Margaret COONEY
Father Patrick ERWIN aka IRVING b.c. 1801 m. (1) 18371 (2) none (3) 18592 d. 18663
Step-father John aka George COONEY alias Henry LANGHAM or LANGHAN b.c. 18154 m. none d. aft. 18705
Step-mother Eliza NELSON b. m. (1) 1837 d. 18526
Mother Margaret COONEY née CONNELLY aka CONLEY b.c. 1832 m. (1) none (2) none d. 18827
Step-mother Mary PEARCE b. m. (3) 1859 d. 18828
Half-brother Patrick IRWIN b.c. 18239 m. d. aft. 186610
Half-brother Patrick IRWIN b.c. 183711 m. - none d. 186312
Half-brother James Joseph IRWIN b.c. 183813 m. (1) 185914 (1) Elizabeth GUNN (2) Sarah d. 190615
Half-sister Eliza Nelson IRWIN b.c. 184116 m. (1)17 (1) James Weir SMEAL (2) Andrew HANSEN d. 191618
Half-sister Sarah IRWIN b. 184219 m. 185820 John NICHOLS d. 190721
Half-brother Michael Joseph IRWIN b.c. 184422 m.23 d. 191024
Half-sister Jane IRWIN b. 184525 m. 186526 Eugene GOULDIN aka GOULDING d. 187427
Half-brother Andrew IRWIN b. 184728 m.29 d. 192230
Half-sister Susanna IRWIN b. 185031 m. 186732 Peter DESSAIX d. 191933
Inmate Margaret ERWIN aka CONLEY aka COONEY b. 185634 m. none (see below) d. aft. 190735
Half-brother John Michael COONY b. 186436 m. 189037 Mary A. MOORE d. 190838
Husband unknown b. m. d.
Son Albert aka Alfred39 COONEY aka ERWIN b. 187340 m. 189941 Miriam Louisa42 GREEN d. 194843
Son Joseph Sydney COONEY b. 187844 m. d. 187945
Daughter Margaret COONEY b. 188846 m. none - d. 188947
Relationship Name Age Height Hair Eyes Complexion Build Distinguishing features
Father Patrick48 25 5’ 7½” dark brown grey ruddy read and write; scar on back of hand and inside of left hand
Mother Margaret49 27 4’ 8” brown brown can't read or write
Inmate Margaret50 29 4’ 10” fair fair medium dressed in light coloured dress and black hat
Half-brother John51 24 5’ 6” brown blue read only; scar on forehead
Step-father John52 20 5’ 9” grey grey fresh "D" on left breast; one tooth out of upper jaw; marks of corporal punishment; read and write
Step-father John53 56 5’ 9” grey grey sallow long nose; large mouth; round chin

Margaret appeared on the list of at risk children compiled by the constables of Sydney on 31 July 1867, a month before the industrial school in Newcastle was opened. She was described on that list as an eleven-year-old Catholic of delicate health. The constables noted that it was not known whether she had ever worked as a prostitute or had ever been arrested for prostitution. They recorded her home details stating:

father in gaol for larceny, mother a prostitute residing in Smithers Street, Chippendale.54

Margaret arrived in Newcastle in the first large intake of girls who were admitted on 31 August 1867 – the first day of admissions to the school.55 She had appeared on warrant in the Central Police Court the day before, charged with living with common prostitutes. The prostitute was her mother. Sergeant LEE had apprehended her from her mother’s house at Chippendale on the night of 29 August. He stated that he had frequently seen prostitutes at the house and he described her mother as a drunkard of bad repute and a reputed prostitute. Constable KELLY deposed that Margaret had said that she had often been turned out of bed by her mother to make room for other people and had had to lie on the bare floor.56 Details in the newspapers indicated that Margaret's father was undergoing a sentence of two years’ imprisonment for theft.57 Although the Entrance Book recorded that Margaret was 11,58 newspapers reported that she 12.59 Margaret's other admission details recorded that she was a Catholic and that her level of education was 'First Book on slate.' Her medical assessment by Dr HARRIS showed that she was a virgin.60 Nearly a year after Margaret's arrival at the school in Newcastle, Agnes KING wrote to the Colonial Secretary seeking advice concerning a disclosure made to her by Margaret that KING found quite startling. She informed the Colonial Secretary that Margaret:

has at her disposal the sum of twenty shillings per month This was given her by her God Father Patrick Irving, known as Paddy Irving, who left the Colony and is now residing in Ireland. Prior to her coming to this Institution she received it monthly from James Irving of Clarence Street Sydney, pawnbroker, and gave it to her mother, Margaret Cooney, she calls him her Uncle. Patrick Irving also gave her land in Liverpool, the Deeds of which are in the hands of Redman Esqre., Solicitor, King Street Sydney which are to be given to her on coming of age. The girl's mother having written to her, to get her consent to receive some money. I thought it proper to communicate the above facts.

No reply was enclosed in the correspondence and no response appears to have been made. Only two notations were recorded on the original letter. One stated 'submitted' but the other was unreadable but was composed of only one word. Because this information sent to the Colonial Secretary was provided orally to KING by Margaret, the spelling of the surname IRVING has almost without any doubt been incorrectly recorded based on Margaret's likely accent and on KING's interpretation of what name she had said. The surname of Margaret's 'God-father' has been identified as ERWIN61 or IRWIN and the money Margaret received had been a monthly payment to her outlined in her father's will. The 'uncle' outlined in the letter was actually Patrick's eldest surviving Australian son and Margaret's half-brother, James ERWIN.

Margaret transferred with the school to Biloela in May 1871 and was listed as eligible for service by LUCAS in his report to the Colonial Secretary on 23 June 1871.62 Two months after arriving on Biloela, on 27 September 1871, Margaret was apprenticed for three years, to Mrs Elizabeth63 TOWERS in Parramatta,64 to enable her to learn the skills of needlework and dressmaking. Margaret was to be paid two shillings a week for the first year and this was to increase by a shilling a week each year for the next two years.65 This apprenticeship was confirmed by LUCAS in his report of 18 October 1871.66 It is doubtful that Margaret's apprenticeship was ever completed.

It is considered almost certain that Margaret left the apprenticeship as there is no doubt that on 31 July 1873, and as Margaret ERWIN, Margaret delivered a son named Alfred Patrick ERWIN in Sussex Street, Sydney. By this stage and with the use of this name, it is believed that Margaret had been told of her true parentage. This birth registration clearly identified that Alfred's mother was 17 years of age so the birth record was therefore not a birth of another child of Margaret's mother. By 1873 this older woman would have been about 41. The birth registration also confirmed that Margaret's place of birth had been Parramatta.67 Until the likely death of Margaret senior, Alfred's grandmother, in 1882, Margaret probably raised Albert. Subsequent newspaper reports suggest that Albert believed that the younger Margaret was his sister. It is also likelt that after 1882 Albert was raised by his older brother, John. Albert was almost certainly the boy accused of stealing newspapers in January 1884. He was in company with another boy named Frederick BELL68 who was almost certainly the son of Annie BANHAM. As a result of this incident, 11-year-old Albert was admitted to the Vernon.69 Upon his arrest he informed the arresting constable that:

his sister would pay double the money if he was let go.70

This unnamed sister consented to pay for Albert's time aboard the Vernon. There is no doubt that she was the Newcastle admission. Unfortunately the date of Alfred's Vernon admission appeared in the Vernon records that have not survived so no details about his family can be identified from this source. Albert died in October 1948 and his father was recorded on the NSW BDM Index as Patrick but no mother was identified. He was 74.71 This identification of his father may be an indication that some contact occurred with Margaret.

On 8 June 1878, this time as 23-year-old Margaret COONEY, Margaret entered the Sydney Belevolent Asylum and delivered another illegitimate son, Joseph S. COONEY. She and Joseph left the asylum a fortnight later on 28 June 1878, when he was three weeks old.72 No trace of this boy has been found. It may be that he died in Sydney as Joseph S. COPE in 1879 where his father was recorded as Sydney and his mother was recorded as Margaret COPE.73 No other births for this couple have been identified. Joseph was buried in the Rookwood Catholic Cemetery.74

In October 1884, it was almost without doubt that Margaret was the woman for whom a:

warrant for commitment for want of distress for the sum of £1 8s., fine and costs in default fourteen days' imprisonment for being found leaving the "Chippendale Hotel," Bank-street, with liquor in her possession on Sunday, the 12th ultimo, [was] issued by the Central Police Bench … .75

It is almost entirely certain that Margaret was the mother of another illegitimate child, a daughter named Margaret COONEY, who died on 7 February 1889, at the age of ten months. This child had been born in Brisbane, Queensland, but she and her mother had moved back to NSW eight months before her death. Baby Margaret was buried on 8 February 1889, in the Catholic Cemetery, Rookwood, but she was not buried in the same grave as Margaret's earlier child, Joseph, who had died ten years earlier. No other person named Margaret COONEY was buried in the same grave.76 Only her mother, Margaret, was recorded on the baby's death registration. The Queensland BDM Index recorded the registration of only one child that exactly matched this birth – the birth of Margaret COONEY on 29 May 1888. This girl's parents were recorded in the Queensland BDM Index as John and Margaret COONEY nee CLEARY. While this record doesn’t appear to be an illegitimate birth, the ages of the child match and it is considered that the entry was very likely to have been a deliberate fabrication to appear to register a legitimate birth. It is uncertain whether the surname CLEARY indicated the maiden name of Margaret's mother, the actual name of Margaret's partner, a mishearing of CONNELLY or was a deliberate fabrication with no basis in reality. The consideration that Margaret's actual father had land in Queensland77 may have been the reason she was in Brisbane. That land was identified in his will as:

the county of Stanley, Queensland, at Brown's Plains, consisting of about forty three acres.

It is also unknown whether Margaret ever took possession of the property put aside for her in Liverpool. She would have turned 21 in 1887. The deeds had been separately stored so, unless the ERWIN family purchased it from her, it would not have been part of their inheritance. Patrick defined his land in Liverpool as Moore Street and Queen's Place. He wrote:

… As to my property in Liverpool aforesaid I give and devise the same to my said Executors for the benefit of my child Margaret Erwin otherwise Connolly absolutely for her sole use and benefit upon her attaining the age of twenty one years, and to be disposed of as she thinks proper and in case she dies before she attains the age of twenty one years same to go to her mother Margaret Connolly for her life only, and after the death of the mother of my said daughter same to revert back to my said Executors for the use of my family, but in case my said daughter Margaret Erwin otherwise Connolly gets married the same to be for her use and her husband's for life and for her issue absolutely, but in case she dies without issue same to go to her mother as before stated and after her mother's death to revert to my family - and I also direct that the said Margaret Erwin otherwise Connolly shall receive one pound per month from the date of this my Will. …78

This land does not appear to be listed when James ERWIN was forced to sell his own properties in 1890.79 Because Margaret had money to support her brother and pay for her son on the Vernon, it is thought that she did acquire the land. One name appearing on the Will that has not yet been identified was the man William MAGUIRE but he is thought to be a grandchild of Patrick at this point or a partner of Mary ERWIN, senior.

Margaret was alive in 1889 but has not been traced. A search of the CSIL for Albert COONEY towards the end of the century may uncover a letter outlining payment details. There were no suitable women named Margaret buried before 1940 in any of the Rookwood Catholic Graves known to be associated with her.


Margaret's parents were named in the Entrance Book. It was specified in the Entrance Book that she was the daughter of John COONEY, a baker, and his wife, Margaret, a washerwoman. Their occupations were confirmed in the Police Gazette. No notation was made indicating that John was Margaret's step-father but this was the case as he had commenced his relationship with her mother after her birth. Records within the CSIL name Margaret's actual father as Patrick IRVING but identify him as her God-father. The similarity between the spelling of the surnames ERWIN and IRVING can be attributed to accent as IRVING was provided orally and recorded by Agnes KING in the CSIL letter of 1868. Only Patrick ERWIN's will states that Margaret was his daughter. The information provided on these varied records identify that the illegitimate birth in 1856,80 for Margaret CONLEY whose mother was Margaret, was that of the Newcastle admission. This registration number was attached to two records on the NSW BDM Index. The second registration was that of an apparently legitimate birth in the name of Margaret ERWIN whose parents were Patrick and Margaret. Margaret had been born on 13 May 1856, in Parramatta. No further information concerning the ages or places of birth of her parents appeared on this registration. The informant was Nicholas Joseph COFFEY, the Roman Catholic Dean of Parramatta.

Patrick ERWIN, recorded as IRWIN and IRVINE in his convict records, had been born in Trim, County Meath, tried in Dublin and transported for seven years for highway robbery aboard the Regalia and arrived in Sydney on 5 August 1826.81 The Regaliawas confirmed as Patrick's ship of arrival when he was imprisoned in Darlinghurst in 1851.82 Patrick was the man who became variously known in Sydney as the 'gentleman of Clarence Street' and Paddy ERWIN. Paddy Erwin's Alley83 and Paddy Erwin's Lane84 were various names for one of the more disreputable streets of Sydney – Edward's Lane aka Erwin's Lane.85 Their existence reflected the wealth that ERWIN had accumulated during his time in NSW. These streets were in the centre of Sydney but had disappeared well before the turn of the 20th Century.

Patrick married Eliza NELSON in Sydney in 1837 and the couple had eight children. Their surviving seven children were identified in his will, written on 12 August 1866.86

James Erwin, Michael Erwin, Andrew Erwin, Sarah Erwin (otherwise Nichols), Jane Erwin (otherwise Golding), Eliza Erwin (otherwise Smeales), and Susan Erwin, an infant (afterwards Susan Dessaix), and my wife, Mary Erwin (otherwise Scanlon).

Eliza died in Sydney in 1852 and her death was recorded as Eliza IRWIN and in 1858 Patrick married Mary PEARCE formerly SCANLON. Between these two marriages Patrick began a relationship with Margaret CONLEY aka CONNELLY. The birth of one child, Margaret ERWIN aka CONLEY, was registered in 1856. In 1860 ERWIN was sent to Parramatta Gaol in 1860 for owning and operating a brothel.87 Patrick88 shared his name with his son89 who died in November 1863, at the age of 26.90 The younger man's parents were confirmed as Patrick and Eliza on the NSW BDM Index. The following year,91 Patrick senior returned to Ireland. He died in Dublin, Ireland, on 12 November 1866.92 This location is significant as it was recorded in 1867 that Margaret's God-father had returned to Ireland and this almost further confirmed that Patrick ERWIN aka IRWIN and Patrick IRVING were one and the same person. Patrick's will93 was being challenged in 191394 and still being challenged in 192795 after the progressive deaths of his children. His will identified Margaret and acknowledged her as his daughter.96

Susannah DESSAIX was described as Patrick's youngest daughter when she died.97 Although she was illegitimate, Margaret was the youngest daughter of Patrick ERWIN but by this date she may have died and if this was the case Susannah's claim would have been correct. There is little doubt that the legitimate ERWIN children were aware of Margaret's existence because James was responsible for paying Margaret her weekly allowance. It is almost equally certain that, as a child, Margaret knew nothing of the actual relationship between Patrick ERWIN and her mother, Margaret. She almost certainly believed him to be her God-father but there is little doubt that by 1873 when she used the surname ERWIN when her son was born, she knew the truth of her ancestry. While it is still unproven that Margaret reached the age of 21 and took possession of the land in Liverpool left to her by Patrick,98 it is considered almost certain that she did.

No record of a marriage between John and Margaret has been identified under any of their aliases and it is considered likely that they had never married. The first appearance yet located for the couple erroneously described in the records as Margaret's parents occurred when they were arrested for a theft.99 John and Margaret COONEY appeared in the CPC on 21 November 1859, charged with stealing from Albion House, the residence of Mrs. HUGHES. The couple subsequently appeared at the Sydney Quarter Sessions where John was sentenced to a year in Sydney Gaol. John's occupation on this record indicated that he was a tailor. It was proved that Margaret senior had pawned at Moss's100 many of the items stolen from the property under instructions from John. Margaret stated that she knew nothing more of the incident and John admitted full guilt. The Darlinghurst Gaol records identify that John was a Catholic, born in Ireland in 1815. It was further recorded that he was a tailor who had arrived free aboard the James Baines in 1849.

By the time of Margaret's arrest in 1867, the man she believed at the time to be her father, John, had again been admitted to gaol. This event occurred in March 1866 when he was sentenced to two years for a theft in a dwelling where he stole a trunk, the property of Eliza Ann LOMAS.101 John was arrested by constable HENEBERY and was tried at the Sydney Quarter Sessions on 3 April 1866. Shortly after, the Gazette reports his arrest, again for theft, and gives him an alias of Henry LANGHAN or LANGHAM. He was tried on 1 June 1868, at Sydney Quarter Sessions and was sentenced to 2½ years at Berrima Gaol. His name was recorded as Henry LANGHAM alias George COONEY, born in 1814, and this time his ship of arrival is recorded as the Red Jacket in 1854. All other parts of the description, including the date of trial, match that given on his release from Port Macquarie with additional identifiers of a long nose, large mouth and round chin. He was sent to Goulburn gaol and these records, where he was only referred to as John COONEY, identified his place of birth as Rosscrea, Tipperary, Iteland, and further indicated that John was 'strong and in good health but looks 20 years older than he is'. The Darlinghurst Return of Prisoners indicated that he had formerly been a soldier and identified two former convictions in Sydney for theft on 22 November 1859 and 27 December 1860. His identification appeared in the Darlinghurst records which identify that he had arrived on the James Baines.102 Due to constant dyspepsia, a request for a transfer to a gaol with a warmer climate was made to the Colonial Secretary. The request was approved so John was sent to Port Macquarie.103 On his transfer from Darlinghurst, he was recorded as Henry LANAGHAN alias COONEY and Port Macquarie records identify and describe him as Henry LANGHAM or LANGHAN alias COOPER. On his release from Port Macquarie in 1868, he was returned to Berrima gaol104 presumably before coming on to Sydney. He was again described as being born in Ireland in 1823 and who had arrived on the James Baines in 1849. His occupation varied in gaol records. He was recorded variously as a tailor but by this imprisonment was confirmed as a baker. It is possible that this skill was learned or refined in gaol. While trial dates vary slightly in gaol and Police Gazette records, there is no doubt that the men described above refer to the same person. While John's gaol records indicate that he had arrived free, because two records identified105 that he bore signs of corporal punishment, it is considered almost certain that John had been transported. The Port Macquarie records indicated that John aka Henry was 'ailing' and had three prior convictions, 119 marks and 'conduct of the worst description.'106 Within weeks of his release, as Henry LANGHAN alias John COONEY he was again arrested by constable O'BRIEN in Sydney for two further larcenies and was remanded for trial.107 During his trial at the June Quarter Sessions a further alias of George COONEY was identified.108 He was sentenced to a further two and a half years in Darlinghurst109 and was released in 1870.110 No possible convict transport has yet been located for John aka Henry aka George and it is considered very likely that he was originally called none of these names. The possibility of his being a Tasmanian convict who crossed to NSW on either the James Baines or the Red Jacket is considered likely but he could equally have been sent to NSW.

No trace of John has been confirmed after his release from Darlinghurst in late 1870. The man admitted to the Liverpool Asylum in 1880 and who was still there in 1895 had been born in County Cavan in about 1815. He had arrived on the Champion. Because no discharge has yet been found it is likely that he was the same man erroneously recorded as only 65 in March 1898.111 It is likely that this man's death was registered in 1903 at Liverpool. There was nothing more on the NSW BDM Index.112 It is possible that this is him even though the place of birth differes but this death has yet to be attributed to him with any confidence.

The John COONEY who was admitted twice to Maitland Gaol and who stated that he had been born in Tipperary and had arrived an assisted immigrant on the Jane Gifford in 1841, had arrived with his wife, Catherine, as a farm servant. While this man was about the same age as Margaret's step-father, this man is not believed to be the same person because the descriptor of height does not match.

The Darlinghurst record for Margaret in 1859, whilst she was awaiting the trial for which she was acquitted, recorded that she was a Catholic, born in Dublin, Ireland, in about 1832. She stated that she had arrived on the Nabob. This record doesn't identify that she had arrived free but it is likely that she did do so.113 The only other gaol record for Margaret occurred in 1870. Although the age was unclearly recorded it was probably about 40.114 No year was stated for the arrival of the Nabob but SRNSW indicated only one voyage of the Nabob carrying immigrants and this was in 1855. There was no single or married woman on the Nabob named Margaret COONEY matching this description. The closest immigrant to the correct age was Margaret CONNOLLY, a laundress, who was born in Belfast in about 1829, was Catholic and could neither read or write. She had a brother named Michael living in Sussex Street, Sydney, who had sponsored her arrival and her parents were identified as Patrick and Alice. Her father was alive and living in Dublin.115 Based on this information it is considered likely but is unconfirmed that Margaret died in Sydney in July 1882 as Margaret COONEY where her parents were recorded as Michael and Alice.116 She had a son named John. Her funeral left from her late residence, Middle Street, Chippendale.117 No record for Margaret being buried in Rookwood has been located. This death has been attributed to Margaret but the original registration has not been viewed. Further support to this woman being the correct woman may also be found in the gaol records. A gaol admission for a Mary CONNOLLY who had arrived on the Nabob, occurred in Darlinghurst in 1858. Her description was very similar to that of Margaret COONEY and no women named Mary CONNOLLY were on the Nabob.

Margaret was not the woman who was frequently in trouble with the law in and around Sydney between 1844 and 1860 as this woman was identified in gaol records as having arrived on the Diamond and had been born in about 1807. She was also not the woman imprisoned for 'unsound mind' who was eventually admitted to Tarban Creek as this woman was from Gundagai and had been born in about 1841.118 There was a woman of this name who arrived aboard the Anglesea in 1838 and although she had been born in London in 1806, she was a Catholic.119

John COONEY, was almost without any doubt Margaret's half-brother and he was almost without any doubt Albert's uncle. In September 1872 he was discharged after an assault when he was accused of being an accessory.120 In April 1883 he spent six months in gaol for theft.121 He may also have been the man admitted to Darlinghurst Gaol on 26 January 1901. His address was recorded as 19 Poplar Street, City, and he was recorded as a married man whose wife lived at 23 East Street, City. Might this be a reference to Margaret's location? John COONEY died on 3 July 1909, after falling from a bus.122 He was 44 years old. His mother was recorded as Margaret on his death registration so this matched well what was known of John. He was buried in Rookwood Catholic Cemetery.123 Mary A. COONEY shared a grave with John and when she died in late September 1919, she was reported to have been 75. Her parents were recorded as John and Ellen on her death registration.124 John had married a woman named Mary but it is uncertain whether this is her although it is not impossible. John's Funeral Notice identified that his 'only brother,' Albert, lived at Hornsby.125 No Funeral Notice yet found has identified any sister for these two men. In February 1895, John COONEY very probably advertised requesting that Albert contact him.126 The advertisement is not thought to refer to a different family. This date may be significant within the family but it was not believed to indicate the death of John and Margaret's mother but there may be no significance at all. Another instance linking John and his sister, who again was not identified, occurred in August 1907 when 42-year-old John was admitted to have been supported by his sister.127

Some online trees have identified that Albert's family was John and Mary COONEY nee SLATTERY and that he had a brother named James Joseph COONEY who, when he died in 1911, had sisters named Margaret PENROSE nee COONEY and Mrs. S. GRUNDY.128 It is difficult to understand why Albert was not mentioned in this Funeral Notice and why two years earlier, Albert had identified that his only brother was John.129 It is suspected that there has been some mixing of families and it must be questioned whether the actual registrations of family members on this tree have been viewed. It is believed that Albert's actual family lived on the edges of society and rarely if ever, abided by the conventions of NSW society. These trees indicated that Albert had been born in Parramatta and this fact is consistent with him being a brother of the Newcastle admission.

Where has She Gone?

It may be that Margaret junior married Thomas DUNN in 1894 after possibly having children with him but this is just guesswork and needs more work. (See file) If this is her marriage then she may have died in 1909. The NSW BDM Index registration in Sydney for the woman named Margaret A. DUNN whose mother was Margaret,130 indicated that the death had occurred on 29 January 1909. No Family Notice for this death has been identified in the Sydney newspapers and it seems likely that some reference would have been made to Margaret by her half-brother, Alfred. This woman was not buried in Rookwood Catholic Cemetery. Although three women of this name died in 1909, one occurred outside Sydney and the July death was for a woman who was 87, so this was the most appropriate registration number. There was also a burial in Rookwood Catholic Cemetery on 12 April 1909, for a Margaret DUNN whose age was unknown and there is no death registration for her.

Updated January 2017

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