Catherine Sheridan/Brown 1832


Catherine Sheridan was the daughter of John and Margaret Sheridan who lived in Lisfenny in Co Waterford in the first part of the 19th C. A baptism certificate for Catherine verifies her parentage and indicates that she was baptised on 10 May 1832. 

The potato blight of the mid-1840s was devastating for Co. Waterford as more potatoes were grown there than in any other Irish county.  The effect of this calamity and its consequences on John and Margaret‘s family is demonstrated by the fact that by the late 1840s Catherine was residing at the Lismore Workhouse – just north-east of Lisfinny and Tallow. It is not clear whether John and Margaret had died or whether they were so destitute that they were forced to abandon their teenage daughters. Either way, by 1848 Catherine had fallen under the supervision of the Lismore Poor Law Union.

The grim exterior of the Lismore Workhouse was emblematic of the practices within. As an inmate,Catherine had to wear a pauper uniform (sometimes taken directly from deceased inmates) and attend to the duties of nursing, cooking, cleaning and laundry. Living conditions were harsh.

The persistence of the potato blight throughout the 1840s led to increasing numbers applying to workhouses.  By 1849, the Lismore Union Workhouse catered for over 3000 residents. At the same time, colonial authorities in Australia were applying to the British Colonial Authorities to recruit female settlers because of the large gender imbalance in the colonies (8:1 in favour of men). In an attempt to solve both these problems Earl Grey, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, established the Orphan Emigration Scheme in 1848. Under the Orphan Emigration Scheme young girls from Irish workhouses were to be sent to the Australian colonies as servants, farm hands and, potential wives; thus helping to resolve Australia’s chronic shortage of female labour, while at the same time reducing the serious overcrowding in Irish workhouses.

It was in the spirit of the Orphan Emigration Scheme that the minutes of the Meeting of the Guardians of the Lismore Workhouse for May 12, 1849 record that twenty girls from the Lismore Workhouse had been sent that day to Cork for emigration to South Australia. Among this twenty was Catherine Sheridan.

From Cork she travelled by steam packet to Plymouth in England. Soon after arriving in Plymouth she boarded the Elgin as part of a contingent of 195 Irish Female Orphans bound for South Australia. On the Certificate of Final Departure Catherine is listed as Cathe Shendon, presumably an attempt to render her name phonetically. She was aged 15. The journey took just over three months, the Elgin landing at McLaren Wharf, Port Adelaide on 10 September, 1849.

The voyage was not without its troubles. At the completion of the journey the Elgin’s Surgeon Hewer wrote:

“I was so disgusted by the behaviour of the orphans per “Elgin”, –so worried by their tricks, simulating fits day after day to procure porter and spirits – so disheartened by their misrepresentation and utter disregard for truth, that I would not come out in another Irish orphan vessel if the Government would pay me £10 per orphan.” 

While in Adelaide she met her future husband, Edward Brown. Edward had arrived in Adelaide on 21 July, 1849 on the Cromwell as a free settler.

The discovery of gold in Victoria initiated a new phase in Catherine's life  Once gold was found in Ballarat in August, 1851, and soon after in Bendigo, an exodus from Adelaide which included Catherine and Edward followed:

They probably travelled overland from Adelaide to Victoria  on foot – as the trip by ship was too expensive. 

Once in Melbourne Catherine and Edward may have taken temporary accommodation in Canvas Town, also known as ‘Little Adelaide’, on the southern banks of the Yarra River - inhabited by a number of families from South Australia and a place of transit to the gold fields. From here they travelled to Bendigo to seek their fortunes. They went first to Adelaide Gully (once again in the company of South Australians) and then to Back Creek and although a fortune eluded them they settled in Bendigo.

Within a year, Catherine and Edward were married in a tent on the goldfields by Rev Father Henry Backhaus the first Catholic priest in Bendigo. In the registry they are couple No 4. Many of the marriage ceremonies performed by Father Backhaus that day were probably regularising relationships that had been well established.

Early married life for Catherine must have been hard – at first working alongside Edward fossicking and puddling for gold; then bearing and raising children in a tent or bark hut with only muddied water to drink and wash in, little fresh fruit, vegetables and meat to cook and eat and sparse medical services. Edward, after alluvial mining petered out, went to work in company mines, working deep underground, hard grinding work performed in semi-darkness with the threat of mine shaft collapse ever present - a source of constant worry for Catherine.

Further anguish was caused by Edward’s arrests for drunkenness and the “stealing of trifling articles.” Although his detentions were brief and the fines not inordinate Catherine had to deal with the consequences.

Two of her children died as infants. Her second son, Edward, died on died 21 November 1888, from delirium tremens and a fractured leg.

But as time passed life seems to have become more settled.  Eventually, a house was built on the land around their claim accommodating not only Catherine and Edward and their sons and daughters but later sons- and daughters-in-law and their families.

Catherine, died aged 68 on 12 September, 1901 and was buried alongside her husband, her son, Edward, and two infant daughters in White Hills Cemetery in Bendigo.

The devotion her family had for her is shown by the Memoriam that appeared in the Bendigo Advertiser two years after her death:

In sad but loving remembrance of our dear mother, Catherine Brown who departed this life 12th September. R.I.P

Rest dearest mother, thy toil is o’er

Thou art freed from every care;

By angels’ hand to heaven conveyed

To rest for ever there.

Inserted by her loving daughters, Mrs F Owen and Annie Brown


Additional Information
Date of Birth 10th May 1832 (circa) VIEW SOURCE
Date of Death 12th Sep 1901  
Townland born Lisfenny  


  • A very beautiful story. She sounds like an amazing woman



    Sunday 3rd March 2019, 09:40PM
  • What a narrative! What a woman! What a life! "To live in hearts we left behind is not to die."

    Margaret Pickett

    Sunday 3rd March 2019, 10:19PM
  • A nice story and one shared by many early arrivals to Adelaide and the goldfields.  One small comment- I think that they may well have travelled by sea to Melbourne as walking to the goldfields via Melbourne adds considerably to the distance.  Many people from Adelaide walked direct to Bendigo, Ballarat, Ararat etc. Melbourne and Geelong tended to be a starting point if you arrived by sea. 


    Monday 4th March 2019, 01:25AM
  • So very interesting. I'm interested in all stories about the time of famine. I have not been able to locate information about my family during that time. Thank you


    Monday 4th March 2019, 01:14PM
  • I like that you have included the source for the 1832 baptism. Unfortunately, the link leads to ask each view to login/pay

    Have you more history on the Sheridan family?  I believe we have Sheridan ancestors.


    Francis O'Hanlon 1825

    Monday 4th March 2019, 01:43PM
  • Great story, she was a strong woman

    Geraldine Buckley-Smith

    Monday 4th March 2019, 02:57PM
  • I was touched by the narative.  What anendearing story!


    Monday 4th March 2019, 11:06PM

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