By Barbara Dibbin
My name is Bridget Gorman. I was born on October 23, 1818 in Co Tipperary, Ireland. My parents were Mary Britten and Edward Gorman and I was baptised in Thurles Abbey. After I grew up, my sister Alice and I ran a ‘house’ (probably a shebeen. Ed) not far from the police station; it wasn’t particularly profitable, but it was all we could do to survive. Everybody up here is friendly and no one mentions it.
Then Alice married a policeman named Martin Morgan and we had to close our business. The three of us decided to accept assisted migration to Port Phillip, arriving on 18 January 1841 on the Sir Charles Forbes. We set up residence in Newtown, Geelong and a fellow-constable of Martin’s, a man named William O’Neill, moved in with us as my fiancée.
William and I were to be married and indeed the wedding party was assembled, but he failed to turn up. I sued him for breach of promise, the first case of its kind in the colony, and on November 20, 1841, I was awarded £100 in damages, a sizeable sum in those days. My defence counsel was Redmond Barry who would go on to more significant cases in the future.
On April 9, 1842 we finally married; my twins William and Mary were born two days later. I know what you are probably thinking and indeed Peter had a good look at me when I was coming through the gate, but he explained that special concessions were made for the Irish from those times, because things were different then.
My little son William died in infancy, but Mary survived to be a beautiful young woman, even if I say so myself. She married James McCormack and went on to raise a large family. She lived to be 95, dying in 1937. At the time, her widowed daughter was living with her and she told me that on the morning she died, she had milked their cow and returned to announce that she was going to die that day and asked for the priest.
To return to my husband William or Bill. He became respectable in his old age, serving on juries and liked to be called Sir William or even Lord O’Neill, claiming unlikely descent from the O’Neills of Tyrone. We moved to our property in Keilor. He named it Horsheshoe Bend farm, now part of Brimbank Park. I had nine children altogether, three dying in infancy and another one, Alice, died in her twenties.
I died on April 9, 1870 and was buried at Keilor Cemetery. From my story, you can see that I was someone who stood up for myself, carrying that reputation on even after I died. I asked that my tombstone carry my ‘maiden’ name. The history books say that this was rare in those times and can only indicate my strong sense of my own identity and the respect that my family had for that. Two of my daughters are buried with me, as is my husband. And you wouldn’t want to pay much heed to the spellings of our names on the tombstone.
I was never able to read or write and was not always regarded as respectable in my young days, but settled into uprightness as I raised my large family. I look down now with great satisfaction on my descendants, many with university education, all hardworking and upright citizens who are devoted to their families.
Barbara Dibbin, a retired nursing sister, is the great granddaughter of Bridget’s daughter Mary Gorman, mentioned above, who married James McCormack.