Saturday, 22 March 2014

What happened to John Radcliffe – Answered

Last week, I wrote about the search for my illusive great-great-great-grandfather, John Radcliffe.  This week you will be delighted to know that he has been located - all thanks to our cousin Phyllis, in California. Phyllis carried out a quick search on and found a record of his death. It’s hard to fathom how my numerous fruitless searches missed this record, but here it is, now painfully apparent.
John Radcliffe, death register index, 1866, Victoria, Australia.

This surely was our John Radcliffe, with his parent’s names correctly listed as Peter Radcliffe and Ann Sarsfield.  We know he was baptised in June 1827, so the estimated birth year given was out by a couple of years, but that was not unusual. He did travel to Australia, just like family lore recalled, but more than a decade prior to when we had suspected. Tragically, he died so very young, not having even reached his fortieth birthday.  

This record opened up a whole new waft of questions. Did his daughter, Anne Radcliffe, travel to Australia with him, only to return to Ireland before her marriage in 1869? More likely she was left behind in Malahide. What about Anne’s mother, Mary? Did she go with him? When exactly did he set off and where in Victoria had he lived?  Why did he die so young? Did he leave a family behind?

Next, I searched the Australian newspapers for an obituary.  Australian newspapers, which have been digitalised and are freely available online, are full of family history information and the notice of John’s death was easily located in a Melbourne paper, The Argus, on 1 November 1866.
John Radcliffe, death notice, 1866, Victoria, Australia

This adds additional comfort that we have located the correct person. John Radcliffe, who died on 30 October 1866, had connections to Dublin and was a builder – our John had been a plasterer in Dublin. It gives his former place of residence as Bay Street in Sandridge, [now Port Melbourne, a suburb of Melbourne].

The death register itself then answered many of my remaining questions:
Details from the Australian death register, 1866, John Radcliffe

It confirmed John’s origins as Malahide, Co. Dublin. He had traveled to Australia nine years previously, so in about 1857. He had married a Bridget Flannagan in Victoria, in about 1860 and they had settled in Melbourne, but had no children. His brother-in-law, Samuel Nobel, the husband of Bridget’s sister, did not recognise John’s daughter, my great-great-grandmother Anne, so presumably John went to Australia without her. She would have been about eight years old in 1857. Perhaps Anne's mother, Mary, had died beforehand, as we still do not know what happened to her. John died of meningitis, having suffered from the illness for two years.

The Argus also gives us John’s final resting place. He was buried in the Melbourne General Cemetery at 2 o’clock p.m. on Thursday, November 1, 1866.
John Radcliffe, funeral notice, 1866, Victoria, Australia

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam / Rest in Peace.

Sources: Ancestry,; The Argus, 1 November 1866, pp 4, 8, accessed Trove, 16 March 2014; Deaths in the district of Sandridge in the colony of Victoria, 1866, accessed 17 March 2014.

© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy.


  1. It is good to have the answer even if it is sad. I am wondering if he had a brain tumor to cause all the illness.

  2. True Claudia, I love that he’s been found. I don’t know much about meningitis, except that it remains deadly, even today.


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