FAMILY TIES: Beth Glynn, sister of May McGettigan.
FAMILY TIES: Beth Glynn, sister of May McGettigan.

History: McGettigans survive rough time at sea

A 1997 publication recently came to hand concerning the well-known McGettigan family of St Helena, Byron Bay.

It is rare to find such a well laid-out and comprehensive family history. It is mainly the work of Jim McGettigan (Sydney) and Mick McGettigan (now living in the USA) but it contains stories from many members of this large family, beginning with John and Bridget McGettigan (nee McQuade) who left for Australia with two small children in late 1840 as Bounty Migrants. It was a time of hardship and famine in Ireland and migration to Australia or America seemed a way out.

The McGettigan clan is thought to have originated in County Derry. However, over the centuries the family pushed towards Donegal and established itself there as farmers and minor chieftains. By the 17th century it had become deeply involved with Irish politics and after the Civil War the family dispersed throughout Ireland. Our McGettigan family remained in the Donegal/Fermanagh area.

By the mid-1800s harsh conditions and famine saw 78,000 Irish migrate to Australia and New Zealand. The English government, faced with an over-population throughout the British Isles, and urgently needing workers in Australia, introduced a Bounty System of migration.

John and Bridget sailed on the Barque 'Margaret' with their son Bernard (aged 4) and daughter (aged 2). The Bounty for the couple was £38 and for the children £10. They were allowed to be accompanied by one unmarried sibling. This was Bridget's sister Ellen (aged 22) whose bounty was £19.

Conditions on board the 'Margaret' were very crowded, with people crammed into large open spaces below decks. Food was unhealthy and cooking was difficult. Health and hygiene soon suffered, there was a scarlet fever epidemic, and many died, especially children. Luckily, our family survived.

On arrival in Sydney the vessel was quarantined, the drunken captain sacked and the crew dispersed. [Included in the publication is the Log kept by the Second Mate which gives harrowing details]

After they disembarked, John had no trouble finding employment. The family was sent to Millers Forest in the Hunter Valley. Later members moved to the Illawarra area, and some went to Broughton Creek (Berry). John and Bridget had three other daughters born in Australia - Bridget, Margaret (Mary) and Sarah. All the daughters married on the South Coast. Ellen McQuade, who had come to Australia with the family, married in 1843 at Maitland.

In 1882 Bernard, the only son, decided to try his luck on the Richmond River. He chose land at St Helena near Byron Bay and over the years his family increased its holdings there. His parents, John and Bridget, remained on the South Coast.

Bernard had married Hannah Murphy before coming to the Richmond. She spent the remainder of her life here and is buried at Bangalow.

However, the death of Bernard remains a mystery. It is not known when he died, or where he is buried. Perhaps he went to the gold fields.

Members of their family married into other well-known families, including that of Robert Campbell, the founder of Bangalow. Others were Glynn/Sweeney, Kennedy, Fernance, Perry, Weir, Solway, and Moylan.

The Sweeneys also came from Donegal so may have known the family in Ireland. Descendants are still living in the area but many more have moved to other parts of Australia and overseas.

The last of the St Helena holdings was sold recently.

Prepared by Geoff & Margaret Henderson for Richmond River Historical Society, Lismore.

Telephone: 02 6621 9993. Email:

Hours: Museum - Monday-Friday 10am-4pm; Research Room - Monday & Wednesday 10am-4pm.

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