Kathleen ffrench's Australian Connection
When Kathleen’s father, Robert Percy ffrench was a young boy, his uncle Acheson Jeremy Sidney ffrench decided to migrate to Australia around 1839. Acheson took up land in what is now the state of Victoria, which he registered as Monivae (different spelling to Irish Monivea). The area was called The Grange and at the time was still part of New South Wales. He was appointed Stipendiary Magistrate to maintain the peace between the Aborigines and the white settlers. The Grange later became Hamilton, and Acheson lived in the Police magistrate’s house with his family. He married Anna Clarke Watton, daughter of a doctor, and they had six sons and seven daughters. It is said that Anna had good medical skills learnt from her father and helped everyone around the district for many years.
Acheson built the original Monivae home on the Port Fairy Road. It was a house of sixteen rooms, with servants’ quarters, and Acheson and his family lived there. He spent much of his time running the property. In true Irish style they were a very hospitable family and he was described as a ‘well bred Irish gentleman, a most delightful man, none more hospitable, and full of Irish humour’. It was said that at Monivae visitors received a real Irish welcome.
Following Acheson’s accidental death in 1870, Monivae was bought at auction by James Thomson, a Scot. In time James built a gracious two-storey mansion to replace the old house at Monivae. James Thomson lived there with his family of eleven children until he died in 1946. The estate and house was taken over by The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart in early 1947 where they had the intention of establishing a Catholic school for boys. It proved to be unsuitable and instead they built a school on the Ballarat Road which was named Monivae and the old home was called Old Monivae. The old house was taken over by Robert Strachan in 1950 and he lived there until 1989, running a dairy farm. When Strachan died it passed to the Hamilton Water Board.
The old Monivae homestead has been classified by the National Trust and is on the National Estate Register of the Australian Heritage Commission. There are plans to restore the house and use it as a tourist attraction if funds can be found.
Some of the thirteen children of Acheson and Anna ffrench settled in other countries:
Acheson ffrench encouraged other members of the Galway extended family to settle in Australia, including his nephew Henry Joseph Blake from Ballyglunin Park. Henry Blake migrated to Australia in 1853 at the age of sixteen and later founded a dynasty, naming his property Bally Glunin Park after his home in Galway but now spelt as two words.
- Amy was born 4 September 1843, married Anthony Rudd and had seven children, of which five survived. As a widow she married James Barklie and had one son by him.
- Nichola Frances, born 1845, married twice and had one daughter in England.
- Harriett Maria, born 1847, married Robert Power and had one son.
- Acheson Evelyn, born 1849, married Marion Wilson and had one son and one daughter.
- Edward Victor, born 1850, married Florence Rogers and had two sons and two daughters.
- Mary, born 1852, married John Conolly and had one son.
- Lucius, born 1852 (twin to Mary), died without children.
- Alice, born 1856, married Frederick Moore and had one daughter.
- Emily, born 1858, died 1859.
- John Ludlow, born 1860, married Adelina Page and had one daughter.
- Henry Albert de Freyne O’Brien, born 1862, married Winifred Thursby overseas and had three sons and one daughter — in Canada, England and Europe.
- Robert Percy, born 1864, no children.
- Anna, born in 1866, no children.
Bally Glunin Park, at Hamilton, Victoria, is today run by Henry’s direct descendant Michael John Blake, and his wife Cathy. They have four adult children.
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