Thomas Speechley at Currambene

Bush walking and family history are not often commonly associated. However on my morning walk along Currambene Creek off Jervis Bay I revisited a favourite site of mine which has both local and family history significance.

During summer I look forward to visiting Myola and as well as enjoying the delights of Jervis Bay, I take at least one morning walk though the neighbouring bushland. From Myola Road, I head along Catherine Street that runs north past the last house following Currambene Creek until the sealed pavement comes to an end near the local boat ramp. Beyond that point the dirt track is generally passable only in a four wheel drive vehicle used mostly by free campers along the creek. My walk route is generally triangular and after leaving the creek the track heads towards Callala, again rutted with evidence of trail bikes. The final leg is a well maintained fire trail back to Myola Road.

Recent rain had helped the breeding of mosquitoes but even these don’t really detract from the pleasure of listening to the chorus of cicadas that spasmodically rose to thunderous proportions ensuring that even on the cooler morning it was a reminder of summer.

About five minutes walk past the boat ramp there are a number of pine bollards beside the track marking the path to the lone grave of six year old Thomas Speechley who died over a hundred years ago. If you weren’t aware it was there you would miss the notice erected by the National Parks and Wildlife Service about the site. Along the path past the notice, the grave sits within its bush setting with clear evidence of regular visits.

Finding the grave site
About the Grave…
There it is

The grave provides a glimpse into the history of the area and the Speechley family and is a place I visit every time I take this bush walk.

Thomas Speechley

A lot has been written about Thomas’s grave and by googling him you can find details of his tragic death as well some local and aboriginal history of Currambene.

I have distance Speechley cousins in my own family tree and one day I will delve further into that family to see if I have a connections with Thomas’s family.

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Edward Leech and Malmsbury

While on a recent family history road trip in Victoria, which was otherwise unfruitful, I saw the turn-off to Malmsbury (some 86 kms north-west of Melbourne), alerting my genealogical antenna with its connection with my great-great Grandfather, Edward Leech.

Some time ago I was contacted by Susan Walter, who was undertaking a PhD thesis entitled ‘Malmsbury Bluestone and Quarries: Finding Holes in History and Heritage’. During her research Susan came across the 1861 birth record for Martha Elizabeth Leech at Malmsbury and finding my family website where my Leech family is identified, she took the trouble to email me. At the time I had no idea that Edward and his family had lived anywhere else but Sydney after their arrival from England, but more of that shortly.

Of course I took that turn-off.

The connections were due to Edward being a stonemason and the building of the Malmsbury railway viaduct using the local bluestone. The viaduct is a significant historic structure and was the largest masonry arch railway bridge in Victoria at the time. It has 5 spans totalling 100 meters long and is 25 metres high. The dark blue granular basalt, or bluestone, quarried in Malmsbury was used widely on important buildings throughout Victoria including Parliament House.

Malmsbury Railway Viaduct

The bridge itself was part of the railway line connecting Melbourne and Bendigo over the Coliban River where prospectors used to cross on their way to the Castlemaine goldfields. The viaduct itself was constructed between 1858 and 1860 with the railway opening in July 1861.

All the documentation relating to Edward Leech refers to him as a stonemason. He was born in 1812 in the Herefordshire village of Wellington where his father Anthony Leach was also born. Wellington is 51/2 miles north of Hereford on the Leominster Road and seems to have had a relative static population over the years of between 600 to 700 people. Its parish church dates from the 12th century and has been added to over the centuries. There is a quarry less than a mile from the village which probably gave Edward his living.

No other record was found of him or his family in the area. He is not found in the 1841 or 1851 censuses and it is assumed he moved to the London area where on 1 August 1852 he married Martha Thwaites at Kennington in Surrey, although according to informant, Edward on the NSW birth certificate of his daughter, my great grandmother, Emmelina it was at Camberwell in London.

On 30 September 1854 he departed from the Port of London on the ship Queen of England with Martha and daughters Mary Jane and Anne bound for New South Wales. The family reached Sydney on 9 January 1855 and when Emmelina was born on 30 August 1856 they were living at Maryland, Camden, County of Cumberland. The Maryland homestead and outbuildings are historically significant and some are made of stone masonry. It is not known whether Edward was involved in their construction.

Being a stonemason and it is assumed that work on the Malmsbury viaduct took him and the family to Victoria where baby Martha Elizabeth was born on 14 February in 1861.

Soon after the new daughter and the opening on the railway the “Leich family”, in August 1861, is recorded on local shipping aboard the Wonga Wonga from Melbourne back to Sydney. By 1864 home was at Botany Road, Waterloo where Edward lived until he died on 19 September 1877. Within two years Martha was also dead. They were buried next to each other at the Necropolis, Rookwood Cemetery. Of their four daughters two were already married and Emmelina and Martha Elizabeth were wed in the year of their mother’s death.

In his will Edward again referred to himself as a stonemason and living at Leechs building, Botany Road, Waterloo. Can it be construed that he was successful at his trade over his lifetime?

 

Kangaroo Island, Flinders and Baudin

Kangaroo Island was never on the top of our list of places we must visit, but when we were able to accompany good friends on their four day excursion we jumped at the chance and were glad we did. It followed on from our Murray River cruise and, of course, was only a short hop from Adelaide where that trip finished. I had some expectations of what we would find on the island in terms of scenery, wildlife and probably its isolation but were surprised at how it would be so historically significant.

At Penneshaw

Our home for the visit was at Penneshaw with a wonderful view across the 13.5 km Backstairs Passage to where the ferry departed at Cape Jervis near the southern tip of the Fleurieu Peninsula.

Day trips in our hired SUV took us to many of the most scenic and interesting spots on the island. We drove as far as Flinders Chase at the south western extremity to see the impressive Admiral’s Arch where we enjoyed the sight of a dozen young seals playing in the sheltered little cove below. On a nearby headland were the Remarkable Rocks which we imagined could have easily been the inspiration for modern sculptors.

Admiral’s Arch
Remarkable Rocks

The wildlife park was surprisingly well presented with a large variety of animals and birds and we were fortunate enough to be there when a delivery of more than a dozen wallabies arrived from a closing Hunter Valley park. After a quick overnight dash to minimise their distress, each animal was released from its hessian sack that, we were told, produced a pouch-like calming environment during their trip, before they bounded free into its new large grassy enclosure. Among the other highlights was a local gin distillery and tasting of honey ice cream produced with the nectar of the Italian Ligurian bees, now only found on our island and of course some souvenir shopping when we visited the island’s largest town of Kingscote.

Our accommodation at the small township of Penneshaw provided us with a tranquil setting only disrupted by the arrival of tourist buses on overnight tours. With several restaurants and a very friendly pub, all our simple needs for a quiet few days of unwinding were nicely met. It was helped by the fact that September is still “out of season” and the water temperatures of the Great Australian Bight (and Southern Ocean) did not encourage swimming.

Monument at Frenchman’s Rock

We enjoyed strolling around Penneshaw and along the Hog Bay beach to the Frenchman’s Rock and the monument that commemorates the bi-centenary of Nicholas Baudin’s visit. This was the start of an understanding of the historic part the French had played in this part of the world. In our travels we came across a myriad of French place names, starting with the Fleurieu Peninsula on the mainland to points on the island including Cape Bouda, Cap du Couedic, Baudin Beach and Vivonne Bay to name a few.

After a relaxing four days on our ferry back to Cape Jervis we met two ladies (one with a place on the island), whom we assumed were academics, and who in our discussions advised us to read “Encountering Terra Australis” (The Australian Voyages of Nicolas Baudin and Matthew Flinders) by Jean Fornasiero, Peter Monteath, John West-Sooby, as a way of learning more about the history of the region and the significance of Kangaroo Island.

I took up the challenge almost immediately on my return home and was very pleased to learn more about these two remarkable men and the part they played in our history. The book looks at the available historic documents, ship logs and reports to the respective Governments to give us a picture of their respective expeditions with the trials and tribulations, their discoveries and achievements and how history recorded them, often inappropriately.

The two men were different personalities but also had much in common. Their expeditions were very similar being primarily scientific with the French in particular including a large contingent of naturalists. They also had a goal to improve the map of this southern land and learn more about its people.

The expeditions took place during Napoleon Bonaparte’s reign, and despite the period of the Peace of Amiens (1801-3), England and France were really still at war so there were definite political and national undertones. Each had to obtain a passport from the opposing country to ensure the safe passage of their expedition.

Nicholas Baudin sailed from France in October 1800 in his ship the Geographe and accompanied by the Naturaliste. It was not a happy company because of the contrary behaviour of some of the many scientists, putting a lot of additional strain on Baudin. Following episodes that delayed the voyage Baudin reached the French island of Mauritius in March 1801 and eventually sighted Terra Australis on 27 May 1801.

Matthew Flinders left nine months later in July 1801 in the Investigator and had a smoother and more uneventful passage, especially across the Indian Ocean and reached Cape Leeuwin on 7 December 1801.

Baudin first proceeded to explore the coastline of Van Diemen’s Land, while Flinders set about mapping of the southern coast of the Australian continent. In April 1802, the two expeditions and their leaders had a very respectful meeting at Encounter Bay near present day Victor Harbour on the Fleurieu Peninsula. Flinders, who reached and named Kangaroo Island on his way eastward, advised Baudin of its safe anchorage and the possibility of replenishing supplies of meat from the numerous kangaroos he saw. Baudin was to become the first to circumnavigate and chart Kangaroo Island, whereas Flinders was later to be the first to circumnavigate the whole of Australia, and verify that New Holland and New South Wales were one continent and not two as was widely believed.

Flinders then sailed for Port Jackson arriving in May 1802 and noticed the remarkable advancements that had occurred since his first visit in 1795. After leaving Kangaroo Island Baudin called into Port Jackson in order to reprovision and carry out repairs to his ships. He spent some months there and developed a friendship with Governor King.

Finally after visiting King Island, northern Australia and Timor, Baudin set sail for home. He arrived in Mauritius on 12 August 1803 in a poor state of health and within weeks he was dead. The unhappy nature of those on his ships resulting in him not getting the credit the deserved from the successes on the expedition and his place in history has, probably until recently, been undervalued.

Flinders’ circumnavigation of the continent was completed in what was by then a “leaky, barely seaworthy vessel.” He finally left Port Jackson in September 1803 and reached Mauritius on his way back to England. Unfortunately the Amiens Peace had expired and because of technicalities over his passport together with his own obstinacy he was detained by the island’s governor for six and a half years. By the time he reached home his discoveries and successes were old news.

Nicholas Baudin
Matthew Finders

As indicated in the book, there was a lack of justified recognition of both explorers’ accomplishments by their respective homelands. History however has been somewhat kinder to Flinders in that the emerging nation of Australia and its people have celebrated and honoured his achievements.

Their contributions were similar and complementary in terms of the advancement of the world’s knowledge of our great southern land.

 

The Mighty Murray River

Proud Mary River Cruise

Together with friends, we recently had the pleasure of a five day cruise on the Murray River from Murray Bridge about an hour south-east of Adelaide, upstream visiting the historic towns of Mannum and Swan Reach and as far as the first of fifteen locks at Blanchetown, and then back again.

Map courtesy of the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA)

Murray River in South Australia

 

Like many Australians, I have had a passing acquaintance with the Murray River over the years. I have crossed it numerous times at Albury/Wodonga on the Hume Highway driving between Sydney and Melbourne. I have visited Renmark and Mildura, and historic Echuca enjoying a short trip on a paddle steamer. I have played golf at several of the fine courses along its banks including Corowa, Cobram-Barooga, Yarrawonga and Tocumwal. I have attended a conference at Wentworth at the confluence with the Darling River discussing ways to mitigate the infrequent but inevitable floods that occur in this catchment. However, in these few days in South Australia we learned much more about the river giving a greater understanding behind its Mighty Murray title.

The Murray rises in the Australian Alps just south of Mount Kosciusko and after a journey of over 2,500 kilometres through New South Wales and Victoria meets the ocean at Goolwa on Lake Alexandrina in South Australia. Together with the Darling-Barwon and Murrumbidgee Rivers together with their many tributaries, the total catchment covers more than 1 million square kilometres and makes up about 14% of the Australian continent. In this catchment, the flood of record at Wentworth was in 1870 when flows in both the Murray and Darling Rivers combined to inundate the countryside.

Aboriginal Rock Carvings at Ngaut Ngaut

That history of the Murray River is very Aussie. The Murray has supported life for aborigines through the millennia and ancient rock carvings can still be seem at places like the Ngaut Ngaut Aboriginal Reserve at Nildottie. As a major transport corridor in the 19th century it helped to develop inland Australia. In its heyday more than 200 paddle steamers are said to have carried supplies and produce between the various settlements along its banks.

The township of Mannum that we visited was one of the major ports. It now has an extensive museum telling the story of its early history and pioneers such as the Randell family whose members held some of the first leases in the 1850s, operated the first paddle steamer, the “Mary Ann”, in South Australia in 1853 and raised the first building in Mannum in 1864.

Historic Plaque, Mannum

Among others were the Shearer brothers with their agricultural manufacturing business contributed greatly to the area’s prosperity throughout the latter part of the century. Here we also learnt of the historic 1956 flood that affected much of the town and how rowboats pulled up at the first floor balcony of the pub to get a beer from the higher bar the publican had quickly set up.

The main traffic these days consists of river cruise boats giving tourists a glimpse of the wide variety of birdlife, the ancient river red gums that thrive with their toes in the water ,and which have some of the most beautiful red timber often used for furniture and decorative works.

In the lower South Australian reaches that we travelled the river has cut its broad path, over millions of years, through the soft red sandstone countryside to form kilometre after kilometre of sheer cliffs that are alternatively on either the right or left side as it meanders across its flood plain. At Big Bend the cliffs are more than 30 metres high and quite majestic in the sunlight as the boat sweeps around the curving river.A feature of the area has been the use of the local sandstone for the construction of houses and civic buildings and which gives

Sandstone Building (Swan Reach)

 

Sandstone Building (Mannum)

The Murray is not a roaring torrent but a wide slow moving laid-back flow falling only about two centimetres every kilometre. On our visit we had the opportunity to learn more about it and its history as well as enjoying the serenity of this very Australian river.

Sweeping Sandstone Cliff at Big Bend

Alfred Ernest Cornelius Bray (1897-1968)

On this day, 22 June in 1968, Alfred Ernest Cornelius Bray passed away at the Repatriation Hospital, Concord, NSW, Australia, aged 71 after serving in two world wars, being heavily involved in sport, and the RSL movement, starting up his own business while with his wife Belle raising two children. One or my regrets is that I didn’t get to know my grandfather better.

 

Alf Bray

Alf was born on 3 March in 1897 at Hurstville, NSW, the second child and eldest son of the eight children of Alfred Charles and Ellen Louisa (Cole) Bray. Growing up in Hurstville as a youngster he played rugby union but then converted to rugby league which became his passion.

His father was a railway mail guard which probably enabled Alf to get a position as a clerk with the NSW Railways at Railway Yards. However in 1914, at the age of seventeen is father Alfred Charles Bray was one of fourteen people killed it the Exeter rail disaster (see my post if March 16, 2018). This caused considerable problems for his mother Ellen and her family.

Alf was now the male head of the family but just over a year later at the age of just 18 years, in August 1915, he enlisted in the AIF answering the call of mother England to fight in World War 1. Sailing from Sydney in December and after training in Egypt he arrived in France in March 1916 part of A Company of the 3rd Battalion. He served in France and Belgium at the Somme, in Flanders and many other theatres until 22 June 1918 when at Strazelle he was caught in a German gas attack. He was seriously injured and after treatment in Boulogne, convalesced in England for a period before returning to his unit and final back to Australia in February 1919. Alf kept diary throughout the war years and it is now held by the NSW State Library. While in Flanders he bought a souvenir pewter broach of the coat of arms of Ypres and which he later gave to his wife.

Ypres WWI Souvenir

He returned home and lived with his family at Woids Avenue, Hurstville before marrying Clarice Belle Bryant on 16 October 1919 at Kogarah, took up his position of clerk in the Railways and a year later their daughter Norma Beryl was born.

His war service entitled him to a War Service home and in early 1923 the family moved to their brand new home in Restwell Street Bankstown. The following year a son, Douglas Arthur was born. He also transferred to the railway sheds at nearby Punchbowl and under doctor’s orders walked to and from work to further help with recuperation from his gas-affected lung problems.

At Restwell Street created a family home making maximum use of the back yard. He laid out paths separating garden beds where he grew vegetables and flowers. He built fish ponds, aviaries, and there was garage that he used as a workshop. Norma would recall how he would arrive home from work, have a cup of tea and then spend all evening until dinner in the back yard or garage. When I was only young we would enjoy visiting Nana and Pa and exploring the back yard with their silky terrier, Skippy.

He encouraged and supported both children in sports with Norma taking up competitive diving while Doug raced bicycles. There were also plenty of family outings, a favourite being boating in his cabin launch on the Georges River.

His own sporting activities had started when he played rugby union but in 1915. He soon transferred to rugby league with the Penshurst R.L.F.C. in the St, George Competition. After the war he took up the whistle, becoming a referee in 1923, and he officiated in the Canterbury-Bankstown Competition until 1933, and was the Hon. Secretary of Canterbury-Bankstown Referees’ Association in 1929. In 1936 he became Secretary of the Canterbury-Bankstown Junior League, and then on the Committee of the District Club when they won their first premiership in 1938. He replaced Frank Miller as Canterbury-Bankstown Club Secretary in 1939 until WWII intervened (refer The Rugby League News July 1, 1939).

Alf’s war experiences also generated a deep interest in supporting his fellow war veterans. He was one of the instigators in the establishment of the Bankstown Sub-Branch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia (RSL) in October 1928 and was its first President. He remained in the role until 1933 and was a member of the State Executive of NSW in 1932-3. When a Women’s Auxiliary was also formed, Belle was its first Secretary.

The RSL Club started at the top of Restwell Street in a tin shed near the railway line but meetings were also held on the Bray residence in Restwell Street with Belle baking cakes for supper. The RSL members assisted out-of-work men during the Depression. Working out of Alf’s garage, scrap pieces of timber from timber yards were made into toys for Christmas presents such as wheel barrows, school cases, chairs, etc.

He again volunteered for service when World War 2 broke out, enlisting in July 1940 claiming he was born in December 1900 (giving him an age of 39 years instead of 43). . He served as a Temporary Warrant Officer training recruits at Dorrigo, Uralla and Armidale but was discharged “being medically unfit for further military service” in October 1944, no doubt as a result of his WW1 injuries.

After the war he decided to pursue his passion for gardening and on resigning from the Railways he established Bray’s Bankstown Nursery which operated in the Bankstown CBD in Fetherstone Street for many years.

Alf and Belle finally retired to Toukley on the Central Coast of NSW where they he enjoyed their last years together and he continued to propagate plants while his son Doug took over the nursery business. On his death he was cremated at Woronora Memorial Park and a plaque placed on the Wall of Remembrance in Row 16, Panel R.

Bankstown RSL 70th Anniversary

At the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Bankstown RSL in 1998, Alf’s service to the Club was also commemorated and a special certificate of appreciation presented to his daughter.

Although he had lived a full life, my Pa still died too young surely shortened by his war experiences, and at the same age I am today. I share a common regret with many family historians, after having discovered some details about an ancestor that I didn’t have a chance to get to know my grandfather better.

 

Pub Lunches in The Rocks

When a group of friends of more than 50 years standing, but now liberally scattered across Greater Sydney decide, in their retirement, that a semi-regular luncheon get-together is in order, where should they gather to reminisce about their shared history? Somewhere central of course, and with history in mind what could be more central and appropriate than The Rocks. And because we enjoy an ale, it was decided that there would be appropriate venues among the many historic pubs there.

The Rocks

The Rocks, named for the sandstone outcrops on the peninsula west of Sydney Cove (now Circular Quay) has a most intriguing history dating from the early convict days. Within a few years of the arrival of the first fleet in 1788 Government buildings started to appear in The Rocks focusing on activities to manage convicts.

Soon after the dawning of the 19th century the Government instituted a system of leases in the area which was expanded in the early 1820s with free settlement and assisted immigration. This led to a population boom that further accelerated with the gold rushes. Business activity naturally increased over this period including the establishment of many pubs servicing the local community and workers from the harbour seafront.

By the late 19th century The Rocks had become run down and overcrowded. There were dozens of pubs that were meeting places for criminal gangs, and the back streets were haunts of prostitutes, such that it had become a typical waterfront slum.

The developments through the 20th century including the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Cahill Expressway past Circular Quay led to demolition of many houses and further proposals for development. It wasn’t until the last quarter of the century that “green bans” and heritage controls took effect preserving many important remnants of the early history of Sydney that we are able to enjoy today.

The Glenmore Hotel

So to lunch. Our most recent outing included a meet-up at the Glenmore Hotel followed by lunch the Lord Nelson Hotel.

The Glenmore Hotel

A Glenmore Hotel has operated in two buildings in Cumberland Street, continuously since 1837. The first Glenmore Hotel, known as the Glenmore Cottage, was located less than 50m from the current hotel and was demolished to make way for the southern approaches to the Harbour Bridge and the current Hotel was built by Brewers Tooth & Co in 1921.

Although not having quite the long history of other pubs in The Rocks it offers alfresco dining and, from it high Cumberland Street position, fine views of the the harbour and Sydney Opera House from the rooftop beer garden.

The Lord Nelson Hotel

The Lord Nelson hotel on the corner of Kent and Argyle Streets. is reputed to be Sydney’s oldest pub. The building dates from 1836 and was originally built as a home by a William Wells. In 1840 he started converting his house into a hotel and on 1st May 1841 he obtained a liquor licence and called the establishment the Lord Nelson hotel.

The Lord Nelson Hotel

These days the hotel incorporates a brewery with a range of brews for every taste. Our group particularly likes their Old Admiral old ale and Three Sheets pale ale with a good meal.

The Hero of Waterloo Hotel

The Hero of Waterloo

An earlier lunch date was at another iconic sandstone pub, The Hero on the corner of Windmill and Lower Fort Streets, Millers Point. This little gem of a pub has real atmosphere with reminders of a notorious past seen in the downstairs cellars with shackles on the walls and the entrance to the supposed smuggler’s tunnel. Legends abound and some say ghosts.

Opening in 1843 the structure also suffered over the years and has been renovated to provide more modern facilities but retain its historic character and charm.

The small triangular site adds to the atmosphere which is cosy and ideal for a drink and nice meal.

Hotel Palisade

The Hotel Palisade next to Munn Street Reserve,

Millers Point was the site of a lunch some time ago, but deserves a mention. Our group together with our significant others made this pub a destination after a relaxing Sunday stroll around the new headland at Barangaroo.

Sitting high on the sandstone ridge, it was built in 1915-1916 to replace an 1880 hotel of the

Hotel Palisade

same name and recently underwent a $5m restoration after being closed for about 7 years. It is named after the palisade fence built between Munn Street and Bettington Street and built in “Federation Free Style”.

It provided a good range of beers and cosy dining.

Orient Hotel

The Orient Hotel has not yet been a recent venue for lunch but over the years has been a popular meeting place for a beer or something to eat in the tree-shaded sandstone courtyard

In 1842, on the current site of the Orient Hotel at the corner of George and Argyle Street a three-storey residence of ten rooms and a neighbouring single storey shop was constructed on and in 1853 was converted to licensed premises trading as the Marine Hotel. It was renamed the Buckham’s Hotel in 1876 and this was finally changed to the Orient in 1885.

Orient Hotel

The building has undergone a number of modifications over the last few decades to enhance its popularity to the broader public, added to by its prominent location.

What next?

Although the number of pubs in Sydney has declined over the years, there are still many more possible venues in The Rocks and we hope to visit some of them in the future.

Henry Harrison Briscoe (1798-1864)

One of the pleasures derived from family history research is finding real connections with our ancestors and having something in common such ones looks, similar experiences or personal traits. For me, I have the pleasure maybe even the honour of sharing a birthday with my great great-grandfather, Henry Harrison Briscoe, who was born on 2 June 1798.

Henry was one of the five children to Edward and Elizabeth (Osborne) Briscoe of Cloncunny in Kilkenny, Ireland. The townland of Cloncunny consisted of some 406 acres held from the Earl of Bessborough and where Henry was the middleman landlord holding the largest property and sub-leasing portions out to his tenant farmers. Although the second eldest son, Henry took over the responsibility for the Cloncunny estate from his father because of the early death of his brother Edward (junior) in 1815. Henry ran Cloncunny improving it by draining and reclaiming the bog on the estate so there was no waste land.

On 29 May 1830, the Waterford Mail recorded: ‘Married. Henry Harrison Briscoe eldest son of Edward Briscoe of Cloncunny to Eliza Thomasina, only daughter of the late Col. Thomas Walsh, 56th Regiment’ on 24 May 1830.

Henry and Eliza had a family of six children:

  • Thomas Anthony Briscoe (1831 – 1831)

  • Edward William Briscoe (1833 – 1878)

  • Caroline Elizabeth Henrietta Briscoe (b 1834-1890)

  • Alfred Philip Briscoe (1835 – 1890)

  • Henry Harrison Briscoe (1837 – 1912)

  • Thomasina Marian Briscoe (1845 – 1881)

Like many landlords, Henry served as a local Magistrate and Justice of the Peace and on the county Grand Jury. He was also the first Chairman of the Carrick-on-Suir Board of Guardians of the Poor Law Union when established in 1939 (following the passing of the Irish Poor Law Act of 1838).

Although he was a supporter of the (Protestant) status quo, as a Poor Law Inspector particularly in County Clare the minutes of the Union indicated that he served the community not only efficiently but also caringly and fairly during the Great Famine and until 1852.

Later in 1857 he was appointed as Poor Law Superintendent in Scotland for Inverness, Ross and Cromarty, Sutherland and Caithness. In this capacity he was reported to have visited over 10,000 registered poor (paupers) of heads of families, at their own houses throughout the north identifying many who were “improperly relieved.” He remained in Scotland until his death on 14 November 1864 at the age of 66 years.

The following obituary was published in the Inverness Advertiser on 18 November 1864.

DEATH OF MR HENRY HARRISON BRISCOE

Most of our readers in the north will learn with deepest regret that Mr Briscoe, General Superintendent of the Poor for the north of Scotland, is no more. About six months ago he was seized by an attack of paralysis, which completely prostrated him, and although comparative recovery was affected by medical science, he never was himself again, speech, memory and motion being all latterly affected, until the end came on suddenly on Monday afternoon last. Mr Briscoe was the very model of a Government official – indefatigable in his work, firm as flint in matters of duty and principle, and kind and courteous to all, the poor pauper equally with the lord of broad acres. Mr Briscoe was, we believe, upwards of sixty years of age, and his wiry frame and weather-bronzed countenance, when last we saw him, gave promise of a very long life; but his incessant and anxious labours, we have no doubt, broke down his naturally vigorous constitution before its time, and brought on the attack under which he ultimately succumbed.’

In the village of Fiddown, which is not far from Cloncunny in Kilkenny, a disused church has been turned into a chapel or mausoleum to the old Ponsonby (Bessborough) and Briscoe families. Among all the commemorative stones is one to our Henry Harrison Briscoe.

Fiddown Chapel

Commemorative Stone

The times in which Henry Harrison Briscoe lived were very different to our own, but I like to think that as a public servant he tried his best to do his duty as he saw it.