My Three Brick Walls – No. 2 Bridget Bain

As is the way with my mystery women, Bridget Bain comes to our attention at the time of her marriage.

Southern Tasmania was and still is heavily wooded and well watered.  The winters are cold, damp and foggy.  The summers are occasionally warm but just as often cool and showery.  The area is hilly and the rivers are deep and broad.  It’s a very pretty place and the soil is very productive.

Back in its early years, it was home to Aboriginal tribes who were quite friendly with the early settlers, until some early settlers were unfriendly to them.  In the 1830’s, sealers traversed the coast and often took Aboriginal women to accompany them.  The sealers don’t have a very good name in Tasmanian history, they come across as brutal and often sadistic. Perhaps it was the nature of the work.  Perhaps there were good men amongst them, the more spectacular stories are usually the ones best remembered.

Southern Tasmania today but an area still looking as it might have in the 19th century.
Southern Tasmania today, an area still looking as it might have in the 19th century.
Massively enlarged portion of a map of Tasmania which my grandfather used at school.
Massively enlarged portion of a map of Tasmania which my grandfather used at school.

Since this map was printed at the Tasmanian Government Offices for classroom use in 1902 it seems to meet the copyright requirements,so I’ll probably use it a lot.  Because it was for classroom use, it contains details not commonly found on a map, such as the main produce of the regions.  For Bridget Bain, this would be a glimpse into the future.  In the 1850s most terrain south of Hobart was very hilly and very much forested.  Transport was mostly by boat on the Derwent River, the Huon River and in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel which passed between Bruny Island and the southeast coast.  New houses were built along the rivers and all had their own jetty and their own dingy.

After the sealers came sawyers, after the sawyers came orchardists.  Convicts were given land in the area after serving out their sentence or receiving their pardon. It was inhospitable land, every tree required a two-man saw and there was no flat land to be found.  Without roads leading in or out, it was difficult to bring furniture except by boat.  This area was certainly not popular with the free settlers who preferred to go north and inland from Hobart.  But it worked out well for small groups of men who could work together and were not afraid of hard labour.  It particularly suited those who liked to live away from the authoritative eye, who liked the sense of freedom one could experience in unpopulated land.  About 80% of those who ended up in this region – who made a roaring success of the place – were convicts.

Three such convicts were the men once known as the Dillane brothers, from Ireland, now known as the Dillon brothers.  Edmund, John and Timothy were mature adults when they committed their crime and it was a first offence for all.  Transported on the same ship in 1852 at the ages of 38, 35 and 31, each left wives behind and the elder two left chldren.

John, the one who is relevant here, received his ticket of leave in February 1854 and was granted a conditional pardon in December of the same year.  His brothers followed a similar path and by early 1855, the three of them headed for the Huon.

John had left a wife and four children in Ireland but maybe his wife died.  Her name was Joanna Dillane nee Moore and she has not been located since John’s transportation.  A man and wife separated for over seven years were legally allowed to consider the marriage over, freeing them up to remarry.  This was a very necessary law for a colony of fit and free ex-convicts.  Administration had realized that a wife could manage these men better than they could.  A married man was a happier man, a man with a purpose, a man with a sense of belonging.  It didn’t work for all but it was very good for the colony where it did work, and the new generation was very much needed as a workforce.

Although John had only been separated from Joanna for four years, he married Bridget Bain on the 18th August 1856 in the riverside town of Franklin in the Huon Valley.  He stated that he was a widower.

Marriage of John Dillon and Bridget Bain
Marriage of John Dillon and Bridget Bain

This is earliest mention I can find of Bridget in Tasmania.  Edmund Dillon had made arrangement for his family to come and join him.  His wife refused, but some of his adult children came.  I have sometimes wondered whether Bridget came on the same boat. At the very least, John’s niece and nephews may have brought news of Joanna’s demise.

Who Bridget was is still unknown and there are very few clues.  Her surname can be found in Ireland, Scotland and England.  Her first name is Irish but not exclusively so.  She was born in 1834 according to her marriage record, and 1837 according to her death record.  Following the trend of the time, she may have been younger and raised her age for the marriage since she was marrying a much older man.  John did the usual and subtracted four years from his true age.  He was actually about to turn forty.  Bridget may have been as young as 17.

The witnesses at the wedding were Timothy Dillon and Margaret Mackey. Timothy was John’s brother.  Margaret, as far as we can tell, was Mrs Margaret Mackey nee Foley and the new wife of Michael Mackey.  Michael Mackey was transported from Ireland on the same ship as the Dillane brothers, and he and his wife settled on a neighbouring property in Port Cygnet.

Quite a group of them from the same convict ship had headed out to Port Cygnet – the three Dillons, Michael Mackey, John Mackey and Patrick Stack feature strongly in the lives of John and Bridget Dillon.  However, both witnesses being associated with John still leaves Bridget, an isolated young Catholic girl making her permanent home with a group of Irish ex-cons about twice her age. She was a brave young lady.

John and Bridget settled at Glazier’s Bay in the district of Port Cygnet, on the above map this is near the town called Lovett (and more easily found by the word FRUIT).  The town went through several name changes and today is called Cygnet.   Their eldest son, born in 1857, was named Edward Dillon – some say Edward Emmett Dillon – and maybe there is a clue in that middle name.  Nothing has been uncovered yet.

John’s brother Timothy left the region, but John and Bridget remained there and became known as one of the district’s pioneering families.  They had twelve children.  As usual, John informed for the children’s births and Bridget remains unsighted.

Birth record of Mary Teresa Dillon, my great great grandmother.
Birth record of Mary Teresa Dillon 1860, my great great grandmother.

Bridget died on 8th August 1903 in Cygnet and is buried in the Catholic cemetery in Cygnet with a million other Dillons. I will add a photograph of her grave when I convert it to digital format.

"Family Notices." The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954) 10 Aug 1903: 1. Web. 14 Oct 2014 .
“Family Notices.” The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954) 10 Aug 1903: 1. Web. 14 Oct 2014 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12259275&gt;.
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4 thoughts on “My Three Brick Walls – No. 2 Bridget Bain

  1. I’m also a descendant of Bridget Bain and John Dillon. I have no more clues to her origins either, sadly! Let me know if you find anything.

    1. Actually, you know what? I might have just found something. There was a Bridget Bain who arrived on the ship Broomielaw from Glasgow on 26 Nov 1859, aged 24. Could this be her? Info is from Tasmanian archives

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