Monthly Archives: January 2013

Cunningham Family

In honour of Goulburn turning 150 this year, I thought I would write about some of my ancestors who were in the district by 1863 (when Goulburn was declared a city).  I am starting with my Cunningham ancestors.

Our Cunningham family originated in County Meath, Ireland. The following information is taken from my research into the Cunningham family, and includes details from a manuscript written by my Great Uncle, Cecil Cunningham.

Edward and Catherine Cunningham came to Australia on the sailing ship “Livingstone”, which left Liverpool on the 28 June 1841 and arrived in Sydney on the 20 October 1841. Their immigration papers give their birthplace as Bathurst Town, but it was almost certainly Batterstown. Edward was described as a shepherd but tradition has it that he came to work for Charles Cowper as his main farming man. Catherine was described as a dairy woman and no doubt she used her previous knowledge when the family started a butter and cheese factory. Edward Cunningham was 29 years of age when he came to Australia and Catherine was 22 years of age. Parents of both had died before they left Ireland.

Edward and Catherine were brought out by Charles Cowper. Initially, they worked for him at his property “Cowpastures”, which was near Camden. They then went to live on Charles Cowper’s Chatsbury property in a locality known as Springhead. Whilst it has not been determined exactly when the Cunninghams arrived in the district, they were certainly here by 1846, as their third child, James, was born at Chatsbury on 9 April 1846.  They were still at Chatsbury in 1852, when their daughter, Catherine, was born, but by 1854 they had moved to Tarlo, as their son, Matthew, was born there on 12 June 1854.

The wages paid at the commencement was one pound per month and rations, which in fact was slightly better than most were paid. Later Edward Cunningham and his older sons acquired land at both Chatsbury and Tarlo and started farming on their own.  Children of the marriage were:

  • John Michael Cunningham (1842-1901) married Catherine McAlister (1846-1905)
  • Bridget Cunningham (1843-1919) married Bartholomew Joseph Ryder (?-1914)
  • James Andrew Cunningham (1846-1910) married Ellen Quinn
  • Elizabeth Mary Cunningham (1848-1886) married James Kennedy
  • Mary Ann Cunningham (1850-1925) married Cornelius Sheekey
  • Catherine Teresa Cunningham (1852-1930) married Thomas Moloney
  • Matthew Cunningham (1854-1910) married Mary Anne Barry
  • Bernard Cunningham (1856-1898) married Mary Ann Angela McInnes
  • Edward Cunningham (1858-1921) married Emily Ann Eliza (Ada) Mannell.
  • Joseph Patrick Cunningham (1860-1894) n.m.
  • Francis Augustus Cunningham (1861-1925) married Amy Hannah Ireland
  • Theresa Jane Cunningham (1865-1866) n.m

The Cunningham men seemed quite content to stick to the land, in fact they would not have had enough education for much else. Whenever one would suggest branching out on his own, their mother Catherine would urge them to “stick together”, and that was the way it remained until her death. In 1883 Catherine Cunningham purchased “Redbank” near Laggan from the McAlister family and three of the sons, James, Bernard and Francis, went out there to live. The eldest James managed the property.

The Cunninghams brought the religion of their forefathers, Roman Catholic, with them and passed it on to their children. The Cunningham home was always a calling place for the priests when doing the rounds of their extensive parish. Mass was said in some Catholic home or other from very early times until the opening of the Catholic Church at Tarlo in 1921. The Church, originally owned by the Presbyterian Church, was purchased by Edward Cunningham, and donated to the Catholic Church. The family seems to have been well respected and they were always quick to help in local and community affairs. Different members of the family kept the Post Office at Tarlo for very many years.

At this stage it is not clear just where their first dwelling was located but they probably lived in primitive buildings at both Chatsbury and Tarlo. The first real house was probably built about 1860. It was of slab with a galvanised iron roof. It was quite a good house for that period and was known as “Ivy Lodge”. Apparently as soon as the Closer Settlement Act was passed Edward Cunningham started to apply for blocks and when the sons were old enough blocks were also taken up in their names, and over the years a considerable acreage was acquired both at Tarlo and Chatsbury. “Ivy Lodge” was in the surveyed village area of Tarlo but the village never eventuated and most of the village blocks were eventually obtained by the Cunningham family.

Ivy Lodge Circa 1920

Ivy Lodge Circa 1920

Hard work was the order of the day for father and sons. The sons worked in the fields as soon as they could do anything useful. There was no school close so a male tutor was employed and the daughters were taught during the day and the sons, who worked outside during the day, learnt what they could in the evening. Farming and dairying were their main occupations. The Cunninghams never seemed to have any success with sheep although other graziers in the area had limited success with sheep.

When Edward Cunningham Senior decided that he would like to grow some wheat and none was available locally, he rode to Bathurst and brought back a bushel on horseback. With the help of his sons they managed to sow the wheat somehow and it produced a bumper crop yielding thirteen four bushel bags from the bushel sown. However they never seemed to have any success with wheat after that. Other crops were grown with success and a huge barn was erected for storing hay, maise, etc. It was a neat job although built from slabs with a roof of shingles split in the bush. It was a landmark until it was demolished about 1960, about a hundred years after it was built.

Edward Cunningham (Senior) died on 3 September 1871 and was buried in the Mortis Street Cemetery. Catherine Cunningham seems to have adapted herself well to Australian conditions. She had twelve children, only one dying in infancy. She died on November 1892 and was buried alongside her husband and infant daughter in the Mortis Street Cemetery, Goulburn.

After Edward Cunningham’s death the property passed to his wife Catherine and was managed by their eldest son John. Some years afterwards the family decided to build a butter and cheese factory. There were several butter factories of varying sizes in the County of Argyle and at least one cheese factory, but it was unique at that time to have both butter and cheese under the one roof. It was a modern plant for that period with a steam unit to drive the turbine separator and the large churn also to cut wood for the boilers. There were few separators around at that time and milk was brought in by the farmers to be separated. A professional cheese maker was employed. The venture seems to have been a success. Most of the butter and cheese was sent on consignment by horse team carriers to the goldfields where they found a ready market. Goulburn storekeepers also advertised that they had Cunningham’s cheese for sale. The Cunningham family also operated a Public Pound Yard at about that time.

A cemetery was established on the Cunningham property, but was only used for members of the Cunningham family.  Twelve people were buried there, the earliest burial there was in 1885, and the last burial was in 1921.  There appears to have been another cemetery in Tarlo.  Another researcher has suggested that it may have been on the property next to the Cunninghams (now known as “Riverview”), but this has not been confirmed.