Catherine Coppin (nee Sheedy)
Born: 1831; Died: 1901; Married: John Coppin
Catherine Sheedy was born in about 1831 (Irish records have been lost for that period) in Ballina, County Tipperary, to Denis and Margaret Sheedy (nee Durie). At around age twenty four she sailed for Australia as an assisted migrant on the Exodus which left Liverpool on 21 April 1855 and arrived in Sydney on 26 July 1855. Her mother was still living in Ballina, but her father was dead. Her shipping record also notes that she was a Roman Catholic, a cook, in good health, and able to read and write.
Arriving in Sydney she had the good fortune to meet a former neighbour from Ireland, John Patrick Cunningham, known as 'Paddy-Two-Sticks' in Ginninderra, the district he came from. Cunningham found employment for Catherine as a lady's maid in the Deloitte family household. John Coppin, her husband to be, also found work in the Deloitte household when he arrived in Sydney two years later in September 1857. However, 15 months later John was sacked after being found worse for wear in the cellar with the Deloitte's son Quentin, and Catherine resigned in sympathy. On 7 January 1859 they were married at the Roman Catholic Church of St Augustine, Balmain, and shortly after set off for the Major's Creek goldfields, near Braidwood.
After they spending some months at the Major's Creek gold field, they again took advice from Cunningham, who directed them to William Davis' Ginninderra estate, where he himself was working. Helped by the fact that he had played cricket back in Kent, Coppin was taken on as a labourer at 12/- a week plus rations. Catherine, well pregnant with their first child (John) when they made the four day journey to Ginninderra, and gave birth in the tent that was their first home.
Early in 1860 John took the position of shepherd at the Goat Station (present day Coppins Crossing) on the Molonglo River - one of the many shepherding out-stations of the Ginninderra estate. Here the Coppins shared a three roomed hut with 'Paddy' Cunningham, who also shepherded a flock nearby. Catherine was able to supplement John's 12/- a week by catering for travellers on their way to the Kiandra goldfield. Conditions were tough however, with both drought (1865-66) and floods (1873) and the predations of insects and wildlife - as well as the occasional good year (1876). When Ralph Edge, fellow shepherd at Lime Kiln Waterhole died in 1872 'what little property he had went to John and Catherine Copping who had looked after him in his later days' (Shumack, S). This would have been a blessing to the Coppins.
Catherine had seven children. John was followed by Margaret Ann (1861), Ellen (1863), George (1866), Thomas William (1868), Laura (1871) and Albert Henry (1873). (Ellen, who was to marry Timothy Kelleher, was the great grand-mother of family historian Rhonda Boxall). Margaret, Ellen and George are listed as prospective pupils when application was made for a school two and a half miles away at Weetangera. Ellen, George, Thomas and Laura's names were put forward in 1877 when the Council of Education was petitioned to upgrade the school from Provisional to Public School status.
Meanwhile the family of nine grew up at Goat Station, producing what they could in their small orchard and vegetable plots. Neighbour Samuel Shumack says of them: 'As neighbours [the Coppins] were excellent.It would be impossible to find a more hospitable couple than John and Catherine Coppin'. As was common in the rural districts, small farmers helped one another with the major tasks such as harvesting. Shumack also notes that: 'Mrs Coppin was a better reaper that her husband, and Mrs John Bunning could beat her husband easily; they averaged seven acres a week'.
The family moved onto land of their own in 1878, close to the Goat Station which became known as Coppins Corner Paddock. In 1891 John and Catherine acquired land in the Kowen / Burbong district where they built 'Cohen', their home for the next ten years. Catherine died at Cohen in 1901.
[Generous assistance from Rhonda Boxall gratefully acknowledged]
- Boxall, R. Coppins Crossing and beyond. The Life and Times of John and Catherine Coppin, Self-published, Wollongong, 2013.
- McAlister, C., Twelve historic sites in the Glennburn and Burbong areas of the Kowen forest, National Parks Association (ACT), Canberra, 2007.
- Shumack, S., An autobiography or Tales and Legends of Canberra pioneers, ANU Press, Canberra 1967
- ACT Heritage Council, Background information. Coppin Homestead site, Molonglo, Feb 2015. (accessed 2 Sept 2016)
- ACT Heritage Council, Background information Glenburn Precinct, November 2015.