James Goold and Catherine Hegarty

Church of St Francis, Lonsdale Street, Melbourne. Courtesy City of Kingston, Kingston Collection.

James Goold and Catherine Hegarty were married by Daniel Maclacy a Catholic priest at the church of St Francis in Melbourne on July 2, 1843. James signed the certificate James Gould although an alternative spelling is also used in the same document. Catherine signed herself with a cross. In later documents she signed her name in full. Witnesses at the wedding were Abigail Hegarty, mother of the bride, Edmund Hobard and Ellen Rourke. According to his death certificate James was the son of William Goold, a carpenter, and Doracas Smith. [1]

James arrived in Melbourne on the ship, William Metcalfe on August 27, 1841 when he was about twenty years of age. This was the second voyage of the William Metcalfe carrying assisted migrants to Melbourne. It had previously sailed to the Port Phillip District in 1839 when it brought 230 migrants. In the early days of the colony there was a great demand for labour. The English Government had adopted the principle of using the income from land sales to assist potential migrants to make the often hazardous journey south. It was seen as a way of steadily draining Britain of its surplus pauper population and providing a labour force for continuing expansion of Australian rural production. [2]

The year 1841 was one of the most notable in the early years for the number of people helped. £217,000 had been obtained from land sales in 1840 and £121,000 was used to bring people to Port Phillip. In 1841 forty four vessels brought nearly eight thousand migrants, almost doubling the population of the infant colony. To achieve this number the shipping companies selected the migrants, provided passage and provisions and were reimbursed by the payment of a bounty for each person who arrived safely.[3]

Priest’s blessing for Irish Emigrants Leaving Home. Courtesy City of Kingston, Kingston Collection.

Besides the availability of government assistance to immigrants, what possible reasons would James Goold want to leave Ireland in 1841? Ireland had been racked with political and religious tensions for centuries and the nineteenth century was no different. The English were seen by much of the Irish population as intruders who had taken control of large portions of arable land and instituted a legal system that disadvantaged the native population since the time of the Middle Ages.

During the period 168890 James II, the deposed Catholic English king, was attempting to regain his throne and the Irish lent him support. Troops loyal to James landed in Ireland and laid siege to the walled town of Londonderry. William of Orange, the new Protestant English king responded to this act by arriving with his own army and defeating his opponents at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. From this time the English attempted to subdue the Irish with a series of laws which denied Catholics freedom of worship, entry into the legal profession, the right to buy land, to attend school or go abroad to study.

The Irish land was divided into large estates which were sub-divided into tenancies which in turn were divided into small holdings. In 1841 almost half of the farms in Ireland were less than five acres. [4] The small landholders had no security. They rented their tiny plots from one season to the next. The reason they were able to survive and feed their families on such a small amount of land was the nutritious potato.

In 1845 Ireland was hit by a major disaster. The potato crop failed. Repeated failure of the potato crop over the next six years decimated the population but James Goold and Catherine Hegarty both left Ireland before the Great Famine of 1845. James arrived in Melbourne in 1841 and Catherine, with her parents in 1834. Consequently, it was not the Great Famine that caused them to emigrate to Australia but shortages of food were experienced by many of the Irish population before that time. Another possible reason for their departure may have been living conditions in Ireland and their desire or the desire of their parents to improve their situation. The Poor Enquiry in 1835 and the census in 1841 revealed the extent of Irish poverty. Almost half of all farms in Ireland were of less than five acres. Two-fifths of the population were found to be living in ‘fourth-class accommodation - one-room cabins built of mud, turf or loose stone, lacking a chimney or proper windows, and almost invariably damp and unfurnished. Smoke from the fire escaped through the leaky roof and the occupants often sleep on piles of straw on the bare earth, usually sharing this accommodation with the family pig and chickens, if they had any …. They owed their high fertility, their large families and their relative health to the mildness of the climate, the availability of turf for fuel and the abundance of the potato crop. But even by the standards of the time it was a wretched existence [5]

Given this situation it is not surprising that hundreds of thousands of Irish men and women choose to leave Ireland and seek a new beginning in America or Australia. The Goolds and Hegartys were no exceptions but the conditions they were to face in the infant colony of Port Phillip District were also trying.

Conditions in the new town in 1840 were primitive. Streets were in a deplorable condition. Sutherland [6] describes Flinders Street as ‘a bog of rich adhesive black mud lying between a row of houses and shops in one hand, and on the other that dense tea-tree scrub that lines the river bank.’ During wet weather in July, Collins Street had become so cut up that bogged carts required a couple of teams of six, eight or ten bullocks to free them. In 1841 Bourke Street was seen as ‘a series of gullies, rivulets, ponds and bogs’. In the summer months of that same year, the district’s thirteen doctors each saw, on average, a patient buried each week suffering from typhoid fever and dysentery. ‘There were then no sewers, and the drainage of six thousand people could not stagnate for weeks in the Williams Creek, as Elizabeth-street was then called, without some serious result.

James Goold’s first child, Catherine, was born in Melbourne in 1845 but the next two, William and Mary, were born in Geelong. By 1850 James and his family were living in the Brighton region. It was at Brighton in that year that James and Catherine’s fourth child was born. James remained in what became known as East Brighton until his death on May 24, 1883 at sixty three years of age. The cause of death is listed as hypertrophia cordis and hydrothorax - congestion in the lungs. He was buried in the Brighton Cemetery on May 26, 1883. The monument on the grave gives James’s age at death as sixty four and a half years and records his surname as Goold..

Detail from the head stone of the grave of James Goold. Courtesy City of Kingston, Kingston Collection.

Born in Dublin in 1825 Catherine Hegarty, came to Australia with her parents John Hegarty and Abigail Ryan. They travelled to Sydney on the Calcutta and subsequently on the Hope to Melbourne in 1839. Catherine died at 70 years of age on August 30, 1895, twelve years after her husband. She suffered from varicose ulcers of the legs and haemorrhages from ruptured veins. Her death was noted as being sudden although her last illness had gone on for years. She was buried with James in the Brighton Cemetery. Like the name Goold, Hegarty has different spellings. On the Irish baptism records the spelling is Hegarty but shipping and marriage records show the name as Hagerty. The spelling Hagarty is used on the baptism record of a son.

James, Catherine and their children were one of the first five Catholic families to settle in the Bentleigh or East Brighton district. Both James and Catherine were signatories to a petition dated March 1, 1853 to the then Lieutenant-Governor, Charles Latrobe, requesting payment of an annual stipend of two hundred pounds per annum to the newly arrived priest, Father Patrick Niall. The parish history of St Peter's, East Bentleigh indicates that the families, including the Goolds were ‘destined to play quite active parts in the future development of the church in the district.’ [7] Fr Niall arrived in September 1852 to take responsibility for the Brighton-St Kilda mission which stretched from Emerald Hill to Portsea and to the East as far as Warragul and Korumburra.

Dobson wrote, James Gould and his wife Catherine were neighbours of the Hanrahans and Carrolls in Bignell Road. Here they worked their market garden which seemed to stretch towards Brady Road - an area of 10 acres is shown at the address in 1869. Later in 1871 an additional market garden of 21 acres in East Boundary Road was worked by James and his teen-aged sons - James (1850-1871), Thomas (1855-1903), Michael (1859-1932), and Stephen (1861-1912). Two daughters - Catherine, who was born in Ireland before the family came to Australia (1845-1914), and Elizabeth (1853-1934) were the other children. The information about the Goold family contained in the history of the parish of St Peter’s in East Bentleigh has some errors and is incomplete. James and Catherine were married in Melbourne in what was then part of New South Wales and not in Ireland. All thirteen children were born in Victoria.

Land memorials show that James Gould purchased Lot 6 in Portion 58, approximately ten acres of land, on October 16, 1859. The land was sold by Francis Bryant and John Bignell for £150 sterling. The Rates Book for the Shire of Moorabbin in 1862 lists James Goold as the owner of two properties, one in Boundary Road and one in Bignell Road. The former property had a weatherboard building valued at £18. The Bignell Road property was land only. In subsequent years the addresses are recorded as Brady Road, and East Boundary Road where a four room house existed. Rate records for the year 1874 show ten people living on the East Boundary property but in the following year this had reduced to six.

As a result of James Goold’s death in 1883 the Rate Book records of 1884 indicate that Catherine was the owner of both properties but Stephen her son was the occupier of the ten acres in Brady Road. On June 3, 1893, a time of severe economic depression, Catherine mortgaged the Brady Road land to Joseph Alfred Wilmoth, solicitor of 418 Chancery Lane, Melbourne, for £50. She sold this land to Richard Kennedy in January 1895 seven months before her death.

The sandy soil of the area was ideal for growing vegetables and fruit. Cribbin [8] describes the early market gardening families as ‘good, honourable and hardworking people. They were neighbourly, had a keen sense of community, and were generally strongly religious.’ ‘The farmers who first worked the land were generally, plain, honourable, hard-working people, with little or no capital, and sparse education. A number of the most successful early farmers were unable to read or write. Some had agricultural backgrounds as farm labourers, but few seem to have brought other specific trades or skills.’

In his will, made on the day of his death, James left his estate to his wife. He stipulated,

… I give leave and bequest unto my wife Catherine Goold, the whole of my estate both real and personal whatsoever and wheresoever (provided always that she remains a widow) for her lifetime, but in the event she remarries again or at her demise. That my executors to take possession of and sell … the whole of the aforesaid estate and to divide the proceeds of such sale qually between all my children.

He appointed John Hegarty of the St Kilda Baths and Thomas Judd, carpenter of Fitzroy his executors. The witnesses to the will were Henry Box and Thomas Stone, both gardeners of East Brighton. Probate was granted on June 26, 1883.

What enticed James Goold, with his wife and three young children to settle at East Brighton or as it was later to be called East Bentleigh? For at least three years the family had been living in the Geelong district so why the change? It may have been because they learned of the good growing conditions existing there, sandy soil and sources of water. It may have been the possibility of better employment opportunities. Or it may have been the presence of fellow Irishmen who encouraged the Goolds to join them. Whatever the reason or reasons that attracted the Goolds to East Bentleigh they remained there for several generations working the land and being involved in their community.

The grave of James and Catherine Goold in the Brighton Cemetery. Courtesy City of Kingston, Kingston Collection.


  1. Note the spelling of the surnames varies from one document to another and even within the one document. For consistency in this article, the spelling Goold and Hegarty are used, rather than Gould, Hagerty, or Heggarty.
  2. Cannon, M & MacFarlane, I., Historical Records of Victoria, Volume 6, 1991.
  3. Cannon, M & MacFarlane, I., ibid.
  4. Percival, John, The Great Famine: Ireland’s Potato Famine 1845 – 1851, 1995 page, 46[5] Percival, John, ibid.
  5. Sutherland, A., Victoria and Its Metropolis, 1888.
  6. Dobson, W. T., The Living Harvest, 1974[8] Cribbin, J., Moorabbin: A Pictorial History, 1994.
16 February 2014
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