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Tony Whelan
in Canberra, Australia


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Whelan family history research

Hildebrand
Whelan
Ballantyne
The information summarised here was obtained partly by my own research, but much of it is also thanks to the work of other researchers with a common interest in this family. I am indebted to those cousins who have helped to put the pieces of the puzzle together and hope that further collaboration will eventually fill in some of the remaining mysteries, of which there are several.

The surname Whelan (and the variant Phelan) is an anglicised derivation of the Gaelic name O'Faolain. Unfortunately for family history researchers, Whelan is not a rare name. Some years ago I read in McLysaght's Irish Families that it was the seventy-ninth most common in Ireland, and that if the Phelans are added it moves to forty-fourth place, encompassing about 12,000 persons in Ireland.

According to McLysaght's, most of the Whelan families came from around the south-east counties of Waterford, Kilkenny, Wexford and Carlow, their O'Faolain ancestors "having been Princes of the Decies before the Norman Invasion".

The first ancestor to arrive in Australia was Adam Whelan. The evidence of Adam's arrival in Melbourne is the passenger list for the clipper Schomberg which sailed from Liverpool on 6 October 1855 on its maiden voyage. Eighty-two days later, on Boxing Day, the westerly current grounded the vessel near Cape Otway in western Victoria, where it soon broke up. The passengers were transferred to other vessels and ferried to Melbourne.

On his children's birth certificates, Adam's place of birth is shown as simply "Tipperary Ireland" or "County Tipperary". However in 2010 the Tipperary Family History Research (TFHR) located a baptism on 31 December 1832 in the Tipperary (Catholic) parish of the Archdioces of Cashel and Emly, in County Tipperary. The name Adam is rare for the Whelan surname, so I feel confident this baptism is the correct person. His father was James Whelan, mother Mary O'Brien. On his death certificate, Adam's parents are shown as "not known" so we have no corroboration.

TFHR also searched for the marriage of Adam's parents, the baptism record for his father James Whelan, and any other baptisms for children of James and Mary. They searched all 46 Catholic Parishes within the Archdiocese for all years, but no records were found. This suggests that Mary and James married in another diocese; the diocesan boundaries do not coincide with county boundaries,  and some records for Tipperary are held in centres at Waterford and Nenagh, which have not yet been searched.  Its equally possible that they married in another county altogether, and also possible that  their details were recorded in a small rural  church for which records did not survive.

It should also be remembered that "As a result of restrictions placed on Irish Catholics from 1550 until the Emancipation Act of 1829, proper record keeping was difficult and potentially dangerous for priests and their congregations, and only a small proportion of Roman Catholic baptism, marriage and burial registers survive from before the 1820s. 
Registers for more densely populated and poorer parishes in the west and north usually do not start until the mid-19th century. Of course, the poorer areas were also those that supplied the greatest numbers of emigrants, which means that the descendants of those that left Ireland are the most likely to be frustrated by the lack of Catholic records." (Reference: http://www.irish-genealogy-toolkit.com/Roman-Catholic-baptism.html)

According to the family tradition passed on by a late cousin of my father, in about 1853 Adam Whelan married Mary McInerney in Tipperary, whereupon Mary travelled to Melbourne and worked as a domestic servant for two years before Adam joined her. I had doubted the Irish marriage, but a TFHR search confirms it; Adam Whelan married Mary MacInerney on 8 September 1953 in Tipperary parish, witnessed by Catherine Ryan. No other details were recorded.

Mary McInerney's origins are uncertain. Her 1909 death certificate lists her parents as "unknown McInerney" though her father's occupation is shown as "farmer". Whoever supplied the information for the certificate felt that Mary had married at age 15, but did not know where the marriage took place. Searching for her birth is a diffcult task, as the name "McInerney" is capable of an almost infinite variety of spelling variants, and the name "Mary" is hardly uncommon! This is one of the mysteries to be tackled one day when time permits.

Mary McInerney/Whelan's arrival details in Melbourne are also unclear, despite quite a bit of work. However we know the couple's first child was conceived a few weeks after Adam's arrival in Melbourne in the final week of 1855.

Adam and Mary lived in the West Melbourne area for the rest of their lives. Adam's occupation, as shown on most of the certificates of his children's births and deaths, and that of his own death certificate, is that of "laborer". One of his children's death certificates lists Adam as a "railway employee", others as a "bricklayer" or a "builder", and another (mistakenly) as a "farmer".

Adam and Mary's first child Michael Joseph was born in November 1856, and the second child Patrick in 1858. Ten other children followed in the period 1859 to 1874 - six of them girls. All survived to adult-hood, though Bridget and Joseph both died in their twenties from tuberculosis, and the same disease took Adam junior in his mid thirties.

Adam and Mary Whelan died in their West Melbourne home in 1895 and 1909 respectively. They are buried together in the historic Melbourne General Cemetery, with their three unmarrried children (Bridget, Joseph, Thomas), in an unmarked plot, like so many in the old cemetery.

My branch of the family descends from Adam and Mary's second son, Patrick Whelan. In 1884 Patrick married Margaret Clancy at St Mary's Catholic Church in West Melbourne; both were in their mid-twenties. Margaret was a daughter of Michael Clancy and Margaret Scanlan, who migrated to Melbourne from Spiddle near the town of Galway, Ireland, in about 1857. Margaret was apparently the first white woman born in the area of Keilor Plains, then very much bushland and now suburban Melbourne's Avondale Heights, on the banks of the Maribyrnong River.

Patrick and Margaret Whelan had eleven children - four of them girls. Their eighth child, Patrick, died in his early twenties, while the ninth child, Thomas, lived to the age of ninety-three. His mother Margaret had lived till her early nineties, whilst his father Patrick had passed eighty years of age. Patrick and Margaret are buried in Footscray Cemetery. Their sixth child Michael was my grandfather, who died in 1978.

In 1996 I produced my first Whelan family history in printed form, a very modest 41 pages in length. In October 2015 I released to family members a substantially expanded (176-page) version of the Whelan Family History, containing over 170 photographs. If you would like to get in touch about this family line, email: ozgowrie AT gmail DOT com
 Tony Whelan 2008-2015 This page was last updated on 20 June 2016