Irish convict musicians

The Jig – St Patrick’s Day
by Robert Charles Bell (1855) © The Trustees of the British Museum

Blind Loftus opened the proceeding by dancing a hornpipe, then came Irish jigs, reels, and songs, and when the boys got warm they were as wild as goats without a shepherd.  The spree was kept up for three days and nights, the two fiddlers taking turns at the music.

Windsor, New South Wales 1840s.
Reminiscences of Australia by T. J. Ryan

Between 1791 and 1867 about 40,000 Irish convicts were sent to the eastern Australian colonies. Although these only accounted for 12% of the total number of convicts transported, their culture had a distinct influence on the Australian psyche. Irish convict musicians provided music for celebrations, weddings (which could last up to three days), wakes, and for everyday entertainment, especially in public houses.

The great majority of Irish convicts served their sentences free from trouble and went on to lead ordinary lives. It is almost impossible to trace their musical careers. Occasionally the archives do record a convict with a musical calling, as in the case of the master of music and dance, Michael Blake from County Galway who absconded from his assigned master, N. Lawson of Bathurst in 1837.

Edmund/Edward Elliott was another Irish convict, also a master of music and dance, whose story was recorded, providing a more detailed insight into these times. Read Edward’s story here>>

The table below lists Irish convicts who identified themselves as having a musical trade. Many other musicians would not have listed this as their main profession, and consequently are not identified. No Irish women claimed a musical career, but there are many references to women singing and dancing in the colony.

Scroll across >> to see the date and place of trial, term of sentence, and the convict ship.

SurnameFirst nameTradeAge TrialTermShip
BartowPolitoMusic dancing master481819 Donegal LifeDorothy 1820
BegleyMichaelMusic bagpipe player341818 Limerick Co7Earl St Vincent (1)1818
BennettJamesMusic violin player201832 Surrey England7Andromeda II (2)1832
BlakeMichaelMusic dancing master
indoor servant
211833 Limerick7Java 1833
BryantJohnMusic Instrument maker201821 SouthamptonLifeAsia I (2) 1822
BryneFrancisMusic Instrument maker201832 Dublin7Roslyn Castle (3)1832
CockburnJamesSoldier musician tailor211834 Cork Barracks14Lady Kennaway (1)1835
ColemanJosephMusic bagpipe player191829 Cork7Larkins (2) 1829
ColemanMichaelMusic drummer251831 Kent7Camden (2)1833
ConcartJohnMusic fiddler351825 SligoLifeMangles (4) 1826
ConnellyThomasMusic bagpipe player boatman271832 Galway CoLifePortland (2) [1833]
CookseyJamesMusic drummer251819 Sussex14HMS Coromandel 1820
CroneenDenisMusic piper451821 Cork CoLifeMangles (2) 1822
DonnellyAndrewMusic dancing master fiddler421819 Kings Co7Castle Forbes (1) 1820
DonovanLewisSoldier army musician301815 QuebecLifeAtlas III 1816
DonovanPatrickMusic violin player301836 Limerick7Waterloo (5) 1836
DoyleJohnMusician191830 Tralee Kerry Co7Andromeda II (1) 1830
EdensHiggensonBricklayer musician gardener371832 Down14Roslin Castle (3) 1833
ElliottEdmundMusic dancing master511822 Kerry CoLifeBrampton 1823
EnnisJohnBlacksmith drummer191816 Dublin14Surrey I (2) 1816
FitzgeraldEdwardMusic clerk theatrical performer211819 Dublin7Castle Forbes (1) 1820
FullerdJames HenryMusic Instrument maker141832 Nottingham14Waterloo (3) 1833
GallagherChristopherMusic trumpeter201818 Roscommon7Daphne 1819
GeogheganJeremiahMusic bagpipe player251834 KildareLifeHero 1835
GouldenPatrickMusic dancing master261828 Cavan7Sophia 1829
HaughneyThomasMusic bugle player waterman251818 Blanderques Court Martial7Baring (2) 1819
HerbertJamesMusic bagpipe player211829 Kings Co7Larkins (2) 1829
HillBarnyMusic violin player291817 Meath14Minerva I (1) 1818
KearneyThomasMusic bagpiper271826 Castlebar Mayo CoLifeMariner (3) 1827
KellyJohnMusic bagpipe player labourer221827 Tipperary7Borodino (1828)
KellyLawrenceMusic bagpiper seaman501829 Queens Co7Forth I 1830
LawlorMartinMusic fiddler servant221818 Kilkenny Co7Earl St Vincent (1) 1818
MagennisEdwardMusic playhouse assistant151818 Dublin7Bencoolen (1819)
MagreavyPatrickMusic violin player351834 Down CoLifeRoyal Admiral (3) 1835
MartinJohnMusician ploughman reaper sower201831 Kings Co7Captain Cook (1) 1832
MartinJohnMusic drummer471818 London7Grenada (1) 1819
McCabeOwenErrand boy drummer171830 Louth Co7Waterloo (2) 1831
McCluskyThomasSoldier musician piano tuner groom301830 DublinLifeWaterloo (2) 1831
McDonaldThomasMusic piper tailor301829 Worcester7Katherine Stewart Forbes (1) 1830
McDoolWilliamSoldier drummer in 2nd Regiment261837 Bombay Court Martial India7Hind 1838
McGuiganAmbroseMusic dancing master labourer police constable innkeeper301796 Tyrone Co7Britannia I (1797)
MeaneySimonMusic bagpipe player271834 Clare7Blenheim I (1) 1834
MurphyFrancisSoldier musician351831 Dublin7Captain Cook (1) 1832
MurphyMichaelMusic dancing master401820 Kildare Co7Isabella I (2) 1822
O’NeillJohnMusic printer261822 DublinLifeEarl St Vincent (3) 1823
PaulRobertSoldier drummer231832 Cork Court MartialLifePortland (2) 1833
ReilyDenisMusic fiddler vagrant491828 Cork City7Eliza II (2) 1829
RobinsonHenryMusic riding at theatres, groom valet201834 Cork7Hero 1835
RobinsonWilliamSoldier drummer271826 DublinLifePhoenix III 1826
RussellGeorgeMusic box maker jeweller231831 Waterford7Asia V (2) 1831
SmithJamesSoldier dragoon musician201836 Dublin General Court Martial7Captain Cook (3) 1836
StapletonJohnMusic musician baker271829 Queens Co7Forth I 1830
ThompsonJamesSoldier musician241835 Templemore Court Martial7Surrey I (9) 1836
TeirneyTimothyMusic bell hanger351826 Queens Co7Boyne 1826
WelshPatrickMusic violin player371835 Lancaster Assizes England14John Barry (4) 1836
Illustration of the “roaring cheer… at Paddy’s Wedding” from Monstrous Good Songs, Toasts & Sentiments. (1799)

For more information, visit the National Library of Australia’s Irish Convicts

Thanks to Peter Mayberry for his information on  Irish convict sites and New South Wales convict database

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