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National Trust Willunga branch.

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National Trust of South Australia


McCaffrey, James and Catherine

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Fast Facts
Type of person Individual
Date of birth c. 1828
Place of birth Ireland
Date of arrival 1855
Principal occupation Quarryman and builder
Date of death 1901
Place of decease Willunga

James McCaffrey was born (about 1828) in Cavan, Ireland. He married Catherine McIntee (born about 1834) while in Ireland. They left behind their home in Cavan at a time when immigration was heavy. The potato famine resulted in the deaths of around a million people, and, with other factors, lead to an exodus from Ireland to the new world. Like so many of Willunga's pioneering families, the McCaffreys left their birth country to make a new life.

Their ship, Velocity, left Plymouth on 24 March, 1855. Catherine and James lodged in the steerage married couples quarters, and were organised into a “mess” to manage the distribution of food and water with 4-6 other passengers who were probably also from central Ireland. Catherine and James experienced rough weather, calms and icebergs. The smell of the families quarters would have been pungent. In addition to human food and waste, and infrequently changed babies, Velocity’s portholes were poorly designed for ventilation. Despite the smells and inevitable tensions of crowding, however, the passengers were orderly and well-behaved. James and Catherine arrived in South Australia on 24 June 1855.

James worked at the slate quarries, including Martin & Bastian’s quarry, and undertook local building work as well.In 1860, he purchased land in Willunga for £11 pounds. The house built on the land is now known as McCaffrey Cottage.

During James and Catherine's years in Willunga, they lived through the expansion of the colony, economic boom and decline and fears of foreign military invasion. Catherine died on 19th September, 1901, to be followed in death by James on 26th September, one week later. They were buried in St Joseph's Catholic Cemetery, Willunga.

James and Catherine left behind 4 living children. One of these children, Bernard Ambrose, was well known in South Australia as an educator, singer and sportsman. The eldest son, Peter became an engine driver in Mt Gambier. Mary Ann married Joseph B. Fels and moved to Abbotsford, Victoria. The youngest daughter, Catherine, lived in Mylor, probably with Bernard Ambrose and his wife.

Today, McCaffrey Cottage remains as a visible testament and memorial to two settlers who helped to build the township of Willunga.


  • Haines R. (2003). Life and death in the age of sail. Sydney: University of New South Wales
  • Hassam A. (1995). No Privacy for Writing: Shipboard Diaries 1852 - 1879. Carlton: Melbourne University Press
  • Willunga Courthouse records
  • Land Titles Office
  • The

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