The Cavanagh Family Canberra

4th October 2021
By Peter Browning
The family of Thomas and Jane Cavanagh - from Tynagh, Ireland to Mulligans Flat, Canberra

Thomas Cavanagh, a tenant farmer, married Jane Mead in 1826 and had three children - Ann 1826, Hannah 1828 and Patrick 1830.

1830s was a time of considerable troubles and at a meeting at his local catholic church Thomas swore an oath to the Buachailli Bana, the ‘Whiteboys’, an agrarian organisation defending tenant farmer rights. Their name derived from the white smocks they wore.

On 26 March 1832 Thomas was convicted of being a ‘Whiteboy’ and sentenced to transportation for life, along with twenty-six others, and was transported on Eliza II.

A memorial to these 26 men is being prepared for the Kiltartan Museum in Gort, Galway.

Thomas was assigned to Maitland, Palmerville and Duntroon and granted his Conditional Pardon in 1847.  His life as a convict is unknown, but his skills as a ploughman would have been sought after, and he became a tenant farmer on Duntroon.

His family only arrived on the ‘Panama’ in 1849 as a Reunion Scheme ceased around 1840 and was only reintroduced in 1847.How Jane, a laundress, survived in Ireland with young children through the great famine is unknown, but she must have been resilient.

Ann married Patrick Langan, a carpenter, in 1851 and had six children, but died in 1864 only 38.

Hannah married George Harris Bunn in 1853, the son of Anna Maria (Murray) Bunn and nephew of the Murrays of Yarralumla and Woden, a surprising match and not approved by ‘society’.

Hannah’s life was one of great highs and tragedy, as George died in 1860, she remarried in 1864 to Patrick Flanagan from Moruya, but he was ‘lost at sea’ in 1865. Hannah died from a fever soon after, only 37, and within months her son Clarence died of typhoid fever, leaving orphaned Georgiana to be raised by her grandmother at ‘St Omer’, Braidwood, another complex story.

Patrick leased a farm on ‘Springbank’ and in 1857 married Mary Logue of the Duntroon Dairy. They had twelve children, settling near ‘One Tree Hill’, Hall then Mulligans Flat.

Tragedy struck in 1857 when Jane, only 48, drowned in the Canberry River, and controversy ensued. Schumack recorded :


A sensation was caused when the priest would not allow her to be interred in the Catholic ground at Queanbeyan, and after some delay Patrick and friends buried her there.


The priest had the body removed and buried outside consecrated ground, but Patrick and friends reinterred the body within the cemetery and mounted an armed guard at the graveside, declaring that they who shoot any person who disturbed it. They kept guard day and night for a short period, and eventually an agreement was reached with the priest and church authorities.”


Was her death an accident, or had a lifetime of struggles worn her out and having seen her children settled decided that enough was enough?

Thomas then acquired ‘Fairview’ on Spring Range Road and farmed until his death in 1871 and is buried with Jane in the Queanbeyan Riverside cemetery.

Eight generations have lived on the Limestone Plains, some farming at Mulligans Flat until their land was resumed for Gungahlin.

'Sister Cav' - Clarice Cavanagh

Thomas’s great grand-daughter, Clarice, wished to take up nursing, but her father Clarence of ‘Strayleaf’ refused as he thought “nurses smoked too much, drank too much and led a wayward life.” He relented and ‘Sister Cav’ became the Matron of RMC hospital, Duntroon. The Governor-General and senior officers officiated at her funeral and the RMC Commandant’s house was later named Cavanagh House in her honour, a long way from an ex-convict tenant farmer. 


To learn more about the Cavanagh family and other pioneering families in the Canberra region visit the Father Brian Maher Collection on the Family History ACT website.



Tales and Legends of Canberra Pioneers, Samuel Shumack, ANU 1967

The Lonely Pioneer, Mary Anne Bunn, 2002



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