Friends at Parramatta

For many years I have been exploring the history of my family. I grew up without a family, and never had a legacy of stories, photos or letters that many others do. For that reason I suppose I’ve striven not to just compile a list of names and dates, but to find out more detail about these past lives. As usually I have official documents only to refer to, this aim is not often easy to accomplish.

This is a story about my great great grandfather James Gammell, who was a sponsored immigrant (“bounty” immigrant) coming from Tipperary to New South Wales in 1840. Many Gammells are Scots. In NSW at that time there were other James Gammells, from Scotland, who were ship’s captain, army major, member of Parliament and merchants. My ancestor was Irish: his parents, John, a weaver, and his wife Catherine Bennett, married and had at least four children in the town of Bruff in Limerick. I found transcripts of the marriage and baptism registers in church records, but they give minimal information about the parties concerned. I have no idea of either parents’ ancestry. James was a humble man, a blacksmith, who had moved from Bruff the distance of 35 km due east to the town of Tipperary, presumably for work, where he married a farmer’s daughter, Margaret Downey. His children believed James and Margaret had 10 children, and as five were born in NSW, five others may have been born in Ireland and perished in the Famine or the cholera epidemic. If so, the couple must have married about 1832 or 1833, in their late teens.

In the colony James moved out to the developing area of Parramatta. What follows is pierced together from legal documents such as wills, divorce papers, BMD certificates, and newspaper reports, and concerns seven families, all residents eventually of Parramatta, who knew and interacted with one another in various ways. Today we would call this James’ social network. It’s an important part of everyone’s life, all too often vanishing at a person’s death before it can be noted.

“List of immigrants, British subjects, sent to the colony of New South Wales by Mr John Marshall of London in pursuance of an authority granted to his agents the Mssrs Watkins of Sydney by the Colonial Secretary dated 26 August 1809, and who arrived at Sydney by the ship Jane Gifford on the 13 February 1841”. So says the shipping record of the voyage. On the list of immigrants are a James and Margaret Gannon, a blacksmith and domestic servant respectively, Roman Catholics and literate both, from Tipperary. They were 26 and 25 years old. I know from the bounty certificates they had to fill out, in the name of Gammell,  for receipt of the small payment they received that these are indeed my ancestors, though I have no idea how they came to ship under the name of Gannon. As other siblings of James also came to Australia, and I cannot trace their arrival, they too may have shipped under a different name. They each received a bounty of £19, though that may have been paid to Mr John Marshall, who organised the recruitment of settlers and provisioned the ship.

Parramatta was founded in 1788, as Governor Philip struggled to find viable farming land to support the new settlement of New South Wales. By 1823 the area where James Gammell was to settle had been surveyed, the streets surrounding the area had been formed and named and allotments registered. The streets concerned were Ross, Sorrell, Pennant (Victoria Road) and Windsor (Church Street).

The western half of allotment 15 fronting on Ross Street was sold by Terence McManus through his stepson George Cummings Flintoff to John Gammell, blacksmith. John was James’ younger brother. The lease was negotiated in 1845 but the grant was not made till 1855, by which time John had died, and the sale was completed by James. The dwelling on the property was occupied by members of the family till 1914, when it was demolished by council order as unsafe. The land was still in the possession of James junior in 1923. The adjacent allotment 16 was sold in 1852 to Michael Carey, tailor, whose son Gabriel (1838-1912), a shoemaker, was one of James’ friends and an executor of his will.

James Gammell (spelled variously Gamal, Gammel, Gamble, Gamell and probably a few other ways) seems to have operated a smithy with his brother John for several years at his Ross Street property. His first child born in Australia was Catherine Cecilia (31 March 1843). Another daughter, Mary Anne, followed  (01 December 1846). In October of that year James was writing to the Colonial Secretary to finalise the quit rent payments on his property so the grant could be processed.

James’ younger brother John was born 24 December 1820 in Bruff and must have emigrated before 1845, when he was negotiating the sale of the Ross Street property with GC Flintoff. On 02 January 1853 he married a mysterious Ann Levy. A witness to the ceremony was Margaret Gammell, presumably James’ wife. Suddenly, 10 May 1854, John died, of unknown causes. He was 33, though his funeral entry said 25. Surprisingly, there was no announcement or comment in the papers. His wife, whose origin is unclear, simply disappears, though there are a few newspaper reports of a drunk and disorderly prostitute called Ann Gammell over the next few years, 1859/60. There is an Ann Levy I have traced, who could have been John’s wife. An Ann Lever, born 1820, child of a soldier, Thomas Lever, who seems to have died, and, his wife Bridget being unable to care for her, was sent to the Orphan School at Parramatta. Bridget herself died 1826. Ann’s name became Levy while at the School. John, his arrival in NSW, his marriage, his wife, and his death, are still obscure. All I know for sure is that he was active in the smithy at Ross Street, and in the land purchase, and that he was buried in the Gammell plot at the Catholic cemetery at North Parramatta next to St Patricks Church, where most of the family members were buried.

James had a sister, Bridget, born 05 February 1814 in Bruff. At some stage she too emigrated to NSW. On 02 May 1842 she married a Richard Edwards at St Johns Parramatta. Richard was an Englishman, born in 1790, perhaps from Somerset, who was tried at Bristol 17 November 1811 for an unknown crime and sentenced to 14 years transportation to NSW. By 1823 he had received a Ticket of Leave and was resident at Parramatta, where he took up a lease for 49 Ross Street. On 21 November 1842 Richard purchased adjoining land on the west side of Sorrell Street. He and Bridget had four children. The eldest was Margaret, born 11 October 1843. Godfather was James Gammell. Margaret married a William Cock, a tailor in Parramatta, 07 Jul 1864, and had a stormy relationship with him until they divorced in 30 June 1893: that same year she married a Peter Lowe in Sydney, and died there in 1913. William Cock (also Cocks, and Cox) born 1836, may have arrived in NSW in 1854 on the ship Ascendant. He owned several properties in Parramatta and Redfern, and left them to Parramatta Hospital on his death 21 November 1894 in Melbourne. William was a friend and an executor of James Gammell’s will at his death in 1875. Other children of Bridget and Richard were Richard Stanley (03 February 1846 – 24 May 1914), who married Deborah Lawler and lived and had a family in Richard’s house in Ross Street, and two other children, William, born 1848, and Anna, born 1851, about whom I know nothing. Richard died 27 April 1871. Bridget died suddenly of a heart attack 12 February 1882 in her house at Ross Street, and she, her husband and her son Richard Stanley, are buried in the Catholic cemetery North Parramatta, near the Gammell plot.

Of James’ children, the eldest, Catherine Cecilia, married John Fairbrother 17 November 1870 in Sydney. The Fairbrother story I have told elsewhere in these pages. Catherine died in childbirth 28 June 1874 aged 31 and is buried in the North Parramatta Catholic cemetery. John Fairbrother’s mother, Mary Smyth moved to Parramatta after her first husband George Fairbrother committed suicide at Berrima in 1853. She then married Richard Roberts 16 July 1855 at St Patricks, and lived with him at 97 Sorrell Street, where she would have been a neighbour of the Hilliers. The second daughter, Mary Ann, married a John Charles Hillier 10 May 1868, at Sydney. Both the Gammell daughters’ ceremonies were celebrated by the controversial Reverend William Bailey of the Free Church of England, presumably because the wives were Catholics and the husbands Church of England. John Charles Hillier was later active in Catholic and Friendly societies in Parramatta from 1880 to 1914, and is described in a local paper report of 1889 as well known for the work he had done for Parramatta Council. In 1888 he formed a contracting business with James Firbank, and was resident at Sorrell Street. In 1891 the firm went bankrupt. John and Mary Ann were living in James’ house in Ross Street by 1889, from where John organised his mother in law Margaret Downey’s funeral. In 1914 he and his wife (they had no children) were still at the Ross Street address, John asking for an extension of time to move, as the building had been condemned by Council.  Mary Anne died 08 December 1921 at Lidcombe, but John disappears. I have no idea where he came from or where he went. There is a John Charles Hillier involved with Friendly societies at Kalgoorlie who takes up a similar position in West Africa mentioned in the newspapers, and I wonder if it is the same man. A third daughter of James is Margaret, who died as an infant 01 November 1849 aged 11 months and is buried at the North Parramatta cemetery.

Of James Gammell’s sons, John was born 09 November 1850 at Parramatta. He never married, and, aside from enclosing land at Ross Street, is not mentioned in any record until 05 February 1890. On that occasion an elderly woman who lived in his house died suddenly and was subject of an inquest. Her name was Mary Baker, John’s aunt, his mother Margaret Downey’s sister. Mary was born 1824 in Tipperary town and emigrated to NSW 26 July 1853 on the ship Bloomer. She lived in Sydney at first, where she stayed in a house owned by Patrick Baker. Patrick was an invalid, a pawnbroker of Regent Street. He had come from Ballydavid in Tipperary 14 December 1859 on the ship Annie Wilson, set up in business, became ill, possibly from consumption exacerbated by heavy drinking, and married his border Mary Downey, 14 years his senior in 1873. On 20 April 1874 Patrick died of his illness, and Mary was taken in by her nephew John Gammell in the Ross Street house at Parramatta. There she died suddenly aged 66 on 03 february 1890. A brother to Mary and Margaret, William, also emigrated to NSW 29 July 1855 on the ship Mangerton, along with his child Mary, born 1850. William’s wife Bridget had died by 1855, and he was probably seeking a better opportunity for his daughter and himself in Australia; he has slipped away though, he and his daughter, and cannot be traced any further.  John Gammell died 13 February 1904 aged 53 and was buried in the North Parramatta cemetery.

James Gammell’s youngest son, another James, was born 10 March 1853 at Parramatta. He retained property at Parramatta, the house at Ross Street and another at 44 Sorrell Street, but moved away from the area to become, first, a publican at Surry Hills, then Petersham. James the younger was the most financially successful of the Gammells, and eventually was referred to as an ‘investor’ or ‘of independent means’ in the records. On 02 May 1883 he married Anna Waters at Sydney. Anna (Susannah) was the eldest surviving daughter of Robert Knowles Waters (Watters, Walters). Robert was born 1829 in Limerick and emigrated to NSW 22 September 1850 on the ship Duchess of Northumberland. On board was a Mary Anne Davis from Offaly, a grandniece of the famous Wexford Pikemaker William Davis, who was responsible for the building of St Patricks Church in Sydney and one of the greatest supporters of the early Catholic church in Australia. Robert and Mary Anne married 19 April 1852 at St Marys in Sydney, then went to the goldfields at Braidwood to make a fortune. They never found riches. Robert joined the police force, was briefly the first gaoler at Braidwood Gaol, then at Berrima Gaol, before moving to Parramatta to join his cousin James Gammell. At Parramatta he set up business as a shoemaker but failed, and was declared bankrupt 22 May 1867. He had a business in Church Street and continued trading until the 90s. He lived first at Sorrell Street, then Isabella Street. His daughter Anna is the only ancestor of whom I know anything, a severe yet admired matriarch who was looked up to by her seven children (one, Vincent, was my grandfather). Anna’s portrait is one of my few surviving photographs, and bears out her reputation, severe, dignified, with a touch of humour around the mouth.

James Gammell the elder was a pivotal figure for these families: brother and partner of John and his wife Ann Levy; brother and neighbour to sister Bridget and her husband Richard Edwards; godfather to Bridget’s first child Margaret, and friend of Margaret’s husband William Cock, who was executor of his will; neighbour of Richard Roberts and his wife Mary Smyth, his daughter Catherine’s mother in law;  neighbour of his other daughter Mary Ann and her husband John Charles Hillier; father of John and provider of his wife Margaret’s sister Mary, who both lived in his Ross Street house; friend and supporter of his scapegrace friend and cousin Robert Knowles Waters and his wife; and friend of Gabriel Carey, son of his neighbour Michael, who was the other executor of his will. James died 07 July 1875 in Ross Street. His will provided for his family, with a curious provision concerning his wife Margaret that she be of good behaviour and conduct herself properly or be disinherited. Margaret behaved, and died 05 December 1889. She and James, like most of the Gammells and their extended family, are buried at the cemetery at North Parramatta. It is a curious fact that virtually all the dates engraved on the Gammell and Edwards headstone are wrong, most by three years. Trades re-occur in the families. Michael Carey, Richard Edwards and William Cock were tailors, James and his brother, and children James and John, were all blacksmiths, Gabriel Carey and Robert Waters were shoemakers.

I let two obituary notices finish this account.

“Among the deaths of the week in Parramatta was that of Mr. Gabriel Carey, formerly a well known resident of Gora Ward, Parramatta North. Mr. Carey, who was 74 years of age, passed away on the 6th inst. He left four daughters and one son living, and one son had predeceased him. Mr. ‘Gabe’ Carey was the son of old Mr. Michael Carey, one of the old-time residents of the historic borough; and formerly he took a good deal of interest in political subjects and matters of a kindred character. A sincere good-hearted old Parramattan was our departed friend ‘Gabe.’ ” (The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate  Saturday 13 April 1912)

“GAMMELL.-On July 7, at his late residence, Ross-street,  Parramatta, James Gammell, blacksmith, a native of Tipparary, Ireland, and a resident ot the district for upwards of thirty-three years, after a long and painful illness, which he bore with Christian fortitude, aged 56 years. Requiescat in pace”. (Australian Town and Counry Journal 24 Jul 1875)

©2012 Original material copyright Phillip Kay. Images and other material courtesy Creative Commons. Please inform post author of any violation.


5 thoughts on “Friends at Parramatta

  1. Hi Phillip. Congratulations on the information and pictures you have provided on this site. I was attracted to it originally, when trying to find out where an early place of worship for Presbyterians was located. The closest I have come is what I read in an article from newspaper of 1938 on the history of Presbyterians in Australia. It was situated on ‘the north side of Ross St. not far from Marsden St.”
    The first Laverack ancestor in Australia, my great,great grandfather was married there on Dec 24, 1839, so it seems. Marriage certificate states “Scots Church Parramatta” but since none was completed until 1849, I can only presume that the temporary site in Ross St, was the Scots Church.
    I was hoping your ealy maps would denote this site.
    It would be very helpful to readers if you could clearly caption the photos you have included here. Where is that wonderful old residence – your second-last photo?

    1. Thanks Mal. A quick check in Trove shows church members squabbling over a subscription list for the new church in 1838. You will probably have seen that. There seems to have been two groups wanting to claim the new church. One of them writes from Mr Neil’s school house Ross Street in 1842. As to which group was “official” you might have more idea than I. Your ancestor may well have felt strongly about the issues that divided the groups, and married in one church rather than another, even if it had only temporary status. I agree the pictures need captioning. In the meantime, hover your mouse over the picture to get an identification (Option or control click to download it). The house in question is in Galloway St Parramatta.

      1. Hi Phillip,
        Many thanks for your reply. An archivist from Presbyterian head office informed me that at the time of my relation’s marriage in 1839, “Scots Church Parramatta” would in fact have been in either a house of a parishioner or most likely in the residence of the then Presbyterian minister. And the original site of the latter was as outlined above – in Ross St. not far from the corner of Marsden St.
        And also thanks for advising me about how to identify locations – excuse my ignorance! All the best.

    1. Thanks Gillian. I would love to know more of this family, with some members of which I grew up but lost contact with many years ago. I have no idea of the birth of Mary Gertrude, nor of Alice Margaret or James Robert, though these last two were born at Newtown and Parramatta. Any thing else would be welcome. As you see through my blog I have also traced James’ father James, and his sister Bridget, and come across spouses whom I know nothing of living at Parramatta, Richard Roberts and Richard Edwards. Where are you in the family tree?

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