was Michael Magnor? Michael was the only child of Hannah Fitzgerald’s
first marriage to a Michael Magnor and family records indicate
that she was born about 1808 in Aghada, County Cork, Ireland. She died in the place of
her birth on November 27 1878. Her second husband was Richard
Bride and they had two daughters Ellen and Abigail. Part of this
information is contained in the 1926
letter from Tom Burgess (born 1871, died after 1931) to his
sister Mary Agnes Burgess (1863-1945) who is my great grandmother.
Tom and Mary were grandchildren of Hannah Fitzgerald. The timeline
below summarises Michael Magnor's story.
brief, Michael Magnor (junior) joined the Royal Navy. He deserted
ship in Australia and made his way to the
goldfields in Far North Queensland in about the 1860’s. Michael
changed his identity to avoid arrest as an absconder and used
different techniques to contact his family in Ireland
to let them know where he was and that he was well. For example
after his first return visit to Ireland
he sent local newspapers to his mother. Michael apparently returned
to Ireland with a
fortune. This is discussed further below. He came back to Australia to continue mining . From
about 1872 -76 he was mining in Georgetown.
Originally the town was called Etheridge. Georgetown
began in 1869 as an alluvial gold mining centre, based on the
As a matter of interest in 1882 Georgetown had ten hotels, ten
billiards rooms and an enlarged courthouse to deal with participants
in drunken brawls, assaults, indecent language and livestock theft!
The letters from Edmund Burgess in the mid 1970’s tell the story
that he and his uncle Michael Magnor are moving around an area
now known as the Northern Goldfields which encompasses Croydon,
Georgetown, and the Palmer and
Rivers. In 1877 Michael returns to Queenstown.
He is there for some time and is recorded as a co-sponsor of his
half niece Ellen Francis Burgess who was baptised on 1 September
1878 according to the Parish Register in Aghada . Aghada is on
the southern shore of Cork Harbour, south east of Cobh, see the
By December 1878 Michael is reportedly back in Australia.
is record of a death in 1890 of Michael Magnor in Croydon,
Queensland in the
heart of the Gulf Savannah. This person might be our Michael.
When gold was discovered in Croydon in 1885 it attracted many
fortune seekers and by 1887 the town's population had reached
7,000. Gold continued to be mined in Croydon for the following
the 1930’s there were two articles in local newspapers about Michael
Magnor; the first article was written under the pseudonym Bill
Bowyang in the Townsville Daily Bulletin, April 16 1930; the second
article by Frank Reid
was in The Sunday Mail, Brisbane, June 12, 1938. Both articles,
were in fact written by Alex Vennard using the different pseudonyms.
He was a journalist born in Normanton in 1886. The articles are
available through the National Library of Australia through their
we accept the person known as Michael Magnor who died in Croydon
as being the same as Hannah Fitzgerald’s son? Michael was definitely
mining in the Northern Goldfields. The evidence of relationships,
places, dates and events are contained in many personal family
letters, hospital records, death certificate and to a lessor extent
from family stories. The veracity of the documents is not in question
– only perhaps the accuracy of the record itself. Some of the
letters have been transcribed by hand from the original due to
lack of copying facilities at the homes where these records are
kept. There is no reason to doubt the reliability of the transcriptions
after examining the language and grammar of the text and the context
in which they were written.
records such as the death
certificate provide information which was given to the Registrar
of Deaths by a person who may not be a family member and therefore
may be inaccurate. Death records in days gone by were sometimes
more concerned with determining if there was a case of wrongful
death rather than the accuracy of the precise identity of the
deceased. Identification was often based on hearsay or that claimed
by the individual providing it to the authority. The informant,
as in the case of Michael Magnor of Croydon, seems to be an acquaintance
rather than a family member and therefore was not familiar with
the accuracy of the information regarding identity. In any event
Michael Magnor was given to hiding his true identity and therefore
his recorded age at death and the number of years he had been
may be inaccurate.
discrepancy on the death certificate is his mother’s name. It
is given as Bright whereas her (second) married name was Bride.
It will never be known if this was transcription or recording
error. Did the recording nurse think she heard the name Bright
which was the name of the Matron of the hospital? There is a note
on the hospital admission form stating that the form is completed
from an interpretation of handwriting.
rumour of Michael death in New Guinea
is just that. It cannot be proved. If his death was in New Guinea after 1880 there is no such record made
and before that date official records do not exist for deaths
in New Guinea. Michael’s
last letter received by his family is dated December 2,1878. The
New Guinea death rumour may have been believed
for many years as some family members may have wished for a romantic
notion of adventurism in the jungles of New
Guinea. For example, my father
used to imagine that Michael Magnor was killed by head hunters
in the upper reaches of the Fly River.
I can find no basis for this other than it made for a “bloody
good bedtime story” for small boys!
however does not prove or disprove that the Croydon Magnor and
our Michael Magner are the same person but there is a reasonable
link. Especially so because of the name itself and the fact that
our Michael spent many years in the Croydon locality as a miner.
This is not disputable.
is a mystery as to what happened to his fortune if in fact there
was a fortune. Michael was a miner and he returned twice to Queensland
to mine although it is mentioned in the family letters that he
had a lot of money. But was it £40,000 as reported in the newspapers
in the 1930’s? It was a lot of money and has the purchasing value
of about £32,000,000 nowadays (over $A65,000,000). So why did
he remain a miner? Why did he not help his family as there were
close family bonds? To emphasise this comparison of wealth, in
1878 in one year an engineer earned about £120 while an agricultural
labourer could expect to earn £40 per year. I suspect Michael’s
wealth may have been exaggerated.
the navy absconder, is more than a romantic story. No official
records can be found of the desertion but letters
between family members over a long period of time support that
he was an absconder.
would sincerely recommend a visit to the Croydon and Georgetown
localities where an insight to the life and tribulations of our
pioneers can be gained. Many historical buildings have been restored.
It was a tough land set in typical Gulf Savannah land with flat
grass and scrub lands and the mainly red dirt soils are of poor
quality. During the wet season all creeks and rivers run and some
small waterfalls are generated not far from town. The name of
the town Croydon is derived from a pastoral run name, used by
Alexander Brown and William Chalmers Brown who were pastoralists
in the area and who reportedly were born in Croydon,
Michael was in the area transport was by bullock dray or horseback
and if you couldn’t afford those means then it was by shanks pony
on unformed roads and through the bush and shrub. It is a bit
easier to get there nowadays. Cairns
had not even been founded - on October 12 1876 Edmund Burgess
who was with his uncle Michael Magnor in Georgetown,
wrote about “a new port is opened (sic) on the shores of Trinity Bay”.
This was the then town of Cairns
to which he was referring.
National Library of Ireland provides a base source for researchers.
Notes or Event
Born in Cork, Ireland
to Hannah Fitzgerald (abt 1808-1878). The only child to
his mother’s first marriage. According to a death certificate
, the name of his father is given as Michael Magner (sic)
and his mother as Hannah Bright. According to family records
her second husband name was Richard Bride. That is his
mother’s name according to the family records was Hannah
Croydon hospital records &
death certificate for a Michael Magnor.
Croydon hospital records show this
Deserted British man-of-war in
Sydney, travelled to the
interior and adopted the name of Bill Davis.
Worked his way to Queensland and to the
Gympie gold fields – gold was discovered in Gympie in
He was not lucky to make a rich
strike and worked his way further north.
Article in Townsville Daily Bulletin
Wednesday 16/04/1930. Note the discrepancy with the notes
Michael Magnor returns home – first
Letter from Tom Burgess to his
sister Mary Agnes Burgess dated 05/07/1926.
Arrives at the Etheridge, Far North
Queensland and finds payable gold. Pegged a claim “Try
No More” and extracted an estimated £30,000 - £40,000. May have had a partner Bill Downs.
Article in The Sunday Mail, June
12, 1938 and in The Townsville Daily Bulletin 16 April
Written from Townsville, Michael
Magnor’s nephew says Michael Magnor will be going home
after the next letter. He also mentions he will write
Letter from Edmund Burgess to his
Michael Magnor is in Georgetown with his nephew
Edmund Burgess` Later on he went to the Palmer and Hodgkinson
Letter dated 12/10/1876 from Edmund
to his mother.
The Townsville Daily Bulletin 16
Report of the gold claim in Georgetown being worked
out and “we are going to Hodgkinson a goldfield 200 miles
Letter from Edmund Burgess to his
Abt late 1876
Michael Magnor reported to be in
good health and Edmund Burgess writes about Michael Magnor
returning home next February.
Letter from Edmund Burgess, to
his brother, not referred to by name but relationship.
Undated. Map of Far North Queensland is included in the
letter with the northern gold fields marked. This map
may have been “photocopied in” by later genealogists as
it has the recent names for towns (eg Ravenshoe was founded
Returns to Queenstown,
(now Cobh) to visit mother. Has over £40,000 . Walked into
the bar of the Imperial Hotel and astonished his mother
. Second trip home.
Family history and letter from
Tom Burgess 05/07/1926 to his sister Mary Agnes Burgess.
||Michael Magnor is co-sponsor for
the christening of his niece, Ellen Francis Burgess at Aghada.
|| Parish Register in Aghada records
Returns to Australia and arrives Melbourne with his nephew Edmund Burgess.
Letter from Tom Burgess 05/07/1926
to his sister Mary and The Townsville Daily Bulletin 16
April 1930 and family letters of the day.
Michael Magnor is in Sydney and meets with Bill
Downs. Writes to mother that he is going to New Guinea. In a later letter he
reverses this plan and says he is going to another field.
The Townsville Daily Bulletin 16
Last known letter from Michael
Magnor. Written to his sister. The letter was brought
to Australia by
Mary Agnes Burgess, his niece.
No records of prospectors killed
Guinea exist prior to
this date. There are no records of a Michael Magnor killed
Guinea after this date.
The Townsville Daily Bulletin 16
Query from Abby Burgess whether
Michael Magnor will ever come “home” again.
Letter from Abby Burgess to son
||Gold is discovered at Croydon.
||University of Queensland. A paper
by A Laurie "History of the Croydon Goldfield"
This paper is accessible online as at November 2017.
Admitted to Croydon Hospital.
Died at Croydon Hospital.
Cardiac failure and acute bronchitis.
1920’s & 30’s
“hunt for the lost fortune”.
Research by Michael Edmond Daly (1887-1937).