Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Catherine Murphy - a summary of what's known

Catherine was born about 1822 (based on her stated age when she died.) It seems likely she was born outside Australia. A daughter named Catherine was born to James and Sarah Murphy in Sydney in 1821, but she seems to have married Henry Stedman, and remained in NSW. I can't find any other registered births for Catherine/Catharine Murphy in the right time period.

Of the convicts named Catherine Murphy who arrived in Sydney between 1820 and 1841, only three were born within ten years of 1822. Two of these are known to have married other men, and the other didn't obtain a certificate of freedom until 1848, so Catherine was probably a free immigrant, or her birth in NSW is unregistered.

It seems she was unable to write, since she signed her name with an 'X' when she married John Mason on February 2 1841. Both were said to be Roman Catholic, and married in St Mary's Catholic church in Sydney. Father Joseph Platt performed the marriage, and Andrew and Mary Goodwin were the witnesses. 

The birth of a daughter, Mary Ann, was registered in 1842 in Sydney, and another child, Catherine, was born in 1844. There may have been one or more children born to John and Catherine in Sydney who died in infancy, but this is uncertain.

In December 1844, John and Catherine and their two children sailed to Adelaide on the Dorset, arriving in January 1845. Catherine must have been pregnant at the time, as a third daughter, Margaret, was born in July that year.

Rose followed in 1847, Susan in 1849, Eliza 1850, Jane in 1852 and Bridget in 1854. When Bridget was 3 years old John died, leaving Catherine, then 35, with eight girls to bring up alone. Michael Murnane filled out the death registration details on Catherine's behalf.

The three older girls, aged 14, 13 and 11, were already working, and the 14 shillings a week that they earned between them was the family's total income. (The average labourer earned about 4 shillings per day at that time.) Catherine applied to the Destitute board for relief in June 1857, and again a few months later.

Catherine's eldest daughter, Catherine, married George Davis in June 1865 in Adelaide. Mary Ann married Henry Atkin in July 1865, and Margaret married Henry's brother, Thomas, in February 1866. Catherine's first grandchild, John Thomas, was born in 1865 to Mary Ann. More marriages and grandchildren followed, with Rose marrying William Morris in 1868 and Eliza marrying Jeremiah Murphy, a British soldier, in March 1869.

It's not clear what became of Jane and Bridget, but Susan must have caused Catherine a lot of heart ache. From the age of 14 her name appeared in the Police Court reports of the Adelaide papers several times. In April 1868 she appeared as a witness to a theft, in a case involving her future husband, David Whybrew. Susan's first child, Harriet, was born 'out of wedlock' in September 1868. Susan eventually married David in May 1869, with her second child Elizabeth (Eliza) born in December of the same year.

Both Susan and her sister Eliza left Australia about 1870 with their husbands and returned with their army regiment to England. Catherine Mason remained in Adelaide until her death in 1874, at the age of 52. She was probably buried at West Terrace Cemetery, but no newspaper announcement of her funeral, and no record of her grave has been found.

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