Waters of Limerick

This is not about the river Shannon, but about a family called Waters who lived in Limerick Ireland, perhaps in the city, in the 19th century, a member of which was one of my great great grandfathers. His name was Robert Knowles Waters and he was born in the early 1800s in Limerick, migrated to New South Wales in 1850, and married and died there. I discovered more about him and his family by looking at his second given name, ‘Knowles’, which shows the importance of female family names.

1 Limerick


I found a record of Robert’s death in the newspapers on the NLA’s Trove site, http://trove.nla.gov.au/ (and learned to search by initial, ‘R K Waters’, ‘Robert K Waters’ etc), and on the NSW Registrar General’s Index of BMD, http://www.bdm.nsw.gov.au/Pages/family-history/family-history.aspx.  His death certificate told me he had been born in Limerick and that his parents were a John Waters of that place, farmer, and a Susanna Knowles. So Knowles was his mother’s family name. Robert’s emigration papers indicated both his parents had died by 1850. Robert died 17 March 1901 and is buried at Rookwood Catholic Cemetery in Sydney.

‘Knowles’ is sometimes Gaelic O’Tnuthghail but usually it is of English origin, and as Robert said on his emigration papers he was of the Church of Ireland (not a Catholic) the family may well have been originally from England. However that is all I can find of Robert’s parents, other than the birth of other of their children.

In NSW Robert married a fellow passenger on the emigrant ship, Mary Ann Davis, at St Marys Cathedral 19 April 1852. It was a Catholic ceremony as the Davises were fervent Catholics. Mary was a sister of John Davis, the young heir of William Davis of Church Hill, the wealthy ‘Wexford Pikemaker’ who had built St Patricks Church in Sydney’s Rocks area. Robert and Mary moved to the Monaro goldfields: Robert was a storekeeper at Majors Creek, then a prospector at Braidwood. He became a member of the police force at Braidwood and in 1857 was presented with a vote of thanks and a reward for an act of gallantry when he risked his own life to save a group of people adrift in a flooded river. Robert and Mary did not make a claim on the William Davis estate in 1859, when many  family members brought about the heir John’s bankruptcy. In 1862 Robert became the inaugural gaoler at Braidwood, moved to Berrima, then Bathurst in similar positions, and then in 1867 moved to Parramatta and became a boot and shoe maker there, in Church Street, then Isabella Street in North Parramatta, not far from his son in law James Gammell, who had a house in Ross Street. James Gammell’s father, another James, was a witness at Robert’s marriage, and may have been the cousin he mentioned on his emigration papers. I’ve written about Robert elsewhere on BestQuest so will say no more here.

2 Killarney Ross Castle Limerick


Robert had had a son also called Robert Knowles Waters. It occurred to me I might find siblings of Robert snr by doing a search on the NSW BMD Index site under given names Knowles, family name Waters. I turned up a Francis Knowles Waters (1912-1969), parents Edward Knowles Waters and Edith Catherine Kelly, but this didn’t seem to be my family at first. However, I persevered. Edward Knowles Waters (1879-1954) was the son of John Edward Waters (1854-1901) and Emma Mary Flaherty (1850-1933), and John the son of Edward Waters (1826-1904) and Mary Ann Christy (1830-1919). And Edward’s parents were a John and Susanna. It looked promising. Had I discovered a sibling of my great great grandfather, and would it reveal anything about the family in Limerick?

This group of families was discovered by using the NSW BMD Index, noting parents names, searching likely marriages then searching again under births and parents’ names.

At first I could find nothing on Edward Waters that would tie him to my family. But on Genealogy.com a researcher mentioned that Edward had emigrated from Ireland to Melbourne in 1863. On Victorian state archives I found passenger lists, http://prov.vic.gov.au/index_search?searchid=23. This told me Edward and his family had arrived in Melbourne Victoria in 1863, and a search under family name and that of the ship revealed that Edward had travelled with his brother William and his family. Their brother Robert by this time had left his secure employment as a gaoler and was about to file for bankruptcy in his shoemaking business. If Robert had played a part in his brothers’ emigration by painting a rosy picture of life in Australia the emigrants were about to be disappointed.

Another search of Trove revealed that Edward had moved to NSW and that, on the marriage of his daughter it was noted he was formerly  resident of Mallow, Cork, Ireland. Edward’s death certificate revealed he had been born in Limerick, married Mary Ann Christy in Killarney, and that his parents were an unknown Waters and a Susan Knowles. His son John’s death certificate referred to him as Edward K Waters. On the Irish genealogy site http://churchrecords.irishgenealogy.ie/churchrecords/, which has records for Killarney, I found the marriage, transcribed as to a Mary Ann Chustee, at Flesk Priory Killarney. Edward’s father was given as John Waters. I had found a brother of my ancestor Robert Knowles, and this one was probably Edward Knowles Waters. The Irish site also had children of both Edward and his brother William born at Cork city, so both families must have resided there before Edward moved to Mallow. He was described on his DC as formerly a drill instructor, so I presume that was an army position.

3 Ireland rail


I then went looking for William Waters. On the Victorian BMD site http://www.bdm.vic.gov.au/home/family+history/search+your+family+history/ I found the DC of William Waters. His full name was William Knowles Waters, and his parents were given as William Waters and Susanna Knowles. He was said to have been born in Cork. I decided to treat the father’s name and birthplace as a mistake on the part of the informant, and that I had found another brother of my ancestor Robert Knowles Waters. Perhaps the Waters family had moved at some stage from Limerick to Cork. John Waters and Susanna Knowles had had three sons who had all emigrated from Ireland to Australia. I also discovered on the LDS site Familysearch.org  a John and Susanna Waters who had had a son Henry baptised 31 March 1811 in St Munchins Limerick. Could this be yet another brother? I had no way of checking unfortunately.

Once I had the ancestry established I was able to find details of family members, on the NSW BMD site, and on Trove. I treated the ages given with caution, as elsewhere I had found that calculating birthdates from ages given caused problems, so unless I had a birth announcement I used the approximate date of birth, within five years of the age given.

Wherever I could I checked other sources. For instance I found a death notice for Mary Ann Christy on the NSW BMD site, and confirmed it by checking the Anglican cemetery records at Rookwood http://www.rookwoodcemetery.com.au/deceased-search and then looking on Trove.

4 Shanon Limerick


I ended up with a picture of a perhaps well off couple, John Waters and Susanna Knowles, who might have lived 1785 to 1850, married about 1810 and had a large family including the three sons I had traced in Australia. Perhaps they fell on hard times during the Hunger, were victims of disease, or moved to Cork city for family reasons. The Irish Historical Society site https://rootsireland.ie/ifhf/subscribe.php has many surviving records, but like Find My Past http://www.findmypast.co.uk/ has an ineffective search engine which gives limited search criteria and lots of results, each of which cost to see, and  both these sites end up being too expensive to use. Parish records are available online, at http://registers.nli.ie/help, but only Catholic parishes. Like many people I have found Irish roots hard to trace.

The Waters picture is clearer in the Australian records. One son, Robert Knowles, came to Australia 1850, married here, and his daughter Susanna married James Gammell son of James, both of Parramatta. This was my mother’s family.

Another son, William Knowles, married in Cork Ireland an Ellen Walsh, apparently an old family in this district. They were married at Sts Peter and Pauls 14 November 1846. There were nine or ten children, but I have found only two baptisms, both Cork. The children born in Victoria are on the BMD site there but as it is a pay to search site I haven’t persevered with tracing this family. One daughter, Susanna, married a well known jockey John Nolan in 1877; he was killed three years later in a New Zealand racing accident: the story is on Trove. William died 1883 in Melbourne and Ellen in 1887 in Flemington.

The third son, Edward K[nowles] married in Killarney in 1847 a Mary Ann Christy, whose father William was an army officer. The couple had four children in Ireland, the youngest, Henry, who died 1864 after the voyage to Australia in 1863. Edward died 1904 n Newtown NSW, Mary Ann in 1919 at Marrickville. Both are buried at Rookwood Anglican cemetery.

5 Limerick George-street

Edward’s eldest daughter was Mary Ann Susanna who married a well known journalist, Eugene William Keily in 1871. The couple moved to Toowong Queensland, they had six children. Edward’s only surviving son John married Edith Catherine Kelly in 1901, of the 10 children, one, Edward Knowles Waters, had a son Francis Knowles, who had first drawn my attention to the name ‘Knowles’ in this family (coincidentally Knowles is also my father’s family name). Edward’s other daughter Sarah Ann married Alfred James Callaway, of an English family by way of Hobart Tasmania.

Susanna Knowles, whoever she was, must have been a person of some prestige, a well connected person or a heiress, to have her name commemorated so many times down so many generations of the Waters family. But for me she still remains an enigma.

©2016 Original material copyright Phillip Kay. Images and other material courtesy Creative Commons. Please inform post author of any violation.


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