Hugh Cain (c.1798-1851) and Honora Donaghue (c.1800-1853)

(Our great great great great grandparents)
This page was researched by Phillip Dwyer unless otherwise indicated.

Hugh Cain was born around 1798 and Honora Donaghue probably around 1800, both probably in or near Carrickmacross in southern County Monaghan, which is given as their son Patrick Cain’s native place in his marriage record. Their parents' names are unknown.

Hugh and Honora married in County Monaghan around 1818. Eight of their children have been identified.

  1. Bridget (1819-1906) – born in County Monaghan, she married James Murray in Launceston, Tasmania in 1836. They had nine children: Richard Lawrence (1837-1889), James Ambrose (1841-1905), William Francis (1843-1886), Hugh (1845-1847), Catherine Stuart Maud (1847-1913), John Thomas (1849-1907), Robert Benson (1852-1912), Eliza Virginia (1859-1941) and George Albert (1863-1934). Bridget died in Bundaberg, Queensland aged 86 on 22 January 1906.
  2. Mary (c.1822-?) – born in County Monaghan, she married Robert Maiklem in Launceston on 12 June 1842. Nothing else is known about her.
  3. Sarah (1824-1879) – born in County Monaghan, she married Joel Howard in Geelong on 1 September 1854. They had six children: Emma Amanda (1846-1928), William Joel (1849-1918), Eliz Honora (1855-1896), Martha Jessie (1859-1877), Mary Jane (1862-1907) and Sarah Ann (1862-1904). It is possible that Sarah was estranged from her family, since she is not included in the list of Hugh Cain’s living children in his 1851 probate records. Sarah died in Melbourne aged 55 on 7 April 1879.
  4. Patrick (1825-1881)
  5. Hugh (c.1827-?) – born in County Monaghan, but little else is known about him. He was still alive in 1851.
  6. William (1834-?) – born in Tasmania, little else is known about him except that he was still alive in 1851.
  7. Eliza (c.1838-1872) –  born in Port Phillip, she married William Ambrose Ryan in 1860. They had four children: Eliza Nellie ((1861-1864), Monica Mary (1865-1937), William (1867-1945) and John Thomas (1869-1938). Eliza died at Oatlands, Tasmania aged only 33 on 6 January 1872.
  8. John (1839-1892) – born in Port Phillip, he married Elizabeth Fleming in 1863. They had two children: John Cain (1863-1866) and Hugh Cain (1864-1922). John died at Melbourne aged 53 on 19 September 1892.

Hugh and Honora almost certainly had more than these eight children – at least nine and possibly eleven. Their 1833 shipping record says that they were accompanied by six children, although this number may or may not have included Bridget or Mary, as they were separately named in the passenger list. This means that there would have been at least one (if Mary and Bridget were also counted in the six children of Hugh and Honora even though they were listed separately), and possibly three additional children born to Hugh and Honora between 1823 and 1833. The 1841 New South Wales Census entry for Hugh Cain includes a female aged 7-13 living in his house, but this detail does not match any of the eight known children. Most likely this was one of the unidentified children from the 1833 passenger list, but no further details about her have been found. She probably died before 1851, since she was not listed among the living children in Hugh’s probate records.

Hugh, Honora and their children sailed from Dublin on 9 July 1833 aboard the Eliza,  a ship of 291 tons commanded by Captain Joseph E. Harris. Also aboard were a number of other Cains (all spelt “Kain” on the immigration record) – another Hugh Cain, his wife Mary and their infant child, as well as a Sally Cain. Their relationship, if any, to Hugh is unknown. There was also a Donaghue family aboard who may have been related to Honora. All were steerage passengers.

The Eliza reached Hobart Town on 3 November 1833, a voyage of 117 days. Hugh and his family had originally intended to go on to Sydney, but along with a number of other passengers they decided to go no further:

The passengers per the Eliza, who intended to have gone to Sydney, are – Mr. Henley, Mr. R. Scott, Mr. P. Dolan, Miss King, Miss Allen, Miss Collins, Miss Work, Miss Skelly, Mr. Kinsella, two Misses Kinsella, and 79 steerage passengers; but we understand, that several of these persons will settle in this colony, preferring our climate to that of New South Wales.
[The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Thursday 28 November 1833]


The claim of better climate seems unlikely given that none of the passengers had experienced the climate of either Van Diemen’s Land or New South Wales. The decision may have been more about not wanting to prolong their sea voyage any further. The other Cains and the Donaghues, however, all continued on to Sydney.

Hugh, Honora and their family initially settled in Van Diemen’s Land. The population of Van Diemen’s Land in 1834 was counted as 31,551, with about 4,800, including the Cains, having been newly arrived the previous year. Around 58% of the population were free settlers, with the remainder being current or former convicts. Over two-thirds of the population was male.

Around 1837 the family relocated to the new Port Phillip settlement, the future Melbourne. There is a record of a Hugh Cain departing Launceston on 25 February 1837 aboard the Hetty, but there is no mention of the rest of the family. Perhaps, like many other Vandiemonians at the time, he went to Port Phillip with a view to deciding whether to settle his family there.

Permanent settlement at Port Phillip was only a few years old when the Cain family arrived, and they can therefore be counted among the earliest white settlers of Melbourne; probably in the first five hundred to one thousand persons.  Conditions at the time they arrived in Port Phillip were basic:

Melbourne was no more than an unnamed little shanty town – if that. Early in 1836 visitors described it as consisting of about a dozen wattle and daub or turf huts, and the same number of tents…
[Shaw, A.G.L., A History of the Port Phillip District, Victoria Before Separation (2003),p.58]

By November 1836:

…only six [residents] were still in tents, but the rest…had only huts, described as either sod, thatched, mud, log, shingled or wattle and daub – mostly the last…
…when Lonsdale arrived [October 1836] there were thirty-eight of them. The total settler population was 224 including twenty-three children…
[Shaw, A.G.L. (2003),p.58]


A year later, by which time the Cains were almost certainly in Melbourne, a visitor reported that there were over 100 houses, some brick, but that most residents lived in “tents or hovels”.

Hugh appears by name as a resident of Melbourne in the New South Wales census of 1841. Hugh, Honora and six of their children were living in an unfinished timber dwelling. The children were not named, but age range and gender were given:

By the time of the 1841 census Bridget had married in Launceston, and Mary was probably also living in Launceston, where she married the next year. The seventeen-year-old Sarah was apparently not with her parents when the census was taken.

At the time of his immigration Hugh’s occupation was shown as “slater”, which means that he was a roofer. In Tasmania in 1834 roofing was generally timber shingles “in the form and manner of slates”. In the 1841 census, Hugh was placed in the “Mechanics and Artificers” category in the occupational groups. The Port Phillip Almanac and Directory, for 1847 lists a Hugh Cain as “plasterer, off Bourke Street”, and he was probably at various times both a slater and a plasterer.

There are a number of newspaper reports from the 1840s that suggest that Hugh Cain and his sons were actively involved in Irish Roman Catholic affairs.

On 13 July 1846 a riot broke out in Melbourne after a celebration of the Battle of the Boyne by an Orange Lodge drew a predictable response from Irish Catholics. “[B]ands of armed men…parade[d] the public streets, with deadly purpose, in broad daylight…” Shots were fired by rioters and three people wounded. In the police report quoted in the Hobart Courier of 1 August 1846 we find the following :

The evidence of Constable Allcock was, that on the 14th July, he saw McNamara, Patrick Cain, Hugh Cain and a person named Rourke, come out of the house of the former; they were armed with guns and shot belts, but could not swear that the guns were loaded. The defendant was ordered to find sureties, himself at £40, and two sureties of £20 each, to answer any charge that might be preferred against him.

A similar course was adopted towards Michael Horrigan and Hugh Cain junior, who were apprehended upon an affidavit sworn by Chief Constable Brodie, to the effect that he saw defendants amongst one hundred men assembled for an unlawful purpose.
[The Courier (Hobart), Saturday 1 August 1846, p.4]


In 1847 Hugh Cain was reported to be the vice-president of Father Mathew’s Total Abstinence Society, a Catholic temperance organisation, and in 1848 he was reported as being on the management committee of the St. Patrick’s Society of Australia Felix. Originally “…a non-denominational and non-political association of Irish ‘gentlemen’ or those who aspired to so be”, it later became a contributor, along with the Loyal Orange Lodge, to “sectarian ill-feeling and nationalist violence.”  [O’Farrell, Patrick, The Irish in Australia (1987), p.42]

In 1849 Hugh was reported as being involved in the nomination of candidates to run for the City Council. In 1850 he was reported to be involved in meetings convened to denounce a City Council resolution denigrating Irish famine orphans, then arriving in large numbers in Victoria and New South Wales. At a meeting on 4 May 1850, he apparently made a blunt speech:

Mr. Hugh Cain appeared in due time, and we judge his country without his assurance. “He said he rose to protect the Irish females with all his might, and his power, and his heart, and his soul” – and he, too, had a fling at the accusers. “He had no hesitation in calling the Council a blackguard Council, for amongst the members might be found whoremongers, and adulterers, thieves paupers and vagrants; only a day or two back, the Argus had said the Council was such a blackguard turn out that they would not report the proceedings any longer; they said the Council was a bear garden, and so it was, and something worse; bad luck to ‘em.”  With Mr Hugh Cain’s denouncement, we take leave of the meeting.
[The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston, Tasmania), Saturday 4 May 1850]


Hugh Cain died in Melbourne aged 53 on 11 July 1851, and was buried on 13 July. Honora died in Victoria, also aged 53 years, on 11 May 1853. The Argus of Monday 16 May 1853 included a simple death notice: On the 11th May, Honora Cain, late wife of Hugh Cain, Little Collins-street, aged 53 years.

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