John Kirwan

John Kirwan and Family.

John Kirwan was born in Kilmain, county Mayo, Ireland in 1807, the only son of Edmund and Celia, nee Hopkins, and was destined to see the world. At the age of eighteen Kirwan enlisted in the army and by 1847 was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. During his service he travelled far and wide, including six years in Bermuda. After more than twenty years service, he received his discharge and settled with his family in Northamptonshire where he was appointed Postmaster and Headmaster of the local school.

After a few years of the quiet life Kirwan accepted the post of Sergeant-Major aboard the first convict ship sailing for Western Australia. On 1 June 1850 the convict ship Scindian with John, his wife Jane, nee Olose, and their five children Eliza, Edmund, Richard, Julia and Caroline arrived in Fremantle. A few weeks later Kirwan was appointed Steward and Clerk at the convict settlement at $120 per year plus housing and rations.

On 15 August 1851 the Kirwans had another son, Nicholas. Although the Kirwans had acquired several acres of land, they decided to leave Western Australia and settle in South Australia. They arrived at Port Adelaide in 1858 on the Anna Dixon.

The Anna Dixon, originally owned and captained by Robert Shum Kirby.
He named it after his sister. (Picture kindly supplied by Richard Dixon)

Eventually they found their way north to the Flinders Ranges where on 14 January Kirwan took out mineral lease no 132, about six kilometres south of Mount Craig and commenced mining. The Advertiser of 25 January 1862 stated; We were shown this week a large collection of very valuable specimens of various descriptions of ore from the Kirwan mines situated about 65 miles north of Port Augusta, and consists altogether of eight sections; one at Harkaby, one at Matwaringarla, and six at Warcowie. It is in the hands of 12 or 14 gentlemen who have been working it on their own account. Tbe specimens which form the subject of the present notice are intended for the Great Exhibition of All Nations of 1862, and will be shipped to England, we understand, per Great Britain. They are now in the possession of the Messrs. Tuxford. In all they weigh about a ton, and consist chiefly of green and blue carbonates, and silver and grey oxides. One magnificent block of the latter ore which we saw weighed is nearly a hundredweight and a half, and is a magnificent specimen, containing, we are informed, about 45 per cent, of copper. With a plentiful supply of such "nuggets" the Company ought to realise good dividends.

In 1863 JB Austin described the copper mine as having several lodes of ore running East of North. Three shafts had been sunk, the deepest more than forty metres. From it several cross cuts had been made and drives of up to fifty metres. All in all it looked very promising, with some of the ore raised yielding 30% copper.

John also ran a sheep farm for a number of years and with his family eating houses at Wilpena, for nearly ten years, Arkaba, where John operated another mine, and Edeowie. On 14 December 1864, their eldest son Edmund, 22, was married by the Rev. Nowell Twopeny to Ellen Agnes, 17, the eldest daughter of James Lennon of Melrose. They were to have thirteen children. During this time their other son Richard, a mail driver on the Blinman run for some time, married Joanna Bacon, also from Melrose on 14 January 1869.

When the whole family left for Edeowie, in June 1872, John Kirwan operated an eating house and store there while his son Richard continued to look after the Wilpena establishment. On 4 December 1872 Elizabeth Kirwan and James Lennon, son of James Lennon Sr, were married at Edeowie by the Rev. John Parker Buttfield. On new year's day 1873 John shot and killed himself and was found in his bedroom by his wife and Susan Sparrow, the store's servant. He is buried near the homestead. His wife carried on with the store until 1875.

After their father's death the two sons remained in the area for many years. Edmund ran a store at Hookina, until March 1879 when D.A. Curtin took over, the post office at Arkaba during 1875-77, the Hookina Hotel from 1879-82, the Willochra post office in 1883 and finally worked for the railways at Quorn. Edmund Kirwan died at the Port Augusta Hospital in 1909 at the age of 68. His wife Ellen Agnes had died in 1891, aged 45 at the same hospital. Several of their thirteen children went to Western Australia during the gold rushes.

Richard Kirwan and his wife Johanna kept the Wilpena eating house from 1872 until 1882 after which they transferred to Arkaba where they had the eating house from 1882 until 1891. During that time Richard also grew wheat at Wonoka which he sold at Blinman in 1879 'for a satisfactory price of six shilling per bushel'. They had seven children and after the death of Johanna in 1887, Richard's eldest daughter Jane brought up the family, which later lived at Melrose.

Mining remained of interest to the Kirwan family. On 7 January 1888 mineral lease no 11405, north of Wilpena was granted to J. Kirwan. During May 1895 Richard Kirwan worked at the Angepena goldfield where he held a claim. Both he and N. Kirwan applied for a residential site at the newly surveyed town there.


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