A true story of sex, feuds and devotion

Mary Gorey v Patrick Donovan

This is a true story from the 1860s of sex, feuds and devotion. It’s the story of my grandfather’s aunt, Mary Gorey, based on historical newspaper reports and documentary records.

Mary was a strong and feisty woman, passionate, practical, caring and loyal. Her elder brother Michael was a local firebrand who embroiled himself in colonial politics.

Mary was born on 5 March 1846 at Heidelberg, fourth child and third daughter of James and Elizabeth Gorey, who arrived in Victoria from Ireland in 1841. My great-grandfather Edward was born three years after Mary in 1849.

Gorey Donovan feud

The Malmsbury land map shows that James Gorey and Patrick Donovan were neighbours.

James Gorey purchased a block of 71 acres with Campaspe River frontage at the Kyneton/Malmsbury land sale in April 1855 and the family moved to Malmsbury.

Their neighbours across the Melbourne road were Patrick Donovan and John Olive.

Mary married John Olive in 1867; he was 26 years older than her. They had eight children together and lived at Malmsbury for most of their lives.

Before marrying John Olive, Mary had an illegitimate son Patrick, born 21 September 1865 at Carlsruhe. The father was Patrick Donovan.

Mary took Donovan to court for maintenance. Here’s how it was reported in the local press:

The Kyneton Observer, 7 November 1865

Mary Gorey v Patrick Donovan for support of an illegitimate child which she is unable to maintain. Mr Vardy appeared for the prosecution and Mr Byrne for the defence. The plaintiff deposed that she was the daughter of James Gorey, a farmer residing near Boggy Creek, between Malmsbury and Kyneton; her present age is 19.

Dr McMillan JP took his seat on the bench.

The defendant is also a farmer and hotelkeeper residing at Boggy Creek; he is father of the child, of which she was confined on the 21st September last; he never contributed anything towards its support.

On cross-examination by Mr Byrne, the plaintiff stated that she had known the defendant for some time; she left her father’s house on the 24th May last at eleven o’clock at night, in consequence of being turned away by her father, she was now living at Carlsruhe.

Since she was in the family way she had spoken to defendant with reference to supporting the child; he said he would take her to Daylesford, and they would go by night so that nobody would see them. He subsequently told Mr Conway that the child nor her would ever want.

She did leave her father’s house once before about four years ago at eleven o’clock at night, walked into Kyneton and took the coach from Gregory’s Hotel to Woodend, from whence she went next day to Melbourne, where she stayed three or four days at the Welsh Harp lodging house in King Street.

The money which she paid her fare with to Melbourne was her own, she never received three pounds from a man named Jones, who was in her father’s employ; never went to Ballarat or Sandhurst to look for employment; received a letter on one occasion from the defendant, who put it under the fence in the milking yard while the plaintiff was busy milking; she took it up and after reading it placed it in her box; from which it was subsequently taken, and she afterwards never saw it.

The plaintiff’s sister was next examined with reference to the letter which the plaintiff stated she received from Donovan. The witness being sworn deposed that she had occasion to go to her sister’s box where she found a letter without a name; she read it and put it back but subsequently gave it to her mother who burned it on the Thursday before Easter Sunday.

Mr Byrne here objected to the evidence, as the letter alluded to was not proved to be from or in the writing of the defendant. The plaintiff was here recalled and stated that she had not seen the letter since she lost it; she was about to reply to Mr Vardy as to what were the contents of the letter when Mr Byrne objected as it had not been proved that the letter was in Donovan’s hand writing.

After some considerable discussion on the legality of the question the Bench decided to receive the objection; and the witness being further examined, deposed that the letter which she saw Donovan put under the stone stated that any further correspondence between them would be treason, and in future all communications she had to make must be placed under the stone near the dray, in the corner of the paddock; it also stated that he had been down the night before (Saturday) at two o’clock to look for a paper.

The letter had no signature as Donovan refused to put his name to it, as he said they might be found out, and her father and he were not friendly. The letter was written in pencil on blue paper; could not say whether it was in Donovan’s writing or not as she did not know his writing.

Margaret Ryan, sister to the plaintiff, was here re-placed in the box and in continuance of her evidence stated that she had on several occasions seen defendant and her sister in company.

Richard Burrows, a farmer, was next examined and stated that about twelve months ago he resided at plaintiff’s father’s, and had often seen defendant and her together; remembered in particular seeing them down the Creek one Sunday fishing, but there were several other parties with them; never knew anything bad of the plaintiff nor of any improper intimacy between her and a man named David Jones.

The Court here adjourned for half an hour and sat again shortly before 3 o’clock; the Police Magistrate and Dr Kelly JP on the Bench.

Mrs J Conway was the first witness called but as she did not put in an appearance Mr Vardy applied to have the case adjourned until her attendance could be secured, as had heard before coming into Court that she “would not come unless compelled”.

Mr Byrne stated that Mrs Conway was rather scrupulous about taking an oath, never having done so before, and he believed the fact was that she had gone down to Father Geoghegan to see if she might do so; for his part he made no objection to her giving evidence, in fact he rather preferred that she would than otherwise, as it might be said he was trying to club the case.

The court heard another matter while a messenger was sent to procure Mrs Conway’s attendance.

This having concluded and Mrs Conway not being forthcoming, the Bench notwithstanding a very strong objection raised by Mr Byrne, adjourned the case til Monday the 13th after the General Sessions.

The case resumed the following week after Mrs Conway obtained religious counsel about the making of oaths.

The Kyneton Observer 14 November 1865

Before the Police Magistrate, Messrs Govett and Thomson JPs. The adjourned case of Mary Gorey against Patrick Donovan for maintenance of an illegitimate child was called on.

Mr O’Loghlin instructed by Mr Vardy appearing for the prosecutrix and Mr Vardy instructed by Mr Harry for the defence.

Mrs Conway, wife of John Conway, sworn said she knew Mary Gorey, defendant and Mrs Slattery by appearance; knew that Mary Gorey had stayed with Mrs Slattery; she had not at any time had any conversation with Patrick Donovan about Mary Gorey; did not remember repeating any conversation to Mrs Kerr that she had with Mr Donovan.

Mary Gorey recalled and examined by Mr O’Loghlin said she remembered being with Margaret Ryan on a night in April last; she was with Margaret Ryan at home when Donovan came and whistled to her, and she went out to him, they went to Ikey’s paddock (witness then stated what took place); got a letter from Donovan about 11th April, put it in her box, Donovan gave it to her himself; do not know what became of the letter, believe it was burnt; Donovan put it under the fence, witness was about two panels away.

By Mr Byrne – there was only one letter passed between them.

Mr O’Loghlin here again urged on the Bench to receive secondary evidence of the letter, and quoted Archbold’s practice in support of his argument. Mr Byrne objected and the Bench declined to receive secondary evidence.

That closed the case for the prosecution. Mr Byrne addressed the Bench for the defence, and the case was dismissed with £3 3s costs.

Gorey-Donovan feud

The report is incredibly detailed for a civil matter and reflects the curiosity value of a woman suing a man for child maintenance at that time.

It’s apparent that Mary had enough wealth to engage lawyers, which would have been unusual. Despite the detail, the report misses many relevant facts and struggles to provide context. Characters are introduced without the relevance being known.

Reading between the lines, it can be deduced that:

  • Patrick Donovan was a cad.
  • James Gorey and Donovan were in conflict with each other, to the point Mary knew it was “treason” to be seeing Donovan.
  • Although Donovan’s defence is not reported, it seems he claimed that Mary was a strumpet and the child could be another man’s, possibly David Jones.
  • Mary’s rural Catholic parents were disgraced by her getting pregnant and she was thrown out. My great-great grandmother Elizabeth burnt the letter from Donovan, which was crucial missing evidence at trial.
  • Without stronger evidence, the court dismissed Mary’s claim.

See my next post on the Supreme Court action initiated by James Gorey against Donovan. That case didn’t proceed to trial and James had to pay costs. When he failed to do so, the court ordered the sale of his land. I presume he paid at the last minute.

Gorey land sale

The Kyneton Observer, 21 August 1866.

The origin of the Gorey-Donovan feud is unknown but in February 1865, just before the liaison between Mary and Patrick Donovan, James Gorey charged Donovan with “damaging pigs” and “illegally detaining” pigs. James lost the first case but won the second.

The issue with pigs dated back to at least 1862 when James summonsed Donovan “for allowing his pigs to damage growing crops”.

Given the conflict between Donovan and James, it must have come as a blow to Mary’s parents when they discovered the affair.

Mary’s illegitimate son Patrick was renamed Thomas when she married John Olive. Thomas Patrick Olive died at Richmond in 1934.

The marriage to John Olive was probably to ensure respectability and sustenance. He died on 7 February 1881, aged 61 when Mary was 35, shortly after the birth of their youngest son and eighth child.

John wrote his will on 10 January 1881, a few weeks before he died, and left Mary the whole of his estate, with provision for his children to inherit after she died. At that time their property was at Lauriston.

It’s understood that Mary left the district for a few years and lived at Colac before returning.

The Kyneton Guardian carried an advertisement on 24 February 1887 for her livestock, farming tools and furniture. Mary had 12 milking cows, 10 calves, 20 sheep and some pigs.

She returned and died at her home on 14 June 1914. On 30 June 1914, The Kyneton Guardian reported her passing as follows:

During the past few weeks death has visited very many families in this district, and it was announced on Saturday last that at an early hour in the morning there had passed away another old resident in the person of Mrs Mary Olive.

She had been ill for a very long period; in fact, during the past eight years her health had not proved too satisfactory.

She was of a kindly, cheerful disposition, and bore her weakness uncomplainingly, and when death approached she passed in peace.

Mrs Olive was a daughter of Mr and Mrs James Gorey, who were attracted to this district from Heidelberg, purchasing property at the first Government land sale.

It is something of a coincidence also that it was at this sale the man who was later destined to be her husband also purchased his property, which has been in the family possession ever since.

Mrs Olive has resided on the Malmsbury road for the past 45 years. Her husband predeceased her, leaving a family of 10 children.

Of the daughters, both are married, and are Mrs J O’Sullivan, Malmsbury, and Mrs F Bugg, of Kyneton. All the sons save two are married.

Of the single ones Mr Ernest Olive is at home and Arthur in Western Australia.

The remains of the deceased lady were laid to rest in the Kyneton Cemetery on Sunday, the cortege being very largely followed.

The mortuary arrangements were conducted by Mr James Cuddihy with due efficiency.

At the graveside the spiritual service of the RC Church was solemnised by the Rev T O’Callaghan, of St Mary’s, Kyneton.

The other children of Mary Olive were:

  • John Gilbert, born 1868. Gilbert was the maiden name of John Olive’s mother Hannah.
  • James William, born 1870
  • Elizabeth Frances, born 1872
  • Frederick Charles, born 1873
  • Margaret Grace, born 1875
  • Arthur, born 1877
  • Ernest, born 1878
  • Charles Edward, born 1880.

It’s interesting the youngest child was named Charles Edward. My grandfather’s brother was also named Charles Edward, born 1878.

Perhaps Mary and her brother Edward stayed in touch and she named her son the same as his cousin.

Mary was reconciled with her parents and is buried with them in the Kyneton Cemetery.

Mary Gorey grave

The final resting place of Mary Gorey, who was buried with her parents at Kyneton Cemetery in 1914.

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