Margaret DONOVAN
Name Variations DONAVON1
Father John DONOVAN b. 18172 m. (1) c. 1843 d. 18633
Step-father Thomas McKAY or McCOY4 b. m. (2) 18705 d. 18726
Mother Catherine HOOPER b. 18207 m. (1) c. 1843 (2) 1870 d. aft. 18818
Sister Ellen DONOVAN b.c. 18449 m. d. aft. 187010
Brother John DONOVAN11 b.c. 1850 m. d. aft. 187112
Brother Patrick13 aka Jeremiah DONEVAN b.c. 185714 m. d. aft. 187115
Inmate Margaret DONOVAN b. 186016 m. (see below) d. aft. 1874
Husband b. m. d.
Son b. m. d.
Daughter b. m. d.
Relationship Name Age Height Hair Eyes Complexion Build Distinguishing features
Mother Catherine17 42 5' 3" dark brown grey fresh proportionate small nose; medium mouth; round chin
Sister Ellen18 25 5' 0½" light brown hazel or grey fresh slight short nose; wide mouth; round chin

Margaret was arrested by senior constable FOLEY and constable WALKER of Goulburn Police with a warrant issued under the Industrial Schools Act.19 The constables believed that she was about eleven years old. Margaret appeared in court on 4 November 1870,20 where she was described as 'a nice-looking child of nine years.'21 Margaret’s mother was described in court as a prostitute and a notorious character due to her large number of court appearances.22 Margaret had been living with her step-father, Thomas McKAY or McCOY at the time of her arrest and since her mother’s imprisonment, a local woman named Lizzy WILSON, reputed to be a bad character, had moved into the house and was caring for her. It was considered by the bench that the McKAY house was a 'depot for all notoriously bad characters in town.'23 At the time of Margaret’s arrest, William WILDGUST alias 'Goosey', the step-father of Sarah WILDGUST, was also in the house. McKAY’s defence stated:

that the mother and stepfather did not wish the child to go to an industrial school, and offered to pay for the child to be sent to some other respectable place to live.24

The magistrate was less than impressed as only three weeks earlier he recalled that McKAY had come to him and offered to do anything to get Margaret into an asylum. Margaret was sent to Newcastle for what the magistrate considered to be her own protection. Margaret's name would have appeared in the section of the Entrance Book that has not survived so no record of her parents, religion, education or discharge can be found in this source.

Margaret was discharged from Newcastle to the care of her mother, Catherine, by LUCAS on 18 April 1871, after less than a year at the school and just before the transfer to Biloela.25 Her return was a result of a sucessful petition made by her mother. Catherine's petition has not yet been located in the CSIL but a bundle of letters dating from 18 July 1871, indicated that Catherine had requested that Margaret be sent to her in Goulburn. The correspondence indicated that when Margaret arrived in Goulburn her mother had arranged to send her on to her two brothers who resided in Hay but the police of Hay, Deniliquin, Goulburn and Tocumwal were unable to locate either brother. When she finally reached Goulburn, Margaret was kept in the Goulburn Gaol hospital as there was apparently nobody available to take her. There was no explanation given in the correspondence as to why Margaret wasn't placed with her mother on her return as FENTON had been in communication with Catherine. Catherine vowed that the brothers had written to Margaret in the hospital but Margaret denied getting any letter from them.26 Margaret's release seems typical of the lack of care exhibited by George LUCAS and to this lack of care was added the chaos of the rioting of the time and the logistics of the actual transfer. LUCAS' predecessor would not have permitted such a release easily and without supporting police investigations. The April 1872 list compiled by LUCAS is difficult to interpret as Margaret's name is squeezed onto the bottom of the page and the difference between her information and that of the girl listed above her, Honora WILLIAMS is hard to distinguish. The list indicated that Margaret was readmitted to the school once it had been established on Biloela27 and LUCAS confirmed that Margaret had been received in his report of 26 September 1871.28

Margaret remained on Biloela until 23 September 1874, when John DALE, the Temporary Officer in Charge, responded to a request for an apprentice from Mr CANNON. Reverend Thomas WALSH of St Joseph's Church, Orange, described CANNON as a 'decent, honest and upright man.' Margaret was to be paid a shilling a week for the first year, two shillings a week for the next two years and three shillings a week for the last two years of her five-year apprenticeship.29 This apprenticeship was confirmed in DALE's report on 5 October when he indicated that Margaret had been sent to Mr W. J. CANNON in Orange.30

No further trace can be found of Margaret after this date. If she completed her apprenticeship she would have been free to leave CANNON's employment in 1879. There are no possible marriages or deaths in the Orange/Bathurst area that might indicate a possible marriage for her.


Margaret's birth was registered in Goulburn in 1860. She had been as born at Springfield near Goulburn, on 20 July 1860. Her parents were identified as John DONOVAN and Catherine HOOPER who had married in Cork, Ireland, in about 1843. John was a carpenter. While Margaret's mother’s maiden name, HOOPER, was identified on the record, the informant, John, was unable to recall either her age or her place of birth. The registration documented that Margaret had two older brothers and one older sister.31 John and Catherine DONOVAN, accompanied by their daughter Ellen, who had been born on the voyage, had arrived in NSW in February 1844 aboard the Royal Consort. Only one reel for the Royal Consort has survived so no parents for either John or Catherine were made available in the immigration records.

Margaret’s mother was confirmed in correspondence in the CSIL as Catherine DONOVAN and while she was not named in Margaret’s court case, she can be more clearly identified through her own appearances and sentences in the Goulburn courts and in the Goulburn Gaol admission records. Catherine DONOVAN née HOOPER was a native of Cork, Ireland, and had been born in about 1820.32 The first court appearance located for her occurred in January 1867, when she was charged with false pretences after begging for alms to bury a dead child when no death had occurred.33 The gaol admission resulting from this appearance confirmed Catherine's ship of arrival, her religion and her birthplace. She was described as a sempstress. A further court case in October 1868 suggested that Catherine may have had a speech impediment or a hearing loss as her evidence in court was carried out through her unnamed daughter.34 Catherine was tried for vagrancy in 1870. At this trial on 16 February, Thomas, recorded as McCOY, stated that Catherine 'had been cooking and cleaning for him for her board.' He added that she could come back if she behaved herself. Catherine must have returned to McKAY as shortly after her release from gaol and recorded as Catherine DENVER, she married him. This apparently deliberate alteration of the spelling of her surname may suggest that she believed that her first husband, John DONOVAN, was still alive but also may be a transcription of what the church believed they had been told – especially if Catherine had some type of communication difficulty – which may have been the case.35 This marriage was confirmed because Catherine is referred to as Mrs McKAY alias DONAVON in the Goulburn Gaol records and as Mrs McKAY in the CSIL correspondence.36 It may be that Thomas McKAY died in Goulburn in 1872 at the age of sixty and this death has been tentatively attributed to him although the registration has not been viewed. He may also have been the man admitted to Goulburn Goal in 1877. This man was 70 and had arrived in 1831 aboard the Waterloo. In 1881 and as 60-year-old Catherine McCABE, Catherine was again admitted to Goulburn Gaol.37 No trace of Catherine can be located after this admission under any name and in any gaol record by using her ship of arrival.

It is unknown whether Margaret's mother was connected to the Catherine McCABE who was the wife of Patrick McCABE38 and who had perhaps married in 1878 in Goulburn;39 the wife of Francis McCABE40 who had perhaps married in Goulburn in 188441 or neither of these women.

John DONOVAN was recorded on the Royal Consort indent as as native of Cork, Ireland. He had been born in about 1817. The indent confirmed that he was a carpenter.42 John cannot be confirmed in Goulburn after Margaret's birth. John's age would match reasonably well with the man who died in Goulburn at the age of 48 in 1863.43 This death has been tentatively attributed to John but the registration has not been viewed.

A John DONOVAN appeared at times in the Goulburn papers but it is unknown whether this man was Catherine's husband; Margaret's brother or unconnected to this DONOVAN family. John does not appear in any gaol records yet found but the man admitted to Wagga Wagga Gaol in 1866 who had been born in Cork, Ireland, and who stated that he had arrived on the Wellington in 1848 is a man to consider.

Other members of the family are also uncertain and have not been located on easily available records in NSW. Ellen DONOVAN who had been born on the voyage to NSW aboard the Royal Consort, delivered an illegitimate daughter in 1865 who she called Margaret. The father of this child was John RYAN of Ryan’s Vale who was ordered to pay for the upkeep of the child.44 In February 1870 Ellen was arrested for protection. She appeared in court on 23 February, where she was described as being 'of weak intellect, and subject to fits and quite unable to earn a living.'45 No further trace of Ellen or her daughter has been located.

Margaret's birth registration indicated that she had two older brothers. Catherine identified her sons, Patrick and John, in senior-sergeant FENTON's report although this admission may not have been an entirely correct statement from Catherine. In 1871 the two boys were supposed to be living somewhere near Hay. Even though these boys were recorded on Margaret's birth registration, the police in 1871 were skeptical that they actually existed stating: 'I believe the mother has been deceiving all along' and '[t]he brothers if they exist have no home' and '[I] Know that the woman had sons in Goulburn who removed to Albury or Hay … am now afraid the latter part of the business to be a deception.'46 It also may be that the names of these men varied and that Margaret's brothers were initially known as Jeremiah and John. Jeremiah DONOVAN was admitted to Deniliquin Gaol in 1876 from Hay due to an unsound mind. It was recorded that he had been born in Goulburn in about 1856.47 No birth registration for Jeremiah has been found on the NSW BDM Index.
John and Jeremiah may also be the same two brothers admitted to the Randwick Asylum in 1859 but there is nothing in the Randwick records that may provide a link to this family as neither of their parents was named. On 10 November a John DONOVAN was recorded in the 1897 Police Gazette after he passed a fraudulent cheque in Young. He was described as 50 to 55 years-of-age and 5' 3" to 5' 5" tall. He had a dark, sallow complexion and a medium build with grey hair. He was thought to be in the habit of clean shaving but at the time of the fraud, had an eight-day growth of facial hair. He was slightly stooped when travelling. He was wearing a dark tweed (Old English) sleeved waistcoat. The white sleeves were very dirty. He also wore dirty white moleskin trousers and a black or brown soft felt hat. When travelling he wore a dark protector for the eyes. He carried a white calico tent swag.48

Where has She Gone?

No further references have been confirmed for Margaret on Trove. She was apprenticed to Orange in late 1874 and could have married any time after her apprenticeship ended in about 1878 but would not legally have been permitted to marry without permission before about 1881. There are no appropriate deaths anywhere in NSW between 1874 and 1920. There are no gaol admissions for any Margaret born in Goulburn in about 1860 that may match.

It is considered very unlikely that Margaret adopted her step-father's surname of McKAY as it is not thought that she was ever made aware that her mother had remarried.

A court appearance on 16 September 1881 for a Margaret DONOVAN who was 24 and for which she was sent to gaol for three months for vagrancy but for which there is no further detail, may be a further mention of Margaret. This woman may have gone by the alias COSTELLO and other gaol admissions identify that she had been born in Sydney. The report in the Sydney Daily Telegraph on 19 September read:

A young woman named Margaret Donovan, 24 years of age, who appeared seriously ill, and was unable to stand on her feet, was charged at the Water Police Court, on Friday, with having no lawful risible means of support. She informed the Bench that she was very sick, and had no friends in the city to look after her. Sergeant Higgins stated that she had been living with the Chinese for the past five years to his knowledge, and that he had seen her with an opium pipe in her mouth in one of the worst places in the city. Owing to the vice and immorality to which she had given herself up she had lost her health and strength, and was now a cripple, unable to do any work. She was a very delicate woman, perfectly harmless, and now in a very bad condition. The Bench, in order to get the unfortunate creature away from the miserable life she was now leading, sent her to gaol for three months.49

This person may be the same person as the woman arrested five years earlier as Margaret DONOVAN alias RIDDLE50 who was a resident of Sydney and it may be that this is a reference to a later alias of the Newcastle admission as the references to the Chinese also appeared in the earlier account. This woman was described as a young girl and under the age of 20 when she appeared in court on 24 September 1879.51 She was first admitted to Darlinghurst Gaol52 but after receiving a six month sentence with light labour, she was sent on the Bathurst Gaol.53 Records show varying years of birth from between 1858 and 1862. No death for her has been found as COSTELLO but she was still alive in 1898 when she was admitted to Biloela Gaol.

In light of the reference to the Chinese, the marriage of Margaret DONOVAN to AH MONG in 1882 will be investigated.54 This couple as William R. and Margaret D., may have had the following three children in the Sydney area: Gerald N. MOGG in 188755 and twins Jessie M. MOGG, and Charles H. MOGG56 in 1895.

The NSW Police Gazette reported on another woman named Margaret DONOVAN often in trouble from 1859. This woman can’t be the Newcastle admission as gaol records show that she was a Catholic born in Sydney in 1851 who could read. She was therefore too old.

Margaret did not marry:
1. John DAILY in Broulee in 1877 (2418/1877) as this woman's parents were James and Margaret.
2. John BISHOP In Newtown in 1875 (1392/1875) as when she died in 1926 her parents were recorded as Timothy and Margaret.

Updated December 2019

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