Ghosts of Irish-Australia: Barnaby Fitzpatrick

By Neill Fitzpatrick

My name is Barnaby Fitzpatrick, and I have long ago departed this world. I was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1784 and passed away in 1839 under a bit of a cloud. A coroner’s inquest found cause of death was ‘felco-de-se’ which is Latin for one who commits suicide. Don’t judge me too harshly, even though I was a Catholic, as I was in a lot of pain at the time, and medical treatment was virtually nonexistent in 1839 where I lived at Cowpasture in the Narellan region of New South Wales. I was living with my eldest son John and his family who had taken me in after my retirement on 22 June 1838. I had retired as the Chief Bailiff and Cryer for the Court of Requests in Sydney. That was after 22 years of public service. At the time of my retirement, I was earning £155 sterling per annum. Not bad for an ex-convict. Nobody wanted to know convicts in early British settlement of Australia and now family historians are eager to find a connection to a convict in their family tree. How times have changed.

My memory is not so good these days, so I’m reaching out to you the readers to help my three times great grandson, Neill Fitzpatrick. He has been putting together the family history, learnt about Irish and Australian history, and met many interesting people along the journey. A highlight was guest attendance at the 200-year anniversary of the commencement of St Mary’s Cathedral choir in Sydney which my wife Catherine Fitzpatrick (Milling) started. We arrived in Sydney Harbour in 1811 on the Providence with our two sons, John and Columbus.

Neill has uncovered evidence that I was a good father, Catholic, hardworking, ambitious and most likely well connected while living in Dublin. A court in that city found me guilty of stealing a monetary note, probably like a cheque these days, with the sentence being death by public hanging on the balcony at Newgate prison, Dublin. Interesting that I was carrying a letter with several monetary notes and only one went missing for £27 5s. Hardly a king’s ransom. Why would I take only one note when I was the letter delivery person when I could have taken them all? Maybe the monetary note wasn’t put in the letter at all?

Anyhow, I absconded after a notice was published seeking my whereabouts with £100 reward. I was captured and committed for trial. The principal witness against me was my cousin Catherine Wilson. A friend of mine, Mr Flannigan entered security of £200 and he stated he would be happy to put up £2,000 even after I was found guilty. Catherine Wilson received the £100 reward: so much for family loyalty. At the end of the trial, I received a death sentence with the date of execution being Saturday 25 March, 1809. The sentence was commuted to life and I was transported to New South Wales as a convict. The vessel Providence sailed on 10 Dec 1810, arriving in Port Jackson, Sydney after a voyage just short of seven months.

The ship’s log extract dated 21 April, 1811 reads, ‘Fitzpatrick with 50 lashes for insolence and contempt to doctor Hughes in the prison’ on board the ship. On arrival I was 28 years old and accompanied by my wife Catherine and our two sons, John (3) and Columbus (less than 1). The British recorded my first name as ‘Bernard’ which remained with me for the rest of my life. I initially settled and worked with my family on a farm at Portland Head on the Hawkesbury River. A petition was lodged in 1817 for the mitigation of my sentence, and the following year I received a Conditional Pardon. I worked for some years as a constable in Sydney.

Being it was assumed that I had died by suicide, I was permitted a burial in a Catholic cemetery (St John’s Campbelltown, Sydney) in unconsecrated ground only. Catherine outlived me by some years and died on 31 July 1861. I was the poster boy to the English that convicts could be rehabilitated successfully in Australia.

Neill Fitzpatrick is a fourth generation descendant of John Fitzpatrick, the oldest of Catherine’s sons. His father was named John, keeping alive the family tradition of naming the first born son ‘John’. Neill is a retired finance manager. He has travelled to Ireland to play golf, but at the time wasn’t aware of his family history. Now as an avid family historian he may well have to return to Dublin. 

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