William O’Neill (1795-1866)
Johanna Flaherty (1799-1873)
Until 2016 the earliest record we had of our O’Neill forebears is a copy of the marriage entry for William O’Neill (son of Martin O’Neill and Catherine Barry) and Johanna Flaherty (daughter of Edward Flaherty and Honora Killard) made on Feb 13 1820 in St John’s Catholic Church in Tralee. As was explained elsewhere, catholic records did not exist prior to about 1800 (depending on the parish). It is possible that William and Johanna’s births were recorded by the Church, but researching catholic families in Co Kerry is quite difficult. At the time of writing, the Kerry genealogical centre has closed down, and permission from the local Bishop is required to view Co Kerry catholic records in libraries in Ireland. From later records we calculate that William was born in 1795 and Johanna in 1799.
Irish records on line are now more extensive. The surname O’Neill is an Anglicization of the original Gaelic Ua Néill and, due to the Anglicization of the original Gaelic, several spelling variations have emerged including O’Neal, O’Neil, Ó Neill, Ó Néill, Ua Néill, Uí Néill and Neill.
Through the visit of a descendant to Co Kerry in 2016 we now have more of an idea of this family. From the tithe applotment books we know that Martin (O’)Neill and Catherine Barry leased 125 Irish acres at Tullig More, about 4 km west of Killorglin, a town in County Kerry on the River Laune about 26 km south of Tralee (and on what is now called the Ring of Kerry). We have located a record of the baptism in the Catholic Church of Dromavalla (about 4km north of Tullig More) of William’s sister, Ellen [Neil], indicating a birth date of 06 Nov 1799. On 06 Feb 1827 Ellen married Cornelius [Neil] of Sunhill which is about 4km north of Tullig More. They had at least 6 children between 1827 to 1841, all in Sunhill. We believe one of their children, Martin, came to Australia in 1863 and we believe another, William, arrived the year earlier and went and lived with his uncle. This is all sketched in more detail on Ellen page.
William O’Neill and Johanna Flaherty’s marriage record is abbreviated and is written in Latin.
In full it would read:
Idem a[d]stiti matrimonio Gulielmi O’Neil et Johanna Flaherty, catholici de Ballyroe
which loosely translated means
I was present at the marriage of William O’Neil and Johanna Flaherty, catholics of Ballyroe
The records do not indicate whether either party could have lived in a different area. Examination of early records certainly indicate that Flaherty was a relatively common surname in the Ardfert district in the 1820s. In the census records in the 1800s there were very few O’Neill families in Co Kerry. The O’Neills are strong in Ulster, but pockets are found elsewhere in Ireland, Spain and Portugal (birthplace of the current head of clan). A nice history of the O’Neill clan is available here.
The records of William’s trial were destroyed in the 1921 uprising, so we can only speculate about what he had done to bring about his arrest. That he was sentenced to 7 years transportation under the Insurrection Act of 1822 would indicate that his offence was minor – maybe for simply being outdoors between sunset and sunrise. However the chance that he was involved in a whiteboy activity is quite high. He had been married for just two years when he was brought to trial in March at the Co Kerry Special Sessions, aged 28. He was put on board the convict ship Mangles 2 (the second of nine voyages made by the Mangles), which sailed to Sydney from Cork on 21 Jun 1822 and arrived in Sydney Cove on 08 Nov 1822. He was described as a ploughman, light brown hair, grey eyes, ruddy complexion, height 5′ 11”.
William’s son John was also born in 1822. Again, we do not have a record of his birth date – maybe someone in the family has this information? – so there is a strong possibility that William had not known his son when he was arrested. For those familiar with Celtic music, William’s story is so close to that told in Fields of Athenry – though his story did not finish “as that prison ship sailed out against the sky”.
On his arrival in Sydney Cove, William was sent to Windsor for distribution among settlers who had approval to receive assigned convict labourers. In 1824 he was on a list of convicts employed by Archibald Bell, a local military officer and Magistrate. From 1812 to 1818 Bell commanded the 73rd Regiment at Windsor and in 1818 was Barrack Master. He had a substantial land grant and resided at his property at Richmond called Belmont. In 1823 his son, also named Archibald Bell, discovered a route – the Bells Line of Road – from Richmond across the Blue Mountains to what is now a township that bears his name, before dropping down into Lithgow. It is possible that this was one of William’s labours.
There are other references to a William O’Neill, per Mangles 1822. On 24 Sep 1823 such a person was appointed as a constable at Windsor, and on 06 Jan 1825 was on a list of constables doing duty at Windsor and the Districts of Hawkesbury. Such an appointment would have been unusual for a convict, but not unknown: see, for example, Page 120, Convict Labour and the Australian Agricultural Company, by John Perkins, Chapter 11 of Convict Workers, Reinterpreting Australia’s Past, edited by Stephen Nicholas. If this is our William O’Neill, then it is not surprising to see him dismissed for improper conduct, which occurred on 02 Feb 1825!
The next mention of William is a memorial (a petition requesting a change most commonly made to a government official) drawn up on 25 Feb, 1825 to the Governor of NSW, Sir Thomas Brisbane. The letter is presumably written by a notary, appears to be initialled by William with a “w” surrounded by an “O”, and is endorsed by Father John Therry, at the time the lone Catholic priest whose parish was vast. This is his petition:
To His Excellency
Sir Thomas Brisbane KBC
The Humble Memorial
of William O’Neil
That Memorialist is an Exile for 7 years from the Goal of Tralee County Kerry Ireland.
Memorialist arrived per Ship Mangles in the Year 1822 and when the period of Memorialist’s Sentence is expired her wishes to remain in the Colony as he is aware that he can procure a better livelihood for himself and family in this Country than he can at home.
Memorialist was legally married to his wife Johanna, by the Reverend Cornelius Egan of the Parish of Tralee, Town of Tralee, the offspring of which union was a son John O’Neil aged 4 years. Memorialist’s wife and child reside in the town of Tralee afflicted by Poverty, the consequence of Memorialist’s separation from them.
Memorialist is a stout hale young Man and inured to Agriculture from his Infancy, and promises to stay Industrious. He most humbly prays your Excellency to be humanely pleased to recommend his Wife and Child for a Free Passage to this Colony.
And Memorialist as in duty bound
Will For Ever Pray
Memorialist’s statement is, in my opinion, correct
25th Feb 1825 John Joseph Therry, R.C.C.
Permission was clearly granted, because Johanna and John arrived as free settlers on the City of Edinburgh on 12 Nov 1828. On board were 134 male convicts and nine other women with children who were also joining convict husbands who chose to stay. The ship’s manifest also records what items of clothing passengers brought on board, and what were issued. For example, John had with him 1 jacket, 1 vest, 1 pair of trousers, 2 pairs of shoes, 1 pair of stockings and 2 caps; he was also issued with 1 jacket, 1 vest, 1 pair of trousers, 3 shirts, 1 pair of shoes, 2 pairs of stockings, 1 cap and 1 handkerchief.
On disembarkation Johanna and John were placed in the care of Father John Therry, who must have made on-going arrangements for them – it is not clear where William was residing in 1828 as his name does not appear in the census of that year. William had been granted his ticket of leave in 1827 (see ticket #27/777 on reel 910, shelf reference 4/4065) and became eligible for his freedom in 1829. However, there is ample evidence of the family’s presence on the Williams River in the Upper Hunter at that time. Some of this is documented in William’s River – The Land and its People, 1800-1900 by R.L. Ford (1995).
Firstly, there is a reference to a surveyor, George Boyle White, appointed on 01 Feb 1827 by Governor Darling to survey the selections at Upper William’s River during 1829. By February 1830 he had surveyed the selections of Hooke, Verge, Mackay and Smeathman. According to Ford (page 50):
On the West boundary of Smeathman’s selection, ‘Brookfield’, Surveyor White had marked the ‘metres and bounds’ of ‘Unwarrabin Village Reserve’, ‘for the purpose of removing O’Neill, ‘a squatter on Government land’.
The following are maps of the area from just pre- and just post-1830 (courtesy of Chris O’Neill, the author’s brother). The first shows the property owned by Smeathman, the second showing it then owned by James Davenport Walker (whose son – by the same name – later married William & Johanna’s daughter Honora). The property is named Brookfield, which is still the name of that part along the Williams River. Notice the hatched, shaded area of land just above Clarence Town: The bottom (roughly) 50% was later leased by William O’Neill (see the discussion below).
There was some dispute about the ownership of “Brookfield’; from pages 117-8 of Ford’s book:
JAMES DAVONPORT WALKER submitted evidence supporting his Claim No. 370 dealt with by the Commissioners, to the 1,280 acres estate “Brookfield” originally to Major Charles Thomas Smeathman in 1829; and such considered by the Commissioners included: … An ADVERTISEMENT FOR SALE …25th October 1832 … ‘Brookfield’, of Major Charles Thomas Smeathman.
…”WILLIAM RIVER – FREE OF QUIT-RENT…
…’Important Estate of 1280 acres of rich alluvial land, within four miles of the head of navigation at this River, whose banks are now all nearly located, and possessing the advantages of two Steam Packets, constantly passing and repassing, and thereby affording an opportunity of shipping and realising a return of capital for produce shipped to Sydney, within 48 hours. Opposite Polack’s London Tavern, on Thursday the 15th November, without any reserve whatever, at One o’clock, after the sale of the valuable estates of Colonel Mills.
Mr. Bodenham most respectfully notifies to the inhabitants of New South Wales and more especially the emigrants who may have recently arrived, that he has been instructed by the Proprietors to offer at Public Auction the following delightful Grant of 1280 Acres of Land situate within four miles of the head of navigation of William’s River and five miles from Clarence Town: where, independent of the steam packets, sailing vessels are in constant communication with Sydney. It is sufficient to say, that the grant was selected by that very able and competent farmer, Alexander McLeod, Esquire of Luskintyre, who was the renter of the property for the purpose of grazing his flocks and herds. It is nearly surrounded with the William’s River, forming nearly an archipelago, and requiring but a small outlay only, in the fencing; bounded on the south by Mr. Fowler’s farm, and in the immediate vicinity of His Honour Mr. Justice Dowling’s establishment, within 5 miles of Singleton’s watermill, and near to Walla Roba, Major Sullivan’s estate, and those of George and Alexander Mossman, Esquires. A fine bowling-green road to it; as also the advantage of the water-carriage. – The whole estate will be sold, without any reservation whatever, upon the following terms of payment. – Half the purchase money will be required in approved bills, at 3 and 6 months date, and the residue may remain at interest of 10 per cent, for one, two or three years, as may be agreed upon. The purchaser to pay his own conveyance and the preparation of security.
Further particulars may be ascertained, with the most accurate information, at the offices of Mr. Solicitor Williams, Upper Pitt Street. The chart of Hunter’s Valley may be inspected at the Estate, Land Agency and Surveying Offices of Mr. Bodenham…’
Other evidence identified that:
…’By certain Indentures of Lease and Release the letter dated 11th April 1834 between Chas. T. Smeathman and his wife M. A. Smeathman of one part, and James Davenport Walker of the other part, the said Chas. T. Smeathman Conveyed and released the said land to J. D. Walker and his heirs absolutely…
That by certain other Indentures of Lease and Release dated 31st May 1835, the said J. D. Walker and his wife released and conveyed the said land to Alexander William Larrymore…
[Walker’s wife was Mary Lyndsey Larrymore. Ed.]
That by certain other Indentures of Lease and Release dated 31st May 1835, the said A. W. Larrymore and wife released and conveyed the said lands to J. D. Walker…’
An application was made by Henry Smeathman, son of the original promise in this case, in which he challenged what right Walker had to his father’s land, but withdrawn by his solicitor, ‘in that he had not a shadow of claim’, Major Smeathman, at the time of the determination, deceased.
The Commissioners, taking into consideration the information submitted, determined in favour of JAMES DAVONPORT WALKER dated 22nd August 1839, and the land Registered in his name. By a conveyance dated the 9th July 1839, J. D. Walker and his wife Mary had Conveyed 320 acres of that estate to HONORA DALEY for the sum of three hundred and eighty pounds sterling.
[Honora Daley was the grandmother of Elizabeth Lulham who later married William & Johanna’s son Patrick. She later died in horse and buggy accident and was described in the local paper as the oldest resident on the Williams River. Ed.]
HONORA DALEY (DALY) advised that she was possessed of her 320 acres purchased from J. D. Walker for the sum of three hundred and eighty pounds (£380) being portion of the ‘Brookfield’ estate originally to Major C. T. Smeathman and subject to the Indentures of Conveyance to J. D. Walker. She continued possessed of the 320 acres at 1840; portion of approximately one hundred and ten acres occupied by John Logan.
BRENT CLEMENT RODD, Solicitor of Sydney, became possessed of lands of the former 1280 acre “Brookfield” estate by purchase from James Davenport Walker dated the 3rd Dedcember 1839 for the sum of fifteen hundred pounds (£1500); and noting the excision of 320 acres to Honora Daley on the 9th July 1839.
The following is a petition from William dated “Williams River, 1st February 1831”. In this letter, it is clear that, following his removal from his first farm, he rented land on ‘Brookfield’, alongside Unwarrabin, from Major Smeathman; information on the men mentioned in the letter can be found here.
Click to see a low resolution version (pdf, 1.3 KB) of the letter (Reel 1169, item 2/7942):
To His Excellency Governor Darling
Governor in Chief of New South Wales
The Petition of William O’Neill of the Williams River, Settler
That Petitioner was tried and convicted for the term of seven years in March 1822, that he arrived per Ship Mangles the 2nd, Mr Coghill Master in November of said year, and that he held your Excellency’s indulgence of Ticket of Leave previous to his accession to liberty in March of the year 1829.
That Petitioner in consequence of Memorialist submitted to your Excellency, was granted the indulgence of his wife with one child being sent to him to this Colony and that she arrived in the City of Edinburgh in Nov 1828.
That Petitioner is thirty five years old, has two children with promise of immediate increase, the first of which is named John O’Neill and is aged eleven years, that Petitioner never obtained Land whether by Grant or purchase from the Crown, private purchase or otherwise, and that he has rented a farm of fifty acres of land from Major Smeathman upon the customary principle of clearing lease, on which he at present lives, and has cleared and fenced off twenty acres with ten in cultivation.
Your Petitioner has accumulated the following small Capital which he is most desirous to have employed in agriculture for the maintenance and benefit of his depending offspring –
20 – – Head of Horse & Cattle
40 – – Head of Swine
140 – Bushels of Wheat – present crop
140 – Bushels of Maize – late crop
10 – – ten acres of growing maize
That good conduct being the criterion which could justify any appeal to your Excellency’s indulgence from Persons of his Class, your Petitioner with humility lays before you the witnessed testimonials of his character and habitual conduct, and hails the auspicious event of your Excellency’s patient finish to this settlement as the most hopeful for praying your Excellency’s bounty for such small provision in land as may prove a source of subsistence to Petitioner and his growing and young charges
and as bound to do so
your Petitioner will pray
The following testimonials were appended to this petition:
I the undersigned do hereby certify that the foregoing statement to be correct
[Benjamin Singleton and his brother James were successful millers who supplied flour to Sydney. The town of Singleton stands on part of Benjamin’s grant. In 1831, with his brother Joseph, he built a water-mill at Boatfalls, near Clarencetown. Ed.]
I do humbly Certify that I have known the Petitioner for the last 12 months and believe him to be an honest industrious man
[Crawford Logan Brown was a landowner on the Williams River and later a Magistrate at Dungog. Ed.]
I have had the opportunity of seeing the Prisoner and his Family since their arrival on the River, and the improvement made by them on the Farm alluded to, and consider them industrious people.
[Duncan Forbes Mackay was a well known public servant in Newcastle and landowner around Dungog on the Williams River in the 1830s. One of his assigned convicts was Michael Casey, who later became the leaseholder of Millbrook, which together with William O’Neill’s Berkely Park, became known as Irish Town. Ed.]
The petition appears to have been fatally torpedoed by Major Benjamin Sullivan, a landowner on the Hunter and the Williams River, magistrate and/or coroner at Port Macquarie, Raymond Terrace and Wollombi. The estate Thalaba was on the Williams River near the Thalaba Creek but was sold by Sullivan in 1833.
Thalaba, Williams River
9th February 1831
The enclosed Petition having been presented to me to lay before his Excellency the Governor, I find myself called upon in having the honour of remitting it to you for that purpose, to state that I am obliged to differ in total from the gentlemen who affixed their attestations to it, and am far from thinking him deserving of the farm he seeks.
I have the honour to be
Your most obedient and humble servant
In 1832 an advertisement appeared in the Sydney Herald for the sale of Smeathman’s holdings, and possibly William and Johanna’s rented 50 acres was now in jeopardy. He clearly wrote to the Governor requesting to purchase the land he was on, since the following reply is on file (letter 253 on Reel 2304):
Colonial Secretary’s Office
3 April 1834
I reply to your Letter of the 13 February applying for permission to purchase a farm land on Williams River, I am directed by His Excellency the Governor to inform you that the Land in question forms part of the Village Reserve of Unwarrabin and cannot therefore be disposed of.
I am Sir
For the Colonial Secretary
In May 1834 a subsequent letter was sent to the Surveyor General requesting to lease the farm land instead. Again, the reply was negative:
Surveyor General’s Office
June 2nd 1834
The attention to your application of May 20th 1834, to lease the Village Reserve of Unwarrabin, and likewise 2 elections of land opposite Singleton’s and on the East side of the Williams River, have to inform you that the Government does not consider it expedient to lease lands reserved for Towns and Villages, and moreover that the land opposite Singleton’s is granted as the Church and Schools Estate,
I am Sir
TL Mitchell [Surveyor General]
In 1835 it appears that William spent some time in gaol. There are Maitland gaol records, one dated 1 Jan 1835 (he was discharged on 10 Jan) and another 14 Apr, when he was sent for trial at the Supreme Court. His behaviour in goal was described as orderly. The Supreme Court trial is what most probably is referred to in this reference to William O’Neill on the Convicts page of the History in the Williams River Valley:
The control and punishment of the convict population of the district was a major function of a magistrate with the first letter in the Dungog Magistrates’ Letterbook (1834-1839) complaining that two years on a road gang is inadequate power to punish absconders. This was written by the first magistrate of what was then called Upper Williams, local landowner George Mackenzie, J.P., who at the end of January 1834 was investigating the activities of William O’Neil, ‘here by servitude’, who was occupying Crown land on the Clarence Town road and having no visible means of sustenance was suspected of receiving and stealing cattle. Having been convicted of harbouring prisoners of the Crown O’Neil was given notice to quit. R. G. Moffat (Captain 17th Regiment) added the following March that O’Neil is ‘a most notorious Sly Grog seller’.
In a letter dated Upper Williams River, 16 Oct 1838, William refers to having been on a farm (which appears to be on the Unwarrabin Village Reserve) for six years, and requests to purchase or lease 112 acres of it adjoining the reserve.
Click to see a low resolution version (pdf, 1.2 KB) (Reel 1169, item 2/7942):
To His Excellency Sir George Gibbs, Governor in Chief
The Memorial of William O’Neil
That your Memorialist came to the colony in 1822 a prisoner for seven years under the Insurrection Act from the County of Kerry Ireland.
Memorialist having left his wife with one child, his anxiety for them following him, doubled his industry while a prisoner, and that under the then existing Govt regulations, Memorialist had his wife and child brought out to him, at the expense of the Government, the issue of which has been the introduction of four more children, Since your Excellency’s assumption of the Government, it has always appeared that you are ready to receive the representations of the most humble individual, and with such view Memorialist presents himself, hoping that when your Excellency peruses the following particulars together with reflecting on the addition to Memorialist’s family, you will be satisfied that the nature of the present application for the land which follows, is that he wishes a home for his family.
Memorialist having placed himself and his family on this part of the Upper Williams River began to fall and afterwards to cultivate amounting at the present moment to from 20 to 30 acres, in the course of your Memorialist’s improvements he was called upon by Mr White from the Surveyor General’s department who desired that your Memorialist should apply to the Government to purchase the ground, having done so your Memorialist received the following reply from his Excellency Sir Richard Bourke No 34/157 dated April 3 1834 “that it being a village reserve it was not expedient to sell it”. Mr White having again called and seen this document advised your Memorialist to lease the ground, as it was all along the intention of your Memorialist to provide a home for his family if possible he therefore was induced to make another application for this lease of it, when your Memorialist received the following from the Surveyor General office No 34/174 2nd June 1834 to which your Excellency will be pleased to refer.
Your Excellency’s Memorialist presents himself once more for the purpose of purchasing a portion of the ground on which he lives having a vacant piece containing 112 acres joining Unwarrabin Reserve, but however if it is still the intention of Government not to sell any part of it, your Memorialist hopes your Excellency may be induced to lease a part of it, your Memorialist would conclude by stating that as he has been at considerable expense and labour in improving the ground he would fain hope to receive a favourable answer to his most humble petition.
If however it is still the intention of the Government neither to sell or lease the ground in question, your Memorialist would hope that an allowance would be made him for the improvements he has made since he has been on this ground in buildings, paddocks etc as when he came on it which is six years ago it was not to trespass but to purchase or lease it if possible.
and in duty bound he will pray
The decision must have been devastating for William:
Inform him that the Regulations respecting the sale or letting of Crown Land are public – and that I can allow no deviations from them. The Regulations let him be informed do not allow of compensation for improvements made on Crown Land, by persons who may be in the temporary occupation of them – whether that occupation be authorised or not.
Gibb’s signature(signed by Gibbs)
(despatched to Mr William O’Neil on 25 March 1839)
Titles to the land holdings on the Upper Williams River were formalised in 1840 after a period of intense land speculation accompanied by an economic depression. In 1833, lands that had in 1829 been granted to the Trustees of the Church and School Estate reverted to the Crown. Agents were appointed to sell or lease the land. Included in these titles was a parcel of 4,250 acres on the north boundary of the township of Clarence Town, and this lot failed to sell or be leased when first advertised in and prior to 1841. It was then surveyed into two portions and readvertised in November 1841.
William’s family appears in the NSW census (reel 2222, #62 P129) which took place on or soon after 02 Mar 1841. They resided at Styles View on the Williams River. On the day the census was taken they reported 1 male and 1 female between 2 and 7 years old; 1 male 14 to 21 years old; 1 male and 1 female 21 to 45 years old; 1 male 45 to 60 years old; and 1 male over 60. In 1941 their son John who was born in Ireland in 1822 would have been 18 or 19, Johanna 42 and William himself 46. They had girls born in 1830, 1832 and 1836, a son born in 1835. These dates are all consistent with the census returns, leaving one male 21 to 45 years old and one male over 60 unaccounted for. Another son was born about a month after the census was taken.
Finally, on 12 Oct 1842, William procured the leasehold of the 2150 acre lot adjoining the north boundary of Clarence Town for an annual rent of 7 pence per acre (a total of 61 pounds, 14 shillings and tuppence). He named his property Berkely Park. As mentioned elsewhere, his property, together with Michael Casey’s adjoining 2100 acre property Millbrook, became known as Irish Town. The exact location is reported by Ford (page 141):
WILLIAM O’NEILL, of the William’s River, Purchased the Lease of the 2,150 acres situated on the North boundary of Clarence Town Township, by that boundary from its Eastern extreme at William’s River to one hundred and ten chains due West, and from that point, eighty chains due North on the West boundary, and then by one hundred and ninety three chains due East to William’s River.
The family presumably needed to clear some of the land and build a house before they moved to Berkley Park. Their vacating their farm on Styles View might be an alternative explanation for the following advertisement was quoted in an article in The Hunter Valley Genealogy Forum; sadly this is no longer available:
Hillier had applied for a grant at Williams River on 27th March, 1828, the year he married Lucy Styles. In a notice dated 31st August 1829, he was granted 1280 acres (2 square miles: 73 Ha) as a primary grant; the quit rent was to be 5 pounds 13 shillings and 4 pence from January 1, 1837. He called the property “Styles View” and in 1841 sold it to William Wright and George C. Turner for 500 pounds. This money, however was not forthcoming, and it was sold on 22nd February 1849 to William Timothy Cape of Sydney for 300 pounds.
Hillier may have been affected by the bad years of the early 1840’s for the following advertisement appeared in the Maitland Mercury on 3rd August, 1844:- “To Let – Ash Gate Clarencetown. 30 acre farm, 200 yards (183m) from the estate to the sailing vessels on the river. 2 front parlours 18×16 feet (5.48 x 4.87m); 1 breakfast parlour, 3 bedrooms; large entrance hall or lobby. Whole surrounded by a spacious and tasty veranda. A spacious kitchen; 2 stoves, 1 brick & 1 iron; servants room; convenient store & granary; a boiler set in wash house; 3 stall stables, double coach house and harness room. The proprietor Mr Hillier on the premises or Mr Anlaby, Morpeth Hotel.”
William was clearly productive and hard working, and he expected his workers to do the right thing. The following is a report of the Maitland Quarter Sessions in The Maitland Mercury on Sat 12 Jul 1845. William would have been 50 at the time:
Paddy, an aboriginal native, was arraigned for stealing a mare, with saddle and bridle, the property of William O’Neil, farmer, near Clarence Town, on the 3rd April last.
The prisoner, a boy of 11 or 12 years of age, shook very much during the proceedings, as if conscious of his situation; but he did not other-wise, by word or deed, show that he understood what was going on. His trembling might be attributed to the coldness of the day, which was very severe, and the prisoner had only a shirt on the upper part of his person.
Mr. O’Neil deposed that the prisoner had been in his employment to make himself useful in any way he was capable of, in return for which services he received food and clothing. On the 3rd April, missing the prisoner, and the mare, he followed the former to Stroud, then to the Glo’ster, and from that to the Manning, where he found the prisoner at Mr. Brackett’s. The prisoner admitted having taken the mare, but he was induced to do it by another black named Harry. He said he was sorry for what he had done, and would take witness to where the horse was. He did so. Witness, who had a constable with him, gave the prisoner into custody.
Constable John Gippin corroborated this evidence.
Mr. Purefoy, who defended the prisoner, pointed out to the jury that they must satisfy themselves, not only that the prisoner took the horse, but that he intended to appropriate it to his own use, which there was reason to suppose he did not. It would naturally occur to their minds that the prisoner was not so likely to know what he was about so fully as to make him accountable for his actions to the same extent as a white man.
The jury without leaving the box found the prisoner guilty.
Mr. O’Neil being re-called, and questioned by the Chairman as to the general character of the prisoner, said that it was very good, and that up to the time of the robbery he thought himself lucky in having him.
The Chairman told the prisoner that in consequence of his previous good character, and the peculiar circumstances of his condition, he should be lightly dealt with in proportion to the seriousness of his offence, viz., six months hard labour in Newcastle gaol, the last three days of each month being solitary.
By September 1846 William had fallen behind in rent due to a severe drought. In a letter dated 5th Sep that year he petitioned for rent relief:
To His Excellency Sir Charles Augustus Fitz Roy,
Knight Companion of the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic order,
Captain-General and Governor-in-Chief of the Territory
of New South Wales and its Dependencies,
and Vice-Admiral of the same. &c., &c.
The Humble Petition of William O’Neil
Residing near Clarence Town
Most Respectfully Herewith,
That your Petitioner begs leave to state, for the information of Your Excellency, that her rented a Block of land for the term of twenty one years from the Colonial Government, Situate near Clarence Town in the County of Durham, for the annual or yearly Rent of Sixty two pounds Fourteen Shillings and two pence for the first seven years, and to rise every Seven year of the unexpired term.
That your Petitioner having cleared one hundred acres of Brush and Forest Land fit for cultivation and Subdivided it into four Small Farms well enclosed with a four rail Fence, Two of which Farms your Petitioner let, one to his Son John O’Neil, and the other to a person named Stern, the latter person having deserted his Portion of the Land in March last, leaving nothing to Satisfy for the Rent due by him.
That your Petitioner having erected four Houses on this Land, two of which are Shingled, the Son of your Petitioner resides in one, the other is occupied by Petitioner and contains eight apartments, well floored and lofted, that annexed to this House are Three Hundred acres of land, well enclosed with a Substantial Three Rail Fence, as also two Stock yards Bails and Calf pen adjoining.
That your Petitioner having Sustained this present Season very heavy and Serious losses, arising from the long and Severe Drought, Fifty Dairy Cows, three working Bullocks, Two horses and a Mare as also a great number of Calves, and others of the Dry Herd, which cannot be at present estimated.
That the loss of the Dairy this year causes your Petitioner to be very much in arrear, together with expending of what ready money her was possessed of in making improvements on the land, renders Petitioner unable to meet the Agent Major Christie at the usual time of rent paying.
Thus circumstanced, Your Excellency, Petitioner most respectfully begs leave to appeal to your Excellency humbly praying to take the many and Serious loss’s Sustained by Petitioner into your humane Consideration, and be most favourably pleased to direct Such Reduction of the arrears of Rent due by Petitioner, as to Your Excellency may seem meet, So as to enable him and heavy Family, to enjoy the fruit of their former expenditures.
And your Excellency’s Petitioner
As in duty bound will ever pray
Advice was sought from the Agent for Church and School Land. His advice favoured giving William additional time to pay:
I believe the Petitioner to be a striving and hard working tenant, who will not take advantage of leniency being shown as to the time of payment of his Arrears of Rent. To reduce the rental would bring on the Government a claim from every lessee of Church and School Lands.
12 September 1846 W H Christie
Agent, C & S Lands
The Governor’s office endorsed this recommendation in the margin of the petition, dated 15th September:
Let such time be afforded the Petitioner for the payment of his Rent to us that Agent for Church & School lands may think reasonable.
Presumably William tried to discharge this debt by sub-leasing and breeding. In 1848 he had a thoroughbreed horse available, advertising in The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser’s edition of Wed 13 Sep 1848 as follows:
THIS Thoroughbred Chesnut Entire Horse, sire “Old Problem”, grand sire “Theorem”, out of a thoroughbred imported Arab mare, is to STAND THIS SEASON, at my residence, BERKELY PARK, adjoining Clarence Town. His beauty and symmetry cannot be equalled in this colony; height, about 15½ hands; age, 5 years the middle of November next.
For 1 mare, £1 10s.; for 3 mares, £1 7s. 6d. each; for 6 mares, £1 5s. each; for 10 mares, £1 3s. each; for 15 mares, £1 1s. each, the property of one person; groomage included.
Payment to be made on or before the 1st of January, 1849.
Good care will be taken of mares during the season, with good paddocks and plenty of feed and water.
The proprietor will not be answerable for any accidents or losses.
By 1849 his tenants included James Mather (or Mahur), Samuel Hobart and Patrick Foley. (A Samuel Turvan Hobart married a Hannah Foley in 1850 at Maitland. At least four of their older children were born in Clarence Town. Samuel Hobart and Patrick Foley were presumably related by marriage.) There was also a tenant named Mrs Rolls who wished to give up her sub-lease. It appears that William was still in arrears with his rent, as the following letter outlines:
Mrs James Thomson
As to executing Distress Warrant on Mr Wm. O’Neil, Berkley Park.
W H Christie Esq East Maitland
Agent for Church & School Lands 17 Dec 1849
I beg respectfully to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 6th inst., enclosing a Distress Warrant against Wm. O’Neill for £161-3-4.
I have just seen a man from that neighbourhood named Thos. Hackett, who is anxious to become a tenant on a portion of land, County of Gloucester, Parish of Wilmot, rented to Mrs Rolls. He understands Mrs Rolls has either, or is inclined to give it up, he is willing to take it upon the terms and believes he can get Mrs Rolls consent if the land he alludes to can be rented to him. Please address your answer to himself at Clarence Town – Hackett once occupied a part of J Hillier’s land.
Hackett informs me that there is a good crop of wheat on O’Neill’s land, the tenants are James Mahur 100 acres, Samuel Hobart 700 acres, Foley 700 acres and O’Neill’s own portion 700 acres. The wheat amongst them might average two thousand bushels it is only partly cut down and is not likely to be thrashed before the beginning of next year. However, I think before that time to go and see O’Neil, and endeavour to make the arrangement if I do not make use of the warrant.
I have the honour to be…
On 07 Feb that year (1849), William had purchased a block of land in Clarence Town for £8-0-0 and 02 Jun 1851 he sold this to his son John (but for £27-10-0).
Things did not appear to be sound between William and Johanna, it appears she fled from her marriage because on Wed 30 Nov 1853 William placed this notice in The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser:
THE Public are hereby CAUTIONED not to HARBOUR my Wife, JOHANNA O’NEIL, or give her Credit on my account, as I will not be Answerable for any Debts contracted by her after this date; and any person found Harbouring the said Johanna O’Neil, or encouraging her from home, will be prosecuted as the law directs.
Berkely Park. Clarence Town,
Nov. 29, 1853
It is possible she soon returned, for almost immediately there appeared a flurry of attempts to lease part or all of his farm. The first reference we found is from 1854 with this advertisement (from Ford, page 196):
TO LET FOR SEVEN YEARS, A House containing eight rooms, being my present dwelling place, to which is attached a paddock of about four hundred acres, A Stock-yard capable of holding about four hundred cattle and a large calf pen; about one acre and a half is cleared and cultivated, and an established Peach Orchard enclosed with a four rail fence. A run for cattle can be given, and there is a never failing supply of fresh water.
A FARM within one mile of Clarence Town containing about fifty acres, on which is erected a shingled cottage with four rooms;
A BARK COTTAGE, with SHED, STOCKYARDS and a small bush paddock etc., with permission to enclose about one hundred and fifty acres more land. This would be well adapted for a dairy farm, as there can be a run for cattle given with it…
Then in The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser on Sat 22 Sep 1855 this ad appeared:
T0 LET, by the undersigned, Two Small Compact FARMS, adjoining, with good improvements attached to them, on the banks of the Williams River, two miles above Clarence Town. One containing 22 acres, and the other about 16 acres, with a share of a small bush paddock, inclosed in jointly with two other tenants, together with a run of a certain number of cattle outside the paddocks, for the term of seven or fourteen years, as may be agreed on. Possession could be given of the small one any moment, and the other as soon as I got my wheat off, by allowing me the use of the barn until I thrashed the same.
Will Let 20 Acres, more or less, on a Clearing Lease, at the back, called tbe “Church Flat,” with a run for cattle, and always plenty of water.
This is a chance very seldom ocean so convenient to market.
Berkely Park, Clarence Town, Sept. 18, 1855.
and on Thu 16 Apr 1857 (repeated on Tue 21 and Sat 25 Apr):
TO LET, by the undersigned, a COMPACT FARM, with a house, barn, and stock-yard, being part of Berkely Park, adjoining Clarence Town, Williams River, (where the steamer comes every week) containing 22 acres, more or less, together with share of a bush paddock jointly with the other tenants, and a run for cattle – also in the open bush, for the term of five or ten years, as may be agreed upon – W. O’NEIL.
Berkely Park, Clarence Town,
April 13th, 1857
William placed this notice in the paper on Sat 16 May 1857:
One Pound Reward.
To Constables and Others.
HAVING Hired a MAN for Six Months, named GEORGE MITCHELL, and paid him £2 in advance, stands 6 feet high, fair complexion, about 55 years of age, and blind of one eye, has bolted from me on the 2nd of this month before he commenced his work, having obtained a warrant this day from the Clarence Town Bench, the above Reward I will pay to any person that will lodge him in safe custody for the purpose of dealing with him according to law, and the public are cautioned not to harbour him.
Berkely Park, Clarence Town,
May 6th, 1857
On Thu 29 Jul 1858 (repeated on 03 Tue and Sat 07 Aug) yet another ad:
GOOD NEWS FOR THE PUBLIC.
I THE UNDERSIGNED, at the request of many, having put my dwelling-house in good order, fit to be licensed, containing Nine Rooms, including the back kitchen, and a six-stall Stable, will LET the same for the term of three, six, nine, or twelve years, as may be agreed upon, with three stockyards, four bails, and calf-pen, together with a large paddock, well fenced, adjoining, with a running creek of water through the centre of it, abrut 1½ acres already cleared by the creek, some more nice flats lightly timbered, enough to grow wheat, maize, and lucerne, to supply the house, a run for cattle, and liberty to fence in 200 acres more of land at the back, the water, also, about twelve rod from the house. Situate one mile from Clarence Town, on the new line of road to Dungog, the Manning, Port Stephens, and Irish Town road, also going by the door to Hinton. This is reckoned the best stand in the district, for a public house, with the [conveniences] that is (sic) attached to it, which others are short of. A man, with good means to carry on a slaughtering licence with the public-house, would soon make a fortune. A good tenant will have this on liberal terms to suit the time, as I intend going to live on the farm for the sake of a little ease. Possession will be given when required.
Berkely Park, July 26th, 1858
But all was still not well between William and Johanna. This very sad notice appeared on Sat 12 Feb 1859:
THE public are cautioned from SUPPLYING my WIFE with any GOODS or MONIES, as I will not be answerable for any DEBTS she may contract. She left me against my will, without any provocation. I am not going after her to force her back as I have done once before, I must only trust to Providence in future.
Berkely Park, Feb. 1, 1859.
On 02 Mar 1859 he was again before the magistrate for some offence and was sentenced to 14 days; he was discharged from gaol on 14 March.
On Tue 24 Jan 1860 (and repeated on Thu 26 and Sat 28 Jan 1860):
TO LET, by the undersigned, TWO FARMS, adjoining each other, on the Williams River, two miles from Clarence Town, with a house, barn, and stockyard attached to each farm – one containing 22 acres, and the other 17½ acres – for a term of five or eleven years, as may be agreed upon; with the use of a paddock, jointly with two other tenants adjoining, and a run of cattle also in the open bush. Terms liberal, to suit the times.
Berkely Park, Jan. 20, 1860.
On 27 Mar 1861, William, along with his two sons Patrick and William Jn, were charged with stealing & slaughtering a calf.
On Sat 27 Dec 1862 (and repeated Sat 10 and 17 Jan 1863):
TO LET, by the undersigned, for the term of Eight Years from 1st of April next, THREE CULTIVATION FARMS, containing 107 acres, with good House and Barn attached to each farm, and a bush paddock in the centre, enclosed at the back by a two-railed fence, adjoining Clarence Town, higher up. The growing crop will praise the land in this bad season.
Berkely Park, Dec 24, 1862
CATTLE, HORSES, FARMING IMPLEMENTS,&C, &c.
LEASE OF Dwelling House, extensive Paddocks, and Bush Run.
MR. T. BURNAGE has been instructed by Mr. William O’Neil to sell by auction, at his residence, near Clarence Town, on Monday, the 7th of September next, at Twelve o’clock,
The whole of his PROPERTY, comprising
Eight excellent WORKING BULLOCKS, – most of them will pole and lead
Eight superior bred cows, some calves, draught horses, and mares
Pole dray, nearly new
Ploughs, harrows, &c,, &c.
Will be LET, by auction,
Mr. O’Neil’s RESIDUE OF LEASE of that extensive block of Church and School Land known as BERKELY PARK, having seven and a-half years to run from 1st of October next.
Besides the bush run, there are about 180 acres of paddock securely fenced, yielding good grass, and having an abundant supply of water. The dwelling house is a substantial building, containing eight rooms. There is also a six-stall stable, with loft, strong slaughtering yard, with sufficient paddock fenced off to hold 200 head of cattle. There is a piece of cultivation, about four acres, enclosed and under crop for the use of the house.
The auctioneer, while inviting the attention of purchasers, begs to point to the local advantages connected with this property. The homestead, being but a short distance from Clarence Town, and on the high road from Dungog to Hinton, Morpeth, and Maitland, is well adapted for any business purpose – would make an excellent and convenient accommodation house, or a first-rate butchering and boiling-down establishment.
Terms of Sale: – Under £5 cash; larger sums, three months’ approved bills.
Then, on 05 Jun 1864, William appeared before the Bench for “neglecting to comply with an order made by the Bench to pay 15/- weekly for the maintenance of his wife from 17 Aug 1863” and he was to “be imprisoned until the sum of Twelve pounds now due by him is paid“. On June 23 he hadn’t paid that sum, and his sentence was extended to expire on 23 September. He was described as having “lost nearly all his teeth. Scar on the bridge of nose. Mole on his left cheek“.
Again, on 19 October 1864, William was again before the Bench for the same misdemeanour. The amount appears to be for £14 5s, and his sentence extended until 10 January 1865 if the amount remained unpaid.
Again, on Sat 4 Feb 1865 (and repeated on 11 Feb and 18 Feb):
TO LET, by the undernamed, TWO GOOD FARMS, one containing 31 acres, and the other 40 acres, with a good house and barn attached to each farm, with an enclosed paddock and run for stock outside the paddocks being part of the Church and School lands of Berkely Park, adjoining Clarence Town, two miles higher up, for the term of six years, from the 1st of April next. Good tenants will got them on reasonable terms. Should I be not at home (in Clarence Town) when applied for, my agent, Mr. RICHARD FOGWELL, will act on my behalf.
Berkely Park, Clarence Town.
February the 3rd, 1865.
William was still advertising to let his house and land right up to the time of his death. From The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, Tue 07 Nov 1865:
TO LET, by the undernamed, my former DWELLING HOUSE, stable, two large stockyards, with a slaughtering-yard in the centre, ready for use, one mile from Clarence Town, with a paddock adjoining containing 180 acres more or less, with a four-acre cultivation paddock in the centre of it, for the term of 5½ years from the 1st of October, 1865; and also five-acre paddock (has been in cultivation) outside the top end of this I will let separate, with a house on it, and the run of a few head of cattle as may be agreed on, by the Dungog road. There is not a better stand in the district for slaughtering, and will let it on very liberal terms to a good tenant, being at great loss the last two years by others who deceived me in the rent of this place.
Boatfall, Berkeley Park.
6th of November, 1865
William died in December, 1865 from injuries he sustained from a fall off his horse while in a state of intoxication (the finding in the inquest into his death that occurred on 28 Dec 1865 before Coroner E. McKinlay). He was burried at Stoney Creek on 03 Jan. It may have been him who was also injured on the Victoria Bridge near Dungog; from The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser on Thu 5 Mar 1863:
Accident at Victoria Bridge.
The man William O’Neill, who was hurt at the Victoria Bridge, by being crushed against a post by his horse, on Friday last was, we have since learnt, taken to the Hospital, where it was discovered that his collar bone was broken. He has sustained several minor injuries, but has not, as was expected, broken any of his ribs. On Tuesday, the poor fellow was doing as well as could be expected under the circumstances. The Victoria Bridge being now undergoing repairs, one of the passages is blocked up, to which fact the casualty may, perhaps, be attributed.
I, the undersigned having got the management of the Berkely Park Run this year from my father, his stock having scattered in all directions, himself not being able to look after them from a severe hurt he received some time back, therefore any person or persons found TRESPASSING on said land or DRIVING STOCK OFF, or otherwise, without leave, will be PROSECUTED as the law directs…
WM 0’NEILL, Junior,
William must have recovered somewhat. At a public meeting with W.B. Allen, Member of the Legislative Council representing the Williams Electorate, Allen outlined a number of laws that had been passed in Parliament. Among the comments from the audience in the Clarence Town meeting on 14th May 1863 (so just before his goaling) was this, from Ford page 240:
… The Bill having reference to the Church and School lands was likewise of great importance to a number of his constituents. The Government cannot and dare not repudiate the leases; the leaseholders are perfectly safe until the expiry of their leases…
Wm. O’Neill, Senior, of Clarence Town, said that was a Government Tenant, and had Tenants under him; and hoped that tenants of Church and School Lands would have equal rights of purchase with squatters. His tenants could not continue to grow wheat at the present price…
Johanna had moved to Mount Rivers near Gresford, residing with her son William and his family. She died on 19 Apr 1873 aged 73 of peritonitis after a 12 day battle. She was burried at Mount Rivers on 22 Apr.
There is a sign commemmorating the formation of Berkley Park erected on Ford Lane (about 1 km from Clarence Town on the road to Glen William) with the date as 1849:
Views of the property looking down to the William’s River:
William & Johanna’s family:
01. John (b. 1822 in Tralee, Ireland, d. 29 Sep 1894)
Johanna and William had five more children in the Williams River district:
02. Ellen Cecily (b. 1830, d. 19 May 1896)
03. Honora (b. 1832, d. 13 Sep 1883)
04. Patrick (b. 17 Mar 1835, d. 02 Apr 1887)
05. Mary Agnes (b. 09 Dec 1836, d. 06 Mar 1874)
06. William (b. 13 Apr 1841, d. 1906)
John O’Neil became sufficiently well known there was an entry for him in the Australian Men of Mark (1889):
There were many mentions of William O’Neill in Ford’s book:
At Clarence Town, the local patrons, WILLIAM O’NEILL, THOMAS HOLMES and DAVID FARQUHAR made application to the Board of Commissioners for a grant of one hundred and forty pounds (£140) towards the cost of erecting a boys and girls school; and advising that there were over two hundred children (not all of school age) within the Township area. Crown land, an area of one acre situated on the South side of Queen street at its intersection with Rifle street was appropriated for a National School. Mr. Theopilus Kirke and his wife (providing instruction in the feminine arts) took up their appointment on the 22nd September 1849, located in a temporary building approved for that purpose until the new building was completed.
NOTICE – 26th January 1854 …’TENDERS ARE REQUIRED for the ERECTION of a BRIDGE over O’Neill’s Creek, near MONAGHAN’S Public House (Brookfield)…
On pages 260/1 Ford describes a series of cricket matches involving a team from Irish Town:
The game continued to attract both players and spectators and to maintain the existing social communication that it had established between districts during past years. One of the recent occasions was the match played at Clarence Town on Thursday 9th September 1858 between the “Irish Town” (near Clarence Town) players and the Brookfield Club situated between Clarence Town and Dungog…
It attracted a great number of spectators from surrounding districts and the day passed off great good humour and wound up by a dinner a “Fitzroy Inn” which reflected great credit on the and Mrs. Robards. There was an abundance of roast beef, mutton, ducks, fowls, etc., followed by plum pudding, tarts, etc., supplied to the guests, about forty in number. After the usual loyal and complimentary toasts, and spending a pleasant evening, the party separated about ten o’clock…
Two innings played … Irish Town, ninety eight runs won by eight runs…”
Return matches all involved much partying:
In the evening after the game, players and friends gathered at the “Fitzroy” Hotel to enjoy a dinner… the gathering adjourned to the ballroom of the “Fitzroy”, while others went to the “Clarence Town Hotel” and dancing was kept up until police came and ordered both houses to close…
The players then retired for lunch and after refreshing the inner man, again commenced to wield the willow… We believe the party did not break up until broad daylight.
The Clarence Town Hotel mentioned had been built by William’s Irish-born son John, though he sold it in 1858.
Notice of the 6th July 1861 advised: …”CONTRACTS FOR CONSTRUCTING BRIDGES – ROAD FROM CLARENCE TOWN TO DUNGOG … and REPAIRS to the above ROAD, will be entered into with parties willing to undertake the work on Tuesday, the 16th Instant at about 10 o’clock a.m.; Each piece of work will be let on the spot, commencing at O’Neill’s bridge (North)…”
The Government had terminated the leaseholds of the two properties making up Irish Town in 1868. These were surveyed and sold as small freehold lots.
William & Johanna live on in their many descendants. In the 1800s the families tended to settle in the Hunter region of NSW, gradually spreading north to Kempsey, north west to Armidale and south to Sydney. The Dungog Chronicle reported on the family reunion on 12 December 1994:
Gathering of the O’Neill clan
About 300 descendants of William O’NeilI (1795-1866) and Johanna Flaherty (1799-1873) of County Kerry Ireland, gathered at Dungog on November 26 and 27.
William, sentenced to seven years transportation to Botany Bay in 1822 as a political prisoner for what was described in the records as “insurrection”, was joined by his wife Johanna and son John in 1828. They squatted on land at Brookfield and he was later given a leasehold at Clarence Town. They called the property “Berkley Park”.
William and Johanna had five more children, some of whom grazed cattle and conducted butchers’ shops and hotels in the surrounding district.
Mrs Patricia O’Neill of Aberdare, Mrs Jann O’Neill of Wauchope and Mrs Marie Daley of Sydney researched the records and organised the gathering together of the O’Neill clan, some of whom came from Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and many parts of NSW.
A feature of the two days was the exhibition of genealogical charts, family records, photographs and memorabilia of the forbears of those present. It was a good time for “kissing cousins”.
The Showground Committee of Dungog generously made available the clean and admirable showground facilities. Dungog Apex Club provided barbecue steak and sausage sandwiches with drinks on both days. The friendly service and quality of the food was much appreciated. The visiting families were grateful to the proprietors of the hotels and motels in the area for their courtesy and hospitality.
It was a source of considerable pleasure for the descendants of William and Johanna O’Neill to discover their roots in the glorious country around Dungog.