Skip to content

Ellen Boyle – Irish Famine Orphan Girl #52ancestors

December 16, 2020

Professional genealogist and podcaster, Amy Johnson Crow has put out the challenge to genealogists and family historians, to write stories about 52 of their ancestors in 52 weeks. I am happily taking up the challenge, and look forward to writing stories, that will collate many years of research results. In most cases, the research for my ancestors is not complete, and possibly never will be complete, but I’m hoping to build a story of the lives they lived with the information I have to hand.

I plan to compile the posts published for the 52 ancestors in 52 weeks Challenge, into a book.

Week 50: Witness To History

This post is a re-post with additions of a post that was published in October 2019. I wanted to include my great great grandmother Ellen BOYLE in my 52 Ancestors series, so she could be included in the book that I intend to put together from these monthly posts.

My great great grandmother, Ellen BOYLE was born at Inver, Donegal, Ireland in 1833. Her parents were Daniel BOYLE and Ann GALLAGHER. Ellen was probably sent to one of the two workhouses at Inver, when her mother was no longer able to care for her, after the death of her father. I am only guessing about this, as I haven’t been able to find evidence of the death of Ellen’s father. Ellen was selected from the workhouse girls to go to Australia, under the Orphan Emigration Scheme. Not all girls chosen were orphans. Many were girls, like Ellen, who found themselves destitute, due to the death of a parent, or other circumstances.

On 11 September 1848 the ‘Lady Kennaway’ departed Plymouth with 191 young girls on board, and arrived in Australia almost three months later on 6 December 1848. On arrival Ellen was immediately employed as a maid by Charles RYAN, Doogalook, Goulburn River, Victoria. Charles RYAN and his family were very prominent in the early years of Victoria’s settlement.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_8992.jpg


Almost one year after arriving in Australia, Ellen married William CALNAN, originally from Kilkenny, Ireland, at St. Francis Church, Melbourne on November 12, 1849. Ellen was aged 16 years. They went on to have a long marriage and 12 children – 6 boys and 6 girls. Only two of their children died as infants. I know nothing of the early life of William CALNAN, but I do wonder if he was also employed by Charles Ryan, and met Ellen there. As the marriage was so soon after Ellen’s arrival in Australia, I feel that it is entirely possible. I need to do further research on the early years of William CALNAN. All I know is that he was from Kilkenny, Ireland.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is calnan-ellen-marriage.jpg


John Calnan b 1850
Thomas Calnan b 1852
Ann Calnan b 1854
Catherine Calnan b 1856-1856
Catherine Calnan b 1856
William Calnan b 1859
James Reynolds Calnan b 1860
Mary Calnan b 1863
Henry Calnan b 1864
Lorenzoe Calnan b 1865
Edward Calnan b 1867
Phoebe Sophia b 1871

In 1857, Ellen was reunited with her mother, her brother Patrick, and his daughters, when they arrived in Melbourne on the ship ‘Pomona’. The family settled at Violet Town where they lived close to Ellen. Patrick became a prosperous farmer on his property alongside Honeysuckle Creek, just outside Violet Town.

Ellen and William were pioneer farmers at Violet Town. It seems that they lived a quiet life, as there is very little information to be found about them on the public record, other than the buying and selling of cattle and sheep.

William Calnan died on 26 May 1883, aged 55 years. In 1888, five years after her husband’s death, the farm was sold and Ellen moved into the township of Violet Town, settling at Catherine Street, where she lived until her death on 14 November 1896. Ellen died at home and was buried at the Violet Town Cemetery. There is no headstone to Ellen’s grave.


From The Violet Town Sentinel, 20 November 1896
Mrs Calnan, a resident of the district for about 40 years, passed away on Friday last, death resulting from influenza and pneumonia. Deceased, who was 63 years of age, and a native of Donegal, Ireland, arrived in the colony early in the century, and soon afterwards settled in the district, where she resided up to the time of her death.
During her residence here, she made a large circle of friends, by her kind and sympathetic disposition, being always ready to help the needy. She was a strict adherent of the Roman Catholic Church, and her life was an example worthy of copying by those with whom she came in contact.
During the last few months, she had been ailing slightly, not to such an extent as would lead anyone to believe that death was so near. Therefore, her demise was unexpected, and came as a shock to her many friends.
Deceased was a sister of Mrs. Boyle, and leaves a large family – all of whom are grown up – to mourn her loss. Deep sympathy is expressed for the bereaved ones. Her remains were interred in the local cemetery on Sunday afternoon. The funeral cortege being one of the largest ever seen in Violet Town. The mourners at the grave were led by the very Rev. Dean Davy of Benalla and the mortuary arrangements were satisfactorily carried out by Riddell Bros.

Will of Ellen Calnan

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_9140.jpg

“I, Ellen Calnan of Violet Town, widow, hereby make this my last will and testament. I hereby give, devise and bequeath unto my daughters, Catherine Ellen, Laura Anne, Mary Agnes and Phoebe Sophia, all my estate and property whatsoever and wheresomuch situate and I hereby appoint my daughter, Phoebe Sophia, executrix, of this, my will, dated 11th day of November 1896.
Signed by the said Ellen Calnan by her making her mark in the presence of us two present at the same time, who in her presence at her request, and in the presence of each other, have hereinto subscribed out names as witnesses and we desire that the said Ellen Calnan, heard us read over this document and she appeared to thoroughly understand the same and acknowledged it as her last will and testament.
(signed by J.A. Lawry, Solicitor, Violet Town and John McShane, Farmer, Violet Town.

The following advertisement duly appeared in the ‘Argus’ newspaper, published in Melbourne on the eleventh day of December 1896.

‘Notice is hereby given that after the expiration of fourteen days from the publication hereof, application will be made to the Supreme Court of the Colony of Victoria, in it’s Probate jurisdiction, that Probate of the will of Ellen Calnan, late of Violet Town, in the Colony of Victoria, widow, deceased, may be granted to Phoebe Sophia Calnan, late of Violet Town, aforesaid spinster, the sole executrix named in, and appointed by, the said will.
Dated this eighth day of December 1896, Brown and Lawry Violet Town, solicitor for the applicant.

Land 100 acres 30/- per acre £150
7 milk cows about £2 £ 14
2 horses £ 15
Dray harness £ 5


Many of the orphan girls lived long happy lives in Australia, but there were many others who did fall on hard times and struggled. The question to be asked is ‘was the Earl Grey Orphan Emigration Scheme a success for Ellen Boyle? I would say a definite ‘yes’ to that.

When Ellen Boyle boarded The Lady Kennaway in 1848, as a destitute young girl from Donegal, with very little in the way of future prospects, she could not possibly have foreseen the life that lay ahead of her in the new land. A future that included a long marriage, the birth of many children and a long healthy life, surrounded by family and friends. I would say that hers was a life well lived, after a rocky beginning.

  1. Imaging The Great Irish Famine: Representing Dispossession in Visual Culture by Niamh Ann Kelly
  2. Violet Town Sentinel, 20 November 1896
  3. Will, ELLEN BOYLE, VPRS 28/POUnit 826 Item 64/650
  4. (1896, December 11). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 2. Retrieved December 9, 2020, from
  5. Victorian Marriages 1849/145

©2020 copyright. All rights reserved

From → Uncategorized

One Comment

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. 52 Ancestors 2020 Wrap | Tracking Down The Family

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Barroworn Succulents

Succulents, Geraniums, Iris and much more. All grown on our local property

Loretta Travels

Travel tidbits and vicarious adventures

Best Bookish Blog

Independant Book Reviews and More

Trisha Faye

Cherishing the Past while Celebrating the Present

Removing the labels one pair of pants at a time

Celebrating and Loving our bodies

Stepheny Forgue Houghtlin

"If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need." Cicero

Finding Family

One woman's obsession with family history.

Kerryn's Kin

A Tribute to my ancestors by Kerryn Taylor

Next Phase In Fitness & Life

Over 60 and living my best life

'Genealogists for Families' project

Family History and Genealogy


Family History and Genealogy

Western District Families

Stories of Pioneering Families From the Western District of Victoria