Over the past 8 years, during my quest to find Prendergast ancestry, a number of people have asked me “Was John Prendergast a rebel or a convicted falon?”
Slowly, with the changes to the privacy laws in Ireland and the launch of the Catholic parish records 8 July 2015 https://vimeo.com/138285559 that information is being released on line. I was delighted to be an invited guest at the launch of the Catholic Parish records and excited to be introduced to Enda Kenny on this momentous occasion. The information from these church records forms the basis of my research into the Irish Prendergast family.
John Prendergast was baptised in Dublin at the St. Nicholas of Myra church. This catholic church is located in the same street that John and his family lived, Francis Street, Dublin. Although it is not publicly available on line, I do have documentation to confirm that the Prendergast family lived in Francis Street for many years.
Following several emails between Ruan O’Donnell and myself, I have been able to construct a plausible explanation of John Prendergast’s status.
In his email to me in February, Doctor Ruan O’Donnell, head of the history department at the University of Limerick advised me that Wicklow rebels and their families often hid out at Francis Street “when things were very hot” and that Francis Street is where the ‘Sun Inn’ was the meeting place for the Leinster directorate of the United Irishment. It would appear that John Prendergast was an Irish rebel and involved with several members of the Society of United Irishmen.
* Dr. O’Donnell has conducted research and studies both here in Australia and in Ireland and is a well known expert on the 1798 Rebellion. He has published several books. The title of the book I read is “The Rebellion in Wicklow, 1798. If you are a member and would like to read it, the book is available from the State Library of NSW. The CALL NUMBERS is N941.807/1
Oliver bond was a leader in the Leinster Directorate. Both Oliver Bond’s home and John Prendergast’s homes were situated in the Liberty district of Dublin, Oliver Bond’s home was at 9 Lower Bridge Street which was 1 minute’s walk from John Prendergast’s Francis Street home. Oliver Bond was a wool merchant and John Prendergast a weaver.
Copy of Perkin Papers document
(given to me by my mum, fellow researcher Lorna Prendergast)
Although this document is dated 20 May 1798, we know that the 1798 rebellion did not commence until 23 May, 1798. This document details the interrogation of John Pender (Prendergast) and confirms the family story that John Prendergast was a rebel. Following the arrests on 12 March 1798, 14 members of the Leinster directorate whose leader was Oliver Bond were imprisoned, the other members who got away were being watched. John Prendergast was arrested in April for a petty crime, tried and transported to Australia.
John Prendergast was transported to Australia on board the Minerva. There is a great account of that journey and biographies of most of the rebels in Barbara Hall’s book “The Rebel Ship Minerva – From Ireland to Sydney, 1800.
From when he arrived in Australia 11 January 1800 until his death 27 January 1833, records show the majority of John Prendergast’s business and social dealings were with fellow passengers/rebels who were transported to Australia with him on board the Minerva.
John was born to Catherine and John Prendergast in the Hawkesbury sometime after 25 September 1800. There are no children recorded prior to this date in the Historical records of New South Wales in the relevant section of the report1
As a child growing up in the Hawkesbury, John would have been called a “Currency lad”. This referred to the first generation of children born in the colony of NSW to distinguish them from the free settlers who were born in the British Isles2
He would also have been given the nickname of “Cornstalk”. This was a term to describe how the first generation of Australian born children in the colony of NSW were so much taller than children born in Britain.3
When Catherine decided to return to Ireland she chose to employ a convict as housekeeper for her husband John and Governess for her baby son John. As a free settler, Catherine was entitled to do this. Catherine employed Jane Williams upon Jane’s arrival aboard the Nile on 14 December 18014 This was quiet a reversal to the usual custom of an Protestant English Lady having a catholic Irish convict assigned to her because Catherine was Irish Catholic and Jane was English Protestant5. By December 1801 Baby John would have been 1 year old and Catherine would have weaned him. Having Jane assigned to her and baby John was a shrewd move as John Prendergast Senior would not have been entitled to employ Jane Williams while he and Jane were both still convicts.
Jane took great care of John Jnr. Later, when Catherine did not return to Australia, Jane and John Senior began a relationship and had a further 5 children together. Jane always treated John Jnr. as one of her own. There has never been a marriage record of their marriage discovered.6
John junior grew up to be a healthy, happy child supported by the love of his family. As a teenager he had one minor scrap with the law. John appeared in front of the courts when his love of partying got him into strife. He had put some food and alcohol items on his father’s tab without John Snr’s. permission7. John Prendergast senior was not impressed!
John Pendergast junior was recorded on various census records as BC (born Colony) and was one of the first Australian born child of an free settler and convict to be called up for Jury Duty.8
John was very industrious, just like his father and applied for grants and purchased many parcels of land which are indicated in his Will9
Figure 1. Photo of Map of land purchase with reference to other land in John’s Will.
He moved to Campbelltown and married Elizabeth Dwyer on 1/6/1824 at St. John’s Catholic church Campbelltown. Together they had 9 Children. At the time of their marriage it was rumoured that John owned one half and Elizabeth owned the other half of all land in the Campbelltown area. John Pendergast’s Will certainly indicates a large number of land parcels purchased by John Jnr. in the Campbelltown area.
In his lifetime John Pendergast Junior was very Community spirited. Like his father before him and his half-brothers, he insured that the Catholic faith continued to grow in Australia by contributing financially to the construction of churches and burial grounds. Along with Hugh Byrne, John Jnr. secured a grant on 31 March 1846 for the Catholic cemetery at Campbelltown. Little did he know that his wife and son would be buried there the next year following a terrible accident where they both perished by fire. The biblical quote on the side of the grave indicates the great depth of sorrow that John felt at Elizabeth and Thomas’s deaths.
Figure 2. Photo “Elizabeth Wife of John Pendergast” grave.
In the ‘History of Bow Bowing’ we learn that that John Pendergast was an advocate of education.
“John donated a block of land on the corner of Campbelltown Road and Redfern Road to the Catholic Church. In June 1866 a small church classroom – built by local farmers – was opened at the site and called Saggart Field School….moves to improve this (impoverished state) were made by converting the church school into a public one. In 1954 the Minto Public school was relocated to the more populated eastern side of the railway line in Campbelltown. The students and teachers are very proud of their School’s rich heritage and maintain a little museum”
Figure 3. Photo of Minto Public School
When John Pendergast left Campbelltown, he auctioned his Herd of 100 horses at an auction as advertised in the South Australian Newspaper, July 1848,
Figure 4. Photo of Auction advertisement.
John moved to the Monaro and 7 years after the death of his wife Elizabeth married Emma Shields on 14 August, 1854. Together they had 6 Children.
By this stage his 3 oldest boys with Elizabeth had grown up, and he encouraged them to continue the Prendergast settlement along the East Coast of Australia and the purchase of land in the Victorian High Plains.
Figure 5. Photo of the Plaque explaining the 3 Pendergast sons involvement in the development of the Victorian High Country.
Cottage Creek Station.
John lived with Emma at Cottage Creek Station until his death aged 66 on 8 June 1867. Prior to his death, he had continued to purchase land in the Monaro area. John died a wealthy farmer and bequeathed land to his children and money for the education of his younger children.
John Jnr. Bequeathed the house, furniture and farm equipment to Emma as well as an annual annuity of 100 pounds for the rest of her life.
Figure 6. Photo of Cottage Creek graves
In his Will, John bequeathed several parcels of land to his children in the Monaro district and Campbelltown as well as a house that he bequeathed to his niece Winifred Mary Byrne an allotment of land with a house and other buildings thereon at Lithgow Street Campbelltown.16 He also instructed that land at Currajong and Windsor be auctioned and the money diposited into a Bank of NSW account for his younger children.17
1Historical Records of New South Wales, 25 Sept. 1800, p.160.
4Public Records Office (PRO) UK. Assignment Record HO 10/36
Historians are like detectives. They question, analyze and interpret evidence from the past. Studyinghistory is diving into the unexpected and unknown. By understanding our past you’ll also learn to create a better future. Reference; Utas history unit handbook.
As they say, you cannot change history so with this in mind I have decided to blog about an episode in our family history that is less than commendable. Some people may find this episode distasteful but, I believe that it is important to tell this story as it may relate to John Prendergast’s arrest and transportation to Australia.
When I commenced my Bachelor of Arts, History major at the university of Tasmania this year, I enrolled in unit HTA 102. Little did I know that one of the subjects would impact my Prendergast family history research.
We were studying Slavery when randomly I googled the words “Prendergast and slavery”. I had not expected to find anything and was quite shocked when I came across a study that was taking place at the University College London and read the contents. The study was called the ‘Center for the study of the legacies of British slavery’. The link is www.ucl.ac.uk. if you would like to read it for yourself.
I was horrified to discover that there are 11 Irish Prendergast family members who were slave owners in the 17th and 18th century in Jamaica. Amongst the 11 there were 2 female slave owners. I have since found documentation in Dublin related to one of the slave owners Hannah Prendergast and the addresses on her census are in both Dublin and Jamaica. As there were only three Prendergast families living in Dublin during the late 1700s, and they were all related, there is every chance that she along with several other Irish slave owners, is related to our Prendergast family.
And now for a quick history lesson.
Following the British invasion of Jamaica in 1655, Cromwell increased the island’s European population by sending indentured servants and prisoners to Jamaica. Due to the wars in Ireland at this time 2/3 of this 17th century European population was Irish.
The invading army of 1655 had within a generation become the nucleus of a prospering band of planters. All sorts of tropical produce emerged from these plantations, but the single most important crop – the biggest volume of exports, the most lucrative product and the crop which devoured the labors of ever increasing gangs of slaves – was sugar.
Over the next 200 years, 900 plantations sprang up over Jamaica. The rapid introduction of plantations in Jamaica meant that to cover transportation costs between Jamaica and Britain, large scale cropping of Tobacco, Coffee, Cotton, Indigo, Rice, Potatoes, and Sugar ensued. Until the 1st of August 1838 when slaves were fully emancipated, these plantations were worked by African slave labor. During this time more than 800,000 slaves were imported from Africa to Jamaica.
This next piece of information may upset you, as it did me. I could not understand how some people could treat other people, namely the slaves, so inhumanely.
The British laws defined slaves as chattel, to be sold, bequeathed, and transferred like other goods. These laws were accompanied or inevitably modified by laws that unequivocally treated them as persons even while restricting their activities, bringing them to trial, and punishing them. However slaves and slavery were defined, slaves in fact were not outside the social order.
I would like to think that our Pendergast slave owners were kinder to their slaves and there is evidence supporting this theory. On ancestry.com I located an inventory of slaves owned by Hannah Prendergast. Whereas some slave owners used derogatory names for their slaves, Hannah has conformed to the Irish naming pattern giving her slaves Christian names as well as the Prendergast surname. There are records indicating that she had her slaves baptized into the catholic faith.
I have also located the will of Jeffery Prendergast gent of St. Thomas in the East, Jamaica. He bequeaths property to his Quadroon daughter Elenor, his negro woman slave, and a “Free mulatto” woman.
According to Wikipedia, the meaning of the word quadroon is – “1/4 black by descent”. The meaning of “Free mulatto” is a racial classification to refer to people of mixed African and European ancestry. I hasten to add that both these terms are considered outdated and offensive.
Although this is a disturbing discovery, there is a silver lining to this story. I located a newspaper item in the Irish times “The Irish Lord who freed Jamaican slaves” It reads –
On his appointment as Governor General of Jamaica in 1834, Lord Sligo made the discovery that he had inherited 2 Jamaican plantations from his grandmother, Elizabeth Kelly, heiress of the Chief Justice of Jamaica, Dennis Kelly from Galway. These plantations used African slaves to provide labor for the plantation. Although the planters expected Sligo to be on their side because he was now a slave owner, he did not hide his disgust at the discovery.
In 1833 the British government had passed an emancipation act. The act however did not give immediate freedom to the slaves who merely became apprentice to their masters for a further four years. Described as “slavery under another name”, the controversial apprenticeship system which Sligo was appointed to implement, was misunderstood by the slaves and resisted by the Jamaican plantocracy and by powerful vested commercial interests in Britain.
Lord Sligo found the slavery personally abhorrent. From the flogging of field workers with cart whips branding with hot irons, to whipping of female slaves, “The cruelties are past all idea” he told the Jamaican assembly. “I call on you to put an end to conduct so repugnant to humanity”
His campaign to have slaves freed ruffled feathers in government and the planter dominated assembly commenced a campaign of vilification against him in the Jamaican and British press. During this time he built schools at his own cost on his property. He was the first plantation owner to initiate a wage system for black workers and later, after emancipation, to divide his lands into numerous farms to be leased to the former slaves.
On March 22nd, 1838 Sligo publicly announced in the House of Lords that, regardless of the outcome of the government deliberation, he would free all apprentices on his own estate in Jamaica on August 1st 1838, thereby leaving the government with no alternative but to implement full emancipation on the same date.
Sligo earned an honored place in the history of Jamaica where he is acknowledged as champion of the slaves and where the town of Sligo Ville, the first free slave village in the world, still bears his name.
I feel very proud of Lord Sligo and the campaign he undertook to free slaves. Although Lord Sligo is not directly a Prendergast, his wife’s auntie was a Prendergast.
When I visited Lord Sligo’s ancestral home, ‘Westport house’ In 2015, Ireland, at that time I did not know of the Prendergast connection. But, in a house full of beautiful antiquaries the one particular item that stood out to me, was the fire guard made of tapestry. The words that were embroidered on this tapestry read “PROREGESAPE PRO PATRIA SEMPER” translated from Latin into English this means “For the king sometimes but for the country always.”
As mentioned in my introduction, I believe that because John Prendergast was related to the Irish slave owners in Jamaica, he may well have been involved in their export/import business of Sugar and Tobacco to Ireland. Large quantities of Sugar and Tobacco were two of the three items that John Prendergast was accused of stealing at his trial. There was always a question about these items because the person who accused him of the theft happened to be the jury foreman at John’s trial.
Having completed the Utas Diploma of Family History in 2020 and enjoyed it so much, I decided in 2021 to continue with my University studies.
Through the excellent online company “Future Learn” I completed the University College Dublin Irish language course “Irish 101”. Then I studied the “Book of Kells” course through Trinity College Dublin. I had been lucky to visit the Book of Kells in the Long Hall Trinity College Dublin in 2015. Both courses were very enjoyable, even if I did have to participate by zoom conferencing at 2 in the morning on several occasions due to the difference in time change with Ireland.
Mid 2021, I re-enrolled at Utas to study for my Bachelor of Arts, History major, Tourism minor. I commenced units HTA102 and HGA318 in Semester 2. I was awarded 8 units of Advanced standing for completing the Diploma of Family History. This cut down the units required to complete my BA to 16 units instead of 24.
I received an invitation to attend my graduation in Hobart following the completion of my Diploma of Family history. Although I would have loved to have been able to attend in person and celebrate with my family and friends, due to Covid I graduated in absentia on 14 August, 2021.
14 August, 2021 was a very exciting day for me. I had arisen early because I had an assignment to submit for HTA102 and wanted to finish that before I watched the Diploma of Family History graduation ceremony on Utube.
Barry had made the day special for me by creating a cheese platter with bubbly to enjoy while we watched the graduation being live streamed. Although I felt a little sad that I couldn’t be there, I was able to relax and watch the ceremony unfolding in front of me. We stood when the procession commenced and the Vice Chancellor and dignitaries took their seats on stage. We clapped each graduate and laughed at the jokes Hannah Gatsby who was awarded an honorary doctorate made.
By the end of the year we had a further celebration. I had been invited by Utas to apply for a RRES Scholarship. I am delighted to share with you the exciting news that due to my ongoing research and study in Ireland and Australia regarding my Prendergast family history, I have been awarded a Scholarship as well as an internship to participate at any Museum, Gallery, Library or Archive in Australia.
Studying the Diploma of Family History at Utas, I learned an exciting way to discover more about our ancestors. This technique helps bring them historically to life.
I had read the court report of what transpired the night John Prendergast was arrested in Dublin. Click for court report
Although I have visited Dublin on 5 separate occasions, the location where John Prendergast was caught, after quite a chase, were mere words to me.
Because I wanted to visualize the scene, based on the details in John’s court hearing and knowing that there were three Prendergast families, all related living in Dublin in the 1700’s, I decided to plot John’s route as he tried to escape on the night of his capture on an historical 1798 map of Dublin.
John Pendergast, son of John Prendergast Snr. married Elizabeth Dwyer on 1st June, 1824.
They produced 10 children.
Elizabeth was the daughter of Cornilius and Harriett Dwyer.
It has always puzzled me how Elizabeth died. Records show that Elizabeth died on December 6th, 1847 and was buried on 8th December, 1847. Her oldest son Thomas died one week later and was buried 14th December, 1847.
The rumour was that they both died in a fire. What sort of fire? Was it a house fire or a bush fire? It could have been either at that time of the year in Campbelltown.
When I visited the Vault of Mrs Pendergast, wife of John at St. John’s cemetery, Campbelltown, I was puzzled by the inscription on the side of the Vault.
It read “It is a Holy and Wholesome Thought to pray for the Dead that they may be loosed from Sins” Maccabees X11. 46. I have never seen this on the side of a Vault before and am wondering what the significance of this might be.
It is so sad that they both died before Christmas 1847, a time that would normally be filled with joy and excitement for the other 9 children.
It is even sadder when you discover that John Pendergast was one of those named on a Grant to build the St. John’s Catholic Church and Cemetery at Campbelltown the year before on 31st March, 1846. Little did he know that his darling wife and precious son would be one of the first to be buried there the following year!
To research Elizabeth further I visited the Campbelltown Library on my 2019 visit to Sydney but could find no information related to Elizabeth or Thomas’s death.
Vault of Elizabeth Pendergast (nee Dwyer) and Thomas Pendergast her son.
Following my invigorating research trip to the Hawkesbury NSW in June/July 2019, I felt inspired to plan a P[r]endergast family reunion and coordinate a “go fund me” and heritage grant to raise funds to restore the family Vault at the old Catholic Cemetery Windsor during 2020.
The Whitsundays where I live is a very long way from the Hawkesbury so I knew that I would have the ideas but need a great team of experts on the ground to bring the plans to fruition.
I met with Michelle Nichols OAM, a local Hawkesbury expert, regarding coordinating a Prendergast family reunion in 2019. I emailed Katie Hicks of the National Trust in regard to restoring the P[r]endergast family vault at Windsor. I then emailed a contact that I have in Ireland, Dr. Ruan O’Donnell a senior lecturer in History at the University of Limerick. I invited him to come to Australia for a 220 year commemoration of the arrival of the first convict ship “Minerva” with an Easter service at the Martyrs wall, Waverley Cemetery. I felt confident that my dreams could become a reality.
But, as the expression goes “the best laid plans of mice and men …” So sadly, like many other people world wide, my plans were thwarted by the outbreak of Covid 19 and subsequent lockdown.
Undeterred and not knowing how long Covid would curb my plans, I decided that if I couldn’t coordinate a family reunion and Vault restoration, that I would further my studies in family history.
Several years ago I had been told of the brilliant Utas diploma of family history and after further investigation and comparison with similar University courses, I decided to enrol in the Utas diploma of family history.
I cannot speak highly enough of the course. I loved every minute of it. It was wonderful!
Although, due to the fact that like all Universities world wide, on campus study had to be converted to on-line study for all students, I felt the staff at Utas did an amazing job under very difficult circumstances.
In June/July 2019, following my productive Archival visit to Sydney in February, we decided to drive to Sydney and stay for a month at Agnus Banks, a suburb on the Nepean River. This river is a tributary of the Hawkesbury River and close to all the early colonial settlements outside of Sydney in New South Wales.
Agnus Banks is a beautiful lush rural area with many large properties and elegant homes.
My plan for this Archival tour was to visit the New South Wales State Archives, the Hawkesbury public Library, Campbelltown public Library and Ebenezer historical church. I wanted to locate and visit original P[r]endergast properties at Kurrajong, Richmond, Cornwallis, Windsor, Lower Portland and Mulgrave Place in the Hawkesbury. I needed to research John Prendergast’s Airds land grant as well as the Campbelltown region. There was also P[r]endergast property at Wollombi in the Hunter Valley.
In January 2019, I travelled to Sydney to conduct genealogy research into property owned by the Prendergast family in the Hawkesbury district of NSW. The records were held at various Repositories in Sydney, Kingswood and Wollombi.
I wanted to locate records at the repositories and then visit the land of my forbears to get a sense of how my ancestor John Prendergast and his wife Catherine would have felt as first settlers on that land.
With Barry’s technical assistance, I plan to document these blocks of land on an interactive map, recording them for future generations.
I chose Sydney University Village as my base for the first visit in January because it was centrally located, there was plenty of public transport available and it was reasonably priced.
I visited the New South Wales land Registry Services to obtain maps of the Prendergast properties in Lower Portland, Kurrajong, Windsor, Pitt Town(formerly Mulgrave place) and Wollombi.
By pre-booking the documents that I wished to view during my Mitchell Library visit, I was able to discover which properties were crown grants and which ones were purchased by the Prendergast family.
In researching Catherine Prendergast and the role she played in the establishment of the Prendergast family in Australia, I needed to “time travel” back to an era in our history where married women, by law were considered part of the goods and chattels that were OWNED by their husbands. This doctrine was a rule of law associated with the common law doctrine of coverture outlined in this paper written by Andrew Cowie, School of Law, Murdoch University. http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/AUJlGendLaw/2009/6.pdf
Cowie goes on to explain that Coverture is “the state of being under the protection of one’s husband. The term can also mean marriage. Marriage can then be categorized as a contract between a wife and husband where the wife gives up certain legal powers to the husband in return for being under his protections. Until the late 19th century, the marriage contract was the last contract a woman would ever enter”. Women lost their legal identity when they married.
This law, which I found quite shocking, was further explained to me by a volunteer at the Society of Australian Genealogists (SAG) during my visit to their Library in Sydney, Australia on 16 December, 2017. This law changed in 1918 allowing women to own land in their own right.
When we opened the ‘’Mutch’s” Muster book of 1800-1802 and viewed the entry recording the details of John Prendergast and James Clark leasing property at Mulgrave place in 1800 whilst still convicts, “that can’t be right!”, exclaimed Alan. “A convict with a 7 year term could not lease land until he had been granted his freedom”. “Could his wife Catherine, the unnamed female on the land have leased the land”, I asked? “Yes and no”, replied Alan. He then went on to explain that if a wife had a guarantor, she could lease land but usually that guarantor was her husband. In this case her husband was still a prisoner so no, she could not own land.
So, how did John Prendergast and James Clark lease land at Mulgrave place in 1800?