Agnes McKee
(1813 [1] —1880)

Married to Samuel Armour



My mother told me stories about my Scotch great grandmother and we spent hours hunting for my great grandparents’ graves in St Matthew’s church yard Windsor, NSW. What my mother didn’t know was that my Northern Irish great grandparents were buried down the road in the Presbyterian cemetery. This was to take many years to find out, and information had to be checked and rechecked by myself and other family members.

Agnes was born in the parish of Blaris, County Down on 3rd May 1813 as the daughter of John and Mary McKee née Peel. She married Sam Armour the son of William and Agnes Armour née McMullen probably in 1832. I have found, like many others, Irish family history difficult and expensive, and so I am leaving it to another generation to follow up. I can explain why my mother thought they were Scotch. James I brought Scotch farm workers to Northern Ireland to work The Plantations in the 17th century. They were a close knit group of people who followed the Presbyterian form of worship and married within their own circle of people, and there is every indication that this was the practice for Agnes and Sam’s family. We don’t know why they came to Australia other than that farming was in dire straights in Ireland and possibly Sam was a younger son, and many Irish people were leaving Ireland for America and Australia. Nancy, as Sam called his wife, had her eldest child Samuel on the 15th April 1833 followed by a daughter Mary Jane on the 2nd November 1835. Eliza Jane was born in 1836 and the family left Belfast on the Mandarin on the 10th June 1838. The baby Eliza contracted diarrhoea and died on 15th August 1838. She was buried at sea. Eliza was one of nine children under two years of age to die on this voyage mostly of diarrhoea. We had another hiccough with the shipping records — Nancy’s maiden name is recorded as McKee. There are McKees in the family but it is not the maiden name Sam gave on Nancy’s death certificate, and family oral history says Nancy’s maiden name was Peel.

Sam was working at Wiseman’s Ferry when they first arrived in 1838. Elizabeth was born there 19th February 1839. Lizzie was a great favorite in the family, and three years later another little girl Isabella was born on the 12th August 1842, followed by a brother William in 1843, a sister Sarah Ann in 1846. Sadly the last little boy Robert was born and died in 1847 — his baptism was recorded at Oakville not far from McGraths Hill. Nancy’s death certificate tells us there was another daughter but no detail of her has survived. The quote Ninety percent of people who ever lived died without leaving a name behind very much belongs to this child. Sam drove a team for John Tebbutt in the early years, eventually starting up his own business as a carrier. After Wiseman’s Ferry, the family lived in Windsor, but most of the time at McGraths Hill. Their house stood there until the 1980s, but it had become a bikie fort and was ordered to be knocked down.

Gold was discovered in 1851 but it does not appear to have attracted Nancy and Sam at first. The children were too young to think of being away from their parents. Mary Jane was the first to marry and at 18 she married a local boy Will McGrath. Gold had drawn young Sam to Sofala and in 1859 he married Fanny Taylor and his sisters Lizzie and Isabella joined him on the goldfields. Lizzie married a young Scot David Poyitt then tragedy struck — Mary Jane’s husband died leaving her with three small children, and Mary Jane joined her siblings in the west, and within few years Mary Jane married Robert Drew in Bathurst. In the following year, 1865, Isabella married Ebenezer Davis a boot maker at Sofala. There is no record that William ever left Windsor, and he in 1878 he married Julia Hannabus, a Windsor girl. He died a couple of years later on 31st December 1880 — three months after his mother — and is buried at St Matthews’s churchyard. Nancy was ill with heart problems for many years before her death on 8th September 1880 at her home at McGraths Hill. She was buried at the old Presbyterian Cemetery Windsor. Sam lived another thirteen years and was buried beside Nancy in the Presbyterian Cemetery.

The gold rush settled down, and at least half of the family returned to Windsor and Sydney. Mary Jane, Lizzie and Sarah’s husbands tried silver and copper mining at Sunny Corner, Dark Corner and Blayney with varying success. Isabella’s husband Ebenezer had joined his father in running a staging house at King’s Plains, but his eldest son Ebb was attracted to the fortune to be won mining, and joined his uncles at Dark Corner in mining ventures that had names like Hope and Last Chance. In all there were 46 grandchildren, and a tribe of great grandchildren. Four of the great grand sons died young and another at Gallipoli. Mary Jane’s son Will McGrath returned to the Windsor district, made a fortune, and married when he was 60 and had a family. His home Emu Hall at Emu Plains was only sold out of the family in 2003. Mary Jane, Robert Drew and Will McGrath are all buried at St Matthew’s churchyard in Windsor. Mary Jane’s first husband, James McGrath, is buried in the Roman Catholic Cemetery across the road. Lizzie and David are buried at Dark Corner.

I have very little idea what sort of a personality Nancy had, but two of my dearest relatives were named after her, my great aunt Agnes Maud Davis who though engaged never married and worked as a seamstress [2] all her life. She was the eldest child of ten and was a real little mother hen to them and all the rest of her extended family. I can remember her coming to spend a day with my mother and doing the mending for us five children, and she’d mind your manners if you didn’t do things properly. The other namesake was my mother’s first cousin Nancy the oldest daughter of Arthur Wentworth Davis, the eldest of six children and mother of four girls. She lived at Artarmon in walking distance of Lane Cove, and could always find a bed for an extra child. I’d go to stay with her frequently — especially if my mother was sick, to make it one less for my grandmother to look after. I was considered a difficult and temperamental child, which wasn’t surprising, because I was artistic. Auntie Nance didn’t find me difficult and we got on like a house on fire all our lives.



Notes
[1] Agnes’s death certificate indicates she may have been born in 1812 in which case the date we have for her birth could be a baptism date.

[2] Two of the people who Auntie Agnes worked for were the Bishop of Bathurst and Dr Brookmoor who delivered my Mother.



Margaret Hardwick, 2009


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Web page made 11 December 2009; last edited