Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Carrolls of Van Diemen’s Land Part Two

When Catherine Carroll and her three young daughters, Letitia, Mary and Ellen, left their home in Forest, Athy for the last time in 1857, they could not imagine what the future might hold for them in far away Tasmania. There, they were to join Catherine’s broth-er-in-law Denis Carroll, whose brother and Catherine’s husband John had disappeared, never again to be heard of, after he emigrated to America nine years previously. Denis himself had left Athy in January 1842 with his wife Ann and three children, but sadly on the long sea trip, which in those days took upwards of six months, Ann had died. The widower, Denis Carroll, would marry Ann Martin, a widow, the year before his sister-inlaw Catherine arrived in Tasmania. He was 58 years of age and his second wife was 43 years’ old when they married on 21 May 1856.

Catherine Carroll and her three daughters arrived in Hobart, Tasmania on board the Sir WF Williams on 18 August 1857. The eldest daughter Letitia was 17 years’ old, while Mary was three years younger and Ellen was the youngest at 11 years of age. Kate White in her biography of Joseph Lyons, prime minister of Australia in 1932-1939, wrote that “from Hobart, the Carroll women took a coach to Lauceston where they boarded a coasting ship for Stanley”. Stanley was then a relatively new settlement chosen by the Van Diemen’s Land Company as the site for the first European settlement in the north west of the island. Later developed as the principal fishing village in that part of Tasmania, Stanley was the centre of the Van Diemen’s Land Company operation, a company which incidentally still operates today in Tasmania.

Little is known of Catherine Carroll’s family during their years in Stanley, where they probably found accommodation with the help of Denis Carroll, who by 1857 was a well-established farmer in that part of the island. For how long Catherine Carroll lived in Stanley I have not yet discovered but, as she was just 43 years’ old when she arrived in Tasmania, it is quite possible that she had many more decades to live in that part of the world.

Of her three daughters, the first to marry was the youngest Ellen, who married Michael Lyons, son of Galway parents, on 7 September 1870. Michael Lyons senior had built the Shamrock Inn in Stanley and had it licensed as an inn in 1849. A successful businessman, Lyons transferred the premises to a brother-in-law whom he sponsored to come from Ireland and then proceeded to take over the licence of another local establishment, the Emily Hotel, which rather strangely for someone with an Irish Catholic background he promptly renamed the Freemasons Hotel.

Michael Lyons Junior, who married Ellen Carroll, was less successful in business than his father. Initially, he managed his father’s produce store during the first nine years of his married life when, with four children in hand, the young couple moved to Ulverstone, near Devonport, where Michael Lyons opened a butcher’s shop and a bakery. The youngest child born that same year was Joseph Aloysius, the man who would later become prime minister of Australia. The butcher cum baker, Michael Lyons, prospered but with an extraordinary lapse of common sense he lost his business and the family fortune on a horse race and plunged his young family into penury. Nine-year-old Joseph Lyons was forced to go out to work to help the family’s finances, a situation which caused his Irish aunts Letitia and Mary grave concerns. The still-young Ellen Carroll from Forest, Athy, who had married the luckless Michael Lyons, would thereafter have a difficult life which was eased somewhat when her sisters Letitia and Mary, still living in Stanley, took her son Joseph into their care. The little cottage in which the two Irish women lived is just a few houses south of where Michael Lyons and Catherine Carroll lived before they left for Ulverstone. The house is now a museum dedicated to Joseph Aloysius Lyons, the Australian prime minister, whose mother Ellen emigrated from Athy in 1857.

Earlier this year, I visited the Lyons cottage and found a magnificent collection of photographs and other material relating to Joseph Lyons and his wife Enid, who was the first woman elected to the Australian House of Representatives and Australia’s first woman cabinet minister. 12 months ago I had never heard of Joseph Lyons, but the chance finding of a note given to me many years ago by the late Jack Meany of St Patrick’s Avenue prompted my enquiries and a subsequent visit to Stanley and other locations associated with the Lyons family.

Another place linked with Catherine Lyons’s son was ‘Home Hill’, a beautiful detached residence on the outskirts of Devonport where Joseph Lyons and his wife Enid lived from 1916 and where Enid continued to live after his sudden death in 1939. The house, which is a single-storey timber structure on a blue stone base, is now owned by Devonport City Council, while the National Trust owns the house contents. It contains many interesting historic mementos of the life and times of Joseph Lyons, the prime minister, and his wife and family. The house, like the cottage museum in Stanley, is staffed by volunteers and on my visit I was fortunate to be given a very comprehensive guided tour of the house and its contents.

Joseph Lyons travelled to London in 1935 for the King of England’s Jubilee and again two years later for the coronation of the new king. He received the freedom of the cities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh during his visits, as well as the freedom of the city of London. My guide at Devonport claimed that the prime minister also visited Ireland and spoke to the Dáil, following which he was presented with a miniature of the Ardagh chalice made from Irish silver.

There was also a claim that he had received a presentation from Dublin Corporation. Whether these claims are correct or not, I cannot say, but it strikes me that a visit to Ireland by Joseph Lyons was likely in 1935 or 1937. Did the Australian prime minister by any chance make a quick visit to the area from where his mother had emigrated? These are the questions that might be answered on my next visit to the National Library to check out its newspaper collection.

I met one of Ellen Carroll’s grandsons when I was in Tasmania. He had visited Ireland some years ago but at a time and an age when he had little or no knowledge of his grand-mother’s Irish background and so did not visit Athy. The story of the Carroll family in Australia is now reasonably well documented, due largely to the successful political career of Ellen Carroll’s son, Joseph Lyons. Many more families from this part of South Kildare made the long journey overseas to Australia and Tasmania in the 19th century and later. Their stories remain undocumented, but hopefully at some time in the future it might be possible to record the lives and family backgrounds of some of the Irish emigrants who made a new beginning in the former convict colony of Australia.

Finally, on 16 June 1904, James Joyce and Nora Barnacle went out together for the first time. Years later, Joyce set his novel Ulysses, which records the events of a single day in the life of Leopold Bloom, on that same day. 16 June is now celebrated all over the world as ‘Bloomsday’ and this year even greater significance is given to the annual celebration as the day on which a free travel pass is given to my oldest friend and eminent Greek scholar, Teddy Kelly. Long may he enjoy Haughey’s largesse.

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