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KEENAN FAMILY in Australia


A book by the late Edward Keenan of Western Australia

Chapter One

Last updated 9/1/2017



Pioneers of Western Australia

1859 – 1969


Recorded by Edward Keenan

Perenjori, Western Australia, 1995


Scanned and formatted by Peter Keenan, 2007/2009

 Skip to chapter 2


 In Northern Ireland


Henry Keenan farmed the 10 acre property of "Glenone" in the Townland of Glenone, Parish of Tamlaght O'Crilly, Barony of Loughsholon, County of Londonderry, Northern Ireland, as his father and grandfather had done before him.  The property had been deeded to the Keenan family by William of Orange to own and enjoy "as long as the grass shall grow and the water shall run".


All we know of Henry's wife is that her maiden name was Gamble, a name that was to merge with the Keenans on more than one occasion in the future. (Note by editor, Peter J Keenan, re Isabella Keenan nee Gamble: Isabella's death certificate (W.A. No 71707), certified by her son, Robert, states that her father was Frank Gamble, a Presbyterian Minister, and her mother was Ellen Crawford; that she was born and married in "Ussodden", Ireland (probably meant to be Lisrodden - PJK); and that she died at Glenburn, Margaret River, WA, on 18/6/1929 aged 96.)  


Here at "Glenone" their five sons were born: 

·         Stewart in 1834;

·         Robert in 1836;

·         Henry John 1842;

·         Aaron 1844; and

·         James 1847.

 However, life in Ireland was not easy in those days and thousands left their homeland to seek a more stable livelihood overseas.  


Stewart Keenan and Isabella Gamble migrate to Western Australia


On January 5 1859,in the Registrar's Office, at Magherafelt, in the Glenone Parish of Tamlight O'Crilly, Co. of Londonderry, Stewart Keenan married Isabella Gamble, daughter of Francis Gamble, farmer of Lisrodden, County Antrim. (Note by editor, Peter J Keenan, re Isabella Keenan nee Gamble: Isabella's death certificate (W.A. No 71707), certified by her son, Robert, states that her father was Frank Gamble, a Presbyterian Minister, and her mother was Ellen Crawford; that she was born and married in "Ussodden", Ireland (probably mean to be Lisrodden - PJK); and that she died at Glenburn, Margaret River, WA, on 18/6/1929 aged 96.)


Having heard glowing reports of opportunities in the great southland the young couple decided to try their luck in Australia.  Perhaps because Isabella's cousin, married to Jos. Bovell, were established in Western Australia the young couple booked their passage to Fremantle in July 1859.


Robert Keenan migrates to Vasse, Western Australia


Here we will leave Stewart and Isabella for awhile and trace the fortunes of the other four Keenans. Robert, the second son born 1836, came to Western Australia and Electoral Rolls indicate that he was a farmer at Broadwater, Vasse, between 1870 and 1885.  A heap of limestone and a fig tree on the property of E. Packard mark the site of his cottage.  In the rich river flat not far from his front door he grew potatoes.


Visits between Robert and the Stewart Keenans were recorded and livestock were bought or exchanged.  He never married and something must have gone very wrong in the latter years of his life.  He died at the age of 54 in the Fremantle Lunatic Asylum.


Henry John Keenan and Anne Jane Gamble migrate to Queensland then to Batlow, New South Wales


Henry John and Anne Jane [Nancy} Gamble were married in the early 1860's in the same church in Kilrea as were Stewart and Isabella in 1859.   Anne's father was James Gamble, farmer of Lislea in the County of Londonderry.


(There is no document of a relationship between Francis and James Gamble; they could have been brothers or cousins.  It is established, however, that Stewart and Isabella were first cousins.)


The stories of gold finds in Australia fired Henry's imagination and it is not surprising that he and Anne bade farewell to their loved ones not long after their marriage and set sail for Australia.  The exact date of their departure is not known nor is the time of their arrival in Queensland or the name of the ship in which they sailed. [Note by editor - Peter Keenan 29/1/2008: The journey was made aboard "The Prince Consort", which left East India Docks, London, on 13 December 1863 and arrived in Hervey Bay, Queensland, on 22 March 1864.] Their first son, James, was born somewhere about the month of June 1864. [Note by editor - Peter Keenan 29/1/2008: James Keenan, my grandfather, was born on 3 August 1864 in Maryborough, Queensland.] Finding the climate too harsh after the mellow freshness of Ireland they set out on foot shortly after James' birth and headed southwards.  After many months and untold hardships and adventures they arrived in the lush valley of the Tumut River. Later they moved to Reedy Flats, now the town of Batlow. Henry at last, was able to embark 01 his long-time ambition to search for gold. Members of the Tumut and Batlow Keenans in 1990 numbered in excess of fifty people. [CLICK HERE FOR DETAILED ARTICLE ABOUT THE KEENANS OF BATLOW, NSW.]

 Aaron Keenan migrates to Western Australia

 Aaron, the fourth son of Henry Keenan of "Glenone" was born in 1844 and arrived in Western Australia on June 12 1864 aboard the "Strathmore". He took up land south-west of Busselton, and the block is still known as "Keenans". The well he chiselled through solid ironstone ant the scattered bricks that mark the site of his dwelling still remain.  From 1865 to 1871 he employed eight ticket-of-leave men at Jarrahwood, probably in the timber industry.  It is understood that by the underhanded action of an unscrupulous shyster Aaron was cheated out of his block of land.  In failing health he was admitted destitute to the Mount Eliza Depot, where he died on Christmas Day, 1896, at the age of 52 years. He was buried at Fremantle.  

James Keenan and Maria Hastings remain in Northern Ireland

James Keenan was born at "Glenone" Ireland in 1847. He married Maria Hastings [Note by editor - they were married in 1869] and farmed the "Glenone" property until his death in 1906. Maria outliving him by 31 years, died aged 91.

The James Keenans had a family of seven boys and three girls. James, Henry, Robert, David, Stewart, Willie and Samuel; Margaret, Elizabeth and Anne.  

Of the girls Margaret and Elizabeth died in America.  Anne stayed at home and looked after her mother.  When she was 38 years old Anne married McKay who was sixteen years her senior. She died on December 9 1967.  

Samuel was killed at the Battle of Mons during World War 1.  Stewart died in Australia and the other four brothers in Scotland.  Robert carried on farming at "Glenone" while his mother lived, but three years after her death he sold the property.  It passed out of the possession of the Keenan family, the old, white washed cottage was pulled down and apartments built on the site.

Stewart Keenan and Isabella Gamble of Western Australia


We shall now return to Stewart and Isabella.  During Stewart’s working life as a young man in Ireland he was employed by Julius Casement of “Portglenone House”, and who, on his departure for Australia, gave him the following reference:

“The Bearer, Stewart Keenan, has worked upon my home farm as a farm labourer for about 18 months. I consider him a quiet, respectable lad and good workman. Signed: Julius Casement, J.P. For the Counties of Antrim and L’Derry.”

The original of this reference is still in the possession of a family member, as is a small wooden box with hand wrought hinges and lock, in which the Keenans brought their personal papers from Ireland.


Stewart and Isabella travelled to Plymouth where in July 1859, they embarked in the sailing ship “West Australia” on her maiden voyage. During her useful life the “West Australia” was to bring many thousands of emigrants to our shores.


Unlike many well-to-do emigrants who arrived in the Colony with servants, furniture and building materials, Stewart and Isabella landed at Fremantle on November 20 1859 with few personal possessions. Stewart had 2/6 in his pocket.


On their arrival they stayed with the Bovells who lived a short distance from Fremantle.  James Bovell was a warder at the prison.


Later that year in company with Mr. and Mrs. Joe Bovell, the Keenans boarded George Cross’ little sailing vessel “Wild Wave”, and after a three day voyage landed at Busselton, then called The Vasse, on New Year’s Day 1860. Stewart and Isabella were assigned to a small cottage and Stewart went to work at a farm labouring job at Lockville.


This arrangement did not last long as Stewart, enraged by Locke’s treatment of his labourers, took Locke to task in a physical manner that, although of great satisfaction to himself and his audience, earned him immediate dismissal.


Walking back to his cottage disconsolate and probably wondering what sort of a reception he was going to get from Isabella, he met a man on horse back travelling towards him. The man was John Garrett Bussell. He told Stewart he was looking for someone to lease and caretake “Reinscourt”, a property adjoining the Estuary, and owned by his brother’s widow, Mrs. Vernon Bussell. After talking things over it was agreed that the Keenans would lease the property for seven years for the sum of Twenty Pounds per year. Stewart was to do what he could to restore the neglected property.  In return the Keenans were to retain a third of the increase of the stock and make what they could from the proceeds of the dairy.

Both Stewart and his wife were thrifty and hard working in their new situation. Stewart growing potatoes and attending to numerous other jobs to which he could turn a versatile hand on the farm or around the district. Isabella attending to the dairy and household duties. A daughter, Eliza, was born on March 24 1862.

However, Stewart was to run into trouble, mainly due to lack of ready cash in the colony. Having four tons of potatoes for sale Stewart disposed of them to a man named Lippiatte, who had land interests at the Vasse and who owned a coastal trading steamer. Lippiatte made payment by two cheques of Twenty Pounds each, drawn on a Perth bank. With one cheque Stewart paid a years rent to Mrs. Bussell, and about the same time bought from Lippiatte four bullocks for Ten Pounds per head, for which he gave Lippiatte a Promissory Note for Forty Pounds. While Lippiatte was away on a coastal trip his cheque that Stewart had deposited in Mrs. Bussell's bank account in Perth was returned unpaid. Stewart was not unduly alarmed as he thought that while Lippiatte had his potatoes he had Lippiatte's bullocks and all he had to do was to find another Twenty Pounds for Mrs. Bussell.

During the year 1863 another son, Robert John, was born at "Reinscourt".

A Chestnut Gelding Called "Nonsuch"

When Stewart leased "Reinscourt" he acquired, according to the agreement, a certain portion of the animals, among which was a chestnut gelding called Nonsuch. The horse was extremely docile but when called upon could produce amazing feats of speed and endurance. Although never involved with race horses, Stewart thought it would be a good idea to enter Nonsuch in the running of the Town Plate in Perth. So in March 1864 Stewart proceeded to Perth riding Nonsuch in company with well-known Vasse identity, Mr. Richard Gale.

They left the Vasse police station at 3 pm carrying the Parliamentary votes for Perth. They arrived at Fouracre's station, which was a stage coach stop on the Old Perth Road where the road from Waroona joins it today, at an early hour, and next morning, after a four-hour rest, they proceeded to Perth. Mr. Gale riding a fresh horse. The votes were delivered before 10 am. Stewart duly nominated Nonsuch , without many of the present day formalities, for the race.

To ride Nonsuch Stewart chose Bobby Heppingstone, a Busselton lad of fourteen years, who had already made a name for himself in the local races. He was the son of Robert Heppingstone who was a brother of Mrs. Alfred Bussell.

On March 30 Bobby and Nonsuch were successful in their race, and Stuart was 50 sovereigns richer.  Next day he paid Bobby his share and mounting Nonsuch headed back to "Reinscourt". In company with well-known Busselton identity Mr Richard Gale, he left Perth as the sun was rising and they travelled down what is known as the Old Perth Road.  Mr Gale changed his horse at Fouracres Station, which was a stage coach stop on the Old Perth Road where the road from Waroona joins it today.  Nonsuch, however, was in top condition and completed the journey with effort, he and his owner arriving at "Reinscourt" just as the sun was setting.

Nonsuch also shared in a western movie-like incident at the old Busselton Court House which was then held in a limestone building opposite Sussex House.  Some cattle thieves were being tried, and Stuart Keenan was among the number of locals listening with interest to the case.  Nonsuch was tied to a nearby peppermint tree.  Suddenly one of the defendants, finding the case going against him, bolted from the court room, unhitched Nonsuch, vaulted into the saddle and headed at break-neck speed out of town in the direction of Wonnerup.  The police, having collected their scattered wits and their horses, set out in hot pursuit.  While still hidden from his pursuers, the fugitive grasped an overhanging branch, swung himself out of the saddle and headed into the bush on foot.  Nonsuch eventually slowed down and was recovered by the policemen.

When Harry Keenan was three weeks old Isabella decided to have him baptized, so mounting Nonsuch, with Harry in her arms she set out for the weatherboard Congregational Church that stood on the east side of Yelverton's timber line from his mill to the Quindalup jetty. The old police station, customs house or school, as the building was used for at the various stages of its life, was situated on the west side of the timber line not far from the church. Both buildings were destroyed by fire. The church many years ago; the police station in the 1960's. When Isabella reached Toby's Inlet the water was up and she was debating whether or not to attempt to cross when Dr. Sampson who was at the time a stranger to Isabella appeared on the opposite bank. "Don't be afraid, Mrs.Keenan," he shouted "I'll ride my horse opposite the ford and Nonsuch will come over to my horse. You need have no fear." This was duly done and Isabella and Harry got safely across. "How did you know my name ?" Isabella enquired of the doctor. "Oh! I recognized Nonsuch," the doctor replied, "and I knew it must be Mrs Keenan who rode him".


... continued  CHAPTER 2 ...

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