Saturday, 6 December 2014

A new ‘cousin’ and a sad accident

This week started out on a new ancestral trail, that of Joseph Sarsfield, a witness to my GGG-grandfather John Radcliffe’s second marriage in 1861. If you think tragedy only followed our Radcliffe lineage, think again, for poor Joseph met with a most horrific end. 

Church of St Francis, Great Lonsdale Street East, Melbourne, 1864
Great Lonsdale Street East (1864) by Francois Cogne (1829-1883),
with the Church of St Francis left-centre

On 5 January 1861, John Radcliffe, the son of Peter Radcliffe and Anne Sarsfield from County Dublin, married Bridget Flanagan in Church of St Francis, Melbourne. In the nineteenth century, ‘Sarsfield’ was an uncommon surname, both in Dublin and Melbourne, so their best-man, Joseph Sarsfield, was likely John’s maternal cousin, or uncle, or at least related somehow.  Identifying his roots in Ireland might just provide a clue to the origins of John’s mother, my GGGG-grandmother, Anne (Sarsfield) Radcliffe, so Joseph was worth pursuing.[1] 

Joseph Sarsfield married Catherine Buckley, on 6 November 1862, also in the Church of St Francis in Melbourne.[2] This couple went on to have twelve or more children: Emily (1863-1867), Mary (1865-1867), John Joseph (b. 1867), Michael Christopher (c. 1869-1920), Thomas (b. aft.1869), Catherine (c.1873-1962), Mary Ellen (1875-1875), Peter (c.1877-1923), Mary Josephine (1877-1933), Elizabeth (1877-1961), an unnamed male child who lived for only one day in 1878 and Joseph Patrick (1880-1945).[3] Joseph died on 7 April 1880, leaving his widow almost destitute, with eight surviving children, the youngest child being only days old. At the time of his death, Joseph worked as a porter with the Victorian Railway and was stationed at Toolamba, 180 kilometres north of Melbourne.[4] 

A search of contemporary Australian newspapers revealed just how tragically Joseph died. He was walking home along the railway, having apparently visited ‘some shanties’ nearby, when he was hit by the last train from Seymour to Shepparton, as it approached Toolamba. The driver told the station master at Toolamba he had run over something.  A search was organised and they discovered Joseph’s mutilated and decapitated body lying beside the tracks. His was the first fatal accident on the Goulburn Valley Railway. Luckily, for Joseph, he was killed instantly and did not suffer.[4] 

Death of Joseph Sarsfield, Toolamba, 1880
Death of Joseph Sarsfield, Toolamba, 1880
Bendigo Advertiser, 16 April 1880, p. 2.

It was thought Joseph may not have heard the train coming, though no further explanation as to why he did not hear it was reported in the newspapers - maybe he was hard of hearing, or just too drunk. It seems his death was not registered and there was no mention of an inquest in the newspapers, so it is unlikely we’ll ever now know. 

Joseph’s marriage certificate confirmed he was born in Dublin, Ireland, to Christopher Sarsfield and Mary Duffe, twenty-seven years previously.  I had already identified Christopher as being a potential sibling of my GGGG-grandmother Anne (Sarsfield) Radcliffe. Between 1829 and 1846, he and Mary Duff(e) had ten children baptised in Rush, County Dublin, which was less than twenty kilometres north of Anne’s home in Malahide. They had a son Joseph born in 1831.[5] Christopher Sarsfield was living on Lambay Island, off the Dublin coast, in 1847 and remained there until the 1860s.[6] 

So, it might be worth taking a closer look at this Sarsfield-Duff(e) family in Dublin!

[1] Radcliffe-Flanagan marriage certificate, 1861, Birth Deaths Marriages Victoria
[2] Sarsfield-Buckley marriage certificate, 1862, same.
[3] ‘Australia Victoria BMD historical index’,; Death notice, Catherine Sarsfield, The Argus, 27 August 1918, p. 1, Trove.  
[4] Bendigo Advertiser, 16 April 1880, p. 2; The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, 15 April 1880, p. 2, Trove. 
[5] Baptism index, Rush Roman Catholic Church, (subscription).
[6] Griffith’s Valuation, Ask about Ireland; McCullagh-Sarsfield marriage register, 1860, IrishGenealogy,ie

Image credit: Great Lonsdale Street East (1864) by Francois Cogne 1829-1883, State Library of Victoria.

© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy


  1. Though such a tragic story, it does usher in some potentially good news: you now have another bit of evidence to bolster your suspicions about those Sarsfield relatives. Nice work! It's so encouraging to find those types of leads.

  2. Amazing find Dara! Maybe that 'shanty" was a shebeen? Very tragic event for his family.

  3. That thought crossed my mind too, Ellie. He may have been out 'wetting the new baby's head'!

  4. A tragedy for the family in so many ways. How did his wife take care of all those children? I wonder if she had family who could help or if they had to go to a poorhouse.

  5. It must have been hard, Colleen. I pick the family up again in 1903, living at 278 Rosslyn Street in West Melbourne. Members of the family still lived there 50 years later.


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