Forgotten tales

stories of my family

Archive for the month “July, 2016”

The Hickson-Needham connection

William Hickson marries Mary Needham

In 1858 the oldest son in the Hickson family of Killorglin married the oldest of the Needham daughters of Templenoe. Their marriage certificate gives some details of their respective backgrounds:

1858 Marriage Hickson Needham

The date was October 5th and both William and Mary were 25 years of age. William Hickson’s occupation was “nailor” and his residence was Killorglin. Mary Needham’s occupation is blank and her residence was in Cloverfield.

Killorglin is a well known town in Kerry, but I cannot locate a Cloverfield on any maps. A quick internet search brings up a nice old house called Cloverfield House, which is just south of Killarney, but it seems unlikely that Mary lived there. The Needham family lived in Templenoe, on the northern bank of Kenmare Bay, some miles south of Killarney and over the mountains. William and Mary were married at Templenoe Church. So where was Cloverfield?

It is possible that Mary was a housemaid at a country house, but surely then an occupation would be listed for her. If she had already terminated her employment in order to get married then surely her address would be listed as Templenoe.

The Hicksons of Killorglin and the Needhams of Templenoe

Mary’s father George is listed as Parish Clerk. Family tradition says that he was a captain in the Kerry Coastguard. But in 1858 he was already 56 years old and so it is likely that he had long since left the sea. He was a widower, since his wife had died two years earlier. But what did the Parish Clerk do? Did he work for the church? Or for the local council? He clearly performed clerical duties – his was a desk job.

But though he was a man of letters and numbers, George Needham was not gentry. He was the tenant of a local landowner, a certain Richard Mahoney, who lived in Dromore Castle, just down the road from the Needham home, which stood next to the Petty Sessions Court House and the local school. Richard’s father, Denis Mahony, is listed as George’s landlord on the Griffith’s Valuation on 1852, but by the time of William and Mary’s marriage, old Denis Mahony was dead.

William’s father Richard was, like William, a “nailor.”  This occupation does not exist nowadays, but according to a dictionary of old occupations, a nailor was a metalworker who manufactured nails, which showed that the Hicksons were a working class family.

But despite this humble occupation it would seem the Hicksons were one of the noble families of Kerry. They could trace their ancestry back several hundred years through their connections with the Hickson family of Fermoyle and Dingle, who appear in the well known publication, Burke’s Landed Gentry.

Whether their noble heritage was of any importance to William Hickson or his father is unknown. But the youngest brother, John Christopher Hickson, the last in the Hickson family, seems to have been proud of his aristocratic connections. As one of the “new rich” in Sydney many years later John would name his home in Sydney The Grove, after a large house in Dingle which he referred to as the “family seat.”

Like George Needham, Richard Hickson was also a widower in 1858 when William and Mary married. His wife Mary Ann had died in 1853, when three of her seven children were still under 10 years old. John, the youngest, was just 5 years old when his mother died.

Migrations

The year their mother died the oldest of the Hickson family, Susan, migrated to Australia. Two years later, in 1855, the next two sisters, Mary and Ellen, also migrated to Australia. What prompted them to go is hard to know, but they had lived through the years of the Potato Famine which ravaged Ireland from 1845 to 1852, and had known much hardship. Their mother was dead. Thousands of people across Ireland were migrating, mostly to America, but some to Australia or other destinations. Prospects in Ireland seemed poor.

It was the girls of the Hickson family who were the pioneers, as far as migration was concerned, heading for the distant colony of New South Wales. Only one ended up there, in Sydney, the other two after they married eventually going further, to Victoria and Western Australia respectively.

Protestants in a Catholic community

How William Hickson met Mary Needham is open to conjecture, but contact through the church seems the most likely. They were both Protestants in a predominantly Catholic community. According to the National Archives of Ireland website for 1911, Kerry was one of 7 counties of Ireland where Catholics accounted for more than 95% of the population. According to another website Protestants accounted for just 3.3% of the population of Kerry in 1861.

The population of Kerry had plummeted over the decade from 1850 to 1860, with over 50,000 emigrating, more than 20% of the county’s population. Proportionately more Protestants had left than Catholics, and this continued. Anti-protestant feelings over the second half of the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century led to a continuing haemorrhage of Protestants form the area. By 1911 there were “just 3,623 Church of Ireland members, 251 Methodists, 249 Presbyterians, 26 Jews, 67 members of various other assorted religions, and two people who refused to disclose what, if any, religion they held.” (National Archives of Ireland website.)

William and Mary were both part of the small Protestant community in Kerry. In 1858, the year they married, there can hardly have been more than five or six thousand Protestants in the county. A meeting between them, even if they lived a good few miles apart, and attended different churches, is not hard to imagine. And so the Hickson and Needham families were joined.

Marrying into the Needham family

Although Mary took William’s name I have the feeling that William left the Hicksons to marry Mary, rather than the other way around. Though they probably initially lived in Killorglin, I believe the couple eventually settled in Sneem, which was much closer to the Needham family home in Templenoe than to where William’s family lived. As already mentioned, William was a nailor, like his father, but it seems he became a smith, specifically a whitesmith. In those early years of their marriage they must surely have had frequent contact with Mary’s father and her nine younger siblings. Mary had been like a stand in parent after their own mother had died some years earlier, and it is likely that even after her marriage she remained in close contact with her younger brothers and sisters, as well as her ageing father.

Soon after they were married, William and Mary began a family of their own. Their first child, Richard, was born in 1859 and their second, Susie, in 1861. Then third, Mary-Anne, or Lizzie as she was always known, was born in 1863 or 4, not long before the family left Ireland for good.

So there were a lot of children in William and Mary’s lives in those early years of their marriage in Ireland. They had a lot of contact with Mary’s siblings, in particular, who lived so close. In 1858 when they married, her four youngest brothers were all still at school. George was 12, but Benjamin, Thomas and William were respectively 5, 4 and 2.

William’s younger siblings the year he married were a little older than the Needham youngsters: Kate was 14, George 13 and John 10, all living in Killorglin with their father.  His three older sisters, Susan, Mary and Ellen had all left for Australia.

Evangelical revival and the Needhams

In 1861 there was a Christian revival within the Protestant church in Kerry, centred on the area in which William and Mary lived. The key figures in the revival were two of the local gentry, who happened to be close friends to each other: FC Bland and RJ Mahony. RJ (Richard) Mahony was the Needham’s landlord. FC Bland lived in a large house very close to William and Mary, in Sneem. The revival doubtless had a strong impact on William and Mary, as well as on the wider Needham family. The Hicksons of Killorglin, who lived further away, were likely less impacted, but William Hickson was like the Needhams, in the thick of things.

In 1863 with the revival in Kerry still in progress, Kate and her brother George Hickson migrated to Australia to join their older siblings, leaving young John, by then 15, the only one of the family still in Killorglin with his father. I believe that around that time John and his father went to live in Sneem with William and Mary. How they responded to the religious enthusiasm of William and Mary is uncertain. I have also wondered how the Catholic community in general viewed the religious antics of the Protestant gentry and their followers.

Migration to America

Two years later in 1865 William and Mary decided to migrate to North America, and William’s father went with them. Why they chose America and not Australia, where five of William’s siblings had already gone, is uncertain. It seems that while the Hickson’s chose Australia, the Needhams chose America, and William, having in a sense married into the Needham family, followed the Needham trend. His father came with him because he was too old to make the journey to Australia, where all his other children were, on his own.

Why did the Needhams choose America? I have wondered if it had something to do with the revival that they had experienced in 1861 and the years following. There had been a revival in Chicago in 1857 triggered partly by the preaching of a young evangelist DL Moody, and although civil war had broken out in 1861 over the vexed question of slavery in America, a minor revival had begun among soldiers during the latter years of the war as young battle weary men turned back to God. DL Moody was involved there too. Though he was a conscientious objector to military service he nevertheless made repeated visits to the battlefront to preach to the troops (Wikipedia).

Perhaps it was this movement of God’s Spirit in America, that attracted the Needham family to the area where they would eventually settle and live out their lives. DL Moody would play a significant part in their lives in the ensuing decades, particularly the lives of the four youngest of the Needham family, who all became evangelists. For Protestants from Kerry who had been enlivened by the fire of the Holy Spirit, and who lived in an environment of at best suspicion and at worse open hostility from the Catholic majority, Boston would have been an attractive destination.

Irish Immigrants Irish Ships to America 1

Irish immigrant ship to America (Irish American Journey website)

Kerry, DL Moody and the Needhams

The connection between Moody and Ireland was not limited to the Needhams. In 1867, while visiting England, Moody met FC Bland, who had been one of the gentleman catalysts of the revival in Kerry, and a near neighbour of William and Mary (Needham) Hickson. The result of that meeting is described in a biography of DL Moody.

F.C. Bland, the High Sheriff of Kerry County, Ireland, was an influential worldling who became a Christian in the 1861 Kerry Revival. Bright, articulate and well educated, he quickly became a deep and perceptive student of the Bible. J. Edwin Orr wrote that Bland “drank deeply of Brethren teaching without ever joining their ranks,” presumably remaining a communicating member of the Church of Ireland. After Moody and Bland met in 1867, Moody was markedly impressed by the layman’s biblical knowledge and teaching skill. The two became friends, and, as Orr phrased it, the result was “Bland becoming Bible consultant of Dwight L. Moody.” (Dorset LW, A Passion for Souls, Moody Publishers, Chicago, 1997. p.140)

But by 1867 William, Mary, their three children (a third, Lizzie, was born in 1865) and William’s ageing father had all moved to America. Mary’s father, George, had died sometime between 1858 and 1863. In 1863 young Thomas Needham, aged 13, went to sea. By the end of the 1860s all of the Needhams had gone to America.

John Hickson persuades William to come to Australia

After the departure of William and his father for America, the only member of the Hickson family still in Ireland was John. It is unclear why he hadn’t left with his brother and father, and what he did in Ireland in the years after their departure is also uncertain. But in 1870 at the age of 22 he too decided to migrate, choosing Australia rather than joining his older brother William in Boston.

John married an Australian girl not long after his arrival. She was the daughter of freed convicts, her mother having been transported from County Down in Northern Ireland back in the 1830s. John and his wife raised a family of ten children and prospered greatly in Sydney and became very wealthy. He was a timber merchant with mills on the north coast of New South Wales as well as in Sydney.

He missed his older brother, and got it in his head that William and his family would be better off in Sydney than Boston. It may have been that William and Mary had run into problems of some kind in America. Perhaps the life they had hoped for had not eventuated, and John prevailed on them to come to Australia instead, the land of opportunity.

In 1877 John finally managed to persuade William and Mary to leave Boston, where they had lived for almost twelve years, and come to Australia. In this way Mary became the only one of the Needhams who ended up in Australia rather than North America. It was thus that my Irish-American great grandmother, Susie Hickson, arrived in Australia in 1878, a fresh faced 17 year old girl.

Lochee2

Immigrant ship Lochee, on which William and Mary Hickson sailed with their seven children. Arrived Sydney 1878. South Australian Maritime Museum

Looking back and looking forward

The following year Susie’s big brother, Richard, turned 20. The family, with seven children in all, had been in Sydney a little over a year, and were no doubt still in the adjustment phases after the upheaval of their second migration (the first for the last four children who were all American born). John Hickson, who had been the catalyst for their relocation, penned a birthday poem to his nephew, a copy of which has come down to me.

The first half of the poem recalls their lives together in Ireland before any of them had left for distant lands. It indicates that Richard had been born in Killorglin, on the Laune River, rather than Sneem, where his parents later settled. Killorglin was of course the home town of the Hicksons. John was just 11 years old when his nephew, Richard was born. It must have been a few years later that the teenage John went to live with his brother and sister in law in Sneem. Here are the first six stanzas of the poem, in which John looks back to the past:

J.C. Hickson to his nephew Richard Hickson on his 20th birthday, 31st July 1879.

The day was advancing, the bright sun was pouring
Its beams through the leaves of the Elms in the Grove,
The lark which the morn had seen loftily soaring,
Had descended to guard the soft nest of it’s love.

The fair Laune was flowing in majestic splendour,
The trout replied brisk to the angler’s fly,
The reeds in the distance rose brighter and grander,
All nature seemed pleased that last day of July.

O’er the field the light breezes of midsummer softly
The meadows and bright corn whispering wooed
Midst their shade undisturbed sang the Cormeraks gaily
And the Cuckoo’s note rang loud tones from the wood.

Mid scenes of such beauty and fullest enjoyment,
This baby was born with tribute to pay
I have spared a few moments for mental employment,
To coin a few lines for his twentieth birthday.

As a child in his cradle I rocked him to slumber
Oft his bright chubby form I have nursed on my knee
But as boy our firm friendship was riven asunder,
For early he crossed o’er Atlantic’s blue sea.

For years in the land where Stars and Stripes gaily
Float proudly o’er freedom’s intelligent race;-
His boyhood was spent but on my mind daily
Engraved the last sight of his bright happy face.

Time sped, and the web of life’s intricate weaving
Revolved till again on Australia’s fair strand
After crossing the ocean with billows upheaving
I felt on these shores the firm grasp of his hand.

There follow a whole lot of reflections on life and the poem concludes with two stanzas of encouragement for the future that lies before young Richard as he embarks on adulthood in his newly adopted home. It is interesting to note in the first line a sense of uncertainty about Richard’s future: would he stay in Australia, or would he return to the USA, the land he likely thought of as home. What was he thinking? Who was he missing? And how did he feel about the future?

If this fair southern land be the scene of thy fame,
E’en though by adoption, its freedom uphold,
With jealousy guard against taunt thy fair name
As life’s fitful picture before thee unfold.

I wish you success in each business of life
Be guided by prudence and wisdom and love;
And when your course run you shall cease from the strife,
May your labours find rest in the haven above.

Richard never returned to America as far as I know. He married and had six children whose descendants live in and around Sydney. I have no knowledge or contact with any of them. His parents, William and Mary, lived out their days in Sydney and are buried there. Their daughter Suzie married an Irishman and raised a family in Sydney. One of their daughters was my grandmother. The third of the Irish born children in the family, Lizzy, also married but never had any biological children. She and her husband adopted a daughter. The four other Hickson children, all born in America, I have very scant knowledge of.

John Hickson clearly had a soft spot for Richard. When John liked someone it was obvious and he showered them with favours. Unfortunately he also disliked some people strongly, and that was equally obvious. When his daughter, some years later, fell for another of his countrymen, the young Richard Byrne, recently arrived from Kerry, John did everything in his power to hinder their relationship. But that is another story that I have told elsewhere.

The Hickson and Needham heritage

While the Hickson story was one of material prosperity in Australia, the Needham legacy in North America was more a spiritual one. But when William and Mary came to Australia in 1878 they brought some of that with them, the Moody effect. And even if none of John Hickson’s material wealth has lasted through the generations to me and my family, I have certainly felt the influence of Mary (Needham) Hickson’s religious tendencies in my lifetime come down to me through her daughter Susie, and Susie’s daughter Gertrude, and through Gert’s daughter, my mother.

Advertisements

Kerry Revival 1861

While doing online research on the Needham family I came across the following statement in an article from the Cambridge (Massachusetts) Tribune from 1901.

Mr. Needham owes his conversion to the great religious revival which swept over Ireland in the year 1861. Mr. and Mrs. Needham have collaborated in the writing of a number of religious books, which have earned for the authors the indorsement of well known clergymen of the Baptist sect. (Cambridge Tribune, Volume XXIV, Number 24, 17 August 1901)

George C Needham

G C Needham

I had not been aware that there had been a great religious revival in Ireland in in 1861 so I did some more searching and found a whole lot of references. Names like Spurgeon, Dwight L Moody, and others kept turning up, together in some cases with George C Needham (the C stands for Carter, which was his mother’s maiden name), which is the Mr Needham referred to in the article above.

One of the most useful accounts I found of what was happening in Kerry in 1861 is the following which I have taken from the Gospel Hall website. Dromore Castle, which is mentioned at the beginning, is an old house in Templenoe, the village where the Needham family lived.

Dromore Castle (where lived the well-known Christian gentleman, Mr. R. J. Mahony) and Derriquin were neighbouring estates. F. C. Bland and R. J. Mahony had known each other from infancy, and their mutual affection was like the love of brothers. Early in the year 1861 some earnest words spoken by Mr. Mahony at a gathering of parochial school children at Dromore Castle made such a deep impression on some of the adults present that meetings for prayer followed. One and another became deeply anxious about eternal things, and soon an increasing company of the peasantry were rejoicing in new-found blessing. The Ulster revival of 1859, and the Dublin awakening of 1860, had failed to make any sensible impression upon the people of the south. But God was about to work among them in His own way. A friend from a Midland county, hearing of the work, paid a visit to Dromore, bringing with him C. H. Mackintosh, whose ministry by word and pen has helped so very many. A meeting was arranged, and the closing passage to the 2nd chapter of the Epistle to Titus was his subject. Among the number who attended were Mr. and Mrs. Bland, and both of them were brought to Christ by the Word.

In those bright days of the early revival there was a striking freshness and power about the testimony. As in apostolic times, the convert not infrequently became a witness and a minister at once, seemingly as the natural outcome of the blessing received. Boon companions and bosom friends in recreations of their boyhood, and in the pleasures and pursuits of their early manhood, Bland and Mahony now became united in preaching Christ to their friends and neighbours. The blessing spread among the gentry, and at the summer assizes at Tralee eight members of the grand jury took part in public meetings for the preaching of the Gospel. And the fruit of that work still lives. Many Christian homes there are in Munster where “the Kerry revival” is reckoned as the epoch of their spiritual blessing. (Biography 43 – F.C. Bland, Gospel Hall website)

Dromore_Castle

Dromore Castle c.1900

The article in Wikipedia about Dromore Castle (from which the public domain picture to the left has been taken) indicates that R.J. Mahony’s father (Denis Mahony), who was a Church of Ireland minister and who supervised the building of the house, was not locally popular because of his evangelistic tendencies, in spite of a keen social conscience that led him to set up soup kitchens for the poor during the Potato Famine. The Rev Denis Mahony is listed as the landlord of the Needham family home in the 1852 Griffith valuation though he apparently died in 1851. Dromore Castle was inherited by Richard John Mahony, the man mentioned in the article above, who together with F.C. Bland (Francis Christopher) was so instrumental in the revival of 1861.

Derriquin Estate, (there is a good photo of the now ruined Derryquin Castle on this blog) owned by F.C. Bland, was near Sneem, where Mary Hickson (Needham) and her husband lived in 1861. Since the Hicksons and Needhams were members of the Church of Ireland as were the Mahonys and the Blands, it seems hardly surprising that the Needhams were affected by the same move of God that affected their landlords. It may even be that the “earnest words spoken by Mr Mahony at a gathering of parochial school children at Dromore Castle [early in 1861]” were heard by the three youngest Needham boys who were all still in school – Benjamin was 8, Thomas 7 and William 5. The “adults present” on that day may have included the boys’ older siblings or their father – though their mother was dead.

Perhaps it was George C Needham, 15 years old at the time, who was most impacted by the revival that broke out that year, and who spent so many years preaching the gospel later in life, primarily in America, but also in Britain and as far afield as Japan and China. The same newspaper article quoted above, from the Cambridge Tribune, includes the following in its short biography of George:

Mr Needham is assisted in his evangelistic work by his wife. They have been extensive travelers In the cause of religion. Both Mr. and Mrs. Needham have carried their revival Into England, Ireland, Scotland, Japan, China, and various parts of the United States. Mr. Needham claims that within a year a deep spiritual movement has made its appearance In Japan, and that large numbers of Japanese are being converted to Christianity. The movement affects not only the poorer classes, but it is penetrating to the more exclusive circles of society. Official Japan is agnostic, but many among the cultivated classes, educated by contact with European and American civilization, are more willing to listen to the teachings of the missionaries. Mr. Needham assisted the late Rev. Mr. Moody in his work of evangelization for a good many years. He is now associated with Rev. William Moody, the son of the great evangelist. (Cambridge Tribune, Volume XXIV, Number 24, 17 August 1901)

The younger brothers, Ben, Tom and Will, all became evangelists too, and so they too were doubtless impacted, even if they were hardly aware of it at the time. Thomas does not mention the revival in his book From Cannibal Land to the Glory Land, but dates his conversion to Christianity to the time after he came to America.

ThomasNeedham1900

Thomas Needham, the “sailor preacher.”

It certainly seems likely that the older sisters were affected. One of them, Belinda, whose life remains largely unknown to me, is mentioned in Thomas’ book, written many years later. He speaks of the piety of his older sister, who gave him a Bible when he went to sea in 1867 and prayed for him daily all the years he was wandering the world. He wrote:

I only knew that my sister professed godliness and that she had truly acted it. She had been a mystery, but an admiration to me. I had been in awe of the influence her piety had over my life. (Needham T, From Cannibal Land to the Glory Land, p.50)

I can’t help wondering about the effect of this revival on my direct ancestors – William and Mary Hickson – Mary being the oldest of the Needham siblings. They were relatively recently married and lived in Sneem, quite close to F.C. Bland. They had a toddler, Richard, and in 1861 their second child, Susie, was born. Susie was my great grandmother, born 100 years before me. Her parents took her to Boston when they migrated there in 1865 and to Australia where they arrived in 1878. Susie was by then 17 years old. Some years later she would marry another Irish immigrant, George Byrne, and together they raised their six children in the Brethren Church in Sydney. One of their five daughters was my grandmother, Gertrude Byrne, and though she married an Anglican, George Simmonds, recently migrated from England, they raised their three daughters in the Baptist Church in Goulburn.

SusanByrne1a

Suzie Hickson (later Byrne)

My father’s mother was a Ross, whose ancestors experienced the revivals in the Scottish Highlands in the 1840s. So there is a revival heritage on both sides of my family, and that has left its mark in me. In these days of growing indifference or even antagonism toward the things of God in the western world, which is my home and cultural heritage, I often find myself longing for a powerful move of God to come again.

Thomas Needham, wandering Kerry boy

Out of the wandering Kerry boy He was to fashion a man of God whose chief delight it henceforth should be to preach that gospel which is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth. (From Cannibal Land to the Glory Land, p.51.)

Thomas (1854 – 1916), the third of the four Needham evangelists (George, Benjamin, Thomas and William) who were friends of DL Moody, was the second youngest of the ten children in the Needham family of County Kerry, Ireland. They were “non-conformists,” though exactly what variety I don’t know, I suspect Methodists or Baptists. Their parents were George and Susan Needham, of Kenmare, in Kerry. George (1802-1862) was a captain in the coastguard. His wife was a lot younger than him (1818-1856), only fifteen when she had her first child, Mary. She died in 1856 when Benjamin was three, Thomas two, and the youngest brother, William, only an infant. She was just 38 years old.

The three little boys, Benjamin, Thomas and William, were subsequently raised by their father and older siblings. Mary, the first born in the family, was 21 when Thomas was born, and 23 when their mother died. Mary became the stand in mother for the family. However, two years later, when she was 25, Mary married and moved out of the family home to Sneem, a few miles to the west, where she settled with her husband, a whitesmith. Mary Needham (Hickson) was my mother’s Irish great grandmother.

Elizabeth, the second sister in the family, was then 19. When Thomas was eight his father also died (1862) and he, along with all the other Needham children were left as orphans. The three youngest boys, Benjamin, Thomas and little William were wholly in the care of their older siblings, except Mary who had had started her own family.

Many years later, Thomas wrote a book about his early life, called From Cannibal Land to the Glory Land (published 1920). It can be read online here. It is a fascinating book and gives a tiny glimpse into his childhood in Ireland as well as his adventures after he left in 1867 at the age of 13. The book is the story of his journey to faith in Jesus, and provides the background to his later life as a minister and evangelist. He writes in the foreword:

Though repeatedly urged to do so, the writer has long hesitated to record the startling experiences of his eventful life. All that he is today as a Christian minister of the Cross of Christ, he owes to that grace that “brought him up of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set his feet upon a rock and established his goings.” To boast anything in his natural self, of courage or exploits, would be to detract from the glory of that grace whose handicraft, as a new creation in Christ, he is. (p.4)

>
From Cannibal Land

The story is there to be read in its completeness on the Internet, and I will summarise the tale some other time. My purpose here is to reflect a little on the Needham family in Ireland in the 1850s and 60s, to get a picture of their lives there. Thomas’s book is the only real source material that I have to go on, but some pictures are included which are very helpful.

The Needhams before Thomas

His oldest sister, Mary, was born in 1833, and during her teenage years had weathered the storm of the Potato Famine that so shaped Ireland in the seven years after the blight first appeared in 1845. The Needham children grew up in a country that was suffering. They saw starving people around them and deaths from malnutrition and disease were all too common. They saw those neighbours of theirs who had the means departing Ireland for the promised lands of America and Australia. Many others went to England looking for relief. Their mother, Susan (Carter), was herself English and it is not unreasonable to imagine that some of the older children of the family went to relatives in England to escape the ravages of the famine.

The community they lived in was shrinking. George and Susan surely talked too about the pros and cons of leaving their beloved homeland. But they were spared the extreme suffering of many others presumably as a result of George’s steady income, which sustained the family through those difficult years. He is said to have been a captain in the coastguard, but I have not found any document to support this, and the Griffiths Valuation lists him as parish clerk. But they lived close to the sea, a fact that was to shape Thomas’ life profoundly.

They were a family of faith, Protestants in a Catholic community. When Thomas was born (1854) the family lived in Templenoe, quite close to the church. The church of Ireland structure was deconsecrated in 1993 and became The Vestry Restaurant, but is now apparently closed.

Needham Family Church

The Griffiths valuation for 1852 shows that the family home was on the block of land next to the school and Petty Sessions Court House. It lies on the northern side of the Ring of Kerry Road, looking out over Kenmare Bay. George is listed as the tenant and the landlord is Revd D Mahony. The tenement is described as “house, office and land.” It was here Thomas Needham was born in 1856.

Tom’s childhood

Thomas describes his birthplace as follows, and includes a picture in his book:

I was born by the ocean; on the shores of Kenmare Bay in the South of Ireland, not far from the beautiful lakes of Killarney, with their echoes, their legends and their weird fascinations…

Needham Home
As a child he was filled with “an unconquerable passion for the sea” that “shaped the whole course of my early life.” His passion caused him to devise any means whatever to get out on the waters of Kenmare Bay, to the distress of his father, who knew of the sea’s dangers from his work with the coastguard.

All my youthful pranks took a seaward turn. If my father deprived me of a boat, I launched the pig trough into the heavy breakers. If he hid the oars I made a pair of garden shovels answer the purpose. When all means of rowing failed I made a sailboat with the sheets from my bed. No punishments, no remonstrances from my gentle sisters could subdue the wild passion that constantly drove me into the deepest “perils of waters!” (p.6)

After his father’s death his older siblings had to deal with young Thomas’s obsession with the sea and ships. He describes their solution to his preoccupations:

Finally, it was decided by my family, that the only cure for my fascination, was to send me to sea in earnest, and let me experience some of the hardships, as well as the fun, of the ocean. I was youngest but one of ten children. My father and mother, both godly Protestants in a Catholic community, were dead. So at the early age of thirteen, my brothers and sisters concluded to put me on board a Receiving Ship of the British Navy.

Tom goes to sea

So Thomas joined the navy in 1867, and sailed off into the world. His adventures are recorded in the book and make for great reading. At the end of chapter one he describes his parting:

The parting from home and all its familiar scenes was sad enough. But sadder to those left than to he who was going. I took the farewells, the advice and the gift of a little Bible with a boy’s elastic hopefulness. My older brother George accompanied me to the ship…

ThomasNeedham1861
It was some years before Thomas returned to Ireland, but I have tried in vain to find dates. He had departed in 1867, two years after Mary and Elizabeth had gone out to Boston. How long he was at sea or in South America is not specified in the book, but it must have been several years.

While he was still in South America he had written to a brother and sister who he knew were in Boston. A reply came eventually from the brother with the news that his older sister Belinda had died.

In reply to my long silence, came one from my brother, urging me to return to them; and telling me that my dear sister Berlinda had died. This news I had got before I quit the river steamer; and it was my urgent reason for my longing desire to leave South America. The death of this sister came as a peculiar blow to me. It was her who had cared for me so tenderly and patiently in my young days. Her hand had packed the little Bible among my sailor traps. Her “God bless you, Tom,” was the last prayer I had heard. Her hand had waved the last farewell as I left my home shore. Her secret prayers, I well knew, had for years followed me over the boisterous waves and wide steppes. And now she was no more. Never again should I see those tender eyes, and that rich raven black hair, and hear that low musical voice. What knew I of the resurrection and its comforts then? Nothing. I only knew that my sister professed godliness and that she had truly acted it. She had been a mystery, but an admiration to me. I had been in awe of the influence her piety had over my life. And now it was ended. Could it be? How she must have yearned for me and I never went back to her. And now it was too late. I sat in my cabin with the little black banded envelope pressed close in my trembling hands. I cried, and cried alone, until my heart was well nigh breaking. Who, or what, could administer comfort to my natural soul, as yet unsatisfied by the grace of God? Today, a saved man, knowing the power of prayer and the strength of Christian hope, I think of my sister as in the arms of Jesus, in that blessed repose of those who are “absent from the body but at home with the Lord.” I know that parting are only for a little while. I know that reunions are eternal. (pp.49-50)

Going home

He booked a passage for Europe and the homeland. When he came to England he discovered that none of his family remained in Ireland, but that all had migrated to America, to the Boston area, to the same area that Mary and Elizabeth had settled in 1865.

I lost no time in finding a ship for Boston and finding my kindred. And the home coming was a double. I returned to the bosom of my family, but more wonderful, I, a prodigal, returned to my heavenly Father’s house; for it was in the city of Boston that the grace of God met me and saved me. (p.52)

Thomas was still a young man – in 1870 he was barely more than 16. Who he lived with when he came to Boston I don’t know, nor what he did to earn a crust. Eventually he became a minister, but the process by which that came about is unknown to me. He died suddenly on Sunday 1 October, 1916, some 45 years later, at the age of 62, of a heart attacked sustained just after preaching to a congregation of 700. The afterword of his book explains:

From Cannibal Land afterword

 

Four Irish-American evangelists

In John Hickson’s book, Notes of Travel, the name Needham turns up a number of times in the chapter on North America. He refers to them as “friends” or “relatives.” John Hickson was an Irish immigrant to Australia. How did he come to have friends and relatives in North America? Who were these Needhams, why were they in the USA and in what was their connection with John Hickson?

The text of the book gives some clues:

Camden (New Jersey) is a fair-sized town on the banks of the Delaware river about 90 miles from New York, and surrounded by some very fine farming land. The few days we spent there were excessively hot, not the dry heat of Australia, but an oppressive damp heat that makes life a burden. Our friends the Rev Wm (William) Needham and Mrs. Needham invited us to picnic with their congregation at a place called Glenlock, some twenty miles from Camden, and although we were most kindly and attentively treated, the heat and oppressiveness of that day will long remain in our memory. However, in the afternoon, over the strawberries and cream and iced tea, we forgot the heat and toil of the day, and talking of events of past days when we were boys together, we renewed our youth and laughed and joked over many an exciting incident. (Notes of Travel, pp 25-26)

William Needham (1856-1941) was eight years younger than John Hickson. But they had been friends in Ireland during their young days, despite their difference in age. William had come to America and become a minister. John had migrated to Australia and become a timber merchant. Now they were reunited in New Jersey. Apart from this picnic on a sweltering day in one 1893, the details of the visit are not recorded, but it is clear that William welcomed John and his daughter Alice to America with open arms. The two Irishmen (John was 45 and William 37) had a good laugh about old times and compared the way their lives had gone. It seems unlikely that they ever saw each other again.

Further down the same page we meet another Reverend Needham, this time Benjamin:

The town of Coatesville is nicely situated between low hills and undulating country, and is rich in agricultural and pasture land… the famous Brandywine [river] passes through it. We were driven by our friend and relative, Rev. B. Needham, along its banks and were shown the places where some severe battles had been fought between Washington and the English troops. It is a very pretty place and we enjoyed our visit very much although the days we spent there were oppressively hot. Mr Needham is pastor of the Baptist church, also conducts a gospel tent and is a man of large influence in the town of Coatesville. (Notes of Travel, pp 26-27)

Benjamin Needham was one of William Needham’s older brothers. He was forty in 1893, the year John Hickson and his daughter came to America, but still five years younger than John himself. He too had come out from Ireland, and had also become a minister. In contrast perhaps to Sydney, where John had made his home, there was a great spiritual revival happening in the north eastern states of the USA. DL Moody was in the centre of this awakening, but there were things happening all over the countryside. The Needham brothers seem to have been a part of this.

Like the Hickson family they were Irish Protestants, but they did not have the proud Church of Ireland tradition that seems to have characterised the Hickson family. There were ten children in the family and many, perhaps all of them, came to America. Benjamin, as can be seen from this extract, was a Baptist pastor. Even before they left Ireland they had been “non-conformists”, neither sharing the Catholic faith of the majority in their homeland, nor the Anglican faith of the Hicksons. The revival in North America of which DL Moody was a part was connected with the Holiness Movement, which had its origin in Methodism, so it was also in a sense a “non-conformist” movement. The strong Anglican traditions that characterised Protestant Sydney at that time was perhaps less dominant in America. And how much the revivals of the 1890s affected the predominantly Catholic Irish Americans is something of which I have no knowledge.

Moody’s name crops up repeatedly in John Hickson’s book. Hickson mentions travelling to Northfield, “the home of Moody and Sankey, where some of our friends live… Here Moody was born and here his mother still lives, as also both himself and Mr Sankey when not engaged in evangelistic work. They have both devoted large sums of money to the establishment of seminaries for the education of young men and women who show an inclination for advancement… Those institutions are … supplied with the best professors and teachers, and every modern appliance and convenience.” So Moody’s legacy is about more than just spiritual revival and had a profound effect on the educational development of that part of the States.

Northfield appears to have been the home of a third Reverend Needham, whose wife, as it turns out, was also a preacher of some note. Hickson writes:

We had the pleasure of hearing a very gifted American lady, the wife of Reverend G. C. Needham, addressing a meeting, and the style, terseness, beauty and common sense of her address would be a valuable acquisition to many of our modern ministers. The Sunday we were at Northfield Mr Needham preached to a large congregation in a beautiful church, and was assisted by a very able choir… Northfield is a lovely place and we would have been pleased to have been longer able to enjoy the hospitality of our friends Mr and Mrs Needham… but… after spending a few days there we took train via Millers Falls to Boston. (Notes of Travel, p.28)

George, born in 1846, was the big brother of the four Needhams who became ministers, and was two years older than John Hickson. His wife’s name was Elizabeth Annable and according to other records they are both buried in Narbeth, Pennsylvania. George is mentioned in Hartzler’s book, Moody in Chicago, as being one of Moody’s co-missioners, so it seems likely George knew DL Moody quite well.

The fourth of the Needham brothers who became an evangelist is not mentioned by John Hickson in his book. His name was Thomas (1854-1916), and since he wrote a book about his early life, I know more about him than any of the others. That book has the curious title of From Cannibal Land to the Glory Land, and the story it contains I will write about another time. Where Thomas was in 1893 when John and his daughter were travelling I am uncertain since he doesn’t get a mention, but he lived in the same area around New York-Boston, and was known to DL Moody too, as can be seen he afterword to his book:

Mr Thomas Needham, who, for nearly forty years preached the gospel in the United States, having been associated with DL Moody, Dr Torrey, Dr Chapman, his brother George and many known evangelists and teachers in that land, passed into the presence of his Master on the first Sunday in October, 1916. (From Cannibal Land to the Glory Land, p.69)

The question that arises, of course, is how John Hickson was related to all these evangelists. Hickson’s book indicates that he was childhood friends with at least one of them, William, the youngest, even if William was a good deal younger than John. But he was closest in age to George, who was two years older than him. Notes of Travel clearly states that John Hickson and the Needhams were boys together, but it seems they were more than friends, though Hickson does not explain in his book how they were related.

The answer to this question lies in their oldest sister, Mary Needham. The Needham boys I have mentioned were four of ten children in the family from County Kerry. Some years ago I received an email from Keith Walmsley, my mother’s cousin, himself a descendent of the Hicksons and Needhams. He explained the following:

[Mary] was one of ten children in the Needham family that lived in the south of Ireland. Her father was a captain in the coast guards and her mother died early (is it any wonder after so many children?). Anyway she took on being “mother” to all the other children and obviously did a fantastic job as they were a very keen Christian family of the nonconformist group. Four became evangelists in one way or another.

Mary Needham married William Hickson, John Hickson’s older brother, when John was just a lad. They had seven children, one of whom was Susie Hickson, my mother’s grandmother. Mary and William migrated with their first three children, and William’s father Richard Hickson, to the Boston area in 1865. It was some 12 years later that they decided to leave the USA and move to Australia, where they arrived in 1878. Richard had however died and is buried in Providence, Rhode Island, some way south of Boston.

John Hickson had lived with William and Mary in Ireland when he was a teenager in the years before they migrated to America. So Mary was John’s sister in law, and her evangelist brothers, who she had “mothered” after their own mother had died, were thereby John’s brothers-in-law. It was in his early years in Ireland that he got to know all Mary’s family. It was many years after they had all left their Irish homeland that they were reunited in the land of the star-spangled banner.

Post Navigation