Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Colemans & Dwyers: From Ireland to Australia to America

This is the first in a series about my Coleman and Dwyer ancestors.

Kathleen Coleman, my great-grandmother.

 Growing up, I never heard Granny talk much about her mother’s family.  She’d talk about her father’s Dutch ancestry fairly often, but her mother’s background was a mystery to me until recently.  I remember Granny once saying that her maternal grandfather, Andrew Coleman, was something of an unpleasant character, who’d gone to Africa and been eaten by Zulus.  Knowing the way that Granny liked to tell a dramatic story, I laughed off this idea entirely.  Later, when I began researching our family’s genealogy, that story kept coming back to me.  Who was Andrew Coleman, and did he really go to Africa?  The search for answers turned up one of the most intriguing and tragic stories in my family’s history.

In 2007, I began working with a Melbourne-based genealogist, Peter Gill, to uncover the ancestors of Kathleen Coleman.  His meticulous and thorough research was instrumental in learning more about this family and I’m deeply appreciative of his help and guidance.

Let's start with the Colemans.

Our Coleman ancestry begins with Daniel Coleman and Bridget Heaney.  Daniel Coleman was born in 1824, either in Ireland or Australia.  Bridget Heaney was born about 1833 in County Tipperary, Ireland.  Her parents were Patrick Heaney, a farmer, and Hannah or Honorah (unreadable last name that could possibly be Bligh or Blighe).

My hunch is that Daniel and Bridget were both born in Ireland and married there prior to sailing to Australia, but that is not certain.  I have not yet been able to locate any passenger lists mentioning either of them.  We do know that Daniel and Bridget were married prior to 1859 and had the following children:

i.               ANDREW MARK COLEMAN, born 1859 in Redruth, Victoria, Australia; died October 2, 1941 in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia.
ii.              MARY COLEMAN, born 1860
iii.            ANN NORA COLEMAN, born 1862; died 1905.  Married Peter Doyle in Merino, Victoria, Australia in 1885.

The Coleman family lived in Merino, a small community located 213 miles west of Melbourne.  Daniel Coleman is listed among the “first families” of Merino, an area which was first settled in 1837 by the Henty family, who set up a small farm there.  The closest large city was Ballarat, located 140 miles east of Merino.  Ballarat was the site of one of Australia’s largest gold rushes, and the town’s population exploded in the 1850s after gold was discovered nearby.  Merino in the 1850s was home to a three-story flour mill, a shoemaking and saddle business, a post office and an inn, among other things.  A Church of England private boarding school opened in 1858, followed by a Roman Catholic private school in 1861.

Merino, circa 1885.  Photo courtesy of

 Daniel Coleman died on March 12, 1870 in Merino, Victoria, Australia.  A notice in the Hamilton Spectator newspaper on March 16, 1870 states the following:


It is with great regret that I have to announce the death of Mr. Daniel Coleman, a very old resident of this township.  He had been suffering for some time from a chronic complaint and died last Saturday morning.

On April 20, 1871, Bridget remarried to Michael Nolan.  She would have been in her late 30s at the time of this marriage. 

Michael Nolan was born in 1830 in County Kilkenny, Ireland.  Prior to his marriage to Bridget Heaney Coleman, he’d been married for many years to Mary Byrne, who was born in County Kilkenny, Ireland in 1826 and died in Victoria, Australia in 1869.  Michael and Mary Nolan had five children from their marriage, all born in Australia, the oldest of whom was just fifteen at the time of Michael’s marriage to Bridget Heaney Coleman.  This means that, upon the marriage of Michael and Bridget, there were now eight children living in the Nolan household. 

These are the children of Michael Nolan and Mary Byrne, the step-siblings of our Coleman ancestor Andrew Coleman:

i.               EDWARD NOLAN, born 1856
ii.              JOHN NOLAN, born 1857
iii.            JAMES NOLAN, born 1860
iv.             CATHERINE NOLAN, born 1861
v.              CHARLES NOLAN, born 1864; died 1920 in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

The step-siblings seem to have formed relationships with each other and kept in touch after leaving the Nolan/Coleman home.  We know that Charles Nolan visited with Andrew Coleman’s wife Mary Dwyer Coleman in Melbourne and gave a statement to police upon her death.

My great-great-grandfather, Andrew Mark Coleman was born in 1859, the eldest child of Daniel and Bridget Coleman.  A birth record indicates that he was born in Redruth, which is a little unusual.  Redruth is a community near Burra in South Australia, eight hours driving distance north of Merino.  Burra was a major site for copper mining in the 1850s and it attracted miners from all over Australia.  Redruth was a township set up nearby that housed miners and government buildings.  While documentation shows that Daniel Coleman relocated his family to Redruth for a time, since Andrew’s birth and death records clearly state that he was born there, the Colemans were lifelong residents of Merino and Andrew grew up in Merino.

Andrew Coleman had two sisters, Mary and Ann Nora.  We know nothing of Mary Coleman, other than the fact that she was born in 1860.  Ann Nora Coleman, born 1862, married Peter Doyle on September 30, 1885 at her mother and step-father’s house in Merino.  Peter Doyle was the son of James and Alice Doyle, who had emigrated from Dublin, Ireland to Australia in 1852.  James Doyle owned the Bridge Inn in Casterton, near Merino, in the 1880s.  Peter and Ann Nora Doyle had six children together before Ann Nora died in 1905.

Andrew Coleman married Mary Dwyer on October 31, 1885 at St. Francis Catholic Church in Melbourne, Australia.  Built between 1841 and 1845, St. Francis Church is a well-known historical site in Melbourne.  Information from the website for St. Francis Church:

St Francis’ Church (at 326 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne) is the oldest Catholic Church in Victoria and the oldest church on its original site in Melbourne.

Today, St Francis is the busiest church in Australia, with forty-three masses and over 10,000 visiting worshippers each week.

This leads us to Mary Dwyer, so I will backtrack and talk about the Dwyer ancestry before proceeding.  We are just getting started with these families, so stay tuned!

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