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National Trust Willunga branch.

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National Trust of South Australia


Cavanagh, Michael

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Fast Facts
Type of person Individual
Date of birth c. 1825
Place of birth Cavan, Ireland
Date of arrival c. 1855
Principal occupation Labourer and contractor
Date of death 1915
Place of decease Willunga

Michael Cavanagh was born in Cavan, Ireland in 1827. He was a labourer and it is likely that he is the same Michael Cavanagh who emigrated to South Australia on the ship, Oriental, which arrived in Port Adelaide November 1, 1855. It is also likely that he continued working as a labourer, perhaps around Adelaide or further afield.

However, there is also a possibility that another Michael Cavanaugh, who is recorded arriving at Port Adelaide on Lochinvar from Geographe Bay, WA, on June 22, 1857, could be the Willunga Michael Cavanagh.

On 16 April 1857, an advertisement appeared in the Register newspaper:

         If this should meet the eye of MICHAEL CAVANAGH, Lurganboy, County Cavan, 
         Ireland, he would very much oblige by writing to his friend, James McCaffry, 

James McCaffrey and his family had arrived in South Australia in June 1855. He may have waited to establish his family before contacting his friend or he may have heard from a friend or relative that Michael was coming to South Australia from WA. This advertisement may have been the prompt that drew Michael to Willunga, where he may have actually worked for or with James and Peter McCaffrey on their various contracting jobs. In 1863, Michael was reported in the Weekly Chronicle for alerting the Central Road Board to an alleged fraud committed by John Webb, overseer of roads in South district.

On April 27, 1862, Michael married Mary Clancy at St Joseph’s Church in Willunga. It is possible that Mary Clancy was part the group of Irish immigrant women stranded at Moana during the Nashwauk shipwreck in 1855. Alternatively, she could have been the Mary Clancy who had travelled from Fremantle on Champion in 1858, possibly having met Michael in Western Australia.

It seems that Michael and Mary were part of the Irish Catholic community in Willunga, as both of them acted as sponsors at baptisms. There is no trace of marriages or deaths where the parents were Michael and Mary Cavanaugh and they seem to have had no children. If they did, perhaps they did not register them, as Roman Catholics were discouraged from registering births with the state. They did, however, adopt a girl called Esther Austin.

Michael and Mary appear to have prospered in Willunga. Michael bought blocks of land in St Matthews Street (Lots 182. 185, 186, 189, 193, 194) and held a mortgrage against land owned by Michael Cunningham in St Mary’s Street (Lots 146,149). The land in St Matthews Street is where Michael and Mary Cunningham lived and it appears that his neighbours, the Reillys, Cooks and Clarks, rented their homes from him.

Mary died in December 27, 1894. Michael died in September 1913 but his death remained a mystery until his remains were found in 1915.


  • Passengers in history
  • Biographical Index
  • Adelaide Times .2 July 1857.p. 2
  • South Australian Weekly Chronicle. 20 June 1863. p. 6
  • Chronicle. Family Notices . July 16 1904 . p. 25. Advertiser. 20 November 1914. p. 2
  • Advertiser. 8 April 1915. p. 1

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