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 However John died 10 May 1854, and the grant originally made to John was finally bought by James.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.


4 thoughts on “Ancestors: James Gammell

  1. Hi … having just read your piece on James Gammell I can’t help but wonder if we could be related. My great grandfather Edward Gammell b.1862 married Johanna Treacy … had 7 children … only 4 survived: Bridget, James, Hannah and John. John was my grandfather … married twice, once to Margaret Bourke in 1910, had three children then married Johanna (Josie) Nugent ..
    They had 13 children … 12 survived … one of which, Ann, was my mum. My mum’s family hail from Pallasgrean which is a village in East County Limerick on the Limerick/Tipperary Road. Bruff is not too far away. Maggie

    1. Hi Maggie. It seems there could be some relationship, but I have no evidence. I know James Gammell’s father John was a weaver, that in Limerick about 1830 the weaving trade was in distress because of English sanctions, and that John probably died before 1840. When he married Catherine Bennett 26 Feb 1813 the witnesses were William Gammell and David Dirby (Darby?). There is another Gammell marriage, for a John Gammell and Anna Madagan on 03 Dec 1815 in Fedamore Limerick according to the RC parish registers. Witnesses at John’s children’s births were: Bridget 1814, William Garan, James 1815, John Egan, Ellen 1819, John Regan and John 1820, Patrick Toomey. There could have been other children but I can’t see them in the register.

      There seems to be other Gammell families at or near Bruff at this time, but nothing so far to link them to my one. The Ancestry discussion boards have mention of these families. The problem is that three children of John and Catherine’s marriage emigrated to Australia by 1840. Edward born 1862 in Pallasgrean could only be connected to my family if he was descended from an unknown sibling of James, or from the William Gammell who was a witness at John’s marriage, perhaps his brother. Edward’s parents would have been born 1815-1820 and might have been part of my family, so establishing that parentage would be a first step. Have you looked at the parish registers, available on the Irish genealogy site? (

      The name is not that common, so a connection should be possible. I have found Gammells in Scotland, the name perhaps a variant of Campbell through the form Gamble (ancestors were sloppy spellers), or from Orkneys and Scandinavia. But lack of records is the usual problem. We just don’t know.

  2. 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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s