My first Australian ancestor (Australia Day Challenge 2013)

This year’s challenge comes from Helen at From Helen V Smith’s Keyboard. She writes:

“Your challenge… is to tell the story of your first Australian ancestor.”

Now that does make it a challenge! Because the first-ever Australian in my family tree is Nicholas Delaney, and I’ve written a lot about him. I don’t want to recycle stuff and risk boring you, so I’m going to choose his wife, Elizabeth Bayly (Bayley, Bailey). And she’s a tricky one.

This image is a digital reproduction of a pain...

Sydney Cove in 1808 by J.W. Lewin (via Wikipedia)

Elizabeth was only 15 or so when she arrived in Sydney Cove and, as far as we can tell, alone. At that time (she came on the Brothers, which embarked on October 17, 1806 and dropped anchor on April 4, 1807) it was very rare for a young woman to travel by herself unless she had family waiting for her.

And because she ‘came free’, she turns up much less in the records than my convict ancestors do. They were monitored and recorded from arrival to freedom – or death.

So far, Elizabeth’s kept her secrets. Years of leafing through manuscripts and peering at screens in Australia and the UK have turned up… nothing. It’s possible that she was a relative of Nicholas Bayly, a New South Wales Corps soldier who, after a stormy career, became a wealthy settler. But we just don’t know.

And what did she do when she arrived? Another mystery. Family myth has her working as a maid at Government House in Sydney where she met Nicholas Delaney, her future husband. But I don’t think Nicholas was there.

However they got together, they married in St Phillip’s (Anglican) Church on October 17th, 1808. And there’s another question: why would a young free settler marry a convict up to 20 years older than she was? She was already two months pregnant, so that may have been the reason. Or maybe not.

English: Portrait of Samuel Marsden, 1764 - 1838

Samuel Marsden (Wikipedia)

The ‘petulant ox’-faced parson, Samuel Marsden, was away from the colony so they were married by Major Edward Abbott of the Rum Corps. When the ‘flogging parson’ returned, he refused to allow the legality of the 17 marriages that Abbott had carried out. The Delaneys didn’t seem to mind; they considered themselves married and never went through another ceremony. Perhaps, as Catholics, they didn’t feel that a second Anglican marriage would make much difference.

Elizabeth bore 12 children; of these nine lived to marry and six reached old age. Her second, the first to survive infancy, was John Delaney, who married Mary Anne, the daughter of John Grant, the ‘Father of Hartley’. Thomas, my 3x great grandfather, was her third child.

Notice of Elizabeth Delaney's donation, Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser

Elizabeth’s donation

I don’t know much more about Elizabeth (yet). She is listed in the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser of March 13, 1823, as subscribing to the Roman Catholic Chapel in Hyde Park (where St Mary’s Cathedral now stands). It was her second donation, and she gave one pound – a generous £83.22 in today’s money. John, aged 13, also gave a pound.

Perhaps she could afford to be generous. The only mention I have found of her in the Colonial Secretary’s Papers is on May 24th, 1821, when she was paid £79/18/9 for 3,837 lb of ‘fresh meat’. If I’ve read the figures right, that’s a lot of money for a lot of meat. Nicholas’s cattle farming was doing well.

When Nicholas became unable to work, in 1829, John took over as the ‘man of the house’ and main provider. I can only wonder how they all coped with that. John was 19 now, an adult, but as he was single I expect Elizabeth still had the running of the house.

John did marry in 1833, to Ellen Gilligan, and perhaps Elizabeth found that having a daughter-in-law in the house was less comfortable. At any rate, after Nicholas’s death in September 1834, it seems she had no taste for staying in John’s house in Penrith as a widow.

St Phillip's from Joseph Fowles' 'Sydney in 1848'

St Phillip’s from Joseph Fowles’ ‘Sydney in 1848’

She married again, to Michael Mulcahy, in 1835. That’s interesting, because he was a witness at the trial of John Kennedy for murdering Nicholas. Were they friends who decided to live together for convenience? Did he comfort her, and they then fell in love? Was something already going on between them? I’ll never know.

After Michael died she had two more husbands: William Fitch in 1848 and Laurence Nicholls in 1852. Quite the Wife of Bath, our Elizabeth. The best guess for her birth year is 1792, so she was 60 the last time she became a bride.

I haven’t been able to find out anything about her three other husbands, so if you know about them, please get in touch. I haven’t found any more children, either, but since she was about 43 when she married Michael, perhaps it’s not surprising.

So that’s Elizabeth Bayly: courageous, strong, a survivor and perhaps a bit gorgeous, too. But still most of all – a mystery.



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014

About rebelhand

A Rebel Hand is: about Nicholas Delaney, Irish rebel of 1798, transported as a convict to New South Wales, roadbuilder, innkeeper and farmer. My great-great-great grandfather. Other ancestors transported to Australia, like Sarah Marshall, John Simpson and James Thomas Richards, pop up as well. This blog's also about the historical background to their lives, in England, Ireland, and Australia. My respectable Welsh ancestors sometimes get a look in.
This entry was posted in Convicts, Genealogy, Nicholas Delaney and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to My first Australian ancestor (Australia Day Challenge 2013)

  1. Pingback: Australia Day Challenge 2014: C’mon Aussie | A Rebel Hand

  2. Pingback: National Family History Month – and some of my ancestors | A Rebel Hand

  3. Joan says:

    A bit behind in ,my reading, but glad I stopped by today. Quite a story, and methinks that Elizabeth Bayley will keep you quite busy.


  4. Chloe Okoli says:

    Great post Frances! I know little about this time in history, so it is fascinating to feel as if I’m getting to walk through it with Elizabeth. The many mysteries make it no doubt frustrating for you, but in some sense, it makes it all the richer for our imagination to fill in the gaps…until you find out more that is!


  5. Sandra says:

    Your story is inspiring, I hope some day to be able to write about my first ancestors as eloquently. I also like how you’ve used the graphics to break up the text.


  6. What a fantastic story! I can feel your frustration with all your unanswered questions about Elizabeth. However, I have to believe that there are some things we’ll just never know but will always keep trying just in case.


    • rebelhand says:

      Thanks, Sharon! I agree – we’ll always keep trying, and things do pop up unexpectedly as we look deeper. But maybe I’ll just have to accept not knowing some things.


  7. cassmob says:

    How incredibly frustrating to hit so many brick walls and ambiguities. Women can be hard enough to trace but in those early days I’d imagine so much more so. Are there any clues in any of the parish records? If she arrived free, then the connection to Nicholas Bayly is plausible…but proving it no doubt will be a challenge. How strange that she married someone who’d been involved in Nicholas Delaney’s death.


    • rebelhand says:

      You’re so right about tracing women in those days, Pauleen. I haven’t even started to look at parish records, because I have no idea whether she came from England, Wales, Scotland or Ireland; that surname could be from anywhere.
      Yes, the Michael Mulcahey marriage is a poser. He was a ‘witness’ but to what? And Elizabeth and Nicholas’s eldest son was another witness, so maybe it was to Nicholas’s last hours, or his having been robbed of identifiable possessions. I certainly sat up when I saw Michael’s name on that court document.


      • cassmob says:

        How about the PRs in Australia Frances? I’ve had quite a bit of luck with those, and you never know when they’ll give you a tiny bit of info beyond other records.


  8. Alona Tester says:

    Great post Frances. You’re piecing Elizabeth’s life together little-by-little, but obviously there’s still a lot of unanswered questions. We’re a stubborn lot, us genies. We don’t like unanswered questions, so we stick at it.


    • rebelhand says:

      Thanks, Alona. Yes, we are a stubborn lot, and it’s just as well we are. Some of those ancestors are very good at hiding… but how wonderful it is to find a scrap of information after all that detective work.


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