02 October 2013

Noonans of Kildorrery

In the mid to late 1800s, six siblings named Noonan migrated from Kildorrery, County Cork, Ireland to Australia. One of them was our ancestor, Mary Noonan, later known by her married name, Mary Black (1861-1930). It's not known if the five sisters and one brother travelled together or separately, possibly assisted by family members already arrived. In either case, from 1873 our Noonan siblings started appearing in marriage records in Victoria, Australia, with later documents showing them living in inner-city Melbourne (especially the suburbs of Brunswick and North Melbourne). Aside from Mary, the émigrés to Australia were: James (1844-1924), Bridget (1847-1913), Johanna (1855-1945), Catherine (1857-1905) and Elizabeth Noonan (1865-1896). Three other siblings (Margaret, John and Timothy) appear to have remained behind in Ireland.

A = Kildorrery, County Cork, Ireland

Kildorrery, where the siblings were born, was an inland rural area close to the border between County Cork and County Limerick. Their father, Timothy Noonan, was a tenant farmer in the 'townland' of Oldcastletown, leasing from the Earl of Kingston. He may have been the same Timothy Noonan who in 1853 was leasing property in the townlands of Glasvaunta and Ballyvisteen. All three townlands were close to each other in Kildorrery parish. The siblings' mother, Catherine Maume, was from another Kildorrery family. An earlier record of Noonans in the area is the 1766 Religious Census, which shows a John Noonan and a Denis Noonane, 'papists' - meaning they were of the Catholic religion (1). The spelling variation Nunan was also used in early church records of our family.

Oldcastletown, Kildorrery, 2009

By the early to mid 1800s Kildorrery was a village surrounded by small farms. For most of the Irish population the diet was based on potatoes. Centuries of legalized oppression of the Catholic majority had left a deep mark on the country. Our ancestors may not have been the poorest of the poor but life would have been tough. Timothy Noonan and Catherine Maume married in 1841 and their first known child was baptised in 1844. They were about to be met with a national catastrophe. From the mid 1840s, the potato crops all over Ireland were destroyed by disease. This 'blight' went on devastating the staple food supply for years afterwards, with terrible consequences. It was called the Great Famine.
"During the famine approximately 1 million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland, causing the island's population to fall by between 20% and 25%..." (2)
Born in 1861, our ancestor Mary lived after the famine, but her family and community had recent experience of it first hand. Mary's parents and her siblings born during the famine survived, but others in the wider family may have not. Certainly Kildorrery was affected. A vast migration out of Ireland began during the famine and continued long after. Mary and her siblings became part of the post-famine exodus.

Kildorrery famine memorial

Mary Noonan married William Black in Melbourne, Australia on 15 April 1882 at St George's Catholic Church, Carlton. The priest who married them was James Hannessy O'Connell, nephew of the Irish national hero, Daniel O'Connell (3). The marriage certificate shows that William was a labourer from County Derry, in Northern Ireland (other records narrow this down to Macosquin, near Coleraine, County Derry). Mary was aged 21 and William was 23. A few year's earlier, Mary's sister, Johanna (Hannah) Noonan, had married William's brother, John Black. The families of the two couples lived nearby to each other in Brunswick for many years.

St George's Church, Carlton (Melbourne), Australia

William and Mary had ten children: William (1882-1916), Laurence (1884-1938), Timothy (1887-1919), Ellen/Nellie (1888-1956), Mary/Minnie (1890-1981), Elizabeth/Bessie (1896-1994), John/Jack Black (1899-1975), and three who died in early childhood (Catherine, Veronica and Dorothea). William's occupation in 1903 was 'ganger' - meaning foreman of a work gang on the railways. He died aged 51 in 1906. The death of her husband left Mary a widow aged 45 with two adult sons, two children nearing adult age and two children under 10. She lived on in the family home at 24 Beith Street, Brunswick for 14 more years. Some of the adult children continued on there until 1981 - the family had lived in the house for at least 85 years when it was sold. Mary and William are buried at Melbourne General Cemetery.

24 Beith Street, Brunswick (Melbourne) in 2009

Family historian, Isabel McKenzie, described a memory from about 1919, when she and her sister stayed overnight at the home of Mary (Noonan) Black, at that time aged about 58:
"I would have been eight years old... out to Brunswick, where we met Mrs Black... Friday was no meat day and so on... but I remember in the morning having the most delicious Irish stew I'd ever tasted in my life... Mrs Black was steeped in Irish history... Protestant versus Catholic stuff... I think it was our first introduction that there was any trouble between the Irish and the English... and also the 'bookie' was calling and getting the bets..." (4)
Isabel's childhood memory of Mary coincides with the Irish War of Independence. County Cork, where Mary was born, was a major centre of the war, which culminated two year's later in the Irish Free State. It was a passionate time for the Irish in Australia too.

Cork City, Ireland, 1922 - Michael Collins addressing crowd

In addition to convictions about Ireland, it's possible that Mary and her siblings were able to speak Gaelic. This appears even more likely with their parents. Gaelic may have been the first language in the family and community when Mary and her siblings were born.

In 1919, Mary's household in Brunswick included her adult children Timothy (a driver), Nellie (cigarette maker), Minnie (shirt examiner), and Bessie (tailoress). Bessie (Elizabeth) Black went on to marry Allan Christie in 1923, giving rise to four further generations of descendants as of 2013.

Our direct ancestral connection with Mary Noonan

View Noonan and Black family tree groups

Read detailed timeline of Mary's life

Download Source Records Part 1 (18mb)

Download Source Records Part 2 (24mb)

With thanks to Janene Barker, Christine Butterfield and Annette Baker for documents and media.

25 April 2013

John McCrae: A Distant Relation

Canadian John McCrae (1872-1918), author of the WWI poem 'In Flanders Fields', was a second cousin to our ancestor James Christie (1863-1943), known to his grandchildren in Australia as 'Fuffa'. Their shared ancestors were James Christie (1770-1836) and Ann Gilmer (c. 1778-1842) of 'Pitgorno Estate', Strathmiglo, Fife, Scotland.

John McCrae 1914 (Wikimedia)


John McCrae
Born: 30 Nov 1872, Guelph, Wellington, Ontario, Canada
Parents: David McCrae and Janet Simpson Eckford
Married: Unmarried
Died: 28 Jan 1918, Boulogne, France
Sources: Family Search birth index; Veteran Affairs Canada.

Janet Simpson Eckford (mother of John McCrae)
Born: 26 Apr 1846, Monikie, Angus, Scotland
Parents: John Eckford and Margaret Christie
Married: David McCrae, 21 Jan 1870, Bruce, Ontario, Canada
Died: Unknown
Sources: Family Search birth index, marriage index; Veteran Affairs Canada.

Margaret Christie (grandmother of John McCrae)
Born: 1 Sep 1811, Strathmiglo, Fife, Scotland
Parents: James Christie and Ann Gilmer
Married: John Eckford, 24 Jun 1839, Monikie, Angus, Scotland
Died: 5 Feb 1847, buried Strathmiglo, Fife, Scotland
Sources: Family Search birth index, marriage index; Strathmiglo Church monumental inscriptions.

James Christie and Ann Gilmer (great grandparents of John McCrae and James 'Fuffa' Christie) 

James 'Fuffa' Christie with grandson Ian Hayes


James 'Fuffa' Christie
Born: 26 Dec 1863, Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland
Parents: John Christie and Agnes Kilgour
Married: Sarah Coffey, 2 Aug 1886, Carlton, Victoria, Australia
Died: 23 May 1943, Colac, Victoria, Australia
Sources: Birth certificate; marriage registration; death certificate.

John Christie (father of James 'Fuffa' Christie)
Born: 23 Oct 1833, Abernethy, Perth, Scotland
Parents: James Christie and Elizabeth Keddie
Married: Agnes Kilgour, 23 Oct 1861, Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland
Died: Unknown
Sources: Family Search birth index, marriage index.

James Christie (grandfather of James 'Fuffa' Christie)
Born: 14 Mar 1802, Strathmiglo, Fife, Scotland
Parents: James Christie and Ann Gilmer
Married: Elizabeth Keddie, 21 Feb 1830, Abbotshall, Fife, Scotland
Died: 13 Oct 1890, buried Strathmiglo, Fife, Scotland
Sources: Family Search birth index, marriage index; Strathmiglo Church monumental inscriptions.

James Christie and Ann Gilmer (great grandparents of James 'Fuffa' Christie and John McCrae)

Pitgorno House, ancestral home of our Christie family in Strathmiglo, Fife, Scotland


John McCrae's mother, Janet Simpson Eckford:
Janet's elder brother was named James Christie Eckford and her elder sister was named Anne Gilmer Eckford. Their names recall the siblings' grandparents, James Christie and Ann Gilmer.
Sources: Family Search birth records.

John McCrae's sister, Mary McCrae:
Mary's full name was Mary Christie Geills McCrae, recalling the Christie ancestry the siblings shared with their mother.
Source: Family Search birth records.

Pitgorno Estate and the Christies:
James Christie and Ann Gilmer were proprietors of Pitgorno Estate in Strathmiglo, Fife, Scotland. James 'Fuffa' Christie named his house in Clifton Hill (Melbourne) - 'Pitgorno' - after the Scottish estate that had been in the Christie family for about 150 years. There was no other place in Scotland named Pitgorno.
Sources: Strathmiglo Church monumental inscriptions; James 'Fuffa' Christie WWI records; Isabel McKenzie monograph, 'Christies and Coffeys'.

John McCrae's grandfather, mother and her siblings at Pitgorno Estate:
Census records for 1851 show John McCrae's grandfather (John Eckford), his mother (Janet Simpson Eckford) and her siblings, residing temporarily with their Christie relatives at ‘Pitgorno Estate’, Strathmiglo, Fife, Scotland. This was after the premature death in 1847 of Margaret Eckford (nee Christie), who was John McCrae’s maternal grandmother.
Source: 1851 Scotland Census, ancestry.com

Many other records show the connections between each generation of our Christie family in Scotland, including: birth, baptism and marriage records of the siblings of each generation; census returns that show the family together in various times and places; monumental inscriptions at Strathmiglo, Fife; records showing the Christies’ proprietorship of the Pitgorno Estate; and more. The last of the Christies of Pitgorno was Fuffa’s grandfather, James Christie, who died in 1890.

The Remembrance Poppy was inspired by John McCrae's poem, 'In Flanders Fields'


Second cousins, John McCrae (Canada) and James 'Fuffa' Christie (Australia), were both servicemen in France during WWI. This entry is made on ANZAC Day, 25 April 2013.

Download source records, images and more in one zip file here.

Most up-to-date family tree is here.

With thanks to Christine Butterfield for original documents.

13 March 2013

John Coffey: Fine Craftsman in Wood

First in the series of family history accounts is an ancestor who was born over 200 years ago in London. John Coffey (c.1806-1871) was a fine craftsman in wood. In the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, are some highly valued chairs he appears to have worked on while at the Badminton Estate in Gloucestershire in the mid-1800s.

One of eight chairs on which John Coffey is credited as 'japanner'

The chairs were originally created for the Dukes of Beaufort in the 1700s, designed for the 'Chinese Bedroom' at Badminton House by prominent cabinet makers, William and John Linnell. John Coffey is credited for 'japanning' the chairs in the 1830s-40s, a renovation of them at that time. To be working on these valuable pieces of furniture for such illustrious employers suggests that John was highly skilled and esteemed in his craft.

Badminton House in the 1700s by Canaletto

The chairs were originally designed in simple red, blue and gold. John Coffey appears to have altered the finish to black and gold with detailed oriental characters, hand painted images and fine geometric patterns. In 1992 a pair of the chairs were sold by Christies Auctions for 110,000 pound sterling.

Original design for the chairs by William Linnell

Records show John Coffey's occupations over his years in England as cabinet maker, gilder, japanner, upholsterer and french polisher. The Badminton chairs may well be just the tip of the iceberg of many outstanding pieces of furniture he worked on. The french polishing trade he passed on to his son John, who in turn passed it down at least two further generations in New Zealand and Australia.

John Coffey, earlier years

John Coffey, later years

Summary of Life Events

John Coffey was born in Marylebone (London), England around 1806. By 1833 he and wife Mary were living in adjacent Paddington. There three children were born: Edmund (c.1833), Paul (c.1835) and Rachel (c.1837).

By about 1838 the family had moved away from the London area, across England to Luckington, Wiltshire, where another child Ann was born. Some or all of Luckington was part of the Badminton Estate and it is likely that this was when John started working for the estate. By about 1840 the family had moved to Chipping Sodbury, also associated with the Badminton Estate, where a child Eliza was born. By about 1843 the family had again moved a short distance to Great Badminton, where youngest child, John Coffey (junior), was born.

The family were back in the London area by 1851, this time in Tower Hamlets, Hackney. Daughter Eliza appears to have died in childhood before this time. After John's wife Mary died at their home in Grove Street, Hackney in 1853, the rest of the family migrated away from England over the next five years. Eldest sons Edmund and Paul had been earlier apprenticed and became ship carpenters. Paul was involved in transportation of troops in the Crimean War (1853-56) and was in Wellington, New Zealand by 1857, where he went on to become a prominent figure in the development of Wellington Harbour. In 1858 John Coffey brought his youngest son John and daughters Rachel and Ann to Auckland, New Zealand aboard the ship 'Mary Ann'.

Together with son John, he later moved for some years to Australia, where he was involved in two business partnerships in 1863-64 (Coffey Sterling and Co; and Hancock and Coffey). From their business address at 188 Castlereigh Street, Sydney, they provided furniture repair, upholstery and french polishing services. Son John (aged about 20-21) was likely working with his father during these years. Father and son (with John junior's new family) returned to Auckland around 1865, where they worked together as french polishers. John Coffey died in Auckland in 1871. He was grandfather to our nearer ancestor Sarah Coffey who married James Christie in Melbourne, Australia in 1886.

Read and download full timeline of John Coffey's life here.

View and download source records and family photos here.

Download everything in one zip file here.

Most up-to-date family tree is here.

With thanks to Christine Butterfield for original documents.