Ancestors: James Gammell

James Gammell 1936James Gammell was my great great grandfather, my mother’s father’s father’s father. The photo shows his son James in Belmore Sydney c. 1940.

The elder James was born 15 December 1815 in the parish of Bruff, Limerick Ireland, the son of John Gammell, a weaver, and his wife Catherine Bennett. Much of his life in Ireland is unknown, except that in about 1835 he married Margaret Downey, a farmer’s daughter in Tipperary. The couple lived in town Tipperary where James worked as a blacksmith. They seem to have had five children, none of whom survived.

Whether lack of work, lack of food or political persecution drove him away is not known, but on 02 October 1840 James and his wife sailed on the ship Jane Gifford from Plymouth to Sydney Australia. When they arrived 13 February 1841 they reported to the immigration authorities, for they were bounty immigrants. They gave their religion as catholic; James could read and write but Margaret couldn’t.

Within the next few years James made his way to the western settlement of Parramatta. It is possible his passage may have been paid for by an employer who was able to offer him work on arrival, but many bounty immigrants were offered free passage by the colonial government provided they could prove a trade and then on arrival made their own way.

James seems to have been successful as a blacksmith, for he was able to buy land in the area. The property in Ross Street was originally leased to a John Gammell, probably James’ younger brother and also a blacksmith in 1845. However John died 10 May 1854, and the grant originally made to John was finally bought by James.

During this period James’ remaining children were born, all at Parramatta. Catherine Cecilia 31 March 1843, Mary Anne 01 December 1846, Margaret 23 November 1848, John 09 November 1850 and James 10 March 1853. Catherine married John Fairbrother but was to die in childbirth in 1874. Mary Anne married John Charles Hillier and was to live to the ripe old age of 75. Of the remaining children, Margaret died at 11 months, John, who did not marry, died in 1904, and James the younger lived to the age of 87.

In the 70s a close friend, Robert Knowles Waters, another Limerick emigrant who had tried his luck as a gold prospector at Braidwood, and had been subsequently the town’s first gaoler, arrived in Parramatta and started a business as a shoemaker in Church St. Robert finally settled in Isabella Street only a few blocks away from James. Children of the two families, James and Anna, were to marry in 1883.

It seems likely that James had the financial acumen to speculate in property development, for, although he continued to advertise in Sands Business Directory until 1870 he seems to have prospered financially more than one would expect from the proceeds of a blacksmith’s business.

James died 07 July 1875 in his house at Ross Street Parramatta. His wife was to die there 05 December 1887. James seemed to be concerned at Margaret’s future behaviour. His will stipulates she continue to be of good behaviour and remain his widow, or she is cut off without a penny. Presumably she did so. James’s daughter Mary Anne and her husband John Hillier continued at the property in Ross Street until 1914.

James the younger inherited all of James’ property together with his brother John, and when John died in 1904 all the assets were his. He owned a hotel in Parramatta, the Bellevue, but later moved to Sydney leaving the house purchased by his father empty, eventually selling it in 1924.

Whatever hardships or tragedies drove James from Ireland, Australia proved to offer opportunities to James he was able to take advantage of, leaving his family well established and prosperous.

©2009 Original material copyright Phillip Kay. Images and other material courtesy Creative Commons. Please inform post author of any violation.


2 thoughts on “Ancestors: James Gammell

  1. Hi, my own name is actually Mary Anne Gammell from Askeaton Ireland. I have a brother James and often wonder about our family tree. While in Scotland a few years ago we met with James Gammell, brother of Sir Bill, If you have any further information I would like to hear from you.

    Best Regards,

    1. Hi Anne, my Gammell ancestors are hard to trace. I don’t know of any in Askeaton. John Gammell was a weaver in Bruff who married Catherine Bennett in 1813 and had 4 children I know of, one of whom, James, moved to Tipperary, married Margaret Downey in 1838 and had a smithy in the town. He seems to have suffered hard times, lost children to disease or starvation, and emigrated to Australia in 1840. His siblings Bridget and John also came to Australia. Going back through the generations can be hard in Ireland as so many records are lost, but at least you can try looking at cemetery inscriptions and church records. To make sure you follow the right family start with your birth cert, then your parents etc. The Irish Family History Federation has a site that could help,, but as you have to pay per record it means you should know what you are looking for first. There are Gammells from Scotland, and others from Orkneys and Scandanavia, so be sure to check with as many living relatives as you can to make sure you trace the right family! Sorry I can’t be more helpful.

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