An Irish family in Surry Hills c1880s

NFHM AlexAlex from Family Tree Frog blog has set us a genealogy challenge for National Family History Month in August, themed around Australian novels. Week 1 is “Poor Man’s Orange”.

What do FANS and angels have in common? Let me take you to Surry Hills in Sydney – a not-so-pleasant area of Sydney back in the 19th Century.

Surry Hills is the focus of the classic Aussie novel Poor Man’s Orange, and this quote would almost certainly resonate with my extended family, the Garveys and Hogans who lived there:

The Church in Surry Hills was no fountain of stone…it was foursquare, red brick, with a stubby steeple as strictly functional as the finger of a traffic cop….It was as much a part of Surry Hills as the picture-show or the police station, the ham-and-beef or the sly-grog shop.[i]

Kate and Mary Garvey
Kate and Mary Garvey.

In the 1860s, Catherine (Kate) O’Brien, the sister of my 2xgreat grandmother Mary O’Brien Kunkel, arrived in Sydney and married fellow Clare emigrant, Pat Hogan. Pat and Kate Hogan lived in Surry Hills. Two decades later their nieces and nephews would also emigrate from County Clare and live nearby, also in Surry Hills.

Kate and Mary Garvey (daughters of Honora O’Brien, sister of Mary and Kate), arrived in Sydney in 1881 on the Blairgowrie, citing their aunt Kate Hogan, as a relative in the colony.

Mary remained a spinster throughout her life but Kate married, yet again to a Clare emigrant, James Skein (or Skehan?) Keane. Although Kate moved to the goldfields in Western Australia for some years, she returned to Sydney for her children’s health. Her sister Mary continued to be a strong support to her for the rest of her life.

Kate and Mary’s sister, Bridget Garvey, arrived in Sydney, marrying Samuel Gill in 1906. Brother, Michael Garvey, also emigrated to Australia, and the last to arrive was sister Ellen who didn’t come to Australia until 1923 after their mother died. Most of Honora O’Brien Garvey’s other children would emigrate to the United States and live in Baltimore.

Joining the Garvey clan in Surry Hills was my own great-grandfather’s sister, Margaret or Molly Kunkel, who became part of this extended family, spending the rest of her life near the Garveys and Hogans, and later being buried near them.

Paul Simon sings of “angels in the architecture”[ii], something that always strikes a chord with me and which is particularly pertinent to these Clare emigrants.

hogan and garvey wnidows
Stained glass memorial windows for the Garvey and Hogan families
St Peters Surry Hills Freemans Jnl 1918
Freeman’s Journal, 20 June 1918, page 40.

When the new Catholic church at Surry Hills, St Peter’s, was being built and the stained glass windows were being sought, the two O’Brien branches memorialised their own families. One window remembers Kate and Pat Hogan, while the other is a tribute to John and Honora Garvey. There is nothing to suggest that John and Honora lived and died in Ireland and it was simply their family who had emigrated.

All in all, a classic case of chain migration and the importance of considering FANs (Friends, Associates and Neighbours). It was from this family that I would acquire Kunkel photographs, genealogy details, and oral histories that linked the various branches both across Australia and the USA.

A “Rich Man’s Orange” in genealogical terms.


[i] Park, Ruth. The Harp in the South novels. Penguin Books, Melbourne 2009, page 418

[ii] Paul Simon, You can call me Al.

14 thoughts on “An Irish family in Surry Hills c1880s

  1. The support of family is ever important, that’s what gives a family strength… it is so good to read not only of how the family were close to each other, but that they are remembered by the stained glass memorials… just beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They are such an interesting interconnected family and what intrigues me most if that Molly Kunkel relocated to Sydney and stayed there for the rest of her life, living close to her aunts and cousins. The pull of the genes?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks all. This family was perfect for this meme. They remain tightly interconnected even today and have been pivotal to learning so much about my direct ancestors, including finding photos.


  3. Thank you for sharing your family’s story. My Dad’s family traces its roots back to Surry Hills, most of them arriving in the 1840s and 1850s. Ours hail from County Cork including names such as Curtin, O’ Sullivan, Donovan and Bourke. I have read Ruth Park’s Surry Hills series and it strongly resonated with me.
    I found out that one of my ancestors was an Irish Famine orphan…Bridget Donovan. I’ve been determined to put some kind of “face” to her name and recently made a few more breakthroughs. Still can’t find where or when she and her husband died.I think they’re perched up at the pearly gates laughing at me.
    Here’s a link to a blog I’ve put together about her.
    I finally received a contact the other day from another descendant.
    Best wishes,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.