The Downes Brothers - Wren Boys from County Clare

"The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
On St. Stephen's Day was caught in the furze;
Up with the kettle and down with the pan,
Pray give us a penny to bury the wran."

            (Traditional Irish Wren song)


Crime and Sentence
Michael Downes
John Downes
James Mungovan
Irish Origins
Acknowledgements and Notes

    Michael Downes
Michael Downes c1802-1881
(Photo: Mrs Shirley Downes)


This is the story of three Irishmen from County Clare, convicted of manslaughter and transported to Australia for a crime they probably did not commit. One managed to make a new life for himself, one got "caught in the furze" and the fate of the third is unknown. The search continues for the families they left behind.

Crime and Sentence

From the Ennis Chronicle and Clare Advertiser, Saturday 6 January 1827:1

On St. Stephen's day, some rioting occurred between two parties of Wren boys2 near Seafield, in the West of this County, when a man named Anglam, who was riding with his party, received a blow of the handle of a pitchfork from another named Shanahan, which fractured his skull in such a manner that he expired on Saturday night.  Anglam's brother struck Shanahan, with a loaded whip which leaves no hope of his recovery.  We understand that six men have been committed to the Jail of this town charged with the above crime.

An inquest was held into the death of Timothy Anglim, and from information given by Pat Anglim, charges were laid against Pat Shanahan and others.3  But at the Ennis Spring Assizes on 9 March 1827, only John Downes, Michael Downes and James Mungovan were convicted of the manslaughter of Timothy Anglim and sentenced to be transported for seven years.  No mention was made of Shanahan and the other men supposedly arrested.4

The three prisoners, claiming innocence and fearful for the fate of their families left behind, petitioned the Governor of Ireland on 24 March:

To the Most Noble the Marquis of Welsley Lord Lieutenant and General Governor of Ireland etc. etc. etc. etc.

The honourable Petition of James Mungavan, John and Michael Downes, prisoners in the Jail of Ennis under sentence of Transportation for seven years for the alleged Murder of Timothy Anglim on the 26th day of December last.

That your Excellency's Petitioners with due respect for both the Honourable Judge and Jury who had Tryed them and did the awful duty imposed on them impartially and as they ought under existing circumstances most solemnly in the presence of Almighty God declare their innocence of the crime alleged to their charge for which they are under sentence.

Petitioners acknowledge they were with many others inactive spectators of the melancholy event that took place on the above day mentioned.  Your Excellencys Humble Petitioners beg leave further to state that their prosecutors viz Patrick and Darby Anglim and Tim Gallagher has sworn maliciously and falsely against them by which means they deceived the Honourable Judge and the respectable Jury who tryed them.

Your Excellencys humble Petitioners beg leave further to state that the persons who actually killed the said Timothy Anglim in a riot being conscious of their guilt have fled and still at large - your humble petitioners being certain of their innocence remained at their houses respectively until they were apprehended.

Your Excellencys humble petitioners are all married men with families solely dependent on them for support whom by this sentence passed on your humble petitioners are reduced to the most abject state of despair and misery destitute of any earthly support for themselves or young families unless the fostering hand of pity is stretched to them they must actually starve.

Your Excellencys humble petitioners most humbly implore your Excellency in mercy to them and their families will mitigate their sentence to imprisonment or in any other way your Excellencys humane heart may dictate.  And Petitioners are in duty bound for your Excellencys welfare to pray.5

Unfortunately for the three men their petition was refused, despite the visit to the gaol on 3 April by the benevolent Elizabeth Fry, who reportedly conversed with most of the prisoners.6  All three convicts set sail from Cork 27 September 1827 in the Marquis of Huntley, William Ascough Master, together with 160 other Irish male convicts, 33 soldiers of the 40th Regiment as guard, women and children belonging to the soldiers, a ships company of 40 men and boys and the ship's surgeon John Smith, Royal Navy.  The ship travelled via the Cape of Good Hope, arriving in New South Wales 27 January 1828, and suffered one death on board.7

Seafield House ruins
The remains of the kitchen garden wall
of Seafield House, May 2001.
The riot took place at the Seafield gate.
The house burnt down in 1922.

(Photo: Trish Downes)


"Innocent bystander" pleas were very familiar to the authorities.8  On this occasion, however, our petitioners may have had a case.  In August 1828, near Westport County Mayo, police arrested the "notorious character" Patrick Shanahan (alias Fox), charged with the murder of Timothy Anglim.  Shanahan had not died as predicted, but had escaped, just as the three convicts had claimed.  He was brought back to Ennis by the Clare constabulary and committed to the gaol there, but the desperate man escaped again, this time to County Tipperary.   He was re-arrested near Nenagh on 23 August, but not before receiving in his thigh a pistol ball, which was extracted in Ennis two days later by Doctor Castles.9

Shanahan appeared at the Spring Assizes in March 1829.  The case for the prosecution apparently rested on the same witnesses Timothy Gallagher and Patrick Anglim who had supposedly "sworn falsely and maliciously" in 1827.  Newspaper reports are confusing, but it seems the large Anglim party, led by Tim Anglim on horseback, had gone to Seafield wren-hunting, where they met the other wren party on the road.  General fighting broke out, during which Tim Anglim reportedly boasted that if he wished he and his party could pull all the cabins down.  Pat Shanahan was wheeling a pitchfork but his brother Thomas, armed with a tree-spade, actually struck Timothy Anglim down in the dyke.  Four others beat him when down.  Tim Anglim's brother Patrick took to Pat Shanahan with a loaded whip, after which Shanahan flew into a house for protection and, dressed in woman's clothes, made his escape by the back way to County Mayo.

The Limerick Evening Post & Clare Sentinel's report underscores the capricious nature of "justice":

The learned judge then addressed the Jury, and said, there were three individuals transported for this murder before.  He did not know when they were tried before, but he was sure there was sufficient evidence to justify such a sentence.  On the present occasion, however, it did not appear sufficiently satisfactory that the prisoner struck the deceased; he had notwithstanding, a pitchfork in his hand and under the circumstances he would deem him guilty of manslaughter.

The Jury returned a verdict to that effect and the prisoner was sentenced to 13 months imprisonment.

One year later again, no doubt encouraged by the lenient treatment dealt his brother, Thomas Shanahan returned.  On 11 February 1830 the following notice appeared in The Clare Journal and Ennis Advertiser:


That I have surrendered myself, and am now in custody in Ennis Jail, to stand my trial at the next Assizes to be held in Ennis, for the alleged murder of Timothy Anglim in a Riot at Seafield, on the 26th day of December, 1826.

Thomas Shannahan his X mark
Ennis Jail, February 9th 1830
To All whom it may Concern

Once more Patrick Anglim gave evidence.  This time it was reportedly a stone which knocked his brother down, after which Thomas Shanahan had struck the deceased with the pitchfork.

The Learned Judge and Jury did not waste time.  According to The Clare Journal, a "conversation took place between the Court and Counsel on both sides, when it was agreed that a verdict of manslaughter should be given".  The Limerick Evening Post & Clare Sentinel confined itself to reporting Tom Shanahan's sentence of six months' imprisonment.  By this time, the press, the courts and the clergy were occupied with the increasing level of violence and agrarian disturbances in the County, and showed little interest in a Wren day riot of four years ago.

Michael Downes

On arrival in Sydney the friends were split up.  Michael was assigned to Captain John Brabyn at Clifton Cottage, Richmond.10  (Clifton farm is now part of the RAAF base, Richmond).  Captain Brabyn, formerly of the New South Wales Corps and recently of the Veterans' Company, had much experience with Irish convicts and a reputation for severity.  He had been in command of the guard on board the Marquis Cornwallis in 1796 when the Irish convicts and some of the guard tried to take over the ship; and he was also at Castle Hill in 1804 against the Irish convict uprising.  But by the time Michael arrived that was all behind him; Brabyn had retired from the army and was a magistrate on the Windsor bench and a prominent member of the Hawkesbury Benevolent Society, becoming president in 1829.11

It seems Michael did not stay long in Captain Brabyn's personal service, but was probably despatched to the Hunter Valley to work for Brabyn's Irish son-in-law John Gaggin.12  Gaggin, a clerk in the Commissariat, had a 2000-acre grant at Luskintyre, between Singleton and Maitland, and from 1827 to 1832 he was also superintendent of the Hawkesbury Benevolent Society's herd of cattle at Mooki on the Liverpool Plains west of the Hunter.  As a magistrate Brabyn could control the assignment and movement of convicts, and it is likely that he sent Michael, a farm servant, to the Hunter, where the settlers were crying out for labourers,13 or perhaps to Mooki with the Benevolent Society's cattle.  Also, as an Irish speaker, at this time Michael's command of the English language was probably restricted, and he would have been more useful with Gaggin's Irish overseer than in Brabyn's mostly English household.

"A Ticket of Leave is a permission to the individual to employ himself for his own benefit and to acquire property, on condition of residing within the District therein specified; of presenting himself and producing his Ticket before the Magistrates at the period prescribed by the Regulations; and of attending Worship weekly, if performed within a reasonable distance. But he is not allowed to remove into another District, without the express sanction of Government, entered on the face of his Ticket. The Ticket itself is liable to be resumed at any time, at the pleasure of the Governor, and in that case the individual reverts to the situation of a prisoner of the Crown."
(J.H. Plunkett, "The Australian Magistrate" 1835 pp.404-6)
Box 2  

Captain Brabyn also had a property called "Sydenham" near Singleton in the Hunter Valley, which he gave to the Gaggins in trust for his grandchild Frederick Gaggin.  In 1832 John Gaggin lost his Luskintyre property and went to live at Sydenham.15  Michael possibly moved to Sydenham, either with the Gaggin family or earlier, because his Ticket of Leave, issued on 1 May 1832, confined him to the district of Patricks Plains, the old name for Singleton.16

On 24 June 1834 Michael was a free man.17  Back at Richmond, after fifteen years of loneliness and coincidentally on St Stephen's Day, in 1842 he married Martha Allen,18 a free immigrant who had arrived from Strabane, County Tyrone in February 1842 and who was employed by Mr Ward of Richmond.19  Michael was still a labourer in Richmond when the first two children were baptised,20 but by March 1848 he was back in the Hunter and farming in the Maitland area,21 probably as a tenant farmer as the days of free land grants to expirees had long passed.

In about 1860 or earlier he finally settled down on his own land, which he named "Clarefield" (no doubt after his homeland), at Goorangoola Creek, not far from the Gaggin property at Sydenham.  He purchased about 113 acres, right on the creek, for £197-18-0, from John Browne22 (the district's most prominent Catholic citizen), and by 1863 had cleared about 25 acres, built a house and shed, and erected fencing, total value of improvements £192-00-00.23  When the Crown Lands Alienation Act was passed in 1861, small settlers were able to "select" crown land previously occupied by the squatters, and under this system Michael was able progressively to add another 232 adjoining acres to provide for Martha and their eight children.24  In 1863 Michael was about 60 years old and eldest son James only 18 — his achievement in manually clearing and cultivating his land at that age can only be marvelled at.

  Click on image to enlarge

Martha was not to enjoy her new home for long; on 26 January 1864 she died,25 and Michael was alone for the second time.  Baby Mary Ann was just 4 years old.

Michael continued to farm his land and raise his children, succeeding where hundreds of other selectors failed.  In 1875 Michael, six of his children, and James' wife and four children were all living at Clarefield.26  In 1878 the Inspector of Conditional Purchases visited, and reported that the land was "well improved".  The property was fenced, and the most recently acquired portion was used for grazing, with 20 acres ring-barked.27  But life on a small holding was hard, and sometimes funds just ran out.  Like many other small settlers, Michael was forced to mortgage his farm to the local butcher, Michael Ryan, in 1879 for twelve months, presumably to pay the bills.28

Michael died on 15 October 1881.  He is buried in the Singleton cemetery.29

Shortly before his death Michael transferred his land to son James,30 who lived on at Clarefield with his wife and nine children.  In 1885 James registered his livestock with the district inspector: five horses, 13 head of cattle, 15 sheep and one pig.31  James and his family stayed on until the depression of the 1890s hit the family.  In 1893, after a long drought, and as the banks were closing their doors, eastern Australia experienced a devastating flood.  On 7 March, 985 points (250 mm) of rain fell in Singleton in 24 hours.  The Hunter river rose 38 ft (11.7 m), the township was under water for four days, and the surrounding farms ruined.  According to The Singleton Argus of 15 March 1893:

... it washed away fences, crops, everything. ... News from Goorangoola says the flood has done tremendous damage there, and the road has been left in a fearful state.  Mrs Wingall's dairy was swept clean away, as were also Mrs Kermode's milking yards, what was called the dry creek, but what is now a wet one, going right through the middle of them.

The Kermode lands were next-door to Clarefield (see map), and we may assume the Downes property suffered similar damage.  The State Premier visited Singleton, and government grants were issued to the destitute, but recovery would have been extraordinarily difficult, especially with the depressed prices for produce and with high unemployment.  In 1896 James increased his mortgage to the bank to £200, and in 1899 the bank foreclosed.  James and his family moved into Singleton township and the property was taken over by Thomas Jackson.32

Clarefield 2002
Clarefield, Singleton, 2002
(Click on image to enlarge)

On 16 April 1930 the following article appeared in The Singleton Argus:

Roselands.  One of the old familiar landmarks of the district disappeared last week, in the demolition of the old Clarefield House.  It was originally built by one of the early pioneering farmers, the late Mr Downes, over 70 years ago.  The late Mr James Downes and family lived in it for many years after his father's death.  The late Mr T. Jackson, who also lived in it for some years, had it enlarged and renovated; but the old house had served its time, and with all its old associations and memories has had to share the fate of many of the other old homes.

Family of Michael Downes
  Born Died Married
Michael Downes c1802 Co Clare 15 Oct 1881 Singleton 1. Unknown, Co Clare. 1 child
m. 2. Martha Allen c1817 Strabane Co Tyrone
(dau. of James & Martha)
26 Jan 1864 Singleton 26 Dec 1842 Windsor
1. Margaret 1843 Richmond 1905 Singleton 1862 George Goadsby
2. James 1845 Richmond 1929 Singleton 1866 Ellen Sharp*
3. John 1848 Maitland 1905 Gunnedah 1875 Bridget Sharp*
4. Daniel 1850 Duckhole nr Raymond Terrace 1915 Manilla 1881 Honora Ring
5. Michael c1852 1883 Singleton  
6. Catherine c1855 1885 Tamworth 1876 George Bennett
7. Allen 1857 Singleton 1936 Singleton  
8. Mary Ann 1859 Singleton 1931 Narrabri 1878 John Sharp*

(*Note: 3 Downes siblings married 3 Sharp siblings)

Downes wedding Agnes Andrews
Prosperity in Australia
Sons of John Downes and Bridget Sharp,
grandsons of Michael Downes.

(Photo: Mrs Edna Maxwell)
Agnes, daughter of
Catherine Downes and George Bennett,
granddaughter of Michael Downes.

(Photo: Kathy Oosterveen)

John Downes

While Michael Downes' story is one of triumph over adversity, brother John's is one of sadness and misfortune.

for the guidance of the Board, appointed to report on the Applications for Convict Servants and Labourers

1st. Upon the arrival of a ship with Convicts, the principal Superindent shall, as soon as they have been mustered, prepare and lay before the Board a correct List, classing the Individuals according to their Trades, etc., as likewise a List of the Applications for Servants or Labourers to be made out in the order in which the applications have been received. He is also to prepare and submit similar Lists, whenever the number of disposable Prisoners shall amount to Ten.
2nd. In assigning Convicts, Preference will be given to the claims of New Settlers, as their being enabled to proceed in improving or stocking their Farms must depend on their receiving the necessary assistance in this respect.
10th. No convict will be assigned as a servant to a Convict, though holding a Ticket of Leave.
Given under my hand at Government House, Sydney, this ninth day of March, 1826.
Box 3

John was ill on the voyage, and three weeks out of Sydney, was placed on the sick list for four days, vomiting blood.33 Whether this was the result of a punishment or poor treatment cannot be determined. He was later to show a spirited temper, and might not have endured the close confinement and the January heat with equanimity.

On arrival he was assigned to Mary Dorr of Penrith.35  Mary was an ex-convict whose husband, James, was a Ticket-of-Leave holder36 who therefore could not be assigned servants himself (see Box 3).  James Dorr grew and cured tobacco on a 50-acre farm on the Nepean river, winning first prize for his product at the Agricultural Society meeting in 1825.37  John's service there was satisfactory, and when he petitioned 7 November 1829 for his wife Honorah and son John to be given free passage to New South Wales, his petition was recommended by his employer James Dorr.38  In August 1831 the British government forwarded to Dublin Castle, Ireland, a letter recommending passage for Honorah and John.39  But whether Honorah was found, and whether she wished to join her husband, are not known.  There is no evidence she came to Australia.

Then things went bad for John.  In 1830 Mary Dorr died,40 and as James Dorr had not yet been granted his freedom, John was re-assigned to John Simpson,41 also of Penrith.  Simpson was an ex-convict tailor with a chequered career.  He had been overseer of tailors at the Lumber Yard while a prisoner, but he was removed and punished for absenting himself from the shop.42  After gaining his freedom he operated a tailoring business from Penrith, and in 1828 he lived on a 5-acre grant with his wife, six children, one convict tailor and one ex-convict general labourer.43

Extract from Government Notice, January 10th, 1831.
It is represented to the Governor that the Regulations laid down in the Government Order of 28th May, 1830, No. 6, are very generally disregarded, and that Settlers, Overseers of Gangs, and others, continue to permit Convicts to proceed from one Place to another, either without any Pass, or with a very irregular one, notwithstanding the very great facilities which such a practice must evidently afford to Runaways and Bushrangers. His Excellency has therefore directed, that all Convicts whatsoever, who may be found at large after the 31st of this Month, either without Passes, or with improper ones, shall be immediately apprehended; and that, if private Servants, they shall be detained in the Service of Government, instead of being returned to their Masters; and if they be already employed in any Public Gang, that the Overseer shall be dismissed.
  Box 4
Extract from Government Order, 1st January, 1827.
Prisoners transported for any of the following periods, will be considered eligible to hold a Ticket of Leave, under the stipulations hereafter specified; viz. -
Transports for 7 years having served 4 years with 1, or 5 years with 2 masters.
Transports for 14 years having served 6 years with 1, and 8 years with 2, or 10 years with 3 masters.
Transports for life having served 8 years with 1, 10 years with 2, or 12 years with 3 masters.
    Prisoners will be considered eligible, though the number of masters whom they have served, may exceed the number above specified, provided it shall clearly appear, that their removal from their places was not occasioned by misconduct.'
  Box 5

In December 1831, with the fourth anniversary of his arrival approaching, John applied through the local court for a Ticket of Leave, but received no reply.  Then in June 1832 he was found in the Windsor district with an improper pass.   This unfortunate event may well have been caused by slackness on the part of his employer and John may have been on legitimate business.   But the authorities had recently decided to enforce the pass system (see Box 4).   John was removed from Simpson's service and placed in Government employment at Hyde Park Barracks.  On 24 June 1832, from Hyde Park Barracks, he again petitioned the Governor for his Ticket of Leave.  The authorities, when investigating his case, noted that his original application for a Ticket had been received, but had not been actioned because five years' service was required, and "5 years expires January 1833".  Presumably the extra year's service was required because John had not remained with the one employer, although this was clearly contrary to stated policy (see Box 5).  In August John was informed that his petition could not be complied with and he "must apply in the regular way".45  This would have been seen as a further injustice, especially as both his brother John and James Mungovan had Tickets of Leave by this time.

In December 1832, while still at the Barracks, he was found drunk and creating a disturbance in his ward, and sentenced to the Treadmill for 10 days.46  Then in March 1833, while on the Garden Gang, he was flogged 25 lashes for disobedience of orders and insolence.47

Finally, on 10 October 1833, almost seven years from his conviction, he was released with a Ticket of Leave allowing him "to remain in the District of Penrith, on the recommendation of the Sydney Bench, dated 30 November 1832".48  He obtained his Certificate of Freedom on 7 October 1834.49

Hyde Park Barracks
Hyde Park Barracks during the convict era.
A model in the present Barracks museum.

(Photo: Trish Downes)

Hyde Park Barracks 2000
Hyde Park Barracks to-day
(Photo: Trish Downes)
Hyde Park Barracks ward
The ward at Hyde Park Barracks
(Photo: Trish Downes)

By this time John must have thought there was no justice in the world, but worse was to come.  In February 1843, having given up hope of his wife Honorah joining him, John applied to marry Ellen Roe, Ticket of Leave holder from County Limerick.  Ellen had been convicted of stealing brass at the Limerick City Quarter Sessions in July 1836, sentenced to seven years' transportation along with about 20 other young women at the same sessions, and arrived 30 May 1837 per the transport Margaret.51   But John's application to marry Ellen was refused, for the reason that he was married on arrival with one child.52  The minister was the Revd J Brady, RC Clergyman at Windsor, the same man who had married his brother Michael and Martha Allen six weeks previously.  Second marriages after seven years' separation beyond the seas were not uncommon, and although void, were not considered a felony. (See Box 6.)  But convicts had to seek official permission to marry, and because Ellen Roe was not yet free, the officials saw fit to check and refuse the marriage.

It was not uncommon in the early years of the settlement for convicts to marry again in the colony when they had already been married prior to conviction. Various reasons accounted for this — the mistaken belief that their spouse was dead, or the attitude that they would never see them again. It was almost impossible to prove a convict was married if he stated otherwise. Some convicts believed transportation annulled marriage. Moreover bigamy after seven years was probably not a crime:
"BIGAMY ... The acts 1 Jac.1.C.11. and 10 Car. 1.C.21. however make exception to five cases, in which such second marriage, (though in the three first it is void,) is yet no felony ... - 1. Where either party has been continually abroad for seven years, whether the party in England hath notice of the other's being living or no ..."
(Tomlin's Law Dictionary, London, 1820, vol.1.)
Box 6  

Despite these bureaucratic obstacles, John and Ellen decided to settle down together anyway.   In May 1843 Ellen received approval to transfer her Ticket of Leave to the Maitland district,53 and John became a small farmer on Wallis's Creek, south of Maitland.   He was probably a tenant farmer on the Dagworth estate, or on one of the other large estates which had been established by the wealthy settlers of the 1820s.   He may have been the John Downes who in 1846 was cultivating tobacco there54 — a skill no doubt learnt from his first employer James Dorr.   John and Ellen lived together for 12 years until, on 3 August 1854, Ellen succumbed to a severe cough and headache, and died of "effusion on the chest caused by neglected cold and inflammation of the throat".55

On 25 July 1875 John Downes, labourer aged 69 years, died of old age at the Benevolent Asylum, Singleton.56  His death was certified by the wardsman, and all family details were recorded as "unknown".  He was said to have arrived from County Limerick and been 50 years in New South Wales.  It is highly likely that this is our John, now in Singleton near his more successful brother and family — a perusal of convict records has found no John Downes from County Limerick — but the full story remains to be found.

John would have been a broken man.  Historian L.L. Robson has written of convicts who received the lash:

The most profound factor preventing reformation, and perhaps driving men to persistent offence, was the lash.  Its advantages of cheapness and speed are obvious, and it was a means of enforcing discipline in the armed forces, the officers of which filled many posts in early Australia.  It would be difficult to find a more effective means of hardening the heart of the convict than by flogging him.  Degrading to all concerned, the cat-o'-nine-tails was feared until its first use, after which a marked deterioration of the convict's character set in.  A similar effect followed the placing of men into the brutalizing chain gangs.57

For a first offender, a rural man caught up in the high spirits of the St Stephen's Day Wren ritual, John Downes seems to have been dealt all the cards from the bottom of the pack.

Family of John Downes
  Born Died
John Downes c. 1800 Co Clare 25 Jul 1875 Singleton
m. 1. Honora Gallaher
  2. (applied) Ellen Roe
1. John c. 1825 Co Clare  

James Mungovan

    Charles Tompson Snr (Richard Reid)
Charles Tompson Snr
From a painting by
Richard Reid
(Photo: Elizabeth Hook)

James was one of five unfortunates to contract dysentery on the voyage.  After three days of pain he sought assistance on 1 Nov 1827 from the ship's surgeon who described him as a healthy looking dark complexioned man.  James remained in his care until discharged cured 6 November.  From his journal it seems the surgeon was conscientious in his duties, the only death on board being one from dysentery.58

On arrival James was assigned to Charles Tompson of South Creek.59  Tompson, a "gentleman convict" who was sentenced to seven years' transportation in Warwick for stealing two books, had arrived per Coromandel in 1804, prospered, and managed to regain a position in local society.  In about 1819 he bought a 700-acre farm, Clydesdale, south of Windsor on the Richmond Road.60  By the time James arrived Tompson owned over 2000 acres and headed a large household, including 17 convicts.61  His eldest son, Charles junior, under the tutorship of Irish Protestant clergyman and 1798 rebel Henry Fulton, became a classics scholar and poet and is considered to be Australia's first native-born bard.62

Clydesdale NSW
Clydesdale homestead
South Creek NSW
(Photo: Elizabeth Hook)

James seems to have settled in satisfactorily at Clydesdale, and obtained his Ticket of Leave on 1 May 1832 allowing him to remain in the Windsor district.63  He received his Certificate of Freedom on 17 May 1834.64

In August 1838, James renewed his Certificate of Freedom, his first one having become mutilated.65  A search for James after this time has so far been unsuccessful.  He doesn't appear to have re-married, nor acquired land in NSW.  His death has not been found in the NSW records, suggesting he may have left the colony.  Investigations are continuing.

Family of James Mungovan
  Born Died
James Mungovan c. 1800 Co Clare  
m. Unknown    
1. Unknown c. 1820-26 Co Clare  

Irish Origins

Our three miscreants left several clues as to their origins, but it is difficult to draw firm conclusions, other than they came from West Clare and probably around the Seafield/Tromra area.

Seafield from Tromra Castle
Seafield townland from Tromra
(Photo: Trish Downes, May 2001)

"The age at which labourers usually marry is from 17 to 25. In the town of Ennistymon there are not above a dozen unmarried labourers above 20 years of age. The priest's fee is provided, and that is the chief thing attended to; if a man or girl can obtain one-fourth of an acre of potato ground they marry immediately; but they often marry without having that, or even a cabin to live in. The most destitute, and those who are comfortable, are alike prone to marriage; in fact they all marry so early that it is difficult to make a comparison; none refrain from marriage on account of being too poor, and if a man gets a few pounds it rather forwards than puts back the period of his marriage."
Evidence from Co. Clare at the Royal Commission on condition of Poorer Classes in Ireland 183666
Box 7  

We cannot say definitely when they were born, or even which of the Downes brothers was the elder.  The convict indents prepared on arrival in New South Wales show James and John's age as 28 and Michael's as 26.  The Warrants of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, prepared in Ireland prior to departure in 1827, however, state Michael was 30, James 29 and John was the younger brother at 28.67  In later years Michael said he was born in 180768 — this is possible as Clare men were said to have married as young as 17 (see ).Box 7  Given he and his compatriots were all married with one child in March 1827, and John junior was about 5 in 1830, we can only assume they all married about 1824.

John was possibly living in Milltown Malbay at the time of his arrest.  In 1830 he said his wife Honorah nee Gallagher and son John, aged 5, resided in Miltown Malbay, Parish Kilmurry, and were known to Andrew Deveron Esq JP and the Revd Patrick McGowen [sic], RC Clergyman.69  Milltown Malbay is located in the civil and Roman Catholic parishes of Kilfarboy, not Kilmurry, but until 1839 the Roman Catholic parishes of Kilmurry and Kilfarboy were united, with Fr Patrick McGuane as curate to his brother Fr Anthony McGuane PP. 70 The Revd Andrew Davoran was the Church of Ireland vicar for Kilfarboy, and is listed in the Tithe Applotment Books for 1825 at Milltown Malbay (Liegard North).71

In the 1821 census, Milltown had 110 houses with 125 families and a population of 600 souls.72  By 1837 it had 133 houses and 726 inhabitants.73  The Tithe Composition of 1825 taxed 75 occupants of land in Liegard North townland, including a John Downes who occupied a half-acre of first-quality ploughland.  Although we can never prove this was our John, it is likely that he worked this half-acre to support his wife and son.

'To the question, What has become of those who were ejected? it was replied. "that ... those from Kilfarboy parish have been dispersed through the country; they have all gone to the bad;..They took very little away with them; they had no stock or corn to carry off some of them get shelter among their neighbours. There has been no attempt on their part to take forcible possession of the commons in the neighbourhood. Mr Carroll says that in the parish of Kilfarboy, there were two farms of 1,000 acres each, held under middle-men, which had become excessively cottiered, so much so that 200 or 300 families lived on them. Two years ago, when the last life in the middle-man's lease dropped, the head landlord gave notice to quit to 72 families, who held from one to five acres of land each; when the time of notice had expired they peaceably left their houses, which were immediately pulled down. The land they held was let to other tenants who had been before living and occupying land on the same estate. Those who were ejected were allowed to take with them the materials of their houses, but they had no stock, or produce, except a few potatoes. Their landlord offered them a passage to America, but none of them would accept it. They have become dispersed in various directions though the country. A few families have got pieces of wild land from other proprietors, which they are reclaiming; but they are not doing well, as the land they have is very bad, and they themselves were always supposed to be ill-doing people. There are still some hundred persons living on those two farms, which are let in small portions to a number of tenants. Only one new tenant was brought on the land when the others were ejected.'
More evidence from Co. Clare at the Royal Commission 183674
  Box 8

What became of Honora and John is a mystery.  The Kilfarboy baptism register shows there was a Gallaher family living in Liegard, at least from 1842, so it is possible that they returned to her family.  The only other known Downes occupant of Liegard North was Daniel Downes — possibly a relative, as Michael Downes named one of his Australian children Daniel (and the name is still favoured by descendants today).  In 1830 Daniel Downes and others of Kilfarboy parish were evicted by Thomas Morony for overholding (over-staying his lease),75 after his family and ancestors had resided on the same farm for 133 years.76  According to evidence given at the 1836 Royal Commission into the poor in Ireland, evicted families in Kilfarboy were dispersed to other parts of the country (see Box 8).  It is possible that when the agents came looking for Honora and John to offer them passage to Australia, they had left Milltown, or were in no condition to travel, had they even the means of getting to the port of embarkation.

In Summer 1829 an Honora Downes is shown in the County Clare Police Book as laying charges against a Synon Russell.77  This is the only mention found of Honora, if indeed it is she, in my search to date, and Synon Russell has not been located.

If we examine the names of the victim and witnesses of the Wren Day riot in conjunction with the Tithe records of 1825, we are drawn to the townland of Carrowdough, home of Tim Galleher and Pat Anglim and brother, and to its neighbour Clohan More, where eleven Downes holdings are shown (see map).  If the Wren Day dispute was about territory and between rival gangs, we can speculate that the opposition came from here.  But speculate is all we can do, because there is no sign of any of these families in the 1855 Griffith's valuation of Carrowdough and Clohan More, so the families must have been moved on.

Kilfarboy/Kilmurry tithes
Click on image to enlarge

Our last clue is the place of the crime, Seafield, and here is where we find the concentration of Mungovan and Shanahan families.  The tithes for this area were only partly compounded in 1825, the full composition being established in 1834.  The townland of Seafield is not specifically shown, but in the adjacent and co-leased town of Tromra Castle, in 1834 six Shanahans and five Mongevans are listed, including one "widow of Jas Mongevan".  Although there is none shown at Tromra Castle, there certainly were Downes families in the area, as is evidenced in the Kilmurry RC parish register which commenced in 1839 and in which Bridget Downes of Seafield is the mother of Senon Keleher baptised in 1840.  The parish register also shows Anglim and Galleher families living in the Seafield area, at least from 1840.78

  Seafield farms
  The row of cottages on the front
and Mungovan/Downes farms
at Seafield.

(Click on image to enlarge)

In the more comprehensive Griffith's valuation of 1855, Jas. Mongevin's widow has disappeared, but among the many Mongevin families in the vicinity we find a Mary Downes inhabiting the smallest and poorest of nine cottages along the seafront at Seafield, next door to James Gallagher.79  Could this be our Michael's wife?  Let us speculate that it is (for we can find no reason not) and follow the fate of Mary through the valuation field books.80

Kilmurry graveyard, showing the
many flat, unmarked gravestones

(Photo: Trish Downes, May 2001)

Mary remained in her cottage, leased from Daniel Mungovan Jnr, until about 1863 when she and the Mungovans disappeared from Seafield and the cottage was taken over by James O'Brien.  About 1868 a Michael Downes appeared on the Seafield books, farming about two acres of the original Mungovan ground.  Could this be the son of Mary and our Michael?  Pure speculation, but let us continue.  In 1877 the row of cottages was in ruins, but by 1882 Michael had a house on his land, and he remained there until 1901 when his son John Downes replaced him.  The 1901 census shows Michael, aged 75, his wife Mary, 75, and son John, 35, and family, and daughter Honor Boyle, 35, and family, all resident at Seafield.  The ages are entirely unreliable, as borne out by the 1911 census (when John was 53 and Honor 55), but it is quite possible that Michael, born about 1825, was indeed the son of our Michael who was transported to Australia.81

Carrying our investigation through, we find the house and land passing to Mary Downes (John's wife) in 1930 and to their son Patrick in 1941.

Possible Irish family of Michael Downes
Name Born Died Married
Michael Downes 1802-7 1881 NSW c1824
m. Mary   c1864 Co Clare  
1. Michael c1825 1901-11 c1855 Mary


Family of Michael Downes Junr of Seafield
Name Born Died Married
Michael Downes c1825 1901-11 c1855
m. Mary c1825 1901-11  
1. Honor c1856   c1894 Thomas Boyle
2. John c1858 c1930 c1895 Mary

Returning to Daniel Mungovan, the provider of a home for Mary, we may speculate that this was a relative of our transportee James.  Laurence, Daniel Senior, Patrick and Michael Muggevin [sic] were all occupiers of land at Seafield in 1855.  About 1857 John Mungovan replaced Laurence, and Daniel Junior replaced Michael.  About 1863 all Mungovans disappeared from the Seafield books, for reasons unknown.  It is possible that they emigrated — several Mungavin/Mungovan families from Clare took assisted passage to New South Wales, but none from Seafield — or they may simply have relinquished their holdings there in favour of their homes at Tromra West.  The search continues.


I am indebted to Mrs Shirley Downes, who conducted the first research into Michael and John Downes, and who "started me off" on my search.  Shirley's work is in the booklet "Your Downes and Humphries Ancestors" in the National Library of Australia.


  1. In the National Library of Ireland (NLI). The original spelling of surnames has been retained in quotes from newspapers and documents.
  2. In certain Celtic cultures, a St. Stephens' Day (26 December) ritual was to hunt and kill a wren, then travel from house to house, singing, playing and dancing, and collecting money "to bury the wren". In County Clare, the custom often led to faction fights such as the one described here.
  3. Informations Spring 1827 to Summer 1832. An indexed list of Informations laid, names of persons charged, and of Justices who dealt with same from Spring 1827 to Summer 1832 inclusive. (National Archives of Ireland (NAI) ref: Co. Clare Crown Book at Assizes 1827-1832. 1D/39/115)
  4. Neither the inquest nor the trial record has survived. Newspaper lists of prisoners tried at the Ennis Assizes (see Appendix 1) do not mention a Shanahan or any other person charged with this crime.
  5. Irish Transportation Records - Prisoners' Petitions and Cases; PPC 3053 (NAI)
  6. Ennis Chronicle and Clare Advertiser Wed 4 Apr 1827 (NLI)
  7. Surgeon's journal Marquis of Huntley(2) (PRO ADM101/50; AJCP Reel 3203). Although not listed by the surgeon, also on board were two sons of Michael Dwyer, the "Wicklow Chief" of the 1798 rebellion. (Musters and other papers relating to convict ships, 1790-1849. SRNSW ref: 2/8269; SR reel 2425, p.223.)
  8. See Inglis, Henry D.: A Journey Throughout Ireland During the Spring, Summer and Autumn of 1834. London, 1836, pp 156-67 (extract in Ó Dálaigh, Brian ed: The Strangers Gaze. Travels in County Clare 1534-1950. Clasp Press, Ennis, 1998, p 179). After watching a typical Ennis assizes, Inglis wrote: "All the witnesses, examined for the prosecution, were, by their own account, mere lookers on at the battle;   nor stick, nor stone had they. Their party had no mind to fight that day; but, in making this assertion, they always take care to let it be known, that, if they had had a mind to fight, they could have handled their shillelaghs to some purpose."
  9. See Appendix 1 for newspaper reports of Shanahan's arrests and the Clare Assizes of 1827, 1829 and 1830.
  10. Bound convict indents 1788-1835. Marquis of Huntley(2). (SRNSW ref: 4/4013; SR Reel 398)
  11. McGrath, Betty: The life and times of John Brabyn of the New South Wales Corps and his extended family. North Rocks NSW, 1995. "Brabyn, John" in Pike, Douglas (ed.): Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 1 (1966) p 144.
  12. Sainty, M.R. & Johnson, K.A.: Census of New South Wales - November 1828. Library of Australian History, North Sydney, 1980. Michael Downes, Marquis of Huntley, does not appear in the published census. The best candidate is Michael Dorons, aged 26, no ship, arrived 1827, Catholic, sentence 7 years, labourer, to John Gaggin, Luskintyre.
  13. See Noble, Lillian M.: The Glennies Creek Story. p 11. Mrs Noble states Gaggin got good convicts because of his family connection to John Brabyn.
  14. Quoted in SRNSW Guide no 14 Guide to Convict Records p115.
  15. McGrath, Betty. Op. cit. Gaggin had lost his own property in bankruptcy.
  16. Butts of Tickets of Leave 1827-75. Ticket no 32/373. (SRNSW ref: 4/4083; SR Reel 917)
  17. Butts of Certificates of Freedom, 1827-67. Certificate no 34/859. (SRNSW ref: 4/4322 SR Reel 993)
  18. Marriage certificate no V1842/1736/92
  19. Immigration: Entitlement certificates of persons on bounty ships, 1832-42, Sarah Botsford (SRNSW ref: 4/4888 SR Reel 1346)
  20. St Matthew's RC Church Windsor: Baptism records (SAG reel 0146, NLA reel G22,826)
  21. RC Parish West Maitland: Baptism record for son John (V1848/1501/65)
  22. Land Titles Office Sydney (LTO): Book 114 No 1850 of 16 July 1869
  23. Surveyor-General: Letters Received 1856-1867. Surveyor's report of 21 Aug 1863 on Conditional Purchase no 62/872, in letter bundle 65/20875 (SRNSW ref: 5/5746)
  24. Conditional Purchases nos 62/872, 62/3562, 66/3277 & 73/1288 (SRNSW refs: CP registers 7/2698-2702 and correspondence files referred to therein) Surveyor-General: Letters Received 1856-1867. Letter bundle 65/20875 (SRNSW ref: 5/5746)
  25. Death certificate 1864/5292
  26. New South Wales Electoral Office: Electoral Rolls 1842-1900. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Utah, 1963. Patricks Plains roll, 1874-5. (On microfilm in NLA)
  27. Lands Department, Conditional Sales Branch: Correspondence files, 1877-1951. Report by Inspector of Conditional Purchases dated 5 August 1878. Letter bundle17/13020 (SRNSW ref: WSRC 19/4821)
  28. LTO Book 194 No 831, Book 231 No 651.  Manning (C.M.H.) Clark, in his History of Australia Vol IV (MUP, Melbourne, 1973) (p. 170), writes of selectors being "obliged by their lack of adequate financial resources to throw themselves on the mercy of the local storekeeper, to pay their annual rent and supply them with essentials in return for the right to foreclose on the debt in the event of non-payment. These storekeepers were sucking the life-blood out of them".  Michael was fortunate and prudent to avoid this trap, except for this one instance.
  29. Death certificate 1881/10395
  30. LTO Book 177 No 763 of 20 Feb 1878
  31. Department of Mines (Stock and Brands Branch): "Report of the Chief Inspector of Stock, for the year ending 31st December, 1884", dated 15 June 1885, Appendix 2 p. 354. In New South Wales Parliament: Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly, 1885 Vol 3 p. 547
  32. LTO Book 642 Nos 790 and 791 of 1 Dec 1896 (mortgage); LTO Book 654 No 362 of 14 Nov 1899 (sale to Thomas Jackson)
  33. Surgeon's journal Marquis of Huntley(2) (PRO ADM101/50; AJCP Reel 3203)
  34. Historical Records of Australia, Series 1, vol xii, pp252-3
  35. Bound convict indents 1788-1835. Marquis of Huntley(2) (SRNSW ref: 4/4013; SR Reel 398)
  36. Butts of Tickets of Leave 1827-75. James Dorr's Ticket no 31/792, which replaced Ticket no 279/2302 of 31 Jan 1820 (SRNSW ref: 4/4080; SR Reel 915). Copies of Conditional Pardons registered by the Colonial Secretary, 6 May 1826-11 Aug 1870. Conditional Pardon no 13/192 of 28 Feb 1834 (SRNSW ref: 4/4432; SR Reel 775)
  37. Colonial Secretary (Col. Sec.): Letters received 1788-1826. Petitions by James Dorr dated 24 Oct and 14 Dec 1825. (SRNSW ref: 4/1873 p64-5 SR Fiche 3246)
  38. Col. Sec.: Main series of letters received. Petition dated 7 Nov 1829 in letter no 30/2772 (SRNSW ref: 4/2097)
  39. Col. Sec.: Letters sent re convicts. Letter no 31/275 of 6 Apr 1831. (SRNSW ref: 4/3670 p365 SR Reel 2649). Irish Transportation Records - Free Settlers' Papers; FS 1831 1 (NAI)
  40. Burial certificate no V1830239/14 of 5 Jun 1830
  41. Col. Sec.: Letters sent re convicts. Letter no 31/165 of 28 Feb 1831 (SRNSW ref: 4/3670 p264 SR Reel 2649)
  42. Petition by John Simpson, 26 Jun 1822 (SRNSW ref: 4/1760 p141 SR Reel 6055)
  43. Census of New South Wales - November 1828. Op. cit.
  44. Quoted in SRNSW Guide to Convict Records p115. See also note 14 above.
  45. Col. Sec.: Letters sent re convicts, 6 Oct 1826 - 18 May 1855. Letter 32/5996 of 24 Jun 1832 (SRNSW ref: 4/2152)
  46. Monthly returns of summary trials of convicts before the Bench at Hyde Park Barracks, August - December 1832; January, March 1833; January, March 1835; January - September, November 1836. Police report of prisoners tried Hyde Park Barracks Dec 1832. (SRNSW ref: X707; SR Reel 662)
  47. Ibid. Police report of prisoners tried Hyde Park Barracks March 1833. (SRNSW ref: X707 SR Reel 662)
  48. Butts of Tickets of Leave 1827-75. Ticket no 33/853. (SRNSW ref: 4/4090; SR Reel 920)
  49. Butts of Certificates of Freedom 1827-67. Certificate no 34/1279 of 7 Oct 1834. (SRNSW ref: 4/4324; SR Reel 993)
  50. SRNSW Guide no. 14. Guide to Convict Records p74.
  51. Annotated printed indents, 1837.   (SRNSW ref X640 p. 221; SR fiche 729)
  52. Register of convicts' applications to marry, 20 Dec 1825 - 26 Feb 1851. (SRNSW ref: 4/4514; SR Reel 715)
  53. Butts of Tickets of Leave 1827-75. Ticket no 42/2553 of 17 Oct 1842 (SRNSW ref: 4/4168; SR Reel 946)
  54. Maitland Mercury Wed 23 Dec 1846 p.2
  55. Maitland Mercury Sat 5 August 1854 p.2
  56. Death certificate no 1875/9189
  57. Robson, L.L. The Convict Settlers of Australia. 2nd ed, 1994. Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Victoria. p96.
  58. Surgeon's journal Marquis of Huntley(2). Op. cit.
  59. Bound convict indents 1788-1835. Marquis of Huntley(2) (SRNSW ref: 4/4013; SR Reel 398)
  60. Curtis, Elizabeth and Doyle, Gillian. Where honour guides the prow: a story of early settlers of Sydney Cove, Norfolk Island and the Murrumbidgee. c1987. E. Curtis and G. Doyle, Killara, NSW.
  61. Census of New South Wales - November 1828 - Householders Returns, District of Bathurst. (SRNSW ref: 4/1240; SR Reel 2506)
  62. "Tompson, Charles" in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 2 (1967), p 533.
  63. Butts of Tickets of Leave 1827-75. Ticket no 31/413 of 1 May 1832 (SRNSW ref: 4/4083; SR Reel 917)
  64. Butts of Certificates of Freedom 1827-67. Certificate no 34/583 of 17 May 1834 (SRNSW ref: 4/4321; SR Reel 992)
  65. Butts of Certificates of Freedom 1827-67. Certificate no 38/0716 of 6 Aug 1838 (SRNSW ref: 4/4343; SR Reel 1001)
  66. First Report of Commissioners for enquiring into the condition of the Poorer Classes in Ireland. British Parliamentary Papers (BPP). 1836 Vol 31. App D p51 (NLA)
  67. Warrants of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland relating to convict vessels from Ireland — "Irish Indents" 1822-40 (SRNSW ref: X33)
  68. When Michael registered the births of Allen in 1857 and Mary Ann in 1859, he said he was aged 50 and 52 respectively. On his death certificate in 1881 his son James said his father was aged 75 years. It is possible that this became his "notional" age amongst family and officialdom.
  69. Petition letter no 30/2772. Op. cit.
  70. Murphy, Ignatius: The Diocese of Killaloe 1800 - 1850. Four Courts Press, Dublin, 1992
  71. Tithe Applotment Books, Co Clare. NAI, microfilm reels in SLNSW.
  72. Mac Mathúna, Seosamh: Kilfarboy: a history of a west Clare parish. S. Mac Mathúna, Milltown Malbay, 1976
  73. Lewis, Samuel: Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 2nd ed, 1846
  74. BPP. Op. cit., App F p108.
  75. A List of Civil Bill Ejectments entered for Trial in the County Clare, from the year 1827 to 1833, both inclusive, together with the Decree pronounced by the Court in each and every Case. BPP. Op. cit., Supplement II to App., p170 (Entry no 56 of 1830). See Appendix 4 for extracts from the Ejectment Books (Co Clare) for 1829 to 1832.
  76. Chief Secretary's Office Registered Papers (CSORP) 1831 No 1394. (NAI ref 3/604/(1822)). See Appendix 4 for a full transcription.
  77. Informations Spring 1827 to Summer 1832. Co Clare Crown Book at Assizes 1827-1832. Op. cit.
  78. RC Parish register Kilmurry-Ibrickane. NLI (copy at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) Family History Library microfilm no 926101)
  79. Griffith, Richard: Primary Valuation of Ireland (1848-1864)
  80. Valuation Lists for Co Clare Kilrush rural district 1856-1945. Valuation Office, Dublin (copy on LDS microfilm no 0819458)
  81. 1901 and 1911 census of Ireland (copies on LDS microfilm nos 588869 & 2046077)


  1. Newspaper Reports of the Clare Assizes
  2. Tithe Records of Interest, Kilfarboy/Kilmurry-Ibrickane Parishes, Co Clare
  3. Downes/Mungovan Holdings, Griffith's Valuation of Land, 1855, Kilfarboy/Kilmurry-Ibrickane Parishes, Co Clare
  4. Daniel Downes's Ejectment

© 2000 Patricia Downes

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