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:
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.
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.
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.
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.