from Redhill to Gympie

A tribute to Michael Christian Daly & Eileen Gertrude Green,to their descendants and to their ancestors and to the many cousins

The Life and Times of Michael Magnor (abt 1834 - 1890)

Who was Michael Magnor? Michael was the only child of Hannah Fitzgerald’s first marriage to a Michael Magnor and family records indicate that she was born about 1808 in Aghada, County Cork, Ireland. She died in the place of her birth on November 27 1878. Her second husband was Richard Bride and they had two daughters Ellen and Abigail. Part of this information is contained in the 1926 letter from Tom Burgess (born 1871, died after 1931) to his sister Mary Agnes Burgess (1863-1945) who is my great grandmother. Tom and Mary were grandchildren of Hannah Fitzgerald. The timeline below summarises Michael Magnor's story.

In brief, Michael Magnor (junior) joined the Royal Navy. He deserted ship in Australia and made his way to the goldfields in Far North Queensland in about the 1860’s. Michael changed his identity to avoid arrest as an absconder and used different techniques to contact his family in Ireland to let them know where he was and that he was well. For example after his first return visit to Ireland he sent local newspapers to his mother. Michael apparently returned to Ireland with a fortune. This is discussed further below. He came back to Australia to continue mining . From about 1872 -76 he was mining in Georgetown. Originally the town was called Etheridge. Georgetown began in 1869 as an alluvial gold mining centre, based on the Etheridge River. As a matter of interest in 1882 Georgetown had ten hotels, ten billiards rooms and an enlarged courthouse to deal with participants in drunken brawls, assaults, indecent language and livestock theft! The letters from Edmund Burgess in the mid 1970’s tell the story that he and his uncle Michael Magnor are moving around an area now known as the Northern Goldfields which encompasses Croydon, Georgetown, and the Palmer and Etheridge Rivers. In 1877 Michael returns to Queenstown. He is there for some time and is recorded as a co-sponsor of his half niece Ellen Francis Burgess who was baptised on 1 September 1878 according to the Parish Register in Aghada . Aghada is on the southern shore of Cork Harbour, south east of Cobh, see the church record. By December 1878 Michael is reportedly back in Australia.

There is record of a death in 1890 of Michael Magnor in Croydon, Queensland in the heart of the Gulf Savannah. This person might be our Michael. When gold was discovered in Croydon in 1885 it attracted many fortune seekers and by 1887 the town's population had reached 7,000. Gold continued to be mined in Croydon for the following 40 years.

In the 1930’s there were two articles in local newspapers about Michael Magnor; the first article was written under the pseudonym Bill Bowyang in the Townsville Daily Bulletin, April 16 1930; the second article by Frank Reid was in The Sunday Mail, Brisbane, June 12, 1938. Both articles, were in fact written by Alex Vennard using the different pseudonyms. He was a journalist born in Normanton in 1886. The articles are available through the National Library of Australia through their Trove website.

Can we accept the person known as Michael Magnor who died in Croydon as being the same as Hannah Fitzgerald’s son? Michael was definitely mining in the Northern Goldfields. The evidence of relationships, places, dates and events are contained in many personal family letters, hospital records, death certificate and to a lessor extent from family stories. The veracity of the documents is not in question – only perhaps the accuracy of the record itself. Some of the letters have been transcribed by hand from the original due to lack of copying facilities at the homes where these records are kept. There is no reason to doubt the reliability of the transcriptions after examining the language and grammar of the text and the context in which they were written.

Official records such as the death certificate provide information which was given to the Registrar of Deaths by a person who may not be a family member and therefore may be inaccurate. Death records in days gone by were sometimes more concerned with determining if there was a case of wrongful death rather than the accuracy of the precise identity of the deceased. Identification was often based on hearsay or that claimed by the individual providing it to the authority. The informant, as in the case of Michael Magnor of Croydon, seems to be an acquaintance rather than a family member and therefore was not familiar with the accuracy of the information regarding identity. In any event Michael Magnor was given to hiding his true identity and therefore his recorded age at death and the number of years he had been in Australia may be inaccurate.

Another discrepancy on the death certificate is his mother’s name. It is given as Bright whereas her (second) married name was Bride. It will never be known if this was transcription or recording error. Did the recording nurse think she heard the name Bright which was the name of the Matron of the hospital? There is a note on the hospital admission form stating that the form is completed from an interpretation of handwriting.

The rumour of Michael death in New Guinea is just that. It cannot be proved. If his death was in New Guinea after 1880 there is no such record made and before that date official records do not exist for deaths in New Guinea. Michael’s last letter received by his family is dated December 2,1878. The New Guinea death rumour may have been believed for many years as some family members may have wished for a romantic notion of adventurism in the jungles of New Guinea. For example, my father used to imagine that Michael Magnor was killed by head hunters in the upper reaches of the Fly River. I can find no basis for this other than it made for a “bloody good bedtime story” for small boys!

This however does not prove or disprove that the Croydon Magnor and our Michael Magner are the same person but there is a reasonable link. Especially so because of the name itself and the fact that our Michael spent many years in the Croydon locality as a miner. This is not disputable.

There is a mystery as to what happened to his fortune if in fact there was a fortune. Michael was a miner and he returned twice to Queensland to mine although it is mentioned in the family letters that he had a lot of money. But was it £40,000 as reported in the newspapers in the 1930’s? It was a lot of money and has the purchasing value of about £32,000,000 nowadays (over $A65,000,000). So why did he remain a miner? Why did he not help his family as there were close family bonds? To emphasise this comparison of wealth, in 1878 in one year an engineer earned about £120 while an agricultural labourer could expect to earn £40 per year. I suspect Michael’s wealth may have been exaggerated.

Michael, the navy absconder, is more than a romantic story. No official records can be found of the desertion but letters between family members over a long period of time support that he was an absconder.

I would sincerely recommend a visit to the Croydon and Georgetown localities where an insight to the life and tribulations of our pioneers can be gained. Many historical buildings have been restored. It was a tough land set in typical Gulf Savannah land with flat grass and scrub lands and the mainly red dirt soils are of poor quality. During the wet season all creeks and rivers run and some small waterfalls are generated not far from town. The name of the town Croydon is derived from a pastoral run name, used by Alexander Brown and William Chalmers Brown who were pastoralists in the area and who reportedly were born in Croydon, England.

When Michael was in the area transport was by bullock dray or horseback and if you couldn’t afford those means then it was by shanks pony on unformed roads and through the bush and shrub. It is a bit easier to get there nowadays. Cairns had not even been founded - on October 12 1876 Edmund Burgess who was with his uncle Michael Magnor in Georgetown, wrote about “a new port is opened (sic) on the shores of Trinity Bay”. This was the then town of Cairns to which he was referring.

The National Library of Ireland provides a base source for researchers. See .
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Notes or Event


Abt 1834

Born in Cork, Ireland to Hannah Fitzgerald (abt 1808-1878). The only child to his mother’s first marriage. According to a death certificate , the name of his father is given as Michael Magner (sic) and his mother as Hannah Bright. According to family records her second husband name was Richard Bride. That is his mother’s name according to the family records was Hannah Bride.

Croydon hospital records & death certificate for a Michael Magnor.

Abt 1852

Arrived Australia.

Croydon hospital records show this date.

Late 1860’s

Deserted British man-of-war in Sydney, travelled to the interior and adopted the name of Bill Davis.

Worked his way to Queensland and to the Gympie gold fields – gold was discovered in Gympie in 1867.

He was not lucky to make a rich strike and worked his way further north.

Article in Townsville Daily Bulletin Wednesday 16/04/1930. Note the discrepancy with the notes for 1852.

Early 1870’s

Michael Magnor returns home – first trip home

Letter from Tom Burgess to his sister Mary Agnes Burgess dated 05/07/1926.


Arrives at the Etheridge, Far North Queensland and finds payable gold. Pegged a claim “Try No More” and extracted an estimated £30,000 - £40,000. May have had a partner Bill Downs.

Article in The Sunday Mail, June 12, 1938 and in The Townsville Daily Bulletin 16 April 1930.


Written from Townsville, Michael Magnor’s nephew says Michael Magnor will be going home after the next letter. He also mentions he will write from Georgetown.

Letter from Edmund Burgess to his mother.

Late 1876

Michael Magnor is in Georgetown with his nephew Edmund Burgess` Later on he went to the Palmer and Hodgkinson goldfields.

Letter dated 12/10/1876 from Edmund to his mother.
The Townsville Daily Bulletin 16 April 1930.


Report of the gold claim in Georgetown being worked out and “we are going to Hodgkinson a goldfield 200 miles from here.”

Letter from Edmund Burgess to his mother.

Abt late 1876

Michael Magnor reported to be in good health and Edmund Burgess writes about Michael Magnor returning home next February.

Letter from Edmund Burgess, to his brother, not referred to by name but relationship. Undated. Map of Far North Queensland is included in the letter with the northern gold fields marked. This map may have been “photocopied in” by later genealogists as it has the recent names for towns (eg Ravenshoe was founded in 1881).


Returns to Queenstown, Ireland (now Cobh) to visit mother. Has over £40,000 . Walked into the bar of the Imperial Hotel and astonished his mother . Second trip home.

Family history and letter from Tom Burgess 05/07/1926 to his sister Mary Agnes Burgess.

01/09/1878 Michael Magnor is co-sponsor for the christening of his niece, Ellen Francis Burgess at Aghada. Parish Register in Aghada records baptisms performed.

late 1878

Returns to Australia and arrives Melbourne with his nephew Edmund Burgess.

Letter from Tom Burgess 05/07/1926 to his sister Mary and The Townsville Daily Bulletin 16 April 1930 and family letters of the day.


Michael Magnor is in Sydney and meets with Bill Downs. Writes to mother that he is going to New Guinea. In a later letter he reverses this plan and says he is going to another field.

The Townsville Daily Bulletin 16 April 1930.

Last known letter from Michael Magnor. Written to his sister. The letter was brought to Australia by Mary Agnes Burgess, his niece.


No records of prospectors killed in New Guinea exist prior to this date. There are no records of a Michael Magnor killed in New Guinea after this date.

The Townsville Daily Bulletin 16 April 1930.


Query from Abby Burgess whether Michael Magnor will ever come “home” again.

Letter from Abby Burgess to son Edmund.

1885 Gold is discovered at Croydon. University of Queensland. A paper by A Laurie "History of the Croydon Goldfield" see
This paper is accessible online as at November 2017.

08 /09/1890

Admitted to Croydon Hospital.

Hospital record.


Died at Croydon Hospital. Cardiac failure and acute bronchitis.

Death certificate.

1920’s & 30’s

“hunt for the lost fortune”.

Research by Michael Edmond Daly (1887-1937).

Michael Daly

February 2018
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