An obituary notice in an Australian newspaper has given me additional information about the family of an Australian politician whose life I researched at the start of this year.
Eric Michael Heenan was a survivor of the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918, having contracted the virus while returning from Durban on board a troop carrier. He spent months in a quarantine hospital at Woodman Point near Perth. On his release he returned to his job as a schoolteacher but subsequently studied law and qualified as a barrister. In 1936 he was elected to Parliament, serving on the Legislative Council as Labour representative for the North East Province for the next 32 years.
At the time I wrote up my research, I had been able to establish that he was the grandson of an Irish immigrant couple called James Heenan and Bridget Neil. I knew little more about this couple but I’ve now found an obituary notice published at the time of James’ death in 1906.
Queensland Times, Sat 21 July 1906 Page 13
DEATH OF AN OLD LAIDLEY RESIDENT.
Mr. James Heenan one of the oldest residents of Laidley, passed suddenly away, yesterday, at St. Mary’s Private Hospital, where he was being attended to by Dr. Flynn, the cause of death being heart-failure. The deceased, who was 79 years of age, leaves a widow and a large family. Both he and Mrs. Heenan came to Moreton Bay in the sailing-ship General Hewitt, arriving in Brisbane in December of 1854, and have resided in this State for over 50 years.
The body will be conveyed to Laidley to-morrow morning, and the funeral will leave his late residence, Spring Park, for the Laidley cemetery, at 12 o’clock tomorrow.
From Tipperary to Ireland
According to this obituary, James Heenan arrived in Australia on board a ship called the General Hewitt in 1854. Fortunately the passenger list for that voyage is still available. James is shown on board though he is recorded with the surname HANEY.
The ship sailed from Southampton, England on 25 August 1854 arriving in Moreton Bay, Queensland, after .a voyage of some 109 days on 12 December 1854. There were 351 passengers on board, of whom 266 were adults 157 males and 115 women). There had been 16 deaths on board (14 of them children) and 3 births during the voyage.
The list of single men shows James as a 31 year old single man, from Tipperary who is able to read and write. His calling could be either general labourer or ag labourer (the text is very faint so not easy to decipher). His religion is Ch of R ( the abbreviation for Church of Rome – otherwise known as Roman Catholic). His parents are Michael Heenan and Catherine.
Interestingly immediately before his name is another passenger called Anthony HANEY, aged 33, also from Tipperary and also with parents Michael Heenan and Catherine. I think it safe to say this is James Heenan’s elder brother.
They were travelling under the assisted migration scheme where their voyage was subsidised fully or partially by the colonial government.
The arrival of the Hewitt was reported in the local newspaper The Moreton Bay Courier. The immigrants were transported from the ship by brigg and taken to accommodation barracks. One report said that the demand for labour was so high that within two weeks only 70 adults remained unhired in the barracks.
What happened to James Heenan and his brother in those first few weeks is not yet known. But within 2 weeks of arrival he had married. His bride was another passenger from the ship: Bridget Neil. On the passenger list she is recorded as a 17 year old girl from Dublin, the daughter of Patrick Neil (deceased) and Catherine. Bridget is described as a servant. She is accompanied by a Mary Neil, aged 20, also a servant with the same parents. Did they meet on the ship or in the immigration barracks? Maybe we’ll never know.
What we do know is that they moved inland from Moreton Bay. Their third child Michael Heenan was born in 1859 in Twoowoomba, a settlement 100 to the west of that had rich farmland and was growing fast. The year before Michael’s birth, it had a population of 700, three hotels and many stores.
They then moved to Laidley in the Lockyer Valley, a rural community which was cleared for sheep grazing at the time of their arrival. It subsequently developed as an agricultural region, one which has long regarded itself as “Queensland’s Country Garden”
Their move can be narrowed down to 1860 when a James Heenan bought the deeds to a small parcel (2 roods) of land in Laidley from the crown. Over the years James became the owner of substantial land holdings.
In 1875 there is a record of a purchase of land by James Heenan, this time of 40 acres in the parish of Laidley, and in the following year an even larger purchase of more than 100 acres. By 1878 the Queensland Times was reporting that he owned more than 800 acres, most of it for grazing but with 36 acres set aside for cultivating maize, potatoes and oats for hay.
This is an individual whose foothold the community is strengthened in future years. In 1878 for example a James Heenan was appointed to the committee of the state school in Laidley.
Making the connection
How do I know this is the same James Heenan? It’s a question of putting together various pieces of information.
The Queensland Times report which described James Heenan also refers to a nearby farm owned by Mr.Edward Heenan. After some digging around I can be sure that this Edward Heenan was another brother of James. Civil registration records show that he died in 1906 and was buried at Laidley Cemetery.
An obituary in the Queensland Times, indicates he left Ireland in 1850 landing in Sydney, and “after spending a short time at other occupations went on to the gold-fields – at that time in their infancy – where he was fairly successful.” After marriage in 1852, he became a farmer, settling initially on the Hunter River, near Maitland. But in 1870, as a result of floods, he moved to Laidley, buying land ” from his brother, Mr. James Heenan, the property where he breathed his last.”
A Family Of Settlers
The three brothers identified so far – Anthony, Edward and James – were part of a large family who lived in the Ballylina townland in County Tipperary. Their parents were Michael Heenan and Catherine Kelly who had eight children baptised in the parish of Borrisokane between 1823 and 1832.
Michael senior appears to have been a farmer with a landholding in Ballylina West leased from Lord Ashtown. One plot is described as just over 2 acres of land valued at 13 shillings. A separate plot of house, buildings and land occupies a space of 18 acres and is valued at £9 13 shillings.
What happened to the land, did it pass to one of the sons who stayed in Ireland, is one line of research I’ll want to persue. There are no families with the Heenan surname recorded in the 1901 census for Ballylina specifically but it may be the townland is recorded with another location.
- Queensland Times, Sat 21 July 1906 Page 13.
- State Records Authority of New South Wales; Kingswood New South Wales, Australia; Persons on bounty ships to Sydney, Newcastle, and Moreton Bay (Board’s Immigrant Lists); Series: 5317; Reel: 2466; Item: [4/4937]; accessed. via ancestry.com database New South Wales, Australia, Assisted Immigrant Passenger Lists, 1828-1896
- he Moreton Bay Courier 23 December 1854, page 2.
- The Moreton Bay Courier 30 December 1854, page 2.