Forgotten tales

stories of my family

Archive for the category “Home and other places”

Dingle, the family seat

John Hickson, Notes of Travel, published 1893, page 41:

From Valencia we returned along a road overlooking the sea through Killorglin, and regretting exceedingly that we could not remain and enjoy a day’s salmon fishing in the Laune, we went on to Tralee, the chief town of the county. By rail we went to Dingle and visited The Grove, the old family seat of our ancestors…

The road between Valencia and Killorglin is exceedingly beautiful in places. Hanna and I drove it in the other direction. Here are some shots:

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The beach at Rossbeigh, west of Killorglin

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Part of the road around the Ring of Kerry

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The Skellig islands off the coast near Valencia

The next day we drove on to Dingle, where we arrived late in the day and stayed at a B&B just outside town. We ate dinner in a pub, and wandered the streets. The next morning we continued our exploration of the little town and even tried to find the location of The Grove, which disappeared many years ago. The closest we could find was a housing estate by the same name at the start of the road up to Conor Pass, which we ascended as rain closed in and the clouds came down on the mountains.

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Dingle

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The Grove is now a rather ordinary housing estate.

John Hickson and his daughter Alice took the train from Dingle to Dublin, eastward across the whole country. But we drove northward instead, into County Clare, where we saw the famed Cliffs of Moher, then on to Galway the next day and finally back east to Dublin, from where we departed back home to Sweden.

“The old family seat of our ancestors”

The Grove seemed to occupy a significant place in John Hickson’s memory. Though he had never lived there, he made time in 1893 to visit. I have wondered what that means. Did they actually knock on the door and talk to the Hicksons who were living there in 1893? He doesn’t mention them by name, which he surely would have if they had stopped even for a cup of tea. I suspect John’s agenda with that little detour on their world journey was to impress on Alice an aspect of her identity of which she was barely aware – that she was connected to the landed gentry of Kerry, and came from noble roots.

But why was that important to John? He had left Kerry and Ireland behind 23 years earlier, starting a new life in Australia. What was the relevance of such connections in the new world that he had made his home and his future?

I suppose it was partly because of the desire all of us have to know who we are, which seems to depend so much on where we have come from. John was born the last child in a relatively modest family from a small town in the back locks of rural Ireland. But unlike his father, a tradesman turned shopkeeper who died in obscurity in the USA five years after he had migrated there late in life, John had made good in his adopted land, and had become wealthy and respected. John was interested in family history, and ancestry, because it helped him understand who he was, and the Anglo-Irish gentry was perhaps a part of his family teee that he wanted to revive, which enhanced his standing in the new world, and which he wanted to pass on to his children.

Furthermore, it may have been part of his strategy in getting Alice to see the unsuitability of a marriage to Richard Byrne, a young man recently arrived in Sydney from Kerry, for whom Alice had fallen, head over heels. Richard’s older brother, George Byrne, was married to John niece, Suzie Hickson, but as far as John was concerned, the Byrnes were from a social class that was below them and his aspirations for his own daughter were higher than that. I am assuming that John knew George and Richard’s parents in Kerry before he left, but he never mentions them in his book as friends, and I have wondered what kind of relationship he had with them. It seems fairly certain they were dead in 1893 when John and Alice came to visit.

In 1893 when he and Alice visited, The Grove was still in the hands of a Hickson, but it soon passed out of their lives. I have written a little about the Hicksons and their houses in a previous blog. But the web of relationships of Hicksons in Kerry in the nineteenth century remains a mystery to me, and until I have sorted that out I will not know how John Hickson was related to The Grove and its occupants. How far removed John Hickson was from his wealthy and influential relatives is a mystery. There were other large houses occupied by Hicksons in Kerry, but John only mentions The Grove.

The Grove, Dingle

The Grove in Dingle, from Anthony Hickson’s Hickson website

I suspect that when he went to Dingle with Alice they simply saw the old house, but that they did not go in. If they had John would surely have mentioned it in his book, but he makes no more than the above passing mention of the “old family seat of our ancestors.” Perhaps there was no-one at home at that particular time. Or perhaps he had never really known them.

The Grove would eventually fall into ruin and is said to have disappeared during the 1920s, very possibly during the Civil War when many of the big houses of Kerry were destroyed by angry young men, a vital sign of the demise of the Anglo-Irish ascendency in Kerry. John Hickson would return to Britain in 1911, 1913 and 1926. Whether he visited Kerry on each of these occasions I am unsure, but had he been there in 1926 he may well have been witness to the downfall of The Grove. What became of the Hicksons who remained in Ireland is unknown to me, and whether there are any still in Kerry I have been unable to ascertain.

There is no doubt that Dingle is a very beautiful part of the world, as is much of Kerry, along the Wild Atlantic coast. Nowadays tourists flock to Dingle for its picturesque beauty, its cultural heritage, especially the music, and its activities, from dolphin watching in the bay to beach and hill walking. But 150 years ago when the Hicksons were taking their leave from this lovely land the conditions were very different and the opportunities offered by the young colonies on the other side of the globe were attractive and enticing. It was so that our Hickson ancestors came to Australia. But John Hickson could never quite get Kerry out of his mind and kept going back there, keeping the spirit of Ireland alive in his heart and attempting to impart it to his children.

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Looking back over Dingle from the Conor Pass

Killorglin – the Hickson’s Kerry home

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Killorglin with the old Church of Ireland in the background

John Hickson and his twenty year old daughter Alice visited Killorglin in 1893 on their world trip. John wrote in his account of that journey:

The old town that in early days to my youthful imagination seemed a city, remains with little alteration, its fairs and markets and annual festival of Puck Fair still exists to mark its ancient customs, but many of the places and things most sacred in my memory were gone, and connecting them with those that were passed away, I felt the want and sighed for “the touch of a vanished hand, the sound of a voice that is still.” (Hickson J, Notes of Travel p.38)

It is hard to go back to places where we have lived before, and there is a note of sadness in John’s writing. The remembered joys of life cannot be relived, though they are remembered with longing. John left Kerry as a 22 year old in 1870 and came back 23 years later. He lived those years on the far side of the world, in the vibrant antipodean city of Sydney, making his fortune as a timber merchant. By the time he returned to Kerry in his mid forties he was successful and wealthy, the father of ten children, the eldest of which had come with him to see where her father had been born.

In his book John quotes a poem that he had written in 1868, when he was twenty, and in which he looks back on his school days with fondness. Here are two stanzas which give a glimpse into school life in rural Ireland in the 1850s.

When to school we with our brothers o’er the bridge we’d briskly walk
Some new play, or sport, or pleasure, was the subject of out talk
With our books in strap or satchel, on our shoulders loosely swung
Then e’re school commenced its duties, some nice hymn was sweetly sung.

Ah! the dear old thatch roofed schoolhouse, with its turf fire and clay floor,
And its plain deal desks and benches, and the wainscot near the door;
Its neat maps and pictures hanging on the smooth and white washed wall,-
Neath its shelter we were gathered, many a day when we were small.

The poem goes on to describe their games and pastimes, catching fish in the River Laune, swimming in some of the quiet pools, and the whole thing is laced with nostalgic longing for childhood.

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The River Laune, Killorglin

The town had changed since John had left it 23 years earlier. He writes of Killorglin as his “native place,” where “I spent my happy boyhood days.” He says:

This town in the old days was a quiet, unfrequented spot; but now the march of progress has extended railway communication to it. We accordingly went by rail to Killorglin to note the changes produced in thirty years. (Notes of Travel p.37)

Thirty years before the time that he penned these words, John Hickson was 15 years old. He mentions elsewhere in his book that he lived in Sneem during his childhood. I have wondered if he actually lived in Sneem before he started school, between 1848 and 1853, or after he finished school, around 1863. Either is possible, but the former seems more likely since John’s older brother William married a girl from near Sneem in 1858, and presumably they had met in Sneem rather than Killorglin, although I cannot be sure.

In August this year, my nineteen year old daughter and I passed through Killorglin on a visit to Kerry, much as John and his daughter did over 120 years ago. The “march of progress” which meant that John and Alice could travel there by rail, ironically resulted in the closure of the railway nearly sixty years ago (opened 1885, closed 1960). We arrived neither by horse and buggy nor by rail, but by car.

The famous tourist route known as the Ring of Kerry, said to be one of Ireland’s most beautiful drives, passes through Killorglin, so the bridge over the Laune and the town centre are choked with traffic. We saw signs of the Puck Fair, that had been held the week prior to our visit. We crossed, on a stone bridge, the wide, fast flowing waters of the Laune. We visited the graveyard where John Hickson’s mother and several of his siblings, as well as his best friend, are said to be buried, though we could not find any trace of their graves. But we didn’t see his old schoolhouse with thatched roof and clay floor, since it is likely long gone.

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The graveyard where members of John Hickson’s family are said to be buried.

There is an old Church of Ireland in the centre of the town, which like so many Protestant churches in Kerry, has been closed a good many years. It is now a tapas restaurant. It was the family church of the Hicksons during John’s childhood. I was keen to look inside because I had read that there is a plaque on one wall donated by John in 1911, on a later visit to his hometown. Waiting till the restaurant’s opening time I entered the beautifully renovated church interior, with its well stocked wine bar on one side of the old nave. I explained my purpose to the man at the door and he fetched the owner, who explained that most of the wall plaques had been removed, but there was one he could show me that might fit the bill. We walked through the old church, now restaurant and out to a back entrance, and there was the plaque which John had had made over a hundred years ago, as a tribute to his parents, John and Mary Hickson.

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Commemorating his parents in the Killorglin Church of Ireland

Sneem

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Sneem Bridge

While driving around the “Ring of Kerry” with my daughter Hanna in late August this year we passed through the colourful little village of Sneem. We had driven “the ring” counterclockwise and therefore came from the Atlantic coast where we had delighted in the beautiful coastline that passes the Skellig islands and Waterville, and all the little rocky coves and sandy beaches around the seaward end of Kenmare Bay. It was evening. The drive around the Ring had taken a lot longer (and we had left a lot later) than expected and we were due back in Killarney for a concert later that evening, so we didn’t stop, driving onward along the northern side of the inlet to Kenmare and then north over the winding road back to the big tourist town on the other side of the mountains.

We went back the next day, driving in the other direction, because I wanted to see a little more of Sneem. I have been interested in the village because of its place in our family history, of which I first became aware when I read Don Robinson’s notes about John Christopher Hickson (JCH):

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.

Later I had got a copy from my father of the book JCH had written after returning from his world trip in 1893, which he embarked on with his twenty year old daughter Alice. On that journey he returned to the places where he had grown up, which he had left when in 1870 he, like the rest of his family before him, had emigrated from Ireland. In Notes of Travel, JCH writes:

[We] drove by jaunting car to the little village of Sneem [from Kenmare], which lies hidden by the headlands and rocky promontories of the wild coast of Kerry. To a stranger this district would appear barren and deserted, but to some of my acquaintances it is a veritable garden of Eden, and the remembrance of early days of innocent childhood clings with a perennial freshness like the fragrance of a withered rose. Here we visited the village church where once I worshipped and was taught in Sunday School; and on the green bank outside, sloping to the river, I saw the monuments of those whom I knew and revered, but who have gone to the “bourne whence no travellers return.” Unpretending and insignificant as this village of Sneem is at present, there have gone forth from the ranks of those born within its limits men and women who have been a credit to the land of their birth, and who have made their mark in the political, military and social history of the age. (Hickson JC, Notes of Travel, p.40, published 1893)

John Hickson, it is clear, lived in Sneem for some part of his childhood. But he was born on the other side of the mountains in Killorglin. So why did the Hickson family live in Sneem, and when?

Why?

Don Robinson says that the Hicksons had Needham relatives in Sneem. It is unclear from his notes what he means. However, of interest is the fact that Richard Hickson’s wife (John’s mother) was named Mary-Anne Carter before she married, while George Needham’s wife was named Susan Carter. Were they related – sisters, or cousins? Mary-Anne was 16 years older than Susan. Both died relatively young, Mary-Anne in 1853 at the age of 51 and Susan in 1856 at 38. If they were sisters then the Hickson children and the Needham children were cousins. More research is needed here. But a relationship between these two Carters might go some way to explaining the Hickson’s connection with Sneem, since George Needham and his wife and many children lived in Templenoe, very close to the larger village.

There is a fascinating book about Sneem that I picked up in a little souvenir shop when we were there. It is called “Sneem, the Knot in the Ring,” by T.E. Stoakley, published in 1986. Chapter 7 relates the history of the Bland family, who were the local gentry during the years that our forebears were associated with the area. The Blands were an Anglo-Irish family who had lived in Kerry for over a hundred years. Their estate was called Derryquin and the house they lived in, built in the first half of the nineteenth century (and only one of several Bland residences in the area) was called Derryquin Castle. It stood majestic on the shores of Kenmare Bay a few kilometres south east of the village.

derryquin-castle

 

Stoakley describes the estate in his book as follows:

Derryquin formed a community that was largely self-supporting. There was timber in plenty and a saw pit where sawyers were kept busy converting the logs into the planks, boards and scantlings for the carpenter’s shop where doors and sashes were made and all the innumerable odds and ends of estate joinery were done. There was a forge where the tenants horses were shod and all the general smithy work was done, even the manufacture of bolts and nails. (Stoakley TE. Sneem, the Knot in the Ring, p.77)

This last sentence caught my eye when I read it, because I knew that William Hickson, who was John’s oldest brother, was, like his father, a “nailor” – a manufacturer of bolts and nails. I remembered how puzzled I had been by this occupation when I first saw it recorded on William’s marriage certificate. I had never heard of such a trade. Could it be, I wondered as I read these words in Stoakley’s book, that William Hickson and his father had been employed on the Derryquin Estate as nailors? This could have been the reason that they lived in Sneem. But it does not cast any light on exactly when they lived there.

When?

John Hickson was born in Killorglin in 1848. He was the youngest in the family, in which seven children survived to adulthood. The oldest was Susan, born in 1832. William, his big brother was born in 1833, so was 15 when John was born, and presumably at that stage ready to start an apprenticeship. So the family could have moved to Sneem any time after John’s birth, and William may have learnt the manufacture of nails on the Derryquin Estate.

The Hickson family’s life during John’s first fifteen years, can be divided into three five year periods divided by significant life events:

  • 1848 John Hickson’s birth
  • 1853 their mother Mary-Anne Hickson (Carter) died age 51. John was 5 years old. That same year the first of the Hickson children, Susan, who was 21, migrated to Australia. Two more sisters Mary and Ellen migrated two years later in 1855.
  • 1858 William Hickson, the oldest son, married Mary Needham in Templenoe Church. John was 10 by this stage.
  • 1863 Two more of the Hickson children, Kate and George, migrated to Australia. John was then 15 and presumably leaving school.

But in which of these five year periods did the family live in Sneem?

Another clue to times and places is found in a poem John wrote many years later, in Australia on the occasion of the twentieth birthday of William and Mary’s first child, Richard, recalling his birth in Killorglin. Here are the first five stanzas from that poem:

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 following 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 such 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 con 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.

It is clear from this poem that Richard was born in Killorglin. William and Mary, and presumably William’s brother John and their father were all probably living in Killorglin by that time. My records indicate that their second child Suzie was born in Killarney in 1861 (though whether that means they were living there I cannot say), and I have no record of where their third child, Mary-Anne (who was always called Lizzie) was born (I believe in 1863). The last two lines of the fifth stanza refer to William and Mary’s migration with their three children to America in 1865.

Are we any closer to knowing the time of the Hickson’s sojourn in Sneem? If John’s “innocent childhood” was up to the age of five, it would place them there in the years between 1848 and 1853, the year that John’s mother died. The trauma of her death may well have precipitated a move. But it is not impossible that they remained there after 1853, and that John started school in Sneem, even if he finished in Killorglin.

The “fragrance of a withered rose”

John Hickson remembered Sneem with nostalgia, something that is clear from his book: “the remembrance of early days of innocent childhood clings with a perennial freshness like the fragrance of a withered rose.” This is interesting knowing that the Irish potato famine had ravaged the area in the years from 1845 to 1852, during the latter years of which the Hickson’s were probably living in the village. Sneem suffered greatly along with the rest of Ireland.

Sneem Church

Church of the Transfiguration

 

The church (Church of Ireland) where the family worshipped still stands, though it is somewhat changed from its condition in the 1850s: it is called the Church of the Transfiguration. Hanna and I peeked inside its quiet interior and stood in the same churchyard described by John in his book: and on the green bank outside, sloping to the river, I saw the monuments of those whom I knew and revered, but who have gone to the “bourne whence no travellers return.”

The Bland family of Derryquin has a family vault in the churchyard. There is at least one Bland commemorated on the inner walls of the church. The Bland family were very likely a significant part of the Hickson’s life while they were in Killorglin. However, Derryquin Castle has long since disappeared, as has the family who owned it. The main surviving “big house” of the Bland family is called Parknasilla and is today a luxury hotel on the shores of Kenmare Bay. What happened to Derryquin and the Blands?

The spiritual legacy of Sneem

By the beginning of the 1860s, Stoakley explains in his book, “Ireland was passing through the difficult years of the land agitation, and it was inevitable that the fortunes of the Derryquin Estate should decline.” (p.78) However, in 1861 there was an unexpected development in the area that possibly hastened the demise of Derryquin. It was the year that William and Mary’s second child, Suzie, was born (in Killorglin, Killarney or Sneem – I am unsure which). In Kenmare, some twenty kilometres east of Sneem, a religious revival broke out, resulting in the formation of a group within the Protestant church whose members were usually known simply as Brethren. Richard Mahony, the Needham family’s landlord, who owned Dromore Castle near Templenoe, was converted to their beliefs.

Richard Mahony was best friends with Francis Christopher (FC) Bland; the Bland’s estate bordered his. FC Bland, the son and heir to the owner of Derryquin, was, through his friend, also persuaded by the revival. To explain what happened Stoakley in his book quotes FC Bland’s obituary:

It was in the year 1861, and while busily engaged in the improvement of the estate and the condition of the tenants thereon, by building, road making, draining, that the revival broke out hard by in the meetings held by his dear friend and neighbour the late Mr Richard Mahony, of Dromore. Becoming anxious about his salvation, in the presence of numerous conversions among his acquaintances, he [Bland] consulted the Rev Frederick Trench, of Cloughjordan, the well known founder of the Home Mission, and from him received the strange advice to begin preaching, and, as he said, “in watering others you will yourself be watered.” (Stoakley, p.77)

FC Bland followed his advice and became a travelling evangelist, and later an advisor to the famous American evangelist, D.L. Moody. This meant that in 1863, when his father died and Francis inherited the estate, that he was unable to deal directly with the problems the estate was experiencing. Stoakley describes this in a mildly disappointed tone:

For several years while the revival was at its height he [FC Bland] travelled around Ireland on a preaching campaign. He then turned his attention to England… It was the worst possible time for a landlord to absent himself from his estates… In his preoccupation with the salvation of himself and his fellow men, the owner of Derryquin was unmindful that his estate itself needed its own kind of salvation. It is clear from his obituary that he considered his estate as merely an “earthly inheritance”; the duties he had been called upon to perform were on a higher plane. (Stoakley, p.78)

FC Bland played an important and influential role in the spiritual revivals of Ireland, England and America in the last four decades of the nineteenth century. But his neglect of his own estate may well have hastened its decline. Eventually the estate would be sold and in the troubles of 1923 the castle was burned, becoming a ruin that eventually was demolished. Today there is no sign of the old house, the site of which has been swallowed up by a golf course in the grounds of the Parknasilla Hotel.

The Hicksons had almost certainly left Sneem by the time the revival broke out, and I have nothing in my possession written by John to suggest that it had any kind of strong impact on him. However, his older brother William appears to have been affected, as was William’s wife Mary. Mary’s four youngest brothers (who were growing up in Templenoe) all became evangelists. William and Mary probably became Brethren, and their beliefs and practices continued into the next generation. Their daughter Suzie, born in the year the revival broke out, would eventually marry another Irish migrant from Kerry, George Byrne, in Australia many years later. They were staunch members of the Brethren church in Sydney, a fact that profoundly affected their family life, in a way that caused Suzie later came to regret. But that is another story. Susie was my great grandmother, but she died long before I was born.

This Brethren influence thus became in some ways the most important legacy of Sneem in my family. It may not have had much effect on John, but it certainly affected William, and through him his daughter, Suzie, and her children, among whom was my grandmother, Gertie Byrne (later Simmonds).

I have mentioned the fact that Suzie Hickson married George Byrne, another migrant from County Kerry, and that they followed the Brethren path in their beliefs. George had a younger brother, Richard (Dick) Byrne, who came out to Australia a good many years after (early 1890s). He too grew up in Kerry and though he was not even born at the time of the revival, is likely to have been influenced by the Brethren movement. I suspect George and Richard’s parents may have been Brethren. After his arrival in Sydney Richard fell in love with John Hickson’s eldest daughter, Alice, and they planned to marry. John refused to give them his blessing, however, and forbade their marriage.

I have long wondered why John Hickson disliked Dick Byrne so much and I have elsewhere suggested some possible explanations. Another theory is that Dick was too religious for John, which may have been a result of a suspicion that John Hickson had for the non-conformism of the Brethren. John himself was a staunch Anglican in Sydney. Alice, as a result, was not allowed to marry Richard, though many years later after both their respective spouses died they did in fact marry, by then in their early seventies, much to the annoyance of John Hickson, still alive and opinionated and by then into his nineties.

Sneem

The village is now a picturesque little place on a wild and beautiful coast. The Sneem River tumbles through the middle of the town, spanned by an attractive bridge. The houses are painted in many bright colours and tourists flock to the village in summer, providing it with a good deal of its income. But Sneem has not always been as picturesque as it is now. During the Famine (1845-1852) a traveller described it as a “poor, dirty village.” This was about the time the Hickson’s lived there. In the mid-nineteenth century it was a small place, in 1851 boasting a population of only 359 which had risen by 1861 to just 406 (Stoakley, p.18) The bright colours of the houses for which the village is famous, and the attractive village greens, only began to appear in the first quarter of the twentieth century, so at the time John Hickson lived there it was a bleak and colourless place. By contrast, according to Stoakley, in more recent years “many have expressed the opinion that it is the most attractive village in Ireland.” (p.20)But small and dirty and colourless as it may have been to some, to John Hickson it was a place of “perennial freshness like the fragrance of a withered rose,” even if to a stranger it may have appeared “unpretending and insignificant.” And whether JCH was in favour of, or opposed to, the religious enthusiasm that resulted from the revival there seems little doubt that the effects of that revival, good and bad, were felt around the world through not just the ministry of FC Bland, but also of the changed lives of William Hickson and his wife Mary, in Australia, as well as Mary’s extended family, the Needhams, in America.

 

 

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The colours of Sneem

Our Hickson ancestry

Our Hickson ancestors hailed from Killorglin in County Kerry, Ireland. They were Irish Protestants, descended from a Reverend Christopher Hickson who had come over from Cambridgeshire probably in the 1580s during the so called “plantation of Ireland” under Elizabeth I. The “plantations” of Ireland, which involved confiscation of land by the English crown and colonisation with settlers from England (see Wikipedia) had begin during the reign of Henry VIII, Elizabeth’s father, and continued through the 16th and 17th centuries. The “plantation” of Munster (of which modern day Kerry is one of the counties) began in 1586.

According to Anthony Hickson, who has assembled the most comprehensive list of Hicksons on the Internet (http://www.hicksons.org), Christopher Hickson “was ordained Church of England 20th December 1593 by Maurice O’Brien, 1st Protestant Bishop of Killaloe. In 1615 he was Treasurer of Ardfert, Co Kerry, Rector of Disert & Vicar of Kilconley, Kerry. Two years later he was appointed Rector of Kilgobbin and the adjoining parish of Stradbally in the West of Kerry. He married into the Hussey family and had a son, Christopher, who turned Catholic and “as a rebel and a Papist” was transplanted to Connaught in Cromwell’s time.”

The Catholic-Protestant story of Ireland is a long and sad one, as is the closely related one of English-Irish relations. It has apparently played an important part in the history of the Hicksons in Ireland too. In another email Anthony Hickson wrote “this Hickson family (all the Kerry Hicksons decended from the Rev Christopher Hickson) were very divided by religion. Some were Protestants, some Catholic, hence the difficulty finding relationships.”

Richard and Mary Hickson were part of the Protestant branch of the family. Richard Hickson of Killorglin was a nailor, a trade which, according to a Dictionary of Old Occupations, was a person who “cleaned and maintained the teeth on a weaver’s carding machine, or a metalworker who produced nails.” He was born I believe around the beginning of the nineteenth century, but I do not know the exact year of his birth. He married Mary-Ann Carter, probably in the 1820s.

The church they worshipped at in Killorglin was built in 1816 but closed in 1998; at present it is a restaurant, the Sol y Sombra Tapas Bar. According to a webpage written by another Australian Hickson descendent (though not of Richard and Mary as far as I can see) there is a plaque in the old church which reads:

In memory of Richard and Mary Hickson, who for many years worshipped in this church together with their children beyond the seas, erected by their youngest son J.C. Hickson. J.P. Sydney, N.S.W. 1911

The same webpage lists seven children of Richard and Mary who migrated to Australia. Until recently I believed that Richard and Mary only had seven children, but while reading a book by the youngest of the Hicksons the J.C. Hickson who paid for the plaque in the church, I realised that there must have been more, who died in Ireland and very possibly in childhood:

Dromevalley, the necropolis of Killorglin, contains the dust of many dear to me: there lie some of my earliest and best friends, my faithful schoolmate and companion, R. Martin, and beyond all, my dear mother, with some of my brothers and sisters side by side. Being the last of a numerous family who by circumstances have been scattered over the globe and whose resting places are widely asunder, while leaning on the ivy which overhangs my mother’s grave the beautiful lines of Mrs Hemans occurred to me :-

They grew in beauty side by side,
They filled one home with glee;
Their graves are severed far and wide,
O’er mountain stream and sea.

The same fond mother bent at night,
And kissed each sleeping brow:
She had each folded flower in sight.
Where are these dreamers now?

(Hickson JC, Notes of Travel, pp.39-40, published 1893)

Mary Hickson was named Mary-Ann Carter before she married. She was born in 1802 and died when she was 51 years old in 1853. John Christopher Hickson (JCH) was her youngest child and was just five when she died. That same year, the oldest of the surviving Hickson children, Susan, migrated to Australia. She was the first to leave, but was followed in 1855 by Mary and Ellen, and in 1863 by George and Kate.

By that time William, the oldest son, had married and begun to raise a family of his own. He lived in Sneem, south of Killorglin, and, like his father, was a nailor, though he would become a “whitesmith,” a metalworker who “specialised in crafting items from tin, lead, silver, pewter and the like, or who polished newly made white metal products” (Dictionary of Old Occupations).

It would seem that after the departure of Kate (Catherine) and George in 1863 that old Richard Hickson and his youngest son John moved over to Sneem and lived with William and his young family. John writes in his book:

[We] drove by jaunting car to the little village of Sneem, which lies hidden by the headlands and rocky promontories of the wild coast of Kerry. To a stranger this district would appear barren and deserted, but to some of my acquaintances it is a veritable garden of Eden, and the remembrance of early days of innocent childhood clings with a perennial freshness like the fragrance of a withered rose. Here we visited the village church where once I worshipped and was taught in Sunday School… Unpretending and insignificant as this village of Sneem is at present, there have gone forth from the ranks of those born within its limits men and women who have been a credit to the land of their birth, and who have made their mark in the political, military and social history of the age. (Hickson JC, Notes of Travel, p.40, published 1893)

I have no idea who JCH was referring to when he wrote these words, but some of those who “went forth” from Sneem were William Hickson himself, with his wife and family, and his ageing father, Richard. In 1865 they too migrated, but they chose America rather than Australia, a choice which may have been influenced by religious choices. I have previously written about the evangelical revival that occurred in the area around Sneem in 1861 and the years following. William and his wife Mary were doubtless part of this spiritual awakening as were the whole of Mary’s family. Similar things were happening in North America under the ministry of a young evangelist D.L. Moody, and it may have been those events that drew them there. Four of Mary’s younger brothers became evangelists over the ensuing decades and they were closely associated with D.L. Moody and his ministry.

The one who did not “go forth” from Sneem in 1865 when William and Mary left was JCH – John Christopher Hickson – himself. Why he remained in Ireland over the following five years is a mystery – it was not until 1870 at the age of 22 that he finally boarded ship for Australia. Why he went to Australia and not to America is also uncertain. What he did in those five years is unknown. He later became a timber merchant. Was he serving an apprenticeship in Ireland, bound to his employer for five years? I have even wondered if he may have been in prison – Anthony Hickson mentions a John Christopher Hickson who was in gaol, but has not been able to find details or dates and is not sure that it is the same person.

JCH is the most colourful Hickson in my family. He was my father’s great grandfather. There is more documented about him than any of his siblings, and much that I know about him comes from his book, Notes of Travel, published after a journey back to Great Britain in 1893 with his oldest daughter, Alice. JCH lived to the age of 97 and was successful and wealthy. He effectively retired in his mid to late forties and lived off his investments.

JCH’s book reveals a sentimental character who loved travelling and wrote poetry. He must also have been a very clever businessman to have become so wealthy so quickly. After his 1893 travels he journeyed to Britain at least three more times during his life, a not insignificant undertaking in the days when sea-travel was the only option.

He was also apparently quite proud of his ancestry. He mentions in his book the ancestral home: by rail we went to Dingle and visited “The Grove,” the old family seat of our ancestors (Notes of Travel, p.41). JCH had named his home in Sydney The Grove, after this house, so it obviously had significance for him. In the 1840s when Richard and Mary Hickson were raising their family in Killorglin, The Grove was the residence of another John Hickson (1782-1850), the “last Sovereign of Dingle.” Captain John Hickson had two family seats in Dingle, one being The Grove, at the foot of the Conor Pass Road, and the other quite close by, at Ballintaggart. He had nine children, at least one of whom (Marianne) is documented as being born at The Grove (in 1834).

In 1848, the year that JCH was born in Killorglin, another of Captain John Hickson’s children was born, but at Ballintaggart. Robert Albert Hickson, later a Brigadier-General in the British Army, inherited The Grove and lived there into the first part of the twentieth century. So if JCH visited The Grove in 1893 with his daughter, it is likely that it was on Robert Hickson that he called. Exactly how they were related I don’t know.

The Grove existed until the 1920s but there is said to be no trace of it today, since it was replaced by a hotel. Anthony Hickson’s website reports that there may be a ruin visible today. There is also an old photo of the house on the website which can be seen here. Ballintaggart House still stands and is used today for luxury wedding receptions. Exactly why The Grove meant so much to JCH but he never mentions Ballintaggart is unsure.

Though JCH remains the best known of the Hicksons from whom I am descended, he is not the only one of my ancestors from the family. His older brother William, who he lived with in Sneem, and who migrated to America, also later came with his family to Australia. It was after their father Richard had died – he is buried in Providence, Rhode Island, which JCH also visited on his world travels in 1893.

As I mentioned, JCH arrived in Australia in 1870. He married soon after and did very well for himself from the very beginning, initially in the timber business. Within seven years of arriving in Sydney he had persuaded William, who lived in Boston, to leave America and come to Australia. William and his wife and their seven children arrived in Sydney in 1878. William, I believe, became involved in JCH’s business. Though JCH and his family were Church of England, William and Mary were staunch members of the Brethren Church.

William and Mary’s oldest daughter was named Suzie. She married another Irish migrant, George Byrne, and they had 5 daughters and a son. One of their daughters was my maternal grandmother. In an odd twist of fate, Alice Hickson, JCH’s eldest daughter (who was much younger than her cousin Suzie), fell in love with George Byrne’s younger brother, Richard Byrne, when he came out from Ireland in the early 1890s. JCH expressly forbade their marriage, and whisked Alice off on their world trip in 1893. A few years later Alice married William Ross, whose daughter Winifred was my paternal grandmother.

The Hicksons, primarily John (JCH) and William, feature large in our family story. Their birthplace in Kerry is a place I have yet to visit. When that day comes, which I hope it will quite soon, it will be interesting to see the places they were born and grew up.

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.

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