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KEENAN FAMILY in Australia


Last updated 28/09/2016

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1873 – 1955


Transcribed by Edward (Ray) Keenan (1921 - 2004)

of Perenjori, Western Australia, 2003


Scanned and formatted by Peter James Keenan, between 2008 - 2010



"Many years ago when the last of the Keenan family vacated "Glenbourne," Margaret River (WA) a number of old family boxes and letters came into my possession.  Some of the letters dated back to the 1800's and are now the worse for wear. It has been thought advisable that where possible a record be kept of them so that generations in the future can enjoy the romance of reading what their ancestors wrote in the dim past.  The events set out in these letters could be somewhat hazy to those not conversant with the events that have been spoken about so we will insert some explanation where possible."


"David Keenan was the third oldest son of James Keenan [of Northern Ireland (ed.)], who was a brother of Stewart Keenan who came to Western Australia from Ireland in 1859.  David emigrated to America, and in 1891 wrote the following letter to his cousins in Western Australia."

NOTE BY PETER KEENAN:  The year that this letter was written would probably be 1898, not 1891, because USA records show that David did not emigrate to America until 1898. Also, records show that David was born on 9 January 1878, which would mean he was only 13 in 1891.


David's letter from USA to his cousins in WA, 16/7/1898

147 River Avenue, Providence,

R.I; U.S.A.

July 16 1891.


Dear Cousins,


I take great pleasure in writing you again, although I suppose you have about given up the idea of ever hearing from me again. I am sending three pictures along with this letter; My sister and I on one, my chum and I on another and yours truely by his lonesome.  Over here we are having mid summer weather the temp being 90 degs to 100 degs in the shade, while I suppose you are having winter.


The reason I don't write more I don't have much news, each week passing the same as the one preceding it.  Bed, work, bed with a little outing once in a while down the river for a change.


Hoping you are all having good luck, and I am still Your affect. cousin,

Dave Keenan.  

David's letter from USA to his cousins in WA, 10/12/1899

73 Berkeley street. Providence.

R.I; U.S.A.

Dec 10 1899.



Dear Cousins,


I suppose you will have almost given up expecting another letter from me With respect to me coming out to W.A.  After reading your letters I do not see that I would better myself any. Then again taking everything into consideration I think the States are a better place to live in than Australia although before receiving your letters I had the reverse opinion.


We have just been through an election period and Mr.McKinley has again been elected President.


You can tell your mother that Mr. John Gamble is still living and well the last we heard of them. Out of his many children there is only one to home; Willie who is married who is running his Uncle John Boyd's farm. The rest of the family has scattered. One son John is in Scotland, another Aaron by name, is a member of the London Police Force. Four of the girls are in this country, what part I don't know. Their names are Margaret, Helen, Annie and Lizzie. Two of the boys are also here, James and David by name. One called Frank was killed in a foundry by a crucible of boiling metal falling on him. This is all I know about the Gambles.


We were sorry to hear about your sister and hope that your mother will not take it too much to heart.


The weather over here is beginning to be seasonable. This is the first month of winter, so we will soon have lots of skating. Farming seems to be the same all over the world. For the farmers long hours, lots of work and not much in it. The commission agents seem to be the people to get all the profits out of it.


I have a brother Bob who is talking of emigrating to Queensland, if he does I will give him your address, also let you know.


Hoping this will find you in good health. I remain, your affectionate cousin



David's letter from USA to Stewart Keenan in WA, 2/4/1900

73 Berkeley St. Mt. Pleasant, Providence

Rhode Is. U.S.A.

(2 April 1900)


Dear Stewart,


You will no doubt be a kind of surprised when you receive this letter.


To begin with I will inform you who I am. I am your brother James third son, being the fifth oldest in a family of ten; seven boys and three girls. Two of the boys are married and one of the girls.


The married girl is living in Oregon City in the State of Oregon, this country. She has two boys, one four and the other one.


The two boys married are living in Glasgow, one is the father of three children, one of whom is dead. The other boy 'as one child.


My mother's name before being married was Maria Hastings. Both my parents are alive and well, but in the last letter I got from home my mother had just got over a six weeks sickness caused by congestion of the lungs.


Your sister Mrs Lizzie Kyle is still living in Port Glenone when last I heard of her. Her two sons and daughter are married; the youngest son is living with his mother and I guess running the farm.


Coming to myself I will now come to the object of this letter. I would like to be out where your are and I am writing this hoping you will kind enough to inform me the prospects a young fellow has who is not afraid of work. I also have a chum an English lad who would like to settle in Australia, if there are any prospects of making a decent living.


The main reason for us wishing to leave the states is we want to be under the Union Jack, and another, we don't like this country over much; and don't mention Canada because it is a poor place, too many half caste French.


I suppose you people take a great interest in the South African war. Well I like to know where the Old Country would be only for the Colonials. Trying to take the Boer trenches by frontal assault and being slaughtered for to keep up the red tape ideas. But the Colonists can beat the Boers at tricky works and they know it too now. The papers over here are mostly for the Boers, but have a kind of crawled since Bobs Kitchener and French began to do the Boers up.


When answering please let us know something about Western Australia and don't give us any cold water, for I kind of think we move over your way. Anyway so don't laugh but give us all the encouragement you can. I am 22 years of age and my chum is 24 and looks about 20. We are going to have our pictures taken and will forward one when we receive your answer. I am, Your respectful nephew,


 David Keenan.


P.S. My chum's name is Tom Stewart Simpson. Let us have an answer as soon as possible also send us some news of yourself and family, so I can transfer it to my father and mother. David.


David's letter from USA to the Margaret River (WA) Keenans 8/7/1900

[NOTE BY EDWARD KEENAN: "There is part missing from the last letter of David to the Margaret River Keenans but it is dated on the back July 8th. 1900. David appears to have had the promised pictures taken in the meantime because he states: Don't scrap about the pictures but consider them "Family property"".]


My chum, sister Maggie and I are going to have our photos taken again and I will forward one of each in my next letter. I hope you will send us some of your pictures as I would be very pleased to receive them.


Could you forward the address of my uncle in New Zealand "if I have one there". I don't know if I have an uncle in that part of the world, but I kind of remember some talk on the subject. I hope your father can enlighten me.


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the best in the country although by no means the largest jewellery, woollen goods, machinery, engines, rubber goods in fact almost anything you can mention is made either on a large or a small scale. The pay of most people is good, unskilled labor receives from 1 dollar a day to 1 1\2. Mechanics from 2 to 3 dollars a day in fact anybody with any ability can earn 10 dollars a week which is about the average pay.


This is also a very pretty city. We are near the river and in fact I should say we are on the sea coast which is not as live as Providence is on Narragansett Bay. There are about 20 shore resorts. Beside this we can take the trolley cars (electric cars). They are called trolley cars on account of being run on a trolley pole, into the country, they run everywhere, in fact it is becoming a common trip from here to Boston; 40 miles. The best of the fun is the cars are open not boxed in, and when going fast about 20 miles an hour they create a fine breeze which is just fine in this hot weather.


Your cousin, Dave Keenan.


[NOTE BY EDWARD KEENAN: "That is the last correspondence from David Keenan in the possession of any of the family. He never came to Western Australia and after the letters quoted above he seemed to melt into oblivion. However, in the year 2000 Margaret Golder of Port Orange, Florida, USA, was able to supply further information on what happened to David:

  • David Keenan was born 1878 in Ireland, and died in 1936.

  • He married Joan D. Malcolm. She was born 1878; died 1971.

  • Children of David Keenan and Joan Malcolm are:

    • James M. Keenan, born November 16 1905.

    • Edith M. Keenan, born October 04 1907.

    • David H. Keenan, born September 13 1909.]


NOTES BY PETER KEENAN: US Federal Census records and other US records (accessed through Ancestry.com) show that David Keenan (b.1878) emigrated from Ireland to America in 1898.  He married Joanna D Malcolm  on 23 December 1904 in Providence, Rhode Island, USA.  Joanna D Malcolm was born in Scotland.  At different times David lived at several addresses in Providence, Rhode Island, including 75 Berkley Street, 147 River Avenue, 7 Alton Street, 48 Andem Street, 42 Berkley Street, and 42 Leah Street.  (The latter appears to be the main address.)


Christine Desmuke, a US descendant of David Keenan, has supplied more information about David's three children (August 2013).  For example, she says that James Malcolm Keenan died in Ventura County, California, on 5 July 1964; Edith Mildred Keenan died on 20 November 1907; and David Hilton Keenan died in March 1971.  She has given me details of the children of David and Joanna Keenan's children: three live in California and two love in Western US.  I plan to include more details in a family tree.  (PJK, August 2013)

Grace Catherall

[NOTE BY EDWARD KEENAN: (Grace was) "Youngest daughter of Henry and Ann Keenan, pioneers of Batlow, New South Wales, and a cousin of the Keenans of Margaret River and Cape Naturaliste. For a time she and her husband, Jack (Catherall), lived with the Keenans at "Glenbourne", Margaret River, in a small two-roomed, stone and mud dwelling adjoining the "Glenbourne" homestead and accessed by way of the front veranda and a door to the orchard. This residence was afterwards always known as "Jack's House." They later journeyed to South Africa where Jack purchased a business. After several years Grace returned to Australia on account of ill-health and went back to her mother at Batlow. With her were her two sons, Eric 14 years and Sidney, 11 years. Both boys became the victims of a shooting accident and Grace passed away shortly afterwards from shock and grief. Two of Grace's letters were in the possession of Mary Ellen (Minnie) Keenan. These have been copied as faithfully as possible as they have been pin-holed by weevils and the paper is very delicate."


Grace's letter from South Africa to Mary Ellen Keenan of WA on 15/7/1898


Durban, Natal, South Africa.

July l5 1898.



Dear Minnie,


At last after so long waiting I received your letter. Mine must have gone astray, I thought it was not like you to keep me so long waiting.


Dear Minnie, I can't tell you how sorry I am about poor old Bob, I do hope and trust he is alright. I wish I could go and see you all and do what I could for you. Tell Bob when he gets better to write to me. I may not get the chance after this to write often; we are going into a good thing, a big business Jack has bought as we know it will pay well. We had a months trial of the place and we will keep an Indian cook; they are splendid cooks, and two Indian waiters cooks assistant and about three Kaffir boys and send all the washing out. Jack will do all the buying as he is good at that and help me to boss up all the boys.  We have a bill of fare for every meal, I will have no work to do only boss them all up. There is a fearful lot of running about, it makes your feet ache.


Dear old girl I do wish one of you girls could come over here, we are settled now for some time, Jack has a lease of the place for three years and will make a nice place of it.  I forgot to tell you what sort of business it is, it is a private hotel. If one of you could come over you could help me brush up and we would be company for each other.  I have plenty of life here.  I have a lot of nice friends and some of them are giving a party and don't we have fun.  There is a family live a few doors from us, they are Sydney people, father, mother and one daughter, she is my mate here, she can play the piano and sing well. I have a bicycle but I will have little time to go out on it now.  Can you fancy me flying about on a bike?  It is alright, but of the two I would rather have a horse.


This is a good place for girls to do well and they have a good chance oŁ marrying well as there are such a few girls to what there are men.  Jack would like one of you to come over.  I feel so sorry for you girls being buried alive where you are all the best of your lives and never see nothing.  You would think you were in Heaven if you were here.


There is plenty of life here and Durban is such a pretty place. People here are all Łor dress.


I have had a letter from Mary.  She has another little girl, she has called it Jessie Grace. Dear Mary, how I would like to see her again. Oh, and mother has been to see Mary, the first time she has seen her since she came to live with us at Jumbunna mother said. She liked my friend, a Mrs. Allen, she was about my best friend.


How are Lizzie and Jim and their little family?  Give my love to them, I will write to Lizzie next time. I saw Jim's cousin and wife last night. They always want to know if I had any news from W.A.


You never said how uncle Bob was in your letter, I hope he is well.


Have you heard from uncle Dave? Send me his address and also uncle James'. If we go home to England I will go and see them and also mother's brother in Belfast. She writes to me.


I can't imagine Willie as anything but a sharp little nipper, all eyes, he could not do now what I saw him do once, do you remember him getting behind the door in our room when he should have been somewhere else. I must now conclude,

I remain your loving Cousin, Grace.


Grace's letter from South Africa to her cousins in WA on 29/6/1900


Australian House, Cape Town Cape Town,

No 20 Strand Street,

June 29th. 1900.


Dear Cousins,


I received your long expected letter at last.


I sent you and also Lizzie potatoes from Durban. You could not have received them as you don't mention them.


You will see by the heading of this where we now are. Were on our way home to England and called in here and thought we would stay a week or so and catch another boat home. Well we got the offer of this place and Jack bought it and it has been a great success so far. Our visit home will have to be put off to some future occasion after things are settled down and we will go to the Transvaal, that will be the place for business.


Mother and Mary both want to come over. Poor old Mary, I would give the world to have her single and living with me again. She is a good old girl and has ruined herself marrying the article she has. I am always troubled thinking about her, if she had no children she would have been with me long ago. I have sent her a present by a gentleman who comes from Jumbunna where Mary lives, he has been staying with us and offered to take any parcel for me, I was very happy of the chance to send her something. She will have a pleasant surprise poor old girl. I could write a book since I have been here. I will never see the same again, we see all the yenopes (?) here, Australians and all.


I have got some relicks of the war from the siege of Kimberley and from Mafaking and also a siege note and all kinds of things. I have quite a curiosity shop here of my own.


Since we have been here we have had an invitation from Cecil Rhodes to a picnic at his place, he has a beautiful place and large gardens. We had our photos taken when here and I believe those who were present are to be presented with one, I will be very pleased to have one.


I have a large collection of curios since I have come to this country, all kinds of Kaffir ornaments and Kaffir photos and views of Africa. I have a Queen's chocolate box and badges and shells, some from Siege of Kimberley and some from Mafaking and Brakpan. I have a 10 shilling siege note. There is some lovely scenery around Cape Town. The town is all hemmed in by big mountains The Lion's Head and Tabletop.


There is a queer mixture of people here, all the shades we have met and staying with us. Eric is learning to speak Dutch since we came here, the coloured people here all speak it. There are any amount of Dutch here. There was a great amount of Boer prisoners taken by our place today. Ten minutes ride in the train takes us to Green Point where there are a great number of prisoners. They are in a high enclosure, you can have a good look at them; they are very poorly dressed, slouch hats, some of them are very old men.


I hope dear, this will find you all well. You never said how uncle Bob is.


I think what you say would be a good idea. Our mother would have you taught something and not grow up helpless, you may have to earn your own living some day and be able to do, and the boys, well it is a pity they could not be taught some trade. You want to know, Minnie, if I am changed. Well, not much, in some ways slightly, in others. I look the same in appearance so they say. I am still very fond of fun but not such a giggly mad head as I used to be. I think I am very well liked as a rule unless it is someone who I do not like. Then I can't put myself out of the way for them. Then if it anyone I take to or make a friend of I can never do enough for them, anyone who is once my friend always remains. So I had a few good friends in Durban, and some in Victoria and N.S.W. They still write to me.


One of my best friends at Batlow was an old schoolmate, we were mates long before going to school and ever since. I have never seen he before I went to W.A. when home last she was away. I see her sister and she was telling me about Mary her sister my old chum, how she has got all my old letters among her greatest treasures. Poor old girl, I hope to see her someday.


Did you ever hear me speak of Miss Genimos as Batlow postmistress, she is an old friend of mine . I have had letters from her since we came here. She is married now.


I suppose you know John is married, poor old Jack, I can't imagine him married and a daddy, I must write home, his mother is talking of coming over here I hope she does, I wish she was not married again be how happy she might be, living with me I could take care of her.


I will write to Lizzie shortly, I hope she and Jim and little ones are quite well, She must have quite a little family by now. I should like to go over and be with you all one day and have a ride on old Charlie. I will never forget those times, does Willie remember the T--Y me making him empty? And do you catch any fish now and go for figs through the meadow, and concerts and get home in the small hours in the morning?


Remember me to all, with fond love I remain, Grace Catherall.



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