The Burgess Family in Australia

The Burgess Family in Australia.     My Mothers Family.

The Burgess Saga, as we know it in Australia, really begins with Joseph Bird Burgess, born 19th June 1830, and his wife Margaret, born 23rd March 1833, who were married on the 1st August 1852 in England and within weeks were on their way to Melbourne on the Sailing Ship  “Wandsworth”.

They arrived at Port Phillip Bay on 1st January 1853 and spent about two years in Melbourne where Joseph, in company with Herr Plock, became involved in the musical circles of the young Colony.  This was not surprising, for as well as being a Pianoforte Tuner, he was a Professor of Music and apparently had a fine singing voice.

Later in 1854 they moved to Bendigo where Joseph joined Winterbotham Band, which catered so successfully for the Old Bendigons.  It was here in 1865 that our Grandfather, John James Burgess, was born.  As far as it can be ascertained he was the second child in the family, which means that Joseph Bird Burgess (jnr) must have been born in Melbourne.

Ten years later they moved to Moana and from there he tuned pianos over a wide area on the Victorian side and travelled to places on the Murrumbidgee and Lachlan such as Hay, Moulamein and Narrandera, going over 200 miles north of Moama.  This was done in a buggy and pair.  Some of these trips into N.S.W. took him as long as four months to complete, which meant that Margaret, whom he never failed to refer to as Dear Dear Margaret, was left to bring up an ever-increasing family on her own. Joseph Bird Burgess doesn’t seem to have been a man of great stamina for he continually complained of the heat and was ever thankful that God in his countless mercies had given him the strength to complete his work.  He was a man of great faith and deep conviction.

There is evidence of a lifetime of financial problems and his need to borrow from his friends. Whether this was due to poor business ability, or whether his continual separation from his family when travelling to far-off places to tune pianos presented a more expensive way of living is hard to say, but from diaries he kept we learn of continual money worries, yet in 1871 his income was nearly 400 pounds or 8 per week.  A generation later 3 pounds per week was regarded a good wage for a clerk.  Although accommodation and food was provided free at most of the Homesteads, many of the landowners were inclined to keep him waiting for his pay – sometimes weeks or even months.  During 1872 he was endeavouring to get some financial assistance from friends to enable him to have his Album of Sacred Music published, as he was sure the Royalties from it would solve all his financial worries.

From records available, by 1872 there were nine children born to them. Joseph, Jack, Willie, Ernest, Arthur, Nellie who died young – five years, Emilie, Ebeneza and Clarkson who died also aged five years.  Joseph Bird used to take Jack with him when travelling far from home.  It is evident from his diaries that Jack was a very kind, co-operative son who was good with horses and often rode long distances to post letters to Dear Dear Margaret or collect letters from her.  They wrote to each other daily and thanks to Cobb & Co. the mails seemed very reliable.

An extract from the diary of Joseph Bird Burgess. Two days in life of a piano tuner.

Monday 1st January 1872

New Year’s morning. I could scarcely realize this fact. I longed to be home. I always like to spend this season with dear dear M. and the children. I got up pretty early and commenced tuning the Stanhope Piano. It was completely out of tune. After lunch Joe and I started for Colbinabbin. Weather very fine  and happily not so dreadfully warm. We found that Mr. and – now, since my last visit, Mrs. John Winter had left this morning for Sandhurst. Most unfortunately neither the servant or the storekeeper knew us. It was with very great difficulty  that we could persuade them as to the veracity of my statement viz. that I not only had charge of the Colbinabbin Piano but that I was a friend of Mr. John Winter’s. Producing my last year’s diary to the storekeeper wherein my several visits here were duly noted, that the personage seemed at last convinced that my statement was really bona fide. A good tea was laid out for us but – tell it not in Gath – in the kitchen,  Many mercies.

Tuesday 2nd January 1872.
Weather not very warm. I tuned the Colbinabbin Piano this morning and afterwards we thoroughly cleaned it. I had put two new strings in the treble. The servant treated us very well having I presume come to the conclusion we were not imposters. Perhaps after all she had not been to blame unpleasant tho’ it proved to us. We started from Colbinabbin this afternoon arriving in Stanhope in first rate time. Old Mr Taylor of Noorilim was there. Joe had thoroughly cleaned the Piano this evening – took out swarms of moth eggs. When Mr. William Winter got his mail this evening I found to my awful disappointment that no letter had arrived for me. I felt quite upset and have positively resolved to go home tomorrow to see what really is the cause of dear dear M’s continued silence. I hope nothing alarming has happened. I played the organ a great deal this evening. I felt awfully tired towards bed-time. All very kind and agreeable. 10000E’s

While at various Homesteads, apart from tuning and repairing the pianos, musical evenings were frequently held and Joseph not only contributed by playing the piano or organ but also by singing.

When one reads of travel by horse and buggy over unmade tracks, sometimes across treeless plains and at others through heavily forested areas, the casual references to Cobb & Co., and consigning of pianos by Paddle Steamer “Warradgery”, the crossing of the Murray River by punt or pontoon bridge, for Railway had not yet penetrated into N.S.W., one learns to appreciate the colourful times in which Joseph and Margaret raised their family.

Ultimately Jack became a piano tuner also and for a great part of his life travelled the same roads as his father before him, though in his case he used a gig instead of a buggy.  He always had a bicycle tied to the back of the gig and when in towns such as Mathoura, Deniliquin and Hay, he rode to his various customers thus resting his horse in preparation for the next leg of the journey.

At this point let us look at the part played by the  “O’Donohoos”  for it was the union of the Burgess and O’Donohoos that is so important to us.  The furthest back we know of this family takes us to the late 1700’s for Thomas O’Donahoo would have been born before the end of the century.  As a man he became a Captain in the Royal Irish Hussars and did service in Singapore where James,  was born in 1820.  Captain O’Donohoo was recalled to England.  (reason obscure but possible ill health).  Soon after, together with his wife Eliza and four children, also a married daughter – Mary Anne Stammers, with her husband and three children, sailed in the Sailing Ship  “Eliza”  reaching Hobart Town on the 8th April 1828.


Prior to their arrival Captain O’Donohoo was given a grant of 2560 acres land at Sandpit Point on the East Coast.  Sad to relate Captain O’Donohoo died 3 years after their arrival leaving Eliza to raise their family.  She obtained a grant of 36 pounds per year from the Government and ran a boarding house in Macquarie St. Hobart.  Her son Thomas worked as a clerk in the Ordinance Magazine and later at the Colonial Treasury, and again in the Auditors Office.  The Colonial Treasury said,  “I have every reason to believe him (Thomas O’Donohoo) one of the most efficient clerks in the Colony.”  He was able help his mother raise the family.

A younger brother, John, also worked as a clerk but James, was engaged in farming in partnership with a life-long friend and Nephew,   J. J. Stammers.  Later he left Tasmania to go to South Australia, where he went farming with William Emmett at Lyndock Valley, near ‘The Burra’.

When the Gold era began, James visited the Goldfields in Victoria, only to return to South Australia to persuade his friends, the Emmetts and the Neales to go to Victoria with him.  It was about this time (1852) that James married Frances Neale, who had arrived in South Australia with her parents in 1836 in the Ship  “Cygnet”  a Survey Ship.  They spent their honeymoon as 2 members of a party of 19 on a Bullock Wagon journey from  ‘The Burra’ to Bendigo – it took 3 months.  The diaries kept of this Journey make very interesting reading.

At Bendigo James took to digging. How long he continued in this occupation I have not been able to discover, but James and Fanny apparently never left Bendigo for it was here he died on 6th December 1885 at age 65 and was buried in the Sandhurst Cemetery.

His Obituary describes him as ‘a man of large heart, of genial disposition and of a temperament which enabled him to preserve the same even bearing in good times and bad times and to be ever the same whether Fortune smiled or frowned’.

So much for the man himself but our interest lies in the fact that he and Fanny had 8 children.  Adelaide, Ida, May, Nell, Sam, Adgar, Leo and Henry and that Adelaide born in 1856 in Bendigo became the wife of Jack Burgess, also born in Bendigo in 1856.  Whether they met as children before the Burgesses moved to Moama I do not know nor how they came to know one another later, but as those of my generation know Jack and Adelaide had 10 children, all survived and had issue, there being 37 Grand Children.

Jack and Adelaide, for as long as I knew them, lived at Yarra Street, Echuca.  Apparently Grandpa Burgess was as affectionate and loving as his father before him for Yarra Street was a lovely place to visit for atmosphere of love and kindness had to be experienced.  No one could describe it.

I have reason to believe that Grandma Burgess (Adelaide) was one of the first patients in Victoria to be treated for Cancer by means of  X-Ray.  I remember her very well about that time.  It was not a success.  She died about 1925-26.

This report was specially written for a Burgess  re-union, which was held at the home of Richard and Anne Burgess, 20 Serpells Road, Templestowe, Victoria, on 20th March 1983.  178 descendants including spouses attended, the most senior descendant was Auntie Myrtle, at 93, the only surviving member of the ten children of John James Burgess and Adelaide O”Donohoo.
This report was written by: Ken Dyer,
76 Newlands Drive,
 Paynesville.   3880

And now we have a record of the journey undertaken by James O’Donahoo and his newly wed wife, Frances Neale, who were two of a party of 19 who set out from The Burra, South Australia, to go to Bendigo in the goldfields  –  a distance of 500 miles (800km).It represents a day to day account of their Progress.

The year was 1852.
Their mode of travel  –  1 light cart,  1 horse day,  and 6 bullock drays.

I have transcribed parts of this diary:

Monday 2 August 1852
Commenced loading drays
Tuesday 3rd.
Nearly finished loading. Intending to start wednesday
Wednesday 4th
Should have started but man had not arrived with rest of the drays. He came in his gig
Thursday 5th
All ready, but horses could not be found till late which made us late. We however had a fine day, and got within 4 or 5 miles of Murray Road.
Friday 6th
Having had a rough night, H.D.E. went in search of horses and bullocks, but could not find either the until 10 o’clock, when W.E. and Jack Brought Lucy and Abe’s mare. James O’Donahoo and Charley had started for home, thinking they had gone that way. Miserably cold. O’Donahoo did not return that night.
Saturday 7th
Horses being tethered overnight, W.E. went in search of bullocks. Found 4 and also found the water had risen so high that it was impossible to cross the Creek. O’Donahoo did not return that night.
Very cold, wind and rain. All the bullocks seen this day.
Sunday 8th
Still blowing very roughly, but every appearance of fine weather. H.
and men made a bush yard to keep the bullocks in should they be found, and be ready to move on early next morning. W.E. and men brought home the bullocks. O’Donahoo and Charlie not returned.
All very anxious about them. Kept horses tethered to go in search of them next day.
Monday 9th
W.E. took Lucy and found O’Donahoo who had attempted to cross the creek on Friday but found it impossible,  the water having been much higher than ever known before. O’Donahoo took Lucy and returned to the camp, W.E. and Charlie walking.
Tuesday 10th
Packed up and started across the plains into the Murray Road, made a journey of about 17 miles and camped. Abe watched the bullocks that night on splendid feed. Turned in about 12 o’clock.
Wednesday 11th
Bullocks not found very early, but intended to travel till 4 o’clock. When about 4 miles on the road were stopped by water extending over an immense portion of the plain and were obliged again to camp.
Thursday 12th
Hennel (nephew of J. O’Donahoo), O’Donahoo and Dr Lloyd went to explore and search for a road sufficiently hard to allow us to pass. Returned about 3 o’clock and believed we could cross about 14 miles from camp. W.E. went in search of bullocks, found them about 16 miles off towards the Worldend Creek. The country around has a miserable and wild appearance, nothing but salt-bush, occasionally a  little scrub.
Friday 13th
Started through the scrub, went 10 miles and camped.
Saturday 14th
Travelled on until we could cross the plain and camped on account of water.
Sunday 15th
Bullocks not found til late, then started and made Murray River at North West Bend. Nearly dark.
Monday 16th
Started about 9 o’clock, very much disappointed  at not having fish for breakfast, Mr Neale having promised us some. Went on beyond Yates, 18 miles for the day. Camped on the bank of the river.
Tuesday 17th
Stayed here all day putting in a pole on Jack’s dray. Again disappointed no fish.
Wednesday 18th
Went as far as Hart’s Sheep Station. travelled about 12 miles that day. O’Donahoo shot 3 crested pigeons,
Thursday 19th
All ready, bullock drays started. Henry Neale having to go for two sheep but was disappointed, the shepherd having gone out with the sheep. Came back and attempted to start but the colt would not pull. Tried him for a long time, and at last sent for some bullocks to pull him up the hill, but a gentleman travelling with 3 horses told Mr Neale that he would pull the cart up the hill, but his horses would not pull together, and we were obliged to send for the bullocks about 5 miles along the road. W.E. returned with four and hooked them before. This had delayed us four hours that day. The colt then worked pretty well and we got as far as Devsin’s Pound, about 10 miles.
Friday 20th
Started about  9 o’clock, the colt refusing for a time to pull. He. however, with a thrashing did, and worked very well. Met Hart with his sheep and bought 2 for16 shillings. Arrived at the overland corner about 3 o’clock, 10 miles. Blacks brought us 1 fish and 7 duck eggs, and promised us more next day. Rained heavily during the night.
Saturday 21st
All packed up ready to start by 9 o’clock. The colt working well. roads very heavy (going). Arrived about 12 o’clock within 2 miles of Lake Bonny and camped. Baked nearly half a sheep and made dampers. Again disappointed, the blacks telling us there was too much water, they could not get fish. Commenced raining. Obliged to go to our houses sun-down. W.E. and blackfellows shot 3 o’possums in the evening.
Sunday 22nd
Today being Sunday we were determined not to travel, O’Donahoo took the kangaroo dogs and soon returned with a kangaroo on his shoulders. We saw plenty of ducks but they were extremely wild, also pelicans, cockatoos, crested pigeons, plovers and various other birds. The weather very cold and showery. Gave the kangaroo to the natives except the hind quarters which we kept to cook the next day.
Monday 23rd
Packed up and started about 9 o’clock, the colt working very well. Very heavy, sandy and hilly roads through 15 miles of scrub. Arrived at camping place,  Freemans Creek at half past four, 18 miles. Fanny O’Donahoo prepared the kangaroo for steaming. The bullock drays did not arrive till 6 o’clock, nearly dark, Rained several times during the afternoon.
Tuesday 24th
Started on a dreadfully heavy road at half passed 9. It continued bad and the horses were completely knocked up by 6 o.clock. We were obliged to camp. O’Donahoo shot 2 ducks. We did not travel more than 6 miles this day.
Wednesday 25th
O’Donahoo shot 2 pigeons before breakfast. All ready to start at10 o’clock. The colt very obstinate, broke his trace. Stopped to mend it and got onto the road which was as bad as the day before. Obliged to beat the colt very much. Arrived at Chowley about 4 o’clock. Cooked ducks and pigeons and enjoyed them very much. The natives bought some duck eggs.
Tuesday 14th  September
Henry Neale and W.E. went to Bayot’s Station to kill  a bullock to eat, and brought 3 fine steers to yoke. Hennell and Charley went for the horses about 11 o’clock and not returning we became alarmed lest they should have lost their way in the scrub. O’Donahoo went in search of them but could not find any trace.
Wednesday 15th
O’Donahoo and natives started  at daybreak search of H. and Charley, walked all day but could not discover which way they had gone and returned at sundown. All considered it well to send all the natives, as well as our own people on horse back next morning in search of them. About 10 o’clock we all very pleased to hear H’s voice.  They were very tired and hungry not having any thing to eat except a few roots which the natives call amber.
Thursday 16th
Started once more on our journey, having only 8 miles to reach Anna Ranch. The 3 steers working very well. The water which supplied Anna Ranch came out of the Murray higher up and again we went into the Murray lower down. You could not see any current the water being very dirty.
Friday 17th
About 200 natives were here camped and with their mungoes or canoes ready to cross our baggage, which we accomplished by 4 o’clock, after, the horses and bullocks had to swim across The bullocks were out in the middle and started what is called ‘ringing’ when 3 were drowned. The horses and cows, however, swam across safely.
Saturday 18th
All packed up and started about 10 o’clock. Arrived at Darling River at half past 2, having to cross the drays loaded in a punt.
Sunday 19th
Camped some on each side of the river. Not very pleasant as the men who worked the punt refused to use it on this day, and all our cooking utensils were on the last drays. We understand it was 300 miles from here to the diggings. The flats near the rivers were completely inundated.
Monday 20th
Crossed the remaining drays and travelled on about 3 miles and obliged to camp on account of a large creek, where we were again obliged to unload and cross everything with the native’s canoes. Crossed most of the goods this afternoon.
Tuesday 21th
Finished crossing the drays and travelled on a mile or so and again had to unload, having another creek wider than the first. Put two drays across this evening.
Wednesday 22nd
Got the rest of the things across and loaded up once  more. Travelled on about 10 miles and camped at the entrance of a scrub, the original road being about a mile nearer the river, but completely under water.
Thursday 23rd
All ready about 10 o’clock and started, hoping to make the crossing place up the Murray. Travelled on till 1 o’clock, took dinner and heard guns firing. Shortly afterwards several drays camped. There was the Murray about 3 times its usual width and running at a furious rate. Camped and found 16 drays waiting to get across. The Natives were perfectly independent knowing we could not get across without their assistance>
Friday 24th
Camped. The water still running very fast.
Saturday 25th
The water still rising. Three more drays came up this day.
Sunday 26th
Almost devoured by mosquitoes and flies. The Natives very lazy and would not cross more than 3 drays in one day.
Monday 27th
O’Donahoo made a punt wishing to put a rope across the Murray by which they could drag the drays.
Tuesday 28th
Put down a buoy and attempted to pull the the rope across but the Natives purposely let it fall in the river not liking it to be done.
Wednesday 29th
Understand all the drays would be across this day.
Thursday 30th
Only one dray crossed this day.
Friday 1st October 1852
Very glad to see the horses and bullocks gone and prepared to cross by moving all the drays nearer the river.
Saturday 2rd
Commenced crossing the goods in the canoes.
Sunday 3rd
Crossed as much as possible. Charley left us.
Monday 4th
Expected to finish but the Natives let 2 drays go for a great distance down the stream. Oscar, a horse, kicked Dick. All crossed the river and slept in Mary’s dray.
Tuesday 5th
Finished crossing everything  but the horses and went across the swamp about one and quarter miles. The water above the bed of the drays.
Wednesday 6th
Crossed the horses, Jacky and Oscar (horses) not to be found.
Thursday 7th
Mr Blackmore found Jackey about 8 miles on the road and brought him back. Natives stole the long rope belonging to Fitzgerald’s party.
Friday 8th
Started at 8 o’clock and went about 16 miles through scrub and camped near a billabong.
Saturday 9th
Started about half passed 8 and travelled about 18 miles through a thick scrub. Camped near a sheep station.
Thursday 28th
Started about half passed 9. Travelled over an immense plain 10 miles. Saw  Mt. Hope and the Sugarloaf. Camped. It started to rain and continued for some time.
Friday 29th
Threatened rain. Determined to remain here and towards afternoon  terrific thunderstorms.
Saturday 30th
Bullock drays started early, we did not overtake them till about 12 o’clock when they stopped at Booth and Mr. Harvey sold Jacky and Charley, a  dray and bullocks. Travelled a few miles and camped on the Serpentine River.
Sunday 31st
Very anxious to arrive at our journey’s end.  Determined to travel and went on as far as the Serpentine Public House, where Dr Lloyd sold Oscar and  O’Donahoo sold Lucy. Camped about a mile beyond.
Monday 1st November 1852
Started about 9 o’clock and arrived at Bullock Creek, about 22 miles, where we camped.
Tuesday 2nd
Quite delighted to find this would be the last day we should have to camp before we reached Bendigo. We arrived at Meyer’s Flat about 2o’clock and camped. about 14 miles Mary and Henry started in the light cart for Bendigo. Henry was driving and unfortunately attempted to cross between two trees, and caught the cart,breaking the springs and were obliged to return. Henry and W.E. went afterwards on horseback.
Wednesday 3rd
Started as soon as we could get ready and arrived at Bendigo about 10 o’clock, completely tired of our long journey.

James O’Donahoo

More to come!!!

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