Julia Brien, A Fiery Orphan from Kilkenny

Tenth in Tinteán‘s Series on Earl Grey Irish Famine Girls by Jon Heppell (married to a descendant, Gail Heppell).

Julia Brien (aka Brine, O’Brien, O’Brine) (1833 – 1909), who disembarked on 29 November 1849 in Port Jackson, Sydney from the barque Lismoyne (departed Plymouth, England. on 22 August 1849), was born in about 1833 in Kilkenny Ireland, to parents William and May (or Mary, née Collins). Her immigration documents described her as a 16-year-old orphaned farm servant, unable to either read or write, of good character and without relatives in the Colony.

Prior to her migration, Julia was resident at the Kilkenny Workhouse, an institution for the destitute opened in 1842 to house 1300 inmates. By 1849, they numbered over 2000, growing within a year to 3000, undoubtedly exacerbated by the great famine. Workhouse conditions were Dickensian, made as unattractive as possible, as the poor were considered feckless and undeserving. Food was of poor quantity and quality, and strict segregation of the sexes ensured families were split up. There were many cases of cholera and dysentery. Inmates were put to work at menial tasks of no commercial worth.

Under the Earl Grey sponsored migration scheme … a) to relieve this overcrowding of Ireland’s workhouses and … b) to resettle young, typically orphaned, female victims of the Irish Famine as domestic workers, and potential brides for the predominantly male population of the Australian colonies, those young Irish girls transported to New South Wales lived for a time at Hyde Park Barracks, until their future was decided.

From the Immigration Depot at Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney, Julia was initially employed, in an unspecified capacity, by a Richard Harnett (an established broker, agent and merchant of O’Connell St), apparently for one year, with remuneration of £8.

Julia married William Page in St Mary’s Roman Catholic pre-Cathedral in Sydney on 14 July 1851. At least two children were born to the couple — John in 1856, and Eliza in 1858. Julia first came to the attention of the courts, in July 1857, by alleging she was assaulted by one Honora Torphy. This allegation was dismissed in court, Honora counter-accused Julia of using insulting language towards her, which was proven and Julia was fined 20 shillings plus 24 shillings and sixpence court costs. This first court appearance was indicative of Julia’s fiery temperament, fuelled by a penchant for alcohol and abusive language and which was the cause of just about every one of her subsequent brushes with the law.

In 1859 Julia and William endured the worst experience of parenthood imaginable, as little Eliza died in January, aged one year, followed in June by her brother John, at age three. This tragedy was perhaps the motivation for William to go bush, leading to Julia’s admission to the  Sydney Benevolent Asylum on 20 August 1860 and discharge on 19 September 1860, at her own request. Details in the inmate journal state Married — husband to diggings. Destitute’.  She was admitted again the next day and discharged 10 October 1860.

In October 1861, William Page appeared in court to answer the complaint of Julia his wife, for having deserted her and left her without the means of support. He was ordered to pay 10 shillings weekly for 12 months. This payment was reduced in January 1862 from 10 shillings to six shillings, on the basis of his own diminished circumstances. Less than six months later, in May 1862, Julia was charged with drunkenness and riotous conduct and spent 48 hours in gaol.

On 12 July 1863, Julia bore an illegitimate child to Jemmy Tick, named Eliza (registered as Tick) at St Anne’s, Liverpool Rd, Burwood. Jemmy was born in Hong Kong in about 1824 of Chinese ethnicity,  a wood carter, charcoal smoker and oyster worker. One newspaper report suggested that he used up to 10 aliases.  Somewhat itinerant, police records show him working in the Parramatta Bush, and as far away as Port Stephens. Julia’s liaison with a Chinese man was uncommon at the time. Given the location of her arrests around the Haymarket, which was already overshadowing the earlier Chinatown in The Rocks, it may be she interacted with the Chinese community more than many of her peers. The relationship was short-lived.

Julia took Jemmy to court for the maintenance of their illegitimate daughter, and the court ordered him to pay seven shillings and sixpence a week. This was more than likely instigated by the Benevolent Asylum from whom she sought help for the third time, staying from 14 October 1863 for three weeks with her child, now known as Eliza Page and aged three months. The inmate journal describes Julia as ‘age 25, per ‘Lismon’, with Eliza Page age three months who had been ‘deserted by husband — four months’. She was allowed out of the asylum on 5 November but did not return — ‘absconded with child’. A medical report from the same time stated Julia was suffering from catarrh and on 3 November she came before the committee who recommended she remain in the asylum for another two weeks due to her delicate health.

Things started to go downhill rapidly for Julia in 1864. She was charged with using abusive words towards John Swan Sing in February 1864 and spent 48 hrs in gaol. In September of the same year, she was gaoled for seven days for using obscene language in Hay Street. In the gaol records, Julia is described as having light brown hair, brown eyes, and about 4ft 10 inches tall, able to read, and a Catholic.

In early January 1865, Julia was charged with using obscene language and spent 48 hours in gaol. She was no sooner out than in again and then spent another month for vagrancy. By February 1865, she was again convicted of vagrancy and using obscene language in Gipps Street (now Barlow St, Haymarket) and sentenced to three months gaol. After this Julia, now aged 32, disappears from the records and there is no other record of a conviction or gaol sentence to be found under her name or of a Julia from the Lismoyne.

Julia’s husband William Page died in July 1868 at Pyramul, near Mudgee from exposure to the weather while intoxicated. Described as a digger, he was still pursuing his dream of finding gold. Julia left Sydney sometime after 1865, possibly not uncommon for those of her peers at the time, to escape the pernicious culture of urban Sydney.

In 1877, at age 44, she married widower John Dray at the St John the Baptist Anglican Church in Mudgee, at which time she was described as a widowed domestic assistant. John was a 57-year old farmer, patriarch of the extensive Dray family originating in Ruckinge, Kent. They both resided at Coomeala Flat on the Munmurra Brook (a tributary of the Goulburn River, south from Cassilis).

William Page ‘Junior’

By 1884 Julia had left the home she shared with John, an acrimonious separation which led to a public repudiation by Mr Dray, in various local newspapers. It is family lore that Julia, accompanied by daughter Eliza and grandson William Page Jnr (about one year old), then took up residence in Muswellbrook, at least prior to Eliza’s marriage to Isaac Budden, in Muswellbrook, in November 1885. It was implied that Eliza was a young widow and that Page was not her maiden name. The subterfuge extended to the identity of William Page Jnr’s father being a William Page Snr, whereas in fact there was no father recorded at his birth (at which Julia Dray was a witness).




This marriage led to improved circumstances for the Page women, as Isaac was a widowed scion of the successful Budden family, pioneers in Muswellbrook since the late 1830s. The family-owned, operated or managed several businesses and properties, including farms, an extensive sheep run (St Helliers), a saddlery, a tailory, hotels and guest houses. By 1901 Julia Dray was confirmed resident in Muswellbrook and at the stated age of 65, was in receipt of a Government Pension. She lived in her later years near St. James Catholic Church and was cared for in her final weeks by Eliza, in the Budden’s Family Hotel in Sydney St. Muswellbrook where she died on  7 August 1909, of heart disease accelerated by an attack of pneumonia, (her stated age was 79, but actually 76 according to her immigration record). By then, she had a grandson and 3 grand-daughters.

Kevin Wilder, Bessie’s son, and the great, great grandson of Julia.

Bessie Budden, Julia’s great grandchild, at her wedding to Ernest Wilder.












It is interesting to note that knowledge of Julia’s tumultuous, if shortlived, association with the Chinese man, James (or Jem or Jemmy) Tick, was repressed among Eliza’s descendants for generations, and has only been acknowledged in recent years within the family.

Jon Heppell

Jon Heppell’s interest in genealogy was inspired by his late father-in-law, Jeffery Wilder, who researched his family before the internet. Jon, in using computerised records, uncovered more of the story. He acknowledges the assistance of Julie Poulter, Sydney Living Museums, the Irish Famine Memorial, and the NSW State Archives.

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