(Great great grandmother)
Life in the small Irish county of Louth in the early 1800s would not have been easy - particularly for a young mother with two children and a third on the way. For Margaret, born in the neighbouring county of Monaghan, this life turned even harder when her husband, Thomas Stewart, a labourer, was caught and convicted of housebreaking in 1830 for the second time. The judge sentenced Tom to seven years' transportation "beyond the seas". When Tom set sail in the Waterloo for Botany Bay, as the fledgling settlement was still colloquially known, he left behind Margaret and his family of three children, the eldest seven years old and the youngest, Alleck, a mere infant, born after his father had been sent to prison. He was not to see them again for six years, and young Alleck, never.
With only charity for support,
Margaret was soon destitute - a point mentioned in a bid for her and
the children to be allowed to sail to New South Wales to join
Tom. The opportunity for this came when a petition from Tom
was approved after he'd worked for several years on a farm in the
MacDonald Valley nearly 100kilometres northwest of Sydney. Mrs
Elkins, the farmer Tom was assigned to, gave him a good character
report, so his petition ended up in with the office of the
Governor General of Ireland. From the tone of the letter, it
seems that this appeal in 1835 was not the first approach
made. The High Sheriff of the County of Louth wrote, in part:
your memorialist and two (and until lately three) children thro' the
absence of her husband is reduced to the lowest extreme of poverty
memorialist and children would be most thankful to embrace the happy
opportunity of being restored to the bosom of their natural
protector, your memorialist being of the age of about 30
years, her eldest daughter 12 years and youngest 10 years.
And so, on the Thomas
Harrison in 1836, Margaret and daughters Mary Anne and
Catherine ("Kitty") left Ireland headed for a reunion with their
husband and father, Thomas. By the time they arrived, Thomas
had been granted his "Ticket
of Leave", and within another few years, his certificate of
freedom. Despite Thomas earning his freedom, the family
continued to live in the area near St Albans, north west of
Wiseman's Ferry. Their family continued to grow, with
another five children being born to the couple while they lived long
lives in the MacDonald Valley.
Thomas lived to 86 years, dying in July 1886, while Margaret followed him within the year, dying at age 81, in May, 1887. Their graves are in the historic cemetery which was attached to St Joseph's church on the western bank of the river, between Wiseman's Ferry and St. Albans. According to a local Hawkesbury River history website, by 1905 the church was in disrepair. The church had been burnt out by fire in 1898 and stones had been removed for the construction of other buildings in the area. The disastrous flood of 1889 had destroyed farms along the river and from that time the population was in decline. However, while the church was reduced to a stone shell, the graveyard remained, somewhat overgrown for a 100 years, before being cleared in a restoration project in the first years of the 21st century.
left: St Joseph's as it was in 1999.