By Wendy Diamond and Frank O’Shea

It is accepted that, compared to other counties, Clare, Limerick and Tipperary provided a higher number of migrants to Australia. One such family was the Leddins from the Hospital-Emly border area of Limerick/Tipperary. The surname is German in origin, and there is a story that the original Leddin came to Ireland in the late 1700s to fight against the English.

The Australian Leddin line began after Margaret (aged 19) and her sister Mary, two years younger, emigrated from the Hospital area of Limerick. They joined the Hotspur out of Liverpool, arriving in Melbourne in June 1855. It is recorded that their mother had made each of them a shroud in case some calamity should befall them. They were under the care of a Gleeson cousin who brought them from Melbourne to live in Port Fairy (at that time called Belfast).

Margaret and Mary Leddin

Among the passengers on the Hotspur list were a number of Gleesons and Bourkes, all with address in ‘Tiperary’. All are recorded as RC; Margaret and Mary are among a small number who attract the letters R.W. under the heading of education. Two years later, their parents and seven siblings emigrated to Australia on board the Chance. Large numbers of families had left the area around Hospital and Emly and there is a family story that the Leddins ran a small shop which had to be knocked down because it spoiled the landlord’s view. Our story follows the two young women in their new lives in Australia.

Margaret Leddin

We learn that Margaret married Richard Hope Wilson, born of English migrants to the Cape of Good Hope. He had come from there to South Australia with his two brothers in 1857 on the Witch of the Sea; all three brothers appeared to have been builders/architects/engineers. Margaret and Richard were married in May 1859 in the presbytery of the local Catholic church in Port Fairy.

Richard was a member of the strict Plymouth Brethren and a mixed marriage such as this was unusual. Margaret would take her children to Mass on Sundays under the pretence of going to the Church of England service. After she died in 1897, Richard would not allow her to be buried in the Catholic section of the Port Fairy cemetery, but her brothers stole her body and had it buried with her parents in nearby Yambuk. Richard also banned card playing and the rest of the family would wait until he was away before they started a game.

Richard Hope Wilson and wife Margaret (Leddin)

Richard Wilson was a successful businessman in Port Fairy. As well as his work as a blacksmith, he became involved in designing and building windmills. He also manufactured and patented hedge shears and a pruner which was used by the Melbourne Zoological Gardens. He and Margaret and all but one of their children spent half a dozen years in the south island of New Zealand before returning to Port Fairy. He died in 1922, aged 87.

Mary Leddin

The other original Leddin girl, 17-year old Mary, married Thomas Madden in 1863. At that stage, she was aged 26 and he was 30. The Madden name is common in the Galway-Clare-Offaly part of Ireland. Thomas was the oldest in a large family of 12 from the Killaloe area of Co Clare. The family lived through the worst of the Famine; five of their children died, though it is not clear whether those were Famine deaths. The remainder boarded a steamer from Killaloe to Liverpool, from where they boarded the Almora in early 1854, arriving in Portland in April. The following year, the family settled on Yambuk property, purchased at auction; their son Thomas farmed the land there until he met Mary Leddin.

It is said that the Leddins were a musical family and there are stories of the Leddin and Madden families meeting for musical nights and it is easy to imagine that this was a help to 30-year old Thomas and Mary coming together. They were married in June 1863 in Port Fairy and settled in Yambuk where their six children were born.

The Madden family were very prominent in the public life and church life of the Port Fairy and Yambuk area for many years. More than one member of the family became a nun, one studied at Xavier College with the intention of joining the Jesuits, but he had to leave for health reasons and died young. The oldest of Thomas and Mary’s children worked as a rate collector in the Belfast Shire; he was known as ‘Gosh’ because that was the strongest word he used.

Religion, education, music and sport were important elements on all sides of the Madden family. They ran greyhounds and one of them owned a successful racehorse called ‘Wint Alva’. That sporting tradition lasted to modern times. Simon Madden and his younger brother Justin were household names in Australian Rules Football for many years. After retiring, Justin was elected to the Victorian Parliament on behalf of the Labor Party and served as Minister for Sport and Recreation for a number of years. Both men are great grandsons of Mary Leddin, sent from her home in Hospital-Emly, her only piece of luggage a shroud.

And so to modern times

In January 1997, the many descendants of the Leddin family had a two-day reunion in Port Fairy and Yambuk. There was much discussion and poring over photographs and documents. For those of us actively doing research, it was wonderful to see so much material and to show some of our ‘stuff’ to the others. After dinner that first night, each of the original Leddin children was presented to the reunion by one of their descendants in the form of a short talk. In between those talks there was entertainment from descendants of Mary Leddin – Shane, Marcia and Damian Howard, with Irish dancing provided by Paul Madden and Teresa Howard Healy. After Mass the next day, the large group moved to the graves of the original Leddins at Yambuk cemetery.

Headstone over grave of William and Johanna and their older daughter Margaret.

At the end of the two-day gathering, Paul Madden and Shane Howard, both great-grandsons of Mary Leddin cleaned the gravesite of William and Johanna Leddin and their daughter Margaret Wilson. The gravestone next to them was that of Thomas Madden. It was badly broken and fallen on its face. Paul and Shane, assisted by some others, managed to turn the headstone over and found to everyone’s delight that Mary Leddin, wife of Thomas was also buried there as was their son Thomas who had studied to become a Jesuit. The burial place of the two Thomases, father and son, had hitherto been unaccounted for.

Wendy Diamond is a retired schoolteacher. She is a great-granddaughter of Margaret Leddin.


  1. My great grandmother, Mary Lamb, also arrived on the Hotspur in 1855. She was 8 years old and was accompanied by her 13 year old sister and 14 year old brother. They were to join their parents who had arrived in Portland in 1852. According to immigration records in the new Victorian parliament, the Surgeon Superintendent on the Hotspur was fined heavily for dereliction of duty, as was the Captain. I can only imagine what it must have been like for a young child and for the Leddin sisters. Perhaps they became acquainted on the voyage. The Lambs wwere from Lorrha in County Tipperary. She would eventually settle near Ballarat where she married Patrick Ryan from Mayne in Tipperary. I enjoyed your recount of the Leddi

  2. Fantastic read my mother was Mary Douglas in 1957 she married Frank O’ Brien I am the oldest of 7 her mother was Winifred Douglas her maiden name was Leddin so we are connected through Mary cousins to the Maddens and the Howard’s

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