Timothy Tierney

I’ve already mentioned Timothy when I talked about his wife Ellen Watters, but this month I’m going to present more of his side of the story.

Timothy Tierney was born in 1799, or thereabouts, possibly just beside Cashel, Tipperary, Ireland. The Rock of Cashel is nearby. As legend has it, it was created when St. Patrick cast Satan out of a nearby cave (uh-huh). The buildings that rest upon it are mainly from the 12th and 13th century, and are rare surviving examples of Celtic architecture (thanks Wikipedia). As seen in the photo below, it looks like something from Game of Thrones.


I don’t know who Timothy’s parents or siblings were, but I know he had at least one brother called John. At some point he ended up in the Nenagh area of Tipperary, and around 1821 he married Ellen Watters. They went on to have six children (4 girls, 2 boys) over the next 13 years. Timothy was a tenant sheep farmer, Roman Catholic and could not read or write.

During Timothy’s life, there was a resurgence in what the authorities called Whiteboyism, although not all of the members identified themselves as such.The Whiteboys had been one of the most well known Irish secret societies, and they were mainly active during the 18th century. By Timothy’s time some were Ribbonmen, and others were just your run of the mill secret societies. I’ve read they were highly organized, but it’s hard to know because the first and second rule of and secret society is not talk about it. What they had in common was that they took oaths, clandestinely met at night, ensured snitches got stitches, and were generally anti-establishment. Although they were largely Catholic, the Roman Catholic church didn’t approve of the oath swearing and menace to society stuff.

During the Tithe War of 1831-36 there was a resurgence in these societies. The war itself was mainly non-violent protest against the forced tithes that tenant farmers and peasants had to pay the protestant Church of Ireland. Because the majority of the tithed were Catholic, they were pretty miffed about it. While most of the resistance amounted to refusal to pay, there were some violent episodes. In 1836 the tithe collections were abandoned as it reportedly “cost a shilling to collect tuppence.”


On the evening of November 24, 1834, two men entered the house of a protestant land owner Gilbert Carter and stole some firearms and the tithe records. This kind of crime was not uncommon – the goal was to instill fear in the protestant upper class and destroy all records of who had, and had not, paid their tithes. Think Fight Club or Mr. Robot’s fsociety in rural 19th century Ireland. Timothy Tierney was found guilty.


He didn’t admit to it (who would?) and the evidence was largely based on the accusation of John Carter, the landowner’s son, who also said he wasn’t sure who he’d seen that dark night, and that he couldn’t tell Timothy or his brother John Tierney apart. He did not identify Timothy until 4 months later after an arrest had been made. Because of his reluctance to ID, he was only paid out half the reward, which he later filed a complaint over. Reading a newspaper article (Clonmel Advertiser, March 26, 1835), key information is missing and the defence claims an alibi. Timothy is found guilty but his co-defendant Patrick Dooley is not, but I’m not clear on how the decision was made or what evidence besides Carter’s accusation was presented. For the crime, Timothy was sentenced to life imprisonment in New South Wales. The trial was March 26, 1835 and he shipped out June 12. He quite likely stayed in the jail below, in Nenagh, while awaiting trial and departure.


He shipped out from Cork on the Blackwell. The Captain was the splendidly named Dalrymple Dawson. The voyage took 109 days (baaaarf). Of the 152 convicts aboard, 2 died, but 2 babies were also born. There were 7 women and 10 kids (fresh babies included), who were relations of prisoners. In some cases wives and families were able to accompany their delinquent loved one. Below is an image of convict transport, which seems an unpleasant place to spend 109 days in the throes of seasickness. The route they likely took is also below.

Convict ship living- quarters- Success

Florentia route to Australia

Because Timothy was a convict, there’s a fair amount of information about him. He was 5’7.5 (the second tallest prisoner aboard!), with a dark sallow complexion, grey eyes, dar brown hair, “breast hairy,” and a small circular scar on his little finger of his left hand. In NSW he was assigned to a master called John Elliot in Newcastle. It’s my understanding that convicts in Australia generally weren’t imprisoned – instead they could be assigned to settlers (who could even be former convicts themselves) and had to reside with and provide unpaid labour for their master. In November 1843, 8 years after his arrival, Timothy was granted a ticket of leave. 8 years was the minimum necessary for a lifer to receive a ticket, and only possible if the prisoner had one master who was willing to apply for it. This meant he could receive pay for work. Conditions were that he had to attend religious service weekly, could not leave the specified area without permission (Maitland in this case), could not board a ship or have firearms, or get into any trouble; he could marry, own property, and even bring his family to Australia. Ten years after his ticket of leave was granted, at the age of 54, he was given a conditional pardon. This allowed him to be a free man, under the condition that he never return to Britain or Ireland. I assume he could have gone to other colonies, though.

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 9.09.59 PM

I have no idea if John Elliot was a fair master, but it seems like Timothy had the most ideal circumstances. Originally given life, he served 18 years, 10 of which he was largely free to work for pay. But, he never did leave Australia. I don’t know if he ever contacted his wife and family again or if he was aware that they had emigrated to Canada within a couple years of his conviction. I really have no idea how easy or common global communication between illiterate peasants was in those days. His wife Ellen always officially identified herself as his widow once in Canada, even before his actual death, so I don’t know if she knew what became of him.

Timothy died almost 20 years after he became a “free” man, having lived out more than half his life in Australia. He died in the Liverpool Asylum for the Infirm and Destitute in Sydney in 1872 (below is an image from 4 years later). A lot of former convicts ended up in places such as these as they aged and had no family to take care of them and were no longer able to work and support themselves.

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 9.37.49 PM

(Thanks to other researchers who found most of this gold on Timothy – especially Jerry Tierney, who also sent me the last image).




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