Bridget Gilligan, Christopher Coffey and Michael Finnerty

Bridget Gillingham or Gillinham or Gillinghan or Gilligan was born about 1828 in Country Limerick, Ireland, the daughter of James Gilligan and an unknown mother. That date is probably derived from her age stated at death (82 in 1911) and the location is from a FamilySearch family tree. An alternative birth date that is frequently used is 1833, probably derived from the age Bridget stated when she married (22 in 1855). Alternative spellings of Bridget's surnames are also common, so whatever surname was used in the source material will be retained here.1

A Bridget Gilligan, recorded as age 19, emigrated from Ireland to New South Wales in 1854, sailing from Liverpool aboard the Araminta.2

Off Sydney Heads, July 29th, 1854

Sir, -- We, the undersigned, emigrants on board the ship Araminta, beg leave most respectfully to return you and your officers our sincere thanks for your civility and gentlemanly conduct towards us during our passage from Liverpool to the land of our adoption ; and that prosperity and happiness may attend you is the sincere wishes of the undersigned. We are, Sir, your most obedient servants,


To Captain FERAN, ship Araminta.
Bridget Gilligan3

Given the status of women at this time, and assuming this is our lady, it’s a remarkable feat that Bridget was able to make the journey, apparently on her own, to the colonies. Conditions in Ireland at the time certainly encouraged large waves of emigration. We do know that ultimately Bridget was sponsored to come to the colony, so she wasn’t entirely alone in her new home.

As if getting to New South Wales wasn’t enough, at some stage over the next twelve months Bridget made her way to Van Diemen’s Land, later known as Tasmania. Twelve months after her arrival in the colonies, Bridget Gillighan married Christopher Coffee on 14 July 1855 in the Catholic Church in Westbury, Tasmania. Christopher was recorded as aged 30, a labourer and free. Bridget was recorded as aged 22, a house servant and free, both signed the register so they could read and write. Reverand Hogan performed the marriage ceremony and the witnesses were James Gillighan and Anne McGraile.4 Perhaps James was Bridget’s father or brother, and it was he that sponsored her journey from Ireland and set her up in Tasmania.

Christopher Coffey was baptised on 7 March 1820 in the Roman Catholic Parish Of Edenderry, Offaly, Ireland, the son of Pat(rick) Coffey and Maria Le Strange. 5

On the 27th February 1843 Christopher appeared at the Mullingar courthouse in Westmeath, Ireland on a charge of stealing three ewes. He was 23 at the time but gave his age as 18. Jenny Kerr, a family researcher, has suggested he lied about his age in the belief that they would be more lenient on him. He was recorded as a single man, roman catholic, a labourer who could read, and his native place was recorded as King’s County. His co-accused was Mary Coffey, probably Christopher’s mother. He was found guilty and sentenced to the maximum of 10 years transportation. 6

Christopher Coffey and Mary Coffey found guilty of stealing 3 lambs. Christopher to be transported for 10 years. Mary to be imprisoned for 1 year with such hard labour as may be suited to her age and sex.7

Jenny Kerr has provided the following information about the processing of Christopher after his trial.

After his conviction Christopher would have been taken from the courthouse and returned to the goal through an underground passageway from the courthouse to the gaol where he would stay until preparations were made for transmitting him to the port of Dublin.

Convicts brought to Dublin were housed mostly in Kilmainham or Newgate Gaols. Newgate like its London namesake known for its deplorable condition with all categories of offender housed together.8

Christopher was amongst 170 male convicts which departed Dublin aboard the Orator on the 12 August 1843. The medical journal of James Booth, surgeon on the Orator, shows eleven days into the voyage on 23 August 1843 Christopher was put on sick list with nausea. He was discharged 17 September 1843 cured. After 101 days the Orator arrived in Van Diemen’s Land on 21 November 1843 with 169 convicts, one having died on the journey.9

On arrival in the colony Christopher would have been processed as a convict. His convict conduct record would have been created, and his description was recorded as follows.

Physical Description: Trade: Laborer, Height: 5? 1 1/4?, Age: 18, Complextion: Fresh. Head: Oval, Hair: Dark Brown Whiskers: -, Visage: Broad, Forehead: Low, Eyebrows: Brown, Eyes: Blue, Nose: Medium, Mouth: Wide, Chin: Medium, Remarks: Several scars on front of neck, one on right shoulder scar on right leg. Freckled.10

Christopher’s Convict Indent was also created in which we learn that his mother’s name was Mary, and he had two brothers, William and John, both in America. He also had two sisters, Rosa and Julia.11

On arrival Christopher was assigned to the Convict Station at Deloraine with eighteen months probation. The following quote is from Jenny Kerr’s Rootsweb WorldConnect pages, but much of the content is actually quoted from a paper by Hamish Maxwell-Stewart titled Mutiny at Deloraine: Ganging and Convict Resistance in 1840s Van Diemen’s Land:

In August 1844 the third class convicts at Deloraine started work on the road from the end of Mr Rooke’s lane, a location so far removed from the station that they were housed in a temporary sod hut at the end of Mr Field’s paddock. First class convicts were employed near the town breaking stones for road metalling, and cutting drains. The second class were marched out daily to work on a section of the Westbury Deloraine road.

Overseer Syme, the man who had been in charge of the third-class prisoners in the sod hut at Mr Fields Paddock, later published an account of his time at Deloraine. Syme reported that while at Deloraine he had taken the men to “the Western River every Sunday after breakfast to bathe, and every attention to cleanliness was observed.” The problem with this account is that it is directly contradicted by visiting magistrate, Capt. J.B. Jones report on the state of the soap, Although the contractor was paid for and delivered 617 lbs of soap to Mr Savage, the storekeeper at Deloraine, the latter was never issued to the convicts. Jones was quick to point out, “throughout 1845 cleanliness at Deloraine probation station left something to be desired.”

The buildings at the Deloraine Station were described in the 1847 report of Charles La Trobe as “bad” with the exception of the residence of Superintendent Peneo. Having a fancy for blackwood, he ordered a team of convicts to cut this article. Working on their own, some distance from the station, the prisoners cut more timber than was required for the cottage, selling the surplus to neighbouring settlers. Convict narratives of the time are rife with similar examples but if the first-class prisoners were disproportionately engaged in jobs, which provided them with opportunities to ameliorate their condition, the converse was true at the opposite end of the line.

Everything that filtered down to the second and third-class gangs had already passed through a number of hands starting, with the commissariat store in Launceston. At Westbury “the inattentive mode adopted in the issue of provisions, that duty being performed by the men employed as cooks and porters” lead to a great deal of pilfering. Men sentenced to the roads were not only supplied with than those in private service, but the quality of their ration was also inferior. This applied especially to perishable items. Livestock tendered by private settlers was prepared for government use at slaughterhouses. The meat then had to be shipped up the road system to gangs stationed in the interior. American convict, William Gates, described the meat served at Deloraine at this time “during the hot weather, the flies are…sure to people it almost instantly with living things, unless the greatest caution is observed. I have often seen the liquor in the meat kettle covered with maggots of a large size; and yet our hunger was so craving that we were compelled to eat such food.”12

Christopher’s eighteen months of probation at Deloraine were uneventful according to his conduct record. In 1845 he was transferred to Fingal Hiring Station. He was freed by servitude on 3 March 1853.13

Six months later on 22 September 1853 Christopher sailed from Launceston aboard the Yarra Yarra bound for Melbourne. His status was recorded as “conditional pardon” and the name of his ship to the colony, the Orator, was also recorded.14 He was no doubt hoping to find his fortune on the Victorian gold fields.

It seems the venture failed, as it did for most, and he returned to Van Diemen’s Land in time to marry, as previously noted, to Bridget Gillighan on 14 July 1855 in Westbury. At the time of his marriage to Bridget, Christopher stated his occupation as a labourer residing at North Down, Port Sorell.15

Their first child, Samuel James Coffey, was born about 1857, but no official birth registration has been found.16 The birth date is derived from the age he stated when he died, but more on that later. A second child, a daughter Mary, was born on 21 April 1860 in the Port Sorell district, with the event registered under the surname Coffee. Christopher was recorded as working as a Dairyman, and signed the register with his mark, indicating he couldn’t read or write.17

Just two years later however the relationship between Christopher and Bridget had broken down completely. Christopher advertised the break as follows in April 1862.

AFTER this date I will not be responsible for any debts my wife, Bridget Coffee, may contract, as she left her home without any just cause.

Christopher Coffee,
Moorlands, Port Sorell,
April 2818

We next find Bridget Gillighan having children with a man by the name of Michael Finnerty in the Horton district, and yet no marriage record has been found for the couple. It seems likely that a marriage didn’t occur because Bridget was already married.

Michael Finnerty was born about 1825 in the county of Limerick in Ireland. A potential baptism record has been found for Michael, dated 4 September 1828 in Kilcolman and Coolcappagh, in the County of Limerick, son of Thomas Matthews and Maria Finnerty.19

Michael may have arrived in the colony as a convict. A Michael Fernaghty was transported on the Hyderabad on its third journey to the colonies. He had been tried for sheep stealing, a capital offence at the time, on 18 January 1847, and sentenced to 10 years transportation. The Hyderabad left Queenstown, Ireland on 13 September 1850 and arrived in Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land on 13 December 1850. 287 convicts were embarked and remarkably no deaths occurred during the voyage.20

9 Nov [18]52 | Long P | Assault 12 mos hard lab in chains CA & WP | App ?? TL revoked 12/11/52 21/12/52 Ticket of Leave revoked
6 Jan [18]53 ?? Neglect of duty in allowing a man to abscond and not report it. Existing sentence of hard lab[our] extend[e]d two mo[nth]s
2/11/[18]53 Holstead | Miscond[uct] in leave of service without permiss[ion]. Three mo[nth]s hard lab[our]
18 April [18]55 TL|Laun Miscond[uct] in being disorderly. One month hard lab[ou]r 20/4/55
8 Dec [18]56 Longford | Drunk fined S7.21

The incident in 1855 was reported in the People’s Advocate or True Friend of Tasmania and supports the association of the convict with the surname Fernaghty with the Michael Finnerty of Circular Head.

Michael Finnerty. ticket of. leave, one month's hard labour for disorderly conduct.22

Michael and Bridget’s first child, Ellen Barbara Finnerty, was born about 1865. The event does not appear to have been formally registered.23 A second unregistered birth occurred around 1867, when Kathleen Finnerty was born.24 The birth dates of both girls are calculated from the age they stated a later events.

The first birth that was officially registered was that of Michael Finarty Junior on 24 June 1871 in the Horton district, Michael and Bridget’s third child and first boy. The boy’s father was recorded as a labourer living in Forest, and Bridget registered the event by signing her mark.25

Given his failed marriage Christopher Coffey must have decided to start again somewhere else. After searching through Tasmanian and Victorian records for the fate of Christopher Coffey, a highly likely match for the former convict is the man by that name who died on 21 October 1871 in Eden, Twofold Bay, New South Wales.26

On the 21st instant, at Eden, Twofold Bay, Mr. CHRISTOPHER COFFEY.27

While Christopher life had ended, Michael and Bridget were still creating new life in Tasmania. Another daughter, Bridget Delia Finnerty, was born on 6 May 1873 in the Horton district.28 Bridget was followed by Alice Finnerty, born on 9 September 1875 in the Horton district,29 and finally, the last of their children, Ann Isabella Finearty, born on 24 December 1878, also in the Horton district.30

Meanwhile, Christopher Coffey’s children were pursuing families of their own. Mary Coffey married John Martin Henderson Davison on 21 September 1881 in the Catholic Church at Stanley, Tasmania. John was recorded as age 27, a labourer and a bachelor, while Mary was recorded as age 20, a servant and a spinster. The witnesses were F. and E. Burgess.31 John Davison was born on 5 June 1854 in the Horton district of VDL, the son of Robert Davison and Mary Henderson. He was registered as an un-named male at birth.32 Mary and John Davison would go on to have at least four children that have been traced.

Samuel James Coffey was the next to marry. On 23 January 1883 Samuel, record as James, Coffey, married Susan Tyler in the Catholic Church in Deloraine, Tasmania.33 Susan was born on 7 January 1859 in Westbury, the daughter of John Tyler and Bridget Elphin.34 Samuel and Susan would go on to have eleven children that have been traced.

Ellen Barbara Finnerty married Edward Owen Jones on 25 January 1886 at the residence of Rev. A. Bhonin, according to the rites and ceremonies of the Roman Catholic church, after Banns. The witnesses were John Bryam and Etty Carroll.35 Edward was born on 16 February 1864 in the Morven district, the son of Robert Jones and Margaret Edwards.36 Ellen and Edward had thirteen children that have been traced.

In January 1890 Michael Finnerty was charged with absconding from the Launceston Depot:

Mr . W. Waterhouse, P.M., disposed of the following cases at the Police Court on Saturday:-...Michael Finnerty, a truant from the Invalid Depot, was sentenced to a week's imprisonment.37

In April 1890, Bridget was noted for her bravery in a newspaper report concerned with the drowning of toddler in Black River.

STANLEY, APRIL 1. A distressing accident, whereby a fine little boy of fifteen months old lost his life, occurred at the Black River on Saturday last. Mrs Flora Alford, in crossing the river by means of a log, slipped and fell, and the child which she carried in her arms dropped into the water and immediately sank. The body of the child was not recovered until a late hour on the following day. At the inquest, held yesterday evening, a verdict of accidentally drowned was returned. Mrs Finnerty, in her efforts to recover the body while restoration to life seemed possible, exhibited undaunted courage.38

Michael Finnerty, the second partner of Bridget Gilligan, died on 12 September 1891 in the Depot, in Launceston, Tasmania at the reported age of 66. The cause of death was recorded as senility, not a diagnosis we would apply today as the cause of someone’s demise.

Before the old age pension we had invalid depots. The Launceston Depot was located in Royal Park, where the cenotaph now stands. The depot consisted of the converted military barracks, made obsolete by the abolition of the northern command in 1846.

In 1868 the old military barracks was converted as a refuge for the poverty-stricken, old and ill, many of them being ex-convicts. It became known as the Invalid Depot or Asylum.39

Happier times were to follow. Ann Isabella Finnerty, recorded as Isabelle, married John Walsh on 27 November 1895 in Stanley, Tasmania.40 John was born on 10 October 1869 in Hobart, Tasmania, the son of Richard Walsh and Honora Kelly Cronly.41 Ann and John would go on to have six children that have been traced.

Two years later, Ann’s sister Bridget Delia Finnerty, married Edward Laurence Wilson in 1897 in Gippsland, Victoria.42 Edward Wilson was born in 1876 in Rosedale, Victoria, the son of John Wilson and Mary Ann Payne.43 Bridget and Edward had four children that have been traced.

Bridget Finnerty was in court in June 1906 for a domestic dispute involving her daughter:


The Police Court has given little press material lately, and but one matter of recent date. On Monday last Bridget Finnerty was charged with assaulting her married daughter, Isabella Walsh, who was represented by Mr K. C. Laughton. The case proved trivial, being about a borrowed umbrella, and was dismissed. It scarcely calls for note, except for a novel objection raised by defendant, that the lawyer should "stand out and let them fight it out fair." 44

Far away from that strife, Michael and Bridget’s daughter Alice Veronica Finnarty is reported to have married Arthur Calderbank in 1908 in Sydney, New South Wales.45 Arthur was born in 1880 in Wallsend, New South Wales, the son of Thomas H, Calderbank and Charlotte Kemp.46 Three children have been traced from Alice and Thomas.

Bridget Finnerty, formerly Coffey, nee Gilligan, died on 19 December 1911 in Rosedale, Victoria. The cause of death was recorded as cardiac debility and old age. The informant at her death was Edward Wilson, son-in-law, so presumably Bridget had been living with Edward and her daughter Bridget at the time of her death. Bridget was buried on 21 December 1911 in the Rosedale Cemetery.47 Bridget is mentioned in “The Rosedale Story” by Don Macreadie:

Bridget Finnerty was the widow of Michael Finnerty and had reached the age of 83 years. She was born in Limerick and went to Tasmania in 1852, where she married in 1862, and had been in Victoria for seven(sic) years. She was the mother of Ellen 47, Kate 43, Michael 40, Delia 38, Alice 36 and Isabel 33. The informant was her son-in-law, E.L. Wilson. Buried Rosedale." 48

The Circular Head Chronicle reported Bridget’s death in January 1912:

Another old resident in the person of Mrs Finnerty passed away at Rosedale, Vic. last week, to where she has only recently gone from here. Mrs Finnerty was 75 years of age and was a resident of Forest for 41 Years.49

Samuel James Coffey died on 7 December 1927 in Kyneton, Victoria, Australia.50

John Martin Henderson Davison, the husband of Mary Coffey, died on 3 July 1932 in Forest, Tasmania.51


Mr. John Martin Henderson Davison, aged 78, passed away at Forest on Sunday morning after an illness of two years, of which he had been confined to his bed for three months. He was born at Black River and was a son of Capt. R. Davison, who brought his family out to Australia in his own ship, the St. George, afterwards wrecked in Hobson's Bay. Mr. Davison's last brother, Robert, died at Highfield about nine years ago. Mrs. Davison survives, as do three sons, W. H., F. R. and John, and one daughter, Mrs. Alan Spinks. Mr. Davison had been in Circular Head all his life, and was of a quiet, unassuming disposition, liked by all.

The funeral was at Stanley cemetery on Monday afternoon, when services were conducted at St. Paul's Church and at the graveside by the Rev. T. A Moore-Campbell, who paid an eloquent tribute to Mr. Davison's memory. The carriers were the four sons of Mr. Herbert Medwin, and the pallbearers Messrs. Fergus Medwin, Jarvis Waters, F. Burgess and H. J. Emmett, of whom the last two were old shipmates. Capt. Roberts, another old sea-faring friend, was also present.52

Mary Davison, nee Coffey, died on 2 July 1935 in Forest, Tasmania. The cause of death was recorded as Cerebral Heamorrhage(sic), Senile Decay and Exhaustion.

Mrs. M. Davison, Forest.

Mrs. Mary Davison. widow of the late Mr. John Davison, died at the residence of her son-in-law, Mr. Allan Spinks, Forest, yesterday morning, at the age of 76 years. She had been in failing health for a considerable time. She was greatly esteemed by all who knew her. Her sons are Messrs. John, Frank and William Davison. Mrs. Allan Spinks is her only daughter. The funeral is to take place at the Stanley Cemetery to-day, leaving Mr. Spinks' residence at 2.16 p.m.53

Mary was buried on the 3 July 1935 in the Old Pioneer Cemetery in Stanley, Tasmania.

Susan Coffey, nee Tyler, the wife of (Samuel) James Coffey, died in 1942 in Kyneton, Victoria.54

Michael Finnerty died in January 1944 in Wynyard, Tasmania. The following Obituary was published in the Circular Head Chronicle:

The late Mick Finnerty, who died at the Spencer Hospital, Wynyard on Tuesday last week, aged 73, belonged to a large group of men who made the Sydney Bulletin what it was years ago: men with little education but plenty of brains and native wit, curiosity and power of observation. Some years ago he was well known to readers of this paper as Nomad, and also wrote under other nom de plume. His copy took a lot of sub-editing but was worth it. Many people criticised his efforts claiming this, that and the other was wrong, but they always read them. He was the son of the late William and Bridget Finnerty and was born at Forest. He was what he called himself, a nomad, and had wandered in most of the Australian States and in New Zealand, but settled on a small property at South Forest in some twenty odd years ago and lived there until he retired to Forest a few years ago. He was a character, and scrupulously honest.

Fr. Murphy conducted the funeral at Wynyard on Wednesday, when the chief mourners were Messrs. William and Frank Davidson, nephews, and the carriers Messrs. Arthur Horton, George Davidson, F. Kinnane and A. L. Spinks. He leaves four sisters: Mesdames Crooks and Wilson of Melbourne, Calderbank of Newcastle and Evans of Smithton.55

According to Marlena Turner, a Finnerty family researcher, Michael Finnerty Jnr. was quite a character, apparently he used to have a few stills in the bush and make his own whisky. He drank half beer and half whisky and called it 10-80.56

Searching the Circular Head Chronicle for entries by Nomad returns a wealth of old-time discussion, sometimes contradictory as the following piece demonstrates:

I don’t intend to dwell any longer on this fighting subject. Well I can see there is more than one Nomad writing, and I think Mick Finnerty is as worthy of space in the paper as he is himself. He has mentioned people’s names that have been in this country before Fat Sam was born. Long Ike was working for my father, and when he left he went to Mr. F. W. Ford. I think if Mr. Nomad takes a sly glance at what he has been writing he won’t say any more about Mick Finnerty or anyone else.57

Ellen Barbara Harris, nee Finnerty, died on 6 May 1947 in Burnie, Tasmania.

HARRIS. On May 6, 1947, at the residence of her son-in-law, Mr. Charles Streets, Surrey Mill, Waratah, Ellen Barbara, relict of the late William Harris, of Devonport; aged 84 years. R.I.P.

HARRIS. The funeral of the late Mrs. Ellen Barbara Harris will leave the residence of her son-in-law, Mr. Charles Streets, Surrey Mill, TO-MORROW Friday, May 9), at 3 p.m., for interment in the Waratah cemetery. Friends are respectfully invited to attend.58

Arthur Calderbank, the husband of Alice Finnerty, died in June 1950 in Wallsend, New South Wales.59

CALDERBANK. The Remains of the late ARTHUR CALDERBANK, late of Dangar-street, Wallsend, were privately interred in the Catholic Cemetery, Wallsend, on Saturday, 1/7/50. 60

Arthur’s wife, Alice Veronica Calderbank, nee Finnerty, died in 1958 also in Wallsend, New South Wales.61

John Walsh, the husband of Ann Isabella Finnerty, died on 27 February 1959 in Launceston, Tasmania.62 John’s wife, Ann Isabella Walsh, nee Finnerty, died on 3 August 1971 in Kew, Victoria.63


Coffey, Finnerty, Davison, Spinks, Jones, Dobson, Evans, Wilson, Walsh or Welch, Turley