The Cusack Family


Currently available records indicate that my 3xgreat-grandfather Daniel O'Neill was born circa 1804 in the parish of Kilrush in the west of County Clare, Ireland.  The population in this part of the country was predominantly rural, Roman Catholic and Irish speaking.  All of which was probably true of Daniel who worked as a labourer.  His parents were John Cusack and Mary O'Neill.  For reasons which have not yet been explained, whilst living in Ireland, Daniel was known by his mother's maiden name of O'Neill, however he seems to have maintained amiable relations with both his O'Neill and Cusack relatives. It is not clear whether his parents ever married.  Records show a John Cusack living in Burton Street, Kilrush and another living in the nearby townland of Ballynote East in 1855.

At some point during the 1820s, Daniel married Bridget (Biddy) McKnight (rendered in the Kilrush parish registers as McNite).  The couple were most probably living in Kilrush Town where they are recorded as baptising three children between 1831 and 1840.  They were Mary, Thomas and my great-great-grandmother Bridget.  A further two baptisms are listed in the register which may be those of Daniel and Biddy's younger daughters Margaret and Johanna.  In addition, a son John was born to the couple, possibly just prior to the beginning of the parish registers in 1827 as his baptism is not recorded.

There is no further mention of Daniel's wife or children in local records consulted thus far, however Australian documents held at the Brisbane Titles Office indicate that Biddy died on 14th June, 1845 of unknown causes and then their only sons, Thomas and John in about 1850 and 1851 respectively.  After Biddy's death in 1845 the family are known to have been living in Kilrush Town in fairly close proximity to a widow Bridget Mangan (nee Enright).  Bridget (also known as Biddy) was the daughter of Mary and a sailor - William Enright.  From her Mangan marriage, Biddy had a son - Peter - and probably also a daughter - Mary - most likely born in the late 1830s.  Daniel and the widow Mangan were married at Kilrush as Daniel O'Neil and Biddy Inreight (sic) in 1850.

It is not yet clear which of the various O'Neill and Cusack families in Kilrush parish were most closely related to Daniel, so in the hope of discovering which, if any, of the O'Neill and McKnight families in Kilrush my ancestors belonged to, I have transcribed ALL the baptisms and marriages I could find in the Kilrush parish registers up to 1880 where the name of a parent or the bride or groom was O'Neil(l) or McKnight.  I have not yet done so for the Cusacks.  Those records I have so far transcribed can be viewed on the following pages:


If anyone can identify any of the O'Neills or McKnights listed in these registers, then I would be extremely grateful if they could contact me:

Visit the Clare Library website to see maps of the Roman Catholic and civil parishes of County Clare or even the modern day townlands of Killimer parish.

With the sole exception of his first wife, Daniel's family survived the Great Famine of the late 1840s and the mass evictions which accompanied it.    The Kilrush Poor Law Union, which included Kilrush and other surrounding parishes, was one of the worst hit parts of the country, with as many as 20,000 people (almost a quarter of the 1841 population) estimated to have been evicted from their homes.  Most of these people died of starvation and disease.  By 1849 a total of 30,000 people (half the remaining population) were said to be receiving some form of relief from the Union in the form of food handouts or employment on public works.

Daniel, his new wife and their children endured this environment until 1853, however, by March 1853 they had made their way to Birkenhead, the immigration depot at Liverpool.  Their most likely route of travel from Kilrush was perhaps via steamer to Limerick and from there overland to either Cork or Dublin before taking another steamer across the channel.  Upon arrival in England, Daniel arranged their passage to Australia as assisted immigrants on the John Fielden (aka John Fielding).  After a relatively uneventful voyage of 90 days the combined O'Neill/Mangan family disembarked at Moreton Bay (later Brisbane, Queensland) in the colony of New South Wales on 13th June all using Daniel's paternal surname of Cusack, although it appears that henceforth Biddy's children used their deceased father's surname of Mangan.  On the shipping records, Daniel was described as a labourer from County Clare.  At the time of his migration, his father John was still living in County Clare but his mother had died.

Shipping records for Moreton Bay (prior to 1859) can be searched on-line through the New South Wales State Government web site.

Once in Australia Daniel, worked as a Drayman.  He earned enough money that by 1855 he was able to buy a block of land in Albert Street, North Brisbane, between Margaret and Alice Streets - part of the land which is now owned by the Royal on the Park Hotel. At that point in time this swampy, low-lying land which extended from around the Elizabeth Street intersection, following a creek bed down Albert Street towards the Brisbane river was known as Frogs' Hollow for the raucous chorus of bullfrogs which could be heard after a rainfall.  In these early days of Brisbane Town, the surrounding creeks and waterways were used for the dumping of the town's refuse with the result that the stench was unbearable.  It is perhaps not surprising then that Daniel does not appear to have built on his land but instead may have lived elsewhere in Albert Street.

Within 12 months of its purchase, Daniel had transferred the title to half the land to his step-son Peter Mangan.  The remainder stayed in his possession, eventually passing to his four surviving daughters almost 30 years after his death.  By the time the land passed out of the family's hands in 1889, the reputation of this part of town had changed from that of dumping ground to red light district.  Frogs' Hollow was now a dumping ground for human refuse, with Chinese opium dens, brothels and bars abounding.

Had he survived, Daniel may well have felt at home in this environment as he seems to have been more than ordinarily fond of a drink - a fact which ultimately lead to his premature death in 1859.  On several occasions during his years in Brisbane, Daniel was arrested for drunkenness - in the first instance, the evening after his arrival in the colony.  Whilst there is no mention of their children ever appearing before the local police magistrate, Daniel and even his wife on occasion made the journey to face the police magistrate at the courthouse in Queen Street.  In each case they were reprimanded and fined.  On the occasion of her appearance on a charge of using profane language, Biddy pleaded that her behaviour was the result of a fit.  The magistrate declared that it was a particularly loud fit as he had been able to hear it from his residence and he further supposed that the fit was not caused drinking cold water.  Biddy was fined 20s and 5s 6d costs.

Following a more serious altercation, both Daniel and Biddy were again required to face the magistrates' bench.  On this occasion, Biddy was charged with assaulting a 13 year old boy and his mother and Daniel with threatening to kill the boy.  In her own defence, Biddy could only produce a "long speech in untranslatable Hibernian."  She was found guilty and fined and Daniel was required to find securities to ensure the he would keep the peace for a month.

In 1858, Daniel was again involved with the magistrates when he and another man - James Connor - stood bail for one Catherine Broderick who had been arrested and charged with having obtained goods (alcohol) by means of a false pretence.  Catherine was eventually cleared of all charges, but what her connection to Daniel and his family may have been remains a mystery. 

On the Monday prior to his death on 4th June, 1859, Daniel was involved in an altercation with a publican named William Clarke who was assisting him to leave his premises - the Royal Oak on George Street - at closing time.  As a result of a scuffle, Daniel received abdominal injuries which lead to his death from peritonitis some five days later.

An inquiry was held into the circumstances surrounding Daniel's death, with the result that an arrest warrant was served for the publican William Clarke, however when Clarke went to trial in August, 1859, it was quickly determined that he had no case to answer.  All charges were dropped and the judge ordered the Jury to return a verdict of not guilty.  On 18th June, 1859 the proceedings of the inquest were reported in the Brisbane Courier Mail.  A report of the subsequent trial appeared  in the paper on 27th August that year.  To read the articles click here.

Daniel's wife Bridget, lived for a further three years, dying in Albert Street, Brisbane in 1862 as Bridget Cusick.  The informant on her death certificate was her son Peter Mangine(sic).  Both Daniel and Bridget were buried in the Roman Catholic Burial Ground at Paddington, on the site of what is now Lange Park in Brisbane.



Two days after the death of Bridget Cusack, Peter married Jane Manning.  Their eldest daughter - Bridget had been born a few months earlier.  The couple appear to have lived in Brisbane for much of the next twenty years over which time a further nine children were born - Eliza Jane, Rachel, Anthony, Margaret Mary, Charles, Peter, Sarah Jane, Martha and Matilda Jane.

Of these children only Bridget, Eliza, Rachel and Sarah are known to have survived childhood.  None of Peter's sons lived to carry on the Mangan surname, however, all of Peter and Jane's surviving daughters married.  Bridget married Richard Harold Hough and Eliza married Henry Finlay, however Henry died little more than a year after their marriage, leaving his widow to support their baby son.  Rachel Mangan married August Julius Habermann and her sister Sarah Jane married William Job Stone, a member of the well known Stone family of Stone's Corner, Brisbane.

Peter died at Brisbane in early 1899 when the names of his parents were stated as Daniel and Bridget (Mangan).  Jane died little more than two years later in Sydney, New South Wales.  Today, there are living descendants of each of the Hough, Habermann, Finlay and Stone families.

Whilst it has not been proven at this point, it is possible that a Mary Mangan who married a James Mark at Ipswich in 1855 may have been Peter's sister.  The couple appear to have had one surviving daughter - Mary A B Mark - born 1857 who married Rainy Mackay at Armidale, New South Wales in 1879.  Mary Mark (nee Mangan) died in Sydney in 1858, leaving her husband and infant daughter.


Records suggest that by the 1860s each of Daniel's four surviving daughters had moved to New South Wales.

Bridget claimed that she married Joseph Stafford, there in 1864.  Joseph was an Irish immigrant from County Wexford.  Bridget and Joe were my 2xgreat-grandparents.  Nine children were born to the couple between the years of 1866 and 1883.  They were Kate Ellen, William Alfred, Maud Mary, James, Alice, John, Clara Theresa, Thomas and Stephen (aka Henry).

For further details on the Stafford children follow this link:

Bridget and Joe appear to have returned to Queensland before the birth of their eldest child Kate and lived at various times in Brisbane and in the township of Bundaberg.  In 1886, some three years after the birth of their youngest child the couple were married using the names Peter Joseph Stafford and Delia Bridget Neill.  The ceremony took place at St. Stephen's Cathedral, Brisbane.  The reason for this possible second marriage is unknown, but it appears that the authorities did not accept that any legal ceremony had taken place prior to this date.  Upon Joe Stafford's death in 1906 it was probably revealed to the authorities that he and Bridget had not been married at the time their children were born, or that proof could not be provided so the registrar altered the birth records for each of the children to indicate that they were illegitimate and that  all of Joe's details should be omitted from the register.  Each of the births was then registered under the surname O'Neil (sic) and where Bridget had indicated her maiden surname as Cusack it was stated that this too should be changed to read O'Neil.  It is possible that their Brisbane marriage may have come about as a requirement for settling the transfer of the Albert Street land to Daniel's surviving daughters or in the case of Margaret, her descendants.

Bridget died some six years later in 1912.  The personal details recorded on her death certificate were the same as those stated on her marriage certificate in 1886.  She was buried with Joseph and her youngest son at the Toowong Cemetery, Brisbane.

Unlike their sister, Daniel's three other daughters lived the remainder of their lives in Sydney.  The eldest, Mary, died a spinster in 1889, continuing to use the surname Cusack throughout her life.  Margaret seems to have married somewhat earlier than her two younger sisters when in 1862, using the surname O'Neill she married Henry Meyer.  The couple had two surviving daughters  Emma Dinah and Elizabeth Alexandra.  Margaret died at a relatively young age in 1874 and was buried at the Old Church of England section of Rookwood Cemetery.  In 1889, as an adult, her daughter Elizabeth purchased her mother's grave site and erected a headstone in her memory.  Whilst it appears that Elizabeth did not marry, Emma married Thomas Brown in 1884.  To this point, the names of three children have been located in the records.

Johanna, the youngest daughter of Daniel and Biddy, married Richard Thrussell in 1868.  Of nine children born to the couple, four are known to have died in infancy.  The surviving children were: Minnie T., Richard J., Thomas Joseph, William H. and Kate E.  Johanna survived her husband by some 19 years, dying in 1919.

Think you might be related or know some one who is?  Feel you might be able to help find my missing relatives or would just like further information?  Then please email me!

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