Thomastown’s 19th Century Irish Families

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Thomastown’s 19th Century Irish Families

By Rob Wuchatsch

The Germans and Wends who settled at Westgarthtown in 1850 were one of four different groups to settle at Thomastown during the 19th Century. The other nationalities represented at Thomastown were the English, Scottish and Irish.

Thomastown’s most prominent Irish settlers were the Devine, Larmer, Lewis, Mahoney, McCoy and Perry families. The focal point for Irish Catholics at Thomastown was McCoy’s Belmont Hotel. Edward Perry, the Wesleyan school teacher and postmaster, was the only Protestant Irishman.

Thomastown’s Catholics worshipped at St Francis Church in Melbourne until the early 1850s. From 1853, they could attend the new timber Catholic school and chapel at Epping, then from 1855 St Paul’s Church at Pentridge (Coburg), before St Peters Church at Epping opened in 1867. Both Peter McCoy and his daughter Frances were married at St Pauls in 1858. Most of Thomastown’s 19th Century Catholics are buried in the Melbourne General Cemetery at Carlton.

Peter Devine, Peter McCoy Sr and Peter McCoy Jr served as members of the Epping District Roads Board and Peter McCoy Jr., Michael Larmer and James Lewis Jr. served on its successor, the Shire of Darebin.


On 17 April 1855 Peter McCoy, who owned 144 acres in Section 22, Parish of Keelbundora, was granted a licence for the ‘Belmont Hotel, Dry Creek.’ By April 1856, however, John Devine had taken over as licensee and continued to operate the hotel with his wife Catherine until 1866. Devine had arrived in Australia aged 19 from County Antrim with the McCoy family aboard the Manlius in 1842 and was related by marriage. Peter had married Catherine Suffern in Melbourne in 1850.

Devine and McCoy were members of the Epping District Roads Board which held its meetings at the Belmont Hotel for many years. In 1866 Devine, who owned property at Thomastown and Woodstock, relinquished the hotel’s licence and moved to Merriang. He died at Bendigo in 1874 aged 52. Catherine died at their son Peter’s home at Williamstown in 1891 aged 72 and was buried with John in the Melbourne General Cemetery.


Michael Larmer succeeded John Devine as licensee of the Belmont Hotel in 1866 and remained there until his death in 1881, aged 35. Larmer, also from County Antrim, married Frances Suffern in Melbourne in 1865 so was related by marriage to the McCoy and Devine families. It is not known when Michael arrived in Australia but Frances arrived in 1853 on the Marco Polo with her parents James and Sarah Suffern and brother Thomas.

Like Devine and McCoy, Michael Larmer was interested in municipal affairs and served as a councillor for the Shire of Darebin during the 1870s. Both Michael and Frances, who died in 1882 aged 37, are buried in the Melbourne General Cemetery. Their six surviving children were raised at Thomastown by Peter McCoy Jr.


James and Catherine (née Maher) Lewis were married at Cork just prior to leaving Ireland and arrived in Melbourne as assisted immigrants aboard the Mary Nixon on 30 November 1841. From the mid 1840s they leased land in Section 13 at Merrilands from Major Davidson.

In 1850 James Lewis leased 636 acres in Section 21 owned by Colonel Anderson. Although they lived on Section 21 at Thomastown, the Lewis family also farmed land they owned at Epping, where James was killed in February 1858 when thrown from his horse while rounding up cattle. His inquest was held at Patrick Burke’s Travellers Home Hotel at Epping. James, aged 39, left five young children as well as a widow. He was buried in the Melbourne General Cemetery.

Catherine Lewis remarried in 1859 to James Mooney and continued farming Section 21 at Thomastown. The annual rent for the farm during the 1860s was £160. At the time of Catherine’s death in 1882 aged 59, Section 21 was then owned by the Brock family, which purchased it in 1864. One of Catherine’s sons, James Lewis Jr., a farmer at Epping, served several terms as a councillor for the Shire of Darebin prior to his death in 1882. Catherine, her sons James Jr. and John and daughters Maria Ellen, Catherine and Ann are also buried in the Melbourne General Cemetery.


Michael Mahoney was born at Kilmurry in County Cork. It is not known when he arrived in Australia but he married Ellen Lynch in Melbourne in 1838. They had at least one child, a son named William, born at their home in Bourke Street, Melbourne before Ellen’s death in 1843. Two years later, Michael married Catherine McCurran and they went on to have thirteen children.

Michael and Catherine’s first four children were born at Merrilands, where from 1844 he leased land in Section 13 from Major Davidson. Mahoney’s tenancy at Merrilands ended in dispute with Davidson when he harvested his crop during December 1849, his five-year lease having ended on 1 December. Mahoney left as soon as he had finished removing his crop.

Mahoney moved to 280 acres in Section 22, which he purchased from Joseph Hall for £840. It was located on the north-west corner of today’s High Street and Mahoney’s Road. He had occupied this land for three years when he was granted title to it on 17 December 1852. He named this land Kilmurry Farm after his birthplace. From 1851-53, he worked as a bullock driver, carting passengers and supplies to the Ballarat and Bendigo goldfields and used the proceeds to pay for his farm and the buildings he erected upon it.

Mahoney was declared insolvent in August 1862, the reasons given being depreciation in the value of farm produce and fear of being arrested at the suit of a labourer named Gilmore for unpaid wages. The deficiency between Mahoney’s liabilities and assets was calculated at £1108/15/10 but his creditors, apart from Gilmore, believed he could have overcome his financial difficulties by the end of the harvest season. To forestall Gilmore, Mahoney had entered into a post-nuptial agreement with his wife in July 1861, assigning the farm to a trustee for her and the children’s benefit. At a subsequent court case a debt of £65 to Gilmore was proven and Mahoney ordered to pay.

A volatile man, Mahoney was fined £5 damages and £2/2/- costs in the Brunswick Court in May 1867 for assaulting neighbour Michael Larmer who had entered Mahoney’s paddock following some cattle which had broken away while on the way to the pound.

In November 1867 Mahoney was sued by Ambrose Kyte for £243/17/4. Mahoney and Kyte’s financial dealings extended back to 1851 when Kyte employed him to cart passengers and freight to the diggings. In January 1868 Kyte sued again for £768 and obtained a Supreme Court order against Mahoney in March for that amount. As a result Mahoney was bankrupted for the second time. On 4 May 1868 he stated:

Besides my clothing I had only £2 when I filed my Schedule, this I handed to my Assignee. I have nothing else now with which to pay my debts. I have no rich relations and I expect no legacy. As I am only earning wages it is not at all likely I should be able to pay 20/- in the £ before I applied for my certificate.

Mahoney received his Certificate of Discharge from bankruptcy on 23 July 1868. He remained at Kilmurry Farm until his death there on 1 July 1884 aged 74 and was buried in the Melbourne General Cemetery. The Mahoney family then left Thomastown and the farm was leased out, before being sold in 1910 to James McKimmie following Catherine’s death at Preston in 1909, aged 85. Mahoney’s Road, known as Mahoney’s Lane until the 1960s, records the family’s former presence at Thomastown.


Peter McCoy, his wife Margaret (née Suffern) and four young children William, Catherine, Fanny and Hugh arrived in Melbourne as assisted immigrants aboard the Manlius on 16 February 1842. They came from County Antrim in the north of Ireland.

Several more children were born in Melbourne – Ann (1845), Peter (1846), Margaret (1847) and John (1849) but only Peter Jr., born at Little Bourke Street in Melbourne, survived infancy. It is not known when the McCoy family first settled on Section 22 but it was probably sometime before Peter McCoy purchased his 144 acres on 12 April 1850 from Joseph Hall for £468.

McCoy named his property Belmont Farm. The name Belmont is a well known one in County Antrim. In September 1854, McCoy was involved in a legal dispute with neighbour Michael Mahoney, over the split up of an obsolete brush fence which had defined their boundary. Although Mahoney claimed McCoy had taken 500 loads of firewood the court dismissed his claim.

Margaret McCoy died at Belmont Farm in 1857 aged 45 and was buried in the Melbourne General Cemetery. In 1858, Peter McCoy married Margaret Kennedy and they had one child, a daughter named Margaret. By then McCoy also owned 640 acres in the Parish of Kal Kallo at Woodstock and properties in Little Bourke and Little Lonsdale Streets in Melbourne.

McCoy died at the Clare Hotel in Little Bourke Street in 1864 aged 65 and was buried with his first wife and son Hugh, who died the same day as his father. Eldest son William had died in 1863. Daughters Catherine married John Hearn in 1856 and Fanny married John McCormack in 1858 and both settled in the Mansfield district. Remaining son Peter McCoy Jr. moved to Woodstock but had returned to Thomastown by the early 1880s and operated the Belmont Hotel from 1888 until his death in 1916.

Peter McCoy Jr. was a member of the Epping District Roads Board and Shires of Darebin and Epping and was Shire President several times. Following the deaths of Michael and Frances Larmer during the early 1880s, McCoy assumed responsibility for the upbringing of their six orphaned children. McCoy, a bachelor who had lost a leg, was assisted to run the Belmont Hotel in later years by his nieces Brigid and Ellen McCormack. Brigid, said to have been his ‘housekeeper, manager, secretary and hostess’ took over the hotel when McCoy died in 1916 and ran it until 1928.


Edward Perry, born in County Roscommon, married Barbara Hardy at Galway in 1852. He arrived in Australia aboard the James Carson in July 1854 and Barbara and their daughter Maria followed in November 1855.

A Wesleyan schoolhouse, which also served as a church, was erected at Thomastown in late 1854 and opened in January 1855 with Edward Perry as Head Teacher. Perry received an annual salary of £100 from the Denominational Schools Board, plus tuition fees from each pupil. When the Inspector visited the school in March 1855, he reported there were 44 children on the roll, with a two-roomed master’s residence attached to the schoolhouse.

Barbara Perry assisted her husband as school sewing mistress from 1 July 1857 and was paid £37/10/- in 1858. Some of the pupils Edward and Barbara Perry taught were their own children, as they had several more while living at Thomastown. As the school residence was too small, they were soon forced to live elsewhere, for which they received a rental subsidy of £20 in 1858. In 1859 Perry purchased a block of land on the south-west corner of High and Spring Streets from Alfred Thomas for £100 and built a house there.  He also established a market garden.

As well as being the school teacher, Perry served as a lay preacher and treasurer for the Thomastown Wesleyan Church; was Secretary and Treasurer of the Thomastown Mutual Improvement Society; and an auditor for the Epping Roads Board. From 9 June 1862, Perry was also Thomastown’s first postmaster, operating from the school for some years before moving the post office to his home nearby. For being postmaster, Perry received an allowance based on a percentage of postal business transacted, which in 1868 was £15.

Edward Perry’s personnel record makes interesting reading. Although he appears to have been much loved by both parents and pupils, reports by Inspectors about his teaching were generally unflattering, with his instruction, organization and discipline often being questioned. In December 1870 the Inspector reported ‘The children appear to have rather too much license and to be given to an excess of chattering.’

Barbara Perry continued as sewing mistress and from 1865, daughter Maria Perry also served as the school’s Pupil Teacher or seamstress. In 1876, Edward Perry accepted the position of Head Teacher at Barfold, near Kyneton and the family left Thomastown. He died in 1909 aged 83 and his wife Barbara died in 1914. A daughter, also named Barbara, who died in 1877 aged 16, is buried in the Thomastown Methodist Cemetery.