Saturday, 29 March 2014

Some truth in our family lore

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Melbourne (including the Sandridge Bridge), by Nathaniel Whittock, 1855

Family lore:  In the second half of the nineteenth century, some of the Radcliffe brothers left Ireland for Australia, where they became wealthy and successful. They were even said to have founded a town there and named it after themselves, or at least a major highway.  Supposedly, one of the brothers, my third-great-grandfather, John Radcliffe, had no other children and Mary Carroll, a granddaughter in Ireland, kept all sorts of papers to prove that she was an heir, so that she could inherit the fortune. However, the story goes that it was John’s wife's family that inherited all their property in Australia.

So, I have finally tracked the Radcliffe brothers in Australia.  John, born in Malahide, Co. Dublin in 1827 and Thomas, born there in 1829, both settled in Melbourne, in the colony of Victoria. John arrived in Melbourne about 1857, possibly in the hopes of capitalising on the Victorian gold-rush, but, by January 1859 at least, he had resorted to his primary trade, that of plasterer. It seems business boomed for the brothers, and John, who became a building contractor, was mentioned regularly in the Melbourne newspapers between 1861 and 1865, as earning many valuable building contracts in the area. In September 1865, John applied for a publican’s license in respect of his new hotel in Bay Street, Sandridge [now Port Melbourne], where he resided with his wife, Bridget Flanagan, whom he had married in 1861. John built the hotel himself, having bought the site for £150 in 1863 and spent £1,000 on building costs. He named it the ‘President Lincoln Hotel’, after the U.S. president, assassinated only a few months previously. Coming from a small rural townland in county Dublin, the Radcliffes certainly believed that they had it made, so much so that John even titled himself ‘gentleman’ in this license application. 

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John Radcliffe, The Argus, 25 September 1865, p. 8

All changed within a year, however, and by July 1866, John Radcliffe, of the ‘President Lincoln Hotel’, a publican and contractor, claimed insolvency arising as a result of heavy losses on contracts and ill-health. His liabilities amounted to £1,495 and his assets only £439. The insolvency case is an interesting story in itself, suffice to say here that John, knowing that he was seriously ill and about to die, and with the help of the Flanagans, still managed to provide for his wife’s future. The mortgaged hotel and a £600 life insurance policy were left for her benefit.  John and Bridget had no children when John died, aged only 39 years, on 30 October 1866. Bridget did not survive him by very long, but died in March 1869. It appears that in this instance, family lore rang true and the Flanagan family inherited the remaining wealth, but before my poor grandaunt Mary was even born.

John’s brother, Thomas, lived until he was 75 years old and died at his residence,Annagh House’ on Dynon Road in West Melbourne, on 25 June 1905. He was survived by his widow Mary and two sons, Peter and Thomas, to whom he left property valued at nearly £6,300. Interestingly, Google Maps shows a Radcliffe Street, now running off Dynon Road in West Melbourne. Again, we may have found truth in the stories passed down through the generations, if this little street represents the fabled town, or highway, named after the Radcliffes.  

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Radcliffe Street, Dynon Road, West Melbourne

Sources: The Argus, 28 January 1859, 19 October 1861, 25 September 1865, 9 August 1866, 10 October 1866, 1 November 1866, 3 August 1867, 18 December 1867, 27 March 1869, 26 June 1905, 12 August 1905; South Australian Advertiser, 1 February 1862 (all accessed on Trove); Victoria copy death register, 1866; Victoria marriage index, 1861. Drawing of Sandridge Bridge, 1855, available on Wikimedia Commons.

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