Forgotten tales

stories of my family

Archive for the tag “Sneem”

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)

Two nailors of Derryquin

William Hickson and George Byrne

I have known for some time that William Hickson (1832-1899) of Killorglin, who later migrated to America and then Australia, was a nailor. It says so clearly on his marriage certificate:

1858-marriage-hickson-needham-2

While looking through some records for George Byrne (1860-1929), who married William Hickson’s daughter Susie many years later in Australia, I discovered that his father, who was also named George, was also a nailor. It is recorded on George junior’s death certificate.

Death George Byrne:
July 28, 1929, Coast Hospital, Little Bay, Randwick
Late of 25 Cook Street, Lewisham
George Byrne, Clerk
69 years
Cerebral haemorrhage, Purpura haemorrhagica
Name and occupation of father: George Byrne, Nailor
Mother: Sarah Ruddle
When and where buried: 30 July 1929, Congregational Cemetery, Woronora
Name and religion of minister: William McFarlane, Brethren
Where born and how long in the Australian colonies, Killarney, Country Kerry, Ireland, 47 years
Place of marriage, age and to whom: Summerhill, 24, Susan Hickson
Children of marriage: Kathleen, Emily, Frances, William, Gertrude, Isobel. One male deceased.

This conflicts somewhat with a transcript of George’s birth record which I found through one of the genealogical search engines, which records his father as being a waiter:

Birth George Byrne:
http://churchrecords.irishgenealogy.ie/churchrecords/details/0b6ac10010627
Baptism 22 July 1860
Born 18 May 1860 Killarney, Kerry, Ireland
Father George Byrne, waiter
Mother Sarah

I have wondered what it means, that he was a waiter. Killarney today may be full of restaurants with waiters but in 1860 when George was born it was probably not the tourist mecca that it is now. I have wondered if he was a waiter in a large hotel, or the house of an aristocratic family, but finding the answer has eluded me. What I suspect is that George’s father was not a waiter at all, but a nailor, as the later death record indicates, and that the above record contains a mistake in the transcription. The Irish Genealogy website does not contain an image of the original church record and the two words nailor and waiter could easily be confused.

George Byrne (senior) of Killarney has been an elusive character thus far in my family history research. I have not been able to find the date of either his birth or death, only his marriage in Killarney on 24 February 1857 to Sarah Ruddle. However, assuming he was around 25 at the time, he would have been born around 1832, the same year as William Hickson.

So George Byrne (senior) of Killarney, was a contemporary of William Hickson of Killorglin, and they were both nailors. However, whereas William would leave Ireland in 1865 and migrate to first America and then Australia, George lived out his whole life, as far as I know, in Ireland.

The nail and bolt industry

What is a nailor? It is not a trade or profession that is familiar to the modern reader. However, nailors were in great demand in the days before the manufacture of nails and bolts was automated in the latter part of the nineteenth century. It was heavy work involving anvils and hammers and furnaces, somewhat akin to blacksmithing. Here is a description from industrial England which I found at a website cataloguing old occupations (http://rmhh.co.uk/occup/n-o.html):

In the early 19th century, in the neighbourhood of Birmingham alone, 60,000 people – men, women and children – were involved in the hand manufacture of iron nails. They turned out something like 200 tons of nails, of numerous varieties and levels of quality, every week. Commonly an entire family would work together, confining themselves to a particular class of nail.

There were about 300 sorts of wrought or forged iron nails alone. Specific names suggest the uses to which they were put – deck, wheelwright, hurdle, mop, etc. Further terms such as rose, clasp, diamond, pearl and sunken describe the shape of the nail head; and flat, sharp, spear, needle and refer to their points. The terms fine, bastard and strong described their thickness.

The very finest quality nails were used for horseshoes; each nail required at least 35 blows of the hammer to draw it out fine enough to prevent it from cracking or breaking off in the horse’s hoof. Most nails required at least 25 blows of the hammer to form them. When the shank had been drawn out from the red hot rod to the required length, it was inserted into a heading tool, cut, turned and struck on the anvil. During this process, the bellows had to be worked several times.

The workers who forged the nails on the anvil were known as Nailors or Naylors. Each could make as many as four nails a minute – that’s up to 3,000 a day.

What has happened to the traditional nail maker has happened to many other classes of industrial worker, who have seen their crafts swallowed up by automated processes or superceded by new inventions.

A book published in 1989 about nail making in the Midlands is called “Glory Gone: the Story of Nailing in Bromsgrove,” by Bill Kings & Margaret Cooper (Halfshire Books, 1989/1999).

There is a short review of this book at http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/GLOUCESTER/2010-05/1274520577:

‘Glory gone’ was the ironic comment of Bromsgrove’s last nailmaker on the area’s former staple trade. At its mid-nineteenth century peak it employed over three thousand people, 30 per cent of the population. Most of the physical evidence — the nailshops, cottages and warehouses — has long disappeared; but a visitor to the area one, even two, hundred years ago would have heard, seen and smelt the making of nails. This book tells the story of the hand wrought nail trade in the Bromsgrove area, examining the contrast between the prosperity of the sellers of nails, the masters and foggers, and the dreadful poverty of those who made those same nails, among them a high proportion of women and children. There is an account of the century-long struggle against low wages and the illegal truck system and a look at what nailers did when they were not toiling at the nailblock. Finally, there are short firsthand accounts recalling childhood days spent among nailers by four men and women who a decade ago were the last living links with the staple trade.

 

The Hickson and Byrne families

William Hickson married Mary Needham in 1858 in Templenoe, County Kerry (see marriage certificate). They were both 25. They had three children before migrating from Ireland to America in 1865. These Irish Hicksons were Richard (b.1859), Suzie (b.1861) and Lizzie (b.1863). The other three of their children, Sara, William and Charlie, were born in America, in the area near Boston where they lived. William worked, I believe, as a whitesmith. Then in 1877-78 they returned to Ireland for a short time before migrating again to Australia. During that short interlude in Ireland Suzie, my great grandmother, was around 16 years old. After moving to Australia I believe that William worked in his younger brother John’s timber company. The family appear to have been fairly well off. William died in 1899 but his wife Mary survived into the twentieth century and died in 1916 when the world was at war.

George Byrne married Sarah Ruddle in 1857 in Killarney. Their ages are not recorded on the marriage certificate. Information about their lives and family is scanty. I am uncertain of how many children they had, but I am aware of two sons who migrated to Australia: George (junior) was born in 1860 in Killarney (see above), and Richard around 10 years later in 1870. There were no doubt many others in between (and George junior may not have been the first) but I have no record of the others.

Where and when George and Sarah died and were buried is at present unknown to me, but I believe that George probably died before 1876, in his mid forties. I have a copy of a document recording George junior’s indenture to Roger Martin, a general merchant in Killorglin, in 1876. It is signed by George’s mother, Sarah Byrne, which suggests that his father was dead. George was 15 or 16 at the time and served Roger Martin for 5 years, after which he migrated to Australia. I suspect that Richard Byrne may have also been indentured to Roger Martin 10 years later, before he too migrated to Australia, but I have no evidence of this at present. I have previously written about a possible Richard Byrne-Roger Martin connection.

There are lots of commonalities in the Hickson and Byrne families. Both William Hickson and George Byrne (senior) were nailors. Both married around the same time – George first, to Sarah Ruddle, in 1857, and a year later William, to Mary Needham. Both couples appear to have been living in Killarney around 1860 and the years after that, since that is where William and Mary’s first three children were born, and where George and Sarah’s son George was born.

The two families were joined in 1885 when George junior, recently arrived in Sydney from Ireland married Suzie. George and Suzie Byrne were my mother’s Irish born grandparents. They had six children, five girls (one of whom was my grandmother) and a boy. George was a businessman and worked for IXL jams in Sydney. They were staunch members of the Brethren assemblies in Sydney.

The Brethren connection

It is this connection with the Brethren that fascinates me. The Hicksons and the Byrnes were both Protestant families in predominantly Catholic Kerry. In 1861 a revival broke out amongst the Protestants in Kerry, initially in the area around Templenoe where Mary Hickson (Needham) lived before her marriage to William Hickson. The revival resulted in the formation of Plymouth Brethren assemblies in Ireland. Mary’s family were profoundly affected by the revival – her four youngest brothers all became evangelists in North America, part of the spiritual awakening connected with DL Moody’s ministry. There seems little doubt that William and Mary were members of the Plymouth Brethren in Kerry before they departed for America, and that they carried this version of the Christian faith with them first to America and later to Australia.

George and Suzie Byrne, after they married in Sydney in 1885, raised a family in the strict traditions of the Brethren assemblies. The effects of this on their six children were not entirely positive – but that is another story. However, it indicates that George Byrne was almost certainly a part of the Brethren movement in Kerry prior to his migration to Australia in 1882. This in turn makes me fairly certain that his parents, George and Sarah, were part of a Brethren assembly in Killarney.

The two nailors of Derryquin

It is all conjecture, but all this leads me to the belief that William Hickson and George Byrne were friends in Kerry in the 1850s and 60s. They were the same age and were both nailors. William was from Killorglin and George from Killarney, but William lived in Sneem as a young man and it seems likely that he worked on the Derryquin Estate, near Sneem. I suspect his parents had taken the family there in search of work at the time of the Great Famine. William’s father was also a nailor. Although I have at present no evidence, I wonder if George Byrne also moved to Sneem during the late forties or early fifties. I like to believe that it was in Sneem and at Derryquin that William and George’s friendship was established. There is no doubt that the estate employed a number of nailors, as described by TE Stoakley in his book, Sneem, the Knot in the Ring:

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

William met his future wife in Sneem. Her name was Mary Needham and she was the oldest daughter of the Needham family of Templenoe, a village just a few miles east of Sneem toward Kenmare. William married Mary in 1858, but by that time, according to their wedding certificate, William was living in Killarney. Their first three children were all born in Killarney.

George actually married the year before William, in 1857. His wife was Sarah Ruddle, and church records show that they married in Killarney. Whether Sarah was a Killarney girl from the beginning or not is uncertain. I have little knowledge of George and Sarah’s children, but I know that they had at least two sons born respectively in 1860 and 1870, in Killarney. They were named George and Richard, and both would end up migrating to Australia, George in 1882 and Richard about 10 years later.

Both the Hicksons and the Byrnes seem to have been quite impacted by the Kerry Revival that broke out in Templenoe and Sneem in 1861, even if both young families were by that time living in Killarney. The two families may have been part of the same Brethren assembly in Killarney in the early 1860s.

Separation

But then William and Mary and their young family decided to emigrate, and were thus separated from their friends George and Sarah and their children, who stayed behind in Kerry. The Hickson children grew up near Boston in the USA while the Byrne children grew to maturity in County Kerry.

Then in 1877 the Hicksons came back. Sadly, William’s old friend George had died a few years before and Sarah was a young widow. How she fed her family I have no idea, though her son George, who was in the first year of his apprenticeship in Killorglin to the general merchant, Roger Martin, would have been helping pay the bills. But it must have been exciting for her to meet her old friends, William and Mary, and for the children of the two families to get to know each other. Three of the Hickson children had never seen Ireland before, and there were several Byrne children who had not been born when William and Mary had left with their little family in 1865.

Suzie Hickson was 16 when they came home, just a year younger than George and Sarah’s oldest son, George. I have a feeling that the seeds of a romance between George and Suzie were planted during that short sojourn of the Hickson family in Ireland, those few fleeting months before the Hickson family emigrated for the second time, this time to Australia. I suspect that it was in those months that George decided his future. He would serve his time with Roger Martin and support his mother and siblings, but then he too would emigrate. He realised that his destiny lay in Australia, with the girl who had captured his heart, his Irish-American-Australian sweetheart. But it would be five long years before he would see her again.

Sarah Byrne, however, would never see her friends William and Mary Hickson again. As far as I can discern neither William (who died in 1899) nor Mary (who survived until 1916) ever returned to Ireland, and Sarah never saw Australia. The two nailers of Derryquin had waved farewell to each other for the last time in 1865 when the Hicksons left for America. In 1878 their wives did the same, as the Hicksons sailed away again, for a new life in Australia.

Sneem

dsc_1989

Sneem Bridge

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

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

Some part of his boyhood was spent in the picturesque village of Sneem, on the wild rocky coast of Kerry, where he had Needham relatives.

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

derryquin-castle

 

Stoakley describes the estate in his book as follows:

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

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

When?

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

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

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

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

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

The day was advancing, the bright sun was pouring
Its beams through the leaves of the Elms in the Grove,
The lark which the morn had seen loftily soaring,
Had descended to guard the soft nest of it’s love.

The fair Laune was following in majestic splendour,
The trout replied brisk to the angler’s fly,
The reeds in the distance rose brighter and grander,
All nature seemed pleased that last day of July.

O’er the field the light breezes of midsummer softly
The meadows and bright corn whispering wooed
Midst their shade undisturbed sang the Cormeraks gaily
And the Cuckoo’s note rang loud tones from the wood.

Mid such scenes of such beauty and fullest enjoyment,
This baby was born with tribute to pay
I have spared a few moments for mental employment,
To con a few lines for his twentieth birthday.

As a child in his cradle I rocked him to slumber
Oft his bright chubby form I have nursed on my knee
But as boy our firm friendship was riven asunder,
For early he crossed o’er Atlantic’s blue sea.

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

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

The “fragrance of a withered rose”

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

Sneem Church

Church of the Transfiguration

 

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

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

The spiritual legacy of Sneem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sneem

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

 

 

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The colours of Sneem

Our Hickson ancestry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Places in Kerry – family origins

Our Irish forebears originated from County Kerry, in the South West of Ireland. A number of places in Kerry are significant in the family story: Killarney, home of the Byrne family, Killorglin, home of the Hicksons. Templenoe, home of the Needhams. Sneem,  a few miles west of Templenoe, also gets mentioned in old records, and I suspect was the home of William Hickson after he married Mary Needham. A place in Dingle, The Grove, is said to be the ancestral seat of the Hicksons.

I have never been to Kerry but it appears to be an very beautiful part of Ireland. Today it is a popular tourist destination, with its famous motoring route – the so called Ring of Kerry. Skellig Michael, an island off the coast of Kerry, recently made millions of viewers around the world aware of this part of the world, when it was featured in the latest Star Wars film.

Kerry selection 1901

Extract of a map published on David Rumsey Historical Map Collection. Ireland SW 1901

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