Not much is known of the early life of James O’Brien’s early life, as there are only small amounts of information contained on his death certificate. The death certificate notes his parents were were Luke O’Brien and Kate Jurett. The certificate also notes his first marriage was to Mary Ann McGorrist (spelling?), took place in “Southern Ireland” and lasted twenty-five years.
Mary Ann Smith
His second marriage, to Mary Ann Smith (the eldest daughter of farmers, John Smith and Ellen O’Reilly, lasted thirty-four years. Long-time O’Brien researcher, (Gus) Barry O’Brien believes the first five children may have been from the first marriage.
Before coming to Australia, James and his family were living in a small village, Knockerk near Slane, County Meath, Ireland. According to Griffiths Valuation 1851, James was both a landowner and a renter. Griffiths also records a strong connection between James O’Brien and the Willens Family, as does a gravestone inscription listed on the website of the Slane Historical Society.
In 1855, Laurence Timmons is the occupier of 14 acres of land in Knockerk. Laurence was renting the land from a Mr. James O’Brien. In 1861, the occupancy of this farm passed from Laurence to his son James (29), suggesting Laurence had passed away. Around the same time, James O’Brien sold the land to a Captain Leslie.
Descendary and Researcher, Janice Dunning notes the following.
I have been been researching the family history on Ancestry.com.au (whilst having regard to your information and that of Barry O’Brien and Kevin Maddern. According to Ancestry records. Mary (no Ann) recorded McGorisk was born in 1812 and baptised 1812 at Kelsaran Louth Ireland. Place of residence on this certificate is Kelsaran Louth and her parents are recorded as Patrick McGorisk and Anne Waters. James and Mary were married in 1832. Her death certificate states that she died on 30 August 1837. This information is registered in the parish of Nobber in County Meath. Therefore the marriage was 5 years duration. I have not found my records of children boring to this union although it is possible that there were. In 1841 James (according to Ancestry ) married Mary Ann Smith. The census in 1851 has the family living in Knockerk and confirms James a property owner who both farmed and rented land. The children that I could find birth certificates for (registered by the father) most certainly belong to James and Mary Ann as they were born after this marriage. Ellen 1847, Luke 1851,Eliza 1853, John 1856, Catherine 1859, Mary 1861 and Patrick 1862. I can’t comment on the validity of the information other than I have documents in my Ancestry tree to support what I have told you. Regards Janice.
Coming to Australia
It’s difficult to know for sure why they left Ireland to move to Australia, though it was presumably a combination of the economic devastation caused by the potato famine, and that Mary had a brother, Bernard who had moved to Australia in the 1830s. James, Mary and their children travelled to Australia from Liverpool, England, on the clipper ship, “Great Victoria” arriving in Melbourne on September 8, 1864
It is understood James and Mary Ann purchased tickets from Ireland to the Darling Downs, but as the ship “rounded South Australia and approached Port Phillip Bay it was discovered their daughter, Ellen had contracted the disease, Typhus. Undoubtedly conditions on the ship would have contributed to her contracting the disease. She was reportedly put off the ship and sent to the Quarantine Station at Portsea (at the head of Port Phillip Bay)”. They stayed in Melbourne until Ellen recovered.
Settling on the NSW South Coast
Several months later they travelled by boat to Eden, NSW and then, by bullock dray to Kameruka, near Candelo (via Bega) on the NSW South Coast, where they settled with Mary’s brother, Bernard Smith at Wollumla. At first, James worked as a Shepherd for John Ritchie. After three or four years James selected 200 acres near Bembooka, naming the property, Slane Park. Over twenty years, he increased the holding to 800 acres and he carried on dairy farming.
As reported in The Bega Gazette and Eden District or Southern Coast Advertiser (NSW : 1865 – 1899), Saturday 24 June 1882, page 2, James, Mary and their son John appeared in court on the following…
To date, I haven’t been able to find a report of the trial, so hoping if you have one you might comment below with details.
In the mid 1880s, James and Mary returned to Ireland, where, reportedly, one or more of her brothers were dying. After staying there for five months, they returned to Bemboka.
Death of James O’Brien
Senility afflicted James in the final three years of his life. He died on May 17, 1894 and was buried two days later.
Death of Mary Ann Smith
After his death, Mary and her daughter moved into Bega where Mary remained until her death on Saturday, December 9, 1911 (13685/1911).
A further newspaper report of her death Southern Star (Bega) on Wednesday 13 December 1911, page 2 adds some further detail
* Peter O’Brien was born in County Meath, Ireland. Aged 18, he left Ireland on September 5, coming to Australia along with his parents and siblings on the “Great Victoria”, arriving in Melbourne on November 29, 1864. Aged 23, he met and married Mary Ann Goward, the daughter of James and Mary Ann. Although she was only fifteen, she soon fell pregnant with their frist, child, James Joseph. At the time of their marriage, on October 2, 1870 (Reference: 1870/2194), James was a “Labourer” at Tantawangalo, while Mary Ann was a “Dairy Maid” at Lithgow Flat. They raised a large family in the Bega district. Peter was reportedly a “noted wrestler in the distrct” according to the newspaper obituary for Mary Ann. After one years illness with Phibesis – possibly relating to heart disease – Peter O’Brien died at Candelo on October 6, 1897, (Death Certificate 1897/11322) and was buried the following day. After a three-year ilnness with Chronic Congestive Heart Disease (Mitral Insufficiency), Mary Ann died, aged 77, on September 22, 1932 at Orchard Farm, Candelo. She was buried the same day in the Church of England section at Wolumla Cemetery.
* Ellen O’Brien was born in 1851 in Meath,Ireland. At “Widgiewa”, she met Thomas Branigan, from Bulla, Victoria. They married in the Catholic Church at Keilor on August 1, 1876. According to information on the website of Hume Shire, Thomas was the son of Thomas Branigan and Mary Anne Stanleke. For many years, Thomas and Ellen lived at St John’s Hill in the Bulla District. At the time of the death of Thomas’ mother, eldest brother Thomas was farming at Strathmerton (on the lower Goulburn, an area not long previously opened for selection),.
* Edward O’Brien was born on 1 May 1853.
* Luke O’Brien was born in 1853 in Ireland. In 1884 at Bega, Luke married Annie Moran (who was born in 1864 at Eden, NSW). They had the following children : – William Thomas O’Brien (born in 1885 in Bega), Mary Ellen O’Brien (born in 1887 in Bega) who a married Timothy F Collins in 1921; Theresa Ann O’Brien (born in 1888 in Bega) who married Roy J H Ziegler in 1918; James O’Brien (born in 1889 in Lytteton, NSW), John Joseph O’Brien (born in 1890 in Lytteton, NSW) who married married Mary Lillian T Phillips, daughter of Joseph Phillips and Susan Momsen; and Francis Leo O’Brien (born in 1892 in Candelo, NSW). Luke and Annie lived for many years at Moran’s Crossing, near Bega.
In the book, “River Oaks, Green Willows and young Corn (a brief history of the Bega District Jockey Club)” by Ray James and Jim Gordon, there are a number of stories about local trainer, Luke O’Brien,…
Luke O’Brien was fond of a bet, and his daughter, Mrs Roy Ziegler told a story of one of Luke’s gambling adventures. In many stories of this kind, it can be difficult to separate truth from well-intentioned humour. We’ll let you decide this issue. Well, anyway, Luke set off through the bush to go to the Bredbo Cup Meeting. Bredbo was a flourishing gold mining town at this time, and it took Luke a few days to find his way through the bush and through the mountains, and the horse looked a complete wreck when they arrived. However, he had been fit before leaving Moran’s Crossing, and starting at a good price, the horse duly won the Bredbo Cup, and Luke cleaned out the bookmakers well and truly. It had taken him several days to reach Bredbo across country, but Luke returned by road, stopping at every hotel en route, and the return trip took almost a month. With no communication in those days, the family had to go looking for Luke, eventually to find that he had come to no harm. Which just goes to show, that even if racing is a bit of an adventure, there is no need to overdo things.
Luke died July 22, 1932 at North Bondi, NSW (aged 79). His wife, Annie Moran died several months later on December 24, 1932 at Bega, NSW (age 68).
* John O’Brien was born on 5 May 1855.
* Catherine O’Brien was born on 18 Jul 1857. Thanks to researcher, Fran Firth from the Blue Mountains, I have the following information about Catherine and her husband, David Collins.
David Collins married Catherine O’Brien on August 13, 1883 at the Catholic Church in Candelo. David was the eldest child of William Collins and Margaret Keys both of whom were born in Co. Tyrone Ireland. William, who had emigrated to Australia as an 18 year old with his parents and siblings, married Margaret keys in 1852, who had arrived the year earlier from Ireland. David being the oldest son took over the running of the dairy property “Greenmount” near Wyndham, and had 6 daughters and 1 son. Their children were: Mary Collins born July 6, 1885, married George Yates and lived in Randwick, Sydney; Christine Collins born November 9, 1887 married Eugene Grant; Adeline Collins born March 18 1889, who married Andrew Burg; Rachel Collins born April 21 1890 and married Michael O’Rourke; Alice Collins born October 8, 1891 and married Russell Auguston; John Collins born December 23, 1893 and married Alice Reid.
Her funeral notice which appeared in the Bega Standard also gives some information about her life.
Mrs David Collins, of “Greenmount”, “Wyndham” passed away in Pambula District Hospital on Saturday, at the age of 62 years. The late Mrs Collins, who had been ill for a long time, was highly esteemed and had a large circle of friends who will regret her death. She was formerly Miss O’Brien, sister of Mr Luke O’Brien, of Moran’s Crossing. A husband and grown up children are left to mourn their loss. The funeral was held at Wyndham on Sunday and was very largely attended. Rev. Father McNeeve of Pambula conducted the service. Manning and Sons of Bega had charge of the arrangements.
* Mary O’Brien was born on 7 Mar 1860. It appears as if Mary never married, and took care of her mother in her later years. She appears to have died at Bega in 1932 (13543/1932) though I have yet to confirm this is the correct Mary.
* Patrick O’Brien was born on 6 Jul 1862 in Slane. He married Agnes Moran on October 28, 1889 at Bega (4482/1889). The birth records for their children indicate they lived in a number of locations in the Bega District. Annie (Bega 1890), Ruby (Lyttleton 1902), Mary Aileen (1894 Bemboka), Bernard Eugene (Bemboka 1896) Agnes Maud (1900 Bega) and Patrick (1903 Bega). His death was reported in The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933-1954), Wednesday 16 October 1935, page 4, and a photograph of he and his wife’s graves are available online.
The death of Mr P. J O’Brien, of Woodford, occurred yesterday after a short illness. Mr O’Brien started his turf career in the Bega and surrounding districts, where he rode with a good deal of success being associated with the late Teddy and Eueene McGrade and with Tommy O’Keefe about 1876. He and his brother, the late Luke O’Brien, afterwards bred and raced a number of horses, among them being Sir Ladden, Lemonwood, Desert Queen, and Reform. Mr. P. J. O’Brien about 29 years ago settled in the Woodford district. He bred Little Jewel, Billy Jewel, Retford Cooney, Bega, and All Black. These horses won many races in Brisbane and Sydney. The late Mr. O’Brien was chiefly interested in dairy farming and pig raising, and for a time kept hotels in Woodford and Maryborough. He is survived by his widow, five daughters, and a son, Mr. B. O’Brien, ‘ of Woodford. The funeral will take place at Woodford at 2 o’clock to-day.
* Eliza O’Brien married Alfred Bennett at Petersham in 1882 (2193/1882) and, according to her mother’s death notice, lived at Yourie, near Cobargo. Eliza died at Bega in 1912 (9515/1912).
Details about the first marriage, recorded on James’ death certificate remain unconfirmed. A simple search on Google for the name McGorrist in Louth, Ireland, suggests an alternative spelling of the name “McGorisk” living at Louth in the 1800s, including the names James and Thomas McGorisk. According to the 1842 electoral roll, Thomas lived at Upper Dundalk, part of Louth. There is also a reference to Thomas McGorisk at Drumcashel on the 1855 Ardee Convent Subscription Fund. James McGorisk is listed on the Louth Parish Church Subscription Fund 1890. Since I cannot find the name McGorrist at all, it’s presumably McGorisk that we’re looking for to establish this as fact or not. The name McGorisk also appears at Dundalk Town in Thom’s Directory of Ireland, 1931 appears currently in relation to a number of businesses in Athlone (Westmeath) which, co-incidentally, I visited in 1999. Anyway, can anyone add any light on the story of a first marriage for James in 1831
* There is a record of a personal diary kept from someone who was on board the Great Victoria when it came to Australia. I have written seeking more information about this diary.
An O’Brien Family Reunion was held at Jamberoo Hall on February 27, 2010.
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