Thursday, 27 June 2013

Matters of Conviction - Philip Keefe and Margaret Daly

Can I just say, here and now, I HATE flu season? I HATE flu season. Done.

It was hard to decide where to start, I have quite a few convicts in my family tree, 26 at last count (don't panic, I am not going to write about them all). In the end, my great great great great grandparents, Philip Keefe and Margaret Daly, were the obvious choices as they naturally lead to a number of others. Convict family groups were not uncommon.

Some of Philip and Margaret's stories (and their relatives) will be drawn from Owen Pearce's "Rabbit Hot, Rabbit Cold", an excellent history of Owen's ancestors and relatives from the Burragorang Valley. Owen was an engaging writer, but more importantly he was a careful one. Events are documented and credit is meticulously given, making this a relatively reliable family history book. If you have family from the Burragorang, even if you are not related to the Pearces, Shoobridges, Kerswells, Kings, Maxwells, Hunts or Keefes, try to find a copy of "Rabbit Hot, Rabbit Cold" for a view of Valley life. Owen also mentioned a lot of Valley people who weren't from these families, so you never know...

If anyone can put me in touch with Owen's family, I'd be really pleased.

Enough of the book review.

Philip Keefe/Keeffe and Margaret Daly/Daley
Philip was born in County Kerry, Ireland, in 1797. There is an alternate birth year of 1799, but that comes from only one source. The other sources back 1797. Owen Pearce says Philip came from a large farming family. In 1820 Philip, Darby and John Mulcahy and  one other were arrested for sheep stealing. Tried at Kerry, they were found guilty and sentenced to seven years' transportation to New South Wales. Although Philip's parents petitioned the Irish Government, asking for leniency, none was forthcoming and Philip left Ireland on 16 June 1821, bound for Sydney via Rio de Janiero. The transport was the John Barry 2, captained by Roger Dobson. Daniel McNamara was the ship's surgeon. For someone who could neither read nor write, letters were to play quite a part in Philip's life, although few of them ever did him any good.

The ship's muster listed Philip's age as 22, giving a calculated birth date of 1799. I can't find other documents that agree with this.

During the voyage, on the night of 18 August 1821 the convicts were unusually rowdy, and a drunk guard discharged his musket "point-blank into the prison" (Rabbit Hot, p309). The prisoners increased their noise (no surprise), the other guards panicked and they also fired their muskets into the prison. It is a miracle that only three prisoners were wounded, and none died, despite two of the three being seriously wounded. The guard who started it was arrested. The John Barry docked in Sydney on 7 November 1821.

On disembarkation, Philip was assigned to the Government, to work in the Rooty Hill area. Government convicts were generally the fittest, those deemed best able to build the colony (often literally). In 1823 he was assigned to a Frederick Murphy and then in February 1824 to John Lacy of Parramatta. In January 1825 Lacey requested permission for Philip to be put in charge of cattle being run on land in the Wollondilly at "a spot known by the native name of Brimmillo". This is in the Lower Burragorang Valley. John Lacy, his family and convict servants were the first European setttlers in the Lower Burragorang, and Philip was amongst them, tending to the dairy herd.

Lacy was happy with Philip's work and wrote to the Colonial Secretary in November 1825 requesting that Philip and three other convicts be granted land adjoining his own (or perhaps he was merely seeking to control more land through his convict servants - personally, I would rather think well of him). Request denied.
1827 Certificate of Freedom for Philip Keefe
1827 and a Certificate of Freedom, which was only granted after correspondence between John Lacy and the Colonial Secretary. Note the year of birth, 1797. After he was freed, Philip applied again for land adjoining Lacy's. Again he was unsuccessful. Lacy continued to employ him, and paid him wages in money and in stock. Money was a bit of a rare commodity at times, so payment in goods was not unusual. Mid 1831, having had his land application turned down, Philip went further up the Burragorang, finally securing three blocks of land (to a total of  170 acres) on the Cox's River. According to Owen Pearce, this land later became part of Strathmore, owned by the McMahon family.
Previously owned by Philip Keefe. Strathmore: Thomas McMahon in foreground with impressive whiskers. About 1903. Photo courtesy of Blue Mountains City Library

More letters. Poor Philip couldn't get the deeds to his land as there was a dispute over which Police Division the land fell into. John Lacy handled the correspondence, but nothing much was decided. Bureaucracy has always had a knack for dragging its feet.

Meanwhile, Philip Keefe got on as well as he could, clearing his land, building fences and a house, farming and running his cows and pigs. He also applied for permission to marry. It took 10 months for permission to be granted, and Margaret Daly, aged 25 years, of the transport Palambam, became Mrs Keefe on 22 December 1831. I don't know if she was assigned or requested, if they had met before they were married and if so how.

Margaret was Irish and Catholic, like Philip, but hailed from County Cork. She had worked as a dairy maid, but was found guilty in 14 August 1830 of stealing clothes. She was sentenced to seven years' transportation and arrived in Sydney on 31 July 1831. Two convicts had died on the voyage.

Initially Margaret was assigned to HC Antill, but I don't know what her duties were. Winter in Australia, while it can be cold, is not like winter in Ireland. Margaret may have thought the weather quite pleasant. But then came summer, and a new husband, and a new home, down in the Burragorang. I often wonder what she thought of it all.

Philip and Margaret had between six and nine children together over the next ten years. I can find records for five, but with the family illiterate and the Valley quite isolated, it is not surprising that some were unregistered. Letters written for Philip and Margaret over the years also state different numbers of children, first nine and then eight. Maybe some died or maybe, as Owen Pearce suggests, counting was a problem. Either way, time marched on and still the matter of the Deeds was not resolved. John Lacy continued to write letters for the family, trying to sort things out (see why I want to think well of him?), but to no avail. Letters were returned, each body claiming to not have responsibility or jurisdiction. Margaret's Certificate of Freedom was granted in 1838, but still the family's fortunes did not change. Instead, they were set to become worse.
Margaret Daly's Certificate of Freedom 1838
In 1841 Philip suffered a severe stroke which left him paralysed down one side and unable to work the farm. With no means of producing food or of gaining income, the family faced starvation. John or possibly Timothy Lacy penned a letter for Philip to Sir George Gipps, Governor of New South Wales and Philip signed said letter with a cross. It laid out the predicament, put forward Philip's desire to sell his land in order to feed his children and begged for "merciful consideration" and the Governor's intervention. Again the Keefes were met with, as Owen Pearce puts it, "red tape and buck passing" (Rabbit Hot, p.312).

However, on 21 February of 1842, George Gipps came good and the land was duly recorded as Philip's. There are two records in the Register of Land Grants and Leases. The first is for 120 acres in Cook "at Black's Hollow near Burragoraang situated on the North side of Cox's River...promised to John Farrell on or before the 31st March 1821 and 10th may 1824... and advertiased at his request in favour of the said Philip Keefe as No.204 in the Government notice dated 7th November 1838 and the Deed now prepared in his name in pursuance thereof" and 50 acres "Being the land promised to William Danley or Danaly on or before the 18th November 1825...on or before 18th November 1825...advertised in favor of the said Philip Keefe at the request of the Promisee as No.203 in the Government notice dated 7th November 1838 and the Deed now prepared in his name in pursuance thereof".

So the land was securely his, yet Philip didn't sell any of it. I don't know if he offered it for sale and found no takers, or if he just held onto the land once he had the Deeds.

And now things get murky. The bald facts are as follows:
In the second half of 1842, Philip and his cousin Francis killed a bullock that had strayed from a neighbour, Joseph Story. They shared the meat and buried hide and head in Philip's paddock behind his house. A local, already under suspicion of cattle duffing, turned in the cousins to the police and personally led the police to where the hide and head were buried.
But it can't be that simple. Philip was paralysed down one side, he was unable to work. How on earth did he help kill a bullock? Francis was a trouble-maker and an inciter to crime (I'll get to him when I can work out just how many Tickets of Leave he was awarded and lost), and he liked to avoid trouble for himself wherever possible. He was also not above shopping others to save his own skin. I suspect it was his idea to bury the evidence on Philip's farm, possibly on the grounds that Philip's family had the more desparate need of the meat, even though he took his share. Did Philip even know where the remains were? And if so, did he object or just go along with it? And what could he have done to stop Francis burying the evidence on his land?
Then there is the question of how the informant knew so much. Had he helped with it all and then seen an opportunity to take some of the heat off himself for his other misdemeanours? Had he been initially instrumental in the bullock "straying" in the first place? Had Francis ticked him off so he took a course of petty revenge?

It probably isn't possible to uncover the truth in all this, but regardless of where the truth lay, it meant harder times for Margaret and the children, and death for Philip.

Part 2 coming up.

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