John O’Neil

John O’Neil (1822-1894) &
Julia Mahoney

Jump down to the list of their children

John O’Neil was the oldest of 6 children of William O’Neill & Johanna Flaherty, born in Ireland in 1822, the year William was transported to NSW under the Insurrection Act. He and Johanna were granted free passage to join William at the end of his 7 year sentence, arriving on the City of Edinburgh on 12 Nov 1828.

We believe that Julia Mahoney was born in Killarney, Co Kerry, Ireland, c 1816. Such a person arrived in 1840 on the Isabella as an unmarried immigrant; the ship manifest shows her to be aged 24, a house servant sponsored by one John Marshall. Her mother, Mary, was still alive in 1840. Her father was John Mahoney (as stated on Julia’s death notice). John Marshall was probably a bounty agent; these were folk who “were at liberty to advertise widely to recruit emigrants. For example, one of Marshall’s broadsheet advertisements in 1838 was captioned ‘EMIGRATION TO NEW SOUTH WALES. – CONDITIONAL FREE PASSAGES.’ In this circular, Marshall stated his ships were ‘FIRST CLASS’ with ‘VERY SUPERIOR ARRANGEMENTS.'” [Taken from P15 of The Assisted Immigrants, 1837-1850, a PhD thesis by Robert J. Shultz, the Australian National University.]

Several of their descendants today spell their surname as O’Neil, so this form is retained on this page.

John & Julia were married at two separate services:

  1. on 02 Dec 1842 in the Church of England (reel 5007, 541/26), by Rev GK Rusden;
  2. on 18 Feb 1846 at Clarence Town (reel 5039, 489/94), by a Catholic priest from East Maitland, Fr Patrick Magennis.

The witnesses at the first marriage service were Alice O’Neil of Williams River and Timothy Mahoney of Morpeth. This is somewhat of a mystery, as we have found no record of an Alice O’Neil old enough to have witnessed this marriage. Presumably she was a close relation to John; his oldest sister, Ellen, would have been no more than 12 years old in 1842.

The witnesses at the second marriage service were Ellen O’Neil of Clarence Town and Michael Ryan of Clarence Town. Ellen was presumably John’s sister; in 1846 she would have been 15 or 16 years old.

In 1846 John was farming on part of his parent’s property Berkely Park, since he is mentioned in William’s letter to the Governor dated 05 Sep and quoted on William’s page:

That your Petitioner begs leave to state, … 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, …

John was still on the farm in 1847, since his son Thomas was born there (on the birth certificate John was described as a settler, Irish Town).

The following excerpt is from Clarence Town : Erring-I to River Port,  compiled and researched by R.L. Ford:

Further building development occurred with the purchase by JOHN O’NEILL [sic]. Licensed victualler, of Stroud, of, following several conveyances, the allotment originally to Lewis Gordon, of Sydney, in 1847. O’Neill had built on the allotment (five of Section Two) a substantial brick building of two floors and faithfully built of the choicest materials having frontage to the West boundary of Grey Street, between Queens and King Streets.

John’s Clarence Town store and hotel is the building on the RH end of this image

On 07 Feb 1849, his father William purchased land (2 roods) in Clarence Town for £8-0-0, which, on 02 June 1851, he later sold to John for £27-10-0. The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser on Wed 09 Jan 1850) confirms that he traded at Clarence Town at the time:


Mondiwa, an aboriginal black, was indicted for stealing two pints of rum and two bottles, the property of John Foley, at Clarence Town, on the 29th November, 1849.

It appeared from the evidence of Ellen Foley, Joseph Croft, Frederick Henry, and Edmund Helen, that Mrs. Foley had on that day bought some groceries and rum, in Clarence Town, for the harvest, her husband being a farmer, living about three miles from Clarence Town; before she got out of the township she sat down to make up all the parcels into one, intending to carry it home on her head; Mondiwa, who knew her well, and had often had food at her place, came up and offered to carry the things home for her; she refused, saying that she could carry them herself, he then threatened with an oath to kill her if she went home by herself, and seizing a case bottle of rum from her bundle, he ran off with it, and got away at the time, although she ran after him. The prisoner, it appears, went to Mr. Croft’s inn, and Mr. Croft observing something in his shirt, took out a case bottle of rum from his bosom, prisoner said it was his and it was no matter to Mr Croft how he came by it; Mrs. Croft remarked that a woman had just complained of having been threatened by prisoner with a razor, and Mr Croft, on putting his hand into prisoner’s bosom, found he had a razor there, Mr Croft then went to where he saw Mrs. Foley with one or two persons; she claimed the bottle as hers. The prisoner was apprehended by Constable Henry, near Mr. Croft’s inn. The prisoner, it appeared, had been well known about Clarence Town for many years. Helen, who was in the service of Mr. O’Neil, publican, deposed to Mrs. Foley’s purchasing a similar bottle of rum to that produced; Helen saw Mondiwa take up a round bottle from Mrs. Foley’s things, but he was followed by a woman, and the bottle taken from him.

The prisoner, in defence, said he did not take the bottle of rum. In his cross-examination he said he had taken the bottle, and given it up to Mr. Croft as Mrs Foley’s, for safety.

The jury returned a verdict of guilty, and the prisoner was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, with hard labour.

On Wed 17 Oct 1855 (and repeated the Saturday later) the following notice appeared in the The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser:

Good News for Clarence Town.

MR. JOHN O’NEIL, for many years residing on the Williams River, begs to inform his old friends and the inhabitants of the Williams and its vicinity, that he intends commencing business as GENERAL STORE-KEEPER, at his new building, Clarence Town, on SATURDAY, the 20th day of the present month, with a very choice selection of Drapery, Grocery, and Ironmongery, Wine and Spirits, of the very best description, where he hopes with strict attention, combined with civility and moderate charges, to receive a share of the public patronage.


Mr. John O’Neil intends opening a part of his new building as a respectable BOARD and LODGING HOUSE, for the use of the public, as he is aware that many persons could not get a bed at Clarence Town of late, and in many instances have been compelled to lie out in the open air.

Mr. John O’Neil will be happy to take colonial Produce of all description in exchange, or for cash.

John applied for a liquor license on 05 Sep 1856 for the Clarence Town Hotel, and again  on 20 Apr 1858; to download or view these as images click here for 1856 and here for 1858. His brother Patrick in 1858 also applied for a license for his inn, The Travellers Home, in Brookfield (about 9km north of Clarence Town).

John sold the hotel on 17 Jul 1858 to Peter Hawke, a farmer who leased part of Berkely Park, for £300-0-0 cash and the discharge of a mortgage of £800-0-0. The hotel was later destroyed by fire. The hotel that stands on the site today is called the Erringhi Hotel.

John appears to have moved to the Port Macquarie district and started farming. However in 1863 he was arrested for cattle stealing and sentenced to five years in Darlinghurst goal; from the 1860-1864 New South Wales, Australia, Goal Description and Entrance Books:

John O'Neil goal book entry

The goal entrance details clearly show this to be our John O’Neil – it shows his arrival in NSW in 1828 on the City of Edinburgh. In scouring newspaper reports of trials for this time period we found this report in The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser on Sat 10 Oct 1863; notice the first prisoner entry was for William Johnson, the man who was taken by steamer from Port Macquarie with John O’Neil:


On the 24th September, the Quarter Sessions at Port Macquarie was held, and precisely at ten o’clock Mr. Justice Francis entered the court and took his seat on the bench. Mr. Ellis, the Crown Prosecutor, entered a few minutes before the Judge, as did also Mr. R J. Perrett, the Clark of the Peace. The court was crowded to excess.

William Johnson, aged 32, labourer, was charged with stealing a silver watch, … Prisoner was sentenced to be confined in Darlinghurst gaol, with hard labor, for one year.

John O’Neil, farmer, was arraigned on a charge of cattle stealing. Prisoner was defended by Mr. R. Forster, M.P. The Crown Prosecutor entered into an elaborate analysis on the criminal law on cattle-stealing, in the course of which he stated that the present (if I clearly understand Mr. Ellis) was the first case in which he had prosecuted for the offence of which prisoner was indicted, and relied on the faithful discharge of their duties by the jury. The witnesses called were J. B. Hoare, Archibald Ewan, William Reed, Jeremiah Warlters, William Warlters, and Jane Warlters. The evidence was volumnious, and lasted until six p.m. It clearly proved the iniquitous conduct of prisoner and the systematic plan he had resorted to in appropriating the cattle of his neighbours since his arrival in the district. Prisoner was found guilty, notwithstanding a most able defence on the part of his learned advocate (Mr. Foster) His Honor made a most admirable address, in the which he said, alluding to the recommendation of the jury for mercy on account of prisoner’s large family, that he wished as far as it was possible to temper justice with mercy, yet at the same time not to pass such a sentence as should be inconsistent with the practice in such cases. There could be no doubt that violence, cruelty, and wrong were connected with the crime of cattle stealing. His Honor, in forcible language, depicted the crime, ad gradatim, of the young men under the evil example of depraved parents, first beginning with stealing a calf – that this crime was the root of a vast deal that threatens the whole social fabric of the colony, and that any special leniency to offenders was a grievance to the public; that throughout the proceedings of the prisoner, there had been a studied readiness of arrangement and measured concealment ; and that, in reference to a petition which had been sent to him on behalf of prisoner, and also the recommendation to mercy on the part of the jury, he (the judge) felt that his own duty utterly forbade him to proportion sentences to the wants of a family – that in this case he would adopt an intermediate course, so as not to leave prisoner without a hope of remission. Therefore, the sentence he was about to pass would be accompanied with a recommendation that if prisoner felt determined to lead a new and better life, he would not be left to the full penalty of his sentence, viz., to be confined to hard labor on the roads or public works of the colony for five years, with a remission at the end of two
years, if the conduct of prisoner be good during the period last named. The wife of prison er, who was in court, only heard the first portion of the learned judge’s sentence, and as soon as the words “five years” were mentioned the poor creature shrieked out in an unearthly tone, “Oh, my God!” and left the court in a state bordering on madness. The poor woman has for a long time past been seriously ill, and great commiseration was felt for her, but none for the unprincipled prisoner, who has since his arrival in this district been most obnoxious to his neighbours – twice bound over to keep the peace – and, moreover, is of very violent disposition.

It is rather singular that on the very evening of the day on which O’Neil received his sentence, a steamer from the north was signalled, and that “worthy,” with the equally amiable Mr. Johnson, were escorted by constables Bennett and Ryan to Darlinghurst to fulfill their respective sentences.

We may congratulate the district in the result of this case, as cattle-stealing has long been rife here, and has now received a check which may operate as a caution to some of the few notorious scoundrels in the shape of cattle-stealers of this place, who for years past have been a scourge to all owners of stock, as also to the public at large.

After his release, John and his family moved to Greenhill outside Kempsey. John became sufficiently well known to have an entry in the Australian Men of Mark (1889)

(which glossed over some truths):

John & Julia’s family:

01. Alice (b. 1844, d. 15 Jul 1928)

02. John (b. 1846, d. 03 Mar 1926)

03. Thomas (b. 02 Aug 1847, d. 03 Mar 1924)

04. Maria Theresa (b. 1851, d. 23 Mar 1883)

John died of meningitis on 29 Sep 1894 at Green Hill, Kempsey aged 73. On his death certificate he was described as a farmer. He is buried in the Catholic Cemetery at Kempsey.

Julia died in 1873 aged 54 or 55, presumably at Kempsey (her record has the Macleay River District as her place of death).

Julia died in 1873 aged 54 or 55, presumably at Kempsey (her record has the Macleay River District as her place of death).

Graves at Bellbrook Cemetery, near Kempsey, of some of John and Julia’s descendants.

01. Alice O’Neil did not marry. Her NSW death recod (number 15131) and probate papers have her surname spelt O’Neill. Her death was reported on Tue 17 Jul 1928 in the Macleay Argus:


On Sunday last there passed away, at the ripe age of 85 years; Miss Alice O’Neill, of Tozer-street, West Kempsey, daughter of the late Mr. and Mrs. John O’Neill. Deceased, who was a well-known and highly respected resident of the Macleay, will be remembered as a school teacher, being in charge of Dondingalong and other district schools at different periods. On relinquishing the profession deceased entered the service of the Postal Department, and was for many years in charge of the Greenhill Post Office. Of a quiet and retiring disposition, the late Miss O’Neill was always ready to assist others less fortunately situated than herself and had a host of friends throughout the district, by whom her passing is deeply mourned. Mr. P. J. O’Neill, of the Hotel Kempsey, is a cousin of deceased, while Messrs. Vincent, Christopher and Maurice O’Neill, of Upper Macleay, are nephews, and Mrs. O. Davis (Mooneba) a niece. The funeral, under the conduct of Mr. Jos. T. Walker, took place on Monday afternoon, the cortege leaving the Catholic Church after a service conducted by Rev. Father Morris, who also officiated at the graveside at West Kempsey cemetery.

In the application for probate of her will, she is named Alice Francis O’Neil; her executors were her cousin P. J O’Neill and her niece, Maria Josephine Davis (nee O’Neill). The estate included a river-flat 309 acre property about 30 km from Kempsey, as well as a small weatherboard, two-storey house opposite the pub at Greenhill.

04. Maria Theresa O’Neil did not marry; she died at age 34 on 23 Mar 1883 at Kempsey West (record 8945) – see her headstone below, erected by her parents. The headstone shows her birth year as 1849; no NSW birth record has been found to date, though it was not mandatory to register children prior to 1854.

A number of researchers have her marrying Patrick Quilky in the Shoalhaven in 1868 (record 3384). However that lady was born in Ireland and passed away aged 81 in 1921 at Seven Oaks near Kempsey (Macleay Argus, Tue 29 Nov 1921).

If any of the family can supply further information or correct any errors please contact me (

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