Ghosts of Irish Australia, Patrick Cunningham.

By John Howe

My name is Patrick Cunningham. I was born in County Clare, Ireland, in 1806. My wife was Ellen Finn who was born in 1826 in Broadford in the same county. We married on 14 February, 1846, in Tullagh. I could neither read nor write and was a farm labourer at that time. We soon had three children, John, Michael, and Mary and then decided to emigrate to Australia. There were many other Irish people and families emigrating to Australia at that time because of the farming opportunities, but also the strong allure of the successes being achieved in gold seeking over a very large area. So we decided to try our luck in this new, faraway country.

We left from the Port of Plymouth on 25 August 1858 on board the Forest Monarch. We lost our daughter Mary before reaching our destination. Ellen gave birth on-board to a new daughter, Margaret. The ship was quarantined on arrival in Sydney, where we arrived on 21 Dec 1858. There were 16 deaths on board during the journey, and five births. Ellen had another daughter, Elizabeth on 17 October 1860 in Sydney. We moved to Picton, NSW, from there. We had five more children in Picton up until 1870. My wife Ellen passed away on 8 July 1872, and I lived for another ten years, dying in 1882 in Picton.

Most of my descendants moved to Western Australia, although some stayed for some time in Walgett NSW. Their activities included farming and gold mining in different areas. My third son, Thomas Joseph Cunningham, had particularly interesting experiences in the Murchison area from about 1896. This was about 500 km inland from Geraldton, WA where he was manager of a hotel in Black Range. The hotel was burnt down after about a year and was immediately rebuilt. Thomas married Margaret Holland who was from Peverill, NSW. They had ten children, most of whom remained in WA. However, Ethel, the fourth child, went to Melbourne to live and Daisy followed her at 19 to be bridesmaid at her wedding. Daisy also remained in Melbourne and made her life there.

Daisy took her son John to WA in 1948 by train, during the year-end school holidays and visited all of her relatives while there. She didn’t stay many weeks because she didn’t want John having too late a school re-start in the new year. They also enjoyed the experiences of meeting local Indigenous people who visited the trains while they had stops across the Nullarbor for fuel and water. The Indigenous people were selling home-made artefacts all for about ‘2 bob’ (2 shillings). Unfortunately just under ten years after Daisy and John experienced this meeting, some of these people were subjected to radiation exposure from the nearby Maralinga nuclear test site; this was despite claims to the contrary from the British authorities in charge of the test programme.

Late in 1974, Daisy travelled back to WA by car for a short holiday, again with her second son John and his family this time. They caught up with lots of the greater Cunningham family and also travelled to Geraldton for Daisy to refresh memories of her past there. They toured Geraldton and John’s family were amazed that Daisy showed little interest in what they showed her. They only found out later after Daisy’s death in 1980 that she was certainly born in Geraldton hospital, but spent no other time there. During this visit there with John and family they also travelled a bit further north to spend time with another group of Cunninghams; these were her older brother Cecil’s family who were having a beach holiday at Kalbarri. Before arriving at Kalbarri, they took a detour to enable a visit to the Hutt River Province which had recently been declared a province by ‘Prince Leonard’, seceding from the Commonwealth of Australia. The photograph shows Prince Leonard welcoming Daisy with John’s family.

Daisy’s father, Thomas, died in Perth in 1913 leaving young children. His wife couldn’t handle the responsibilities so put the young children in an orphanage in Perth. She had a new partner, John Smith, with whom she left Australia and went to New Zealand to settle in The Bluff, at the bottom of the South Island. Some of the children did make contact with her later.

By and large the Cunninghams continued on with their preferred farming existence at least until the latter half of the twentieth century. I’m sure they would have heaps more to tell us, if only we could find them, or wake them all up, and have a good old chat together. I guess that will have to wait a while until the technology gurus can find a way of doing that. Meanwhile I’ll go back to where I came from in Co. Clare and leave someone else to show the way.

John Howe is retired and lives in Melbourne. He is son of Daisy Cunningham, and great-grandson of Patrick Cunningham.