Terence Ahern (1845-1904)

Terence Ahern of Fair Hill, Cork, Ireland
An Australian Entrepreneur

Robert Frewen, Ireland

Cork cityCork city late 1800’s. Fair Lane runs behind the Cathedral of Saint Mary & Saint Anne (right). the Fair Field adjoins the fields on the top right

Fair Hill and its role in the development of Cork

On the south coast of Ireland the city of Cork is overlooked by the Fair Field, where cattle drovers for centuries brought their animals for sale. When, in 1614 Cork Corporation banned slaughterhouses within the City walls, the cattle business moved closer to its source of supply. This area bordering Cork’s parish of Shandon became the centre of Ireland’s meat industry. The route into the old city led down Fair Hill, through Fair Lane (renamed ‘Wolfe Tone Street’ in 1899) which was home to successive generations of the Ahern branch of my maternal ancestors. Initially working as cattle dealers, they expanded into abattoirs and retailing.

Cork’s growth resulted from a series of protectionist acts, commencing with the Cattle Acts of 1665 and 1667 that prohibited the import of cattle into England, so the merchants were forced to develop markets elsewhere. Salted beef and pork were exported in barrels to the Colonies and became the staple provisions of the Royal Navy. Alongside these trades the Cork Butter Market, with its rigorously enforced system of quality control, was famous and became the world’s largest butter market.

Realizing the importance of the cattle and meat trade, the City’s Corporation set about controlling it. Public health was an issue – it had been common practice for butchers to slaughter and butcher animals in the street and to offer the meat for sale from makeshift stalls. The foundations for a covered Corporation Meat Market were laid in September 1786. Colloquially known as ‘the English Market’, by mid-1788 stalls were offered for one year with rent paid weekly, on condition that they were for the sale of meat only.

The Grand Parade, Cork
The Grand Parade, Cork, with the entrance front to the Corporation Market (stepped facade to right of fountain) and St. Anne’s Shandon in the distance.

Trade directories of the 1800s show several of the extended Ahern family as victuallers. It was a logical move for the Aherns to expand their business into the Market an Slater’s 1856 Directory lists Terence Ahern, butcher & fellmonger, 66 Corporation Market and Fair Lane. . This Terence (b1820) was my great great grandfather, who married Bridget King in the Church of St. Mary Shandon in June 1843. Their first child, Mary, was followed by Patrick in 1844 and Terence junior in 1845. By the late 1840’s the Ahern family lived in 73, Fair Lane, a house on the west side of the street where it adjoined a now-disappeared Mannix Lane. These were three-storey houses which in the late 1800’s became tenements – 20 people from five families lived in his old home in the 1901 Census. According to Griffiths Valuation (1847) Terence had a House, Offices & Yard. The name ‘Ahern’ was written over the arched entry to Mannix Lane, which contained space for the business and, surviving into the 1900’s, it was known locally as ‘Ahern’s Arch’.

The Famine

The first years of young Terence’s life were a very difficult time in Ireland, the winter of 1846/47 – the worst in living memory – was at the height of Ireland’s Great Famine. The rural poor fleeing starvation poured into Cork City in the hope of survival. The influx of paupers was so overwhelming that the doors of the Workhouse were thrown open. By April 1847, a reported 20,000 people had descended on Cork, many passing along Fair Lane, one of the City’s main arteries. At the height of the Famine up to 500 people a week were dying in the city, mainly of disease. Despite wide-scale poverty, disease and a huge downturn in trade, the Market had remained open throughout the Famine years. Terence Ahern’s family with a business, a home and an income had the means of survival. However, the Famine did not leave them unscathed. The two firstborn, Mary and Patrick died young, possibly due to a contagious disease Famine as no trace of them can be found after their respective baptisms or in family lore. Terence junior was five before the next child, Edward, was born.

Terence Ahern Junior emigrates to Australia

 The River Lee and Custom House Quay, Cork, c 1870
The River Lee and Custom House Quay, Cork, c 1870

It has not been ascertained why Terence junior, the eldest son and heir to his father’s successful business would depart to the far side of the world in 1862 aged seventeen. Nor is it known why he did not join his relative Patrick Ahern farming at Dearborn, Michigan, but it is possible that the American Civil War was a reason. In Australia there had been many discoveries of gold; several after 1857 were in Queensland. These caused a huge influx of immigrants; Australia’s population more than tripled from 430,000 in 1851 to 1.7 million in 1871 at which date 20,972 of Queensland’s 120,104 residents were Irish-born.

In that era sail was the main means of travel to Australia as steam had not yet made inroads on ocean voyages. A leading shipping line of the era was the Black Ball Line, founded in 1852 in Liverpool. Its vessels had a good reputation as comfortable, sturdy ships. Terence travelled to Australia on one of them, the ‘Wanata’. A three-decker, she had been built in New Brunswick, launched in 1852 and rated A1 by Lloyds.

Australia in the 1860’s

Sailing from London, the Wanata called at Queenstown (Cobh), the main port for Cork where Terence Ahern joined her. Sailing on the 12th November 1862, aboard were 642 passengers, 420 passage-assisted. Terence’s first Land Record shows he paid his own passage – about £12 – and landed with £18 in his pocket – a sum in today’s terms the equivalent of a few thousand dollars and adequate to set him on his feet on arrival.

Cape Moreton Lighthouse in 1917
Cape Moreton Lighthouse in 1917, little changed since its construction in 1857.

The Wanata made a good passage and dropped anchor off the Moreton Bay lighthouse on February 12, 1863 a passage of 91 days. During the voyage there were five births, offset by seven deaths, six of them infants. As a result of the successful voyage, presentations were made by the passengers to Captain Murphy and the surgeon, Dr. Burke. Then all passengers with their baggage were brought upriver to Brisbane.

Arrival in Brisbane

Brisbane in 1863 had no shortage of employment opportunities for all types of tradesmen. A newspaper article referring to the arrival of the Wanata stated that all but 100 of her passengers immediately found work in the city.

Brisbane 1870s
Brisbane in the 1870’s

No details are known of Terence’s activities immediately after his arrival, but it is likely that he held a variety of jobs while assessing the local economy. Within two years he was about 200 kms. north of Brisbane, as his name appears in the Maryborough Chronicle as one of those who had mail awaiting at its Post Office. That possibly was a letter from home, advising him of the death of his father in Cork on 18 Sept.1864. He is recognized as one of the first ‘timber-getters’ (the name given to Australia’s logging pioneers) and in 1869 in partnership with Edward Barrett they had sufficient capital to obtain a licence and crew to cut timber. He also worked in Gympie, where gold was discovered in 1867, where he married on January 31st 1870, his occupation listed as ‘Miner’.

marriage record

St. Patrick’s Church Gympie, Marriage Register – entry for Terence Ahern & Mary Mortimer.

His wife, age 17, was Mary, the daughter of Michael Mortimer, another miner. Mary’s place of birth is given as Edinburgh, Scotland but the lore in the Irish family is that the Mortimers were from Northern Ireland so it is quite possible that before arrival in Australia the family spent time in Scotland and Mary was born there.

Adventures in the Outback

By the early 1870s Terence was again among the early ‘timbergetters’ and he was cutting cedar wood in Northern Queensland. Although their activity was very lucrative the timbergetters led a tough life. The logs were floated downstream so the timbergetters lived along rivers and suffered considerably from disease – mainly malaria and yellow fever. They were tough men who lived by their wits and their reputation for hard living was well deserved.

Terence clearly was ambitious – he also invested in gold mining and in June 1872 newspapers announced that he with an E.O. McDevitt had been granted a lease of “300 yards of quartz reef on the line of the Hibernia for a period of five years, commencing on the 1st May, 1872 to be worked continuously by eight men.”

marriage record
Early photograph oxen hauling timber

In 1874 Terence and his crew were felling cedar in the region today known as the Daintree National Park, but in that era a wild, inhospitable and dangerous place, where the local aboriginal people did not want intruders.

An Aborigine with boomerang, club, spears and ‘woomera’ – a spear-launching device.

When Terence and another were alone in the camp it was attacked by the natives. While his companion hid under a bunk Terence defended himself with an axe, until help arrived. By that time Terence had a barbed spear driven through one of his lungs and in that condition made an agonizing boat journey downriver for medical attention. Luckily nobody tried to remove the spear –to have done so would have meant certain death: complete with protruding spear they brought him to Cooktown, where he was ‘repaired’ by Dr. Helmuth Korteum, a German immigrant, a keen hunter who lived for weeks in the bush with native trackers. His experience of treating spear wounds saved Terence’s life.

Ahern the Entrepreneur

A Terence Ahern born/died in 1870 possibly was a son; another, Michael born 1872 died a year later. Anne, born in 1875, was followed by Mary Gertrude. In Brisbane during the 1870’s about fifty percent of children died before reaching five years. The General Hospital there did not admit children under that age as ‘medical wisdom’ believed they would be better nursed by the parents at home. Terence and Mary raised eight children, five daughters and three sons. His business interests were varied, mining in Gympie, where he was in partnership with an O’Keefe; in a shop associated with Sloane & Lambert and a partnership with Joseph Swadling. His business interests were on the coastal route north of Brisbane to Cairns, a distance of about 1700km. September 1879 was an eventful month as he formed an alliance with Messrs. Watson and Johnston, to tender for the contracts for developing a new stretch of railway line at Rockhampton. They were not successful, but Terence did not take the defeat easily and created some impressive PR when his letter appeared in the Morning Bulletin newspaper:

Sir,-In your issue of to-day your correspondent states that the tender of Messrs. O’Rourke and M’Sharry, for the second section of the Townsville line, at the rate of £2215 per mile, was the lowest. I beg to state that such was not the case. The tender of Messrs. Watson, Johnston, and Ahern (which are the names attached to one of the tenders) was lower, it being £44,195 4s. 8d., or at the rate of £2209 15s. 2d. per mile, or over £5 per mile less than Messrs. O’Rourke and M’Sharry. I am, &c, T. AHERN. Lake’s Creek,

Terence later joined with O’Rourke & McSharry on railway contracts. When he eventually settled fulltime in Brisbane, Terence’s love of his Cork heritage was shown – he named his new home ‘Shandon’. Located on fashionable Edmondstone Street, it was a substantial building for its day, in ‘the right area’ and overlooking Musgrave Park.

Aerial view 1
Aerial view 1
1970’s aerial views of front (top) and rear of “Shandon” (renamed “Camelot”)

Ahern the Establishment man

During the 1880’s Terence’s wealth and local standing grew; in 1888, at the age of 42, he was elected a member of the Queensland Stock Exchange. His often was consulted on engineering issues and his contracting business involved major projects such as the Gladstone – Rockhampton Railway, a contract he won with a bid of £100,164/9s/10 ½d. He was creative and was granted Patent No. 3999 for ‘An Invention for the Preservation of Maize, Wheat, Rice, and other Cereals, and for Facilitating their Transport in Ships’.

Gladstone Railway Station 1924
Gladstone Railway Station in 1924.

Socially the Aherns held a position in ‘Society’. They were artistic – in drama and music, and daughter Mary was the organist at St. Mary’s Church. The papers of the day covered their activities in the “Social Columns” and family events were catered by Eschenhagen, the supplier to the upper classes in Brisbane.

Death and Aftermath.

Terence’s health was troubled by the spear wound he received as a young man. He died aged 58 in 1904 and all Australian papers covered his death. His sons died young or married late in life and had no children, so the male line has died out.

The Gresham Hotel
The Gresham Hotel, Brisbane in the 1920’s

A son, also Terence (1884-1944) became a very successful hotelier and licensee of the Gresham Hotel in Brisbane and was chairman of the Brisbane Turf Club. Daughter Mary married Thomas McLoughlin, scion of the eponymous brewing business; and Annie married Peter Valelly who owned the ‘Australian Hotel’ in Brisbane. Both had families. Back in Ireland the Ahern family business had been continued by William McNamara, a former employee who married Bridget Ahern, sister of Terence the emigrant. Their son, Thomas was succeeded by their grandson, also William, until it closed in the 1960’s thus ending four generations of connection with the ‘English Market’.


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