Mystery James Sheedy of Tipperary and Hunters River NSW

The Supreme Court of NSW advertised at least annually in newspapers ‘Schedules’ of all the Estates and Effects of persons who died Intestate and for whom the Court Registrar was given the care of. This item from The Sydney Herald (NSW, AU)., 28 Jul 1834.

Who is the mystery James ‘Settler’ Sheedy of Hunter’s River in New South Wales (Australia), and why was his name changed in much later years to ‘William’ Sheedy in probate lists published in Sydney newspapers?
Why is his death not registered in New South Wales. And is he a Sheedy, a Sheedy-Macnamara, or a Silk? (because Sheedys can, did and do use all or any of those aliases).

Having spent over 30 years collecting information about people with the surname Sheedy, I was surprised recently to find reference to a James Sheedy who had died 1 January 1830  in New South Wales and of whom I had no knowledge.

I stumbled across James Sheedy in a newspaper advertisement, by the Supreme Court of New South Wales, being a ‘A TRUE and PERFECT SCHEDULE of all ESTATES and EFFECTS belonging to the undermentioned PERSONS deceased, intestate, in the care of the REGISTRAR of this COURT, under the Act 9th George IV.cap.82, Sec,13; and also of the Payments made thereof’.

Among those on the list published 28 July 1834 was:

  • Name: James Sheedy
  • Colonial Residence of Deceased: Hunter’s River
  • Supposed British Residence of Family:
  • Monies Received:
  • Payments Made:   L1. 3s.4d.
  • Supposed value of personal estate undisposed of:
  • Supposed value of real estate undisposed of:
  • Claims preferred:
  • Balance paid over to acknowledged representative:
  • Monies invested by order of the Court:
  • Balance against the Registrar:
  • Balance in favour of the Registrar:  L1.3s.4d.

For another four years James Sheedy continued to be named in annual Schedules published by the Supreme Court, but then in 1838 his first name is changed to ‘William’ Sheedy (however the newspaper changed the format of the publishing of the Schedule this year, so I suspect that ‘Wm’ is an error’.

In 1838 James Sheedy became ‘William’ Sheedy with the change of publishing format of Schedules of the Supreme Court / Intestate Estates

A search for a death certificate via the New South Wales Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages (Justice Department)   reveals no record of his death under the names  Sheedy, Sheady, McNamara, Macnamara, or Silk for the year 1830 (nor at all anyone of the surname Sheedy/Sheady between the years 1825 – 1833).

Normally my search would next be in convict deaths for the colony of New South Wales, but probate records state James Sheedy was a ‘settler’: but if so, why is he not listed in records of the Colonial Secretary of N.S.W (lands, stock grants etc) available online through the State Records Office of New South Wales (SRONSW).

  • One could not just wander into the early European colony of New South Wales, and own cattle and live as a settler without licence – a form of  permission. Initially  a penal outpost of Britain there were rules  regarding who could settle in the colony, which was  initially populated with either convicts or their guards, government authorities, some wives and children, a sprinkling of free settlers and/or their families, some skilled mechanics (artisans) and  seamen and mariners.
  • Over time different schemes were introduced  to  offer incentive to convicts for their good behavior and to give them hope of a future after their sentences expired. These included the opportunity to apply for land grants (based on their good behavior, good recommendations, industrious endeavors ), and to purchase cattle, and to trade internally as well with government (wheat, corn etc).
  • Schemes were also introduced to encourage population growth for the penal settlement, by offering inducements of land particularly to men who served in the English armies and navy, but especially large grants of land to the wealthy, rich and industrious (merchants, traders, ship owners, speculators, brokers, selectors). The more money you owned the more land you could access.
  • Convicts wanting land, cattle and a right to marry and prosper had to earn that right; through good behavior and industrious endeavors. With a good character reference they might be able to plead the Governor for an opportunity of land. Emancipated convicts were soon able to purchase cattle on terms from the government, and apply for land grants (usually with the backing of a notable figure like the local magistrate, large landholders.

Governments love their paper trails: usually always there will be at least some correspondence between the settler and government and this will be found in the various Governor or Colonial Secretary files kept by government, or within local civic administration records.

So why does James Sheedy not appear in records relating to the Colonial Secretary of New South Wales, and why did he own cattle and not land? No good having the former if you have no where to graze and grow your crop. Who was his partner in business (no-one made it in Australia without a mate).

By 1830 New South Wales had only been populated by Europeans for forty two years, and the people were largely restricted to the coastal areas on the east coast.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) there was only some 40, 916 people in the colony of New South Wales in 1830: of these 31,034 were male and 9882 were female, so it doesn’t seem feasible James Sheedy  could enter the country, obtain a large herd of cattle and reside in a population without being noticed, or noted.

  • Schemes to bring out convict’s family were slow to take off in the 1820’s, and immigration/emigration schemes didn’t really kick off until at least 1833, so how did James Sheedy come to New South Wales, and when did he arrive.
  • He does not figure in any of the traditional records readily available for those researching figures in the early history of European settlement in New South Wales.
  • There was no other convict of the names James Sheedy to New South Wales by 1830, and those of that name transported to Tasmania were still living in that colony at the time. There had been a handful of convicts of the name Sheedy transported to New South Wales by 1830 (and quite a few Macnamara’s) and though they are often believed to be siblings (thanks to the writings of Sid Sheedy in his Sheedy Family Papers, Mitchell Library, New South Wales) they were not: some of them like James Sheedy Macnamara were from Co Clare, others from county Tipperary, some from Waterford, Limerick and even Dublin.

Did James Sheedy arrive under the name Macnamara and then change it to Sheedy like James Sheedy-Macnamara, a convict per Tellicherry in 1806, who was convicted and transported under the name of Macnamara, but who owned land and died under the name Sheedy (he died 1841 at Kings Grove, the owner of 60 acres of land near today’s Roseland Shopping Centre, western Sydney, which was formerly owned by ex-convict Patrick Hynes).

James Sheedy of Hunter River might be a son of James Sheedy Macnamara, as the latter certainly pushed for many years for permission for his family to come out to NSW (without a success). We know he had a son in Scarriff, county Clare in 1824 requesting the Chief Secretary of Ireland for permission to join his father. And we know another son Daniel (under the alias Pate) made it to Australia by the late 1840’s. So did James of Hunter River also use an alias? But he would have had to have recommendations to be able to buy cattle, to acquire land to graze/sell cattle.


Supreme Court NSW ruling in re Intestate Estate of James Sheedy of Hunter River who died 1 Jan.1830. from SRONSW/NRs13502-6/4190

Probate records held in the NSW State Records Office contain seven pages in a file relating to the administration of the Intestate Estate of James Sheedy who died in January 1830:

According to these probate documents, James Sheedy died 1 January 1830, but probate did not commence until 1833.

Document 1: Coverpiece? written in the hand of Supreme Court Recorder:
“James Sheedy

Document 2 of the probate record contains a stamped document “Sydney General Post Office, 12 April 1833″
addressed to ‘John McMahon, at Mr Colliss, Warwick Arms, York St, Sydney” but also contains on the side writing by an unnamed person:

“Sir, there was a man of the Name of Daniel (?Rerdon) killed by his horse at Baturst (sic) about 2 months ago he died possessed of good many cattle a mare and an entire horse he was overseer for some gentleman in Baturst (sic) but Who of I Donat (don’t) Know. It is considered he awed (owed) him some wages”. (This writing is struck through once., suggesting probably it is not relative to the Sheedy matter).

Document 3 is written in the same hand as the the informant on document 2:

In the case between Sheedy and Kennedy, Sheedy died without a Will made out and the man in possession of the cattle wrote the Will and Witenssed it therefore he thinks he has Kennedy his own way. The Will was drawn up in favour of Kennedy and tho he Burried (sic) the Diseased (sic) Sheedy he got no Return out of the property.
Sheedy has a wife and family in the county of Tipperera (sic) Ireland.
The Will is in the possession of Mr Noulan (sic).”

Written on the same page in a different hand (official) is “wrote (?Capt Auty?) and Bourke 28 June 1833″

Document 4…in the hand of a government official….
“Said that Tim Nowlan has the Will – that Captain (Autey?) and other magistrates had an acct of years ago of 63 head of casttle then -.
Take out an order to collect – & (?should) then man come in and prove the Will.

Document 5 Coverpiece of 2 pages of official court ruling:
“Folio 9

In the Supreme Court
In the Goods of James Sheedy Deceased.


Document 6: page 2 ditto.

“In the Supreme Court of New South Wales
Saturday the 15th June in the year of our Lord 1833.
On which day Mr Norton proctor for John Edye Manning Esquire Registrar of this Court alleged that James Sheedy late of Hunter River in New South Wales Settler died sometime in or about the year 1830 intestate and without leaving any relative in the said Coloony.
That the said deceased was at the time of his death possessed of about sixty head of cattle which were exposed to waste and the said Mr Norton in order to verify what he so alleged exhibited an Affidavit which the Court at his petition allowed and then prayed that the said Registrar might be empowered to Collect the goods of the said deceased; thereupon this Court did authorize and empower John Edye Manning Esquire the said Registrar to Collect the Estate and Effects of the said James Sheedy deceased and if necessary to commence and prosecute any Action or Suit for the recovery thereof and to hold deposit or invest the same in such manner and place and upon such security and subject to such Orders and directions as shall be made by the Court in respect of the Custody Control or disposal thereof.
(signed) By The Court
James Norton, Proctor.”

Document 7:
“See Roach’s Statement of 3 June 1833”

So it appears that a man named Roach knew of James Sheedy, a settler from Tipperary Ireland who was married and had children. And that the same Roach knew that upon Sheedy’s death that a man named Kennedy was involved in forging a Will that would give him access and control of Sheedy’s cattle.

For some reason there were three years that elapsed between Sheedy’s death and an action for the Supreme Court to collect Sheedy’s intestate estate for administration.

So what prompted the Court’s intervention in 1833? Did someone bring up concerns about Sheedy’s forged Will? About Kennedy acquiring cattle that was not his?

Who was ‘Roach’ so happy to inform the Courts about Sheedy’s Will being forged.

And who was Kennedy, how did he get someone to forge the Will.

Dirty Deeds done more deep. More mystery to follow.