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 nee CONNELLY aka CONLEY b.c. 1832 m. (1) none (2) none d. 18827
Step-mother Mary PEARCE b. m. (3) 1859 d.
Inmate Margaret ERWIN aka CONLEY aka COONEY b. 18568 m. none (see below) d. aft. 19079
Half-brother John Michael COONY b. 186410 m. 189011 Mary A. MOORE d. 190812
Husband unknown b. m. d.
Son Albert aka Alfred13 COONEY aka ERWIN b. 187314 m. 189915 Miriam Louisa16 GREEN d. 194817
Son Joseph Sydney COONEY b. 187818 m. d. 187919
Daughter Margaret COONEY b. 188820 m. none - d. 188921
Relationship Name Age Height Hair Eyes Complexion Build Distinguishing features
Father Patrick22 21 5’ 8” brown grey sallow
Mother Margaret23 27 4’ 8” brown brown can't read or write
Step-father John24 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 John25 56 5’ 9” grey grey sallow long nose; large mouth; round chin
Inmate Margaret26 29 4’ 10” fair fair medium dressed in light coloured dress and black hat
Half-brother John27 24 5’ 6” brown blue read only; scar on forehead

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.28

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.29 She had appeared in the Central Police Court the day before, on warrant, charged with living with common prostitutes. 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. It was further reported that her father was undergoing a sentence of two years’ imprisonment for theft. 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.30 At the time of her court appearance Margaret was reported in the newspapers to be twelve31 but she was recorded as eleven years old in the Entrance Book. Her other admission details indicated that she was a Catholic and her level of education was 'First Book on slate.' Margaret's medical assessment by Dr HARRIS showed that she was a virgin.32

Nearly a year after Margaret's arrival 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 provided with the letter and only two notations were recorded on the original letter. One states 'submitted' and the other is unreadable but is composed of only one word. Because the 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 possible accent and KING's interpretation of what had been said. The surname was almost certainly ERWIN33 and this money had been a monthly payment to the child, Margaret, from her father, Patrick ERWIN. The 'uncle' outlined in the letter was actually Margaret's half-brother, James ERWIN.

Margaret transferred to Biloela in May 1871 and was listed by LUCAS in his report to the Colonial Secretary on 23 June 1871, as eligible for service.34 She was apprenticed for three years on 27 September 1871, to Mrs Elizabeth35 TOWERS in Parramatta,36 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.37 This apprenticeship was confirmed by LUCAS in his report of 18 October 1871,38 but no indication has been found to indicate whether the apprenticeship was completed. It is considered likely but it cannot be proven, that Margaret left the apprenticeship.

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 considered likely 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 record was therefore not that of another child of Margaret's mother. By 1873 Margaret's mother would have been about 41. The registration confirmed that Margaret's place of birth was Parramatta.39 Albert was almost certainly raised by his grandmother, Margaret, until her likely death in 1882, and not by his actual mother who he knew as his sister. Albert was almost certainly the boy accused of stealing newspapers in January 1884. He was in company with Frederick BELL40 who was almost certainly the son of Annie BANHAM. Albert was eleven years old when he was reported to have been admitted to the Vernon in January 188441 after a theft where, upon his arrest, he informed the arresting constable that:

his sister would pay double the money if he was let go.42

Ultimately it was reported that this woman consented to pay for him aboard the Vernon and 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 as Patrick but no mother was identified on the NSW BDM Index. He was 74.43 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.44 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.45 No other births for this couple have been identified. Joseph was also buried at Rookwood Catholic Cemetery but was not in the same grave as the infant, Margaret, who died in 1889.46

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 … .47

It is almost entirely certain that Margaret was the mother of the illegitimate daughter, Margaret COONEY, who died 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.48 No other person named Margaret COONEY was buried in the same grave. Only her mother, Margaret, was recorded on the death registration. The Queensland BDM Index indicated 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.

It is also unknown whether Margaret ever took possession of the property in Liverpool but it does not appear to be listed when James ERWIN was forced to sell his own properties in 1890.49 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.

There were no suitable women named Margaret buried before 1940 in any of the Rookwood Catholic Graves known to be or probably associated with her.


Margaret's mother and step-father were named in the Entrance Book but confirming their relationship and identity is still ongoing. Margaret was identified in the Entrance Book as the daughter of John COONEY, a baker, and his wife, Margaret, a washerwoman. These occupations were confirmed in the Police Gazette. No notation was made indicating that John was Margaret's step-father. 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. There is very little doubt that the illegitimate birth in 1856,50 for Margaret CONLEY whose mother was Margaret, was that of the Newcastle admission. This registration was also recorded on the NSW BDM Index as an apparently legitimate birth in the name of Margaret ERWIN whose parents were Patrick and Margaret. The similarity between Patrick ERWIN and Margaret's 'God-father', Paddy aka Patrick IRVING, identified in the CSIL letter of 1868 is so similar that this cannot be coincidence. Margaret had been born on 13 May 1856, in Parramatta but no further information concerning ages or places of birth appear on this registration. The informant was Nicholas Joseph COFFEY, the Roman Catholic Dean of Parramatta.

The Patrick IRVING aka ERWIN, described in letters in the CSIL as Margaret's God-father, was very likely to be the man known as the 'gentleman of Clarence Street' who had been sent to Parramatta Gaol in 1860 for as a brothel owner.51 It is almost certain that he was the man, born in about 1801 in Dublin who had arrived on the Regalia.52 Online trees indicated that the two men in Sydney with this name at this time were father53 and son.54 Patrick had married Eliza NELSON in Sydney in 1837. Eliza died in 1852. In 1858 Patrick married Mary PEARCE formerly SCANLON. Between these marriages the birth registration of Margaret ERWIN aka CONLEY indicated that he began a relationship with Margaret CONLEY aka CONNELLY. Patrick junior died in November 1863, at the age of 26.55 His parents were confirmed as Patrick and Eliza. Patrick died in Dublin, Ireland, on 12 November 1866,56 and as it was known that Margaret's God-father had returned to Ireland, this almost without doubt confirmed that Patrick IRVING and Patrick ERWIN aka IRWIN were one and the same person. Patrick's will57 – that will be retrieved at SRNSW – was being challenged in 191358 and still being challenged in 1927.59 Susannah DESSAIX was described as Patrick's youngest daughter when she died.60 However, she was not Margaret.61 While she was illegitimate, Margaret was almost without doubt the youngest daughter of Patrick ERWIN. It is almost equally certain that Margaret knew nothing of the actual relationship between Patrick ERWIN and her mother, Margaret, and probably believed him to be her God-father. It is still unconfirmed whether Margaret reached the age of 21 and took possession of the land in Liverpool left to her by Patrick.62 Paddy Erwin's Alley63 and Paddy Erwin's Lane64 were two names for one of the more disreputable streets of Sydney – Edward's Lane aka Erwin's Lane65 – that probably disappeared well before the turn of the 20th Century.

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.66 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's67 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.68 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.69 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.70 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 gaol71 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 identified72 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.'73 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.74 During his trial at the June Quarter Sessions a further alias of George COONEY was identified.75 He was sentenced to a further two and a half years in Darlinghurst76 and was released in 1870.77 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 1898.78 It is likely that this man's death was registered in 1903 at Liverpool. There was nothing more on the NSW BDM Index.79 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.80 The only other gaol record for Margaret occurred in 1870. Although the age was unclearly recorded it was probably about 40.81 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.82 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.83 She had a son named John. Her funeral left from her late residence, Middle Street, Chippendale.84 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 1841.85 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.86

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.87 In April 1883 he spent six months in gaol for theft.88 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.89 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.90 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.91 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.92 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.93 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.94

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.95 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.96 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,97 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

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License