Forgotten tales

stories of my family

John Christopher Hickson (1848-1945)

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John Christopher Hickson

The following article was written by Donald Robinson, former Archbishop of Sydney, I believe around 1960. I received a copy of it from Don’s son, Peter Robinson. The article has formed the framework of my knowledge and research about John Christopher Hickson (JCH), my grandmother’s grandfather, but some details of Don’s article are, I believe, inaccurate. I have therefore annotated the article according to my own more recent research. The paragraphs of Don’s article appear as quotes, and my comments are interspersed in plain text.

Don Robinson is a grandson of JCH’s first child, Alice, as is my father.  Dad and Don are cousins.

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.

The first Hickson in Kerry was Christopher Hickson, from Cambridgeshire in England. The exact date of his arrival is uncertain, but it was during the “Munster plantation” which began In 1586. Christopher Hickson was ordained as an Anglican minister in Kerry in 1593. Cromwell’s Irish campaign was much later in 1649-50. One of Christopher Hickson’s sons became a Catholic, and was punished for his conversion during the Cromwell campaign. JCH was descended from another son who remained Protestant.

The so called “ancestral seat” – The Grove – was one of the “big houses” of the Anglo-Irish gentry of Kerry, built in the 1700s, and occupied by Hicksons from the early 1800s onward. JCH himself never lived there and his relationship to the Hicksons who were living there in the second half of the 1800s is uncertain. However, JCH named his home in Sydney The Grove, so his link to the house in Dingle was obviously significant to him, though it is hard to know why.

The Grove in Dingle no longer exists, meeting its demise in the 1920s, when many homes of the Anglo-Irish were being ransacked. Exactly how it came to its end I am not aware. I have written a little about the area in my blog entry, “Dingle, the family seat.” There are a good many houses in County Kerry that have been owned or occupied by Hicksons over the years (see Anthony Hickson’s website on this subject), but JCH only ever mentions links to one of them, The Grove

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 of 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.

I have wondered which part of his childhood was spent in Sneem. A discussion of this is found in the blog post “Sneem.” In that post I have also wondered about a number of other questions, such as how the Hicksons were related to the Needhams, and why the Hicksons lived in Sneem. Was the relationship simply through John’s older brother William’s marriage to Mary Needham in 1858, or was John and William’s mother (Mary Ann Carter) related to Mary’s mother (Susan Carter)? Don mentions that John’s father Richard Hickson was a shopkeeper who is buried in America. But on William and Mary’s marriage certificate (1858) his occupation is recorded as “nailor,” and I have wondered if Richard, and his son William (who had the same occupation at that time) had been working on the Derriquin Estate in this capacity. There seems little doubt that William and Mary were profoundly affected by the evangelical revival that occurred in Kerry, centered on Sneem and Templenoe, in 1861 and thereafter. John was 13 at the time the revival broke out but there is no evidence to suggest that he joined the Plymouth Brethren like his older brother.

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.

I have often wondered why JCH came to Australia. Don says it was on medical advice but I have no idea where he got that information. One very helpful website seems to indicate that John was the last of his family to leave Ireland, and that he arrived in 1870, after his brother George came out, not before as Don suggests. The first of John’s family to depart Ireland was his oldest sister, Susan Hickson, in 1853, when John was just five years old, the same year his other died. Two more sisters, Mary and Ellen, came in 1855, and George and Kate (who Don mentions) came together in 1863. William and his wife Mary (and their father Richard) left for America in 1865 and John, the only member of the Hickson family remaining in Ireland, left in 1870.

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.

I have written several blog entries concerning this journey:

Missing home; Around the world in 180 days; In Chicago 1893; Killarney; Old friends in the old country; Killorglin – the Hickson’s Kerry home; Sneem; Dingle, the family seat.

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.

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

  1. Edith Hickson married Charles Leighton, my father is their grandson. I’ve read JCH’s book. It was fascinating.

  2. Hi Cathy! Thanks for your comment. The following is an overview of JCH’s family:

    John Hickson emigrated alone to Australia. He married an Australian girl, Martha Watts, in 1872 and they had 11 children. All of his children were born in Australia. Martha died in 1911 when her youngest was 18. The same year John married an English girl, Elizabeth Ellis Hammett, who he had met on a voyage back from England, and who had nursed Martha in her final illness. John was around 62 when he married for the second time. Elizabeth Ellis (Alice) was 47. She too died and John married a third time when he was 77, to Isabel Parkinson, in 1926. She was also English and was 56 at the time they married. She outlived John.

    The children of John and Martha Hickson were:
    Alice Beatrice (1872-1945) – married William Ross and we are descendants
    Edith Emmeline (1874-1957) – Cathy is a descendant
    George Charles (1876-1948) – Karen Redmile is a descendant
    Mabel (1877-1953)
    Maud (1879-1883)
    Herbert Aubrey (1881-1930)
    Enfield Stanley (1883-1964)
    Percy Gordon (1885-1967)
    Eunice (1888-1973)
    Hilda Evelyn (1890-1970)
    Richard Roland (1893-1965)

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