Catherine Kearney

Catherine Kearney


Dairy Farmer, Hobart Rivulet


                                                                                          (c)Irene Schaffer




Catherine Kearney[1] aged 22 was convicted under the name of Catherine Kearnon at Phillipstone King’s Country Ireland in March 1791[2] and sentenced to seven years transportation.  She arrived as Catherine McKearnan,[3] at Port Jackson on the Marquis of Cornwallis on the 11 February 1796 along with 232 other convicts, 163 men and 70 women.[4]


During the voyage there was considerable unrest among both prisoners and soldiers. After an attempted mutiny forty-two of the male prisoners were flogged, and six of the female prisoners were punished.  It is doubtful that Catherine took part in the mutiny as she was pregnant at the time, and was delivered of child during the voyage.


This child was baptized at St Phillip’s Church, Sydney on 31 March 1796.


Keirnan or Wilson, Mary daughter of Mathew Wilson

 and Catherine Keirnan born at sea, on board the

Marquis of Cornwallis. [5]


Matthew Wilson was thought to be a sailor on the Marquis of Cornwallis. This child does not appear to have survived and nothing more is known of Mathew Wilson.[6]



Catherine is recorded as being sent to Norfolk Island soon after she arrived at Port Jackson on the Reliance on 18 February 1796 with a child called Catherine [7] but from the baptism and other references I have found this seems to be a mistake and its more likely she sailed on the Supply on the 8 May 1796. There is a child Catherine Kearnon on the list of children including William, Thomas and John (Gavin) also under the name of Kearnon on Reg Wright’s list of people on Norfolk Island[8] There is no date for her departure, its possible she died on NI before her mother departed for Hobart Town.


Catherine lived with Thomas Smith on Norfolk Island.[9] Two sons were born, William in 1798 and Thomas in 1799.[10]


Original Baptisms -


6 January 1805 – William Kiernan, born 1 Jan 1788 & Thomas Kiernan born 24 December 1789. Sons of Thomas Smith & Catherine Kiernan Fulton.[11]


At this stage Thomas Smith disappears from Catherine’s life and she began living with Roger Gavin and had a son to him on 28 July 1803 on Norfolk Island.


Original Baptism -


31 July 1803 John Kierney, son of Roger Gavin and Catherine

 Kierney, born 28 July. by me Henry Fulton.[12]



 Roger Gavin aged 25 was tried in Roscommon Ireland for life in 1798. He arrived at Port Jackson on the Minorca in December 1801[13] and was later sent to Norfolk Island. He departed on the Lady Nelson in 1808 for Hobart Town.[14]


Neither Catherine nor Roger were granted or allotted land on Norfolk Island. Its possible that she obtained some cows and supplied milk and butter to the settlement as she did later in Hobart Town. No record can be found but it is interesting that there were only 7 female and 8 male cattle on Norfolk Island in 1801. Goats, pigs and sheep were the main stock at that time.[15]


Catherine Kearney arrived in the River Derwent with her two young sons, William aged nine and Thomas aged seven, on board the Lady Nelson on 1 March 1808. She was recorded as being a very seditious and troublesome character, but for all that she was allotted a town lease of 1,677 feet in Hobart.[16]  There was only one other piece of land given in this fashion and that was to Hannah Ronay, another woman who had come by herself on the Lady Nelson.[17]


For all her bad reputation Catherine had her land in the middle of the town on the rivulet. Here she began her dairy farm.[18]


When Catherine and her two sons, William and Thomas arrived on the Lady Nelson in March 1808, the small township of Hobart Town was only four years old. From the beginning there had been shortages of food and when the news came that the Norfolk Islanders were to be sent to VDL, Lt. Governor Collins was at a loss as to how he was to supply these new settlers with both food and clothing. Most of them had been sent to Norfolk Island from Port Jackson as convicts who were now free after nearly twenty years on the island.  This was to cause problems as most of those who came with Collins in 1804 were still under sentence.  The Norfolk Islanders were caught in the middle of the convicts and the free settlers, not belonging to one or the other.  They considered themselves free but the free settlers regarded them as ex-convicts.


It is hard to imagine what Hobart Town would have been like when Lt. Gov. Collins arrived in 1804. The rivulet ran free, (except when it rained heavily sending down logs that blocked the rivulet, sending water spilling across its banks) large gum trees stood on both sides of the rivulet, some of which had to be cut down to make room for the new settlement.  There are a few drawings that have survived, the earliest drawn by George P Harris in 1805 and 1806.[19]


Catherine was to become well known in and around Hobart for the next twenty three years.  The land she was allotted was near the rivulet, in what was to become Collins Street, not where many previous writers have suggested.  Many books over the years recorded her land where the hospital is located today. This is not possible, as the hospital was set up immediately on arrival of the Ocean and the Lady Nelson in 1804, when 37 sick people were reported to be in the General Hospital.[20]


The population of Hobart Town after the second voyage of the Lady Nelson from Norfolk Island in 1808 would have been about 900 people and extra houses had to be built for them, but in the meantime some were taken in by those already there.


Hobart Town  1817


Catherine gained her freedom by servitude on Norfolk Island in 1802 but Roger Gavin did not receive his until 1810.


The two Kearney boys were both granted land in 1813 at the Coal River.


Both Catherine Kearney and Roger Gavin also had meat contacts with the Government, promising 500 lbs each in 1817.[21]


It is not known when Catherine and her two sons and Roger Gavin started their farms at the Coal River. It must have been early, as by 1819 William had large amounts of grain and stock on his land.[22]



Hobart Town VDL 1821, Hospital center (5) on rise from Collins St. (below)

Catherine Kearney house in dip with only chimney showing . Next to large building is what could be her cow-shed. Note James Kelly’s house facing Campbell Street, and the Hope and Anchor with the two chimneys on the corner of Macquarie and Campbell Street.[23]


It appears that Catherine and Roger were together on and off over the years as their names were linked with many land deals. Catherine kept her diary in Hobart Town while Gavin had property in Brisbane Street and land at the Coal River, and the Salt Pans.  

Catherine was mentioned in the Colonial Times 15 June 1826.


‘It appears Mrs. Kearney, the conductor of the extensive dairy in Argyle Street, was observed in attendance at the office during the investigation, deeply anxious for the results of this important and exemplary trial’.


She was waiting for the verdict in which Roger Gavin was on trial for harbouring Sarah Thompson a convict woman, who was in the employment of her son William at Richmond.[24] Roger Gavin was fined ninety-nine dollars.


Catherine is recorded as having 1 acre 80 rods of land, a garden, plus one cow and one pig in 1827.[25]


As the years passed Catherine divided her time between her property in Hobart and the Coal River. During one of these periods, her neighbour Mr McKay fenced in his land next to hers in Argyle Street blocking her in, and not allowing her access to Argyle Street, or to allow her to move her cows freely. This resulted in a court case, which was heard in the Supreme Court in 1830. Kearney V McKay. [26] This was shortly before Catherine died.


The case began with the remark that ‘Mrs. Kearney resided in a non descript part of Hobart Town. The front of premises was formerly a street; upon another laying out of the town, Collins–street and Argyle-street passed in directions whereby the premises of Mrs. Kearney became insulated and was bounded by the rivulet, as it then ran, on the rear, and her front was shut in by the rear of the premises in Macquarie-street. In order, then, to have access to her house, a road was left to her from Argyle-street. This continued for 16 or 17 years. Last year the Government altered the course of the rivulet, and the former bed became Collins-street.’



The case continued with many witness being examined. One being Roger Gavin who stated that ‘Mrs. Kearney had been in possession of her premises since 1808.’ Another witness was Madam D’Hotman.[28] She stated, ‘I know Mr Loane and Mrs. Kearney; I know the road in question; I know of no dispute about it; I heard Mr Evans and Mr Loane talking of it in 1819; Mr Evans said, the road was Mrs Kearney’s and she must have it; I have known it these 12 years; Mr Evans said Colonel Sorell wished Mrs Kearney to have a road there; when Mr McKay bought it, he was well aware there was a passage.’ Another witness for Mrs Kearney was Mr Falknor. He stated ‘I do not think the wall of the Secretary’s Office yard, which bounds the road in question (Argyle) has encroached, if at all, a very little, her front was to be in Collins-street., but the rivulet prevented her having anyway but through Argyle-street., until Collins-street was formed’.

The case makes interesting reading but went on and on until the judge was completely worn out after a three hour deliberation.


Catherine won the case and the fence was ordered to be removed.[29]


From my research on Catherine’s land in Collins Street I am now sure that her land was below the rivulet, where she carried out her small dairy farm. Years later other building were to be built on and near her land. The Agrictural Bank which was her land, now stands deserted and destitute with its windows broken, soon like its neighbours will be no more, as progress overtakes the site.


Next to Catherine’s land a small chapel was built in 1837 by Henry Hopkins at his own expense, it was called the Independent Chapel[30]. This can been seen on the map used in the court case in 1831 (see maps above and below)






Hobart Town 1879, showing Hobart Hospital behind the church.

Ringed by Collins, Liverpool, Campbell and Argyle Streets.[31]


What had begun as a narrow piece of waste-land became well known to the population of Hobart Town.


Catherine Kearney died at her home in Collins Street Hobart in 1830 aged 61.

Colonial Times 9 April 1830 Hobart Town p12 c3.


Died Wednesday at her home in Argyle St.
 Catherine Kearney, aged 61, an old and
respected inhabitant of the colony, having

come to it at the evacuation of Norfolk Island.


In her will Catherine left all her property to her sons William and Thomas. Firstly the dwelling house that she was living in before her death in Collins Street, and another in Bathurst Street. Another property of 60 acres was at the Coal River with a cottage on it called ‘Longford Cottage” together with all other lands to which she had claims, along with cattle and sheep, she bequeathed to her two sons having them share and share alike.  With her last breath she wished to having them to live and cabby together.  Her mare Polly, as well as her gig and harnesses she left to her son Thomas for his exclusive property. She also left a particular foal to her grandson Thomas, the son of William.  Erin her horse she left to her son William.[32]


William and Thomas later lived at the Coal River acquiring more land and stock and continued to improve their position in the district. William increased his properties from the Coal River in the south to St. Paul’s River in the north. In 1823 he married Susan Nash, daughter of Robert Nash, a miller in Sorell and also a Norfolk Islander. Susan and William had a large family of thirteen children.


In 1829 William built a two story stone house that he called Laburnum Park He built many houses and soon became known as the Father of Richmond. [33] His love of horses kept him busy, racing and breeding them. In 1840 at Richmond William Kearney won the Silver Cup valued at £50.


In 1862 William was declared insolvent; this resulted in him losing most of his properties. He did however continue with his horses.[34]


William died on the 31 May 1870, thought to be the result of falling off his horse sometime before his death. He died peacefully in his sleep. Being so well thought of, the 66th anniversary of his death was recorded in the Mercury on the 1 June 1936.  This article spoke of how his Negro servant sat with bowed head and his arms drooped across his master’s coffin during the funeral service.  Ships in the bay had flown their flags at half-mast. A large procession followed his coffin to where he was buried at St Lukes Church at Richmond where he was buried next to his brother Thomas. Truly he was a true colonist.  This would have been a sad but proud day for his mother Catherine if she had still been alive.


Thomas Kearney also owned land but certainly not on the scale of his brother.  He had land at the Coal River and at Brisbane Street in Hobart Town.  Thomas lived with Mary Stubbs.[35]  A daughter Susan was born in 1830. In 1850 Susan married Henry Newham, they had thirteen children, all born at Richmond.


In his earlier years Thomas went with Thomas Scott a surveyor on his explorations on the East Coast of Tasmania.


Thomas Kearney died at Compton’s Ferry on 27 December 1831 aged 32 and buried at Richmond.[36]


In his will dated 17 December 1831 Thomas bequested everything to his brother William Kearney. He also left £300 to Susan his daughter by Mary Stubbs.[37]

Roger Gavin went on to marry Bridget Kennedy on 15 August 1834 in Hobart, three years after Catherine’s death. He was recorded as a widow and Bridget as a spinster, he sighed his name, his bride made her X.[38]


Like William Kearney he went on to accumulate a large amount of land at the Coal River and allotments in Hobart Town. His will stated that his assets did not exceed £3,000 pounds.


In his will he left a yearly annuity of £120 to his widow Bridget, so long as she did not remarry.  To his daughter Mary Ann Gavin of Athleague (Galway) Ireland he left £500. Dividing the rest between his sisters Catherine and Winifred McGowan of Upper Erris, Abbey Boyle, County of Roscommon, Ireland. The 30 acres of land at the Coal River, adjoining William Kearney, was to be given to Thomas Kearney, son of William Kearney.[39]


And so the story of four people, Catherine Kearney, her two sons and Roger Gavin comes to an end, no doubt there will be more information come to hand that will be added to this interesting story as descendants continue to search the records.





Books referred to in this book:


Forgotten Generations - Reg Wright

Norfolk Island and its First Generation – Raymond Nobbs.

(chapter by Reg Wright)

Exiled Three Times Over - Irene Schaffer & Thelma McKay

Musters of NSW and Norfolk Island. Ed by Carol J Baxter

Land Musters and Stock Lists 1804-1822 – Irene Schaffer




[1] Also known as – McKearnon,  Kearnon, Kiernan, Kearman, Kearney, Keenan, Kierney, Kerinan.

[2] Schaffer. Irene, Land Musters and Stock Lists 1803-1822. p 75

[3] McClelland. James, Convict Pioneers and Immigrant Series of Australia Book 22 Index 2.  (List of  female convict’s names)

[4]  Bateson. Charles, Convict Ships pp 148-150. Some research has Catherine arriving on the Sugar Cane, but that was a Catherine Keenan tried Dublin. The Sugar Cane arrived in 1793 from Cork.

[5] Original Baptism (Munch); NSW. BDM. Microfiche. Records - WILSON Mary M, father Matthew Wilson, mother Catherine Kerinan. St Phillips Church Sydney 1796. Ref. V1796496 1A.

[6] Even though this child was baptized as Wilsons, it seems unlikely as he would have had to know Catherine months before the ship sailed from Cork, but the child is registered under the name of Wilson, so maybe it was possible. 

[7] NSW Victual Roll - 1794-96 Reel 2747. Compiled by Neil Chick  (unpublished)

[8] Nobbs. Raymond. Norfolk Island 1788-1814 p207.  Reg Wright.  Chapter.- Population Records 1788-1814.

[9] Because of the amount of Thomas Smiths’ on NI at the time is almost impossible to know which one he was as this stage.

[10] On the original baptism’s the dates were recorded as William 1788 and Thomas in 1789, a mistake by the minister Mr Fulton (even the original records have to viewed with caution) 

[11] NSW Records Reel 5001.

[12] Ibid

[13] On the 1811 Muster the ship Roger Gavin came on was  recorded as the Minorca 1801 Other entries about him say he came on the Minerva 1801. Research as to which ship he was on is still being carried out. Schaffer & Baxter. Reg Wright has Minerva.

[14]  Schaffer. I, Norfolk Island Embarkations to VDL 1807-1813 p 6.

[15] Nobbs. Raymond.

[16] Schaffer. I, Norfolk Island Embarkation to VDL 1807-1813 p 6; Lt. Gov. Collins did not grant any women or children Land Grants during this early period (1804-1810).

[17] Ibid p 5. Land at Sandy Bay.

[18] Schaffer. I, Hobart Town Land and Stock 1827 shows her with one cow and one pig.

[19] Deputy Survey-General with Collins 1803

[20] Schaffer. I, Land Grants and Stock Lists 1803-1822 p 27; Alexander. Allison, the Companion of Tasmanian History by Wendy Rimon p 316.


[21] HTG 10 May 1817 p 1 c b

[22] Schaffer. I, Land Grants & Stock Lists. Catherine did not have land under her name only her sons.

[23] Bilderbuch. Bertuch, Picture Book for Children. Copper Plate Print (Author’s collection)

[24] Tardif. Phillip, Notorious Strumpets and Dangerour Girls pp 709-10.

[25] Schaffer.I, Hobart Town Land and Stock 1827. Previous to this date Catherine must have had more cows to be able to supply milk and butter to the residents in Hobart Town.

[26] Decisions of the Nineteenth Century Tasmanian Superior Courts. cases/KearneyvMcKay,1830.htm


[27] LSD1/3 p618; AOT; photo 30/3741

[28] Schaffer. I, Madam De Hotman “Belle Vue” Davey Street Hobart Town

[29] Decisions of the Nineteenth Century Tasmanian Superior Courts. cases/KearneyvMcKay,1830.htm


[30] AOT photo 30/3741; Australian Dictionary of Biography for Henry Hopkins

 [31] Cooke, A.C. Balloon’s Eye view of  Hobart Town 1879.

[32] AD 960/61

[33] Australian Dictionary of Biography

[34] Story of William Kearney – Coal River History.

[35] No marriage has been found

[36] RGD Burials 1831/ 2678

[37] AD960/166. AOT

[38] RGD 1834/2411 AOT

[39] AD960/1. AOT

Book available from my book list complete with photos and maps.