A Journey of Hope and Hardship: The Dempsey Family’s Voyage to Australia in 1838

In 1983, a letter written by Enid Hardman to her cousin Rene Dempsey shed light on a significant chapter in our Dempsey family history. The letter recounted the story of their great-grandfather, James Dempsey, who, in the early 19th century, left his homeland of Ireland amidst turmoil and strife. He had a premonition, that “there would be no peace in Ireland for a hundred years.” History would later vindicate his foresight.

The 1830s-1840s saw Australia, a new colony, in dire need of labourers and farmers to cultivate its vast lands. The Bounty Scheme aimed to attract these individuals. James, yearning for a fresh start, decided to qualify for bounty assistance by listing his occupation as a ploughman on his Immigration Entitlement Certificate.

However, a further revelation in Enid’s letter suggests that James was more than just a farmer; he was, surprisingly, an accountant. He certainly possessed good reading and writing skills and this revelation would account for why he was able to acquire land in the new colony so swiftly after arrival – an achievement seemingly unattainable on a ploughman’s wages.

Despite the uncertainties surrounding their departure, James Dempsey and his wife, Jane (nee McLoughlin), embarked on a daunting journey with their seven children – John, Catherine, Mary, Jane, James, Ann, and Roseann. Their voyage began in October 1838 when they boarded the emigrant ship, Susan.

“The Departure” – From the Illustrated London News, 6 July 1850

Before their departure, the Dempsey family spent time at the emigration depot in Londonderry, preparing for the challenges that lay ahead. These depots, essentially large sheds, offered a glimpse of the cramped shipboard conditions awaiting them.

On October 10, 1838, most passengers boarded the Susan, and the routine of ship life commenced. Four days into the journey, they encountered rough weather, a precursor to the hardships that would define their voyage. The water closets between decks also became clogged, posing an early inconvenience.

Present-day Culmore Bay

After several days anchored in Culmore Bay, the Susan moved to Moville, hampered by more adverse weather conditions. Seasickness plagued the passengers, and conditions became increasingly challenging. It was in Moville that James took the opportunity to send a letter back home, reassuring his loved ones.

James’s letter offers a window into the shipboard organisation and the emigrants’ well-being. Passengers were grouped into messes, each led by a designated individual responsible for fair distribution of rations. Discipline was enforced, and those who breached the rules would face consequences upon arrival in Sydney.

Page 1 of the letter from James Dempsey to Captain Stewart Moore of Ballydivity, 1838

As the voyage continued, the challenges persisted.

Young John Dempsey, only 10 years old, fell seriously ill from seasickness. His condition worsened in the days that followed. The ship’s surgeon recorded the grim details of his suffering.

Tragically, John Dempsey’s health deteriorated to the point of no return, and he succumbed to his illness on November 6, 1838, being buried at sea off the coast of the Canary Islands.

Report of the death of John Dempsey by Charles Kennedy, Surgeon Superintendent onboard Susan – 6 November 1838

Despite the trials they faced, life aboard the Susan maintained a regimented order, thanks to the rules set by the ship’s surgeon, Charles Kennedy. Passengers found ways to pass their time, sewing, dancing, and singing, offering moments of respite from their struggles. Schooling was established for the children, and George Watson played the role of schoolmaster.

As the Susan sailed through the Tropics, the passengers had to contend with new challenges. Bowel complaints arose due to changes in climate and diet.

Christmas and New Year were marked with some small celebrations. 

By the time Susan entered Sydney Harbour on February 1, 1839, the worst of their troubles seemed behind them. However, the presence of whooping cough led to further delays in disembarkation.

In his General Report of the voyage, Charles Kennedy praised the provisioning and care taken to ensure a healthy and orderly journey. With only four deaths (all children) and two births during the voyage, Kennedy’s assessment was largely positive. The passengers, aside from a few experiencing “nostalgic affection”, had remarkably improved their well-being.

The Dempsey family, like many others, had undertaken a challenging voyage to Australia, filled with hardship, loss, and resilience. Their story stands as a testament to the determination and hope that fuelled the dreams of those seeking a new life in a distant land.

Discover Your Story at RootsTech Connect 2022

Among the many emails I receive daily was one recently which spoke of the value of passing on family recipes. The article went on to mention the resounding keynote address Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch, gave at RootsTech 2017 on his memories and, importance of passing on these family recipes. I was in the audience to hear the warmth and excitement burst forth, taking me back to my own treasured family recipes and traditions.

Steve Rockwood

I have been fortunate to have collected several recipe books over the years from aunts and grandmothers and cannot think of a better way to honour those ancestors than to write up some of their recipes for the wider family to enjoy through the blogging medium.

RootsTech 2017 was the first time I had attended the annual conference in Salt Lake City. I was blown away by the variety and value of talks presented at such a large conference. Throughout the 3-day event a genuine feeling of good will and rapport was had and for many, myself included, long term friendships were made.

The only drawback – as a physical conference, the audience was limited to those who chose to travel to Salt Lake City from the far reaches of the world.

Of course, this all changed in 2021 when RootsTech went online for the first time due to the raging Covid pandemic. Covid may have been the reason for the change but for the wider worldwide genealogy community, RootsTech going online, free to all, was a Bright Shiny Star in an otherwise dismal year.

The keynotes were just as good, as was the quality and variety of the presentations. And the added bonus: everything was recorded and made available to watch for the remainder of the year. No more worrying about how to attend two presentations at the same time or missing a vital talk while racing around the Exhibition Hall. I could sit back and enjoy the whole experience from the comfort of my homeat my leisure.

The attendance figures speak for themselves: from nearly 30,000 people physically attending in 2020 to over one million attendees registered from more than 235 countries in 2021!

It is easy to say that Covid restrictions have been a nightmare for all of us with lockdowns and government health regulations changing by the day. But due to these restrictions it has also been a game changer, forcing us to go about our lives different from the norm. Wouldn’t you have loved to have had shares in Zoom pre-Covid?

As we welcome in a new year, registrations are open to Discover Your Story at RootsTech Connect 2022.

“With thousands of classes, inspiring speakers, meaningful activities and joyful connections, RootsTech brings the human family together like no other event.”

Mothers Never Die – They Just Keep House Up in the Sky

Patricia Ellen Jean Eschbank
1939 – 2021

My mother has left behind some wonderful recollections of her life, however, with her sudden passing still so raw, I’m not ready to write about mum just yet.
    Instead, I would like to recall the following poem that was spoken at her mother’s (my grandmother’s) funeral in 1992.

Mothers Never Die – They Just Keep House Up in the Sky
When we are children, we are happy and gay
And our MOTHER is young, and she laughs as we play,
Then as we grow up, she teaches us truth
And lays life’s foundation in the days of our youth –
And then it is time for us to leave home
But her teachings go with us wherever we roam,
For all that she taught us and all that we did
When we were so often just a “bad, little kid”
We will often remember and then realize
And as she grows older, we look back with love
And when she “goes home” to receive her reward
She will dwell in GOD’S KINGDOM and “KEEP HOUSE for THE LORD”
Where she’ll “light up” the stars that shine through the night
And keep all the moonbeams “sparkling and bright”
And then with the dawn she’ll put the darkness away
As she “scours” the sun to new brilliance each day …
So dry tears of sorrow, for MOTHERS DON’T DIE
They just move in with GOD and “KEEP HOUSE IN THE SKY”,
And there in GOD’S KINGDOM, MOTHERS watch from above
To welcome their children with their UNDYING LOVE!

Author unknown.

RootsTech Connect 2022

Following the hugely succesful, first-ever, virtual RootsTech Connect conference held earlier this year, FamilySearch has announced that RootsTech Connect 2022 will take place 3-5 March 2022. And once again, it will be a fully virtual family history event.

No one could have forseen the massive success that this year’s event ocassioned. With an attendance of over one million visitors from over 240 countries, RootsTech Connect 2021 was the largest in the history of RootsTech, and spectacular proof of humanity’s interest globally in discovering our roots and connecting to each other. Registration will open in September 2021.

Memory Month – May 4

I was given my name because …

My mother’s sister had had a daughter prior to my birth and she had used the name my mother had wanted to use for me, I became Jennifer instead of Jeanette.

From Nameberry: The name Jennifer is a girl’s name of Cornish origin meaning “white shadow, white wave”. Jennifer is the Cornish variation of Guinevere, which ultimately derived from the Welsh name Gwenhwyfar.


Memory Month – May 3

Over the years, pets that have been part of our family include …

Dogs, dogs, and more dogs.

And when we haven’t had any dogs, I’ve been known to completely spoil and ruin other people’s dogs. 

Today we have a resident female possum (and at times her offspring), 13 goldfish, a family of four Kookaburras, several varieties of other birds including King Parrots, Lorrikeets and Rozella’s as well as several skinks and lizards. All can be hand fed but we don’t over do it, so that they are not reliant upon us.


Mother and child

Memory Month – May 2

When someone asks me what I would really like for dinner I always ask forLambs Fry because I so hate cooking it.

I can be out with friends and, after lengthy deliberation, choosing a seafood meal of prawns, scallops or lobster from the menu but, upon reaching the order counter, immediately changing my choice to Lambs Fry having spotted it on the Specials Board.

And, the best part … I never have to share it! 


May is Memory Month

Fiona Brooker from Memories in Time has alerted me to May being Memory Month. On her website, Fiona wrote: “As family historians we are really great at recording the past, but sometimes we just need to pause for a while and record some of our own memories.”

So to get people writing about themself, Fiona is posting daily prompts throughout May to get us started.  As I am starting this half way through May, I need to quickly catch up.

May 1: Every time I hear the song … I remember …

Science Fiction, Double Feature.  The lead-in song to Richard O’Brien’s amazing Rocky Horror PIcture Show – a truly out of this world experience. I can remember exactly everytime I have seen the show, both on stage and as a movie … the audience participation, the Time Warp, the narration, the costumes, who I was with, everything!

As a huge fan of the 1975 film, Tim Curry as Dr Frank N. Furter has always been the benchmark I used for comparing later versions until actress, Laverne Cox, broke the benchmark with her portrayal of Frank N. Furter in the 2016 Fox television movie Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again.




2021 RootsTech Connect Sessions

With just under a fortnight to go, the hardworking crew at RootsTech have released today two very important items for this year’s virtual RootsTech Connect.

The first is the schedule of the Main Stage Keynote Speakers which features Australia’s own Wil Hopoate and the second is the official 18-page schedule of Sessions.

At the time of writing this post there were 264,000 registrants from 216 countries.

Registration is free and this allows you to watch over 800 recorded On Demand sessions as well as the 12 Keynote addresses. RootsTech Connect will be live 25 to 27 February 2021, however, all registrants will be able to access the recorded sessions for 12 months.

More Keynote Speakers

The world’s largest genealogical event celebrating family has announced a further diverse group of keynote speakers, who hail from England, India, and Uruguay. 

RootsTech Connect, to be held on 25–27 February 2021, is a free online conference to discover, share, and celebrate family and heritage connections.


Erick Avari, born in Darjeeling, West Bengal, India, is an Indian American television, film, and theater actor, writer, director and producer. He has performed in grand opera, on and off Broadway, in regional theaters, and in Hollywood blockbuster films, hit TV series, and award-winning independent films such as The Chosen. He is best known for his roles in Stargate, Independence Day, The Mummy, Daredevil, Planet of the Apes, and Mr. Deeds. Avari has been a trailblazer for a generation of South Asian actors in Hollywood. As part of his fight against stereotypical casting, he has convincingly played more than two dozen ethnicities.


Diego Lugano is a Uruguayan former professional footballer (soccer player) for many clubs in South America and Europe. He played in 95 matches as a member of the Uruguayan soccer team from 2003 to –2014. In 2010 and 2014, he captained the Uruguayan squad in the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup. His career began at the Club Nacional de Fútbol of Canelones in 1999. During his career, he played for Plaza Colonia, Fenerbahçe S.K., Paris Saint Germain, Málaga, West Bromwich Albion, BK Häcken, Cerro Porteño of Paraguay, and São Paulo. He has supported many causes defending the rights of children. He is now the superintendent of Institutional Relations of São Paulo FC.


Sunetra Sarker is an award-winning actress born in Liverpool, England, to Hindu parents. Her first acting success came at age 15, when she was cast as Nisha Batra on the Channel 4 serial drama Brookside. Her career took off, and during the next three decades she acted in an array of television series, earning awards for her performances, including an award for Best TV character at the Asian Media Awards. During her career, she made time for school, graduating in IT and French from Brunel University. She is a member of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), an independent charity to support, develop, and promote excellence in film, games, and television and creative talent in the United Kingdom and internationally.

While not really a fan of football (soccer to us in Aus) I am really excited about hearing Erick and Sunetra talk at RootsTech Connect.