A Convict from Tipperary

The Guildford … convict ship

Matthew Ryan is my Great x4 grandfather and is the first to arrive in Australia in my Ryan line. He also marks the point where my family heritage in Australia begins for he arrived in Sydney in 1816 upon the convict ship, the Guildford.

I find it quite exciting to know that I have convict heritage.  It seems a little odd when you think about it … normally we are not thrilled to discover that we have criminals in our background.  Australia was built with convict labour and I feel a stronger sense of connection to my homeland because of Matthew Ryan.  Jack Thompson, an Aussie acting legend, described his convict ancestor as Aussie royalty.  I feel the same way.

Matthew Ryan was born in c1789 in Tipperary, Ireland.  The Ireland that Matthew was born into was one of discontent.  The 1790’s in Ireland was a time of dissatisfaction and rebellion which culminated in 1798 when the United Irish attempted to break Ireland free from their connections with England.

At the age of 26 he was tried in Thurles, Tipperary in Oct 1815 for an unknown crime.  He received a 7 year sentence in NSW.  He was transported to Sydney aboard the Guildford on her second journey.  Matthew left behind a wife and unborn child.

The number of days the journey took has not been recorded nor what port in Ireland she left from (as far as I am aware).  However, in 1829, the Guildford journeyed from Dublin to Sydney in 115 days.  Magnus Johnson was the Master of the ship on this voyage and has been described as a prudent and conscientious man who treated the convicts well.  On Matthew’s voyage all the convicts were male and Irish.  Matthew’s occupation is listed as a labourer and his religion, roman catholic.  Matthew is described as having a fair complexion and brown eyes.

The Guildford arrived on 11 April 1816 in Sydney.  It appears that Matthew was first sent to work for Mr McMurphy of the Cowpastures.  He worked there for 12 months and then went to work for Andrew Burne of Appin.  This information is taken from a petition for a mitigation of his sentence in 1818.

In 1822, Matthew wrote to the Colonel Secretary requesting land.  He was recommended by William Browne, JP, who owned large tracts of land at Abbotsbury, Appin and Yallah.  It appears that is request was granted as he is shown in the 1822 Muster as holding a Ticket of Leave and listed as a farmer in Appin.

In 1824, Matthew applied for more land.  This application was signed by William Browne and Matthew was recommended by Thomas Reddall, who was an assistant chaplain working in the Airds, Appin and Minto districts.

In the 1828 census, Matthew is 35 years old, free by servitude living in Illawarra on 15 acres of land.  He appears to be single.

Matthew married Catherine Purcell of Sydney on 25 April 1836 at St Mary’s in Sydney.  The priest was McEncroe and the witnesses were Robert Purcell and Mary Hayes.  Matthew and Catherine’s first child was born in 1836, Mary Catherine.  They had six other  children: Bridget (b 1838), Ellen (b 1840), Catherine (b 1843), Emely (b 1845), Edward (b 1847) and Agnes (b&d 1850).

In the 1837 return of convicts, Matthew is shown as an employer of 3 or 4 convicts at Illawarra.

By the time of the 1841 census, Matthew’s circumstance had grown.  He had six employees, three of whom were convicts.  His home is described as a completed wooden dwelling.  He is living at Ryan’s Vale.

On 26 February 1845, there is a death notice for Mr Robert Purcell, late Sheriff’s Officer, of Limerick, who died at the residence of Matthew Ryan.  It is possible that this may have been Catherine’s brother as a Robert Purcell was also a witness at their wedding.

On 1 March 1851, an article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald describing a dispute that Matthew Ryan was involved in with a local man who was using Matthew’s property as a thoroughfare.  In his defence of his actions towards the trespasser, Matthew is very sure of his right in his opinion and has no hesitancy in asserting his rights.  Speaks of a man who is very sure of his place and the level of respect he holds in the community.

On 14 August 1851, Matthew’s wife, Catherine, died.

On 9 April, 1852, Matthew’s eldest son, Matthew, arrived in Sydney aboard the David McIver with his wife, Sarah, and there son, James, aged 1 year and 8 months.  Matthew’s mother, Betty, had died prior to his departure from Ireland.  Matthew was from Boherland, County Tipperary, and was an agricultural labourer.  His wife, Sarah (nee Effernan) was also from Boherland.  She was the daughter of Edmund and Catherine Effernan and was a dairymaid.  Both her parents were dead.  Matthew was illiterate but Sarah could read.  It is likely that they left Ireland after their experiences during the famine.  It is possible that their parents had died during the famine.

Matthew married his third wife, Jane McCormack on 17 November 1852 at St Francis Xavier.  The priest was Thomas Murray and the witnesses were Alexander Elliott and C McCarthy.  The St Francis Xavier’s Catholic Church is the oldest church (of any denomination) in the Illawarra region.

Matthew died on 2 April 1853 at his home in Figtree.  Prior to his death, Matthew gave (or possibly sold) land to his son, Matthew.  This is recorded in the Land Titles Office deeds.

On 4 September, 1853, Matthew’s youngest child, Julia Hester was born.

There is no evidence that I hold to support the next paragraph only the judgements that I feel when I read through the events that we have listed.  I believe that Matthew was arrested for a small crime and received a sentence of transportation because of the times that he was living in.  His behaviour once in the new colony supports this view.  He appears to have been a hard worker who made every effort to achieve freedom from his sentence through obedience and following the system.  He was supported in his requests to the Colonel Secretary by influential men in his new community.  He acquired a ticket of leave and was given land prior to the end of his sentence to farm on his own.  Once his sentence was complete, he was able to employ his own convicts which indicates that the government felt comfortable in his abilities to govern these men in his employ.

I have found an article in the Sydney Morning Herald that shows him active in community debates where he was noted as seconding a motion to formally object to the placement of a toll on the road into Wollongong on 25 March 1844.

Another article in April 1853, describes the case of his widow, Jane, when the executors of Matthew’s will (which was written in 1851 prior to his marriage and makes no provision for her) came to take possession of his property.  Jane was able to rally support from neighbours and a local JP to support her case.  This is evidence of the good feeling the community had towards the family that they would stand up with her.  At the time of the court case, Jane was five months pregnant with Julia.  This would also added sympathy to he plight.

There is also sadness in the Matthew’s story.  We do not know if he knew that Betty was pregnant when he left Ireland but there must have been continuing contact for when his son, Matthew, arrived in NSW in 1851 he knew his father’s whereabouts.  Matthew Snr would also have been aware of the horrible famine that his friends and family were enduring as there were updates posted in the papers.  When his son finally arrived in NSW, and we assume most of his family dead, he and his father had a year and a half of knowing one another before Matthew Snr died.

Matthew Jnr stayed in the Figtree area as a farmer until his death in 1871.  His wife, Sarah, died in 1881.  By the time of Sarah’s death, their only children still living were James, Matthew and Mary.  It seems that James may have moved to Queensland while Matthew and Mary moved to Sydney and made marriages there.


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11 Responses to A Convict from Tipperary

  1. I just found your blog today, thanks to GeneaBloggers. I came to take a look around here, and was fascinated with this post about your Irish ancestor who was sentenced to “transportation” to Australia. I also was interested in the surname Ryan. In my husband’s line, he too had an ancestor sent from Ireland to Australia. As you mentioned, the crime was petty, and our family has come to see it not as something engendering shame, but merely a token of the times in which he lived.

    I do have to admit I’m quite jealous of you that you were able to find details of his service there. In our case, I find no records past his sentencing–although that may be that, after his sentence was served, he left Australia to join his family who had, by that time, also emigrated from Ireland. Some had traveled to Canada, some eventually to the United States. He was reunited there with a sister and a brother in Chicago.

    The Ryan that married into our family in Canada seems to have been from the same area as yours in Ireland. Although your dates precede ours decreasing any possibility of a connection, I still found it interesting to read your narrative and the descriptions of the details you uncovered. Very encouraging!

    • Laney says:

      Hi Jacqui

      Thank you for your lovely comments. I was actually in Sydney this weekend and chatting with my Nan about my research when I received your note. The initial research wwas undertaken by my Nan long before I showed an interest. Since then, she has retired and I have been busy busy. From memory, I found the details of his work assignments through the records that Ancestry holds. I have a premium subscription and was able to access copies of the actual records and download them to my hard drive. Another excellent site is Trove. The Australian National Archives have begun a project to digitalise the old newspapers. You can find it at trove.nla.gov.au. I would recommend taking a look but make sure you have a significant amount of time to spare as it is fascinating.

      Good luck with your searching and thanks for taking the time to comment.


  2. Wayne Bermingham says:

    Dear Kim, thank you very much for the detailed post, it is much appreciated.

    I wanted to post a quick note to say that Bridget Ryan born 1838, Matthew and Catherine’s 2nd child, is my great great grandmother.

    I would very much like to talk to you about the family connection.

    Kind regards
    Wayne B.

    • dalmayne Bermingham says:

      Wayne. This is some time later but wanted you to know that Bridget Ryan was also my late husband Frederick Bermingham’s great great grandmother. Fred’s brother Percy lives here in Brisbane. Dalmayne.

  3. Laney says:

    Hi Wayne

    I love connecting with people researching the same family as I am. I will email you and we can chat.


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  5. denise Porter says:

    Great Story. I am looking for a Matthew Ryan who married Bridget Ryan (*so I’m told) They had a daughter Bridget who married Richard Southon and they lived in Singleton nsw. I can’t find any references to the Southon Family. I believe I may have to go back and check facts sent to me long ago just in case the information is wrong. Any information would be very much appreciated.

    • Laney says:

      Hi Denise, glad you like the post. Unfortunately, I don’t have any details of a Matthew marrying a Bridget. Ryan is such a common name. Wishing you luck in your search.

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  7. Mary says:

    Hi Laney, Thankyou for your research. I am a descendent of Julia Hester and just starting to do some research myself so was delighted to find this.

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