Friday, 23 March 2018

The Story of Owen McCane (Muckian)

My post this week is about my maternal Great Grandfather, Owen McCane (Muckian) (1859-1930).  Unfortunately I don't have any photos of him to share, and perhaps there aren't any in existence any more.

In the year of Owen's birth, French acrobat, Charles Blondin, became the first person to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope; George Simpson patented his electric range; Charles Darwin published his revolutionary text "On the Origin of Species" radically changing the view of evolution forever.

It was also the year that Queensland, here in Australia, was established as a separate state from New South Wales. That happened on the sixth of June, which later became known as Queensland Day.  Coincidentally, Owen was born on the sixth of June, and after migrating to Australia, he was to spend the rest of his life in Queensland.

Owen was born in 1859, in the townland of Ballintemple, in the civil parish of Killevy, and the Catholic parish of Lower Killeavy, in County Armagh.

The surname that Owen was known by here in Australia, McCane, was an anglicized version of Muckian.  To his family in Ireland, he was Owen Muckian.

    (Transcription below ... with errors and variations in names!)

You can see on the baptism record however that the surname Muckian has been spelt with an 'a' instead of a 'u', and the mother's name was incorrectly recorded as Liza McCann instead of Sarah McCann.

There are many variations of the spelling of Muckian on the various records I've found during my research (as seen on the baptism record above) - Mackian, McKean, Mackean, Muckean.  It's been an interesting journey researching the McCane / Muckian side of my family tree!

Finding my Great Grandfather's baptism record actually took a very long time.  It wasn't just because of the variations in surname spelling, but I was also using the information provided on his cemetary headstone as a guide to his birth year.  That turned out to be wrong by a few years.  Of course that would have been information given by a family member who may not have had any real idea about when his father was born.

Owen was the third child of Patrick Muckian and Sarah McCann.  In many records, Owen's Dad's name was recorded simply as Patt, and not Patrick.  Patrick would have been aged 39 when Owen was born, and Sarah would have been 38.

At the time there were only two Muckian families living in Ballintemple.

There was Patrick / Patt (Owen's father) and someone named Owen, perhaps a brother of Patrick. 

It seems likely that the Muckians had come from elsewhere to settle in this area.

When my great grandfather Owen was born, there were already two children in the Muckian family. Edward was the first born son.  He was aged 4 when Owen was born.
Mary had been born in 1856, and she was 2 years old when Owen was born.
After Owen came John in 1862, and Ann in 1864. 

What was life like for this family of seven living in a small townland, on land rented from Reverend Robert Henry?  No doubt the family worked tirelessly to eke out a living, farming their small piece of land.  The farm however was not going to support all of the siblings in their adulthood years.  That seems to have been a very common thread amongst so many of the stories of my ancestors.  As the children became adults, most of them moved away to build a new life for themselves.

Owen's father Patrick died in mid-1887, when Owen was aged 28, and it appears that both Owen and his younger brother John had already left their home country.

Owen boarded the ship 'Taroba', aged 28, and migrated to Queensland, Australia in 1888. The ship left London on the 30th of June 1888.  As you can see on the record above, Owen's name was recorded as the anglicized version - Owen McCane.

My great grandfather was listed as a 'remittance' passenger, so his trip was paid for by an employer looking for workers with particular skills.  His occupation was listed as 'miner'.  That begs questions: When did he leave the farm to become a miner?  Where did he go to become a miner? 

I haven't been able to find any evidence that there was mining happening in County Armagh during the 1880s, when Owen would have been in his twenties.  It's far more likely he had travelled elsewhere to work in mines.  I thought perhaps he had moved to England, where there was lots of work available in the mines for poor Irish looking for an income.

That led me to a census record for an Owen Muckian who was living in the north-east of England in the county of Durham, known for coal mining at the time. Could this be my great grandfather?  Whilst his occupation was recorded as - labourer - it's likely he was working as a labourer at a colliery first, and then got a job working in a coal mine.  Looking down the page on that census record, you can notice that 'coal miner' was the most common occupation.

It's highly likely that, if this was indeed my great grandfather Owen, then he would have read about or heard about the opportunities for gold mining work in Australia during his time in England.  That would have seemed like the golden opportunity for a better life, hence the decision to emigrate.

I'm always interested in tracking down the description of the voyage my ancestors took when coming to Australia, and I was able to find the article relating to Owen's voyage to Townsville in August 1888.

Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933), Monday 20 August 1888, page 3.
(an extract) "THE H.M.S. TAROBA.
The Taroba, which is the latest addition to the fleet of the British India Steam Navigation Company, is under the able command of Captain Arthur Morris, who has commanded vessels trading here ever since the inauguration of the British India Company's mail service.

The Taroba has made a very fine run of only forty-eight days from Gravesend, including all stoppages. She left Gravesend with a full crew, consisting of 141 officers and men all told, and 605 passengers, first, second, and immigrants, at 5 p.m. on the 30th June, four days behind time, and arrived off the Isle of Wight at daybreak the following morning. 

Here the compasses were adjusted by an expert who had accompanied the vessel from London, and after about two hours' delay the pilot was landed and the Taroba's course shaped for Ushant.Gibraltar was passed at night-time four days later, and Malta after another three days. 

Port Said was reached on the 10th of July, the journey so far being 350 miles,... the actual steaming time to Port Said was 9 days 21 hours and l0min.,the vessel thus averaging 11 miles per hour ... the Canal was entered the next day. 

The passage was made in good time, Suez being reached on the following day and the vessel slowed down to allow of letters being sent ashore. The Taroba then started again at full speed for Aden. 

During the passage down the Red Sea the thermometer stood at an average of 95deg fahr. in the shade, but on one day it reached l00 deg. One casualty occurred from heat apoplexy. At 11 p.m. on the 16th July the anchor was let go off Steamer's Point, Aden, the distance from Suez-1309 miles-having been accomplished in four days four hours. At Batavia strict quarantine was enforced, and after being delayed for thirty-six hours coaling, the Taroba left for Thursday Island at 11 p.m. on the 31st July, arriving there at 2 p.m. on the 8th August, five days ahead of contract time. Here a most exacting inspection took place of all the passengers and crew by Dr. Salter, the local health officer, who granted pratique.

At 7 a.m. on the 9th August the steamer left for Cooktown, arriving there at daylight on the 11th. Here the English mails were transhipped to the steamer Warrego, and having discharged 180 tons of cargo and landed twenty immigrants, the Taroba left at 8 p.m. the same day for Townsville, arriving there at 3.40 p.m. on 12th August. Eight hundred and twenty tons of cargo and 109 passengers and immigrants were landed."

It seems his trip was a quick one for the time, only 48 days, despite leaving the London port four days behind schedule! Part of the trip would have been excruciatingly hot for most passengers, with daytime temperatures around 100 deg F.  It's likely though that Owen would have experienced temperatures as high as 100 deg F before, if he had worked underground in mines.  Good preparation for living in Australia!

I've only included the details up until the point Owen disembarked.  He was amongst the 109 passengers who left the ship in Townsville on the 13th of August 1888.  I wonder if he knew anyone on the ship?  Having read through the passenger / immigrant list, there didn't appear to be any other family members, and there was only one other immigrant from County Armagh.  Perhaps there were men on the ship that had worked in Durham County, and they had made the trip together.

Upon landing, Owen would have boarded a train and headed out west to Charters Towers to start work in the mines.  Charters Towers had been founded in the 1870s after gold had been discovered.  1872 to 1899 were boom years for the township, with the mining of rich gold deposits underground.

Charters Towers Mining Settlement circa 1890        By The photographer was Allom and Bailey, Public Domain,
Photos of miners / mine in Charters Towers c.1890s - John Oxley Library Qld.

Life as a miner though would have been tough-going.

I haven't been able to find out whether Owen tried to find gold for himself, or if he went to work in a mine owned by someone else.

Either way, I expect it was a daily grind, and Owen certainly didn't become a rich man from his efforts.

It also seems that he must have headed north and found employment on the Cairns to Herberton railway line construction (this was information recorded in Owen's death notice many years later).  The construction of this railway line occured between 1886 and 1892, so it's likely Owen headed there sometime around 1890.

Workers on the Cairns to Herberton railway line c.1890s (John Oxley Library Qld.)

This work would have required demanding, gruelling, back-breaking labour, and it would also have been dangerous; as the railway line climbed up into the Kuranda Range.  It appears that Owen only remained there for perhaps a year or so, as he was definitely back in Charters Towers by the start of 1892.

Owen married Margaret Farrell on the 21st of February, 1892 in Charters Towers.

Interestingly, Margaret had been born in the north-east of England, and was living in Durham County at the time when it's likely Owen had arrived from Ireland.  Perhaps they had met in England, and not in Australia, as I had originally thought at the beginning of my research.  Margaret had emigrated in 1886, two years before Owen though; so I'm not entirely sure if they knew each other in England.

On the day of their marriage, Owen was 32 (although his age on the marriage certificate was recorded as 29) and Margaret was 28.  Margaret had quite a number of family members who had migrated not long after she had moved to Australia, so Owen would have instantly become a member of a large family once again.  As previously stated, Margaret had been born in northern England, but to Irish-born parents, so no doubt they would have welcomed Owen with open arms.

Owen and Margaret went on to have seven children over the following 15 years.

Susan Mary was born in 1892, when Owen was 33 years of age.
Sarah Mary Josephine (my grandmother) was born in 1894.
Edward William was born in 1896.
Thomas Owen came along in 1899.
John Michael was born in 1901, when Owen was aged 41.
James Patrick was born in 1904, when Owen was 44.

By this time, the enrolment records for 1903 show that Owen was now employed as a fireman.  It's likely that he stopped working as a miner not long after his marriage, in an effort to find a steadier income once he and Margaret started their family.  It's also likely that he was working at the pumping station, as well as holding a job as a fireman. There would be no other reason really for living at the pumping station!

I will now digress a little to explain that this post is part of the #52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge.  The prompt for this week is 'Misfortune'.  Unfortunately, misfortune is to become part of Owen's story at this point, and it seems to continue for a few years afterwards.

The address on the electoral roll record was the 'Pumping Station'. The family didn't actually live inside the pumping station obviously!  The Burdekin River Pumping Station was located on the peninsula at the junction of the Burdekin River and Sheepstation Creek, and there was a collection of buildings at the site. In close proximity to the pumping station, there was an engineer's residence, some worker's cottages and a school, all located on the north bank of the creek.  Owen and his family would have been living in one of the worker's cottages, which would have been rather a tight fit for a family of eight at that time.

On the 5th of February 1905, tragedy struck the family.  Edward William, Owen's first born son, passed away at the age of 8.  The details of the tragedy were reported in several newspapers of the time.

Northern Miner (Charters Towers), Monday 6 February 1905, page 4
Transcript of article in the local newspaper: 

"A sad drowning accident occurred at the Burdekin yesterday, the victim being a lad named Edward McCane aged eight years. The boy, with a younger brother went fishing, and fell off a log into the water. His little brother ran to give the alarm, but first went to the pumping station engine-house, which was untenanted. He then ran home and told his father, who is one of the foremen at the station. The father rushed down to the spot, and others came to his assistance, but it was 45 minutes before the body was recovered under the bank in 8ft. of water. All efforts to restore life were futile."

The picture I have of Owen during this ordeal is one of a frantic father diving into the river, searching desperately for his son under the water.  I wonder if it was Owen who found Edward?  I wonder if it was Owen who tried in vain to revive Edward?  I would imagine that my great grandfather Owen and great grandmother Margaret would have suffered immensely for a long time.  Both would have carried on though, as they had five children to take care of, and thankfully a large group of family members on my great grandmother's side would have no doubt supported them through the weeks and months that followed.

Two years later, in 1907, Owen, now aged 48, and Margaret had another son, naming him Edward Joseph.  There would have been joy in the home once more, and there might have been some healing of the emotional wounds left by the loss of their first born son.

Unfortunately, more tragedy was about to unfold.  Just a year after the joy of his son's birth, Owen was involved in a rather nasty accident at the pumping station.

Evening Telegraph, Thursday 7 May 1908, page 4
Transcript of the article:

This morning the managers of the mines and other consumers who use the water for boilers and commercial purposes were informed that owing to an accident the water would be cut off except for domestic purposes.
A circular was issued as follows: — ' Water Board Office, Mary-street, May 7.— As a serious accident has occurred at the pumping station, and there is under 3ft. of water in the reservoir, you are hereby notified to cease using Burdekin water at once until further notice.— By order, J. W.' Carter, clerk.'

It appears that the intake had just been cleaned out and preparations were being made to start pumping again. But there are always some little bits of floating material left behind. Some of this got into the valves of the pumps and they had to be cleared. But evidently the flotsam had carried even further than was anticipated, for it appears to have got into the air chamber between the pumps and the rising main. This air chamber is a sort of reservoir or buffer of compressed air, which takes off the great vibration (which comes from the plunging of the pumps) from the rising main and enables the water to be pumped along steadily. This air chamber must have got choked to a certain extent, and the continuous compression of the air caused the reservoir to explode; 

From what we can gather the explosion went off with a terrific report (and has made almost a total wreck of one of the pumps.
One of the men employed at the works— Owen McCane— who was working near at the time, was struck by a piece of the pump and had his head split open. It is a wonder he was not killed, for a piece of the machinery, weighing about half a ton, we understand, fell down near him." 

It seems that Owen was working at the pumping station when a huge explosion occurred, and he was struck in the head by a piece of the pump.  He must have received a rather nasty wound as the article reports he "had his head split open"!  Things apparently could have been worse if he had been standing in a different spot.  

I know little of what transpired in Owen's life between the accident in 1908 and the records I found pertaining to 1913.  Electoral records show that Owen and Margaret are still living at the Pumping Station, and Owen's occupation is still recorded as 'fireman', but I suspect that Owen, now in his early 50s, was ready for a change in both lifestyle and employment.  It's likely that after the accident, holding down both of his jobs, working at the pumping station and working as a fireman, was becoming difficult, and perhaps even impossible.

Another record I found from 1913 provides a clue of what was to come.

The Queensland Brands Directory records show that in 1913 Owen had a brand registered to his name.  This means he was keeping livestock.  I'm not entirely sure what livestock he could have had, or where he was keeping them.  Horses perhaps?  Cattle?  The address given was still the Pumping Station, but then two years later, things had changed.

In the City Directories of 1915 Owen is recorded as living at Gumlu, and his occupation is 'farmer'.  There is no record of his wife Margaret residing with him at this point, but his daughter Susan is recorded as also living in Gumlu working as a teacher.  So it seems Owen had now left Charters Towers and moved on to property near Gumlu.  

A little gem I found while researching on the Trove Newspapers collection shows that Owen had obviously felt right at home once he had moved to this area.

Bowen Independent, Saturday 1 May 1915, page 2.jpg

In the 'Social' column of  the Bowen Independent, there was a short paragraph stating the 'Captain' Owen McCane had entertained guests for afternoon tea at his property.

I think Owen's property was actually called 'El Rita', but it had been recorded as 'E.C. Rita'.

So it seems Owen had quickly become an important member of the Gumlu Rifle Club Committee not long after moving!

Two years later, in 1917, the electoral roll record shows that Owen, his wife Margaret, their daughter Susan, (and the younger children not old enough to vote / show up on an electoral record) are now living along Molongle Creek, close to Gumlu.

Map showing the position of Molongle Creek

Interestingly, in 1919, it appears as if Owen is unwell and in need of care. What had befallen him?  Was it on-going complications of the pumping station accident?  Was there an accident on the farm?

Electoral records show that his daughter Sarah is now living on the farm with her father Owen and mother Margaret.  Her occupation was listed as "carer of O.", which would have been Owen.  I've never really seen that listed as an occupation before, so obviously Owen needed quite a bit of care at the time.  I'm hoping that one day I'll find the answer to my questions around this situation.

From that time on, Owen and his family continued living in the area.  It does seem as though Owen prospered a little in these years, and perhaps misfortune was now left in the past.

Another little gem found whilst researching the Trove newspapers collection, dated 1923:

Bowen Independent (Qld. : 1911 - 1954), Saturday 18 August 1923, page 2


Messrs B. J. Magees report having sold a Ford de Luxe car to Mr. Jas. Conway Manager State Coal Mine, and a Fordson tractor to Mr Owen McCane, Gumlu. 

This is the first Fordson tractor to come into the Bowen district, and the second tractor. The Fordson is very popular in other places and when it is seen at work here, we feel sure other farmers will speculate in one and get their ploughing done in quick time, before the moisture disappears from the soil, but of course we must get moisture first and, from all appearances it is not far off.

It seems Owen earned some distinction as being the first owner of a Fordson tractor in the district!!!

By 1925 the electoral records show son John living in the area and working on a farm, and eldest son Thomas was living further south, but not all that far away.

By 1928 Owen's sons, James, John, Thomas (and his wife Agnes) were all living in the area.  Owen's eldest daughter Susan was now married and was living on a farm a little further to the north at Wakala.  His younger daughter Sarah was also now married and living on a farm not far away at all, near Armstrong Creek.  Owen's youngest son, Edward, was most likely living with his mother and father, but that wouldn't have been recorded on the electoral roll as he was not yet of voting age.

Death Notice - Townsville Daily Bulletin, Saturday 22 March 1930, page 4.

Two years later, Owen passed away.


The cause of death appears to have been a heart attack.
Death Notice - Owen McCane - Townsville Bulletin Mar 27 1930.

The death notice in the Townville Bulletin mentions his time working on the Cairns to Herberton railway line, and also mentions that Owen was a member of the Wangaratta Shire Council in his latter years. 

Owen McCane (Muckian) died on the 15th of March, 1930.  He was actually aged 70.

Just as an extra little snippet:

A couple of years back I had contact with other descendants of the Muckian family (which is how I found out about the 'Muckian' family name) and they sent me photos of the plot of land where the ancestral family farm used to be, as well as a view of the surrounding countryside.

Top photo shows the plot of land where the ancestral family farm was, and the site of the family home.

This photo shows the view over the neighbouring county, County Down, from the hill behind the location of the ancestral family farm in County Armagh, in the north of Ireland.

It's apparently quite a remote spot.  One day I hope to visit and see it for myself.

Special Note to any family members:  If you have memories to add, photos or information to share, can I graciously ask that you do so.  Please use the comments box below or email me.  It may prove to be invaluable to the story and provide future generations with something to truly treasure.

Extra note:  I'm joining the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks project / challenge.

The prompt for Week 12 is 'Misfortune'.

You can join by blogging or posting on social media with the tag #52ancestors.

Check out this FB page:  Amy Johnson Crow


  1. I have included your blog in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at

    Thank you, Chris

  2. Hello there. I just stumbled on your blog while looking up my great great granfather's name - Owen Muckian
    My grandfather was John Mckain
    I have slowly been trying to piece together some of my families heritage and tracing it back to Ireland.
    I don't have a lot of information beyond a picture of a headstone from Ireland that my grandfather took when he went there a long time ago.
    My grandfather was a strange fellow and we weren't very close, but I'm very interested in finding out more of my Irish heritage.
    I am so excited to have found your blog. I haven't all the way through the posts as of yet, but hope to do that today.
    I'm not sure if we are related and/or connected somehow, but a lot of the names seem alike.

    1. Hi Mikki. It's always exciting to stumble upon possible relatives. It will be very interesting finding out if we are related through a similar branch of the Muckian family tree. Please do keep in touch if you find out more about your Owen Muckian.


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