Saturday, 14 July 2018

The Story of William Conners / Connors

This week's post tells the story of my paternal Great Great Grandfather, William Connors (1820 - 1882).

Firstly, I'd like to mention that it took me ages to research the story of my 2x great grandfather William because of the different versions of his surname written down in the various records over time.  On his immigration record, his surname was listed as 'Conners'. His record of marriage had his surname listed as 'Connor'.  Over his life time however, this morphed into 'Connors', which was the surname listed on various records for many of his children.  Records pertaining to his death and burial have him listed as 'Connors'.   What's in a name?  Endless hours of research when it's not a straight forward one!

Secondly, I'll digress briefly to mention that this post is being written in response to Week 26's prompt from the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge (the details of which are mentioned at the end of the post).  The prompt for Week 26 of the challenge is:  Black Sheep.  As this is an idiom used to describe an odd or disreputable member of a family, William fits the bill in terms of being the odd one out when it comes to my family tree research.

I literally have no records about William before he boarded a ship and headed to Australia.  He is the only one of my direct ancestors for whom that is the case!  I've searched and searched birth records in Ireland for the year of his birth, but have not been able to find any evidence his baptism or birth.  I have not yet found evidence of his parents' marriage and I have not discovered his parents in any census records.

The only background information I have about William before he landed in the colonies, comes from the information that was recorded on the assisted immigrant passenger list of 1840.

So, here's what I've managed to put together for my 2x great grandfather William so far.

William Conners/Connors was born in 1820 in the civil parish of Gallen in  King's County, Ireland.

King's County became known as County Offaly later on.

It is located in the Irish midlands, covers an area of around 771 square miles and in the year of William's birth had a population of around 131,000.

William was apparently the son of Benjamin and Sabina.  I have not yet found out any more detail about William's parents or his siblings ... other than I know that his sister Mary (who migrated with him to Australia) was born two years before William in 1818.

Whatever the circumstances of their childhood and early adult life, William and his older sister made the decision to leave Ireland and emigrate to Australia under the Assisted Immigration, or Bounty, Scheme.  They boarded the ship Berkshire and headed for the colonies.

Details recorded on the Assisted Immigrants Passenger List show that William was single, aged 21, was Roman Catholic and came from Gallen in King's County, Ireland.  His occupation was that of farm labourer and he could read and write.  His father was named Ben, a farmer, and his mother was named Sabina.

The Berkshire left Plymouth on the 20th of November in 1839.  223 emigrants were under the supervision of  Dr. Bernard Kenny, and the ships captain was Captain Norris.  The journey lasted just short of four months.

William, aged 21, and his sister Mary, aged 23, arrived in Sydney on the 13th of March 1841.   Unfortunately I don't have any details about what happened immediately after their arrival in Australia.

By 1848 however, William is living and working at a place named Cooley Camp in the East Maitland area of New South Wales, near Woodville.

This was a very rich and productive farming area, later to become known as Bolwarra Flat.

In 1849 William married Ellen Hickey.  He was 29 years old and she was aged 17.  They went on to have 13 children over a period of 25 years.

Thomas Edgar (my great grandfather) was born in 1850.  His birthplace is recorded as Butterwick, which was in the Cooley Camp area.

Given that Cooley Camp was not a large area, being only five square miles in size, the opportunities for a farmer with a small landholding to expand and provide a better life for his family were extremely limited.  It seems that William and Ellen decided that it would be best to move.

They, and a number of other Irish families, all embarked on a journey to the Kiama and Gerringong region on the New South Wales south coast.

It was only just opening up as a new farming area after the established cedar cutting industry had come to a halt, and it must have seemed like an opportunity not to be missed.

It appears, from oral family history, that William and Ellen leased a small plot of land and established a dairy farm.  Whilst living there, there were another twelve children added to the family.

Margaret came along in 1852.
Patrick was born in 1853, when William was 33.
Mary Ann was born in 1855.
Bridget Ellen was born in 1857.
James was born in 1859.
Ellen Sabina came along in 1861.
William was born in 1864.
Benjamin was born in 1866.
Elizabeth (known as Lizzie) was born in 1870.
Michael John came along in 1873.

The historical electoral roll record of 1855-1856 shows William Conner living at Crawley's Forest, near Kiama. This was a big settlement in the hills above Kiama on the slopes of Saddleback Mountain. The record indicates that he was leasing land and did not own it outright.

After living in the Kiama region for just over twenty years, William decided it was time to move again.

He was keen to find a place where he might be able to have a much larger plot of land, and he decided to relocate his family to Wagga Wagga, to the west.

The entire family headed off on a really long and arduous trip by ox and dray.  The distance to be travelled was around 300 miles.

At that time William was aged 53.  His wife Ellen would have been 41.  Their eldest son (my great grandfather) Thomas was aged 23, was married and had a baby.  Daughter Margaret was 21.  Son Patrick was nearly 20 years old.  Mary Ann was 18.  Bridget was 16.  James was 14.  Ellen Sabina was 12.  William was aged 9.  Benjamin was 7 years old.  John was 5.  Elizabeth was 3.  Michael would have been just a new born baby.

Sadly, it was to be a decision that had dire consequences.  A case of very bad timing indeed.

The family arrived sometime around 1875.  By that time typhoid fever, known then as 'colonial fever' was breaking out in several areas across New South Wales and Victoria.  Unfortunately, it was rampant in Wagga Wagga by 1876 and William, now aged 56, lost three of his children.
First of all, Ellen Sabina aged 15 died in May of 1876.

John, aged only 8, died in June.

Then, Patrick succumbed after battling the disease for a month and died in August, aged 22. 

I simply can't imagine the grief and anguish that must have been experienced by William, Ellen and their surviving children.  They would have been absolutely heart-broken.  Other members of the family must have fallen ill along the way as well, so it would have been very distressing wondering if there were to be any more losses.

In amongst all this heartbreak, another son was born.  Edward George came along in July of 1876.  I'm certain William would have held Edward especially close upon his birth!

What a rotten hand William, Ellen and their family had been dealt!  How does a parent recover from such a thing?  I guess one simply puts one foot in front of the other and goes on, for the sake of the remaining family.

Obviously Wagga Wagga held many sad memories, so just over two years later William and Ellen decide to move on once more.  This time though, some of their family did not join them on the trip.  Their eldest son Thomas (my great grandfather) returned to Kiama with his family.  Their eldest daughter Margaret remained in Wagga Wagga and married.  Another of their daughters, Bridget, also remained in Wagga Wagga.

William, along with his wife Ellen, and six of their surviving children moved to the Snowy Mountains district towards the end of 1879.  They settled in Gilmore, a small town outside Tumut.  William at this time would have been 59 years old.

It does not appear as if everything came up roses for William at Gilmore either.  Mention is made of William and his wheat crop in a newspaper in late 1881.
"During the violent storm to which I have before referred, Mr. William Connor's wheat crop at the Gilmore sustained serious injury; indeed, it is affirmed that it has been almost destroyed. Large patches of wheat were cut down as if by a reaping hook, while in many places the blades were torn up by the roots. I have heard no satisfactory explanation as to how this singular effect was produced."
Gundagi Times and Tumut, Adelong and Murrumbidgee District Advertiser (NSW),  Friday 21 October 1881, page 2.

I wonder how he recovered from the destruction of his wheat crop?

Sad to say, poor William did not live long after this event.  Within a year, he had died.  In September of 1882, another article appeared in a couple of newspapers.

Gundagai Times and Tumut, Adelong and Murrumbidgee District Advertiser (NSW), Friday 1 September 1882, page 3


 A well-known resident of the Gilmore, Mr. William Connors, departed this life early on Sunday morning last, after a brief illness. On the previous Thursday Mr. Connors, who was suffering from the effects of a cold, came into town for medical advice. He returned home apparently no worse in his health, but during the night his cough became violent, and after this he gradually declined until he passed away, apparently without pain. The deceased, we believe, was a brother of the late Mrs. B. Kelly, and has left a widow and a large family to mourn their loss. The funeral took place on Monday.

William died at the end of August in 1882, aged 62  (the age recorded on his death record was incorrect, as was the length of his time in the colony/state ... William had been in Australia for 41 years, not 4!)

He was survived by his wife and ten of his children.  Probate granted his estate to his wife Ellen.

Special Note to any family members:  If you have 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 Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks project / challenge.

The prompt for Week 26 is 'Black Sheep'.

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