James McGrath
Margaret Jane West

As with John Oliver, some mystery still surrounds James McGrath. However, more research since first writing this has brought forth a little more light.

James was married three times, first to Kate Costello, then to Catherine (Kate) Cain (nee Cahill) and, finally, to Margaret Jane West.

Death registrations indicate a number of irregularities, especially in his age, and just who he may have been.

His father was John McGrath (abt 1790), and his mother Mary Chidle (abt 1796).

There seems to be a lot of miss-information about the family; probably because of the “troubles” between the English and Irish.  However, as far as I can determine, there were 8 children born to John and Mary.

Although, if James was 97 when he died, that would make his birth year about 1813; but records indicate he was probably christened in 1826, so it is hard to tell.  If so he was the 8th child, the others being: Kathleen (c 12 Sep 1812), Patrick (c 21 Feb 1814), Catherine (Cate) (c 18 Oct 1815), John (c 1 Feb 1818), Mary Ann (c about 1820), Margaret (c 27 Oct 1821), Nancy (c 15 Oct 1824), James (about 1826).

Margaret Jane West was born 28 Mar 1859 at Tambaroora, New South Wales; she died 6 May 1917 at Boorowa, NSW, Australia.

Not a lot is known, but my uncle, Lewis Oliver, who supplied me the basic information upon which my research is founded, believes she came to James McGrath as a housekeeper to look after his three young sons after the death of his second wife, Kate Kane, about 1876.

Margaret was the only daughter of Charles West (abt 1821, Somersetshire, England) and Jane MacElveen (abt 1841, Dunamine, County Monaghan, Ireland). Charles was drowned 28 May 1860 at Jemalong, Lachlan River. Jane then married a John Abraham Lewis (born 29 April 1811, St Phillips, Sydney, NSW, Australia; died abt 1873) to whom she had 7 children. She died a widow in Goulburn 6 Dec 1875.

Although I have not been able to confirm it, I believe the following story is about one of the family (or a cousin) as it was a John McGrath who later organised the bringing out of James’ family.

To add to this belief, I have confirmed that a John McGrath, b 1815, Tipperary, Ireland, arrived in NSW in 1836 as a convict.  I believe this was probably James’ brother (c  1 Feb 1818).  However, this could not have been the John McGrath in Lewis’ story.

Lewis’ research has turned up the story that a John McGrath was involved in an uprising in Ireland against some sort of military dictatorship. There were some 14 involved; the leader was hanged and the rest transported to Australia as convicts.

This occurred in 1815 when the fourteen men where arrested for destroying some buildings that were to be used by the militia as barracks.

This outbreak of "lawlessness" at Ballagh began with the coming of Cromwell to Ireland in the middle of the 17th century.

Cromwell was a curse upon the land that is no doubt responsible for the on-going conflict that still tears at the heart of Ireland today.

A book, "Because of These", has been written by Fr Max Barrett on the 1815 uprising. It gives a very clear and historical understanding to the problems that beset Ireland following its crushing by Cromwell.

Another interesting story may be in the following information I found on the Internet. That of 5 men sentenced to be transported from Tipperary in 1840 for "attempting to compell to quit", which, to me, sounds like a mutiny of some sort.

They included a John McGrath (age 20), Michael McGrath (age 25), and three others.

Here a question arises. Coming from the same area, are these two related to our John McGrath?

James McGrath’s age is give as 40 on the birth certificate of daughter Kate (or Catherine) McGrath. This could be due to vanity or someone’s guess, as, if he died in 1910 aged 97, he had to born in 1813. This would have made him 74 when Catherine was born in 1887.

The children listed to this marriage are: Agnes, Ada, Kate (Catherine), Henry, Jessica, and James.

From all I have found, it is very hard to sift fact from fiction. I am quite convinced that the Irish of those days were inveterate liars where their ages were concerned. Perhaps this was a necessary adjunct in the cause of staying out of the clutches of the British controlled constabulary. Who knows?

James and Kate Costello were married in Clonaulty, County Tipperary, Ireland 12 February 1844.  Their first 5 children are listed as being born in Ballagh. They are John (1844), Patrick (1846), James (1849), Mary (1851), and Ellen (1854).  Shipping records then show them as having arrived in Australia on board the "Gloriana", 27 July 1855.  William (1856), Thomas (1859), and Michael (1862) were all born in the Boorowa region of New South Wales, with Michael dying as a child in 1863.

Records show that John McGrath (1818) married Mary Ann Costello in 1850 in New South Wales. Mary was a sister to Kate Costello.

James then married Kate Cain (or Cahill) and they had three children recorded. They were: Frank (b. 1866), Joseph (b. 1868), and Maurice (b. 1870), also in Boorowa.

Frank (1866) became a legend in Australian racing and was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 2003. He was first a jockey and then a trainer who established a reputation as a first-class conditioner of thoroughbreds. With Abundance he won the AJC Derby in 1902 and the St Ledger the following year. With Prince Foote he won the 1909 AJC Derby, Victoria Derby and Melbourne Cup. He went on to win the Caulfield Cup with Amounis along with two Epsom Handicaps and the W.S. Cox Plate. He won two Melbourne Cups with Peter Pan and a host of other races. With Beau Vite he won the W.S. Cox Plate and the metropolitan Handicap. He retired in 1947 having won 121 feature races. His son took over the stables, but was unco-operative when I tried to talk to him about family. He seemed to have some bitter resentment to them. Why, I could never find out.

Both Kate Costello and Margaret West are buried at Boorowa. It is now known that Kate Cain died in St Vincents Hospital, Sydney 15 Dec 1875.

It is somewhere following this that it is believed that Margaret West was brought in to care for James’ young family.

Margaret’s first child is not shown as James’ daughter on his death certificate, so it is possible that Elizabeth was born prior to Margaret going to work for James.

Margaret’s other 6 children, Agnes (b. 1881), Ada (b. 17 Apr 1885), Catherine (b. 4 July 1887), Henry Matthew (b. 31 Aug 1889), Jessica (b. 5 Feb 1892), and James (b. 2 Jan 1895), are listed as children of Margaret and James.

The Ballagh Monument.

The Ballagh Monument to the 14 men of Tipperary.

Margaret West died 6 May 1917 at Boorowa, New South Wales.

I have included here a picture of the Ballagh Monument, as it typifies the problems that beset the Irish people in those times, and that, in consequence, led to many Irish being transported to Australia to become the backbone of a fledgling nation.

An interesting aside to this monument is the fact that the man who unveiled the rock, Brian Burke, at that time Ambassador to Ireland, and a former Premier of Western Australia, was himself brought home and later gaoled. Irony? Or perhaps past ghosts seeking revenge!