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Nicole Kidman’s Irish Ancestry

Cape of Good Hope, November 1841. Seated in his cabin, Surgeon James Paton opened his journal, dipped his quill in ink and wrote. ‘Marianne Masters, deceased, aged 7, probably cause, teething’. The child’s death brought the number of dead so far to eight. By the time the ship reached Sydney, thirteen of his passengers had died, nine of them were children under the age of seven with teething problems.

Surgeon Paton would later read the English Registrar-General’s report on teething from 1842, which maintained that 4.8% of all infants who died in London under the age of 1, 7.3% of those between the ages of 1 and 3 and 12% of all deaths under four years were directly attributed to teething.

Such narrow odds must have weighted heavily upon James Gallagher, a 24-year-old agricultural labourer from County Cavan, whose young wife Bridget, a farm servant, had delivered their firstborn child Hugh in the early days of the five-month voyage to Australia. And so it must have been with considerable relief that the couple and their 272 fellow passengers watched Botany Bay and the small town of Sydney hove into view in January 1842. Over the next ten years, young Hugh was blessed with three brothers, Philip, James and Thomas. Philip was great-great-grandfather to Nicole Kidman.

According to the emigration papers that James Gallagher submitted to the Superintendent of Emigrants in Sydney in 1842, he was born in Rathkenny (or Rakenny), near Cootehill, County Cavan, in 1818. His parents Philip and Mary Gallagher (Callachor) were still resident of Rathkenny when he sailed for Australia.

Rathkenny is a townland of 340 acres in the parish of Drung, located 6km south-west of Cootehill. It is famed for the beauty of the Annalee River which glides through a landscape variously described in an 1846 report as ‘rocky’, ‘bad’ and ‘broken and unequal’, although there were ‘several quarries of good building stone’ nearby. The area around Rathkenny had boomed during the heyday of Ulster linen but, by 1840, it was in decline.

The population of Drung parish in 1841 was 6,551, spread through some 1,099 houses, one of which was presumably occupied by the Gallaghers. They were almost certainly tenant farmers or employees of the Lucas Clements family who lived at Rathkenny House, a classical three-bay mansion built in 1829 by William Farrell.

Theophilus Lucas-Clements, owner of the house, descended from a prosperous Leicestershire wine merchant whose family had scaled the heights of the Protestant Ascendancy, racking up land, titles and considerable wealth. His immensely wealthy great-uncle Nathaniel Clements was head of the Irish Treasury in the 1770s and, as an amateur architect, designed many of the houses on Dublin’s Henrietta Street, as well as the building that became Áras an Uachtaráin in the Phoenix Park.

Lucas-Clements was certainly an influential man across the British Empire and perhaps it was a letter of recommendation from him that persuaded the New South Wales authorities to invite the Gallaghers to settle in their colony. The invitation may have been connected to Archbishop Polding who would later ordain Hugh.

James Gallagher’s wife Bridget was born in 1822 and hailed from Drumane on the western side of County Cavan, in the boggy foothills of Cuilcagh Mountain. Her father Hugh Masterson was still alive when she sailed for Sydney but her mother Ellen had passed away.

The Gallaghers sailed upon the Agnes Ewing, a 641-ton three-masted barque chartered by the government of New South Wales to bring skilled workers out to the British colony. Officially called ‘assisted’ or ‘bounty’ migrants, their passage was paid on condition that, upon arrival, they would go to work for a specific person. The Gallaghers had a bounty of £19.

The Agnes Ewing sailed from Liverpool on 29th September 1841 with 285 bounty migrants on board – ploughmen, weavers, carpenters, seamstresses, teachers, farm labourers and such like. As well as the passengers, she carried the latest news from London and a sizeable cargo of merchandise, including 100 barrels of coal tar and pitch, 100 boxes of soap, 800 planks of wood, 20,000 slates, 995 sacks of salt and two winnowing machines. Aside from the thirteen deaths, nothing is known of the voyage. They apparently passed no other ships en route. Surgeon Paton had an assistant surgeon called Christopher Davies who appears to have been a passenger drafted in to help, presumably as the death tally mounted.

Upon arrival in Sydney’s Port Jackson, Archibald Reid, the ship’s captain anchored off the quarantine station at the Heads and bade Dr. Savage, the colony’s health officer, to come on board and inspect the passengers. According to the Sydney Gazette, Dr. Savage ‘minutely inquired into the nature of the various cases of sickness that occurred during the voyage, but finding none of them were infectious, he allowed the ship to come up to Sydney.’

A correspondent from The Australasian Chronicle watched as the Gallaghers and their fellow passengers clambered onto solid land at Thom’s Wharf in Darling Harbour. He later wrote that ‘the immigrants which have arrived … appear to be, in a very healthy condition, and from their respectable appearance some care seems to have been taken in their selection’.

Above: Bridget Gallagher’s emigration papers.

On the Gallaghers’ emigration papers, both James and Bridget were described as in ‘good health’ and ‘likely to be useful’.

The papers also give the first indication of a curious anomaly to do with James’s family name.* While he gave his fathers’ name as ‘Philip Gallagher’, he gave his own as ‘James Callachor’. The spelling appears to have been deliberate as James and Bridget could both read and write. In any event, the family henceforth went by the name of ‘Callachor’ and today all Australians of that name descend from James and Bridget.

The Gallaghers, or Callachors, were scheduled to take up work with George Townsend, a wealthy Welsh landowner based in the low-lying lands of the Hunter Valley to the north of Sydney. Born in 1798, Townsend was amongst the first pioneers to take up land in the area, acquiring 2,560 acres in 1826 which he named ‘Trevallyn’ after his family home in Wales. Over the next fifteen years the energetic Welshman amassed over 10,0000 acres along the Paterson River. He bred sheep, cattle and horses and grew tobacco, as well as experimenting, unsuccessfully, with cotton and grapes.

During the 1830s, Townsend’s employees had nearly all been convicts but he was clearly minded towards free settlers when he invited the Gallaghers to join his workforce. In Australia, Townsend was famed for his elegant and affluent lifestyle and certainly a free settler destined for Trevallyn would have expected a degree of fun when work was finished.

However, it is unclear whether the Gallaghers ever actually worked for Townsend. A property crash followed by a severe drought saw his fortunes collapse over the course of 1841. Just days before the Agnes Ewing docked in Sydney, he was obliged to sell ten of his smaller farms in the Hunter Valley. By March 1842, he had lost nearly all of his property except the Trevallyn estate up for sale.

The Gallaghers may nonetheless have journeyed to Trevallyn where Townsend continued to reside up until his death in 1872. However, in October 1846, a woman called Bridget Gallagher was granted a 12-month hawking license, entitling her to travel through the Hunter Valley, selling goods with a horse and cart.

By 1854, the Callachor’s were back in Sydney, living in the working class district of Woolloomooloo. James was evidently an honest man, placing an advertisement in The Sydney Morning Herald that he had found a sum of money and world pass it on once the owner paid the cost of the advertisement.

Their son Hugh was educated at the Catholic college in Lyndhrust where he excelled at Geography and Latin. He later became a Benedictine priest, teaching at Lyndhurst College. Described as ‘a tall and bustling extrovert, Father Callachor was said to have been from ‘an equally extrovert and devout family who seldom failed to take part in the never-ending flow of concerts and functions that entertained the parish from 1882 to 1891.’ In 1888, Fr Callachor set up a branch of the Catholic Total Abstinence Association with 120 paid-up members. In 1896, he went on a six-month trip to Europe in a state of ‘bad health’. Two years later, the 57-year-old Benedictine – who was born on the Agnes Ewing’s voyage from Liverpool – died in Sydney.

Above: The birth of Austin S Callachor, son of Philip Callachor and Theresa Howley, as announced in the Sydney Mail, 26 October 1872.

James and Bridget were also parents of Philip Joseph Callachor who married Theresa Mary Howley on 13 April 1869. Theresa gave birth to a son Austin Callachor on 12 October 1872 in West Street, Darlinghurst, where Theresa died on 26 January 1878. (She also had a daughter, Mary Agnes, with Philip). Philip was married secondly in 1881 to Annie Marie Meade with whom he had 2 daughters and one son. Philip died on 26 January 1909; Annie Marie died in 1951. 

Austin Callachor was a coffee and tea merchant, operating from Bond Street, Sydney. His wife Julia Finn was the daughter of John Finn, a Kerryman who emigrated from Ireland in the 1860s. Shortly after their marriage, their nine-room house was destroyed by a gas explosion, just days before they were due to move in.

Austin and Julia had two sons, Julian and Denis, and five daughters, Tessa, Margaret, Ena, Bertha and Mary. Austin was seriously injured in a crash on Sydney’s North Shore line in 1915 when a train upon he was a passenger ran into a dead end. He recovered and survived until 1933, passing away aged 60. Julia died aged 73 in 1946. Three years later, their second daughter Margaret married meat exporter Arthur Kidman.Their son Anthony Kidman (1938-2014), a biochemist and clinical psychologist, was Nicole’s father.




With thanks to Steve Callachor and Maria O’Brien, who helped with the research of this story for an Irish Daily Mail article in 2011.




* James’s younger brother Philip Callachor had also arrived in Australia and was working as a hawker in Queensland. He later settled at Yetman, north of Sydney, a land famed for the quality of its woolly sheep. His wife Mary, née Fitzgerald, was from Ballylongford, County Kerry and claimed to have been at school with Lord Kitchener in her youth. The couple had six sons and three daughters, including the Australian Labour politician Ellen Webster. Several of Philip and Mary’s sons established Callachor Brothers, which became one of the foremost wool-broking firms in New South Wales.