Byrne, Thomas

Thomas Byrne, born into a large family in Galway, Ireland, in 1859, arrived in Australia on money sent home by his sister who had emigrated earlier. The outward fare was intended for a favourite brother, not Thomas, but Thomas gained the fare by unknown means and arrived unannounced.
Family folklore tells that his sister met him at the wharf and belaboured him with her parasol for his trickery.

In Sydney, Thomas married Margaret Looby (or Luby), also Irish, born in Derrycooley in 1862, and they came to Beecroft in 1893 when Thomas leased land in Cardinal Avenue and began a dairy with one car bought on borrowed money. He built up his herd and in 1896 purchased five acres of land in a long strip on the western side of Cardinal Avenue.[1]

Thomas and Margaret had three sons and one daughter, Katie (born in 1906) who married James Walker. The sons Patrick (born in 1895), Thomas (1896) and John (1898) worked with their
father in the dairy and they and their families lived nearby. The house Thomas and Margaret first built was a simple two-roomed timber structure on high foundations with timber steps up to its front veranda. Further rooms were added by the family as the need arose.

The bad state of local roads was of great concern to Thomas Byrne who traversed them daily in his horse and cart delivering milk. In 1895 on the steep part of Cardinal Avenue his horse was pulled down onto the dray which was damaged. In 1901 Thomas complained to the Beecroft Progress Association of the lack of maintenance work on Hannah Street, especially as the residents had contributed towards its repair.[2]

Thomas died in 1924 aged 65 years and his wife Margaret ran the dairy and ruled the family until
her death in 1938. She had brought out from Ireland in her tin trunk a saffron shroud which was proudly shown to special visitors. In the Irish tradition, on her death, she was laid out in the shroud in the best room of her home, the coffin being left open for three days for visitation by relatives and neighbours.

The family remembered that rules for social conduct were still strong in 1938 and that some months after Margaret Byrne’s death, her daughter, Katie Walker, and daughter-in-law, Lucy Byrne, discussed the propriety of attending a church fete dressed in other than full mourning attire. They settled on dressing in lilac, but considered the excursion, so tried, very daring.

After Margaret Byrne’s death, her sons ran the dairy which supplied milk to a large area of Beecroft and West Pennant Hills. The land was sold in the late 1940s, the dairy closed and the old house (on the site of 35 Cardinal Avenue), believed by the grandchildren to be haunted, was demolished in 1972.[3]


[1] Land Titles Office 990/197, 1205/7.
[2] Cumberland Argus, 13 July 1895, 13 April 1901.
[3] Information from Bernard Walker of Tamworth, 1986.