Australia Day and My Immigrant Ancestors

58 green and gold flowers

On Australia Day 2017 we reflect on our pride in our country and also, for many of us, our status as descendants of immigrants. Some will have First Australians, others will have early convicts. Some will be part of the early settlers in the colony of New South Wales or Van Dieman’s Land. For me, being Australian is not about flying a flag or wearing one draped round my shoulders, it’s about the country, its open land and horizons, the skies with the Southern Cross among the stars.

Last year I was acknowledged by Queensland Family History Society as having Pre-Separation ancestors. In this context it meant submitting my genealogical data (certificates of all sorts), to the society to prove my various ancestors were living in the colony before Queensland separated from New South Wales in 1859. The proclamation of Separation was read by Governor Bowen on 10 December 1859. I was very surprised to discover I had eleven pre-Separation ancestors, eight of whom were immigrants, and three were first-generation Australian-born. The rest of my immigrant ancestors were “Johnny come lately” types.

immigrant-ancestors-countryI thought it would be interesting to see how my immigrant ancestors broke down in terms of generations and also country of origin. While I think of myself as mostly Irish-Scottish descent, I was suprised how dominant my English ancestry was at the immigrant level, especially pre-Separation (4). One branch of my Irish (5) came in the early 1880s and my Scottish in the 1870s (1) and 1910 (2).

With the current focus on genetic genealogy all this becomes pertinent, because these are the ancestors, and their ancestors, who I need to focus on to make kin-connections. Place is, I think, almost as important as names – after all if your ancestral families never left Argyll in Scotland, you’re unlikely to match someone with that name who never left Ayrshire, or Nottinghamshire. However, never say never, people did migrate internally as well as internationally, but even so my starting point is usually place of origin.

immigrant-ancestors-generationsA number of my immigrant ancestors came as family groups, some even as three generations eg my 1880s Irish and my 1850s English.I looked at this a few years back – you can read about it here.

I’m including some graphs to show visually the distribution across the generations and also country of origin. In my Ancestry family tree, I have the immigrants shown with two flags -one with their country of origin and one for Australia.

On Australia Day let’s consider our First Australians, and the impact of the arrival of all those convict and immigrant ships on their lives, survival and culture. Let’s also recognise the impact each generation of our immigrant ancestors has had on the development of Australia….one of the reasons I’m so proud of my early pre-Separation Pioneers: George Mathias Kunkel (Bavaria); George’s wife-to-be Mary O’Brien (Ireland); Richard and Mary Kent and daughter Hannah (England); Hannah’s husband-to-be, William Partridge (England); Denis and Ellen Gavin (Ireland).


And if anyone ever finds my James Sherry aka McSharry (not the railway contractor), I’d love to know where he got to within a few years of his arrival in 1883. That’s one brick wall that refuses to topple.

23 thoughts on “Australia Day and My Immigrant Ancestors

    1. Thanks Dianne, how interesting that your ancestor’s siblings came Down Under…I’ll bet there’d be a few here who’d be interested. I’m heading to Canada soon myself. Love your blog title!


      1. I think it’s because the one that came to Canada had kids and it was a cheaper fare. Great time to come to Canada, our 159th anniversary year.


  1. Interesting… How did you come up with the numbers needed to create the pie charts for country of origin? Did you just count the number of people arriving from different countries? Or was this a DNA thing? You have amazing ways of analyzing the data, and it’s always fascinating to read your blogs. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Happy Australia Day!


    1. Thanks David – I used my prior research and consequent knowledge, then added them into Excel for the pie charts. I didn’t do the pre-Sep ones just all those who actually arrived in the country (all into Qld), which as I said involved multiple generations in some cases. Hope you enjoyed your Oz Day too.


  2. Hi Pauleen, I have just found a paragraph on Trove dated 6th November 1886 regarding a late chief porter James McSharry who was relieved of his duties with another fellow after some items missing from mail delivered by rail to Bogantungan. Have you seen this paragraph? I am still searching for the elusive James McSharry (my Great Great Grandfather). I gave up for 6 months or so but have decided to have another try. Probably another dead end but I live in hope 🙂 Andrea Roos.


  3. Great post. Too many people focus on ethnicity and not on the fact that we’ve all grown up in the same country and experienced the same things


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