Chapter Six: The Australian Connection

The Australian Connection

On Sunday 6 November 2005 Liz Leonard, of Mossman in Far North Queensland, was surfing the web at her father’s request looking for Leonards of Irish connection. Liz, her father Patrick and mother Maureen had booked a tour of Europe for the following June, including a visit to Ireland where Patrick hoped to find some relatives in the Enniskillen area. 

Patrick knew it was from there that his grandfather Hugh had emigrated in the late 1880s. Liz chanced to find this website, where she read of my failure to trace our Australian connections, and how in 1993 while visiting our daughter Dympna in Cairns, Queensland, I had searched in vain for a Patrick Leonard of Colac, Victoria. Imagine her astonishment when she realised that this Patrick was in fact her Dad, retired and now living in Caloundra, on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. Liz immediately contacted us in Ireland and within a week her father had supplied me with a complete family tree of the Australian descendants of his grandfather Hugh. At last we had found the missing ‘Australian connection.’

Patrick’’s grandfather Hugh Leonard and my grandfather Philip Leonard were brothers. They emigrated to Australia, possibly together, and set up homes near each other in South Melbourne. Grandfather Philip and his bride Margaret Breen obviously emigrated shortly after their marriage in Kinawley RC church in February 1887. Their first child, Jennie, was born in Melbourne in 1888. He and Margaret returned to Ireland about six years later with their two surviving children, Jennie and my father James.

Hugh and his wife Bridget Durnan remained in Australia. There are a number of unanswered questions around Hugh’’s early years in Australia and his connections with Bridget. Bridget and Hugh came from the same parish, Killesher, in Ireland and almost certainly knew each other from childhood. We do not yet know the date of the arrival of either Hugh or Bridget in Australia or if they travelled together. What we do know is that on 4 June 1891 they were married in Beechworth, Victoria, about 150 miles north of Melbourne where Bridget lived and had a job. Patrick recalls his father telling him that his grandmother mother Bridget worked in a mental hospital in Beechwood before her marriage. The marriage certificate gives Hugh’s occupation as ‘railway porter’ and his address Albert Park, an inner suburb of Melbourne. Did Hugh live in Beechwood before his marriage? Or did he live in Melbourne and, as a railway porter, cadge train journeys to meet Bridget in Beechwood?  (See note 1) Whatever the answers to these questions we do know that Hugh and Bridget remained in Australia for the rest of their lives. Their descendants are our long-lost Australian relatives with whom we have now made contact through Patrick of Caloundra and his daughter Liz.

Hugh and Bridget 

Hugh and Bridget set up house at 61 Iffla St. South Melbourne, (originally known as Sandridge), where their children were born. Hugh was then a guard on the Victorian Railways. He died 28 June 1923 of a heart attack brought on, it is said, when moving a piano. Bridget, bed-ridden and almost blind in her old age was nursed by her unmarried daughter Annie.  She and Annie moved to 12 Bridge St., Port Melbourne where she died on 30 May 1948.  Hugh and Bridget are buried in the family plot in Melbourne General Cemetery.

The Children of Hugh and Bridget

Hugh and Bridget had five children, three sons and two daughters, They were (not necessarily in order of birth): John (Jack),  Hugh, Joseph Patrick (Patrick), Jane and Annie.

John (Jack)

Born 21 December 1896 married Annie Gray. Jack studied for the priesthood at the Redemptorist Monastery, Ballarat but left to teach in the ‘School of the Air’.  He died of a heart attack in 19 May 1972. (His widow Annie is mentioned in Fr Hugh’’s will) They lived at 32 Robinson St. Punchbowl Sydney and had five children – Hugh, John, George, Nancy and Jean.


Father, (later Monsignor) Hugh. PP Gundagai and later Jugiong. He visited Ireland in the late 1960’s when on a world tour, a retirement gift from his parishioners. (See note 3)  He returned to Gundagai and served there as an assistant priest until his death on 20 June 1974.

Joseph Patrick; (Patrick)

Born 19 March 1900, married Helena Margaret (Madge) Cummin. Patrick was employed by Victorian Railways on station duties in country areas and later in Melbourne suburbs. Patrick and Madge lived in Orbost on the Snowy River, renowned in song, and had two children, Hugh and Patrick John (Patrick). (it is this son, Patrick, who made contact with me).  Joseph Patrick died 14 August 1972.


Sister Damien of the Mercy Order lived in the Mercy Convent at Nicholson St, Carlton, Melbourne. In the strict rule of the time, Sr. Damien was allowed out only for her mother’s burial. In later years, when the rules were relaxed, she was allowed to holiday to visit her nephew, Patrick and family in their home in Colac, Victoria.  She is buried in the Mercy section of Melbourne General Cemetery.


Unmarried, lived with her parents at 61 Iffla St.and worked as a clothing machinist in Flinders Lane, Melbourne.  She nursed mother Bridget her through her illness in her last years. Annie herself developed Parkinson’s disease and became an inmate of Caritas Christie in Kew, Melbourne. She is buried with her parents in the family plot in Melbourne General Cemetery. This is the plot purchased by our grandparents Philip and Margaret to bury their child Hugh, circa 1889/90. The deeds are now in the hands of Patrick of Caloundra. (See Note 2)

The Next Generation – the grandchildren of Hugh and Bridget

There are only two families: the children of Jack and Annie Gray and the children of Patrick and Madge Cummin.

Children of Jack and Annie (of 32 Robinson St, Punch Bowl, Sydney) – 3 boys and 2 girls :– Nancy, John, Hugh, George and Jean.

Nancy (Annie Mary Elizabeth) married Frank Quinn – children Francis (d aged 33) and Paul living in Brisbane.  Nancy died October 1992 aged 70.

John (John Alphonsus) lives in Gwabeggar, NSW. Hugh (Hugh Aloysius) drowned, aged 21, when swimming off Caloundra beach.  His body was never found. A shark attack is suspected.

George (George Joseph), died 14 August 1989 aged 57.

Jean (Jane Theresa Mary) Noted tennis player and now a tennis coach, married Gordon R O’Brien, an apiarist.  They live in Inverell (The Sapphire City) NSW. Children: Hugh Wayne, Twins, Robert Patrick and Peter Gordon and again twins, Michael Raymond (d at 33) and Christopher (stillborn) and Mark Allen.

The parents, Jack and Annie, daughter Nancy and son George, are buried in the Catholic cemetery Necropolis, Rockwood, Sydney.

Children of Patrick (Joseph Patrick) and Madge Cummin (of Orbost, Snowy River): Two boys; Hughie and Patrick John (Patrick).

Hughie born 9 August 1925, married Myrtle Wanklyn and lived at 5 Munroe Ave. Cheltenham, Victoria.  Hughie joined the Australian Imperial Forces (No. VX71559) at 16 and served with the Australian Army until the armistice in 1946.  They had three sons and a daughter: Hugh died in infancy, Paul also deceased, Patrick who lives in Cannon’s Creek, Victoria; Christine, now Mrs Campbell, living in Moorabbin, Melbourne.  Hughie died in 1970 and Myrtle circa 2002.  They are buried in Cheltenham Cemetery.

Patrick John (Patrick)  born 6 October 1927 in Orbost, Victoria.  He married Maureen Daly, daughter of John Daly and Eunice Appleby. They lived formerly at Colac, and thus are known in the family as the ‘Colac Leonards’, but and now live on the ‘sunshine coast’ in Caloundra. Patrick is our new-found cousin and first to respond with information on the Australian connection.  A professional accountant, he is a fellow of the Australian Society of Certified Practising Accountants and a Justice of the Peace.  Patrick and Maureen have seven daughters, Catherine, Frances, Marie-Lousie, Anita, Helen, Elizabeth (Liz) and Denise. (A son, John Patrick, died in infancy 1965).  Frances bought the home of her great-grandmother, Bridget at 12 Bridge St.Port Melbourne.  Liz is the bright lady who recognised the family connection while surfing the web in 2006 and who accompanied her parents, Patrick and Maureen on a visit to Ireland a short time later. (See Note 4)

Family tree: from Terence Leonard of Graffy in Ireland to Patrick Leonard of Colac, Australia:

(1)   Terence of Graffy, Ireland (1778 –1870)

(2)  Philip (the thumb) of Clonursin (c1820-1911)

(3) Hugh of Iffla St. South Melbourne (1866- 1923)

(4) Patrick of Orbost (1900-1972)

(5) Patrick of Colac (1927- )

Note 1: Workers on railways are usually accorded free or cut-rate travel. It seems that the Leonards were prepared to take liberties when the occasion required! It is a family legend in Australia that when Hugh’s Young son, later Monsignor Hugh, was travelling up and down the country seeking a seminary that would accept him as a student for the priesthood (changed times from now!) his railway guard father took him freebies on his train and hid him underneath the seat when the ticket inspector did his rounds!

 Note 2: The first burial in this Leonard family plot in Melbourne General Cemetery was infant Hugh, second child of our grandparents, Philip and Margaret.  Hugh was born in Melbourne c1889. His name appears on my father’’s birth certificate.  The entry, under ‘issue living and deceased’ is ‘Jennie, three years old’, and ‘Hugh, dead’. Also buried there are Hugh and Bridget and their daughter Annie. Patrick of Colac (now Caloundra) holds the deeds of the grave.

Note 3: When Fr. Hugh visited Ireland in July 1964 he stayed a few days with us in Newry and celebrated Mass in our local church at Cloghogue (pronounced Clog).  He was amiable and would talk far into the night.  We knew him as ‘Father’ Hugh.  He never mentioned that he was in fact ‘Monsignor’ Hugh.  Two things I remember about him; his resentment at the ‘Irish Mafia’ amongst the senior clergy in Australia and their discrimination in favour of all things Irish, including the appointment of priests and nuns, and his reaction when I took him to see the Twelfth of July Orange parade in Belfast.  I expected him to be impressed by the pageantry, the colour and the music of the bands.  Instead he turned away in disgust, at what he regarded as the ostentatious display of anti-Catholic bigotry.  He returned to Gundagai and served there as an assistant priest until his death on 20 June 1974.

Note 4: Patrick, Maureen and Liz arrived in Ireland in June 2006 where they were entertained (if not overwhelmed!) by the Leonard clan in Fermanagh. They were taken to Hugh’s birth-place in Clonursin, to Killesher church where he was baptised and where he worshipped and to the ruins of Bridget’’s old home in Crummer. They met Pat’’s second cousin Margaret Breen, daughter of Jennie Leonard, the first child born to our grandparents in Melbourne. Later, at a party in Sean Leonard’’s home, they met dozens of Leonard connections. At the end of their 8-day tour they were entertained by our son Conor and his wife Sallie in Dublin. (By extraordinary coincidence, Liz lives within a short distance from our daughter Dympna in Cairns. Conor and Sally had met Liz earlier in the year when they were visiting Dympna en route to New Zealand) Patrick, Maureen (who also has Irish ancestors) and Liz left Ireland happy if somewhat dazed and with a new awareness of their Irish forebears.