The midnight fairy came to visit me last night with an amazing surprise –in fact such a big surprise that I can’t quite believe it, and have spent the day trying to confirm or deny my conclusions. Oh ye of little faith!!
As a prelude to sleep (!!) I decided to have a quick look on Trove for Bridget O’Brien Ipswich. Bridget was my Mary O’Brien’s (2x great grandmother) sister. You see the other day I’d found a new obituary for her on Trove which mentioned that her year in Queensland had been spent in Ipswich. Up came the following advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald on 9th and 12th February 1859:
SHIP-FLORENTIA – BRIDGET O’BRIEN Your sister Mary is anxious to hear from you. Mrs KONGEL, Post Office, Ipswich.
It’s as well I was lying down I tell you!! I couldn’t believe my eyes and kept saying “keep calm, keep calm”.
Why was I so excited? Because I’d pretty much guarantee that this is my Mary Kunkel (nee O’Brien) and her sister Bridget. Kunkel is routinely mangled even today, or greeted with a “what??” so the mis-spelling doesn’t bother me much, especially since Mary was illiterate and had a Clare accent.
I’ve been hunting for Mary’s immigration for 27 years to no avail. I’ve looked at every possible immigration record I could find, including checking every Mary O’Brien entry, as well as Bridget and Kate/Catherine.
So am I leaping to conclusions? Please tell me what you think after reading this.
My memory didn’t instantly retrieve Florentia but it was ringing loud bells for me. A quick search of my records reminded me this was the ship that the Daniel O’Brien family from Tipperary arrived on. I wrote about the connections in this post early in 2013. This O’Brien family and my Mary O’Brien Kunkel were involved as witnesses in each other’s church events.
So let me put together the details and compare it with the oral history given to me by Mary’s granddaughter, Anne Kunkel who lived with her, and who was an extremely reliable witness (she’s been spot-on about 99% of what she told me):
1. Mary left Ireland when she was 16
In 1852 when the Florentia sailed Mary was 16 years old. This tallies with the age stated on several children’s birth certificates as well as her death certificate. Bridget’s age at death, and the details on her certificate also indicate an arrival year of 1852-53.
2. Mary was six months at sea coming to Australia
The Florentia was at sea for 22 weeks, slightly over five months. On top of that Mary had to get to Plymouth to catch the ship, either by boat from Limerick or Bianconi carriage to Dublin. Either way you can see how the total trip would have been close to six months. And wouldn’t the temptation be to round up, not down?
3. Mary and Bridget came together…though Anne did suggest perhaps sister Kate also came, but then she would have been <10 at the time.
Assuming this is correct, then Mary would have been on the Florentia too. I had eliminated Kate as an arrival through Moreton Bay as she married in Sydney in 1871 but now I’m rethinking that. Kate witnessed a baptism in Broadford, Clare in 1860. A Kate O’Brien witnessed Mary’s child’s baptisms in 1864 and 1866 in Ipswich. Was this her sister or Daniel and Winifred’s daughter (born 1854), which does seem young to be a witness? Our Kate’s details suggest she arrives in the early 1860s, just when there are some Board Immigrant Lists missing.
4.“Mary had a job before ever she got here…and she worked for a sea captain in Brisbane”
Was Mary arriving as an unassisted passenger? Or did she come under a false name as happened occasionally (and perhaps more than we realise?). Certainly the passenger list of the Florentia tallies with the stated number of passengers, and does not include two unassisted passengers because when the ship docked in Hobart on 4th April 1853 to take on additional supplies, there is only one cabin passenger stated on the Tasmanian documents, the Surgeon Superintendent for the voyage, William Clegg. Might she have been under an alias? This is tricky and yet none of the ages quite fit, let alone for two young women, aged 16 and 18.
5. She met her husband on the voyage
This tale is common to both Mary and Bridget. Bridget’s future husband was a mariner, John Widdup, so that may be plausible. I’ve never found George Kunkel’s immigration either, and have conjectured he too may have worked his passage given his upbringing on the River Main. The Tasmanian records indicate there were 26 crew on the Florentia…I wonder if either George or John was one of them. Unfortunately the Mariners and Ships in Australian Waters website does not include the Florentia.
So far at least I’ve also been unable to trace them through the CLIP website.
The ship’s captain was Capt TH Banks and Surgeon Superintendent William Clegg and the ship arrived in Moreton Bay on 25th April 1853. The Florentia was a barque of 453 tons, and on arrival was carrying 249 immigrants so a fairly small ship. Apart from being unusually long, due to “contrary winds and calms”, the voyage had a fairly high fatality rate, with two differing death rates: 17 deaths (Moreton Bay) and 9 deaths (Hobart). Although “offset” by either 8 or 12 births, this was not a good tally. And yet surprisingly very little is documented in the Trove newspapers about the voyage, other than an elusive hint that there were issues with the ship’s officers: The local Immigration Board is now engaged in the investigation of certain charges against the ship’s officers, but what their nature or justice may be, remains a mystery.- Moreton Bay Courier, May 7 quoted in the Maitland Mercury of 18 May 1853.
The Moreton Bay colonists were far more concerned that the ship brought far more women and children, than the men they wanted to boost their workforce.
Was there another Florentia voyage? Yes, but back in 1841 when Bridget was only a girl of about eight. It seems logical that the 1853 voyage is the correct one. Our Bridget witnessed her brother’s and sister’s baptism at home in Broadford in 1846 and 1850 adding to that likelihood.
It’s also not surprising that Mary might have been advertising for her sister, as Bridget left Ipswich after a year, so about mid-1854. By the 1860s she was married and living with her little family in Urana in southern New South Wales. Meanwhile Mary too had married in 1857, to George Kunkel, which Bridget may not have known.
So why was Mary “anxious” to get in touch with Bridget in early 1859? Their parents didn’t die until much later. Mary’s marriage and children seemed to be having no problems. Perhaps she just hadn’t heard from Bridget for a while or perhaps Mary knew that Kate was thinking of emigrating and wanted to get in touch.
Plainly there’s room for further research at various archives and online.
So what do you think? Does my hypothesis hold up? Can I do a happy dance or is it all wishful thinking? Pearls of wisdom and advice would be much appreciated.
Tasmanian Archives, Immigration document MB2-39-1-16 Image 183
Family oral history: Anne Kunkel