John Christopher Hickson (1848-1945)

Donald Robinson, a former Archbishop of Sydney, writes (around 1960):

The Hicksons were an old Protestant family whose Hickson forebears had crossed to Ireland from England in the time of Cromwell. Their ancestral seat was “The Grove” at Dingle, 30 miles or more west of Tralee in county Kerry, and a few miles from the western extremity of Ireland.

Don Robinson and Dad (who are cousins) are great grandsons of John Hickson (1848-1945), the youngest son of Richard and Mary Hickson, who lived in the early 1800s in Country Kerry. Don has written a fascinating account of John Hickson, which I will quote in full below. Two other brothers, William and George, as well as a sister, Kate, are mentioned by name in this account, since they all migrated to Australia, though William first migrated to America and later to Australia. William, who was 15 years older than John, is of equal interest to me because Mum was descended from him. Mum and Dad are therefore distantly related to each other, though they had no idea of this at the time they married.

Don’s account of John Christopher Hickson (slightly edited) is as follows:

JCH was born on the 2 September 1848 and bred in the small town called Killorglin, on the Laune River as it flows from the Killarney Lakes to the sea. Some part of his boyhood was spent in the picturesque village of Sneem, on the wild rocky coast Kerry, where he had Needham relatives. He was the youngest of a large family, which dispersed to various parts of the world. His mother, Mary Ann (nee Carter), and some of his brothers and sisters died in Killorglin, but his father Richard, a shopkeeper, went with his elder brother William to America, Richard lies buried in North Cemetery at Providence, near Boston.

JCH came to Australia alone (a doctor advised a warm climate for his weak chest) and went to work for George Hudson the timber merchant. Impatient of his slow progress, he began his own timber business, and soon owned his own mills at Nabiac on the Walamba River, and a yard at Darling Harbour, at the foot of Liverpool Street. He was always an enthusiast for the possibilities of Australia, and he persuaded his brother William to come here from America, and another brother George from Ireland, who married Agnes Harper in St. Phillip’s on 9 November 1870. His sister Kate also settled here, and married Hugh Breckenridge, an artist. A daughter of Robert Breckenridge, Hugh’s brother, subsequently owned “The Grange” at Mount Victoria, formerly owned by the Schleichers, and today by the C.S.S.M.

JCH was a member of the first Sydney Regiment when it was formed in the 1860’s. On 25 January 1872, he married Martha Watts who had been born in Balmain N.S.W. on the 20th June 1848, to William Watts, farmer and Mary nee (Mountgarret), then living in Balmain. The marriage was at St. Luke’s Sussex St., Sydney (now demolished) By Rev. Thomas Unwin. They had eleven children: Alice (Mrs. Ross), Edith (Mrs. Layton), George, Mabel (Mrs. Robinson), Maud, Aubrey, Stanley, Percy, Eunice, Hilda (Mrs. Doyle) and Roland. Maud died as a child. My grandmother Alice, was the eldest of the family. She was born on 10 November 1872, at Botany Road, Waterloo.

The Hickson home was later in Cleveland Street facing Albert Park, and is perhaps still standing. But while Alice was still a girl, JCH moved to Summer Hill at which time my grandmother attended the first service in the new St Andrew’s Church on 5 September 1885, when the Rector John Vaughan preached on the text “Come and See”. In the 1880’s JCH moved again to a house called “The Grove” in Liverpool St. Enfield, and I still have the use of a Latin dictionary which bears Alice’s name, with “High School Sydney, 1886” inscribed. The Hicksons were associated with St. Thomas’s Church at Enfield, where Alice was prepared for confirmation by Rev. E. S. Wilkinson, and where she was later married by him on the 24th, August, 1896, the first couple married in the renovated St. Thomas’s Church.

In 1893 JCH made a trip around the world, including a visit to the World Fair at Chicago and pilgrimage to his old family haunts in Ireland. He had friends and relatives (many from Kerry like himself) in a number of places both in America and the British Isles; one such was the Rev. B Needham, a relative, minister of the Baptist Church in Coatesville, near Philadelphia; and a friend of boyhood days, who showed many kindnesses in London, was the chief inspector at Scotland Yard, Mr. Melville. JCH took my grandmother (Alice, then aged 21) with him on this trip, partly, it is said, to prevent a romance with Richard Byrne (who had been born in Killarney, Ireland, and whose family was well known to the Hicksons.) She seems to have had a gay time on the trip. JCH published an account of his journey under the title “Notes of Travel, From Pacific to Atlantic’, with description of the World fair at Chicago, and travels by sea and land around the world. It was printed at Parramatta by Fuller’s Lighting Printing Works Company, and ran to about 80 octavo pages. Much of the information of his early years has been obtained from this, and it contains some interesting material, including the fact they went to hear D.L. Moody preach a number of times in Chicago, and on one occasion JCH pushed through the throng to speak to and shake the hand of the great evangelist.

On 24 August 1895, shortly after their return, Alice married my grandfather, William Frederick Ross, of Heydon St., Enfield.

JCH continued to prosper, and at this time owned a timber yard near Burwood station in Railway Parade, where the Metropolitan Funeral Home now stands. He bought a holiday home on the southern highlands at Balmoral – ‘Glen Gariffe’, (named after a town in Ireland), where my mother spent many holidays as a girl. When he was only 46, at the time of his trip abroad, he had retired from active work, and about 1906 he moved from Enfield to Manly, where he bought a large house, ‘Kyamba’ (still standing 1960), in Addison Road, and lived on the income from his various properties.

In 1911 he went to England again, for the coronation of George V, with his wife. On the return journey Martha caught cholera at Naples, and was buried in the Mediterranean Sea on the 18th July 1911. Four months after his arrival home, JCH married again, to Miss Alice Elizabeth Hammett, who had been on the ship (coming out to marry someone in Western Australia) and had nursed Martha Hickson, on the voyage.

JCH became a churchwarden and treasurer at St. Matthew’s Manly, and when the new church was built he was the clerk of works. He fell out with the Rector, the Rev. A.R. Ebbs, over matters of financial policy.

When Alice Elizabeth died, JCH, now 77, went to England again and returned with a third bride, Isabel Hewitt Parkinson who survived him. He placed a fine brass Lectern in St. Matthew’s in memory of Alice Elizabeth. His later years were spent in a flat at number 9 Victoria Parade, Manly, where he died in 1945 at the age of 97. He had hoped to live to be 100, to see his descendants to the fourth generation, and to see the end of the war. But none of these hopes was fulfilled. He paid my university fees in 1941, and offered to do so for the rest of my course, but the war interrupted my studies. He left 100 pounds to each of his great grandsons. He retained his faculties to the end of his life, and enjoyed conversations with S.M. Johnstone and T. C. Hammond, both Irishmen like himself.

He never forgave my grandmother for her second marriage, when she was 70, to Dick Byrne.

When he first married and lived in Redfern, JCH was friendly with Nathaniel Taubman, my wife’s grandfather with whom he used to walk to work in Waterloo.

9 thoughts on “John Christopher Hickson (1848-1945)

  1. Thank you so very much for the information on John Christopher Hickson. I am the great granddaughter of George Hickson (son of JC Hickson) and researching the family history

    1. Hi Karen! Thanks for contacting me. I would love to hear more about George Hickson, to fill in the gaps. Feel free to use my email address which I will send to you in an separate message. Don Robinson’s story is certainly very informative. He obviously did a lot of research when he wrote it back in the 60s.

  2. Just wondering, does anyone have any family portraits or (unlikely) photos of JC Hickson’s siblings? His sister Susan was my great-great-great grandmother whose daughter Susannah Sarah Humphries (Hume) I’m trying to research.



    1. Hi James
      I am not really sure about JC Hickson’s siblings. I know he had a sister called Kate and two brothers called George and William but I was not aware of a sister called Susan. I do know that JC Hickson’s brother William had a daughter called Susan Hickson (1881-1945), who married George Byrne my great grandfather on my mother’s side. I have a picture of that Susan Hickson but not of yours. I take it that your Susan Hickson married someone called Hume and her daughter Susannah married someone called Humphries?? I take it from your email address that you are writing from Australia. Did your Susan Hickson migrate to Australia and if so when? Any information you have on her would be really interesting to hear about.

  3. Hi David,

    Guessing your JC Hickson is the same as the one mentioned on this site:

    Susan Hickson (first in the list) was my great-great-great grandmother – her daughter Susannah Sarah my great-great grandmother, and her son Harry Carrington Humphries my great grandfather.

    If you want to discuss further, shoot me a mail at jdhpolson at


    1. Thanks for the link James. Looks like someone has done a lot of research. There’s a lot to read through, which I will get to at some stage. Definitely the same JC Hickson by the look of it. He was my great great grandfather. My grandmother’s mother was Alice Hickson (my great grandmother), who was JC Hickson’s daughter. At present I am working on Alice’s husband’s father, James Ross, as you will see from the latest posts on this blog. Thanks for sending the link!

    2. Hi again JP! I have started thinking about the Hicksons and am gradually getting a feel for them. I have just posted a blog about Alice Hickson, JC Hickson’s first daughter. I have little information about JC’s siblings. I have managed to work out that he was the youngest of his family and the last to leave Ireland, in 1870 I believe. He was my father’s great grandfather. His older brother, William Hickson, was my mother’s great grandfather. JC appears to have lived for some time with William and his wife before they left Ireland. William however migrated to America and did not come to Australia until much later, sponsored by his youngest brother, JC! The other siblings are a mystery to me. I have the information from the website. There is also a worldwide Hickson website written by Anthony Hickson, which is a huge source of information. Any more information you might have on your ancestor Susan Hickson would be of interest to me, especially if you know why she came. I take it she was the oldest of the siblings and the first of the family to leave, in 1853, when JC Hickson was just 5 years old. I have pictures of JC Hickson, Kate Hickson (Breckenridge) and Mary Needham (Hickson) as well as two of Mary’s children: Richard and Susie Hickson. I can send you copies off you are interested. If you have found any pictures I would love to have copies too.

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