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stories of my family

Archive for the tag “Notes on Travel”

Killorglin – the Hickson’s Kerry home


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.


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.


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.


Commemorating his parents in the Killorglin Church of Ireland


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 (, 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.

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.

Missing home

In the southern autumn of 1893, a young Sydney girl, Alice Hickson, embarked with her father, John Christopher Hickson, on a journey around the world. They sailed on the Monowai out of Sydney on Monday 17th April. Sydney Harbour was as beautiful then as now, but there was no Harbour Bridge and no Opera House, and the population of Sydney, at 400,000, was only a tenth of what it is today. It was nevertheless Australia’s biggest city, a young vibrant place growing fast under the sunny blue skies of the great southland.


A photo featured on Reuben Goossens website

Alice grew up in a prosperous family. Her father was an Irish immigrant who had become a successful timber merchant, with mills in Nabiac on the north coast of NSW, as well as in Darling Harbour and later in Burwood. Her mother produced a whole stream of children, five boys and six girls in all, though one of the girls, Maud, died at age four, when Alice was ten years old. Alice was the oldest, the “big sister.” They lived in a succession of houses in her early childhood, but by the time she was twenty the place she had called home for at least half her life was The Grove, in Liverpool Street, Enfield. The family home had been named after the Hickson ancestral seat in Ireland. But Ireland was a land that Alice knew of only through her father’s stories, a far country whose mist covered mountains and wild rocky coast she longed to see. Alice’s mother’s mother was also Irish, but she had died when Alice was a toddler. Alice’s recollecion of her grandmother could hardly have been more than subliminal, heart memories of haunting Irish melodies as Mary sang her granddaughter to sleep.

Alice’s Irish heritage
Though Alice and all her siblings were Australian born her heritage was overwhelmingly Irish. Her father John Christopher Hickson (JCH) was the youngest of seven children born in County Kerry to Richard and Mary Hickson of Killorglin. By the time John Hickson was fifteen all but one of his siblings had left for Australia. Only his oldest brother William remained in Ireland, where he had married and started a family of his own. He was a whitesmith and lived in Sneem south west of Killorglin.

John’s mother died when he was about 15 and he found himself alone at home with his father. It would seem the two of them went then to live with William and his wife, Mary (Needham) and their two little children. But then in around 1865 William and Mary decided to migrate, not to Australia but to America, where most of Mary’s family had gone. Their ageing father, Richard, went with them. John found himself left alone in Ireland, seventeen years old.

The next five years of John Hickson’s life are obscure. What he did and who he knew and how he supported himself I have not been able to find out. All I really know for certain is that he arrived in Melbourne in 1870 on a ship called Caduceus. He had an older sister, Ellen, who was married and had settled in Melbourne and he may well have initially stayed with her. But the rest of his siblings lived in Sydney, and John soon decided that his future lay in New South Wales. Another sister, Kate, had married an Englishman named Hugh Breckenridge whose family were involved in the timber industry. Probably through those contacts John found work. Within two years he was married to Martha Watts and had started to make his mark as a timber merchant in a city where the building industry was in high gear.

William, however, who was the brother that John knew and loved best, was in America. How things were going for them there is uncertain, but John was sure it would be better for his brother and his young family if they came to Australia. Richard Hickson, their old father, had died and was buried in Boston. As far as John could see Australia offered more opportunities than America and he wanted William to come. There was room for William in the family business and John was able and willing sponsor them financially. By 1876 he had persuaded William and Mary to come with their seven children. They arrived in 1877, after a short sojourn back in Ireland.

Alice’s cousin Suzie Hickson
William and Mary arrived in Australia when Alice was only four. William, I believe, joined his younger brother’s timber business and he too appears to have done well out of it. William and Mary’s oldest daughter, Suzie, born in Ireland, raised in Boston, was 16 the year the family arrived and over the ensuing years alice came to love her dearly. Suzie, with all her knowledge of the wider world, was like a big sister to Alice.

In 1885, when Alice was 12, her cousin Suzie, who was by that time 23, married another Irish immigrant, a young man who had also come out from Kerry a few years before. His name was George Byrne and his family had been known to the Hicksons in Ireland. George and Suzie Byrne began to build a family. George had a background in merchandising and eventually became an executive in Australia’s biggest jam company, IXL.

Richard Byrne
Around 1892 George Byrne’s brother Richard, some ten years younger than him, also came out to Australia from Ireland. He almost certainly went to live with George and Suzie and their young family, and would soon have got to know Alice, Suzie’s young cousin. A romance ensued and it wasn’t long before it became clear that Richard and Alice were on the road toward matrimony.

This for some reason alarmed Alice’s father, and he expressly forbade the union. Alice was his first daughter and he appears to have had other plans for her. Richard had no money and an inauspicious background. There may have been bad feelings between there John and Richard’s parents back in Ireland, or it may have been simple class prejudice. Whatever is the truth, John would absolutely not allow a marriage between his daughter and this newcomer.

Richard (Dick) was though, by all reports, a lovely young man, with a cheerful and sunny personality. He captured Alice’s heart with his laughter and his smile. She was in love, and her father was worried. He came up with a plan to separate the young lovers – he would take his daughter away. She had always said she wanted to see Ireland, so her father proposed a trip to the old country. William’s wife Mary had a lot of relatives in the Boston area so he decided they should go via America, which John had until then, not seen.

John’s youngest son and Alice’s youngest brother, Richard, was newborn. It seems odd that John would leave his wife to care for the whole family and disappear off to the other end of the earth for six months. But that is exactly what happened. He was determined to prevent the proposal the he could see was coming, which he knew that Alice would almost certainly accept. So he booked a passage to America, and from there to Ireland. He planned to travel on to Scotland and England before returning to Australia via the Suez Canal later in the year.

Notes of Travel
John wrote about their experiences in a series of letters he sent to his second daughter, nineteen year old Edith, back in Sydney. After his return the letters were collected and published in book form, under the title, Notes of Travel, from Pacific to Atlantic. In the Preface the journey is introduced as follows:

The following Notes of Travel are the records of a hurried trip round the world taken during 1893 by myself and my eldest daughter… They were sent in the form of letters to my family while we were travelling, giving particulars of our journey, and the impressions made on us at the different places we visited… But my daughter Edith, to who they were addressed, handed them to the editor of our local weekly paper, “The Australian Courier,” where they appeared at intervals from June to December. J.C.Hickson, “The Grove,” Enfield, NSW, April 1894

“Hurried” is hardly how we would today describe a world journey that started in April and finished in October, but perhaps that is how John Hickson saw it, in a time when the pace of life was much slower. Another interpretation of the word, however, is that it was a trip taken in a hurry – without much planning or forethought. As John wondered how to deal with the prospect of a marriage between his daughter and someone he did not like, he suddenly came on the idea of a trip around the world with her. It was a highly unsuitable time, and I can imagine the response of his wife Martha when he suggested the idea. What are you thinking John? But her husband was a man of action and barely before they had talked about it the passage was booked and the tickets paid for. The next thing they knew they were on board.

The book that I have now in my hand is a fascinating account and gives some insight into John’s personality and interests. But what about the vibrant young lady who accompanied him, the twenty year old Alice Hickson? Amazingly, not once in the book does he mention his “eldest daughter’s” name, nor what was the purpose of their journey. In fact, there are only two references to Alice in the whole eighty pages, and in both she is referred to as “Miss Hickson” – a strangely formal way to write about his own daughter, especially considering he was writing home to family, where she was simply “Alice.”

The opening chapter describes the departure of the steamship Monowai from the Sydney docks en route to its first stop in New Zealand.

After the ladder was drawn in the passengers lined the wharf side of the vessel, speaking farewell words and taking a last look at the friends and loved ones who stood on points of vantage on the wharf; and as the good ship quietly crept from her berth into the stream, hundreds of goodbyes were exchanged, and until out of sight and hearing were continued by signs and waving of handkerchiefs. Some enthusiastic friend was noticed as the wharf vanished from sight, standing on a pile of timber frantically waving a handkerchief tied on the end of his stick.

I wondered as I read these words if that “enthusiastic friend” was the young handsome Irishman, Richard Byrne, who had so completely caught Alice’s heart. A picture comes to my mind of Alice – an attractive, fashionable young woman standing at the rail waving madly back with tears streaming down her face. What lay ahead? She knew that her father had decided they could never be married, and perhaps she had determined to try to focus on other things than Richard, but just at that moment the infatuation within her was a fire that she could not extinguish. He was still so close, so real. She wondered if she could ever lay aside the feelings she had for him.

He became smaller and smaller as the ship slipped further and further down the harbour, and then a headland came between them and he was gone from her sight. She turned and walked to the front of the ship, determined to look ahead and not back. There was a whole world to discover before her. She must try to be strong. She must try to forget. But the weeks at sea that lay ahead were not exactly full of distractions for the lovesick girl.

A few days out from Sydney, on the Southern Ocean between Australia and New Zealand, Alice is mentioned in a rather oblique way. John describes the various things happening on deck as people settle into the voyage.

There was for the steady quiet-going young people, deck quoits and shuffles, cards, chess and draughts tournaments; and for the livelier ladies and gentlemen, skipping, racing and jumping, there were potato races, wheelbarrow and sack races, tugs-of-war, sweeps instituted on the number if miles run in the 24 hours and any and everything to fill in the tedious hours and drive dull care away. Burwood (John’s home suburb in Sydney) was not badly represented there, and some of the prizes were pulled off by a Burwood young lady (Miss Hickson) and a well known athletic young gentleman (Mr Lambton).

It would seem from this that 20-year old Alice was one of the “livelier ladies” and one gets the feeling that Mr Lambton was the kind of “young gentleman” that John Hickson approved of, and the kind of distraction that he thought Alice needed. John writes a little more of Mr Lambton, who tragically died in America shortly after their arrival, dashing any hopes John might have had for him and Alice. Miss Hickson herself gets no more description.

The next, and only other time Alice is mentioned in the book is when the father and daughter are in the middle of the Atlantic, bound for Ireland and England. From San Francisco they have travelled by train across the great North American continent and in New York they have boarded the Germanic, a ship of the White Star line. According to John it has been a “very pleasant” crossing, but something about Alice’s demeanour seems to have been disturbing him. To his delight he finds in his cabin mate a person to whom he can unburden his soul. He is an Englishman returning home, and though apparently a diplomat, appears have a caring heart and a mind for verse.


The White Star line Germanic, from Wikipedia

We had a curious combination of passengers: admirals, counts, knights, actresses, and all sorts and conditions of men. My cabin mate happened to be a brother of Mr Rider Haggard, the novelist (who wrote King Solomon’s Mines), a very nice fellow and also gifted. He had been on diplomatic business at Panama for the British Government and was returning to his home in Dorsetshire. We had a very cordial invitation to visit him at his home and also at the Atheneum Club in London, both of which we were compelled to decline. During the passage he composed the following ditty for Miss Hickson, as a souvenir of the voyage on the Germanic…

John’s interest seems to be more in Mr Alfred Haggard and his well known author-brother than in his daughter. It is not the first time he has dropped names in his writings, having also mentioned RL Stevenson’s house which they had seen in Samoa. But Alfred seems far more interested and concerned for young Alice, and the poem that he penned gives more insight into the young lady and what she was going through than anything her father wrote. One wonders how distant the relationship between John and his daughter had become.

A homesick Australian lady
Haggard’s poem is entitled To an Australian Lady, a rather formal title considering that Alice was barely more than a girl. Alfred was a similar age to her father and seems to have taken a paternal interest in her. But he addressed her not as a girl, but as a “lady.”

I can imagine John and Alfred sitting together in their cabin in the evenings, talking about John’s downcast daughter. Alfred thinks he will write a poem to cheer her up. John thinks maybe it will help. He includes it in his letters home, perhaps because it is the only way he knows how to inform the family about what was happening for Alice, the pain she was going through. John knew that he was the cause of it. Perhaps Alice had written too, to her sisters or her mother if not to the whole family, but any letters she may have written have not been preserved to my knowledge. Had she been writing to Richard, or was she busy trying to repress the happy memories she had of him?

The opening verses of the poem are surely a reflection on the conversations Alfred had had with Alice, on the promenade decks and lounges of the Germanic. By this time they are three months out from Sydney, but she can think of nothing but home:

What? Does your heart sink
As onward you roam,
Thinking of dear ones
Staying at home?
Do you muse on your mother,
Far, far away,
Or sister or brother? Of children at play?

From the wide-spreading circles
Of this great ocean,
Where the grey clouds seem steady,
The waves are in motion,
Your thoughts fly, I fancy,
To shores far away,
To sun-shiny Sydney,
With deep-dented bay.

There the house is so busy
With life and with love,
Fair earth is around you-
Blue heaven above;
Girl friends come to cheer you,
And music and song
Raise your spirits and make, thus,
The days dance along.

Yes, truly all dull are
The days of the North.
If loved ones are absent
Then nothing has worth.
No wonder we languish,
If friends be not nigh.
Dark with night seems the ocean,
Dark with night is the sky.

After this expression of understanding and empathy Alfred tries to redirect Alice’s mind from the past and home to the days that lie ahead with all the new things that they will contain.

But be brave dearest maiden,
Remote is the strand
That with summer is golden;
Yet near is the land
Your fathers once trod on,
Near the boisterous seas,
When bravely they sallied
For antipodes

Mother England shall soon
Appear through the mist.
Her daughter returning,
By her breezes when kissed,
Shall quickly recover
Her hope and her strength;
And peaceful dwell there,
Resting at length.

This parent of nations
Her daughter will greet;
To you may her welcomes
Be tender and sweet.
And happy may time be
You pass thus “at home”
Ere you speed blithely back
Again on the foam.

Its interesting that he attempts to redefine Alice’s understanding of herself from a tanned young girl of the colonies to a returning daughter of Mother England. Did this make sense to Alice? How could he say she was returning to Mother England, a land she had never seen? Was he really expressing his own longing for the old country? Did he really think that he could comfort her with such words? And did he not realise that Alice and her father’s destination was Ireland before England, and if she had any “home” on this side of the world it was the “Emerald Isle” rather than old England. Yet he clearly sees England as the “parent of nations,” and believes that Alice will feel, when she arrives there that she has finally come home, and that there she will find rest for her soul, revival and refreshment. He continues:

And thus sanctified
By the kiss of her mouth,
Some love of the North
You shall take to the south.
You shall girdle the earth
With the steps of your feet.
And complete the great chain
As your loved ones you greet.

In your bright-gleaming home
In the Antipodes,
Your thoughts rarely dwell
On the toils of the seas;
Yet sometimes perusing
These lines that I write
When the afternoon’s hot,
Or silent the night,

Far removed from the crowd
And the heat and the panic,
You’ll admit you were bored
Upon the “Germanic.”
The men were all dull!
The women seemed frumps,
Your cabin was hot, you
Were deep in the dumps!

But one who was there
Bade you cheer up, be glad;
If the past seemed so happy,
The present so sad-
The future was rich
With joy and with blessing.
For least we enjoy
What we now are possessing.

Perchance this dull time
These grey lonely seas,
Later bring to your mind
Dear memories-
In your home and at rest
In a distant December
What now gives distress
You will gladly remember.

These words are his advice to Alice: forget the past, focus on now, the blessings of the days ahead. Make the most of the present and it will ease the pain of what has been left behind.

Alice was on a ship out in the middle of the Atlantic. She was sad and lonely. She thought back to everyone back home and wondered what they were doing. They seemed so far away. Could the future really be as rich as this man was saying?

Two days after he gave this little poem to Alice, they arrived at Queenstown, a port on the south coast of Ireland near Cork. Queenstown is called Cobh nowadays. It was here that John Hickson and his daughter disembarked before travelling over the hills to Kerry, the land of John’s birth. Could Alice find anything of herself in this place?

Queenstown-Old-Postcard 1900

A postcard from the Wikipedia article on Cobh (Queenstown)

Alice Hickson 1872-1962?

Who was Alice Hickson?
Alice Hickson was Dad’s grandmother. She was born in 1872 in Waterloo, in the inner suburbs of Sydney. She married William Ross in 1895 and they had five daughters, one of whom was my grandmother, Winifred Ross, Dad’s mother. Although Dad was hardly aware of it when he was a child, his mother told him later her parents’ marriage had not been an easy one. William was a good deal older than Alice, having been born in 1861 in England. His parents had come out to Australia as unassisted migrants in 1866. Gran told Dad that her mother had given her father a hard time. I’m not sure what that means.

William Ross died in 1939 when Dad was 6 years old. Five years after her husband died, Alice, by then over seventy, remarried. She was married to her second husband barely two years when he died, in 1946. Alice outlived her second husband by some 15 years, dying I believe when she was around 90 (though I have not been able to find a document with the date of her death). She never married again. I have wondered what is the story behind these two marriages, the first for forty four years, the second for two. Was Alice equally as hard on her second husband as her first? Or had she matured enough by her seventies to treat her second husband better? Who was this man she married when they were both in their seventies? What brought them together?

Who was this Alice Hickson, my great grandmother? What was her story? What kind of person was she? I am starting to piece together a picture of her, but there are still many blanks.

Alice’s parents and siblings
Martha Hickson, Alice’s mother, was Australian born to an English father, William Watts, and an Irish mother, Mary Magenity. Both of Martha’s parents were convicts. They had married in Australia in 1839, while Mary was still serving time, and had 11 children. Martha was their sixth child, born in 1848. Around 1870, when Martha was 22, a young Irishman, recently arrived in Sydney, came to lodge with the Watts family. His name was John Hickson and less than two years later he and Martha were married, in Balmain. Alice, their first born, arrived at the end of that same year, 1872.

John became a successful timber merchant and real estate developer in Sydney. According to Anthony Hickson (who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Hicksons, much of which can be found on his website), John “worked with George Hudson when he first came to Sydney, but soon (perhaps through contact with the Breckenridges, who had timber interests at Forster and that north coast area) had his own timber mill at Nabiac NSW, and on Darling Harbour, Sydney, and later a timber yard at Burwood.” By the time he was forty-five he had amassed enough of a fortune to effectively retire and live on his investments. These “independent means” appear to have supported him for the next fifty years. He and Martha had eleven children, though one of them died in childhood. They lived in Enfield, in Sydney’s inner west, just south of Strathfield, in a house called The Grove, after John’s ancestral seat in County Kerry, Ireland.

The 11 Hickson children were as follows: Alice (1872-1962?), Edith (1874-1957), George (1876-1948), Mabel (1877-1953), Maud (1879-1883), Herbert (1881-1930), Enfield (1883-1964), Percy (1885-1967), Eunice (1888-1973), Hilda (1890-1970), and Richard (1893-1965). These were my grandmother’s aunts and uncles on her mother’s side. There were many more on her father’s side, but that is another story. There are, understandably, many Hickson descendants though I have not met any of them.

1893 was a significant year in the Hickson family. John Hickson turned forty five, and the last of the eleven Hickson children was born. It would seem that in a sense both John and his wife Martha retired that year – John from his work as a timber merchant, and Martha from childbearing. Alice, their firstborn, turned 21 that year. She also fell in love with an Irish migrant, Richard (Dick) Byrne, who had recently arrived from the very same area as her father had come some twenty three years earlier. Dick’s older brother, George Byrne, who had come out to Australia 10 years earlier, was married to Alice’s cousin, Suzie (Hickson) Byrne, so it is not hard to imagine how they met.

Dick and Alice wanted to marry, but Alice’s father was strongly opposed to their union. Exactly why is hard to know. John could not have known Dick before he left Ireland since Dick was born the same year that John sailed away. However, it is fairly certain that John knew Dick’s parents back in Ireland, and it seems sure that he did not approve of them. I suspect it was simply a matter of class. Dick’s parents were ordinary people, and it would seem that John looked down on them. He wanted someone better for his daughter Alice. Even if his own wife was of convict stock, John looked back on a more distinguished Irish ancestry, and he wanted the best for Alice. Dick Byrne, as far he was concerned, was simply not good enough.

His solution was to separate the young lovers. He proposed a world trip, to the World Fair in Chicago, and then to the old country. He took Alice with him, but left the rest of the family at home, including his wife and their newly born son. I imagine Alice had mixed feelings about this. To travel around the world must have seemed an exciting adventure. But to leave her suitor behind, knowing that her father was determined to separate them, must have seemed cruel.

They were away for six months, from April to October, 1893. It would seem John’s strategy worked, because a year and a half after their return Alice did marry, not Dick Byrne but William Ross, my great grandfather.

Alice Ross
William was eleven years older than Alice, and a successful accountant. They had five daughters, one of which was my grandmother, Winifred Ross, born in 1901. They moved to Mosman in the early 1900s where they lived at 75 Raglan Street. They were married forty four years when William died in 1939. After William died Alice went to live with her daughter Ethel (Ep), in Northbridge, next door to my father, who was a little boy then. Alice Ross was around 67 at the time. Dad remembers her from his childhood.

Dick Byrne
So what happened to the young Irishman who Alice had been so in love with? In 1895, shortly after Alice’s marriage to William, Dick also married. He had met a young lady called Victoria Gray, the daughter of a couple both originally from Northern Ireland, but who had married in Wollongong and lived on the south coast of NSW. Victoria was born in Kiama, but when she and Dick married they settled in Drummoyne, not too far from William and Alice Ross, who lived in Burwood in Sydney’s inner west before they moved to Mosman. Dick and Victoria had a long and happy marriage and had seven children. Victoria died in 1941 leaving Dick a widow.

Alice Byrne
The flame between Alice and Dick had apparently never been extinguished. In 1944 Alice and Dick, both in their seventies, were finally united. Alice’s father, John Hickson, was still alive, by that time married for the third time, Alice’s mother having died in 1911. John was still opposed to his daughter’s union with Dick Byrne and it is said that he never forgave her. He died the following year, in 1945, just before the end of the war. Dick died in July 1946, leaving Alice a widow for the second time. They had been together barely two years.

Alone with her memories
Exactly when Alice died I have been unable to ascertain, but the electoral roll for 1958 shows her to have been living again in Mosman at the family residence, 75 Raglan Street. One public family tree on indicates that she died in 1962, but my father is uncertain of this date, and I have not found any documentary source to verify it.

However, I have come across a passenger list of arrivals in Australia in July 1949 which clearly states that Alice Byrne, of 75 Raglan Street, Mosman arrived in Fremantle from London. It would seem, then, that Alice returned to the old country in her old age a few years after Dick died. Where she went and what she did is uncertain. Did she visit Ireland again, where she had been so many years before? Did she meet relatives of her late husband still living there? What did she think as she walked the streets of Killorglin, where her father was born, and Killarney, where her second husband grew up?

Or did she go to Scotland, which she had also visited as a 21 year old with her father? Her first father-in-law, James Ross, came from the Highlands, north of Inverness, and perhaps she was curious to explore that part of her heritage. She had not been to the Highlands with her father, their journey having been limited to Glasgow and Edinburgh, and the country they saw from the train between the two cities.

Alice Hickson-Ross-Byrne was 77 when she returned to Australia in the winter of 1949. She lived out her days in Mosman within calling distance of four of her daughters who all lived in Sydney. One of her daughters had moved to Melbourne. My father remembers seeing his grandmother Alice from time to time.

My parents’ Hickson connection
When Dad married Mum in 1958, Alice was a grand old lady of Mosman. Although Dad seemed to have been unaware of it at the time, the girl he married, my mother Gwen Simmonds, was the granddaughter of Alice’s cousin, Susie Hickson (Byrne).

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