James Patrick Terence O’Brien

At this stage, I don’t know for sure if I’m related to James Patrick Terence O’Brien of Lismore, NSW but his story fascinates me, nonetheless. It’s a story I discovered quite accidentally, searching for family history connections using the Trove newspaper database.

The many newspaper reports clearly indicate James had a really, really serious long-term problem with alcohol, which resulted in many convictions over many years.

Although my interest started with his convictions in Lismore, the evidence suggests he may have also spent some time in Brisbane around the mid 1920s. I think it’s worth noting the Queensland newspaper records have him listed as “Patrick James Terence O’Brien” instead of “James Patrick Terence O’Brien”. Although it’s quite possible these were two different men, the pattern of behaviour (the arrests for alcohol-related crimes, violence, and vagrancy, and the references to numerous previous convictions) as well as the age references, suggest the two men were probably one and the same. Even if they’re not related, it’s a remarkable co-incidence that two men with similar names could have lead such similar lives.

From what I can see he was probably born in the mid 1890s, though his age does go up and down a little according to the newspaper reports. According to one newspaper report, his earliest conviction for drunkeness could have been as early as 1912. It’s worth noting, however, there’s also a report in the Goulburn Herald of July 22, 1907 which mentions “James Terence O’Brien” pleading guilty to a charge of drunkeness and indecency.

The newspaper reports demonstrate many things, including the obvious inability of the justice system at the time to deal with long-term repeat offenders, to deal with alcoholism, and about how the system and newspapers report the lives of Indigenous people. Although he seems to have experienced a very sad life over many years, there are some moments of humour in the newspaper reports below, particularly when he was younger, and when he appeared in court.

The last newspaper references I can find to him were in December 1943.

Pleading guilty at Lismore Court yesterday to having on December 2 in Woodlark Street behaved in an offensive manner, James Patrick Terence O’Brien (53) was fined £2 or in default, sentenced to four days’ imprisonment with hard labour. Const. Bresnaiian stated that about 3.30 p.m. on December 2 he saw O’Brien in Woodlark Street. O’Brien was on the footpath, jostling people, waving his arms about, taking perambulators away from women, and pushing the infants away from their mothers. He cautioned him. but later received complaints from two business houses and two hotels regarding his con duct. Defendant was most offensive. Asked if he had any explanation to give, O’Brien replied that he had nothing to say. The police stated there was a long list of previous convictions.

Even if we’re not related, and these hours of research turn out to be fruitless in terms of my own genealogical research, the newspaper reports below make for fascinating reading, and I hope they’re helpful to others.

Newspaper References

On June 12, 1925, The Richmond River Express and Casino Kyogle Advertiser reported..

Gaol Appreciated.
‘That’s the style,’ said Patrick James Terrence O’Brien (27, laborer) when he was sentenced to six months imprison with hard labour by Mr H.L. Archdall in the Brisbane Police Court, after he had pleaded guilty to a charge of vagrancy. O’Brien, Sub-inspector Coman said, was stopping people in the street, asking them for money, and had been persisting in that conduct for some time. ‘When he was arrested, sevenpence, the proceeds of his ‘practice,’ was found in his possession. O’Brien, on another occasion, when given 12 hours’ imprisonment by Mr. Archdall, asked the latter to ‘make it seven days instead.’ He had this request granted, Mr. Archdall telling him not to object in the future when he received a larger sentence. Patrick James Terence is an, old offender, having 41 previous convictions to his credit.

On February 10, 1925, The Courier Mail reported..

Looking dishevelled and entirely uncared for, Patrick James Terence O’Brien, ‘a voung man of 28, appeared before Mr. J. F Berge, P.M,, in the .Police Court, charged with being an idle and disorderly person. Police evidence was given that O’Brien frequented the streets of South Brisbane, and urged passers-by for money. He had never been known to work. Defendant: That’s quite correct. I haven’t done a tap since Boxing Day, and have been drinking excessively. My head is a bit muddled. Mr. Berge: How have yon been living? – Defendant: Partly on my mates, and partly by my wits. Mr. Borge: You are sentenced to a month’s imprisonment. Defendant: My head should have cleared by then.

On December 14, 1925, The Courier reported..

James Patrick Terence O’Brien (30 labourer) was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment with hard labour by Mr W E Ferguson P M, in the Police Court on Saturday, when he pleaded guilty to having on December 9, stolen a lady’s handbag containing £45 in money, keys, a bankbook and other articles. the property of Gertrude Speedy. Detective Senior Sergeant Lipp said that the bag was stolen fiom the hallstand of the complainants George steet residential. When a complaint was made to the CI Brinch the defendant was suspected, as he had been been loitering in George street about the time of the theft. When attested he confessed to having stolen the bag but said he had given it to a woman in Albert street and had been robbed of the money. Some of the lesser articles in the bag had been found having been thrown in the street. The defendant had 37 convictions, most of them for drunkeness.

On July 16, 1926, The Courier reported..

Yesterday, in the Police Court, Patrick James Terence O’Brien trod the boards of the dock for the 71st time.
Mr. Harris: Patrick James Terence O’Brien, you are charged with having been in possession of a lady’s parasol, reasonably suspected of having been stolen or unlawfully obtained.
O’Brien (rubbing his head): I was pretty drunk, you see. That ought to be perfectly evident. I don’t know where the devil I got it. It was no use to me. I did not want a parasol. It was not raining, or anything like that.
Mr. Harris: Not guilty. I shall hear the evidence.
Constable Lauphnane (from the witness box: At 7.30 o’clock last night I was in Elizabeth-street, when I saw the defendant walking along towards Albert street. He was carrying a lady’s black parasol. This is the one (holding up a lone-handled parasol). I said to him: “Where did you get that umbrella?” He replied: “It is my little daughter Joan’s. She is at the convent.”
O’Brien (loudly): I told him a deliberate lie T was drunk. )
Contable Loughnane: He/had had a few drinks, but he was sober.
O’Brien (shouting! : Listen to that! That’s conflicting evidence. He has no common sense. He must have known I was drunk. Besides, be can’t tell the difference between a woman’s parasol and a child’s. That’s a child’s umbrella, and I know whose it is.
Mr. Harris: Do you wish to give evidence.
O’Brien- I’m not in a fit state to, but I’ll try. (Newsprint unclear). I’m no thief. (Striding to witness-box.)
Mr Harris: What is s your name?
O’Brien: Well I was christened Patrick James Terence O’Brien. I need to be sailor. My usual address is Boggo road.
Mr Harris: Tell us about last night. Do you remember?
O’Brien: I don’t remember much. As far a« I can remember, though, I was over at an hotel in Stanley-street. and a man got me pretty well tanked. T don’t know whether he won at the races or what, but I know I got drunk. The parasol is his daughter’s. I don’t know how I got hold of it, but if you’ll give me a sporting chnnce I’ll return it. I lied to the constable. I have no daughter I’m not married and never will be. I can’t look after myself yet.
Mr, Harris: Have yon anything further to sav?
O’Brien: What’s the use? I’m only making a nuisance of of myself.
Mr. Harris: I shall have to convict you of this charge. Have you any property?
O’Brien: Only what I stand up in.
Mr. Harris: Yoy are fined £1, or 24 days improsnnment.
O’Brien: Give me time to pay!
Mr Harris: No time!
O’Brien: Why not?
At this stage the unhappy ending was reached, for O’Brien was marched out of court by the orderly, who had a firm grip of the back of his coat.

On July 28, 1926, The Courier Mail reported…

Patrick James Terence O’Brien was arrested for drunkenness in Ipswich-road, Stephens, on Monday night. He was locked up in the Stephens Police Station. After a few “hours in the cell he became lively. He showed his displeasure at his surroundings by kicking a cell bucket and bashing it against the wall of the cell. “I’ll plead guilty to anything,” he said, when he appeared before Mr. W. Harris. P.M.. in the Police Court yester- day. He was fined £1, to include payment of 10/ for the damage done to the bucket, or 48 hours imprisonment. For having been drunk he was fined an additional 5 shillings or six hours imprisonment.

On August 3, 1926, The Brisbane Courier reported…

Not Proud of His Beard.
Monday morning in the Police Court is “drunks’ ” morning. During the week-end the watchhouse usually receives many in- mates who secure unasked-for lodging us a result of their Saturday-and sometimes Sunday-drinking. On Monday morning, when they are brought into the dock, the most noticeable feature of the “drunks” is that they have not been on recent friendly terms with razors. Collectively they would mean a good morning’s work for a barber. One of yesterday morning’s quota of hirsute occupants of the dock was Patrick James Terence O’Brien, who has 75 convictions, and has been a frequent occupant of a cell of late. “Do you want to go to gaol. O’Brien?” asked Mr. li, L. Archdall, C.P.M., before whom he appeared on a charge of drunkenness. “No, I want to go out and get a shave,” answered Patrick, rubbing his bristly beard. “Off’you go, then,” ordered the C.P.M., and O’Brien strode from the court still stroking his whiskers.

On April 9, 1927, The Queensland Times reported…

PLEA ‘WHAT FAILED… Patrick James Terence O’Brien, charged with being drunk and with having used obscene language, entered a plea of ‘Not Guilty” in the Police Court yesterday morning before Mr. A. P. W.. Tregear, P.M. Constable Laradine stated that he saw O’Brien at 8.15 p.m., on August 8. attempting to gain entrance to the North Australian Hotel through a door in Nicholas-street. He staggered away when he saw the con stable, and was arrested and taken to the watchhouse. Acting-Sergeant flitzglbbon gave evidence of defendant arriving at the watchhouse in a state of drunkenness, and. later, of his hav ing used obscene language while In the cells, within the hearing of people passing in the street adjoining the building. O’Brien stated that he had been a patient in the Ipswich General Hospital. and that his treatment in cluded doses of brandy every four hours. He left the institution on the afternoon of August 6. arid between 4 pm. and the time of his arrest he bad about five brandies. He was placed in a cell with another man who was very drunk. and, although he had been searched. made the man more drunk by giving him rum. which he had In a coffee bottle: It waas this man. he suggested, who had used the obscene language. For being drunk lie was fined 10/. In default 48 hours’ imprisonment. and for using obscene language he was fined £3, in default seven fays’. In reply to a warning from the Bench that if he wdre again convicted for similar offences e would be more harshly dealt with. O’Brien said. “Well. I got that for practically nothing, anyhow.”

On June 27, 1934, The Northern Star reported..

At Woodburn Police Court yesterday, before Messrs. H. L. Friddle and O. A, Schulstad, J’s.P., James Patrick O’Brien, a stranger to the town, and who was said to have 30 previous convictions, pleaded not guilty to assaulting Constable Herron, at Woodburn, last Saturday. Constable Herron said that about 6 p.m. last Saturday he saw O’Brien in the bar of a hotel. He was drunk land creating a disturbance. He Was ejected from the bar by the licensee, and on reaching the street was shouting out and waving a bottle in his hand. Constable Herron arrested O’Brien, and on conveying him to the lock-up he (O’Brien) suddenly tripped the constable when in front of the police station, at the same time saying, “You are only a mug.” O’Brien aimed several blows at the constable with his fist, and also seized two of his. fingers on the right hand and twisted them. Sergeant Druitt then arrived on the scene and assisted to lock up O’Brien.
To Sergeant Druitt: As the result of the assault, he was compelled to visit a doctor, and had to go to the Campbell Hospital, Coraki. on Sunday morning: and have his hand X-rayed, and was now off duty as the result of the injuries received in the assault. The accused was not very drunk being being arrested, but was in an aggres sive fighting mood.
Mr. Priddle (to accused) : This is not the first occasion on which you have been charged with assaulting the police. You were sentenced to a month for a similar offence in Grafton in 1930.
O’Brien, who declined to give evidence, was convicted, and findd £15 or 30 days’ hard labour.
On a charge of being drunk and disorderly, O’Brien was fined £1 or two days. On a charge of insulting ‘ words, he was fined a further £1 or two days.

On December 4, 1934, The Northern Star reported..

James Patrick O’Brien (39) pleaded guilty to drunkenness in Molesworth-street at 5 p.m. on Saturday and was fined £1, or, in default, two days’ hard labour.

On December 12, 1934, The Northern Star reported..

Two Vagrants Fined
Arrested in the company of aborigines whom he had been supplying with wine and food for three or four days, James Patrick O’Brien was convicted of vagrancy by Mr. H. Hawkins, P.M., at the Lismore Police Court, and sentenced to a month’s hard labour. O’Brien, who is 39 years of age, was arrested at North Lismore, and Constable Hunt gave evidence that during the past two months he had been arrested several times for being drunk. About three months ago O’Brien had lost his food relief ticket owing to his dissolute habits. When under the influence of liquor he had a somewhat violent nature. Sergeant Ferrier prosecuted.

On December 6, 1935, The Northern Star reported..

Three Charges
BYRON BAY, Thursday.
James Patrick Terence O’Brien was charged before Messrs. S. Austen and W. Davidson, J’s.P., in Byron Bay court with. drunkenness, indecent language and assault. He pleaded I guilty to all charges and on the first was fined 10s or in default one day’s I imprisonment; on the second £2 10s | or five days, and on the third £12 or I 24 days. Constable Long stated defendant was creating a noise in the | street and he used the indecent language and assaulted him when he was arrested.

On March 6, 1936, The Northern Star reported

Drunkenness Charge
Patrick James Terence O’Brien (46), pleaded guilty to a charge of drunken ness in the Lismore Police Court be fore Mr. E. H. Kelly, J.P., yesterday. O’Brien, who was released on bond to be of good behaviour for six months on Monday, was fined £1, or, in default, imprisonment for two days.

On April 10, 1936, The Northern Star reported..

Man Imprisoned
Released from gaol only that morning, after serving a sentence for vagrancy. Patrick James Terence O’Brien (46), got into trouble again on Wednesday night and, at Lismore Police Court yesterday, was ordered to be imprisoned in Grafton gaol for another three months, in addition to paying fines imposed on two other charges. When O’Brien appeared before Messrs. L. M. Gordon and E. H. Kelly, J’s.P., to answer .. charges of using indecent language in Molesworth-street, behaving in an offensive manner, and unlawfully assaulting Const. P. Ritchie while in the execution of his duty, it was stated by the police that at 8 p.m. on Wednesday O’Brien was at a pie cart at the intersection of Woodlark and Moles worth streets and was trying to drive two men, who were attempting to have a meal, away from the stall. The proprietor complained to Sergt. McFherson and Const. Ritchie,
When O’Brien was arrested, the police stated, he immediately became violent and had to be handcuffed. On the way to the police -station he kicked Const. Ritchie in the groin and made several attempts to kick Sergt. McPherson. He used bad language several times.
It was stated that O’Brien had a long list of previous convictions and had only been released from Grafton gaol that morning. Arriving in Lismore, he immediately made a round of the hotels and demanded liquor and money from patrons. When these were refused he became violent and threatening.
O’Brien, who was described by the police as a dangerous man, was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment, with hard labour, for assaulting the police constable, and fined £2, or, in default, imprisonment for four days, on each of the other two charges.

On July 15, 1936, The Northern Star reported..

Man Again Before Court
Fined a nominal amount by Mr. H. Hawkins, P.M., on Monday, upon giving an undertakings that he had work to go to and would leave town immediately, James Patrick Terence O’Brien (46) was arrested in Molesworth-street at 9.30 the same night and had two charges preferred against him. Before the Chamber Magistrate (Mr. E. H. Kelly) at Lismore Police Court yesterday O’Brien pleaded guilty to using indecent language in the police station and was fined £5, the alternative being 10 days’ Imprisonment. Sergt. Hill, who informed the court that O’Brien had not taken advantage of the chance given him by the PM, said that he had only recently been released from Grafton gaol.
The second charge was that, being ah habitual drunkard and thrice convicted for drunkenness in the preceding 12 months, he behaved in a riotous manner in Molesworth-street. On the application of the police, a remand was granted until next Mon day, bail being fixed at £20, with a surety of a like amount.

On October 2, 1936, The Northern Star reported..

Drunkenness Charge
The novel excuse that, after being allowed several hours in which to leave Lismore, he had set out for Kyogle, where he had a job, but had taken the wrong road and had arrived at Nimbin, where there is an hotel, was advanced by James Patrick Terence O’Brien (42), when he pleaded guilty to a charge of drunkenness at Lismore Police Court yesterday. Const. Griffen, of Nimbin, said that O’Brien had been arrested at 4.30 p.m. on Thursday. He was very drunk and complaints had been re ceived concerning him. Sergt. Hill told the Chamber Magistrate (Mr. E. H. Kelly) that O’Brien was before the court on the previous day on a similar charge and had stated he had work to go; to at Kyogle. He was given until 3 p.m. to leave the town and when the case was called at that hour he was not present. The charge had, accordingly, been withdrawn. Mr. Kelly imposed a fine of 10s, the alternative being a day’s imprisonment, after O’Brien had stat ed that he had kept his word and had left Lismore immediately. He said it was his bad luck to take the wrong road to Kyogle

On April 19, 1937, The Northern Star reported..

At the Casino Police Court yesterday Patrick James Terence O’Brien (40), a stranger to the town, was fined £1 for drunkenness, £2 for offensive behaviour and £3 for using indecent language. Const. Lee said that O’Brien was on the local railway station platform and wanted to fight an official. He had been a passenger on a train, but the guard complained that he would not behave. O’Brien said that he was going to Murwillumbah to work. The police stated that he had numerous convictions elsewhere for similar offences.

On September 28, 1937, The Northern Star reported..

Resisted Arrest
James Patrick Terence O’Brien (40) was fined £1 for behaving in an offensive manner and £2 for resisting arrest when he appeared before Mr. H. Hawkins, P.M., at Lismore Police Court. Const. Askew said that O’Brien grabbed hold of a man’s coat in Keen street on Friday night and refused to release it. When arrested he resisted violently and had to be handcuffed.

On October 1, 1937, The Northern Star reported..

James Patrick Terrence O’Brien was charged at Lismore Police Court yesterday morning, before Mr. E. H. Kelly, JP., with having been found drunk in Currie-street, North Lismore, the previous night. He was remanded until 13 o’clock on his undertaking to quit the town. At that hour, O’Brien was absent and he was discharged.

On October 5, 1937, The Northern Star reported..

Vagrancy Charge
James Patrick Terence O’Brien (41), who pleaded guilty to a charge of vagrancy at Lismore Police Court yester day, was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment by Mr. H. Hawkins, P.M. Const. Love said that on Sunday morning O’Brien, who had numerous convictions, including several in the past few days, was stopping people in North Lismore and asking for money. Witness had known him for over 12 months and knew that he had per formed no work in that period.

On May 30, 1939, The Courier Mail reported

Went To Stow Away, But Stole £3 on Ship
A few hours after his release from gaol last Friday morning, Patrick James Terence O’Brien, 47, engineer, went on board the Ormiston intending to stow away, instead, he went into a cabin and stole £3, the property of Beatrice Alice Akers. Detective Sergeant J. E. Donovan made this statement in the Police Court yesterday, when O’Brien pleaded guilty to the theft and also to having been found drunk. On the first charge, Mr. P. M. Hishon, C.P.M., sentenced O’Brien to three months’ imprisonment, and on the second he was convicted and discharged.

On September 8, 1939, The Richmond River Herald and Northern Districts Advertiser reported..

Abos Have Party
As the result of an aboriginal ‘party’ in McKittrick Park, South Grafton, on Sunday, four colored people and two white men appeared before the P.M., at the Grafton Courthouse next morning on charges of drunkenness, says the ‘Examiner.’ . According to Sergeant L. W. Free body, of South Grafton, the ‘ party” which was mainly on methylated spirits; became so. hectic that the ‘hostess,’ Lizzie Boney, had. to be taken to the lock-up in a wheel barrow. Witness stated that Lizzie was unable to walk and methylated spirits could be smelt on her 30 yards away. Lizzie Boney, who pleaded guilty, was fined £1 or three days’ light labor. Edith Davison also faced a similar charge. Sergeant Freebody stated that, although the defendant was drunk, she was not as helpless as Lizzie Boney. Defendant, in this case, was fined 5/ or the rising of the Court. Mick Dougall and Alfred Donnelly, two colored men, who pleaded guilty to charges of drunkenness, were given the rising of the court, but their white companion, Alfred Jarrett, who appeared on the same charge, was fined &2 or. four days’ imprisonment. He stated that he very seldom got into trouble.
The Police Magistrate: It is bad enough for the aborigines to be drinking, without you being associated with them as well. The last ‘guest’ from the aboriginal party to face the Bench was James Terence O’Brien, who received four months’ imprisonment on a charge of vagrancy. Sergeant Freebody stated that the defendant was with the aborigines and under the influence of methylated spirits. He had also been, the subject of many complaints, and went round the town cadging and bluffing. He had no money and was not working any- | Previous convictions, dating as far back as 1912, were read by Sergeant I Druitt.

On March 8, 1940, The Richmond River Herald and Northern Districts Advertiser reported..

On the Booze. — Sergt. Taylor and his assistant ran in three intoxicated gentry on Monday — James Patrick Terence O’Brien, who had looked upon the beer when it was amber, and Herbert Hulbert and Cecil C. Smidt, who had swallowed so much metho that if anybody had struck a match near them they would have exploded. Mr. J. G. Mitchell, J.P., awarded O’Brien 5/- or the rising, and the other two £1 or two days, the extra penalty in the latter cases doubtless being due to the fact that the wanderers had collected relief and then spent the money on methylated spirits instead of on food.

On June 24, 1940, The Northern Star reported..

Celebrating Enlistment
Four men, who said they had enlisted and were celebrating, were charged in the Lismore Police Court on Saturday morning for offences against good order on Friday. Two of them were also charged with using indecent language. Harold Becker (33) pleaded guilty and was fined £1 for having been drunk and £4 for using indecent language. He was al lowed time to pay on finding security. James Patrick Terence O’Brien (45), whom the police stated was appearing for the third time that week, pleaded guilty to being drunk and’ disorderly. He was fined £2 and allowed time to pay on finding a security.

On July 6, 1940, The Northern Star reported..

Pleading not guilty to three charges in the Lismore Police Court yesterday, James Patrick Terence O’Brien (45) was remanded by Mr. E. H. Kelly, J.P., until Monday next. The charges against O’Brien alleged that on Thursday morning he resisted Constable F. Ritchie in the execution of his duty, that he was drunk in Keen-street, and that he used indecent language at the Lismore police station. Bail was fixed at £10, with a surety of £10, or two of £5 each.

On July 12, 1940, The Richmond River Herald and Northern Districts Advertiser reported..

James Patrick Terence O’Brien, 45, noted ‘scrap’ artist, added to his long list at Lismore, this week, when he was fined 1 pound for drunkenness, 2 pounds for assaulting a policeman (the victim
weighs 17 1/2 stone) and £2 for using vile language. O’Brien who admitted he had been through the charge room on innumerable occasions, said he had since enlisted. He should soon be able to indulge in all the ‘scrap’ he wants!

On October 7, 1942, The Northern Star reported..

At Lismore Court yesterday James Patrick Terence O’Brien (53) was charged with having, on October 5, maliciously damaged a glass door, the property of John Gordon Hicks, Civic Hotel, Lismore. Sgt. Beaton said he saw the glass panel in the saloon bar broken, and he called at another hotel and saw defendant with blood on his hand.i When spoken to, defendant said: “I made a swing at him. He was not there. The brown-out had me beaten.” O’Brien told the P.M. (Mr. A. J. Bryant) that he had not acted maliciously. He had made a swing and missed. Defendant was fined £2, with £1 for damage to the door.

On October 27, 1942, The Northern Star reported..

Two defendants well known in Lismore Court’s Monday morning line-up had another conviction added to long record sheets by Mr. A. J. Bryant, P.M.; yesterday. “We will soon have to get an other sheet for you,” said Mr. Bryant; when he convicted James Patrick Terence O’Brien, 53, labourer, and ordered a fine of 1pound or in default, imprisonment for two days, on a charge that he was drunk at the coursing ground on Saturday.

On November 5, 1942, The Northern Star reported..

It only took James Patrick Terence O’Brien two hours from the time he was released from Lismore lock-up after serving a sentence for drunkenness to be drunk again, according to evidence by Sgt. MacPherson at the Lismore Police Court “We don’t know what to do with him,” added Sgt. MacPherson. The Chamber Magistrate (Mr. H. L. Pel ham), however, had certain ideas in this direction and, in addition :to fining O’Brien £2 or, in default, imprisonment for four days, he ordered that O’Brien should enter into a recognisance inself and one surety of £20 each to be of good behaviour for 12 months. In default of the recognisance, O’Brien will serve a further term of imprisonment for 14, days. Const. Bresnahan stated O’Brien had been convicted four times in ten days.

(Note recognisance seems to mean parole)

On December 4, 1943, The Northern Star reported..

Pleading guilty at Lismore Court yesterday to having on December 2 in Woodlark Street behaved in an offensive manner, James Patrick Terence O’Brien (53) was fined £2 or in default, sentenced to four days’ imprisonment with hard labour. Const. Bresnaiian stated that about 3.30 p.m. on December 2 he saw O’Brien in Woodlark Street. O’Brien was on the footpath, jostling people, waving his arms about, taking perambulators away from women, and pushing the infants away from their mothers. He cautioned him. but later received complaints from two business houses and two hotels regarding his con duct. Defendant was most offen sive. Asked if he had any explanation to give, O’Brien replied that he had nothing to say. The police stated there was a long list of previous convictions.

On December 9, 1943, The Northern Star reported..

Drunkenness Charges
Pleading guilty to a charge of drunkenness, James Patrick Terence O’Brien (53) who had a long list of previous convictions, was fined £2 or, in default, four days’ hard labour, at Lismore
Police Court yesterday.


Jenny Kee and Me

On the weekend I finally got around to watching the brilliant television program “Friends Of Dorothy” by William Yang. William is a really important Australian photographer whose work documents, in particular, Sydney’s gay and lesbian scene in the last forty years.

I have met William on a few occasions and have concluded he’s a very lovely man. He also has a really interesting life story, having grown up in country Queensland, but also having made a life in (and important contribution to) Sydney’s gay, lesbian and queer, and photography and arts communities.

The program told me a lot more about William’s life than I’d previously known, including mention of his friendship with the Australian designer, Jenny Kee who is famous for her very colourful outfits.

When Jenny Kee’s name and photograph were featured in the program I had a sudden flashback, remembering that a distant family member had once remarked “you know Jenny Kee is part of our family”. At the time it was one of those stories where I thought “how interesting” but never thought much further of it. But on hearing her name again, I decided I would dig a little deeper, to see if there really was a connection or if it was just “one of those stories”.

It didn’t take long for me to find out Jenny Kee’s parents were William Ah Kee and Enid Olive Marchionni. From there, it was fairly simple to establish – thanks to Google – Enid’s parents were Olive Annie Victoria Love and Cesare Giovanni Marchionni. A further generation back and it was also easy to establish Olive Annie Victoria Love’s parents were Joseph Francis Love and Margaret Rebecca Denny. Joseph was the son of John Love and Ellen Sullivan. John was a son of Joseph Lester Love.

And so it goes… back to our common ancestors John and Martha Love, who came to Australia in 1791.

For all of the effort involved, it would have been much simpler if I’d simply emailed Lyle and Margaret Cooper who organised the Love Family Reunion of 2011, and who published their wonderful book about the Love Family in Australia. A quick email to them and I was able to establish and confirm the connection

The book contains the information I had been seeking with a couple of notable quotes…

  • Olive Annie Victoria Love fourth child of Joseph and Margaret Love (nee Denny) born Wyndham on 12/3/1884 and died Sydney on 7/9/1955. She married Cesare Giovanni Marchionni in Sydney on 18/5/1911. Cesare was a cook and died Sydney in 1959, son of Giovanni Maria and Elizabeth Marchionni. (some of the offspring go under the name Marchioni). Cesare came from Sondrio, Italy near the Swiss Alps. Jenny Kee his granddaughter recalls in her book ‘A Big Life’ and an interview recorded for the National Museum of Australia in 2007 the following: ‘He left home when he was 13 and went to Paris and worked as a chef . . . He worked on boats around the world and sailed into Sydney Harbour in November 1910 where he met Olive Love. Then their daughter, my mum, married a Chinaman! Growing up Enid Olive used to be called a ‘dago’ and when she complained to her mother she would say ‘Go and tell them their Pope is a dago too’.
  • Enid Olive Marchionni a hairdresser born c.1917 and died Sydney on 28/12/2001. She married William Ah Kee in Sydney in 1945 and had three children. Mixed marriages were frowned upon in those days and her parents were very unhappy with the union.
  • Jennifer (Jenny) Margaret Kee born Sydney in 1947 and known for her famous designer clothes and knitwear. She and Michael Ramsden had one daughter. Jenny and Grace survived the Granville train disaster in 1977.

  • For more information, there’s a book called “A Family began with Love”. For more details, contact Lyle & Margaret Cooper, 11 Kernel Street, The Gap Qld 4061 Ph: 07 33122365 0427 122440 landmdcooper@optusnet.com.au

    Despite our common ancestry, Jenny has become a great Australian fashion designer, and I (obviously) have absolutely no fashion sense at all…

    Now Hear This


    I didn’t expect to, but ended up telling a story at the “Now Hear This” story-telling night in Sydney tonight.

    I told the story of my great-great grandmother who had a relationship with her first cousin (no, I don’t have two heads). After the birth of their fourth child together, he married someone else and had four more children. My great-great grandmother then went on to live a somewhat shambolic life, it seems, until she ended her life in the “destitute women’s asylum” in Sydney, and was buried in a “pauper’s grave” at Liverpool Cemetery. She died of heart disease, though you might say she also died of a broken heart. What would it have been like to have had a long-term relationship with your first cousin, only to see him leave and form a new family in another state? We’ve had some contact with the “other family” and they had no idea we existed. In exchanging photographs, it’s pretty clear we are related as we look like each other very much.

    The story-telling night was, as usual, handled beautifully by Melanie Tait and will be heard sometime soon on the ABC ‘s RN.

    Liverpool Cemetery

    Searching for Ellen

    In stark contrast to some of the impressive mausolea at Liverpool Cemetery (in Sydney’s west), my great-great grandmother, Ellen Lang is buried there in an unmarked “pauper’s grave” (as they were called then).

    She died 15 years before I was even born, so I don’t know very much about her. I don’t even have a photograph of her. But her life story has fascinated me for a number of years, and so for at least ten or fifteen years now, I’ve been “Searching For Ellen”.

    One of the most significant things you need to know is that she had a relationship with, but never married, her first cousin, William Rixon, and they are documented to have had at least two children together, more likely four. But eighteen months after the birth of their fourth child, William went off and married another woman, moved interstate, and had four more children. What happened in the intervening period is unclear, though it appears Ellen may have raised the children with the support of her extended family in the area around Eden, Bombala, Towamba and Rockton in Southern NSW.

    Even though she never married William, throughout her life, Ellen continued to use the name Rixon, although her death certificate refers to her as Ellen Lang. Ellen also appears to have lived a somewhat mobile lifestyle, as the electoral rolls record her living in places such Bombala, Sydney, Lismore and Brisbane at various times. There is no evidence that she ever married, spending most of her adult life in the company of her daughter, Ruby, who was known in my family as Molly.

    Ellen appears to have spent the last few months of her life at Newington State Hospital, which NSW State Records notes in these terms…

    Although the residents of Newington Asylum were predominantly elderly, Newington and the other Government Asylums also assumed the functions of hospitals for the “ordinary pauper population” and for those with incurable conditions, or who required convalescent care, at one third of the cost to the Government compared to Hospital treatment.

    Ellen died on June 16, 1950 (1950/009885) and was buried in a “paupers grave” in the Presbyterian section of Liverpool Cemetery. The death record notes she suffered with Chronic Myocarditis (an inflammation or degeneration of the heart muscle) and Rhuematoid Arthritis.

    Death certificate of Ellen Laing (Lang), Sydney 1950

    Not just physically, but emotionally, you have to wonder if she died from a broken heart? How could you have four children with a man (your first cousin), only to see him leave, move to another state, and have another family? There are so many questions I have about this relationship to which I’ll probably never know the answers. It’s all in the realm of long-lost verbal history now I suspect. When contact was made with the “other family” a few years ago, they were genuinely shocked, with no idea “our family” existed.

    For many years, fellow researcher, Kerrie, and I searched in vain for details of Ellen’s death. It was complicated by the fact she used so many different names, and spelling variations of her name throughout her life. But a few years ago I searched around and found her death certificate. Even there, you have to wonder if the exact details of her life and death weren’t deliberately given to mislead. Or maybe her children just didn’t know because she didn’t talk about it?

    So for a few years now I’ve known about the grave, but always thought Liverpool was such a long way to travel to visit. As I was in the area today, though, I decided I’d make an effort. Even though I had the details of where she was buried – Presbyterian Section 16 G K – it wasn’t nearly so straightforward trying to find an unmarked grave in a cemetery where so much has happened since 1950. Unfortunately the layout of the cemetery made it difficult today without someone with specialist knowledge of the layout, and sadly, the office there only operates Monday to Friday. I chatted on the phone to the local historical society, and they were very helpful, but I think I need to do some more solid research for the next time in my efforts to locate her final resting place.

    Back in 1950, Liverpool was a sleepy little place a long way from the heart of Sydney. I can imagine the cemetery was tiny then with literally only dozens of graves. In stark contrast to the sheer size of the cemetery and the impressive mausolea now found there, you might imagine Liverpool Cemetery was just the place where someone with Ellen’s life story might have found a final resting place – in a pauper’s grave, a long way out of the public eye.

    Family History

    Me and my dad, probably some time in 1966.
    Me and my dad, probably some time in 1966.

    I was looking tonight at a photograph of me and my dad. By the look of things I’m less than twelve months old, so it was probably taken sometimes towards the end of 1966. Dad’s wearing a cardigan, so it was probably the winter of that year.

    As I looked at the photograph, I suddenly realised how close I am now to being the age my dad was in the photograph. He was born in September 1917, so he would have been about forty-nine years old at the time.

    I still have a couple of years before I catch up with him, but it was still interesting to look closely at the photograph and think about stuff. He still had a fair bit of hair, whereas I pretty much lost most of mine about ten years ago. Is that a pen in his top pocket? Yeah, I think so, as I always remember my dad having a pen and often his glasses case in his top pocket. He’s not wearing glasses. Are they jeans he’s wearing? What must it have been like to have been close to fifty years old and suddenly find yourself with a young child to raise?

    Researching my own family history is something which continues to fascinate me. There are so many amazing stories within a family, especially mine. You learn so much more about the motivations of the people who you’ve grown up with, when you look into their history. “Ah so that’s why so and so did that?”, I’ll often conclude.

    After a bit of a break, I’m back writing and researching at the moment. I’ve recently had some interesting correspondence, and there’s nothing like a bit of feedback to make you go back and look at what you’ve written, and realise it’s time for a re-write, and time to more accurately reference and record the research you’ve done.

    I’ve also begun research on some ancestors I haven’t previously taken much of an interest in. At the beginning it can be a slow, painful process, especially when your ancestors weren’t all that famous, often couldn’t read and write, and so the “public record” about them is often a little thin. Through this blog and through the research I’m doing now, I’m hoping it won’t be so difficult for people in the future. Although it’s pretty unlikely I’ll be like my dad and finding myself with a young child to raise over the next few years, I’m hoping a little of me will live on in the research I’m doing now.

    These are the areas of research I’m interested in.

    Kerry O'Brien

    Cousin Kerry

    Kerry O'Brien
    Kerry O'Brien

    “Who would imagine you’d get so emotional about someone from 160 years ago?” Kerry O’Brien observed on tonight’s edition of “Who Do You Think You Are?” on SBS TV. The ABC-TV presenter was a little bit teary when reflecting on the plight of his ancestors. I completely understand what he was talking about, as I’ve often felt that way as I’ve researched my family history and have learned about ancestors I’ve never known.

    The story that tears me up, every time, is the story of Ellen Laing. She was my great-grandmother, who was born in the small community of Towamba, not far from Eden on the NSW South Coast. Ellen had a relationship with, but never married, her first cousin, William Rixon. Willliam was born 1868 at Towamba (1868/902), the eldest son of Thomas Rixon and Jane Laing. They are documented to have had at least two children together, more likely four. Despite the relationship, on December 31, 1902, eighteen months after the birth of William Arthur (known as Barney), William Rixon married another woman, Bertha Mary Ramsay at Bombala Church of England (1047/1902). Throughout her life, Ellen continued to use the name Rixon, although her death certificate refers to her as Ellen Lang. Ellen appears to have lived a somewhat mobile lifestyle, as the electoral roles record her living in Bombala, Sydney, Lismore and Brisbane at various times. Ellen appears to have spent the last months of her life at Newintong State Hospital, which NSW State Records notes in these terms…

    Although the residents of Newington Asylum were predominantly elderly, Newington and the other Government Asylums also assumed the functions of hospitals for the “ordinary pauper population” and for those with incurable conditions, or who required convalescent care, at one third of the cost to the Government compared to Hospital treatment.

    Ellen died on June 16, 1950 (1950/009885) and was buried in a paupers grave in the Presbyterian section of Liverpool Cemetery. I never knew Ellen (as she died 15 years before I was born), but it’s certain to me her life experience influenced many of the decisions made my her children and grand children, and hence me.

    Having worked for the ABC for many years, and having been asked on far too many occasions, “Are you related to Kerry O’Brien?”, of course I had to watch tonight’s program. The short answer to the question was always “I have no idea. It’s a pretty common name”. After watching tonight’s show, the short answer I am no confident is “No”. Even though O’Brien is an extremely common name, it would appear our ancestors come from quite distinctly different counties. Kerry’s ancestry is from County Clare on the West Coast, whereas my O’Brien ancestry is from County Meath, not far from Dublin. His ancestors arrived about ten years earlier than mine. They appear to have been fairly poor, whereas my appear to have been reasonably wealthy. His ancestors settled in Queensland. Although mine had intended to settle on the Darling Downs, they ended up on the NSW South Coast.

    Joe O'Brien
    Joe O'Brien

    But there is a Queensland connection. Patrick O’Brien, the son of James O’Brien and Mary Smith who came to Australia in 1864, moved to Queensland and had a career as a horse trainer in the area around Woodford, north of Brisbane. There was also a connection in that both Kerry and I have ancestors who were on the Berry Estate in the Shoalhaven. But aside from that, there’s no apparent connection.

    Even though we’re not related, it was a fascinating program to watch, and I felt it was especially interesting to watch Kerry, as someone who has spent his life as a journalist, bring a journalist’s eye to the primary documentation and interpretation presented on the program. In contrast to some of the other people they’ve featured who just say “wow”, Kerry’s eye was more critical, though not any less passionate.

    Now, having scratched Kerry off the list of distant relatives, my attention now turns to potential cousin Joe O’Brien from ABC News 24 :)

    Celebrations for the 200th Anniversary of Appin

    Appin Bi-Centenary

    “I have a connection to the pub across the road” I told the woman who was looking after things at St Bede’s Catholic Church in Appin today. “Two of my ancestors ran the pub back in the 1840s”, I told her, referring to William Rixon and Ann Hoare.

    “There was a close connection between the church and the pub” she told me, pointing to the family, the Carolls who owned the pub and who ran it as a guest and boarding house, who were buried in the graveyard. “The sisters also used to have rooms there”, she added.

    With a strong and long-term interest in family history, I hopped on a train early this morning and made my way to the 200th Anniversary Celebrations for Appin, located about 15km from Campbelltown in Sydney’s West. My ancestral connection to Appin is pretty much confined to the period when they ran The Union Revived. Their main connection was with Campbelltown itself, which is where William is buried, along with his mother, in the graveyard of the Anglican Church. I visited their graves also today, for the first time. Meanwhile, Ann went on to marry a few more times, moved closer to the city, and was finally burried under the name Ann Phibbs at Waverley Cemetery. I visited her grave a few months ago.

    After a look around the St Bede’s Cemetery, I made my way down the street to watch the street parade. Mostly, the parade was made up of school groups, sports teams, organisations like the Rural Fire Service and pipe bands. I couldn’t believe there could be that many bagpipes in one parade, but then I guess, the area is called The Southern Highlands and the main town is Campbelltown. My favourites were a young girl, maybe five years old, who was impressively beating her drum in time, and seeing a 16 year old emo girl as part of one of the bands. Later I saw an emo boy dressed up in colonial gear which also gave me a bit of a giggle.

    Naturally enough, there were art displays, Aboriginal cultural displays, sausage sizzles, jumping castles, and of course gözleme.

    But for me, the most interesting thing was going to see the pub that was once run by some of my ancestors. The building is in a very poor state of repair now. There were no signs to say you couldn’t enter the building, so I just did. But as I walked through I needed to be particularly careful, as I discovered the floor could give way with one too heavy foot-step. “It’s a real shame it’s in such a poor state of repair”, a woman who was doing the same said to me as we passed each other.

    I picked up a book about the town which mentions William Rixon’s brief period at the pub, and I placed an order for another book commemorating the anniversary.

    And that cleaned me out of my planned spending money for the day which became a bit of a problem as I went to use the ATM at the servo. “It’s empty”, I told the bloke behind the counter. “Yeah, it’s been flat out since five o’clock this morning”, he told me. I reckon it was one of the busiest days in the history of Appin.