 1890-1962, Walter 1892-3, Mary 1897-8, and Vivienne Jean 1900-81. As you know, I am the only issue of the above 4 children who survived to adulthood. No wonder we were the lost tribe when we went to the Ewin family reunion in 1985.




lt would seem after Francis J. and Emma were married and could have taken over the running of the McMahon properties, Francis and Kate decided to retire to Sydney and in 1885, when they were 70 and 55 respectively, they bought three lots of land in Nth Annandale and my initial assumption was that was where they had planned to retire. However family records show this was not the case. l had also presumed that this was where they built ‘Glencairn’, however I recently located a federation style home at 16 Johnstone St, Annandale, that is, at the address mentioned in the death certificates of Francis Snr and Kate.




Emma Lee’s diary showed that they rented that property from Sydney Smith of the Sydney Freehold Land, Building & Finance Company from 7 June 1891 till 23 March 1897 at £120 per annum. Lands Dept records also show that the site of ‘Glencairn’ was part of a 309 acre property owned in August 1878 by The Sydney Freehold Land Building and lnvestment Co. Then, Frank Bennett purchased it in 1887, followed by Alexander Brown in 1914. So this information confirms Emma’s diary entry that the home was rented in 1891 and the family did not purchase the property as confirmed by the above search of the ownership of the Johnstone St property at the Lands Dept. This also establishes the fact that Francis and Kate retired to Annandale in Sydney in 1891 and not earlier as was originally thought.




l could not find any evidence of when the three Nth Annandale lots were sold unless in July 1899 by Austin John as ‘all interests under the will’. A further possibility is that these were properties in View St, Annandale, which could be regarded as being in Nth Annandale and may have been associated with a possible arrangement that Francis had with his brother-in-law Charles Murray, but l cannot confirm that possibility.




The Sands records at the State library show that Francis and Kate occupied ‘Glencairn’ from 1891 till 1897 and Kate from 1898 till 1899. Charles Murray, by the way, was listed as occupying No 51 View St from 1888 onward; the property was called ‘Corowa’ from 1898.




l have not been able to obtain any information as to their activities from 1882 till Francis’ death in 1897. However, l would think that Francis and Kate would have still been involved with the properties to some degree until they decided to move back to Sydney in1891. Also as this was the period through which the 1890 depression was developing and as Francis had been suffering from heart problems for some years, they were also probably trying to enjoy their retirement as best they could. l would have thought that Catherine’s death, from cancer and liver problems, in 1898 at the age of 68 only 11 months after the death of her husband, was a severe shock to the family. No doubt her illness would have put considerable stress on her as she was attempting to sort out their financial problems.




Francis’ will gave everything to Catherine, and appointed her sole executrix. His will was dated 7 June 1397 even though he had died on 22 May 1897, so obviously their solicitor was able to cover for the discrepancy. Francis’ estate was sworn at under £22,900 with £22,600 being the stated value of the real estate on which mortgages totalling £16,400 were owed. ln addition, moneys owed to trades people for food and services, bank overdrafts, rates and taxes, unpaid wages etc amounted to £1750, which meant that total debt amounted to £18,150. Thus the net value of the estate listed by the probate office was only £4850.




Considering that the economy was in the grip of a severe financial depression, property valuations stated were probably not at a value at which they could find buyers. Also because of the collapse of the financial institutions and the closures of banks that had occurred, their ability to obtain loans to pay off their creditors would have been difficult, particularly as the successful head of the family was no longer guiding their businesses. in fact, because of the financial circumstances, they would not have been able to readily obtain cash, from sales of property or goods, to pay off their creditors. Thus, the estate was actually in deficit and Kate would have been in a very difficult situation trying to sort out the financial problems while battling serious illness. A photo found in the family collection, now believed to be Kate, showed her to be very ill indeed. lt would appear that the family was well and truly in the grip of the 1890 depression and probably did not understand the ramifications. The sad part of the situation was that Kate, in the 11 months before she died had to try and sort out the problem on her own, as well as trying to satisfy some of her children’s expectations.




The causes of this very severe financial downturn, which engulfed them, had been developing throughout the previous decade and were caused by dropping wool prices, over-spending by the Government and associated factors and subsequently caused severe unemployment and many bank and business failures. As mentioned above, bank failures would have made it very difficult to run overdrafts, borrow money, pay wages, buy commodities etc., and the banks or their administrators would have been chasing funds borrowed e.g, to buy property, pay debts, just the very things that are showing up in the wills of Francis and Kate. More information on the depression is given in the paper written by Phil Griffiths of Canberra, titled ‘Crisis in Australian History’.

Catherine’s will was listed as a long will and the estate was sworn as under £24,940 of which, the real estate was valued at £24,700. However, debts, including property mortgages of £16,150, totalled £16,950 with miscellaneous debts totalling about £800.Thus the net value of the estate was about £8000, a slight improvement on the state of Francis’ will, but still difficult to administer because, again, selling property would have been extremely difficult and the chance of getting the probate valuation of the land would have been most unlikely. in addition, it appeared that two of her children were waiting for their share.




Kate’s will is briefly outlined below: Francis John; 400 acres of land at Woodburn Austin John; 400 acres of land adjoining Woodburn, known as Mimosa Park. 1. ln the event of his death, the land to be sold and funds arising be distributed equally between Francis, Rose and children of Matthew, namely Francis Reginald and Vera Constance. 2. Francis J. will be at liberty to purchase Austin’s property amounted to £18,150. Thus the net value of the estate listed by the probate office was only £4850. Rose Clare Melliday; 100 acres of land plus all household furniture at Glencairn, except that given to Emma Lee Matthew Bernard; lf retiring from Government Service without a pension to be paid £1-10s per week for rest of his life (£1 from FJ & 10s from AJ ) Properties at Bathurst, Campbell St. Sydney and Milton to be sold to pay mortgages on all other properties and all other debts, the remainder to be divided equally between Francis J, Austin J, Rose C. Francis R and Vera C. The residue of the estate to be sold and proceeds invested to provide £3 per week to Emma Lee until the mortgages were paid off, and £1 per week to Rose and 15/- per week to Francis R. Probate was granted on this will on 30″‘ march 1898. Solicitor; H White. of 131 Pitt St.




As can be seen in the above and earlier information provided, land was a major part of the family’s business interests, and while checking on land sales and purchases, it was very interesting to observe how much property was bought and sold at that time, often land could be resold within months of the initial purchase and Francis was well into buying land as were other residents of NSW. Land transactions may have been the equivalent of today’s share market and certainly suffered the same ups and downs if you take the 1890 depression into account.




While l was looking at the old title Land’s Dept records, l saw purchases and sales in Francis’ or Kate’s name in Bathurst, Sydney, Milton, Ulladulla, Woodburn and more. Also, when l was trying to determine whether Francis and Kate had owned ‘Glencairn’, l came across a list of land sales by accident. On continuing to look, l started to see sales of the property that had obviously been decreed by the Equity Court in their decision on the challenge to Kate’s will and which also included property that did not appear to have been listed in the will. This property included over 100 lots of land at different towns around the state and probably comprised more than 3000 acres and included lots in, Corowa, Brewarrina and Penrith, as well additional lots at Ulladulla and Milton, Woodburn, Woodstock, the Brooman property and more in Sydney. This forced sale of assets took over 12years, commencing on 13th July 1899 and continued till December 1911.What a financial load it must of put on the family; no wonder photographs of my grandfather showed how the worry had aged him.




l could not believe how much land was involved; particularly when considering that most of it was under mortgage. it is hard to speculate on the thinking of Francis and Kate, but on the face of the documentation, they must have thought that their farm earnings would continue to support their desire for land. This apparent desire, the 1890 depression, its lead up and extended recovery period, certainly put an end to their dreams and to the fortunes of the whole family.

As mentioned above, Francis and Emma had been living at Milton, but came up to stay with Kate on the death of Francis Snr. Because ‘Broomarr was listed as their property in the Equity Court proceedings as a ‘deed of gift’, l wondered why Francis Jnr was willed the 400 acres at Woodburn as it must surely have stirred some resentment in the other siblings. However, this could be explained by Emma’s family notebook, which mentioned that Francis and Emma apparently did not want to live there, so Kate willed them the property they preferred. lt can also be seen from the way the will was written, that neither Kate, her family, nor her solicitor, really understood the position the family were in, what their total assets were, the state of the economy and how the depression would affect them.




Now we come to the challenge to the will and the ruling that was handed down by the Supreme Court of NSW in Equity on Monday 25“ September 1899. The initial plaintiffs were Rose Clare Melliday and Austin John McMahon. The defendants were: Francis J, Matthew B and Emma Lee McMahon; the children of Matthew namely Vera Constance and Francis Reginald and the children of Rose Melliday, namely Mary, Theodora, and Muriel. The court ordered that the wills of Francis Snr and Kate to be carried out but that a full examination was to take place of all debts, properties, legacies, annuities, estates, rents, profits, encumbrances and all the books and papers relating to all their finances. in other words there was to be a full examination by the Master in Equity of every thing involved with the estates of Francis Snr and Jnr, Kate and everyone involved with this challenge. The order also included the payment of £3 per week to Francis J. by the receiver from the rents arising from the Woodburn estate and the balance of rents arising from the properties left to Rose and Austin in Kate’s will.




The costs of this challenge would have been enormous; for the plaintiffs and the defendants. Additional plaintiffs and defendants became involved, probably the financial people were getting involved too and they all had legal advice. My father mentioned that it took 8 years for all the investigations to be concluded, in fact it took over 12 years, which is understandable when you consider how long company investigations can take these days. The outcome was that it seems probably everybody lost and the only people to gain were the legals, again no different from to today when companies go into administration. Our family lost everything; fortunately, the Catholic Church assisted and they were able to live in rented property around Sydney until receiving the funds from W.W. Ewin’s estate after Emma’s death on 11 February 1912 as mentioned earlier.




The reason for the challenge is hard to fathom; jealousy maybe, a family dispute between the Mellidays and Francis J., the fact that Austin and Rose might have known about the other undeclared property, who knows; they obviously were not aware of how such a challenge would affect everyone. The outcome was that the whole McMahon family, started by an irish immigrant in 1841, went from riches to poverty because of a continued desire to acquire land, a very severe depression affecting the NSW economy and a will challenge by two children of the family’s founder. This may have been initiated because the challengers thought they were not getting the share of the estate that they believed they deserved and they did not appreciate the reasons why.




The challenge allowed everybody with a financial interest in the McMahon family affairs to get involved. The financial problems caused by the financial mismanagement of the state of NSW and the drop in the price of wool, that was the mainstay of the Australian economy at the time, caused the very severe 1890 financial depression and the fall-out affected many, many, people at the time and the McMahon family were no exception. ln view of the amount of assets under mortgage it cannot be known whether their debts could have been resolved if Francis and Kate had lived to guide the reconstruction so they could continue as farmers on a reduced scale in Milton.




My father mentioned that the estate of Walter W Ewin, his maternal grandfather, also had problems; my father said it was the trustees, but more likely they were also trying to battle through the financial crisis that was affecting W.W Ewin’s estate as well, but it would appear that they were at least able to save something from the wreckage of the 189O’s.




In putting this history together, l have attempted to correct obvious errors, made assumptions that l believe fitted the actions of the family members involved and tried to put together as accurate an account of the family‘s history as possible with no older members of the family still alive to give me guidance or explanations. l hope it is of interest to you.

Frank McMahon wrote the above document in July 2009 and followed it up later with a further paper continuing beyond 1900. This is here.