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Rediscovering Ginninderra:
William Old 'Billy' Ryan

Born: 1788; Died: c. 1843; Married: Unmarried

In 1823 'Old Billy Ryan' of County Tipperary was sentenced to seven years transportation for 'insurrection'. After two years in prison he sailed for Australia on the convict ship 'Sir Godfrey Webster' along with 194 other convicts. He was born at Templemore in 1788, the year Australia was founded, and was thirty five when he landed in Sydney on January 3rd 1826. He had no formal education and was a shearer by occupation. He never married.

On arrival he was assigned to the explorer, Jospeh Wilde, himself an ex-convict, and member of the first expedition to explore the southern tablelands of NSW. Wilde arranged for Billy to serve his time at 'Canberry' an estate of 1000 acres on the Molongolo river, purchased by J. J. Moore in 1824, and managed by his superintendent, James Cowan.

Billy received his 'Ticket of Leave' in August 1830 and at the age of forty two, a Certificate of Freedom later that year. A free man, he was able to obtain a 'Ticket of Occupation' to occupy and farm a modest block of Crown land. He found a suitable block in the Mulligans Flat district, on the Gundaroo road and close to Ginninderra Creek, and built himself a small slab and bark hut - a home of his own at last. At this time Mulligans Flat would have been quite remote.

[with thanks to Valerie Bofinger for kind permission to use edited extracts from her book]

In 1836 the entire population of the County of Murray was still only 1,728 - 50% of them convicts, and only 15% female. Transportation was ended in 1840, and incentives for free settlers were increased. 'Old Billy' sent word home to his brother Timothy to tell him of the opportunities available in Australia, but it was Timothy's son William who took the bait. William and his wife Margaret, sponsored by Old Billy, arrived in Australia in 1841 and joined him at Mulligan's Flat. Billy now had a home, some land, and family to share it with.

It is an enduring mystery that just two years later in March 1843 Old Billy simply disappeared. Queanbeyan police made an extensive search and his relatives in Ireland were contacted, in case he had sailed for home. Foul play was suspected and a number of explanations were put forward over the years, but the mystery remains.


Bofinger, V. 1999. 'Ryan' From Moycarkey Tipperary to Mulligans Flat New South Wales, Bulli, NSW.

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