Tag Archives: Dempsey

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.

Nancy’s Lemon Meringue Pie

Nancy Casey (nee Dempsey) was renowned for her lemon meringue pies and this recipe comes from her handwritten recipe book

1 can condensed milk
1/2 cup lemon juice
grated rind of 1 lemon
2 eggs separated
2 tbsp granulated sugar
baked pie shell

Blend together condensed milk, lemon juice, grated rind and egg yolks.
Pour into baked pie shell.
Cover with meringue made from egg whites.
Bake in moderate oven 10 minutes or until brown.

Slice of lemon meringue pie on wooden cutting board

Photo source: Depositphotos.com

Annie Edenborough

Annie Edenborough was born on 16 July 1888 at Paddington, New South Wales, the fourth of eight children born to Edwin and Teresa Edenborough (nee Persiani).

Annie’s paternal grandfather was Arthur Edenborough who worked for many years as a tidewaiter for the New South Wales Customs Department, an occupation that was to see him forcibly carried away aboard an American vessel, the Emerald Isle, in January 1851. He was finally released in Honolulu, and with the help of the British Consul there, was returned back to Sydney via New Zealand in June 1851.

Annie’s maternal grandfather, Peter Persiani, was also involved with seafaring: family lore being that he was a sea captain who went down with his ship! He certainly disappeared after his daughter Teresa (Annie’s mother) was born in Sydney in 1862 but whether he perished at sea or deserted his family remains a mystery.

Prior to marriage, Annie Edenborough remained at home assisting her mother with younger children and other domestic duties required in a large household instead of obtaining a profession for herself. She eventually met and married James Dempsey at Paddington, New South Wales, in 1910.

James Dempsey and Annie Edenborough on their wedding day

James Dempsey and Annie Edenborough on their wedding day

Throughout their courtship, James sent many beautiful greeting cards to Annie and, as was the common practice of the day, Annie faithfully stored them in a postcard album that had been an eighteenth birthday present to her from her older sister Jessie and Jessie’s husband, Frank Booth.

Annie & James Dempsey at Taylors Bay, Sydney

Annie & James Dempsey at Taylors Bay, Sydney

Catherine Medway (née Dempsey)

Catherine Medway, (nee Dempsey)

Catherine Medway, (nee Dempsey)

Catherine, the eldest known child of James and Jane Dempsey, married Henry Robinson, a mariner of Sydney, at her father’s residence, Clarence Street, Sydney on 12 December 1849.1 Catherine’s brother James acted as one of the witnesses.

Register of marriage for Catherine Dempsey and Henry Robinson, 12 Dec 1849. [NSW Registry of BDMs Entry 226/1849 ]

Register of marriage for Catherine Dempsey and Henry Robinson, 12 December 1849.

A little more than a year later, Catherine and Henry’s only child, Henry Jnr, was born at Balmain on 18 January 1851.2 However, in June 1851, the news that gold had been discovered on the Turon was announced, and like so many other men, Henry Robinson, took to the goldfields to make his fortune.

Henry had been mildly successful fossicking at Golden Point when disaster struck in December 1851. While working at Golden Point a freak storm hit the Turon causing flash flooding and resulting in the loss of Henry’s life.


Erskine Point, December 19: Yesterday afternoon we were visited with a storm of no ordinary description … it appears that a large quantity of rain must have fallen on the mountains in a very short space of time, and more particularly on those from whence the waters are conducted by gullies and tributary streams into Oakey and Little Oakey Creeks., so sudden and unexpected was the rush of waters down these places, a considerable loss to the miners, and I am sorry to say loss of life, was the result … a Captain Robinson (who formerly had command of one of the Sydney coasters), and two other men, were at in a tunnel on Little Oakey Creek, about a quarter of a mile from its junction with the Turon River, when the waters rushed in upon them before they could make their escape. It appears that Captain Robinson was carried by the stream to the junction, and from thence about 500 yards down the Turon River … his body was taken from the water in a dreadfully bruised condition from coming in contact with the trunks of the trees, rocks, &c., &c., no part of his clothing remaining except a leather belt; he was Immediately carried into a tent occupied by the miners in the employ of Messrs. Trappitt and Co., and every means was used by two medical men to restore life, but without success.3

Henry’s body was interred in the grounds of the Episcopalian burial grounds at Sofala.4


Grave of Henry Robinson, Sofala, NSW

Grave of Henry Robinson, Sofala, NSW

Catherine eventually remarried but not for 31 years – at the age of 60, Catherine married Matthew Medway, a widower. The marriage was performed on 9 December 1882, at Medway’s residence in Laura Street, Newtown.5 Medway’s daughter Elizabeth and her husband Rowland Pawley were witnesses to the marriage.

Matthew Medway, a builder by trade, was an Alderman of Newtown Municipal Council from 1886 until his death in 1892. He is buried with his first wife, Elizabeth, and their daughter in the Church of England section of Rookwood Cemetery.

Catherine Medway (née Dempsey) died from cancer of the liver four years after her husband Matthew on 9 December 1896,6 and is buried in the old Wesleyan section of Rookwood Cemetery with her mother and father – James and Jane Dempsey.

Handwritten will of Catherine Medway (nee Dempsey) dated 11 December 1895

Handwritten will of Catherine Medway (nee Dempsey) dated 11 December 1895

1 NSW Registry of BDM 1849 V84 No. 226
2 NSW Registry of BDM 1851 V56 No. 195
3 Sydney Morning Herald, Tuesday, December 23, 1851, p2
4 Baker, RGV. The Second Rush: A Story of the Second Goldrush to Sofala in 1851, 1986, Centre Pak Research, Cronulla, p19
5 NSW Registry of BDM 1882 No. 2622
6 NSW Registry of BDM 1896 No. 15252

Balmain and Darlington Land Purchases

James Dempsey made his first land purchase in New South Wales, at Balmain, from John and Eliza Nicholson on 7 September 1843 for the sum of £45.1

Location of James Dempsey’s land purchase (Lot 11) from Nicholson’s Balmain subdivision

Location of James Dempsey’s land
purchase (Lot 11) from Nicholson’s
Balmain subdivision

Dr William Balmain, the Principal Surgeon of the Colony, had been granted 550 acres by Governor Hunter in 1800. The following year the grant, in its entirety, was transferred to Dr John Gilchrist of Calcutta, India. Gilchrist, having bestowed power of attorney to his Sydney agent, Frederick Parbury, eventually had Parbury subdivide the 550 acres into 22 lots in 1833 and between 1836 and 1840 he successfully put the Balmain Estate up for auction.

John Nicholson, who had served a distinguished career in the Royal Navy, and was employed in the Colony by the Crown as Master Attendant and Harbour Master, purchased Lots 15 and 18 of the Balmain Estate in 1836. This gave Nicholson eight acres of waterfront land where he built his residence Durham House.

However, due to a severe economic depression throughout the Colony in the early 1840s, Nicholson was forced, in 1842, to sell off part of the grounds of Durham House in an attempt to stave off his creditors.

Nicholson chose to subdivide the grounds into 26 Lots of land facing Nicholson, Darling and Duke Streets, reserving a wide frontage to Nicholson Street which allowed his home to retain its harbour views and not reduce the value of the house.

This was happening at a time when the Colony was emerging as a free society – distancing itself from its convict origins. Labourers, skilled and unskilled, could now move around freely and, against this backdrop, the population of Balmain was to increase rapidly.

Before 1840, only a few families of well-to-do businessmen had lived in stately homes in Balmain. With the sub-division of Nicholson’s land, the new Balmain residents covered a mixed variety of occupations such as butchers, grocers, blacksmiths, shoemakers. Its location on the harbour would also see Balmain receive an influx of nautical and associated industry tradesmen.

By 1846 Balmain had become the largest residential district of Sydney with 19.6 per cent of the suburban population living there.2  Other large residential districts were located at Newtown (17.8% of suburban population), Glebe (15.5 per cent), Redfern (12.7 per cent) and Paddington (12.1 per cent).

Within a year of having purchased Lot 11 of Nicholson’s subdivision, (75-77 Darling St, Balmain), James Dempsey (I) had his son James (II) build a weatherboard cottage and butcher’s shop on the land in 1844.3

Land Titles Office of New South Wales, Deposited Plan 220489 for Lot 11 of Nicholson’s subdivision – No’s. 75-77 Darling Street, Balmain

Land Titles Office of New South Wales, Deposited Plan 220489
for Lot 11 of Nicholson’s subdivision – No’s. 75-77 Darling Street, Balmain

The City of Sydney Directory, 1844-45, recorded James Dempsey (I) as “butcher, Darling St Balmain”. His wife Jane is recorded as being a “bonnet-maker, Darling St Balmain”.

On 23 January 1857, James Dempsey (I) also purchased land in Rose Street, Darlington, (Lot 17 of Block 5 of the Darling-Nursery Estate), from Benjamin Morris for the sum of £130.4 James, and his wife Jane, then made this property their permanent residence. The Rose Street premises contained a brick two-storey semi-detached dwelling known as No.’s 88 and 90 Rose Street.

Lot 17 – Rose Street, Darlington

Lot 17 – Rose Street, Darlington

Land Titles Office of New South Wales Deposited Plan 500 724 of Lot 17

Land Titles Office of New South Wales Deposited Plan 500 724 of Lot 17 of the Darling-Nursery Estate Division

The Darling-Nursery Estate had originally been land granted to Thomas Shepherd for use as a nursery and was named in honour of Governor Darling. Although Shepherd’s nursery was a pleasant spot its impact on the area was limited as Shepherd catered not for the poor citizens but for the gardens of the wealthy.

Chippendale c1855 from Sydney University – Shepherd’s Darling-Nursery Estate and house is shown far right

Chippendale c1855 from Sydney University – Shepherd’s Darling-Nursery
Estate and house is shown far right

The other large landholder in the immediate district was Robert Cooper who owned the Brisbane Distillery which was taken over by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company in 1855.

The earliest Darlington Valuation and Rate Books date from 1866 and they show that in 1866 James Dempsey was owner/occupier of both semis. The Rate Book for 1867-68, however, shows that James had decided to occupy only one of the buildings and was renting out the other.

The tenant, John Hawthorn, stayed until 1870 when a fellow named John Fewings then took over the rental. Fewings rented the premises until 1878 after which time the premises saw a succession of tenants on a yearly basis.

In 1862, five years after purchasing the Rose Street premises, James, who by now was recording his profession as a landholder, also purchased land in Fotheringham Street, Newtown, for the sum of £45.5 He sold this block 11 years later to his son-in-law Charles Cooper for £150.6 One year after purchasing the Fotheringham Street property, James sold his premises at Balmain to butcher James Conway for £350.7

Following the death of his wife Jane in 1870, James Dempsey (I) did not continue to live at Rose Street, moving instead to 1 Laura Street, Newtown, the residence of his daughter Catherine and son-in-law Matthew Medway. The premises at Rose Street, though, weren’t sold until after James’ death in 1888, allowing James to live off the rents earned from them.

This photo taken in 2011 of 1 Laura Street, Newtown, is presumed to be the home of Catherine and Matthew Medway in which James Dempsey lived out his later years

This photo taken in 2011 of 1 Laura Street,
Newtown, is presumed to be the home of
Catherine and Matthew Medway in which
James Dempsey lived out his later years

At the time of Jane’s death, Rose Street could be classified as a fairly well-to-do address compared with many other streets In the area that were falling into a state of disrepair. Of the 49 dwellings recorded in the Assessment Book for Rose Street in 1870, 34 were built of brick and four of stone with only 11 dwellings being built of timber. The street also contained three parcels of vacant land.

James Curry moved into his grandfather’s home in 1873 and remained there until 1878 when the two semis were then rented out on a yearly basis.

It is interesting to note that in October 1870, five months after Jane’s death, the residents of Darlington, along with the residents of Glebe and Chippendale, signed a petition praying for relief from the Colonial Sugar Refining Company’s practice of storing and burning hundreds of tons of bones in every stage of decomposition. The company’s practice of burning the bones was to create charcoal for filtering purposes. The residents complained that:

The effluence, gas and smoke generated by the storing and burning of the said bones are in the highest degree prejudicial to health, obnoxious and offensive in the extreme and detrimental to the social advancement of the district.8

Although James Dempsey’s name was not among the residents, his tenant, John Fewings, signed the petition which shows that James’ premises must have been affected by this revolting practice.

While residing at Medway’s home, James Dempsey made out his will on 28 December 1887. He appointed a friend, John Humphries of Darlington, and a grandson, Henry Robinson, as trustees and executors to the will.

As per the terms of his will, any of his estate which did not consist of money was sold and converted to cash and after any debts, funeral and testamentary expenses were covered the remainder was divided as follows:

The trustees were to retain 10 pound each for their trouble, son-in-law Charles Cooper to receive 100 pounds (50 of which had been lent to James), 5 pounds each to the five surviving children of grandson James Curry as a memorial to their deceased sister Lilian; and 25 pounds to be paid to Mrs Annie Duffy of Albion St, Sydney. The remainder of the estate was to be equally divided between James’ three surviving daughters – Catherine Medway, Annie Porteous and Rose Cooper. Catherine though was to receive an extra 100 pounds having been money lent by her to her father.

Following James’ death in 1888, John Humphries and Henry Robinson dutifully carried out the terms of James Dempsey’s will and put the Rose Street premises up for public auction on 12 December 1888. William Jones, proprietor of the Town Hall Coffee Palace in George Street, Sydney, being the highest bidder, was declared the purchaser at a sum of £650 and finalised the transaction on 17 December 1888.9

At the time of the sale, the property consisted of a block of land having a 30ft frontage to Rose Street with a depth of 100ft to a lane at the rear, upon which were erected two houses built of brick with slate roofs each containing five rooms and wash-house.10 Today, the area which housed the Rose Street property is used by the Engineering faculties of the University of Sydney.


Land Titles Office [New South Wales] Old System Register Book 5 No. 7
Leichhardt Historical Journal No. 5 p3
Leichhardt Historical Journal No. 13 p19
Land Titles Office [New South Wales] Old System Register Book 47 No. 382
Land Titles Office [New South Wales] Old System Register Book 79 No. 346
Land Titles Office [New South Wales] Old System Register Book 135 No. 445
Land Titles Office [New South Wales] Old System Register Book 90 No. 522
Sydney City Archives Ref CRS 26/106/1044
9 Land Titles Office [New South Wales] Old System Register Book 403 No. 819
10 Stamp Duties Deceased Estate File – Duty Paid AONSW Ref 20/8


James Dempsey of Derrykeighan, Co. Antrim

Family lore states that James DEMPSEY was born c1795 near the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Bushmills was originally believed to have been his birthplace although emigration papers for James Dempsey, upon arrival in Australia, record him as being a native of the parish of Derrykeighan.

Research into James’s early life has been quite difficult but there is now enough evidence to confirm the location of the family home of James Dempsey and his wife, Jane (née McLOUGHLIN), in the parish of Derrykeighan. Nothing has been found, however, to suggest that James was actually born there. Material researched at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland in 2013 revealed there was also a Dempsey family resident in the Tonduff district of North Antrim. So, could Tonduff, in fact, be the ancestral home of James Dempsey? While both Derrykeighan and Tondruff are in close proximity to Bushmills, the Tonduff district is the closer of the two and would back up the statement that James Dempsey was born “near” the Giant’s Causeway.

The location of Tonduff can be seen in the 5th square across and 2 down

The location of Tonduff can be seen
in the 5th square across and 2 down

If James was born in the Tonduff area, and if he was not the eldest son, it would be highly likely then, that upon marrying Jane McLoughlin, he sought out his own residence at Derrykeighan, which would have been leased rather than owned, for them to grow their family.

An 1836 survey map of the Ballydivity Estate, owned by the Stewart-Moores and located in the parish of Derrykeighan, mentions the name Dempsey as leasing one of the fields drawn on the map. Correspondence dated 1838 between James Dempsey and Captain [James] Stewart-Moore of Ballydivity corroborates a connection between the two men.

Drawing supplied by James Stewart-Moore in 2013 matching a survey map of 1836 showing the location of the Dempsey home immediately prior to James Dempsey and his family emigrating to Australia.

Drawing supplied by James Stewart-Moore in 2013 matching a survey map of 1836 showing the location of the Dempsey home immediately prior to James Dempsey and his family emigrating to Australia.

While there is no conclusive record having survived that confirms, beyond a shadow of a doubt, correspondence in 2013 between Jennie Fairs and the current owner of Ballydivity, another James Stewart-Moore, discussed and agreed on the likelihood that house ruins located in Ballydivity Lane were that of the Dempsey home marked on the 1836 survey.

Dempsey house ruins, 2013 – the fence line runs parallel to Ballydivity Lane

Dempsey house ruins, 2013 – the fence line runs parallel to Ballydivity Lane

In a letter dated 1983 from Enid Hardman to her cousin Rene Dempsey, Enid writes that their great-grandfather, James Dempsey, left Ireland because “there was trouble with violence there, the same as is now. He [James] said there would be no peace in Ireland for hundreds of years.” How true his words turned out to be!

In the same letter, Enid also writes that James Dempsey was an accountant. In the 1830s-1840s, the new colony of Australia needed labourers and farmers to work the land (not accountants) and the Bounty Scheme was introduced to acquire these people. The desire to leave Ireland and start a new life with his family must have been strong, as James, to qualify for bounty assistance, deliberately recorded his occupation as ploughman on his Immigration Entitlement Certificate.

The discovery of Enid’s letter stating James’ occupation as an accountant helps to answer the questions of:

1. If James had been a ploughman, why was he able to read and write so well; and
2. How, after only being in the colony for a very short time, was he able to acquire land, something that could not have been done on a ploughman’s wages?

Whatever the reason for their departure, together with their seven children – John, Catherine, Mary, Jane, James, Ann and Roseann – James and his wife Jane boarded the emigrant ship Susan in October 1838 to start a new life in Australia. A copy of a Journal written by the ship’s surgeon, has survived giving us a rare insight into the life of a sea-faring emigrant.

On 10 October 1838, the majority of emigrants came onboard the Susan with their luggage. Once they had been allotted their sleeping quarters and sundry utensils, a pint of tea and biscuits were served to them and at 8pm they were ordered to bed. After four days of strong gales and squally showers with occasional hail, the Susan weighed anchor and headed down to Culmore Bay from Londonderry where for want of water over the flats it was necessary to anchor again. Following a further five days of remaining moored in Culmore Bay the Susan once again got underway only to anchor off Moville due to further strong gales with heavy squalls and rain. By this stage nearly all the passengers were confined to bed with seasickness, and although provisions for the day had been served out as usual, very few were in any condition to take anything.

Moville was the final Irish port where the emigrants could post last-minute letters home. Those who were able did so and among them was James Dempsey who wrote to Captain Stewart Moore Jnr of Ballydivity, “Dervock”, County Antrim.

Honord sir, being conscious that you would be desirous of assertaining some information conserning us, how we are situated, I now inform you as it is with us at present; the ship mooved down from Derry the south of Culmore on Saturday evening and the weather being unfavourable stopped there untill Thursday morning and she is now down the lenth of Movill and intends going off the oppertunity this evening; it is serious to behold in all corn[er]s of the ship the[y] are sick and women feanting but thank God we are all in good health as yet; The first and second day that we went on board there was a great deal of complaints with the emigrants of their rashions being too small and many of them wishing to go ashore and return home but I endeavred to peasify all that I had anny influance with nowing that it was impossible for two hundred and sixty four passingers to be all righted according to there wishes at once; the news reached Captain Ramsys ears and he came on board at Culmore and called all the passingers on deck and gave free liberty to all that pleased to go ashore and there was one man from Newtoun that went home and this is the reason that I write leaft the word would be carried home that we are ill treated and if it does, believe it not. For the hole passingers is put into seventeen messes and there is apointed one man head over each mess and I am appointed over one and it is there business to see the meat eaqually served out according to the number of the mess. We get our breaxfast about eight o’clock of good tea and one day pork with pea soop for our dinner and the next day beef with flour pudding mexed with suat; there is alsow rum, wine, figs and reasons for those that is sick and everything appears to be carried on in a verry judicious manner: there is six men apointed with the doctor for forseing (?) laws and if any is found pilfering from the other or giving insolence the one to the other or refusing to clean their births or sweeping upper or lower decks, the[y] are reported to the doctor and their names enterd in the registers book and when the[y] arive at Sidney, the[y] will be given up to the government and punished in proportion as their crime deservs, therefore I expect good order will be carried on. Now sir be pleased to give my kind love to my master, mistress Miss Ann and Miss Mary and little (?) Stewart and to all the men and let them know that there is no day that the[y] are out of my thoughts and let William Polock know that 1 wish that he would take word to my people to Bushmills and tell them we are all well. I now sir remain your kind and affectionate servant till death.
[Signed] James Dempsey
P.S. Let William Polock know that I forgot my reazor in the house and I wish him to go to John Mckelly as I think he must have it as he was the last I left in the house and keep it for my sake. Sir excuse the bad writing and blotting as the ship was heaving very hard the time I wrote it.

By 27 October, James and Jane Dempsey’s son John was suffering severely from [supposed] seasickness. The surgeon recorded in his journal: “John Dempsey, boy 10 years of age, suffering very much.” Several entries followed describing John’s decline until a final entry reports the sad reality for some emigrants who endured the long voyage to Australia – 6 November 1838, “Departed this life at one o’clock a.m. John Dempsey, 14 years – body served upon his bed and bedding … at 4 o’clock committed to the deep the remains of the deceased. Funeral service read by the Master.” John Dempsey was buried at sea off the coast of the Canary Islands at latitude 28.14N and longitude 19.10W. The temperature that day varied between 67 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

By 17 January 1839, whooping cough was also spreading at a mild rate and unfortunately for the Dempsey family, the eldest daughter Mary contracted the disease. Mary’s recovery was to remain slow and, by the time the Susan arrived at Sydney Harbour on 1 February 1839, Mary remained in a convalescent state.

After disembarking, James Dempsey was engaged by the Rev. Henry Carmichael from Williams River, NSW, for a yearly wage of £30 with rations. An emigrant brought out on the Bounty Scheme had to work for a minimum of one year for the person who paid the Bounty. Carmichael had been a schoolmaster and educational theorist who had been employed by the Rev. John Dunmore Lang as a teacher for the Australian College which opened in Sydney sometime after October 1831. In 1833, Carmichael founded the Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts, the first of its kind in the colony. Then upon his appointment as the assistant surveyor for the Hunter district he left Sydney and established the Porphyry vineyard at Seaham on the Williams River. The vineyard, which survived into the early part of the 20th century, stopped production in 1915 and Lindeman’s bought the Porphyry name and trademark.

James Dempsey

James Dempsey

Jane Dempsey nee McLoughlin

Jane Dempsey nee McLoughlin

By 1841 James had obviously fulfilled his commitment to Carmichael as he and Jane were living back in Sydney. Shortly after he purchased land at Balmain being Lot 11 of Nicholson’s subdivision (75-77 Darling St, Balmain), and in 1844 James Dempsey had his son James Jnr build a weatherboard cottage and butcher’s shop on the land. Of strong Christian faith, James also helped establish the Wesleyan Church at Balmain in 1845. In 1857, James purchased land in Rose Street, Darlington which was to became his residence until 1870 when his wife, Jane, aged 75, died on 16 July 1870 following a three-week bout of bronchitis.

It is from the record of Jane’s death that I live in hope that there may still be family back in Northern Ireland. James was the informant for registration of his wife’s death, and it is safe to assume that he would have known how many children they had had. I already knew that the family had left NI with seven children – 2 males and 5 females – and that 1 male and 2 females had predeceased their mother, leaving 1 male and 3 females living at the time of Jane’s death. BUT James recorded on the death certificate that there were in fact 2 males and 2 females that had predeceased their mother AND 2 males and 3 females still living! Who was this extra male still living at the time of Jane’s death that I didn’t know about. The family and their descendants in Australia remained close so surely we would have known about this extra son had he also emigrated. Because no-one knew about the extra son, I believe that he must have remained in NI – possibly already married and settled when James made the decision to emigrate.

When James died on 23 September 1888, also of bronchitis, he was interred with his wife in the Wesleyan section of Rookwood Cemetery.

Grave of James & Jane Dempsey, Rookwood Cemetery, 2013

Grave of James & Jane Dempsey, Rookwood Cemetery, 2013

Throughout his life, James Dempsey remained an active member of the Wesleyan Church. His obituary printed in The Weekly Advocate reported that:

In the recent death of Mr James Dempsey the Newtown circuit has lost its oldest and one of its most respected members … [at Balmain] he was the first to open his house in which to hold services. When the time came for building a church, he not only gave to the utmost extent of his ability, but he spent much time and energy in collecting the necessary funds. The most prominent name connected with the rise of our cause In Balmain is that of Mr Dempsey.

Also included was a colourful description of Dempsey’s conversion to the Wesleyan faith:

In early life he was brought up in connection with the Church of England, and until some time after he arrived at manhood he retained that connection. But, though a strict adherent of the Church, he was not a converted man. His conversion took place in a remarkable manner. His own account, borne out also by his relatives, was to the following effect:

Returning home from the services of the church he usually attended, he passed a house occupied by a Mr Hill, which had been opened for services by the Wesleyan Methodists. It so happened that as he passed, one of the Irish local preachers residing in that neighbourhood was conducting the service. Mr Dempsey listened for a short time to the sermon, and then in a derisive manner called the preacher a “Ranter”, and passed on to his home.

In the early hours of the following morning a strange and startling noise was heard in the room where he slept. Whatever might have been the cause of the noise, it was interpreted as a call from God to his soul, which only a few hours previously vented its wickedness in opposing and deriding a servant of the Lord. His conscience so stung him that he could not rest. Under a deep sense of sin and danger both he and his partner rose to pray. Through the rest of the night they continued pleading with God for mercy. And as the morning light broke on the room it pleased God to set them both at liberty … He at once connected himself with the Wesleyan Church. He became a prayer-leader, and also a leader of a society class, and remained in these useful offices until he left Ireland for this colony.

The obituary then closed with the following words written by the Rev. W.B. Boyce:

I have known the late Mr Dempsey since 1847. His character for Integrity and industry stood high, and his Protestantism was a striking characteristic of the feeling of an Irishman … I do feel the highest respect for his genuine character, and the impression of which was common to all who knew him intimately.

I have been very fortunate that there have been descendants of James and Jane Dempsey in Australia that have kept all manner of family documents and memorabilia. But it is James’s ancestry back in Northern Ireland that is my brick wall. Unfortunately, the parish register for Derrykeighan is among the records destroyed in the 1922 fire at Dublin’s Four Courts. On my 2013 visit to NI I spent 5 days researching at PRONI and came away with what may be a possible lead – a Daniel Dempsey was a churchwarden and sidesman of the parish church of Billy, Co. Antrim and the Billy parish encompasses the town of Bushmills as well as the townland of Tonduff and the Stewart-Moore home of Ballydivity.