The O'Donoghue Society

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Contributed by James Donohoe

The Donohoes of Co.Cavan and Australia

The Donohoe family of Hugh Donohoe and Mary Garrity of Derra Cassin, near Templeport, Co. Cavan began leaving for Australia in 1856. The eldest boy, Patrick, set out for Australia in pursuit of gold.  Hugh was a tenant farmer on land owned by John Sheridan.  John Sheridan, meanwhile, had spoken up against the treatment of the Irish by the British. The land was confiscated and re-sold to John Smith.  Patrick [from Australia?] made Mr. Smith an offer for the land that he did not refuse. Hugh then took the title. Alas, Patrick died shortly afterwards. His siblings, including Hugh junior, migrated to Australia in 1867 to go gold prospecting in the predominantly Irish settled Boorowa area of New South Wales. It was there that Hugh junior met Mary Gilmartin from Limerick.
The couple had six children including William, their eldest and Arthur who won the Military Medal at Reincourt in World War 1. There are now six generation Australians in this Donohoe family.
At one of the generations, Hugh Donohoe (1911-1980) married Kathleen Clare Egan (1909-1981) in 1935.   They were my parents.  Clare, as she was known, was a direct descendant of Sarah Squire.  Sarah' sister Priscilla was the mother of Arthur Devlin junior, who was the model for the character ‘Pip’ in Charles Dickens' novel ‘Great Expectations’.  Arthur was also the father-in-law of Dickens’ son Alfred.
My Donohoe family is linked to Charles Dickens.
Historians have written about the identity of the real person on whom the Dickens' character ‘Pip’ of "Great Expectations" was based. They are wrong! He was Arthur Devlin Junior.
Irish rebel reader, ‘Big’ Arthur Devlin, was transported to Sydney, Australia in 1806 on the Tellicherry. Arthur was a significant player in the Mutiny against Colonial Governor, Captain William Bligh,in Sydney in 1808. About this time, Arthur married 14 year-old Priscilla Squire, a colonial lass. The couple had six children between 1806 and 1820. One was named Arthur and another was Martha. The real story belongs to Martha but it was more convenient for Dickens to cite Arthur's persona.
The story had its genesis in a letter Charles Dickens wrote to the Colonial Governor in the 1830s enquiring about a convict named Benjamin Dicken. By this time Charles was a prominent author.
Convict, Benjamin Dicken, aged 24, arrived in Sydney on the "Morley in April 1817". Benjamin drifted into the pub business and progressed onwards into hotels, becoming a very successful and wealthy businessman by the time he was 30. Unfortunately, Benjamin died in 1829 aged 36 years.
Some years later the famous author, Charles Dickens, learned of Benjamin. It was merely their common surname that acted as a prompt.
Their relationship is unclear.  Perhaps Dickens was looking for a storyline. Dickens’ enquiry was referred for reply to the Senior Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales where Wills were probated and Intestacies administered.
His Honour answered and reported Benjamin’s death and summarised Benjamin’s will that had been probated. His Honour advised Dickens that Benjamin had left his estate solely to Martha Devlin citing “for whom I have a natural affection”. Such comments, especially the word “natural”, were generally construed as an acceptance of paternity. Martha Devlin was nine years of age at the time of Benjamin’s death so there was no romantic attachment.
At the time of His Honour writing, some of Priscilla's family had resettled in Newtown. His Honour naturally mixed in judicial circles and Newtown was the home of some lawyers and a retired Magistrate of the Bengal Colonial Bench, James Donnithorne, who lived in ‘Camperdown Manor’ sited at the corner of King and Fitzroy Streets. His Honour mentioned James’ weird daughter Eliza in his response.
Eliza had fallen in love with local beau.  The wedding was planned and a grand bridal reception prepared on the big day. Unfortunately, Eliza was jilted.
Eliza wore her wedding gown or something similar for the rest of her life and closed off the room where the reception was to take place. She awaited the return of her lover. Charles Dickens researched Eliza’s story further and he raised the matter with Sydney Identity Mrs.
Caroline Chisholm during her visit to London, where she was crusading for better working and social conditions for colonial women. Mrs. Chisholm further enlightened Dickens about Eliza whom Caroline knew personally.
Meanwhile James Donnithorne died and left a small fortune to Eliza that was administered by the family solicitor, an honourable man. He was Eliza’s sole visitor. Otherwise Eliza dealt with trades people and beggars only at her front door. Eliza was noted for being particularly sensitive to the needs of the local poor and never turned away a genuine case of need.
Benjamin Dicken’s bequest to Martha Devlin generated much intrigue. Then there was the mystery behind Arthur Devlin’s death in gaol awaiting trial for killing a neighbour’s sheep. The question emerged as to why Devlin slaughtered his neighbour’s sheep and then why the neighbour retaliated by having Devlin criminally charged and incarcerated in conditions that cost Devlin his life. Arthur's accuser was Col George Johnston, the man who led the mutiny against Bligh. Arthur was the informant who got the message to Bligh about a conspiracy to mutiny.
Bligh over reacted and had five Irish free men arrested as well as the conspirators. Arthur was one of them. This incident was one of several that motivated Col. Johnston to mutiny against Bligh. Johnston was later ordered to return to England for court-martial.
George Johnston returned to New South Wales from his court martial, where he was demoted from Lt. Colonel to Private and then cashiered.
Arthur Devlin was living in Cabramatta next door to one of George Johnston’s properties at the time of George Johnston’s return to the Colony in 1813. Having been severely punished for his role in the removal of Governor Bligh, Johnston would have returned a bitter man. It would not have helped his distress very much either to realise that his property adjoined Arthur Devlin’s and that at some point Johnston learned that it was Arthur Devlins' father in law James Squire who was Bligh’s informant about the agitation for an insurrection by a couple of Irish malcontents and also that Squire’s source was Arthur Devlin, from next door.
The story is well put together by the great author in his work, ‘Great Expectations’. He transposed the storyline from a narrow and convoluted colonial yarn into a magnificent English classic. Dickens transferred the bequest to Martha’s brother, Arthur Devlin junior, who became the character Pip. Arthur’s second wife, Esther McClelland, became the character, Estella. Dickens merged Michael Dwyer and George Johnston to create ‘Compeyson’. Arthur Devlin and Benjamin Dicken together became Magwick. Then Eliza Donnithorne was added in as the strange Miss Haversham to embellish the mysteries.
Charles Dickens set out for Australia in 1861 to promote the novel in its true setting. He planned to travel to the USA first, then travel on to Panama and Sydney, landing firstly in the USA where he commenced to lecture on his books. However, the Civil War erupted with each side blockading each other’s ports. Dickens was stranded in the USA for quite some time. His health deteriorated while he awaited port clearance so ultimately he aborted his plans to go on to Australia. He decided to return home rather than sail for Australia when the opportunity to depart the USA finally arose.
Arthur Devlin Junior and his wife Esther sailed for England sometime after ‘Great Expectations’ was published. Unfortunately, Esther contracted tuberculosis and died in Boulonge-sur-Mer, France. Whether the couple actually met Charles Dickens is not recalled, however, it does appear that they did meet.  Something like a meeting between them influenced the direction of the Dickens family.
Charles Dickens’ son Alfred Tennyson D’orsey Dickens set out for Australia in the late 1860s. His brother Edward Lytton Dickens followed.
The two brothers went into a partnership and bought a sheep run in the Forbes district of New South Wales.  This partnership did not work out and the property was sold. Edward moved to Moree and eventually entered the New South Wales Parliament as the Member for Wilcannia serving for many years alongside James Squire’s grandson, James Squire Farnell, who at one time was Premier of the Colony. Alfred moved to Hamilton in Victoria where he managed a sheep run.
Meanwhile Arthur Devlin junior had become the owner of a major shipping line which was Melbourne based. Alfred had the occasion to visit Melbourne and called on Captain Devlin, as Arthur junior was then known.
Arthur and Esther has several children including Miss Augusta Jessie Devlin considered to be the most beautiful woman in Victoria at the time. She was known as Jessie Devlin the ‘Belle of Melbourne’. Alfred married Jessie in early 1874 in Toorak. It was the biggest society wedding of the year. A daughter, Kathleen Mary, was born late in that year and another daughter, Violet Georgina, was born in 1876.
Miss Eliza Donnithorne did not die in a fire as depicted in the novel but of old age in 1886 many years after the book was published. It has been claimed that Eliza learned of the novel and was distressed by the references to her image. The movie focusing on Eliza Donnithorne’s reputed reaction to her depiction in ‘Great Expectations’ has been scripted.
My Donohoe family, through my mother, descend from Mrs Priscilla Devlin sister, Sarah Squire. Incidentally, following Big Arthur Devlin's death, she remarried, to Thomas Small. Thomas's brother, William, is the ancestor of Maestro, Richard Bonynge, husband of the late Diva Dame Joan Sutherland.