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Archive for the tag “George Needham”

Tim Fenian

TN 1865 letter p2What about this great breaking out in Ireland, is it doing any injury to ye in Kerry? I hope the next letter that you will write to me, that you will let me know all about it. (Letter home, November 6, 1865)

So wrote young Tom Needham, 14 years old, from HMS Narcissus, a British frigate off the southern coast of the USA, toward the end of 1865, and about half a year after the conclusion of the American Civil War. What had he heard, I wonder, about the political situation in Ireland? What was “this great breaking out” that was causing him so much concern for his family back in County Kerry?

I believe he was talking about the Fenian Movement, which had its origins in America in the 1850s amongst Irish ex-patriates, men (and women) who had left their homeland because of famine, economic hardship, or political persecution, many of whom had fought on one side or the other in the American Civil War. These so called “Fenians” talked of raising a force of Irish-Americans to return to Ireland to assist a rising against the English and establish an Irish Republic.

However, there was no similar organisation of rebels in Ireland planning such a rising until a certain James Stephens, an engineer from Kilkenny who had fled to Paris after an earlier “rebellion” in 1848, returned to Ireland in 1856, determined to raise just such a movement amongst the common Irish. Stephens became the leader of an organisation that he called the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), which became commonly known, together with its American counterpart, as “The Fenians.”

Why Fenians? They took their name from a legendary group of ancient Irish warriors (the Fianna) of the second and third century. The term Fenian became popular in the mid nineteenth century as the name of the association that Stephens and his American counterparts formed, but has persisted even into modern times as a label for anyone opposed to British rule in Ireland (see the Wikipedia article for uses of “Fenian” in popular culture).

The Irish Fenian movement was most active in the 1860s, when our Needham ancestors were exiting Ireland, and in 1867 there were minor uprisings in different places around Ireland including Kerry. However, these were short lived and universally unsuccessful in achieving any change in the status quo. The significance of the 1867 rebellion was more in what it said about the discontent of a growing part of the Irish population than in any military victory. The movement continued to exist in various forms up until the First World War, and after the Easter Rising of 1916 in Dublin, it evolved gradually into the IRA.

The IRB was from the start a secret society. It represented a change in thinking from earlier movements for Irish liberation in that it accepted, even promoted, violence, or armed rebellion, as being the only realistic way of achieving freedom for Ireland, as opposed to the diplomatic negotiation that had characterised earlier movements like the United Irishmen in the 1790s and Young Ireland in the 1840s. Because it was secret, no-one really knew who was a Fenian and who wasn’t, except, of course, those that had joined up. In the small communities of rural Ireland, however, many knew who was involved, though they may not have willingly given that information to the authorities in Dublin. As always happens in such times, the authorities had their spies, and there were double agents who worked for both sides and sometimes came to violent ends.

Ireland was divided into those who supported the Fenians, and those who didn’t, and it was not entirely easy to predict who would be on which side based on either their religion or their heritage. Even some people of Anglo-Irish heritage, and some Protestants in this predominantly Catholic country, supported the Fenians. The Catholic Church was officially opposed to them. Apart from the newspaper published by the IRB itself (The Irish People), the press was also generally opposed to the Fenians (see this article from the Irish Times), and the police force (Irish Constabulary) was tasked with rooting out the revolutionaries and arresting them.

I have wondered at times what our Irish ancestors thought of all this, and whether any of them were involved in this revolutionary movement. The Fenians were strong in Kerry, to which many contemporary sources bear witness:

One of the few places Stephens discovered an existing revolutionary organisation was in the Skibbereen-Killarney-Kenmare area of south-west Cork and south-east Kerry, where O’Donovan Rossa had founded the Phoenix Society to keep alive the desire for an independent Ireland (Pádraig Ó Concubhair, The Fenians were Dreadful Men, p.19).

However, with their English roots, it seems unlikely that the Hicksons or the Needhams were part of the movement, even if the Hicksons had been in Kerry for over three hundred years. Our Hickson family were related to the Anglo-Irish aristocracy in Kerry, even if only distantly, and John Christopher Hickson’s writings contain no suggestion of sympathy for the Fenians. His older sister, Susan Hickson, who was as far as I can tell the first of his family to migrate to Australia in 1853, married John Hume, another Kerry emigrant, who, prior to himself migrating in 1855 at the age of 30, had been a policeman in the Constabulary. He left, however, before the revolutionary feelings in Kerry had evolved into Fenianism, even before James Stephens had returned from Paris where he had fled after the 1848 rebellion in County Tipperary.

The Needhams were still more “English” than the Kerry Hicksons. George Hickson, though as far as I know born in Ireland, was the son of an Englishman. His wife, Susan Carter, was also English (according to the entry for her son, Benjamin Needham, in the US Census for 1910). George died in 1862, five years before the Fenian rising in Kerry in 1867. But in his earlier life he had been a captain in the Kerry coastguard, and was, as such, part of the British establishment which so many Irish saw as the enemy. The Needhams, like the Hicksons, were in a sense part of the “middle class” of southern Ireland, neither aristocracy like some of the Hickson’s distant relatives, nor the rural poor. Though they very likely understood Irish, their home language was English.

But none of that mattered to Tom Needham’s shipmates, who took great delight in teasing the young Irish lad. In another letter home to his older sister Belinda, from the gunboat, HMS Linnet in 1866, he reassures her:

I hope you never fretts about me because I am as happy as a king. On board the ship one of them calls me Tim Fagan and another Tim Fenian, they gets on chaffing me and I pretend to speak Irish to them and I do make them wild. O there is no coming over me on board a ship. What about the Fenians there? There is great talk about them, the Americans are killing a great many of them… (Letter home, 26 August 1866)

Afternote:

While exploring the Internet for information about the Fenians, I found an article from a local newspaper from a town near to where we now live, Maitland. It is dated 16 May 1867 and contains a copy of The Fenian Proclamation. It seems this statement had been sent out to newspapers all over the world, to raise awareness and support for the Fenian cause in Ireland. Following is a copy of the proclamation, as archived on the Australian website, Trove. The feeling of injustice that lay behind the Fenian movement is easy to discern as the following excerpts show:

Our rights and liberties have been trampled on by an alien aristocracy, who, treating us as foes, usurped our lands and drew away from our unfortunate country all material riches. We appeal to force as a last resort… unable to endure any longer the curse of a monarchical government, we aim at founding a Republic based on universal suffrage, which shall secure to all the intrinsic value of their labour. The soil of Ireland, at present in possession of an oligarchy, belongs to us, the Irish people and to us it must be restored. We declare also in favour of absolute liberty of conscience and the separation of Church and State. We intend no war against the people of England; our war is against the aristocratic locusts, whether English or Irish, who have eaten the verdure of our fields…

 

1867 Fenian Proclamation

Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 – 1893), Thursday 16 May 1867, page 2. National Library of Australia http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18718311

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Coastguard

I had a letter from my mother’s cousin, Keith Walmsley, a few years back. I had asked him what he knew about our Irish forbears – my great great grandmother (who is Keith’s great grandmother) was Mary Hickson, who came out to Australia with her husband William from Kerry in 1877. Mary Hickson was the eldest child of the Needham family of Templenoe, County Kerry. She was born in 1833. Her parents were George and Susan (Carter) Needham.

According to Keith, Mary Needham

“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)…”

Version 2

The captain’s daughter, Mary Needham (1833-1916), in later life

Lackeen Point Coastguard Station
I have not found any other documentary evidence that George Needham was in the Kerry Coastguard, but on examining old maps I discovered that there was a Coastguard station very close to Templenoe where the Needham family lived. It was situated at Lackeen Point at the opening of the Blackwater River on the northern shore of the Kenmare Bay. Surely this was where George worked in his early adulthood.

There was another station on the southern side of the Kenmare River at Kilmakilloge, across the water from Lackeen. Westward from Lackeen toward the Atlantic there was a smaller station at a place called White Strand in the vicinity of Daniels Island and further out still toward the ocean was a bigger station at Waterville. The best known coastguard station on the Iveragh Coast is the one at Ballinskelligs, west of Waterville. The ruins are still standing.

There is a website for Ballinskelligs which says something about the Coastguard station there. Of the Irish Coastguard in the nineteenth century, it explains:

The Coast Guard Stations scattered around the coast of Kerry were set up by the British Navy in 1821 to curtail and if possible end smuggling on the coast of Ireland which was losing a great amount of money to the King’s or the Queen’s revenue. From 1836 they were given the added task of stamping out illegal distilling for the same reasons, but without much success. Apart from the ship ‘Manpower’ they had 11 cruisers off the coast of Ireland…

The Coast Guard stations were part of rural life around our coasts. The stations flourished during the 19th century. The coastguards were finally disbanded in 1923. They were about 100 years in operation in the country. They were vitally important in the eyes of the British Empire, they were closely linked on the Iveragh Coast, at Waterville, Ballinskelligs, Portmagee, Valentia, Cahirsiveen and Kells. The Coastguards were known as “Na Fír Ghorma.” …

The Coastguards were mainly naval reservists, or men at the end of their service. They were good seamen, and highly capable of managing life boats, and were trained also in life saving. They also acted as recruiting agents for the British Army…

The Griffiths Valuation of 1852 lists George Needham as a parish clerk in Templenoe. So his days with the coastguard must have been prior to this. Although I do not know the exact date of George’s birth, I believe he was around fifty in 1852. One can wonder whether George had been in the navy before he was in the coastguard, or whether he was also a naval reservist. His son Thomas went to sea at an early age, and left a book and a number of letters that are still in existence, about his experiences in the British navy. I will write about them another time.

Kenmare River 1

The northern shore of Kenmare Bay, looking west from Templenoe pier toward Lackeen Point.

The Irish Coastguard Service
The website mentioned above explains more about the activities of the Coastguard:

Many ships were shipwrecked on the coast. The Coastguards job was to salvage anything valuable from the ships. Often the locals would outwit them and get there before them and hide their spoils and use the wood to repair their houses etc… There are many stories of shipwrecks and adventures.

I do not have any hard evidence that George worked at the Lackeen Point Coastguard Station, but family tradition said he was with the coastguard, and there is no reason to doubt it, and Lackeen Point is the closest to where George and his family later lived. The coastguard was not greatly liked by the local population, it being a representative of the British Government which was so resented by many of the Irish population. What is more, some of the locals must have been dependent on smuggling for their livelihood, and any authority that stood in their way was seen as the enemy. However, during the Potato Famine which began in 1845 the coastguard was involved in distribution of food relief, which perhaps redeemed them in the eyes of some.

There is a Facebook page devoted to the Kenmare Chronicle which has some references to a new coastguard station built at Lackeen Point built in 1863, the year after George Needham’s death. This was in response to a memo recorded in the House of Commons Reports from Committees in June 1860 (see Google Books here) which speaks of the poor condition of coastguard stations in Ireland at that time:

In many instances the coast guardsmen in Ireland are lodged worse than the cattle; cases have been reported where the rooms are in such a dilapidated state that the men have been obliged to thatch the beds, and this at a time when their wives and children have been lying sick in them, the sickness having been produced by the cruel exposure to which they have been made subject. (memorandum by Commodore Eden, re Public Board of Works in Ireland).

Lackeen Point new station

This picture can be found on the Kenmare Chronicle Facebook page

Some drawings of the new station at Lackeen Point (see above) and some information about what happened to it can be found on the Kenmare Chronicle Facebook page. One of the comments mentions that the fate of the station was sealed when it was destroyed during the Civil War in 1922 with the remains of the station later being dismantled and removed to be replaced by forest. Many of the coastguard stations in Ireland were destroyed by the IRA, as the Ballinskelligs website explains:

The Coastguard Station at Ballinskelligs was burnt down by the local IRA during the War of Independence. Most of the coastguard stations were destroyed at this time. The excuse was that they would become ready barracks for the British solders. The station at Valentia survived, it is now converted into holiday apartments. Kells Coastguard station also survived, it is now a private house. Cromane station is now a pub.

A possible biography of George Needham
George Needham was probably born around 1802. I am unsure whether he was Irish or English. I have almost no knowledge of his life, apart from the fact that he married Susan Carter, a girl some 16 years his junior when she was only 15, and that they together had 10 children, the oldest of which was my great great grandmother, Mary Needham. Susan was also English, according to an entry in the 1910 US Census for her son Benjamin Needham (one of Mary’s younger brothers). From Mary’s marriage record it is also evident that by the age of fifty George was a parish clerk in Templenoe.

One of George and Susan’s sons, Thomas Needham, joined the British navy in around 1864, when he was 13 years old. His parents were by that time both dead, as he mentions in his book, From Cannibal Land to the Glory Land. Thomas’s love for the sea and ships may well have been something he inherited from his father.

A picture of George’s early life begins to take shape in my mind. I suspect he was English and went to sea as a teenager, in the great age of the British navy, following the Napoleonic Wars. Perhaps around the age of thirty he left the navy and joined the coastguard, and was posted to Lackeen Point Coastguard Station on Kenmare Bay in southern Kerry. It is possible that he met and married his wife, Susan Carter, in England before he came to Ireland – they must have married around 1833, but their first child, Mary, was born, as far as I know, in Kerry.

George may have been in the coastguard for many years, though I have not been able to find a record of his service anywhere. Perhaps he only served for a few years, though what he did when he left is uncertain. At some stage he gained employment as a parish clerk in Templenoe, very close to Blackwater where the Lackeen Point Coastguard Station was located. Between 1833 and 1856 he and Susan raised a family of ten children. The first of these was Mary, born in 1833, the last was William, born in 1856, when George was 54 but Susan was only 38. Susan died the same year, leaving her 10 children motherless and her husband George a widower. However, by that time Mary was already 23 years old and doubtless played an important role in the care of her younger siblings, though the 1852 Griffith valuation suggests that she was not living in Templenoe at that time.

The Needham family was devout one, and were regular members of the Templenoe Church. They were Protestants in a predominantly Catholic community, their family roots English in a very Irish region. As parish clerk in Templenoe, George would have had close links to the local aristocracy, namely Denis Mahony of Dromore Castle, who was the Needham’s landlord and also a clergyman of the Church of Ireland, presumably vicar at the church which the Needham family attended. The Rev Mahony was a few years older than George Needham, but he died in 1851 to be succeeded by his first son, Richard Mahony, who was about 5 years older than George’s daughter Mary.

In 1858, two years after her mother’s death, Mary married William Hickson of Killorglin, whom she had got to know some years earlier when the Hickson family had been living in Sneem. Mary and William appear to have moved to Killarney after their marriage.

Three years later a Christian revival broke out in Kerry, centred on the Sneem-Templenoe area in which the Needhams lived, largely led by Richard Mahony of Dromore and his friend Francis Christopher (FC) Bland of the neighbouring Derriquin Estate. The revival resulted in the formation of Plymouth Brethren assemblies in the area, and it would seem that the Needham family, especially the younger children, was profoundly affected by this religious awakening. The four youngest sons of the family all became evangelists in North America later in life.

In 1862 in the midst of the revival George Needham died. He was around 60 years of age. A few years later his children began to disperse to the wider world. Perhaps it was for religious reasons. The Plymouth Brethren were regarded with some suspicion by much of the Kerry population. Or perhaps the Needhams just felt a bit too English for southern Ireland, even if all George and Susan’s children were born there. By the end of the 1870s there were no Needhams left in County Kerry. Most of the children ended up in North America. Mary and her husband, although first migrating to the USA in 1865, decided, after 12 years, to move further to Australia. Their first daughter Suzie Hickson, born in 1861 in Kerry, raised in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, ended up in Sydney, NSW, where in 1885 she married a newly arrived migrant from Kerry, George Byrne.

George and Susie Byrne were my mother’s Irish grandparents.

ByrneFamily

George and Susie Byrne and four of their children (ca 1900)

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.

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.

In Chicago 1893

In May-June 1893 John Hickson and his daughter Alice spent three weeks in Chicago. They had gone there primarily to see the World’s Fair, a massive exhibition which commemorated the four hundredth anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in America. Such exhibitions were huge events during the Victorian era, and the Chicago exposition of 1983 was the largest to date, attracting over 27 million visitors during the six months it was open. The Crystal Palace exhibition in London in 1851, which was the first international exposition, and the Exposition Universelle of 1889 in Paris, for which the Eiffel Tower was built, are two that stand out in my mind, but there have been many others. John Hickson recorded some thoughts about the Chicago World’s Fair in his book, Notes of Travel, published in 1894.

World’s Columbian Exposition 1893
The Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893 rivalled earlier expos in scope, and was much larger than any that had gone before. It was a celebration of innovation and modernity, but also an opportunity for nations to display their best and finest, to attract admiration, and perhaps investment. A whole city, which became known as The White City, was constructed with many remarkable buildings though only one of them remains to this day, namely the old Palace of Fine Arts, now the Museum of Science and Industry; the rest fell into disrepair or was destroyed by fire over the years that followed; some buildings were relocated elsewhere. Notably in Chicago was the first dishwasher and the world’s first ever Ferris Wheel. There are many accounts of the Chicago World’s Fair on the internet and two that caught my eye were this blog and this website. Music also played an important part at the Fair, with Dvorak’s New World Symphony composed especially for the event, and a young piano player named Scott Joplin developing a new sound in music – ragtime.

The World’s Fair takes up about two pages of John Hickson’s eighty page Notes of Travel. JCH summarises the experience as follows:

The sights you see return to your memory only by instalments; but as a descriptive account of the exhibits and the whole particulars of the exhibition have been given by specially trained reporters, who have flashed their reports to the ends of the earth in all languages, I will not attempt to describe them; but whatever may be said of the financial failure of the Fair, it was a grand conception, liberally and splendidly carried out, and as a means of education, amusement and improvement, could not be surpassed. (Hickson J, Notes on Travel, p.19)

JCH could hardly have imagined the Expo that he and his daughter visited in 1893 would still be talked about over 120 years later, which can be seen in the many contemporary websites (not to mention books) describing the Fair and its legacy. He seems to imply in what he wrote that the World’s Fair in Chicago was a financial flop, but this seems not to be accurate (see this website), and why JCH formed this opinion is uncertain. The legacy of the Fair was, in any case, not its financial profits, but rather the magnitude and splendour of its exhibits: as JCH puts it, “a grand conception, liberally and splendidly carried out.”

My favourite picture of the expo is one I found on the Nikola Tesla Inventor official website. For me this old photo evokes an image of the young Alice Hickson at the World’s Fair (though there is nothing to indicate it is actually Alice in the picture). This was the sight she saw before her, and this is the type of dress she wore. If her father had been a photographic enthusiast then he would have been behind the camera, but I suspect that there were few people apart from professionals who owned their own camera in 1893!

LookingDownAt1893WorldsFair

The World’s Fair was not the only memorable experience for John Hickson and his daughter Alice. In fact, shortly after their arrival they witnessed:

Decoration Day
On Decoration Day (now known as Memorial Day), America decorated the graves of its fallen soldiers. The Chicago Tribune, of May 30, 1893, recorded:

The ceremonial of today occurs in conjunction with the great Exposition at Jackson Park, and thousands of strangers will be in the city to witness the parade of the veterans.

Two of those “strangers” were John Hickson and his daughter Alice. Reading JCH’s description brings Anzac Day to mind for all Australians, but in 1893 Anzac was still in the future. A world war of the scope of the 1914-18 conflict could not be imagined in 1893, though both John Hickson and his daughter would live to hear of its horrors first hand. In fact both father and daughter would live through two world wars.

But in 1893 the war dead they remembered were veterans of the the American Civil War, still relatively recent in the minds of the population. Here is John’s description:

On the 31st of May (JCH appears to have got the date wrong!), in Chicago, we saw their annual celebration of Decoration Day. This day is set apart every year to visit the soldiers’ graves and deck them with flowers and tiny flags, and generally orations are delivered by some prominent men. The procession of military and civilians was of great length, but what attracted us most in the pageant was the company of veterans of the civil war, marching behind the same flags that bore them to victory, now old, tattered and bullet riddled, which for thirty years have been preserved and yearly paraded. (Hickson J, Notes on Travel, p.19).

DL Moody
The other memorable experience for John Hickson and his daughter was attending an evangelistic rally with DL Moody, widely acknowledged as the greatest evangelist of the nineteenth century. JCH relates that they

were present at a service in a large circus tent in which there were 15000 people addressed by Mr Moody, Mr McNeil and others. At another time, in a crowded theatre where Moody was preaching, I pushed through the throng to speak to and shake the hand of the great evangelist. We also heard Dr Gunsaulus, a polished and able preacher of the Congregational Church, and Dr Henson, the clever pastor of the First Baptist Church. We visited most of the places of interest in and about Chicago, and left there on the 18th June, on our way to New York, via Niagara Falls. (Hickson J, Notes of Travel p.19)

In fact The World’s Fair Gospel Campaign was arguably as significant as the Fair itself, at least in the minds of some. HB Hartzler wrote a book about the campaign shortly after, entitled Moody in Chicago, “an account of six months’ evangelistic work in the city of Chicago and vicinity during the time of the World’s Columbian Exposition, conducted by Dwight L Moody and his associates.” Here are some extracts from that book, which can be downloaded from Internet Archive.

The World’s Fair has been closed on Sunday for want of attendance, but the religious services are daily growing. Every good opening for the gospel is readily seized. When Forepaugh’s great circus tent had been set up in the city Mr. Moody tried to secure it for Sunday. He was granted the use of it for a Sabbath morning service, but as the manager expected Sunday in Chicago to be a great harvest day, he reserved the tent on the afternoon and evening for his own performances. Fifteen thousand people came to hear the simple gospel preached and sung at the morning service. The circus, however, was so poorly attended in the afternoon and evening that Sunday exhibitions were soon abandoned. (Hartzler H, Moody in Chicago, p.64)

Hartzler quotes another writer in his book, who had recorded the following:

Now this is what I often found to be true : that these congregations were made up of people from every part of the United States and Canada, and I may say from every part of the globe; everybody that has come up to the World’s Fair is represented in these meetings a great mass of people brought together from every nation and every race in the world, and preachers are brought together who can speak to them in their own tongue. So it is a remarkable movement. I remember that a friend suggested to Mr. Spurgeon that such a great preacher as he ought not to confine his ministry to London, but that he ought to make a tour around the world and preach to everybody; and Mr. Spurgeon replied, I can just stand in my place in London, and let the world come to me; and so they did, as a matter of fact. And so this World’s Fair is a great opportunity because all the world is present in Chicago, and being there, they come to hear the gospel. I consider it one of the most blessed triumphs of the grace of God that on these Sundays the people are attending church and listening to the Word of God instead of going for recreation. Now that is the right way to conquer: not by violence, not by law, not by threatening, but by a counter-attraction, by offering something better.

I have made this statement in order that we may praise God that such advantage is being taken of this great occasion that will never come again. We shall never again see such an event. I need not say that the Fair is magnificent; it is a dazzling alabaster city set on the lake. People are there from every part of the earth; and next to that architectural wonder, and the marvellous display of art and science and beauty of every sort, I consider that the most striking thing in that city to-day is the evangelistic work that is going on. (Gordon, in Hartzler, Moody in Chicago, p.71)

Moody

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One wonders what sort of impression Moody’s meetings made on John Hickson, a man of the world even if he was a regular churchgoer back home in Sydney. Did he go to hear the gospel, or was he just unable to resist the spectacle? Was he a pilgrim, or a tourist? John Hickson was an Irish protestant, but whether he was a deeply spiritual man with a hunger after God I don’t know. He has left no written record to say one way or the other. He certainly had connections in the Christian ministry. His older brother William had married Mary Needham, a girl from a deeply religious family with whom the Hicksons were acquainted back in Kerry. In fact, after his mother died, John Hickson had lived with William and Mary in Sneem when he was a teenager. William and Mary had actually migrated to America before they came to Australia in the 1870s. Mary had four younger brothers who became evangelists in the north eastern states of America and at least one of them, George Needham, was part of the Moody Campaign in Chicago in 1893. He is listed as one of the many missioners in Hartzler’s book. So there was no lack of Christian input into John Hickson’s life. But the impact of that input is hard to ascertain.

How did Alice react? She was twenty when she heard DL moody preach; it must have been an overwhelming experience to be among fifteen thousand people at an evangelistic meeting in America. Many years later, as an old lady, Alice would hear Billy Graham preach, or so my father told me. She must surely have compared the two great evangelists. I wonder whether faith played an important part in Alice’s life, or in her father’s for that matter. They heard the greatest preachers of their time, but what fruit did that bear in their lives? Did they meet God, as Moody challenged his hearers to do? Were their lives changed by that meeting with God? Some of Alice’s five daughters were later deeply involved in the church. But perhaps it was their father William Ross, with his rich heritage of revival in the Scottish Highlands, who had the greatest spiritual influence on them. Hard to know.

Those weeks in Chicago in 1893 must have been an extraordinary experience for John and Alice. They stood by as America remembered her war dead, and wondered how people of one nation could so passionately have fought each other only a generation before. They saw all that the world had to offer at the World’s Fair, and marvelled at the achievements and aspirations of humanity. They were challenged to follow Jesus in the massive evangelistic meetings of DL Moody and his associates. Which of these experiences left the most lasting mark on their lives, I wonder?

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