My Father’s Son – Danny Sheedy’s rebel dad

Daniel Tellicherry Snip

As we celebrate Father’s Day this Sunday I can’t help but wonder if Dan McNamara ever actually got to know his Dad.

He had been hanging round his father’s farm in the 1850’s but after being ‘warned off’ he went away quietly.

His father had died in 1842 and it wasn’t just his father’s widow who wanted him gone: as always when it comes to a childless, elderly widow there were plenty others with an eye to the main prize – in this instance a 60-acre prize farm which Dan McNamara was supposed to inherit from his ex-convict father.

His real name was Daniel Sheedy Macnamara and he is one of the ‘missing’ sons of Irish-born convict James Sheedy Macnamara (c1773 – 1842) who figures strongly in stories about Australia’s earliest colonial history: think The “Tellicherry” Five: The Transportation of Michael Dwyer and the Wicklow RebelsUnfinished Revolution:  United Irishmen in New South Wales, 1800-1810, and some 1000 Irish Rebels to Australia, remnants and participants in the 1798 and 1803 rebellions in Ireland, acknowledged for their contribution to Australia’s colonial identity and reformation of the national landscape.

Who doesn’t love the incorrigible, larriken Australian identity shaped greatly by Irish ancestry and perpetuated in Australian folklore by poets like “Frank The Poet’ Macnamara (1810-1861) and tales of bush-ranging and rebellion.

James Sheedy Macnamara had been transported to Australia in 1806 aboard the convict transport Tellicherry (1) and is usually attributed as being one of the Irish rebels as well as a founder of the Australian arm of the United Irishmen Society

As a legend, James and his family have become subject to myth-making which in particular was propagated in the Sidney Harold Sheedy research papers, ca. 1960-1967.

In particular Sid Sheedy claimed that James Sheedy Macnamara was a comrade of Irish rebels Theobold Wolfe Tone (1763-1798),   James Napper Tandy (c1737-1803), Robert Emmett (1778- 1803)

Sid stated that James Sheedy Macnamara was a ‘negotiator’ in the surrender of the Wicklow Rebels (Micheal Dwyer), and that he personally visited Robert Emmett in gaol before his execution. He claimed James  studied for the priesthood, and also studied law (I have checked with Maynooth – they found no record of his matriculation under the names Sheedy, Sheehy, Sheedy Macnamara, McNamara etc).  Sid stated James was married with four children, and was transported to Australia for his rebel activities. The reality however was that James Sheedy Macnamara was convicted of killing a fellow yeoman after a drunken brawl at a local inn:

“James Sheedy (Macnamara) lived in Bodyke, a neighboring parish to Feakle, and was yeoman who was originally sentenced for having killed a fellow-yeoman, after a brawl when they emerged from a local inn. It was manslaughter, and unpremeditated, but he was originally sentenced to be hanged before the sentence was reduced to transportation for life”. (Letter to J. Fawcett from Kieran Sheedy, author of Tellicherry Five, dated 14 Oct.1998).

James’ conviction was reported in Irish newspapers which also reveal a ‘Denis Sheedy’ and others were charged alongside James Sheedy Macnamara:

source; Saunders News-Letter (Dub. Ire.) 9 August 1804

‘Ennis July 30. Assizes

James Sheedy, alias McNamara, found guilty of the murder of James Grady, one of the Kilnoe Cavalry in the month of April last: to be hanged on Wednesday the first of August next.

Edm. Carrol, Edm.Hogan, Thomas Hogan and Denis Sheedy, acquitted of the murder of the above mentioned James Grady, ordered to give bail for their good behaviour for 7 years before James Molony, Esq. themselves in 200l. and two sureties in 100l. each”.

James Sheedy Macnamara (often spelt McNamara, and often just James Sheedy) was instead transported to Botany Bay the penal colony established in New South Wales  in Australia. He was placed aboard a convict transport vessel, the ship Tellicherry, Thomas Cuzens master, which sailed from Ireland and arrived at Sydney on the 15th February, 1806.

The Tellicherry’s Indent record (a manifest of convicts) confirms James Sheedy McNamara as a convict aboard, and who was tried 1804 in County Clare, with a sentence of transportation for Life. Jen Willetts noted 130 men and 36 women  embarked aboard the Tellicherry, with 5 men and 1 woman dying on the voyage out to New South Wales: the prisoners aboard included 1803 rebels and political prisoners like Michael Dwyer (the Wicklow Rebel) and also John Murnagh (who was living with James Sheedy-Macnamara in the 1828 NSW Census): twenty-eight privates of the New South Wales Corps formed the Guard aboard the vessel which had been chartered by Government to convey the prisoners away from Ireland, and such was the fervour surrounding the rebels they were falsely accused in reports back to Ireland having mutinied aboard ship:

The Tellicherry departed Cork 31 August 1805 the same day as the William Pitt also bound for New South Wales with prisoners. The Tellicherry remained at Madeira for three days, leaving the William Pitt there when they departed.

The newspapers of the day reported rumours of a mutiny on board…….. They sailed under convoy of Sir Home Popham as far as Madeira. The convicts had shewn themselves so obedient to rule, before they reached that island, that Captain Cozens had their irons knocked off and they were admitted by divisions to take air upon deck. Dwyer and his associates were treated rather as voluntary passengers than prisoners suffering punishment for their crimes. Some time after the Tellicherry had parted convoy at Madeira, the convicts surprised the officers, who, according to report, they murdered and ran the vessel on shore in a bay to the southward of All Saints. We understand that Sir H. Popham’s squadron upon its arrival at St. Salvadore, while watering there, was informed of this melancholy event by the people of the place. We trust however, that their relation is not correct. [4] There were no further reports of this mutiny.


Aboard the William Pitt transport which was accompanying the Tellicherry to NSW was a convict by the name of Jane Black, who would go onto to become James Sheedy Macnamara’s ‘colonial’ wife, and it was she who was so determined that Daniel Sheedy Macnamara was turned away from his father’s farm in the 1850’s.

In his desire to make sense of his personal Sheedy family history, Sid Sheedy claimed that James Sheedy Macnamara was one of six brothers transported to Australia from Ireland. He believed they were variously the subject of tyrannical and unfair English rule, with the brothers often transported without trial (like Patrick Sheedy Macnamara per Marquis of Wellington), thrown onto boats in chains and spirited away without so much as a cat’s whisker of legal representation, or shot in the hulls of vessels and their bodies thrown into the sea.

Source: Mitchell Library of NSW: Sidney Harold Sheedy research papers, ca. 1960-1967  Call Number: MLMSS 8400

  • The Society of United Irishman was founded in Ireland in 1791. They were formed as a counter to the Loyal Lodges. The Society was completely non-sectarian and was concerned with political reform. After the transportation of many of its supporters to Australia the Society was established in the New South Wales in 1806.

    James Sheedy, an Irishman closely associated with the Society of United Irishmen, was named a political offender, and in 1805 was transported to Australia as a convict on board the Tillacherry. Further Sheedy brothers arrived as convicts: Timothy, on the Providence 1, in 1811; Patrick, on the Marquis of Wellington, in 1815; Michael, on the Earl St. Vincent (1), in 1818, and George, on the Southworth (1) in 1822. Further family and associates of the Sheedy family, and those close with the United Irishmen were transported to Australia from Ireland.

  • Boxes 1-2
    Notebooks, exercise books, and typescript notes containing research and drafts for a history of the Sheedy (formerly Sheehy) family; a history of the Society of United Irishmen (in Ireland and New South Wales); a brief history of the Society for Democratic Government; and rough notes covering other aspects of 19th century New South Wales; also includes some maps and newspaper clippings, ca. 1960-1967

There has never been any evidence that the Sheedy’s of Ireland who were transported to Australia used the alias Sheehy. However there were Sheehy’s who were transported to Australia who were often phonetically misspelt Sheedy. If Sheedys want an alias they use McNamara, Silk or Mack: be assured the Sheedys of Ireland are never Sheehys, they have completely different origins as septs:

“The Sheedys are a branch of the Macnamara family which ruled the Eastern and Southern part of County Clare for over a thousand years – the area being known as Clancullen. Some of the McNamara branches were called Cuveda Mc Namara, Cuvara McNamara and Sheeda (or in Gaelic, Sioda McNamara). In relatively recent times the McNamara was often dropped, leaving the name Sheedy, the original derivation being silken or fair haired.

When the Irish chieftains of Clare were forced to surrender in London to King Henry V111 in 1543, the head of the clan McNamara was John Sheedy McNamara, who was so insulted at only made a knight rather than an Earl that when he returned home he refused to use it. The McNamara’s and Sheedys finally lost their lands in the Cromwellian plantation of 1650. Most of the castles in Clare were built by the McNamara’s and Sheedys. Throughout the centuries members of the Sheedys moved into neighbouring counties of Tipperary, Limerick, Cork, Kerry”. source: Letter from Keiran Sheedy to author dated 14 OCtober 1989.

By the end of the 18th century, the last of the ‘Royal’ Sheedy McNamara’s held the lands of Ayle (owned by Timothy ‘Thady’ Macnamara formerly of Castle Rahanna/Ranna), Rosroe and also Moyrisk (Moyriesk). Quinn Abbey  was a tributary burial place into the 19th century for the descendants of the Sheedy Macnamara’s, and many of the surrounding families in Clare and over the borders belong to this branch of the Sheedy McNamara’s.

Sheedy is usually translated as ‘fair-haired’ or ‘silken-haired’ and so Sheedys can also use the alias of Silk along with McNamara or Mac or Mack.

Clare Journal, and Ennis Advertiser, April 28, 1845:

James Silk (which is the English name for Sheady) and several others were fined at the Ennis Petty Sessions for various nuisances’.

In Sid Sheedy’s writings he claims James Sheedy Macnamara established a secret society in New South Wales – a branch of the United Irishmen, with James as secretary,  and in following years his brother Michael Sheedy (sic), a convict per Earl St Vincent in 1818, helped to continue keeping a ‘diary’ or journal record of the society and its operations.

The six men who Sid Sheedy claimed were brothers, and transported to Australia were:

  1. James Sheedy Macnamara, arrived 1806 per Tellicherry, Life Sentence, died at Kent Street Sydney at the home of his brother Michael Sheedy. ‘His family never given Govt permission to settle with him in Australia, but son John Sheedy transported to Australia in 1823 per Isabella’  and died Liverpool hospital Dec 1852, a married man with 3 daughters and a son named Michael who came out to Sydney in 1850 and married Bridget Ryan in Sydney’.(Incorrect: John, some of James, was still living in Coolreagh, Scariff, Clare in 1824 and petitioned the Chief Secretary of Ireland for permission to join his father) . ‘After many years in the colony James married Jane Black in June 1822, who came per Wm Pitt 1806, ‘she worked tirelessly for the cause of the United Irishmen’ (note there is no record of a marriage of Jane Black (noted Protestant) and James Sheedy Macnamara (Catholic): he was still petitioning government in the 1820s for his wife and children to be allowed to settle with him in N.S.W. However Jane was living with James in 1828 at ‘Kemps Farm’ Cabramatta, along with John Mernagh per Tellicherry. And certainly she acknowledged James as the owner of the land in a deed dated 1850, and which by she promised Daniel Sheedy Macnamara would inherit his father’s farm).
  2. Timothy Sheedy, arrived 1811, per Providence, 7 year sentence, ‘returned to Ireland’.
  3. Patrick Sheedy Macnamara, arrived 1815, per Marquis of Wellington, 14 year sentence, died 1827 at Sydney General Hospital aged 50 years: ‘had no official trial’ (this is incorrect – Pat was tried and convicted in Co Devon, England for forging bank notes).Sid was sure that Patrick had a wife named Mary who remarried John Guinan in NSW in 1837 following Pat’s death.Also believed Bridget Sheedy per Hooghley (1831) was Pat’s daughter (she married Isaacher Bennie in 1839) and that ‘Margaret or Mary’ Sheedy was another daughter who married James Moore per Mangles 4. And that Pat had a son John , transported per Eliza (11) in 1832 but who returned to Ireland. (incorrect on many counts).                                                     “Exeter Wed. 8 March.,The Judges of Assize will arrive in this City on Saturday next, they go to the Cathedral on Sunday, and the business of the Courts will commence at the Castle on Monday morning, before Sir John Bayley and Sir John Dampier, Knights, when the following prisoners are to be tried:(among those named are)Alexander Morgan and Patrick Sheedy for Uttering Two Forged Bank of England notes.Ann Noble and Robert Noble for Uttering Counterfeit Bank of England notes.” Exeter Flying Post, 17 March 1814 (U.K)
  4. Michael Sheedy, arrived 1818 per Earl St Vincent, 7 year sentence, died 1865 Middle Harbour.This is Sid Sheedy’s direct line.’Only unmarried member of family to arrive in Australia. Married Margaret Walsh in May 1829, daughter of James Walsh also per Earl St Vincent’.”A Couple Of Old Fools:An old Irishman named Mick Sheedy was charged with assaulting and beating his wife. The old woman said that he bate her some day last week, and then toasted her over the fire. He had bate the senses out of her, so that she could not recollect the day.Old Mickey said that the woman was jealous of him, although he was sixty three years old.” Bells Life (Sydney, New South Wales) Saturday 25 June 1853
  5. George Sheedy, arrived 1822, per Southworth, 7 year sentence, ‘returned to Ireland’.
  6. John  Sheedy, arrived 1826, per Mangles (4), Life sentence, died 1842 at ‘Cornwallis Farm’ and buried as ‘Faraday Sheedy’. Married to a Mary Farady and family came out to Australia (this is incorrect: John was married to Mary Dinan, and with government approval she and all of her family migrated to NSW aboard two vessels in 1834, as free emigrants: two sons. Roger and Patrick,  applied successfully to join the police force).

Other Sheedy family researchers have in the past bought into the myths: some twenty years I have battled many a Sheedy descendant on the ‘six brothers’ myth: but they yearn to remain loyal to Sid Sheedy’s romantic and recalcitrant assertions. It might best said as Raffaello Carboni described of the Eureka Rebellion at Ballarat: “pirates on the quarterdeck wanting a rebellion”.

Few know where Sid Sheedy was getting his information from: it is known his collection of writings are held at the Mitchell Library in New South Wales: Sid said he was quoting from a journal or diary kept by James Sheedy Macnamara and Michael Sheedy. It is clear that he pottered around in State Archives and libraries extracting records in later times, and added them to his family biographies, but the nemesis for the ‘United Irishmen’ claims are not known as the families guard where Sid’s original sources were kept.

What is interesting to note is that John McNamara , bookseller in Dublin, was  arrested and allegedly killed for his involvement as a found member of the 1798 United Irishmen in Ireland: ‘John Macnamara was hung, drawn and quartered, along with Colonel Despard and others in February 1803 in England’ and also had a brother similarly punished earlier.

The Editor of the Brooklyn Eagle (5 May 1883, p1) wrote of a Michael Sheady (sic) who was a member of the 1809 Brian Borolmhe Circle of Fenian Brotherhood of New York City: Sheady was a Freemason he claimed, and left the Brian Borolmhe Circle to found the Clan na Gael in New York ‘ which he later left because it too was involving American politics and was becoming to militant’.
Sheedy is then alleged to have joined James Stephens when he formed the the IRB (Fenian Brotherhood of New York). Maybe this is a foundation source for Sid’s writings. Or maybe Sid really did have the diary of an Australian branch of the United Irishmen, but he when it comes to James Sheedy McNamara he got his information wrong.

James Sheedy’s death (without the Macnamara) is registered in New South Wales as having taken place on the 21st of July 1841, at Punchbowl N.S.W. (certificate number V18411072 1841/132 and V18412351 1841/132).

James’ age was recorded as 60 years, placing his birth year about 1781, and his occupation as a farmer, and it was noted that he arrived in Australia aboard the ship ‘Telacherry’ (sic). Revd Mr Hogan attended James upon his death.(Registry of BDMS/NSW/MLDOc 158/’Roman Catholic Burials in the Parish of’/Form No 5/copy certified 22 Aug 1961.)

By the time of his death, James had been farming 60 acres at ‘Kings Grove’ outside of Sydney, near the Hunter River. Soon after James’ death his ‘widow’ Jane Black took in a male servant with whom she entered into a relationship with (according to a later court witness). Jane hired John Boyles, a convict, transported to New South Wales in 1833 aboard the transport Neva. Boyles was born about 1787 and was transported from England. Following Jane’s death in 1851 (registered NSW 1851/65, 1851 165 37B) parties began circling to claim the Sheedy McNamara estate, including Boyles who claimed as a tenant of Jane’s. Meanwhile Elizabeth Ann Ainsworth claimed her son Henry Ackland was a beneficiary under Jane’s Will, David Ainsworth (laborer, of Sydney) and John Yard (basketmaker, of Sydney) claimed they were the Trustee’s of Jane’s Will and colluded to secure the property for themselves, in part by advertising that Jane Black was a Spinister, and ‘late of Bathurst Street Sydney’ so as to perhaps deter creditors or claims.

Meanwhile Daniel Sheedy Macnamara had come looking for his father, and was ‘on the ground’ of his father’s estate in the 1850’s when he was was warned to stay away.

Jane Black had anticipated trouble between claimants- she had set up a formal Deed in 1850 appointing John Nunan/Noonan as a Trust administrator to the Deed, which became the instrument which guided court matters for another seven years after Jane’s death. In Doe Dem Black and Another v Boyles (March 1852, Sydney Nisi Prius Sitting) it was revealed that ‘Black’ (through the Ainsworths) sought to eject Boyles from the 60 acres at Kings Grove, ‘in the parish of Newtown, near Cooks River’.

‘The demise relied upon was the Will of a Mrs Jane Black, since deceased’. The possession of the property by the testatrix, and various acts of proprietorship upon it were proved, and also her Will devising the property to the lessor of the plaintiff, one Henry James Ackland’.

Evidence was given that Boyles had been in the service of ‘Mrs Black’ for nearly 11 years and was still living on the land:

‘There was also evidence that a man named Macnamara, or Pate, as he was more generally called’ had been upon the property, but there was likewise evidence that the old woman had declared that neither of them should have (Boyles and Macnamara?)’.

Boyles counsel proved the execution of a Deed by Mrs Black bearing date of 31 August 1850, whereby in consideration for a sum of ten shillings, and of the admitted claim of one James Macnamara, who died eight years before, to the ownership of the land in fee, she  conveyed the property to one Noonan, in trust for both parties, and for the settlement of the disputes between them as to their several interests, the arrangement being that Mrs Black (who was then between sixty and seventy years of age) should remain in possession during her life, and that after her death the property should become solely and absolutely that of Macnamara’

The matter ended favourably for Boyles on this occasion, but what it reveals is that James Sheedy Macnamara had a claim to 60 acres at King’s Grove, and that he had son living in Australia, who also used the alias of Pate (source: Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday 18 March 1852:)

The ‘Empire’ of Sydney also reported on this case but specifically states that James Macnamara’s son is named Daniel Macnamara:

“Defendant’s case rested upon a deed dated 31 August 1850, in which it was recited that James Macnamara, father of Daniel Macnamara (a party to the Deed) was entitled to the land in fee’ and goes onto confirm James’ death c1842.

‘Evidence was given of declarations by Mrs Black that neither the defendant nor another man named Macnamara, who, it was proved, had been seen on the ground, should have the land, and it was stated by one of the witnesses that he had orders from the old lady to warn Macnamara off, and that he had quietly withdrawn upon such warning’.

Boyles was reluctant to give up possession of the land to Nunan either: a series of matters before the courts saw Boyles clutching to the land till he was ordered off by warrant in 1856 (was it worth it? he died the following year).

The way should have been clear for Daniel Sheedy Macnamara to finally  claim his father’s land. He was only five years-old when his father was arrested for murder – one can only imagine what that experience was like. And we know from a petition by James Sheedy that he had not seen any of his children up until 1828 at least. But clearly by 1850 at least son Daniel had found his way to Australia.  And after a seven years of battling to obtain his father’s farm, he was poised for financially security.

But life or a lack of it often gets in the way of the best laid plans: Daniel Sheedy Macnamara died just two years later.  In April 1859 advertisements began appearing in the leading Sydney papers for Daniel’s next of kin:

“To the Widow, if any, and next of Kin of Daniel Macnamara, late of Sheedy’s Farm, near Canterbury, district of Sydney, deceased’.

Daniel’s death was registered in the State of NSW: Daniel Macnamara, born c1799, died 1859: registration district St George: age 60 years, certificate # 1976.

We also know from a letter written in 1824 that James had a son named John Sheedy Macnamara who wanted to come out to Australia to join his father, but we don’t know that happened.

While I wait for documents about Daniel’s death, I can only be pleased for the little boy who finally got to his father’s home turf at least. I just don’t know yet if he got to speak with him, and we know from a letter from James’ other son (written in 1824 in Ireland) he meant a great deal to his sons who wanted to spend time with him.

I am surprised that Jane in that day and age had any control over whether Daniel inherited his father’s property, or why she would not want him to have it (she who worked so tirelessly for the United Irishmen). It was just the era of rules for men by men, when it came to inheritance matters. And I am not sure why she and James had no children together: she was only 31 when she assumed a relationship with him, why did they have no children, unless they truly were not in a romantic relationship.

More mysteries to follow, and at least for the sake of this family I am glad Sid Sheedy got it wrong, but for all you descendants of John Sheedy per Isabella I am sorry to say you are going to have to rewrite your family tree, as James Sheedy McNamara per Tellicherry was not his daddy.

Oh and P.S – if you are a Sheedy, or a Sheedy McNamara, go get your heart checked pronto. Seriously. There is an extremely high rate of death by heart disease in this family, which in particular caused the men to literally drop dead, often at young ages (teens, twenties, thirties etc). It often shown in the form of death cause as  Carditis  or Myocardial type death causes etc, and women often had long history of Atherosclerosis, strokes, heart attacks etc. Even in recent times descendants have needed triple and quadraple bypasses. I have entered over 6000 Sheedy – Sheedy Macnamara families into a family tree system and the rate of death by heart failure etc is a bit mind blowing.James Tellicherry Sheedy at Kemps Farm Cabramatta in 1828