Born: c. 1803; Died: 1871; Married: Jane Susan Meade
The first Cavanagh to come to the district was Thomas. He was an Irish rebel known as a ‘white boy’. These men were patriots who fought for the rights of tenant farmers and the rural poor. They were so-named because of the white farm-worker’s smocks they wore. Thomas was convicted in 1832 of insurrection and transported to Australia on a life sentence.
Thomas had been born c. 1803 at Tynagh in Galway, Ireland. His parents were James Cavanagh and Honora (nee Connor). It was in Tynagh that Thomas had married Jane Susan Meade in c. 1827. They had three children: Ann, Hannah and Patrick Cavanagh.
After his trial, Thomas arrived in 1832 on the convict transport, Eliza. According to the 1837 muster, he was allocated to George Thomas Palmer (senior) and worked at his Hunter Valley holdings. At some stage, Thomas came to the Canberra district, presumably to work at his master’s Palmerville estate. However, he is first recorded in the district at Duntroon, before leasing land in Canberra after winning his freedom in the late 1840s.
Somehow, Jane managed to join him in the colony with their three children in 1849 on the Panama: 17 years after being separated from her husband. Thomas’ family was lucky to have survived in these circumstances. The wife and two children of another ‘white boy’ transported to Australia with a connection to Ginninderra, John Casey, all died while their rebel father was trying to win his freedom in New South Wales.
Nevertheless, the lives of his wife and daughters in Australia were to be all too short. Jane Cavanagh died in 1857 under tragic circumstances (told separately) and his daughters died in 1864 and 1865, both in their thirties.
After the land reforms of 1861, the Cavanaghs selected a small farm at One Tree Hill and slowly built up their holdings. In Ireland, Thomas had been a ‘ploughman’ and his skills as an agricultural worker must have put him in good stead in the new country.
Thomas Cavanagh died in 1871, aged 63.
- Gillespie, L. L., Ginninderra: Forerunner to Canberra, Campbell, 1992
- Shumack, S. An Autobiography, or, Tales and Legends of Canberra Pioneers (ed. J. E. and S. Shumack), Canberra, 1967
- Smith, L. R., Memories of Hall, Canberra, 1975
- Transportation and convict muster records
- Various editions of the Queanbeyan Age and Goulburn Evening Penny Post