William Davis, the Wexford pikemaker

My ancestors came from Ireland, a fact I only discovered when I explored my family tree. Of 62 individuals over the last five generations before me in the direct line, 32 were Irish. The Irwins and Waters from Enniskillen, Gammells and Downeys from Tipperary, Waters from Limerick, Davis from Offaly, Conways and Kennedys from Wicklow, and Bennetts, Condens, Knowles, Morris and Halls from many other counties were ancestors, and among the millions of Irish who were forced out of Ireland by the English cruelty, the Hunger and the need to earn a living. The most distant of those Irish ancestors of whom I know anything is William Davis, my 4 great grand uncle.

William was born in 1768 in Birr (Biorra), a town on the west border of county Offaly (King’s County) once known as Parsonstown after the resident Earls of Rosse, and where the river Brosna, a tributary of the Shannon, begins. William’s father was Joseph Davis, his mother Margaret Nolan, and he had two brothers, John and Robert, and a sister Mary. (The name is Welsh and means ‘son of David’. Irish forms include Daid or O’Daid, Davitt and Taaffe, the later family coming from Wales in the 12th century. The English form Davis has been most common since the 18th century).

Since the time of Cromwell the English had ruled in Ireland like the ancient Spartans did in Laconia, and the native Irish had become a race of helots. They had been dispossessed of virtually all their land and had the lowest standard of living in the world, sleeping on the ground with the animals, living in peat shelters, and subsisting on potatoes. Aware that this situation was a breeding ground of rebellion, the English introduced a reign of terror under which Irish could be punished with flogging, tortured to enforce a desired confession, imprisoned without trial, while doing nothing to lessen the widespread starvation and virulent epidemics. This treatment, like the Blitzkreig later with the British, actually achieved the effect opposite that intended. Instead of being cowed into submission the Irish rallied. William would have grown up hearing of the guerrilla ‘whiteboys’. Inspired by the example of the French and American revolutions, finally rebellion broke out, with the expected support of France, and in May 1798 occurred the Battle of Vinegar Hill in Enniscorthy Wexford. French arms were not delivered in time and the Irish went into battle armed with pikes, a six meter spear with a metal tip. The English had cannon: 50,000 Irish were slaughtered, most of them after the battle when they tried to surrender. Women and children were also massacred, the women first being raped. It was a vicious reprisal. The Celts throughout their history have fought the same way: they make stirring speeches, show outstanding bravery, but little tactical skill, which is how they were pushed out of England by the Anglo Saxon German tribes in the first place.

All along that singing river that black mass of men was seen,
High above their shining weapons flew their own beloved green.
“Death to every foe and traitor! Whistle out the marching tune.”
And hurrah my boys for freedom; ’tis the rising of the moon”.
Tis the rising of the moon, tis the rising of the moon
And hurrah my boys for freedom; ‘Tis the rising of the moon”.

Well they fought for poor old Ireland, and full bitter was their fate,
Oh what glorious pride and sorrow, fills the name of ninety-eight!
Yet, thank God, e’en still are beating hearts in manhood burning noon,
Who would follow in their footsteps, at the risin’ of the moon
By the rising of the moon, By the rising of the moon
Who would follow in their footsteps, at the risin’ of the moon.

William was arrested in March 1798 because someone said he was a blacksmith who was making pikes for the rebels. He said he was a publican with an inn at Enniscorthy, but no-one was listening. The English were not interested in sifting evidence but in making reprisals to intimidate any would be rebels. The punishment for treason then was to be drawn, hung and quartered while still alive, until it was modified in 1814 (between 1814 and 1870 the punishment was inflicted after death). As William was a convicted rebel he thus faced the prospect of being hung, cut down while still alive, and brought back to consciousness so as to see himself emasculated, then disemboweled before finally being killed, cut in four and beheaded. Instead in November 1798 William was sentenced to transportation to Port Jackson in Australia, then known as New South Wales, for the rest of his life.

On 24 August 1799 the ship Friendship left the port of Cork. Among the over 500 convicts on board were 132 Irish branded as rebels, one of whom was William. On the six month voyage 19 men died in the insanitary conditions on board. Nobody worried too much about sanitation, health regimen or even adequate rations, and anyone who complained was flogged.

Life at Port Jackson was brutal. William was doubly suspect, as an Irish rebel and as a Catholic, which was still a proscribed religion in the infant colony. One of the more infamous officials at Port Jackson was the Reverend Samuel Marsden, a judge and Anglican priest. Marsden was eventually dismissed from his position for giving sentences exceeding that laid done by the law and has gone down in history as the Flogging Parson. Sentences of 200 and 300 lashes were inflicted on convicts, carried out by two whipmen who effectively removed skin, flesh and even fragments of bone with their lashes. Victims were known to have died from loss of blood or infection following their punishment. Marsden had William flogged twice, once for being an Irishman and a blacksmith and a suspected rebel, and once for not being a Protestant. Given the large number of Irish in the colony one can see why this was thought excessive, and an embarrassment to the administration.

However a change in William’s life was about to occur. In January of 1809 he met and married a woman named Catherine Miles, tried for theft in Surrey in 1805 and sentenced to seven years transportation. She arrived on board the Alexander in 1806 in a flotilla commanded by the incoming Governor William Bligh (of Bounty fame). The marriage was celebrated at Parramatta by Father Dixon, one of the pioneering Catholic priests in Australia and himself a man of ’98. In a later dispute with his wife William claimed she had another husband back in Ireland, which makes it look as though she was born there.

William was able to put some money aside. Although convicts were expected to work on government projects as part of their sentence, they were also leased as a labour force to private individuals and paid a pittance. A frugal man could put a small sum aside and this is what William did. In 1809 he was able to take a lease on some land in a locality known as Charlotte Place in the burgeoning town of Sydney.

It is probable that William made a good impression on his supervisors and employers. Reports were kept on all convicts and notes made of their behaviour, propensity for drink, and business acumen. William’s reports were obviously good, as in July of 1811 he was granted a provisional pardon. From this we learn something about his appearance. He was described as 5 ft 6 in in height with a dark complexion, black hair and hazel eyes.

The newly appointed Governor Macquarie was one of those impressed by William, whether directly from personal observation or through the reports of his subordinates. William’s lease was regranted and extended to 22.5 perches on the corner of Harrington Street and Grosvenor Street 25 August 1812. In 1814 he received an absolute pardon. On 20 June 1816 he was granted 80 acres in the Campbelltown district and in October of that year a further 120 acres in the same area.

William was now a man of property employing convict labour. The local newspaper, The Sydney Gazette, carries many references to his property transactions and other activities. He was also an investor. From the sale of his produce he put aside some cash to purchase two shares in the Bank of NSW 5 December 1816. Now 48 years old William was something of a figure in the community, known for his generosity. The following year some of his friends got together to present him with a statue, of Jesus with a crown of thorns, to commemorate what he had suffered as an Irishman and a Catholic on first arrival in Australia.

On 17 August 1819 William received another grant of land, a further 70 acres at Campbelltown. Around 1820 he was granted a license to run a public house, called The Fortune of War, and so returned to his original calling of publican. The inn was actually run by Catherine, William’s wife, as William himself was busy with his other financial interests.

In 1826 the couple separated after a disagreement. William published a notice in the Gazette that he would no longer be responsible for his wife’s debts. He had found, he said, that she had a husband alive in Ireland. We can get a vivid snapshot of Catherine Miles at this time because she replied to these charges, also publicly in the Gazette through March and April 1826.

“WHEREAS I Catherine Davis, of Cambridge Street, Sydney, arrived in this colony in September 1808 [1806], and intermarried with my present husband, William Davis, in January 1809, at Parramatta, by the Rev Mr Dickson [Dixon], a Roman Catholic clergyman. The matrimonial ceremony was performed in the presence of Thomas Harpar and Sarah Chidley, who are since married and residing at Windsor. At the period I was married to the said William Davis, he was a government man [convict] to an overseer in the lumber yard, named Abbott; shortly after my marriage, I made application to Colonel Patterson for a Ticket of Leave for him, which he granted. We having no property at that time, but what we acquired by our daily labours, I made application and obtained a license to carry on a Public house, which I retained for the term of 12 years, without intermission, and with an unblemished character; and in the interim, obtained his emancipation; and shortly afterwards, through my intercession with several respectable gentlemen now living, obtained for him, from Governor Macquarie, his free pardon, and from my indefatigable exertions, acquired the property he is now possessed of. I therefore deem it an unprecedented hardship that the said William Davis should, after a lapse of seventeen years residence in this colony as his lawful wife, attempt to break through his said marriage, as during that time there appeared no impediment as to the validity of my marriage with him, but is now from some unaccountable motives, trying to set it aside, by asserting that I have a husband living in Ireland, which is totally false, for I positively assert that I have not, nor ever had, any other husband but the said William Davis. Sydney, March 28, 1826.

Catherine seems to have been quite a forceful character, to go by this publication. It is worth noting the associations of the names of both public houses: in Parramatta the couple ran The Blacksmiths Arms (could this be a sly reference to the pikemaking charges which led to William’s transportation?); in Sydney it was the Fortunes of War (here perhaps referring to the unlikely way William’s fortunes had changed over the years). It is pleasing to note the rift between the two was soon healed and they stayed together until Catherine’s death in 1839.

William acquired yet more land in October 1834 adjoining his house in Grosvenor Street. This became the site of St Patricks Roman Catholic Church in Sydney. In 1838 William donated a house to the Sisters of Charity who arrived that year to minister to the female convicts at the government factory. And 25 October 1840 William made a spectacular gesture in support of his faith when he laid £1,000 on the foundation stone of St Patricks during the ceremony marking the start of construction. William eventually owned a considerable part of the Rocks area near Circular Quay in Sydney.

William had a great love of children. He had no natural children of his own, and about 1812 adopted a Joseph Davis about whom not much is known. He may have been a nephew of William. Joseph led an adventurous life in the Australian bush; he was arrested and charged with theft of livestock but exonerated. The following year he died at age 27 as a result of a fall from a horse. He left three young children, whom William adopted. The youngest, William, remembered coming to see the elder William leave one morning. It was very early and the weather was cold. William dismounted from his mule, and wrapped his overcoat about the child’s shoulders and as a consequence caught a cold on his journey. These journeys, taken when William was in his seventies, were to watch the construction of St Marys Cathedral. The mule knew the way well, and one morning, William not appearing, made his own way to the site.

William Davis died in his sleep on the night of 17 August 1843, aged 75. He had become over the years both a public figure, and a foundation of the Catholic religion in Australia. He left an extended family. He was buried at Sydney’s Old Burial Ground, where Central Railway Station now stands. His memorial reads: “WILLIAM DAVIS died 17th August 1843 aged 78 years. He was one of the last survivors of those who were exiled without the formality of a trial for the Irish Political Movement of 1798”.

There was some consternation at the reading of his will, as he had left his house in Grosvenor Street, which he had enlarged several times, not to the Church, but to John Davis, the grandson of his brother John. Although Catholic priests were tenants there, and joint trustees of his estate, the Church wanted the property for its own purposes as it adjoined the lot on which St Patricks Church was built. They eventually raised £1,500 in 1861 to purchase the property. William’s estate is estimated as worth £30,000: one third of this was bequeathed to his family, including his grand nephew John whose passage to Australia he was said to have paid, the rest went to the Church.

William and Catherine had two adopted children, Elizabeth and Joseph. Joseph married Margaret Noonan in 1831 and had three children, Joseph, Catherine and William, but died in 1835, and William and Catherine adopted his son’s children as their own. The youngest, William Michael, became a prominent public figure and headmaster of Blakehurst Public School.

There was an exodus of Davis family members from Birr to Australia. The magnet for many of them was the goldfields of Braidwood. William’s younger brother John had a son John, four of whose children emigrated to Australia and ended up in Braidwood. The eldest of these, John also, was the heir who inherited William’s cottage in Grosvenor Street. He came to Braidwood in the late 1850s, and ran a public house in the town until his unexpected death in 1861 aged 40. Two of his siblings, Mary Ann and James Morris (named after his mother Catherine Morris) sailed on the Duke of Northumberland in 1850/51. Mary Ann married a fellow emigrant on board, Robert Knowles Waters, and the two became the first gaoler and matron in the town before moving to Parramatta. James Morris Davis married a cousin, Catherine, set up as publican following his brother John’s death, went bankrupt, but is then likely to have been John’s heir and the recipient of the £1,500 raised by the Church to obtain possession of William’s cottage in Grosvenor Street. James Morris moved to Sydney. He is buried at Gore Hill cemetery in a plot surrounded by the graves of seven of his nine children and surmounted by a beautiful Irish cross.

Yet another Davis brother was William, son of William the Pikemaker’s youngest brother Robert. This William was a stonemason. When his wife Mary Larkin died in Ireland he, together with three of his children, came to Australia in 1855 on the Gloriana, and they all ended up in Braidwood. None of these Davis family members struck it rich on the goldfields, but they married and had children, and now several hundred Sydneysiders can claim them as ancestors. None of them encountered the spectacular ups and downs that William Davis the Pikemaker experienced in his life. His was a rare combination of impulsiveness, warmth and generosity that drew people to him, accompanied by a shrewd head for business that enabled him to take advantage of opportunities when they presented themselves. It’s odd to think that quite possibly he never made a pike in his life and has gone down in history as the Wexford Pikemaker.

©2010 Original material copyright Phillip Kay. Images and other material courtesy Creative Commons. Please inform post author of any violation.


83 thoughts on “William Davis, the Wexford pikemaker

  1. Hi Philip
    We have all been looking at the Nolan’s for the relationship between our family and William Davis, largely because we both had Nolan ancestors from Ireland. Actually, the oral family history is that Ellen Conway (married Michael Lilles), Thomas Conway (married Bridget Heffernan) and Elizabeth Conway ( who later married William Henry Bardwell in Australia), all from Rathkeale in Limerick, were the children of a sibling of William Davis. When they migrated in 1841 their parents (Dennis Conway and Ellen) were both dead and Davis may have helped them.
    Cheers Penny

    1. Hi Penny
      I think we have discussed these matters some time ago on Ancestry. If there is a sibling identified of William Davis can a Conway marriage be traced? Come to think of it there would have been quite a few related Davises. Including William’s family; if he was born in 1765 one would expect him to have married and had a dozen children by 1798.

      Did you see the last comment on Willliam’s page, ie “Hi Penny, would Edward Nowland coach maker of Burrin St Dublin (Lucas Directory 1788) be your line?”

      John Davis who married Catherine Morris was also a coach builder. He was the original legatee of William’s estate and seems to have declined to come out to Australia, presumably suggesting his son John instead. In her surviving letters to her son Catherine says that John (her husband) was doing well in his business, but inclined to be over generous, and to drink too much. Catherine writes from Birr, but spent some time in Dublin with her husband. The eldest son Michael has left a trace. 1843 working in Dublin. 1850 Michael Davis coach maker, 13 Mark St Dublin (Shaw’s Dublin City Directory 1850). (Thom’s Irish Almanac and Official Directory for the Year 1862 notes no. 13 as “ruins”)

      1. Hi Philip

        Yes I did look at your previous message about the coach builder, but the records seem quite definite that his name was William. I haven’t had much luck finding him or Daniel Nolan’s birthplace.

        I just thought I’d let you know about the Conway’s because your blog mentions Conway ancestors in Ireland. I have only found William’s three brothers and families, based mainly on his will and cemetery records. There are no Conway’s there yet, although there was a Nolan.

        Thank you. Cheers


  2. Thank you so much! I really appreciate all your research in this and time give to answer. Will have a look at the link you suggest. Also I think it was interesting that William Davis had been sentenced to ‘Australia’ for his supposed part of a ‘rebellion that believed protestants and catholics’ could live together peacefully. And because of his sacrifices, sufferings including that of many convicts as well as non convicts, William Davies in the end, was part of creating the very unique country we know today as ‘Australia’. A place where people are able to live together peacefully irrespective of religion.

  3. Thank you Phillip for such incredible information regarding William Davis. I teach religion at school and always start my talks with the story of William Davis and his generosity for St Pats as well as his knowing Fr O’Flynn. I was always under the impression Davis was blacksmith in Ireland and arrived here with no papers (hence no trial) but you mentioned he may be have been framed and never been a blacksmith there. Would you know why he might have been framed? Or, as someone commented, he charged handsomely here in Sydney for blacksmith work, so he may have been a blacksmith after all? (Please clarify) Also as I understand it, W Davis acquired so much (pardon, land etc) because of the courage his wife had for ‘asking?’. Or have I just mis-read this bit. Looking forward to your clarification. Cheers, Rebecca.

    1. Nice to hear from you Rebecca. Regarding William’s profession, we only know his indent papers sent with him on the Friendship say he was a publican (http://members.pcug.org.au/~ppmay/cgi-bin/irish/irish.cgi). This information presumably came from William himself. In Sydney, the Colonial Secretary’s papers give numerous instances of liquor licenses being granted to William, and give evidence he was the proprietor of a hotel at Parramatta and later at the Rocks (NSW State Archives). The blacksmith story seems part of the Catholic tradition about him, which includes the pikemaker story as well, and is a nobler story, but not necessarily accurate, even though handed down by the priests who knew him. He may have been. He probably did all kinds of labouring work when required before his pardon. But I don’t think it was his main profession. When I say he may have been framed, I am exaggerating the case, and suggesting that as William was never tried, simply transported (evidence how nervous the British government was about the Irish uprising) we can’t know what evidence there was against him. Trials were often initiated at that time on “information”, an anonymous accusation, often made by a man’s enemy against him. This may have happened to William. We can never know. The British then were actively rounding up any men they thought might lead or even foment a rising, and sending them to the hulks. What we do know is that William was a passionate patriot and a committed Catholic. His life events would have made all that even stronger for him. He appears to have been highly regarded by his fellow exiles. The portrait of him by his grandson shows a very generous and kindly man. As for his wife Catherine, the couple had a difference of opinion, and in the course of it Catherine wrote to the newspapers an account of all she had done for William to secure his pardon etc. Catherine was a strong and assertive woman, and she may have done a lot for William, but we have to remember the context in which she made these claims. William had disowned her, and she was hurt and mortified at what she saw as an injustice. She may have overstated her case, she may not, we can never know. Somehow, despite the gaps in our knowledge, these are an impressive couple.Strange to think that William and Father Dixon, a pioneering priest, went through the same ordeal and suffered together the hellish life on board ship, the floggings and denial of basic rights. See my article about William’s adopted son Joseph for the story of another man, another Joseph Davis, who went through the same ordeal. If it didn’t kill you it could only make you stronger in your beliefs.

  4. Hello Moana. I must point out the link between William the Pikemaker and Joseph who married Ann Calder in Australia is through Joseph’s son Joseph. I have identified him as the Joseph adopted by William, and given my reasons in another essay here, on Joseph. Edward of course was a famous maori interpreter and scholar, but his brother Joseph is more obscure. His sister Elizabeth, who married Captain Young, says he lived and died in Sydney, whil the other family members came to NZ.

    How much have you found about the family? I have info gleaned from Papers Past, and a conjectural family tree you are welcome to look at. But bear in mind the connection with William Davis and Joseph, son of Joseph, is as yet based on only circumstantial evidence

  5. Hi there,My names Moana (Davis) wow wonderful information here phillip wonderful to have all these fascinating stories. Had to go back to check i was still in the same family, Joseph Davis and Anne Calder are my 4th great grandparents through josephs son edward, to edwards son john charles davis the 1st to my grandfather john charles davis the 3rd and my father Te Hane Tane Davis, we are part of the New Zealand branch of the family and I am happy to share any info and learn more about this very large and interesting family.very kken to find out about our anchestry and where it all leads to.

    1. I’m very confused, I am Cathetine Davis from Vinegar Hill Enniscorthy and I am amazed that you say that William Davis came from Offaly. My story handedg down was that Willuam wa a blacksmith was born and raised just outside Enniscorthy.

      1. Hi Catherine. Records for William are scanty; he was transported to Australia without trial for his part in the 1798 rising. Transportation records say he was sentenced at King’s County, and that his occupation was publican or innkeeper at Enniscorthy. His family, parents and siblings, has been traced to Birr. In Australia he worked for a time as a blacksmith, then became a publican, before prospering and attracting the patronage of Governor Macquarie, who granted him extensive land holdings.There are letters from his grand nephew John’s mother Catherine Davis dated from Birr about the time of William’s death. But so far no records of William in Ireland, his birth, marriage, birth of his children or any of his activities, or records of his family, has come to light. Probably after all this time none will. He comes into the record as unjustly punished (because he was given no trial) and exiled 1799. That’s the first we hear about him. The rest are stories based on unknown evidence, or just stories.

  6. Another iron in the fire! My name is John Maclurcan. My mother, Margaret Maclurcan, born 1918 and still alive and kicking, is the youngest daughter of John Corbett Davis, son of John Davis, son of William Davis, son of Robert Davis, brother of William the Pikemaker! Phew!

    Concerning the Davis/Birr connection etc, I quote the following from a letter from Vincent Clive (Bill) Davis (my uncle) to his brother Alan Davis, dated 24th May, 1967.

    “Dad (J.C.Davis) told me the Davis’s boys came from Wales (he mentioned the city but I have forgotten) and met some lovely Irish girls and went to Ireland and were in County Cork and Clare. Dad told me a relative was Thomas Osborne Davis, the Irish National Poet (1814 – 1845) etc”.

    So if someone is finding a brick wall in Ireland, maybe they need to go across to Wales!

    Recently, I learnt that the graves of my mother’s grandparents, John Davis (1838 -1915) and Margaret Corbett (1841-1918), were at Waverley Cemetery. Enquiries were made and the lease has been renewed in my name (should be a Davis, really) and my mother is financing its restoration.

    Good luck to all

  7. Theresa, As my old mum would have said “More hurry less speed” I left off my favourite Uncle Alan Davis from the family of Henry and Florence Davis. From what we know of our Joseph and what I remember of Uncle Alan ,they had a lot in common. I lived with your side of the family at Goolgowie NSW for about six months and remember Cousin Len getting his first horse for 30shillings and a page of clothing coupons. We rode that horse every where ,no saddle only an old corn bag to sit on. You may not have known of Grandfather Harry’s strong friendship with your late Queensland Labour MP Jimmy Larkin. Cousin, Colin George, Ida’s son has given me a great chapter for our book on this special friendship. All of your interest has inspired me to get back into gear and with help from my history teacher Tom Richmond, have Pikemaker’s Prodgeny ready for your comment. Kind regards Bob.Davis Brooklyn ( All of my cousins call me Robert)

    1. Phillip, Perhaps of intrest to some of your readers. The following. We found the record of the marriage between our Joseph and Christiana Simpson with the help of a NSW State MP back in the early 1970’s . The place was Rosebrook Maneroo just South of Cooma 15th.May 1842 and the priest was Daniel MacEvey ,Roman Catholic Church Minister. I gave a copy of this certificate to the leading RC Church historian at that time , Errol Lea -Scarlett, he was amazed to see Daniel MacEvey’s name as the Priest conducting the service. The church records had him in Tasmania at the time and his role was to travel to remote areas of Australia by horse and buggy ,find those living in sin and bring them back to the church .This must have been a worthy task and a great relief to those concerned. Errol remarked at the time ” Oh well another change to our history” . We continue to learn and hope for an answer. Kind regards Bob.Davis Brooklyn.

  8. Theresa, Welcome aboard. The family of Henry Davis and his wife ,1st cousin Florence Osborne were raised in Hornsby NSW . They were Edgar , Len, both Light horsemen 1st World War, Don (My dad) Noel, Sarah and Ida. Yes I intend to publish Pikemakers Prodigity in the near future with a few small changes . This may bring about the loss of a few good R C friends but so be it. Most of my cousins have contributed loverly family stories and photo’s and these have found their way into the book. When I first met second cousin Pat.Farr all those years ago and found her search along the same lines as ours I decided to record all I could so the younger family members did’nt have to go through the same trials that we went through. If I can give you any assistance at all please contact me ,it is so good to have your interest . Regards Bob. Davis

  9. Hello -I visit Sydney due to work and have over the last 3-4 times gone to mass in St Patricks as I do wherever I am travelling. I am from Ireland and my wife us from Birr and I never thought for a moment that William Davis was from anywhere other than Wexford.
    I will be going back to Ireland and Birr in the next few weeks and if anyone need specific checks carried out I will do so as I am a long time addict of my own family tree.
    There are church records and graveyard records that are improving in Ireland in recent times and I have reason to do some checking anyway
    Let me know
    Back again in Sydney in September

    1. Hello Tony- It would be wonderful to have someone check- 1. parents names of William- 2 differing versions have been mentioned here- also 2 versions of whether William and Catherine Miles his wife- did have or did NOT have children -maybe the first query re his parents may be possible to check ! 2nd query– 2 schools of thought ! would like to be in contact

    2. Good to hear from you Tony. Most of us here are trying to trace the family of Joseph Davis, adopted son of William, and perhaps the son of William’s brother Robert. A researcher has tried to trace the family in Birr unsuccessfully. I’ve seen a directory of 1820 of Birr and surrounds but no mention of any Davis there. So help tracing the family in Birr would be really valuable and appreciated. Grounds for saying William is from Birr are mainly his convict indent, which gives place of origin both as Birr and Enniscorthy. He seems to have claimed to be an inn keeper in the latter town. Court records associated with proving William’s will refer to several family members living in Birr in the 1840s. William’s siblings Robert married an Elizabeth about 1790; John a Judith Milen; and Mary an Edwards (the dates are a guess). It’s presumed all lived in Birr. But possible the family came to live in the area later. Of John’s children; John married a Catherine Morris; and Ann, a Thomas Nolan. All are supposed to have died in Birr. I have no idea of the parishes, but if there is an index to burial records just possibly some of these names might turn up. I can email you a copy of the tree if you think it might help. Thanks again for the offer to help.

  10. Hi Theresa. Perhaps you could give us an idea of the areas where you need help, which would help us see if we had specific advice or information for you. Speaking of Irish records, I recently found Cooke’s Early History of Birr published in 1875 but quoting in an Appendix a Pigot’s Directory of 1824. Not a Davis is mentioned in Birr or other towns covered!

  11. Another Queenslander and “Direct as it gets” descendant. Reading in greedily these tantalising details. Bob of Brooklyn I believe you to be my fathers cousin, Len Davis (deceased). Dawn (my aunt) has told me of your research and book. I can’t wait to read a copy. A personal thank you for keeping the family story alive for me to hand down to my children. Kylie would your Len Davis be the Len Davis that was a Light Horseman and Anzac? If so I believe I had the honour of meeting him at Eumina Beach in 1976. So many familiar names here, Dorothy Fellowes who I believe my mother Dorothy was in contact with some years back re a Family Reunion at St Pat’s and Pat Farr thank you both for your toil, it is very much appreciated.
    Thank you Phillip for this post and all the contributors, I have done my own very amateur research over the years and will enjoy checking this data against mine, booklet included (Yes I have a copy). And of course I have my own theories. My interest is definitely in the Irish records also. Any information that anyone is willing to share I would be grateful to receive, as access to many records is not as easy here in QLD. But I will endeavour to follow any of your suggested leads that I have not already sourced.
    Theresa Davis

  12. You are correct finding proof the 2 Joseph’s are the same person is difficult.
    My grandmother and great aunt both were conviniced that they were related to William through Christina and Joseph Davis their grandparents.
    I am trying to find the Christina/Christiana Simpson prior to the marriage there was one who arrived on the SUPRISE who was employed at parramatta lunatic asylum who appears on the 1822 &1825 musters but I do not know if this is the same person who married Joseph.
    While all of this is up in the air we all go searching even more for answers.

    1. Hi Rhonda-2 families of Simpsons came out in 1820-30’s on Boddington and Sterling Castle. Christinas father was referred to as Henry. Might be a led. Havent heard of anyone tracing the early Christina- good luck.. patricia davis farr

  13. the marriage was in 1842- in Cooma area– perhaps the news didnt even get back to William who diedAugust 1843 -as Wm and Catherine were married by a catholic priest maybe chn born to them would be illegitamite – would they be allowed to inherit ! the plot thickens – as if it wasnt pea soup already !

    1. If your Joseph is William’s Joseph, then obviously the news wouldn’t have filtered back to William, as he thought Joseph was dead as mentioned in his will. I think the ‘official’ view was that the ceremonies of Catholics were illegal until Catholicism was recognised, I think under Macquarie wasn’t it? But inheritance not an issue, as the will made bequests to the children of Joseph by the supposed Margaret Noonan. I think you have negative evidence for Joseph as the adopted son, but so far no real positive evidence. Most evidence for this man hasn’t survived, hence the general frustration of his descendants.


  14. Hi – I have a photo copy -hand written (naturally) which shows his mark Joseph married by a catholic priest, at Rosebank where he had a job at the farm (!) Monaroo area and with the part crossed out by Christina where she does NOT accept the catholic faith part. Family story- her father Henry Simpson – Presbyterian family brought out fr Scotland by ……when he ws sent over to find stone-masons and bring them and family back- Found 2 Simpson families Boddington and Sterling Castle- 1820’s – – couldnt work out which correct one – !

    1. Interesting. So Joseph didn’t marry outside the Catholic church, it was Christina who didn’t want to be enclosed within it. Should have been all right with old William eh? Or would they have to be married a second time, Prysbetarianwise, to be legal? Phillip

  15. Thanks Phillip- so! are there any records in Ireland – permission youth Joseph @16 to marry over there– what did he do from age 16 to 33 approx when he or some other Joe married Christina–as I understand it–if a catholic did such a disastrous thing as marry outside the church- you were as good as dead- and were considered as such– and could be even wiped from any records– !!! remember William applied to go o/seas with her but she was given permission and he not –he prob thought she shouldnt have gone and was -not happy- she went – and was a bit cantankerous when she returned ! and brought back whoever !! must be more records somewhere- didnt William co own the Australasian Chronicle – maybe something about a Joseph there !

    1. I’ve looked on the Ireland Historical Societies website Pat with no success. The address is: http://ifhf.rootsireland.ie/index.php.

      I presume you have a copy of the marriage cert for Joseph and Christina: what religion does Joseph give? Is he a Presbyterian? The Braidwood death cert for Joseph says nothing about his parentage. Is there no clue on the marriage cert? Joseph left his mark, so he was illiterate. Any other clues on that document?


  16. Hello Phillip-I have had a thought for some time – and as we are at the stage of grabbing at straws ! if the elusive Joseph with doc proof of marriage to Christina Simpson 1842 – when he was about 33- then he could have had an earlier family ? but might have been under age and would have had to get permission ? so could there be a record of this possible permission, in Colon Secs papers- somewhere-? regards patricia

    1. Sorry Patricia, all I can find in Col Sec’s index is the following:
      DAVIS, Joseph (age 10)
      NB: age lowered for admission purposes?
      1823 Jan 10
      Admitted to the Male Orphan School; William Davis his parent/guardian (Fiche 3307; 4/7208 pp.9-10)
      DAVIS, Joseph. Aged 14
      1824 Apr 12
      Son of the late Joseph Davis of Sydney (Reel 6061; 4/1779 p.10c)
      DAVIS, Joseph. Came free per “Midas”, 1825
      1825 Dec 23
      Passenger landed from the “Midas”; with wife (Reel 6016; 4/3516 p.298.
      Same questions: 1. are these all the same person, if so, adopted son Joseph married at 16, presumably in Ireland.
      2. is Joseph married to Christina the same as the above? If so, why is he described as deceased in William’s will?

      A lot of questions we still can’t answer. But, hey, a lot of questions we have.

      Here’s another thought: when Catherine says in her letter in the Gazette she has no other husband, is she covertly admitting she has an illegitimate daughter that William had not known about previous to the marriage between Margaret and Joseph?

  17. I have been reading with some interest the story and comments about William Davis. I am a descendant of Joseph Davis who married Christiana Simpson. The mind bogles at the complexity of William Davis and his family and worth looking into further. As I live in sunny Queensland (ha ha) it is difficult for me to get to the State Archives or library. Anyone wishing to pass on information I would only be to happy to cover costs for copying and postage.

    1. Hi Diane
      Yes, confusing and unclear are the words that come to mind, natural in investigating history, where many records have vanished, but frustrating nonetheless. Bob Davis might be able to help, as he is investigating the line from Joseph Davis and Chrisiana Simpson, as is Pat Farr. As for records, do you know some are available online, ie Sydney Gazette entries for William and Catherine Davis and family at the Australian newspaper site http://trove.nla.gov.au/, and NSW Archive records at http://www.records.nsw.gov.au/state-archives/indexes-online/indexes-online#land-records, under Colonial Secretary’s Papers. As you can see from reading entries here, records of adoption, birth and marriage are missing because William was a Catholic, and there was no officiating Catholic priest here for part of his lifetime.

  18. Thanks Phillip, Our Joseph signed his marriage certificate to Christina Simpson with
    his mark X . The death certificate of Joseph Davis Braidwood 1859 lacks family detail.
    Was Old William without sin ? Remember his Public notice in the Sydney Gazette March 15th 1826 claiming that his wife Catherine had a husband living in Mitchells Town, Ireland. Catherine’s strong denial in the Gazette a fortnight later was not challenged by William. Catherine was a strong women in her own right and William owed much of his sucess to her . All of this food for thought Regards Bob Davis

  19. Bob, the facts of Joseph’s parentage given on his death cert are crucial to the claim he is a son, adopted or otherwise, of William. If the DC say parents were William and Catherine Miles, or Robert (William’s brother) and Elizabeth, then the question is closed. If the details aren’t given, then we can’t be sure. If the Simpson marriage is with the same Joseph whom William tells us he had adopted (Gazette story above) then we have to explain why Joseph abandoned his 3 children with Margaret and why William would have said in a legal document, his will, that Joseph was dead. If it wasn’t true William would have sworn an untruth and perjured himself (and committed a mortal sin, he would have believed). Anyone who can clear this one up will do a big favour to all Davis researchers. Would William have meant “dead to the Catholic faith” (Christina was a Presbyterian!)? Should William have said “Joseph Davis deceased” as he did, and Joseph proved to be alive, all the terms of the will could have been contested and overturned. They weren’t, which suggests that all mentioned accepted that Joseph was indeed deceased. If he had just dropped out of sight, then I’m surprised an enterprising solicitor didn’t try to find him, given the amount of money involved. As so often, we don’t really know: but it’s fun to speculate.

  20. BTW, has any researcher looked into the story of Joseph son of William’s brother Robert? Robert may have had other children: William (1788-1868) who came to Australia 1855 and died Braidwood; a James and a John, both of whom were legatees in the Pikemaker’s will. Was there also a Joseph? He could have been born 1809, and if William adopted him at age three, 1812, then this could be when his parents Robert and Elizabeth died, either in Ireland or in Australia. A daughter, Elizabeth, is possible, and the Joseph and Elizabeth in Orphan School could be children of Robert. Also, the family’s location in Birr is not proven. They may have resided in Birr later in life but come from elsewhere in the county, or another county alltogether? Anyone looked further afield for Davises?

    1. Phillip, Merry Christmas and happy researching in 2012, to all who are interested in the William Davis history. In his Inaugural speech to State Parliament past MLC The Hon, Peter Breen also claimed to be a direct decendant of William Davis (LC Hansard 52nd Parliament of NSW) We were unable to help him find the links, perhaps one of your contacts can help. Has any one dared to suggest that Old William may have disowned Joseph adopted or otherwise in 1809, because he ran off and lived in sin with a non Catholic, Christinia. Our research shows that our Joseph was alive and well at the time of the will. Born in 1809 and either one of Williams own, or adopted. Our family history tells us that he died in the gold fields . Braidwood Hospital NSW 25th June 1859 NSW. Aged 50 ,from a 7 day fever ( Reg BDM 2605/1859 ). Comments if you will please. Kind regards ,Bob Davis .

  21. Thanks Bob. I hope publication of your book is imminent. There will never be a final story, as so much evidence has vanished, so if historians can live with uncertainty, publishing research will preserve much of it. My own Davis research has benefitted by the work of earlier researchers; I only wish historians of other branches of my family had been as assiduous. History, I’ve learned from my own research, is changed and altered all the time, not ‘facts’ set in stone. The original meaning of ‘history’ was in fact, investigations (that’s how Herodous used the word). William the Pikemaker certainly has inspired a lot of interest, and there are quite a few claiming descent from him (though he might not have had any children) mainly because of family stories to that effect. We have all been the beneficiary of their enquiries.

  22. Phillip, Many thanks for your reply. Second cousin Pat Farr and I, have worked on our Davis history for many years and I have used much of her research, with the help of Tom Richmond (OAM) historian, for my book “Pikemakers Progeny” as yet unpublished. Kylie Windsor would be the daughter of my cousin Bev. (G’Day Kylie). When Kevin Davis first published the Wexford Pikemaker booklet, I called on him at his home in North Sydney. I obtained a number of these for family members hoping that we finally had the history right. Alas, more years of unanswered questions remained. and is still ongoing . My book contains many photo’s and branches of our Davis history and since my Grandfather Henry Fuller Davis married his first cousin Florence Osborn This line goes back to Jane Walker on both sides, Jane arrived in Sydney 11th.Feb.1796. For those who may be interested ,both my son Peter and I were shot in the second volley of fire at the re- enactment of the battle of Vinegar Hill. Thanks for allowing me to share a little of our story Bob Davis Brooklyn NSW

  23. Charles Gabriel Davis (1883-1957) left papers now collected at the NSW State Library, which included a family tree compiled from information told Charles by his father William Michael (1835-1907). William Michael was an adopted grandchild of William the Pikemaker. It is probable that the information left by William Michael is the only information surviving to have come from William the Pikemaker’s own stories of his life.

    Among the notations on this family tree is one that William Michael’s father was Joseph Davis, that he was a son of William’s brother Robert, had married a Margaret Noonan, daughter of Catherine Miles, and died from a fall from a horse, after which his wife had also died, and William had compassionately taken Joseph’s three children into his own house and bought them up.

    We have no proof that any of this is correct. It may well not be. Many family stories aren’t. William Michael believed it was true however, thought he had heard it from William the Pikemaker’s lips when a child, and that carries some weight. However, in support, we have (1) William the Pikemaker’s statement in a newspaper article of 1834 that he had adopted this Joseph as a child. (2) The article is about Joseph’s career as a stockman in outback NSW: in it he is charged with horse theft, but exonerated. (3) When William died in 1843 he left a will in which he referred five times to this Joseph as previously deceased.

    Causing doubt about the story is the lack of evidence other than these few facts for the existence of either Joseph Davis or Margaret Noonan. There is also a story, and family tree, that William and Catherine Miles had a son called Joseph who married a Christina Simpson and had four children with her. Although there is evidence for the marriage and children, there is none for the contention that this Joseph was a son, natural or adopted, of William and Catherine. Some have contended that the adopted son Joseph and the natural son Joseph are the same person, and the marriage with Christina a second marriage. This leaves unexplained why Joseph would have abandoned the three children of Margaret Noonan or why William would have said in 1843 that Joseph had died.

    As so many documents are missing it is probable the story will never be known. Like everybody who has researched William Davis, I have made guesses, chosen one story over the other. If only it were possible to get proof of any of it.

  24. Phillip,Could you please supply proof of Joseph Davis son of William (Wexford Pike maker ) dying as a result of a fall from a horse @ 1835 /6. Thanks in anticipation Bob Davis

  25. For Rhonda Coleman-Hill-Aug 16 2011. Greetings Rhonda- from Patricia Davis-I come down the line fr your Margarets bro Frederick Alex. You mention Joseph as grandson to William- In the Muster 1822- Wm who arrived on Friendship had son Joseph aged 10- and a child aged 2 Elizabeth. Story fr Freds side of family- Joseph married and had 3 chn -who were orphaned and went to stay with their the G father Wm- Joseph took off with Christina Simpson a presbyterian, they married at Rosebank 1842.and then came US ! So maybe not grandson – dates seem OK to be son..would be interested to hear your comments – patricia

  26. There is another point. If Margaret Noonan who married Joseph Davis was Catherine’s daughter, then her children, the ‘orphans’ would be WD’s grandchildren by marriage. The issue is complicated by the fact that both Joseph and WD married according to the Catholic church, and no records have survived, so the marriages can’t be proved. And at the time the Catholic ceremony was an illegal one, not recognised by the civil authorities. So unless some evidence for Margaret Noonan can be found (she is just a ‘family story’), or her’s and WD’s marriages proven, the orphans are only courtesy descendants. WD himself would have seen then as kin, without worrying too much about the legal situation.

  27. Philip perhaps you can clear up for me the importance of whether his children were adopted or natural. As far as I understand, once a child is adopted they are legally the children of that person, regardless of their genetic history. There seems to be a lot of references to whether they were or not.

    1. There’s no evidence of adoption in the legal sense. Don’t forget WD was persona non grata as convict, Irish and Catholic. We only have WD’s statement in Joseph’s trial that he had adopted him, and his children were bought up in his house with he and Catherine as carers presumably because there was no one else to look after them. H e was an hospitable man and conceivably would have done the same for any other kin in need. The so called ‘orphans’ were his heirs but that’s their only claim to be ‘descended’ fom WD. Nevertheless genealogists have included them in WD’s family tree ever since. Actually his brothers’ children and their issue are WD’s only true descendants.

  28. Kylie I am the gggranddaugher of Margaret Davis (sister of Frederick Alexander). I have always known we are related to WD as my great aunt was very poor and and I remember as a child her refusing to let me go into St. Mary’s Cathedral to look as “that was where the money went” we went to the museum instead. She also was very proud of this. Margaret (married Tobias Tyler) is buried at Gore Hill along with a lot of others in the Davis family she was a staunch catholic and annoyed when my grandmother married a protestant. I believe but cannot prove that the Joseph D who married Christiana Simpson in 1842 was WD’s grandson, I always thought he was adopted based on the will as I read this to mean his father was not WD’s son. I have not looked at this line for over 20 years as I hit a block with getting any details other than married 15 May 1842 at Rosebrook near Cooma. Thanks for all the info here.

    1. oops missed a bit she was proud of Catherine being the first women publican in Australia (again I can’t prove her comments were factual and not just family wishful thinking).

    2. As I understand it the problem is finding a BC or DC (with helpful details) of the Joseph who married Christiana. This is an almost impossible task, as tradition is firm that WD had no natural children. His will is silent on just who the Joseph was whom he appears to have adopted. If we could clear up that point then it would be possible to go further. Interesting about publicans. There are a few in the family ie Mary Hurley who ran the Braidwood Hotel first in Braidwood then Foveaux Street.

  29. Hi Phillip. Just found some old notes that you might like to check.
    Date of Marriage may be incorrect. Rev. James Dixon Catholic Priest left the colony 1808. [try Trove old Newspapers.
    1814 Muster. Catherine Miles Alexander 2 Wife to W Davis
    History of St, Patricks Sydney
    Some convicts were allowed to have their families brought out, was Mrs, Davis, son and daughter his wife? may have upset Catherine. CSL 7-7-1825

  30. Thanks Russell. As you see there are variations in the traditions about William Davis’ wife Catherine. Primary evidence is only her letter in the Gazette, where she says she arrived in 1808 and married William 1809, Thomas Harper and Sarah Chidley witnesses. No church records of the time have survived. Is one of these latter two an ancestor of yours? William’s grandson passed on a story that Catherine had come from Ireland, with a daughter, and that daughter had married William’s adopted son Joseph. Later researchers have deduced that Catherine’s name before marriage was Miles, and that she arrived on the Alexander in 1806 from Surrey in Britain. I haven’t found out yet just why that particular Catherine is supposed to be William’s wife, nobody gives a reason, just a statement. If Sarah Chidley was on the Alexander, then she would have known Catherine Miles, and if she subsequently was a witness at Catherine’s marriage this increases the liklihood that Catherine Miles was William’s wife, that the 1808 arrival date is a mistake, that she may have been Irish but was living in England when arrested and transported. I would love to see what else you have on Sarah Chidley.

    1. Hi Phillip.
      Both Joseph Harpur and Sarah Chidley are my ancestors. A number of researcher are related to this couple. Their second son was Charles Harpur, early Australian poet. his biography by James Normington Rawlings is used as the bible of this family. documented on line, ADB, etc. Convict ship Alexander 1806, researched by Grahame Thom, lists those on board including wives and children of convicts, and free passengers. There was another Catherine on this ship, Kelly. From memory only she did not go to Parramatta? Sara was also witness to marriage of Mary Ann Jones, also of Alexander. Joseph was assigned to Macarthur at Parramatta and received a CP 1806 but remained at Parramatta until 1810/11.

  31. Hi Phillip.
    This is a story that I am revisiting to check info, when I happened upon your site.
    The story first came to my notice while researching my family history, and a name search in the SG 28-3-1826 gave the names, Thomas Harpur [should read Joseph] and Sarah Chidley as witnesses to the marriage of William Davis and Catherine Miles. Sarah and Catherine were both “Passengers” on the Alexander 1806.
    I believe this to be her arrival,

  32. Sorry to hear you’ve been ill Dorothy. I hope you are up and about now. The following comes about because I was curious about the information you supplied about a too hasty reading of WD’s will concerning the Fortunes of War (a great pub by the way). I’ve changed my db where I have followed B Dowd’s account. Then I went on to look at what could be charted of WD’s occupations by looking at online records. I don’t need to tell you this, as you’ve already done your research, but for other interested researchers, here is a timeline for WD from NSW state records.

    William Davis (per Friendship) in the NSW State Archives online indexes, to which are added claims made by his wife Catherine in an 1826 letter to the Sydney Gazette

    1798 imprisoned without trial, Offaly, age 32. Occupation publican in Enniscorthy Wexford. Sentenced to transportation for life (Mayberry)
    16 Feb 1800 WD arrived NSW on Friendship
    1806 Catherine Miles arrived in NSW on Alexander. Tried Surrey, sentence 7 years
    Sept 1808 Catherine X arrives NSW (CD letter in Gazette)
    Jan 1809 Catherine married WD at Parramatta (CD letter in Gazette)
    1809 WD labourer in lumber yard at Parramatta under Abbott (CD letter to Gazette)
    1809 WD Ticket of Leave issued (CD letter to Gazette)
    1809 -1821 CD issued licence for public house at Parraamatta (CD letter to Gazette)
    09 Jun 1809 WD On list of all grants and leases of town allotments registered in the Colonial Secretary’s Office
    06 Sep 1809 WD On list of all grants and leases of land registered in the Colonial Secretary’s Office
    14 Nov 1809 CD On list of all grants and leases of town allotments registered in the Colonial Secretary’s Office
    08 Feb 1810 WD Of Parramatta. Petition for mitigation of sentence
    26 Jun 1810 WD On a list of beer licences granted
    21 Jul 1810 WD Issued with licence to retail beer, ale and porter
    08 Jan – 17 Apr 1811 WD Juror at inquests on John Egan & Sophia Wade held at Sydney
    09 Feb 1811 WD On a list of licences granted to retail beer
    16 Mar 1811 WD licence for brewing beer (Gazette)
    01 Jul 1811 WD Conditional Emancipation
    07 Aug 1813 WD On list of persons holding licences for sale of wine and spirituous liquors
    31 Jan 1814 WD On list of convicts who have received absolute pardons
    01 Apr 1815 WD On lists of persons licensed as publicans; for 1815 & 1816 at Sydney
    06 Apr 1816 WD On lists of persons licensed as publicans; for 1815 & 1816 at Sydney
    01 Oct 1816 WD Applying for a carpenter, James Power per “Guildford” (2), to finish a dwelling house in Charlotte Square
    25 Feb 1817 WD On a list of licences granted for the sale of victuals, beer, ale, cyder and spirituous liquors – Sydney
    19 Apr 1817 WD Publican of the Blacksmith’s Arms, Sydney. On list of persons licensed as publicans for 1817 at Sydney
    10 Jul 1820 WD Signature as member of Committee of Catholics appointed to select site for Roman Catholic Chapel
    18 Sep 1820 WD On list of persons for whom grants of land have been handed over to the Surveyor General for delivery
    30 Jun 1822- 30 Sep 1823 WD On lists of persons to whom convict mechanics have been assigned
    25 Feb 1823 WD Permitted to proceed with cattle and servants through the Cowpastures and Argyle to the country to the southwest of the Cookbundoon Range
    31 Oct 1823 WD Shareholder in the Bank of New South Wales
    19 Nov 1823 WD Memorial for a ticket of occupation in the County of Argyle and complaining of the conduct of Mr Faithful’s men who drove cattle on to his run
    01 Apr 1824 WD Of Charlotte Place. On list of defaulters in payment for assigned convict mechanics for the quarters ending 31 Dec 1823 and 31 Mar 1824
    13, 23 Jun, 06, 07 Jul 1825 CD Free passage for Mrs Davis, son and daughter to New South Wales per “Midas”
    07 Jul 1825 WD Re free passage to New South Wales for Mrs Davis, son & daughter, on security of grant at Charlotte Place
    23 Dec 1825 CD Passenger landed at Sydney from “Midas”; with son and daughter
    15 April 1834 WD 17 land claims

    The indexes seem to bear out Catherine’s claims that after a period as labourer in a lumber yard (1800-1808), William Davis and his wife followed the occupation of publicans over the years 1809 -1821, first at Parramatta and later in Sydney. Their pub was The Blacksmith’s Arms. After 1821 William seems to have engaged in farming, and increasingly in land speculation, from which he probably derived his fortune, much of which was disbursed to the nascent Catholic Church in Sydney.

  33. Good Morning
    I have not been very well for the last month or so – thus I have been hybernating – in the heat – spending time trolling through the wonderful database which Phillip has as part of this marvellous website.

    Kylie, you say that you are 12000 miles from Oz at the moment – thus whether you are in GB, on the continent or the Americas I guess you are freezing, whilst here we are trying to cope with cyclones, floods and fires – as you would know, typical of our Aussie summer. I hope your routines have not been too greatly interrupted by the snow, ice and wind wherever you are.

    Thought I’d mention that I am also not a Catholic, but for any of us to research the life and times of William Davis of Church Hill we can’t do this without learning about the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church in Sydney and thus in Australia. If we were speaking about the first Irish Catholics in the early colony of NSW, using today’s language, government authorities and free settlers would have called them ‘terrorists’. Of course most of the early ones were convicts, as was William, living in a penal settlement. They virtually had no rights at all and the one that hurt them the most was the inability to worship and to have their own Priests. Thus we need to discover that William Davis had a large part to play in having their own clergy brought to the colony, he gave the church land and money – he gave shelter and sustenance to the first Priests in his own home and he virtually acted as the real estate agent when the church acquired the land on which St Mary’s Cathedral is built in Sydney.

    So it doesn’t matter whether we are Catholics, Presbyterians or calathumpians – we need to become familiar with the early history of Catholocism in Sydney Town to understand the personal commitment and generosity William Davis had for his fellow Irish settlers.

    Phillip has asked us not to go on with any discussion concerning the reprinting or otherwise of the Dowd booklet. I have acceeded to his wishes, simply to say I will reserve my cautious approach – I recognise that many people feel they can reprint anything they find – especially on the internet. You can make your own decisions concerning making copies of the booklet and accept any outcomes which may follow.

    Thought I’d tell you of one anomalie in the booklet. On page 12, Dowd says:- ‘William Davis applied for, and was granted a licence for a public house in George Street opposite the King’s Wharf – called by the name of the ‘Fortune of War’………….

    Neither William Davis nor his wife Catherine ever owned the land on which this public house stands (which is Lot 7 Section 84, Parish of St Phillip) nor did either of them ever hold the licence to this establishment.

    How did this anomalie come about:- the second bequest in the Last Will and Testament of William Davis, written and signed eleven days before he died on 17 August 1843 states:- ‘I also give devise and bequeath unto Anne Nolan daughter of the above named John Davis and Judith Milen the houses and land from the Fortune of War Public House opposite the Commissariat Department in George Street to the House at present occupied by one Preston’.

    It took me some time pouring over early maps of Sydney town and the Old Systems Title documents which go with them, to work this one out. William Davis acquired by Memorial No 295 …’by admeasurement of thirty six perches in the Town of Sydney Parish of Saint Phillip County of Cumberland … part of allotment Number eight of section Number 84 … on the thirtieth of September one thousand eight hundred and thirty four …’

    I have all the documents concerning the acquisition of this block of land and its eventual disposal which did not take place until the 1860s. I am willing to send copies of documents to anyone interested for the cost of photocopying and postage. I will not post the documents on the internet as they are Government records.

    William Davis had purchased the block of land next door to the hotel – ‘from the Fortune of War Hotel’.

    If you Google – Fortune of War Hotel, The Rocks, Sydney – you will get lots of information about the hotel and its site as well as the names of those who have held licences down through the years. It is purported to be the longest continuous hotel licence in Sydney for the same establishment on the same site.

    I’ve been long winded again – but these stories cannot be told in shorthand. Have fun finding out the historical background – and we can work out whether or not we are perpetrating incorrect information, just by not asking more questions of the material we read.

    Best wishes Dorothy

  34. Good evening Phillip
    I have recently been in touch with Penny Black and we both trace our ancestry back to Daniel Nolan. She wanted to know if I knew anything about a family connection to William Davis and directed me to your website. I have followed the conversations above and until Dorothy Fellows joined in I thought that there may be some connection to the Nolan’s via Daniel’s father William Nolan/Nowlan a coach builder from Dublin.

    Dorothy in a single stroke has dismissed that connection because of a misinterpretation of a document. I must say I am relieved to hear this if it is indeed true, (and Dorothy has convinced me that she is “the full bottle” on the story.) I could not sleep tonight because I was mulling all of the dates around in my head and consulted some documents about the history of St Patrick’s that I had collected in the hope that there might be some reference to my 2x grandparents, Charles and Kate Nolan who lived on the corner of Grosvenor Street and were supposed to have donated money to the church when they were there in the late 1880, but certainly not at the time St Pat’s was established and William was involved.

    I would like to know who Catherine Reid is. She is obviously a relative and maybe has a connection to Charles T Nolan through his son Charles Daniel Henry Nolan.

  35. I think the question of whether Dowd’s booklet or pamphlet is copyright, or should or should not be duplicated, is not helping anyone research the life of William Davis, and should be dropped.

    It would help that research if it was available, and if its supposed inaccuracies were pointed out. The internet is no different than a library when it comes to doing research, they both require the same skills, so the fear that on the internet information would be misused whereas it wouldn’t be in a library is in my view misplaced.

  36. Greetings
    Kylie, I am sorry if you think I am a wet blanket – but I believe the Dowd/Davis publication is a small booklet – not a pamphlett. I have never had the need to look up the official description of either. I know that back in the 1970s and 1980s when many families were holding reunions and producing small booklets for the participants – many of them did not carry a copyright symbol as people were not necessarily aware of the pitfalls of copying material. Now we have easy access to photocopiers, scanners and efficient computer operators – the practice of copying has become that much easier. Nevertheless, I am still somewhat cautious, as I have seen some disastrous work which has been reprinted and particularly, placed on the internet, without the permission of the researcher, which has caused much heartache.
    Even though Phillip says that research is not considered as intellectual property, and you have said family members must also have rights – I would hope that in thirty or forty years time, no one would consider reprinting my book (598 pages) – just because succeeding members of the family have a right to it. This would certainly be a breach of my intellectual property.
    Although I have aired my feeling of caution for reprinting this historical booklet, it is also that it contains a number of inaccuracies which we should not wish to perpetuate, that worries me. It is up to us, as the successors of this early research, to use the resources which are now available to us and thus correct these inaccuracies, no matter how small.
    Kevin Davis died in 2000, but it would appear his wife Phillipa Nan Davis is still alive, living in their home at West Ryde. Here I go again – caution – but if you use the White Pages you should find her address and phone number. Kevin and Phillipa did not have children.
    Kevin also has a sister Patricia, who I believe is still living, but I have not been able to establish a recent address for her. Patricia was living in Campsie in the early 1990s, but now in her mid seventies, she may be living in a retirement village on the coast or even interstate, (in sunny Queensland – tongue in cheek).
    By the way – I also have a copy of the booklet.
    Best wishes Dorothy

    1. Hello Dorothy. Perhaps you could pinpoint, for those of us with Dowd’s pamphlet, just what and where the inaccuracies are, so we don’t perpetuate them. I don’t mean in any detail in this spot, just a few pointers. My feeling is that reproduction may not be an issue (I don’t think it would be a legal issue) but we are bound to find out the views of Mr Dowd’s family members. Personally I would like to see a critical review of Dowd’s work published. Phillip

  37. You have some good thoughts on sources Dorothy. Researchers should always treat source material critically and attempt to assess its reliability. A person’s statement about themselves or a family member is not necessarily truthful. A government document is not by that ‘official’ nature necessarily correct. In the case of William Davis a lot of government archive material has survived to do with his convict status and his property transactions and can be analysed to uncover information about his movements and activities. Other than that we have family stories and traditions, and no way to verify them. The only way to proceed is provisional. We should accept a story until the attempt to prove it true or false has been successful.

    I don’t think you need to worry so much about reproduction of legal archive material. There seems to be a clear distinction on the part of government between contemporary material, where confidence must be secured, and historical material, where research can be carried out. This is natural in a system based on the use of precedent.

    Supreme Court cases are published online and commentated on by lawyers at this site: http://www.law.mq.edu.au/scnsw/html/family_history.htm. There is no restriction on publishing these historical records. You can find transcripts of the trial of Joseph Davis here.

    The Highland Council has published online a collection of wills, including that of Patrick Sellar, a factor involved in the Highland clearances involving so many Scottish emmigrants to other parts of the world. The Australian government hasn’t gone this far, preferring to charge exorbitant rates for the reproduction of their archived material (as they spend so much on high wages for so many politicians they probably need the money for the secondary task of running the country). However, material of this nature is available in this country (for a fee) and can be shared on the initiative of researchers.

    You bring up a number of interesting points regarding Bernard Down’s pamphlet.

    Copyright. This exists to protect the financial interests of publishers and authors. I don’t think it is normally extended to pamphlets. The copy I have seen does not appear to have a copyright assertion notice.

    Courtesy. A lot of hard work has gone into producing the pamphlet. While research is not normally considered intellectual property, it should be acknowledged. In this case both the writer/researcher and publisher are deceased, so permission can only be sought from any surviving family members, if they can be traced. A notice could be inserted in the reproduction that permission has been granted to reproduce, or that an attempt has been made to contact family members and secure that permission.

    Preservation. As far as I have been able to ascertain, there are only three copies of the pamphlet in existence. It is next door to vanishing forever. Making copies available to interested researchers may very well best serve the interests of Bernard Dowd, as that was his intention in publishing the pamphlet.

    Research. Despite its title, the pamphlet is more a history of Catholicism in colonial Australia than a study of William Davis. Of its 29 pages, only 12 concern Davis. Reproducing these, or part of them, would certainly be in accord with the provision of the Copyright Act.

    It is of course necessary for anyone who uses Dowd’s material in published form to quote it as a source, and probably to go to government archived material that Dowd used as his source for verification and amplification.

  38. Phillip, my cousin has typed out and emailed me a copy of the book by B.T.Dowd. I haven’t had time to read it myself, but I can email the document to you if you like. What is the best way to get hold of your email address. I can also send you a copy of my family tree.

  39. The Davis’ family tree is difficult, as are the Nolan’s and the Lillis’ and their dozen different spellings.

    As the Nolan/Davis connection is probably somewhere back in Dublin, I would appreciate comments on the Davis’ family in the ‘Nolan and Black family tree’ at Ancestry.com.au. It is a public tree.


  40. Hello,
    I’m descended from William son of Robert, brother of the William Davis in question. I would love to see W D’s will as he left a house in Cumberland St “beside Ikin’s store” to his nephew. My grandfather William Joseph Davis was born at 98 Cumberland St. presumably in that very house. That side of the street was resumed for the Harbour Bridge. His father was William, who arrived with brother John and father William in 1855. William (son of Robert) died at Braidwood 1868 age 80 leaving 3 sons, 3 daughters and nine dead. (On arrival in 1855 he states his age as 54) I believe two daughters Mary (Gertrude?) and Teresa were nuns in Sydney.
    Davis is a nightmare to research, especially when they marry cousins, and they’re all William, Mary or John. Despite this I would love to see the Davis family tree – chances are I can add to it.
    A rat plague 1900 or so necessitated the demolition of many buildings in the Rocks area. Interesting to note archeology is being carried out there.
    About ten years ago I was cheeky enough to knock on the convent door and asked to see W D’s house. A nun was only too pleased to show me through. A high window is now just above the footpath outside – that’s how much resurfacing has been done! I’ve seen an old newspaper sketch of the house and it’s freestanding.
    I met the wonderful Dorothy Fellowes then and she is a wealth of Davis information.
    Mum told me that two wooden crucifixes I have were made from the cupboard William Davis used to hide the Eucharist.
    I believe John Gammell was my grandfather’s solicitor.
    On the subject of Davis reproduction, Mum had no cousins but has four children, ten grandchildren, and nine great grandchildren. She also describes her father as quiet, affectionate, devout Catholic and a deep hatred of the English!
    Regards, Allan.

  41. Yes Phillip, scanning and emailing may be simpler, but my mother does not have the internet. And I am 12, 000 miles away from the book, so unable to do it myself. Republishing is our chosen option as several members of my family would like a copy and some prefer to read books as opposed to reading off a computer screen. I have had a copy of the family tree emailed to me, but it’s a very faint so am going to print it out and redo it. It would seem my great great great great grandfather would be rolling in his grave to find that the majority of his descendants are now C of E, but I find that quite funny. Also find it funny that I have walked past St. Patricks each time I’ve been to Sydney and never knew I had a connection to it.
    As you’re a 4 great nephew of William Davis, I’m not even going to try and work out how we are very distantly related. I only came about your postings in a search to find more copies of B.T. Dowd’s book. What a can of worms I’ve opened in helping my mother..lol

  42. Hi Kylie. Solution about the book is to scan it, far cheaper than reprinting, then email copies to those interested. Love to see your tree when it arrives. If you want to contact the other researchers I mentioned let me know, they will be pleased to hear from a relative.

  43. Hi Phillip. The book my mother has is indeed by B.T.Dowd and is a second edition print published by Kevin Davis. My grandfather was Leonard Davis, son of Henry Fuller Davis, son of Frederick Alexander Davis, son of Joseph Davis, son of William Davis, the Wexford Pike Maker. As you can see, we have a clear link to him. A cousin of my mothers traced the family history and she is going to send me a copy of this family tree. A line you may be interested in, is that of Sister Mary Gertrude Davis, the first Mistress of the Sisters of Charity. She is also a descendant of William Davis and links him to St. Patricks Church. If more copies of the book can’t be found, my mother will be looking into the cost of having more copies published, as some of my family are very interested in reading more about him, but as I’m sure you can understand, my mother is reluctant to hand over her copy of the book. I have had little interest in this, but my mother does and I am doing my best to search more information on her behalf. I certainly can do without several hundred more relatives..lol. The Davis clan are very good at reproducing and I have quite a few cousins in the Sydney area. Although I grew up in Queensland and don’t know many of them personally, or have a vague memory of meeting them when I was a child. I hope we can help each other in finding out more.

  44. Hi Kylie. The only books I have come across are one by Bernard Dowd, and a thesis by Dorothy Fellowes on the Davis family (these I haven’t read yet). Is your mother’s book one of these? Dowd’s book I think is in the NSW State Library and Fellowes’ thesis is at the Society of Australian Genealogists in Sydney. As you can see from other comments, Penny Black has a Davis family tree at Ancestry.com, and Pat Farr has done extensive research on the family. I’ve gained a lot of knowledge from others’ researches, and if you can fill in any gaps I’d be most grateful. The next step would be to scan these publications and circulate them to those researching this family.

  45. whoops- how about 1762 for b of John–combination of smudgy old photocopy and brain not in synk – how about Catherine – Ive always accepted that the Catherine who arrived in 1806 was the “real” wife ! I assumed that the date of 1808 was either a typo error or she was covering up that she had been a convict -‘they’ often were able to cover their past by going overseas and on returning-because they were then ‘free’ on their arrival -entered as a free person ! You have my email-can you send me yours-I can tell you-you WILL be interested or confused with my descent !

  46. Quite a lot here Patricia. First, the Noonan story. I also have the parents of WD as Joseph and Margaret Nolan. But Charles Davis’ tree gives William’s wife as Noonan, and her daughter Margaret Noonan as wife to WD’s adopted son (and nephew) Joseph. We don’t have actual proof of just who the Catherine was who married WD, as there is no surviving marriage cert. But Charles’ story is more in accord with Catherine’s letter to the Sydney Gazette, where she says she arrived in NSW in 1808, and that (implied) she was from Ireland. The Catherine Myles who can be traced in the records was English, and arrived in 1806. I know she is the accepted candidate and I have included her in my tree as such and I am just drawing attention to the discrepancies mentioned above in the story. The subsequent story of travels, property, children and relations with WD are clearly about his wife. It’s just the arrival of C. Myles in 1806 that I question.

    As far as the genealogy you give is concerned, we agree, though I don’t have dates for John senior. Where do these come from? And there is a discrepancy there: John born 1782 can’t have had a son John in 1790. If you’ll email me I’ll send you a link to my family tree online where you can check out what I’ve found out. We may be able to help each other, and I’ll be interested to see your descent.

  47. Catherine Miles-late of the parish of Saint Giles Camberwell County of Surrey – SPINSTER -16th May stole 3 gowns value 3 pounds,1 petticoat 10/- shillings skirt 2/- of goods and chattels of JOHN SLATER also 2 cloaks 2 pounds another gown 1 pound petticoat 10/- stays 10/- these from Mary Mears spinster in the same dwelling – (of course she was getting ready for her sea voyage to Australia ! ) Charged on 14 August 1805 7 years – convict No 1133 convict indent Alexander 20-8-1806 fische 632 page 235 – arrived on Alexander 20 August 1806 ..married William Davis 1809- Rev Dixon catholic priest she died May 1839. Sailed on Midas to England. then.. returned Sydney Gazette Mon Dec 19 1825 . Captain Baigrie left London 25 July surgeon Dr Cameron passengers included Mrs Davis son and daughter.

  48. William Davis 1765-1843. Son of Joseph Davis & Margaret NOLAN (not Noonan-) 2nd memory lapse by me– Wm & Catherine witnesses at baptism of William Bede (after Wm !) Bede (after catholic arch bis. Polding ) Dalley. Your John bro of Wm b 1782 m.Judith Millen -had Eliza- John 1790-1857 and Ann . Your John m Catherine Morris -they had John 1820-1861 who m Mary Dowling and Mary Anne m. Robert WATERS (yours) also bro James Morris 1830-1906 who married 1859 – Catherine Davis 1838-1908 issue 8 chn. Theresa 5th child 1870-1939- m.1896 to Thos Francis O’Mara- 9 chn..2nd child Thomas Joseph1899-1974 m. Reta Kearns 1908-1979 –had Judith . how did I go ?.does this agree with your records ?

  49. Catherines name was MILES – William Davis married Catherine Myles not Noonan- Ill check I think Williams mother was the Noonan-if you have access check the muster of 1814 -I think it mentions 2 chn Catherine and Joseph- belonging to Catherine & William ? I did all my research before computers- nearly lived at the Mitchell etc. What part of the country do you live in ? more later — patricia

  50. Hello Phillip- Tomorrow I will delve into my boxes of files and you may be interested in some info I have on Catherine. I have a copy of her sentence -she stole clothing-dress,corsets,etc the property of her employer Styles (from memory) she was sentenced to 7 years -arrived on the Alexander as you know. She owned a shop in Cumberland St-went back overseas 1826 to gather stock to sell- William applied to go with her-was refused-they had that barney in the paper- she borrowed money against her property to pay for the trip- after they left Sydney harbour bad weather forced them to return for a while- the journey was resumed -she paid for herself and 2 children- 1/2 fares -Captain Yonney was captain- she later paid back the borrowed money–she and William resumed their life together and were witnesses at the baptism of William Bede (Dowling?) The statue you mentioned is with the Sisters of Charity at Potts Point- St Vincents. This is sketchy but I will locate the documents tomorrow to check on my memory. It is many many years since I have looked at my research. But you have stirred my interest again. Maybe she bought shares in the bank as well ! They use to meet at Mary Readings place to talk about setting up a bank. Part of the Davis house is still undergroundish at the corner of Harrington St-below where the nuns use to live- used as a school room. pat

  51. Hello Phillip- Just recalled a solicitor named Gammell whose ancestor Mary Davis shared in the will of William Davis something like 5000 Pounds- we corresponded on a few occasions – through a connection Errol Lee Scarlett – historian and organist at St Marys Cathedral Sydney – who among other things wrote a beaut history of Queanbeyan. Regards Patricia

    1. Thanks Patricia. Sources used were the family tree compiled by Charles Davis, great grandson of WD (Irish roots, adoption of Joseph, then of his children etc); Sydney newspapers online (occupations such as labourer in lumber yard, licensee of beer, innkeeper at Parramatta then Sydney, relations with Catherine Davis, land acquisitions); Braidwood Historical Society (copies of research for the brood’s activities there); NSW RGO BMD (certificates); information on both Catholicism in Australia and the NSW Heritage and Preservation Register available online; other family trees, copy of WD’s will and funerary inscriptions.

      According to Charles Davis (he differs from Dowd) Catherine was a widow from Ireland named Noonan with children of her own who arrived 1808, married WD 1809, and at the same time her daughter Margaret married WD’s nephew Joseph, whom he had adopted. In Joseph’s ’34 trial, WD says he was born in the colony, but this may have been to gain sympathy for him. Unfortunately the records that might help are non-existant, as Fr Dixon apparently kept no records of BMD (he was ‘underground’ after all).

      I have left the matter of the children in the 1822 muster: Catherine’s?, or another William Davis? (I think I have traced at least four of that name in the period), or adopted?, and the ages if accurate present problems of chronology.

      I missed the Harrington St smithy in the Gazette (though I did find a WD of Harrington St who died in the 30s, a government clerk). The solicitor named Gammell might have been my grand uncle John Norbert who lived in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. I have quite a bit about his first wife’s family, an Irish one called Tier who settled on the SE coast of NSW. The Gammells I can trace straight back to a marriage in Limerick in 1813.

  52. Hi Phillip-Re William not having a family-As in Dawn of Catholicism Arch Bishop O’Brien states he was a bachelor and therefore left no descendants. James Donohoe 1988- Catholics of NSW 1788-1820 mentions son and daughter. 1822 muster 2 chn born in the colony Joseph 10 and Elizabeth 2 – son and child of William. As was custom of the time Catherine was granted 39 3/4 rods Southside Rocks by William Patterson at the birth of a child for 10 years..etc etc as my research is packed away I am relying on memory ..but ..also Willaim had his smithy at the Davis cottage site Harrington St and charged quite hansomly for his efforts.. in the Gazette somewhere .. Would you let me know what sources you mainly used for your mammoth effort ? Dorothy Fellows did quite a thesis on her John -a copy at the Genealogical Soc –fascination that the topic has come up again..It has been quiet for so many years !..The Catholic Weekly ran many letters years ago on the controvercy of the Leaving of the Blessed Sacrament – whose house– Davis or Dempsey– at least it brought history into focus. Regards Patricia

    1. The information on William was fascinating. I come from Vinegar Hill Enniscorthy and hear many stories about Willam Davis, including the site of St. Patricks. At some stage the Farr-Davis’ were mentioned but this was when I was in my thirties. I promised I would visit St Patricks and indeed have done so. Great to see it in print. Catherine Davis

  53. Greetings PhillipKay-just had a great read about William Davis-all of it quite familiar to me. I am also familiar with the Nolan connection. I was involved with the history written by Bernie Dowd -many years ago-some of his assumptions if I recall correctly- were not accurate. It certainly helped with his acquisition of land to be friends with the surveyor at that time ! I am looking forward to really giving more time to re-read your great effort. Regards Patricia (davis) Farr

    1. Thanks Patricia. Looking through the newspapers I can’t find mention of WD working as a blacksmith in Aust. so maybe he was an innkeeper in Ireland, and was framed. I also wonder about Catherine Miles, in Aust in ’06, as Catherine Davis in her rebuttal of WD in the Gazette says she was there in ’08. Just now I find an account of John Davis, grandnephew and heir, forced into bankruptcy and the sale of all his inheritance, and the suit prosecuted by James, William and other family members, as well as a Mr Nolan and wife. John died unexpectedly at age 40 in ’61 as the result of a shock received the year before the inquest found. Still much to learn.

  54. Dear Phillip,
    Over the years, my mother’s family (Nolan) have frequently mentioned their connection to William Davis, and my sister and I have been puzzling over the exact nature of this connection while looking into the family’s origins recently. My grandfather and great-aunt passed on rather vague references to WD assisting his nieces and nephews in coming to Australia but it has been difficult to ascertain exactly what our family’s link was and whether it was through Nolan or Lillas … However, having just stumbled upon your biography of Davis and your family links, I believe you might have answered our question of where the Nolan family fits into his story.

    However, we are still wondering where Daniel Nolan, our 3 great-grandfather fits into the picture. He arrived possibly around 1841, was married in Maitland and resided for some time in Scone. His son, Charles Thomas Nolan, had a drapers shop on the corner of George and Grosvenor Streets and he and his wife, Kate, are buried in Gore Hill Cemetery. They had a number of children whose progeny have spread far and wide over the ensuing years.

    Thank you for your detailed account of the life and achievements of William Davis, Phillip. I was thrilled to find it while trolling through the Net tonight. While much of his story was already familiar to us, you have provided that crucial link between the Irish Davis and Nolan families. Now, if you can shed any light on our Daniel or the Australian Nolan connection, I would love to hear from you.


    Catherine Reid

    1. Hi Catherine

      I was fascinated to read your story. My family has been following a similar story for the last couple of years.

      The story appears to have originated from Johanna Joseph (nee Lillas) whose daughter married Charles D H Nolan and lived in The Rocks near William Davis’ cottage and St Patricks Church. But the Lillas family came from Limerick in about 1841 and there does not seem to be any connection between them and the Davis’ family.

      There are some notable Nolan connections in the Davis’ family tree, namely William Davis’ mother and his brother’s daughter Anne. We have traced Daniel Nolan back to Dublin as the son of William Nolan (a coach builder) and Mary Tennant. But Daniel Nolan came out on the Royal Admiral, rather than being sponsored by William Davis. The records in Ireland for Dublin and Birr are improving, but a connection there is yet to reveal itself.


      1. Hi Penny
        Both you and Catherine seem to have a Lillas descent and a Nolan connection by marriage and must be related. You both have a family story that there was some connection between your ancestors and William Davis. The story as I understand it does not necessarily imply a genealogical connection. The association might be one of friendship, involvement in the cause of Catholic emancipation, business or any one of a number of connections. As Nolans, Charles and his wife might have been ‘cousins’ to the Davises, and that might have meant a close connection to the Davis in-laws, or a very loose belief that somewhere, sometime, the two Nolan lines were connected. The people of those days weren’t so exact as we try to be today. The assissted passage, something William was known to have provided for his heirs, might be a late addition to the story.

        Do you know about the 1846 hearing in which Mary Edwards attempted to claim back rent on a house left her by William Davis in Cumberland Street? Her counsel was a Mr Dowling. Or the 1859 case in which John Davis was stripped of his assets by plaintiffs “Davis and Ryan, Nolan and wife, James Davis, William Davis, Brierley and others”? Have you seen the material available at the Heritage and Conservation Register website? And did your info on the Davis family in Birr derive from Dorothy Fellowes thesis on the Davis family, a copy of which I have yet to track down?

        I oscillate between frustration at how many gaps in the record there are, and amazement that so much can still be discovered.

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