Michael McCraith (1833-1888) and Elizabeth Beazley (1836-1919)

Our great-great grandparents

Michael McCraith was born in Ballyporeen early in 1832, the third child and son of John McGrath, and his wife Bridget nee Walsh. Elizabeth (Eliza) Beazley was born in Schull in south-west County Cork in 1836, the first known child of Andrew Beazley and Alice Newman.

On 4 May 1852, aged 19, Michael McCraith was appointed to the Irish Constabulary:1

The first organised police force in Ireland came about through the Peace Preservation Act of 1814 but the Irish Constabulary Act of 1822 marked the true beginning of the Irish Constabulary. Among its first duties was the forcible seizure of tithes during the "Tithe War" on behalf of the Anglican clergy from the mainly Catholic population as well as the Presbyterian minority. The act established a force in each barony with chief constables and inspectors general under the control of the civil administration at Dublin Castle. By 1841 this force numbered over 8,600 men. The force had been rationalised and reorganised in an 1836 act and the first constabulary code of regulations was published in 1837. The discipline was tough and the pay poor. The police also faced unrest among the Irish rural poor, manifested in organisations like the Ribbonmen, which attacked landlords and their property.2

At appointment Michael was described as 5 feet 8¼ inches tall, and having previously been a labourer. Members of the Irish Constabulary were not permitted to serve in their home County, so Michael was stationed in the west of County Cork. His service number was 15941.

Michael McCraith joined the Constabulary during a period of relative calm in Ireland following the suppression of the ‘Young Ireland’ uprising in 1848.

Due to their ubiquity from the 1850s the RIC were tasked with a range of civil and local government duties together with their existing ones, closely tying the constables to their local communities…The majority of the lower ranks in rural areas were of the same social class, religion and general background as their neighbours…The military ethos of the RIC with its "barracks" (usually simply rented houses), carbines and emphasis on army style drill and smartness distinguished the force from civil police in Great Britain and Dublin. Throughout its history the RIC wore a distinctive dark green uniform with black buttons and insignia, derived in style from the Rifle Brigade of the British army.3

Michael and a probably heavily pregnant Eliza Beazley married on 24 January 1855 at Ballydehob in the western part of County Cork, the marriage witnessed by Ellen Newman and Julia Regan. The village of Ballydehob is probably where Michael was stationed.4 Griffith’s Valuation mentioned the Ballydehob constabulary barracks, noting that it also included an office and a small garden.

For her part, Eliza probably had Newman family connections with Woodlands, about 5 kilometers from Ballydehob.

Michael and Eliza McCraith had fourteen children, only the first of whom was born in Ireland:

  1. John (1855-1905) – baptised on 4 March 1855, probably in Ballydehob. He married Ellen McKee Dunbar (1864-1935) in 1880 and they had three children: Michael George ‘Mert’ (b.1880), Elizabeth Zoe (b.1882) and Eileen Mary (b.1899). John was reputed to be a “well-known vocalist”.5 He was “dreadfully injured” in a gas explosion at the Waverley Hotel, where he was licensee, on 19 November 1905 and died in hospital the next day. Newspapers reported that his wife Ellen had caused a leak in a gas fitting overnight, and John had ignited the gas when he went down to the bar parlor in the morning. John is buried at Melbourne General Cemetery. He was the grandfather of Jack McCraith, the millionaire "Rabbit King" of the 1930s and beyond. Another grandson was Gerald, who became famous for his love of orchids and also joined his brother Jack in the rabbit empire - read Gerald's obituary.
  2. Alice (1859-1893) – born at Essendon, Victoria, she married John Hulmes Johnston in 1885 and they had four children: Jane Holmes (b.1887), Andrew John (b.1888), Thomas Richard (b.1891) and Ruby May (b.1893). Alice died at Castlemaine in 1893.
  3. Bridget Catherine (1860-after 1937) – known in her family as “Kate”. She married James Edward Marsh in 1884 and they had four children: Aileen Mary (b.1885), Kath Frances (b.1891), Eliza Gladys (b.1893), Ellen Josine (b.1894) and Edwin James (b.1895). In 1903 James, Bridget and their family were living at Kew, Victoria, with James’ occupation shown as butcher and Bridget’s as home duties. Ethel Ramsdale said that “…they had about 3 butchers shops in Kew Melb a very posh suburb & were pretty well off, being able to give their children £1000 each as they reached their 21st birthday”.6 James must have died before 1919, but Bridget continued living in Kew until at least 1937.
  4. Margaret Constance (our great grandmother, 1861-1903)
  5. Elizabeth Maud (1861-1892) – born at Castlemaine and died there on 20 April 1892. She did not marry. She was buried in the same plot as her father, and subsequently, her mother, in Campbells Creek/Castlemaine cemetery.
  6. William Andrew (1864-1951) – born at Castlemaine. He was a labourer and does not appear to have married. He may have spent some time around 1931 living in the Melbourne Benevolent Asylum in Cheltenham, an institution for destitute persons not able to support themselves. William died at Mentone, Victoria aged 87 years.
  7. Michael (1866-1930) – born in Castlemaine, he does not appear to have married. He worked on the railway as a station master in Spencer Street in Melbourne, Dimboola (around 1919) and Bendigo (around 1924). Ethel Ramsdale claimed that “…he could have been Superintendent of Railways if he had turned a Freemason but he was a devout Catholic”. She also said that “…he died of a stroke when he booked in to go overseas after his retirement”.  He is buried at Campbells Creek/Castlemaine cemetery in the same plot as his brother Thomas.
  8. Thomas (1868-1925) – he was born at Castlemaine, but at some stage prior to 1903 seems to have relocated to Perth, Western Australia. He does not seem to have married. How long he stayed in Perth is unknown, but he was buried at Campbells Creek/Castlemaine cemetery in the same plot as his brother Michael.
  9. Peter (1871-1916) – born at Talbotville. Me married Ida Rose Schwieger in 1895 and they had two children: Willie Fred Beasley (b.1895) and Walter Reginald Vincent (b.1898). In 1903 and 1909 Peter’s occupation was recorded as “cabman”, but in 1914 it had changed to “carrier”. Peter died at Glenferrie aged 44 years “as a result of an accident”.7 Ethel Ramsdale said that he “…met with a tragic death…He slipped on a banana skin on the balcony of Peterkin Chambers & was found dead in bed”.
  10. Mary Cecilia (b.1873) – born at Castlemaine and married Michael James Laffan, a railway employee, in 1895. They had three children: Vincent Michael (b.1896), Alma Veronica (b.1897), Myra Josine (b.1901) and Leo (b.1903). It is unknown when and where she died.
  11. Hannah Amelia (1875-1958) – born at Castlemaine and was known to her family as “Annie”. She was living with her mother at Prahran in 1903, at which time her occupation was recorded as dressmaker. On 15 August 1918, aged 43 she married George Alexander Anderson in Queensland. Ethel Ramsdale noted that George “…was Staff Manager of Wirth’s Circus & they used to have their own suite on the Circus train….George Anderson had been manager for 40 yrs. when he died”. Hannah died in 1958 aged 83 in Cheltenham, Victoria.
  12. Andrew Francis (1878-1914) – born at Castlemaine, he was living with his mother in Prahran in 1903, at which time his occupation was recorded as a clerk. He does not appear to have married, and  died as a result of an accident in Sydney8 aged 36 years. According to Ethel Dwyer's memoirs he died when crushed by his own delivery van.
  13. Ellen Elizabeth (1881-1977) – born in Castlemaine, she was living with her mother at Prahran in 1903, at which time her occupation was recorded as dressmaker. She married Albert Victor Churchus, a carpenter, in Melbourne on 21 April 1909.  They only had one child, John Walter (b.1909), and they lived in the St. Kilda area. Ellen died at St. Kilda in 1977 aged 96 years.
  14. Patrick (1882-1882) – born at Castlemaine and died in infancy.

Michael resigned from the Irish Constabulary on 4 March 1856, and on 27 March that year he, Eliza and John sailed from Liverpool aboard the Atalanta as assistant immigrants bound for Victoria. They arrived in Port Phillip on 18 June 1856. In the ship’s register Michael is recorded as a constable, a Roman Catholic who could both read and write. Eliza was recorded as Church of England, which is probably an error since at her marriage she was recorded as Catholic, and her burial service sixty-three years later was conducted by a Catholic priest. Like Michael she could read and write. John was just one year old when the family made their journey to Australia.
Michael came to Victoria to join the Victoria Police, and was probably recruited in Ireland. There was a shortage of police in the rapidly expanding colony in the early 1850s, and ex military and police members were in demand as officers and constables.

The McCraiths’ shipping record says that they went “on their own account” to Richmond on 19 June 1856, the day after the arrival of the Atalanta. Presumably this was to the police camp “…situated at the north-east corner of the Richmond Paddock, at the junction of Punt Road and Wellington Parade…”.9

Michael was appointed to the Victoria Police on 27 June 1856 with a service number of 866. In Richmond he would have been put into a detachment under an officer and gone through a period of training and drill before being deployed to his post. Michael’s Victoria Police record describes him as 5 feet 8½ inches tall with blue eyes, black hair and a dark complexion. His general appearance is described as “intelligent and smart”. Unfortunately there is no photograph of him on record with the Police, although we do have several photos of his brother in law William Killen in uniform.

To judge from the birthplace of his first three Australian-born children, and other references, Michael’s first post was in the Essendon/Keilor area north-west of Melbourne. His service record and newspaper reports provide some details of the highs and lows of his early career:

1 December 1856 – admonished for being absent from inspection parade on 29 November.

28 May 1857 – fined 2/6 for being absent from duty at 5am parade on 24 May.

4 June 1857 – fined 2/6 for having “dirty appointments” when on parade.

9 July 1857 – fined 5/- for being absent from his beat from 1.30am to 2.20am that morning.

21 January 1858 – admonished for “Neglecting to attend at the Richmond Police Bench to prosecute one George Welbourne for carrying more than authorized number of passengers.”

1 February 1858 – fined 2/6 for “Not informing the sergeant why he was off his beat between the hours of 11 & 12pm” on 31 January.

29 August 1859 – “Thomas Westcombe was brought up by Constable McCraith for being drunk and disorderly whilst in charge of a licensed conveyance at Essendon. He was also stated to have threatened to stab one of his passengers. The Bench inflicted a fine of 20s., and ordered the case to be reported to the Hackney Carriage Committee.”10

8 May 1860 – severely reprimanded for “Having his appointments and lockup at Keilor very dirty” that day.

25 March 1861 – reprimanded for absenting himself from his station.

By the end of 1861 Michael had been transferred to Castlemaine, Victoria. Castlemaine was at the centre of Victoria’s Mount Alexander goldfields and for a brief period was larger in population than Melbourne. By 1860, just before the McCraith family arrived, some 30,000 people were thought to live in the Castlemaine area, but this was at the tail end of the Mount Alexander gold rush and the population soon began to decline. The town itself maintained a degree of prosperity thanks to a number of industries that sprang up during and after the gold rush period.

see caption below
Castlemaine c. 1861. Photo by J H Jones collection of State Library of Victoria.

Highs and lows of Michael McCraith’s career at Castlemaine included:

4 June 1863 – praised for “Commendable conduct in effecting the arrest with others of several disorderly persons on 4 April 1863 in the case of Queen & Lawler & others.”

6 November 1865 – appointed Keeper of the Gunpowder Magazine at Castlemaine.11

Gazette announcement - appointment to powder magazine

January 1866 – a gratuity of £1 was paid to Michael “…from the P.R Fund for his prompt attention shown in the arrest & conviction of John Lee for Burglary at the Royal Hotel Castlemaine.”

16 August 1866 – assessed as “A smart intelligent constable eligible for advancement”. This advancement seems to have never come his way.

27 January 1867 – reprimanded for being absent from duty without leave from 12pm 26 January to 10pm 27 January. His superintendent noted that “It is entirely owing to this man’s exemplary conduct that I have passed over this offence so leniently”.

23 May 1867 – awarded £2 “…in acknowledgement of this constable’s service in the arrest of a dangerous lunatic at Barkers Creek on 5th May 1867”. This incident was reported in The Argus of Tuesday 7 May 1867:

On Sunday the residents of the upper part of Barker’s Creek were thrown into a state of great excitement by a dangerous lunatic, who, armed with a loaded gun and revolver, jeopardized the lives of several persons. At great risk a rush was made upon him, and by numbers he was overpowered, handcuffed and carried to gaol.

2 April 1872 – praised by superior as “An excellent – well conducted constable”.

9 September 1873 – praised by superior as “A very good constable, intelligent, well conducted & obliging”.

26 June 1873 – assessed as “An intelligent constable but unsteady in his habits”.

1 July 1876 – fined 5/- for “Being slightly under the influence of drink at 9am”.

20 April 1878 – relieved as Keeper of the Powder Magazine at Castlemaine.

8 May 1879 – transferred from Castlemaine to Sandhurst, southwest of Melbourne, “on account of unsteady habits”.

17 September 1879 – appears to have been stationed in the Bendigo area. The following was reported in the Bendigo Advertiser of that date:

Obscene and Threatening Language - Hugh M'Manus, employed at the Shamrock Hotel [on the corner of Pall Mall and Williamson Street, Bendigo] as a cook, was using obscene language in the hotel yesterday, when Mr. W. Heffernan ordered him to desist, but instead of doing so, ho became still more abusive, and threatened to knock Mr. Heffernan down. Constable McCraith was called in, and the man given in charge, but he resisted so violently that it required the united efforts of the constable, Mr. Heffernan, and another servant at the hotel to convey the prisoner to the lock-up. He will be charged at the City Police Court this morning with using obscene and threatening language.

21 October 1879 – transferred back to Castlemaine “having improved”.

10 February 1883 – found to be “Unsteady and therefore unfit for the service – if for no other reason”. Dismissed having been found to be unfit for duty by the Police Medical Board. He was given an annual pension of £96-14-4. His overall conduct was assessed as “fair”.

It is assumed that Michael’s “unsteadiness of habits” referred to a drinking problem. Otherwise he seems to have been generally well-regarded and a good copper.

It is unknown where in Castlemaine the McCraith family lived prior to his appointment as Keeper of the Powder Magazine in 1865. During the term of this appointment it is assumed that the family resided at the caretaker’s cottage next to the powder magazine in Farnsworth Street, near the intersection with Forest Street. Both the cottage and the powder magazine itself are still standing and are both now private residences.

When Michael was relieved as Keeper of the Powder Magazine the family lived at Allotment 2, Section 117A, now 33 Bowden Street, just around the corner from the Powder Magazine and caretaker’s cottage. Michael attempted to purchase this property from the Government in April 1878 but was refused, and it was not until 17 November 1885 that he was permitted to do so. Unfortunately the actual building occupied by the McCraith family was demolished and replaced with a newer house in 1910.

Following his dismissal from the Police, Michael was appointed Market Inspector at Castlemaine, and he remained in that position until his death. There were three market buildings in Castlemaine arranged around an arcaded water tank in Market Square in the centre of the town. I have not yet found any information on the duties of the Market Inspector, but it is attractive to think of it as a nineteenth century version of the Office of Fair Trading.

All through this period, of course, Eliza was bearing and raising their children. Her younger sister Hannah Beazley (c.1843-1886) came to Victoria in 1863 as an unassisted migrant, possibly sponsored by the McCraiths. It is unknown whether Hannah initially went to live with them at Castlemaine. That Hannah married a police constable (and former member of the Irish Constabulary), William John Killen (1833-1883), in Geelong in 1873 may indicate a close relationship between the sisters and a connection with the McCraiths’ circle of friends and acquaintances. Eliza and her daughter Alice both received specific bequests, a chest of drawers and “jewelry and trinkets” respectively, in Hannah’s will after she died in 1886. Hannah’s six orphaned sons, whose ages ranged from 4 to 13, seem to have remained in the Bendigo area in the years after her death. They do not appear to have been cared for by the McCraiths, who had five children of their own under 15 at the time, so some other arrangement must have been in place.

Castlemaine hospital records contain admissions for Michael McCraith in December 1876, May 1883 and December 1884, though no details are provided as to the nature of Michael’s condition, his treatment or the length of his admission. Eliza only had one hospital admission recorded, on 6 August 1884 when she was aged 50 years. Her youngest daughter Ellen (aged 4 years) was also admitted on the same day.

Michael McCraith died on 13 December 1888 aged 56 years, with the cause of death was given as cirrhosis of the liver (supporting the idea of a drinking problem) and paralysis. He had suffered from his final illness for about three years. Michael’s funeral was held on 14 December 1888, and there were two notices in the Mt. Alexander Mail:

The friends of Mr. Michael McCraith are respectfully invited to follow his remains to the place of interment, the Castlemaine Cemetery. The cortege will move from his late residence, Camp Hill, This Day, Friday at Three o’clock. H.W. Niebuhr, Undertaker

H.A.C.B Society,12 St. Mary’s Branch. No. 28. The Officers & Members are requested to attend the funeral of our late Brother Michael McCraith to the Castlemaine Cemetery. The funeral will leave his late residence, Camp [Hill], This Day at Three o’clock p.m. By order of the President. J. Mahony, Secretary.

Michael made a will the day before he died, and this will was executed by two of his sons, John and Peter. His estate comprised the residence in Bowden Street valued at £160 and personal effects valued at £205. His will reads:

This is the last will and Testament of Michael McCraith of Castlemaine late of the Police force, I give and bequeath all my real and personal property of which I shall die possessed to my dear wife Eliza McCraith for her absolute use and benefit, and I hereby appoint her Executrix of this my will dated this 12th day of December one thousand Eight hundred and Eighty Eight.

In mid-1890, Eliza moved to Melbourne. An advertisement in the Mount Alexander Mail of 8 May 1890 announces a sale of “furniture, etc.” as “Mrs. McCraith is leaving Castlemaine”. By 1903 Eliza and her children Andrew, Ellen and Hannah were living at 17 Elm Gove, Prahran. By 1909 she was living with her son Peter, Peter’s wife Ida, and her daughter Hannah at 13 Izett Street, Prahran.

Eliza died on 30 August 1919, aged 83 years, of asthenia due to stomach cancer, which had been diagnosed two years earlier. At the time of her death Eliza was living at 13 Oxley Road, Hawthorn, but she was buried at the Campbell’s Creek/Castlemaine Cemetery, in the same plot as her husband Michael and daughter Elizabeth Maud, on 1 September 1919. She left no will.


1 This was the force’s original name; it was renamed the Royal Irish Constabulary in 1867.

2 http://www.royalirishconstabulary.com/

3 http://www.royalirishconstabulary.com/

4 Although it is also possible that Michael was stationed at nearby Schull, which also had a police barracks.

5 Mount Alexander Mail Saturday 14 October 1916, page 2.

6 In her handwritten notes on the McCraiths.

7 Mount Alexander Mail Saturday 14 October 1916, page 2.

8 Mount Alexander Mail Saturday 14 October 1916, page 2. The nature of the accident is not reported.

9 Sadleir, John. (1973). Recollections of a Victorian police officer. Ringwood, Vic : Penguin Books Australia. p. 24. This is now the north-eastern corner of Yarra Park, where a ‘Police Paddock Lane’ still exists.

10 The Argus, Tuesday 30 August 1859.

11 His appointment was confirmed in the Victoria Government Gazette No.156, Tuesday November 7 1865.

Appointments of this type were normally reserved for serving members of the police force. The powder magazine was located in Farnsworth Street, Castlemaine and its purpose was to provide safe and secure storage for the gunpowder that was used for mining and other purposes in the district. The magazine was constructed on a stone plinth, with buttressed walls and a vaulted brick ceiling under a slate roof later partly replaced with iron. A sandstone “caretaker’s cottage” was located next to the magazine.

12 The Hibernian Australasian Catholic Benevolent Society, a church-based support network founded in Victoria in 1868 by Irish immigrants.


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