Monday, 14 October 2013

Which O'Toole is Which? - Celebrating Family History Month

October is Family History Month, so to celebrate I am going to put down what I know of the O'Toole family. It will take a while, so it is a good project for a whole month.
There were two main O'Toole families in Sydney in the last half of the nineteenth century, one was Protestant (my branch), descended from Laurence O'Toole, the other Catholic, descended from Tobias O'Toole. When you go looking on Ancestry family trees there seems to be a bit of confusion between the two, so I am going to put down the outlines of what I know of my O'Tooles in the hope of making things clearer.

My O'Tooles started in Australia in 1854 when Laurence O'Toole arrived in Sydney aboard the Syria with his wife, Ann Groves ni Leonard and her son from her first marriage, Matthew Joseph Anthony. Laurence is my most frustrating brick wall simply because he is my great great grandfather and I think therefore that I should know more about his origins. Here are the facts, sparse as they are:
Laurence O'Toole was born in WEXFORD in about 1820 and was most definitely a Protestant. Most O'Tooles seem to have been Catholics from Wicklow. This certainly seems to be the case with the other O'Toole family in Sydney. (O-oh, no it isn't. See Which O'Toole is Which? Addendum)

Counties of Ireland. Note Wexford and Wicklow on lower east coast. From Irish Genealogy Toolkit

(And yes, religion does have to be brought into it as it helps sort out which family is which. Both O'Toole families in Sydney had children with the same name, and which Church they were attending helps track the correct people.) 

Laurence's dad was also Laurence. On his son's marriage certificate he stated his occupation as "gentleman". I have looked about for what Gentleman meant in 1853, when young Laurence married Ann Groves Leonard. There are varying definitions. The Encyclopedia Britannica stated it was a man without title who bore a coat of arms, while the Oxford English Dictionary gives as one of its definitions of the term gentleman "a man of superior position in society, or having the habits of life indicative of this; often, one whose means enable him to live in easy circumstances without engaging in trade, a man of money and leisure"1 Other sources state that it meant a man of independent means who did not work. Conversely, Laurence Jnr was a merchant seaman (amongst other things) who worked hard throughout his married life. I don't know if there were brothers and sisters and am not sure of his mother's name - it may have been Margaret, but I have no idea where this notion came from.

The name Laurence causes confusion. Laurence is probably the most common name to put with O'Toole, thanks to bishop Laurence O'Toole of the C12th. Practically every O'Toole family has at least one Laurence in it, usually more. I'm already up to four and I haven't looked that much into the family.

So, back to Laurence O'Toole b.1820. I don't know how or when he ended up in England, but in July 1853 he was in Whitechapel, marrying my great great grandmother, Anne Groves Leonard. He was already a mariner (ticket no. A4.119, in 1855 he is also listed as ticket no.35). On 3 November 1853 Laurence, Ann and Joseph left London on the ship Syria, captained by Thomas Mesnard. Laurence was boatswain on the voyage. They sailed for Sydney via Rio de Janeiro. The voyage was slow "never having had a steady wind for three consective days"2, and the ship beset by difficulties. It had sprung its foremast and lost the cross-jack yard in a gale a few days out from London, and then lost the cross-jack yard again later in the voyage (the cross jack yard is the lower yard on the mizzenmast). There were also problems with supplies on board, the biscuits that were the crew's main food were found to be of poor quality and mouldy. This later led to some of the sailors withdrawing their labour in Sydney3(Sydney Morning Herald 7 Apr 1854 p5). Despite everything, the Syria docked at Campbell's Wharf on 7 March 1854. Campbell's Wharf is the area between Circular Quay and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, just up from the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Custom House & part of Circular Wharf, Sydney N.S.W., 1845, George Edwards Peacock, Oil on board, DG 38, property of the State Library of NSW
The O'Tooles started out in The Rocks area of Sydney, in a small house in Cumberland Street. This was a two room affair – not two bedrooms, but two rooms, with a lean-to kitchen in the back. In September, Ann's older sister, Lucy arrived aboard the Hanover, with her husband, George Puzey and their infant son, also George. George Snr had signed up as steward on the Hanover. For a while all six people lived in the little house until Lucy and George were able to find a place to rent. A lot of the properties in the area were rentals and both families were often on the move as rents went up and down. But as George and Laurence were both mariners it made sense to stay near the docks.

Laurence and Ann were members of the Holy Trinity Church in Lower Fort Street, Millers Point. It has always been more popularly known as the Garrison Church, simply because the local Garrison used it as the place of worship. Isabella O'Toole was christened there, before her untimely death (see Vale Isabella O'Toole). Later they changed to St Phillips where Archer was a bellringer at the age of about 14 years4. At some point the O'Tooles became members of the Christadelphian Church, where they remained as active members of the congregation.

The City of Sydney Archives has kindly put its assessment books on line. I found Laurence and Ann's various addresses from the Sands Directory, and I was then able to look up their addresses in the assessment books and get basic descriptions of the houses they lived in and who their landlords were. The assessment books only cover the city, Redfern and Camperdown, but they are well worth looking at if you have ancestors in these areas or if you are interested in the history of inner Sydney.
For instance, in 1861 the O'Tooles were living in a house “off 7 Kent Street”. It was a house of stone with an iron roof, 1 story, 2 rooms and was owned by William Andrews5.

Sometime in the early 1860s Laurence and his brother-in-law, George Puzey began working at the AGL Gas Works at Millers Point. George was a gas purifier, a job that saw him dead by 1863. He died in the Tarban Creek Asylum (now Gladesville Hospital) from arsenic poisoning6.

Gas Works, Millers Point, c. 1873, Samuel Elyard, Watercolour, DG D5, property of the State Library of New South Wales
Laurence meanwhile worked as a fireman, which means that he tended the furnaces. He was still working at the gasworks in 1867 when his son John was born and the family had moved to Redfern7. They continued to live around the City, renting small houses, everyone crammed into four rooms, until 1880 when suddenly we find Laurence and family in 289 Clarence Street, the only occupants of a two-storey, 10 room, brick and shingle residence8. The big change here was that the probate had finally come through from the estate of Ann's first husband. It wasn't a fortune, less than £200, but that was enough to make a difference to the family. Shortly after this they moved to Balmain, a newer, healthier suburb.

Poor Laurence didn't have long to enjoy the delights of Balmain. About 20 September 1882 he was admitted to Callan Park Hospital in Leichhardt, suffering from severe diarrhoea. By 27 September he was dead. Unfortunately the law stated that the death certificate had to be filled in by the doctor who treated him, H. Blaxland, and he made a pig's breakfast of it. His son, John, is listed as his father and missing from the list of children. There is no mother's name at all.

Lawrence was buried in the Rookwood Necropolis in Section G, Grave 163 of the Anglican section. Unfortunately no headstone remains. 

Laurence O'Toole's grave site, no. 163, Anglican Section G, Rookwood Necropolis, between the Fusedale and Douglas plots. Photo in private collection of author
1 from "Horace and the Construction of the English Victorian Gentleman" Stephen Harrison From: Helios Volume 34, Number 2, Fall 2007 pp. 207-222 | 10.1353/hel.2008.000
2 “Shipping Intelligence”, Empire (Sydney), 7 March 1854, p2, col 1-2; digital images, Trove ( : accessed 8 Oct 2013), Digitised newspapers and more.
3 “Water Police Court”, The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney), 7 April 1854, p5, col 3-4; digital images, Trove ( : accessed 8 Oct 2013), Digitised newspapers and more.
4Interview with Robert O'Toole, Hunters Hill, 1 Feb 2013
5 City of Sydney, "City Assessment Books 1845-1948," database, City of Sydney Archives ( : accessed 26 Feb 2013), entry for Laurence O'Toole Rates assessment 1861; Citing City of Sydney Assessment book CSA 027328.
6 “Death at the Gasworks” #1313 These Walls Have Ears: My Place, All The Best; fbi 94.5fm Archive ( accessed 1 Oct 2013)
7 New South Wales Department of Attorney General and Justice NSW, birth certificate 3699 (1867), John O'Toole; NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages, Chippendale.
8 City of Sydney, "City Assessment Books 1845-1948," database, City of Sydney Archives ( : accessed 26 Feb 2013), entry for L O'Toole Rates assessment 1880; Citing City of Sydney Assessment book CSA027194. 

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