A Connemara Coastguard: Benjamin Tyrrell & Family 1840-1859

BENJAMIN TYRRELL AND FAMILY, 1840-1859, by Jan Kelly, Australia


Benjamin Tyrrell the elder (my great great grandfather) was born in Arklow, Co Wicklow in 1805. He joined the Royal Navy in 1826. Between 1826 and 1834, Benjamin served on various ships which plied from Plymouth or Portsmouth to various ports including Cobh in Co Cork. While his ship was in the port of Cobh, where a naval base had been established in about 1804, Benjamin met and married Bridget Minahan, whose family probably came from West Cork. Bridget’s father was a shipwright who had probably moved to Cobh looking for work at the naval base. Before 1834, Benjamin and Bridget had at least one child, daughter Mary Ann and perhaps two sons, whom we haven’t been able to trace.

In 1832, Benjamin was promoted to the Gunner’s Crew, briefly on HMS Stag and then on HMS Malabar. By 1834, Benjamin was the Captain of the Forecastle (pronounced Foaksl) of HMS Malabar. This was a position equivalent in rank to a Leading Seaman or Junior Petty Officer and involved leadership responsibility for a number of sailors and for the cleanliness and maintenance for the forward part of the ship. Later in 1834, Benjamin was nominated to join the (relatively) newly established Coastguard.

At this time, HMS Coastguard was primarily an anti-smuggling operation. To encourage diligence, awards were made for the capture of smugglers and the seizure of contraband. On land stations, there was a scale of prize money which ranged from 25 shares for the chief officer to 6 shares for the boatmen. In addition, it was naval policy to station its personnel away from their home locations, so that they would not be subjected to influence by their friends and relatives. However, I’ve been told that, even so, becoming a Coastguard was a desirable position to obtain, since it meant that a man didn’t always have to be at sea, and there could be a land base for his family.

Benjamin was appointed at the lowest grade of Boatman and was sent to Priory Station, Hastings Port in England. In 1838, Benjamin was promoted to Commissioned Boatman and was moved a short distance to Camber Station, where he stayed until 1840. Between 1835 and 1839, Benjamin and Bridget had three more children:

Benjamin the younger (my great grandfather), christened 9 July, 1835, Holy Trinity Church, St Mary in the Castle, Hastings, Sussex

Ellen, christened 21 July, 1837, St Mary in the Castle, Hastings, Sussex

Thomas, born 29 January, 1839 at Broom Hill, Kent, registered Rye, Sussex, christened 19 May, 1839, East Guldeford, Sussex

The Tyrrells in Connemara 1840 – 1859

In 1840, Benjamin was transferred to Mannin Bay Station, Co Galway, still with the rank of Commissioned Boatman. By then, Benjamin and Bridget’s children were aged about 9, 5, almost 3 and 1.

While this transfer brought the family back to Ireland, it was to the west coast rather than the east coast from which both Benjamin and Bridget came.

We do not know whether or not any accommodation was provided for families at Mannin Bay Station, nor indeed where the station was located. However, it seems that the family lived at Coolacloy between 1841 and 1847, since this was the place of residence given when the next three children were christened in the Ballinakill Church of Ireland:

  • Jane, christened 14 October, 1841
  • Eliza, christened 15 December, 1843
  • Rachel, christened 23 February, 1847

The years between 1841 and 1847 were among the hardest years of the Great Famine. Yet, Benjamin and Bridget produced these three daughters, all of whom survived and lived to adulthood. Indeed, all of the Tyrrell family survived and all of the children lived into adulthood. This may be explained by the very fact that Benjamin was employed by the Royal Navy and that the Coastguard was involved in distributing famine relief. Hence, Coastguard families had access to food and other supplies during those terrible years, whether legally or illegally.

Benjamin the elder was promoted to Chief Boatman in 1847 and transferred to Cleggan Coastguard Station. He was again promoted in 1849 and was transferred further north to Killeries Station, where he became Chief Boatman In Charge, since there was no officer at the station.

Benjamin the elder remained in charge at the Killeries until 1859, when he was transferred to Kilmichael Station, Dublin Port “by request”. It is not known who requested this transfer – perhaps it was the Admiralty, or perhaps it was Benjamin’s request, for reasons related to himself, his own health and/or his family. In 1861, “for the good of the Coastguard service”, Benjamin, now aged 56, was transferred to Wicklow Head, which is close to Arklow, where Benjamin was born and grew up. In 1864, Benjamin was transferred yet again to Roches Point Station, Cobh (which became Whitegate). He was pensioned in March, 1865 and discharged from HM Coastguard.


Whilst we have been able to piece together the outlines of the family story, through Admiralty and Omey Parish records, we still have many questions about what life was like for the family in the Connemara.

1. Where did the family live?

It is not known where the family lived after Benjamin was transferred to Cleggan Bay Station in 1847 and to the Killeries Station in 1849. However, there are a few clues, albeit somewhat confusing:

When Mary Ann, still a minor, married Henry Pollington, a Boatman in the Coastguard, at Ballinakill Parish Church in 1851, her place of residence was Rosroe. This is the townland on which the Killeries Coastguard Station is located. This suggests that Mary Ann was living at the Coastguard Station.

When Benjamin the younger retired and bought a house in Brisbane, Queensland, he called it “Salruck”. This is probably a direct reference to Salruck House which is located on Little Killary Bay, in the townland of Salrock. It suggests that Benjamin the younger had formed some kind of connection with the Thomson family and the Salruck property, which is not far from the Killeries Coastguard Station.

In the 1855 Griffith Valuation, Benjamin the elder was listed as occupying a house and garden on 10 perches in the townland of Ross, which is on the south side of Ballinakill Harbour, and to the south of the Killeries. There was a Coastguard Station close to Ross Point and Ross House, but I do not yet know the name of this Station. Why Benjamin the elder was living there, while he was still in charge of the Killeries Coastguard Station, is unknown.

2. Schooling for the children

There is evidence that all of the children learnt to read and write. We would be interested to know whether or not school records exist and whether we might be able to find out where the children went to school.

3. Occupations and outcomes for the children

There are many questions and few answers yet about what occupations were available for the Tyrrell children as they grew beyond childhood and schooling into their adult years. In 1849 when Benjamin the elder became Chief Boatman In Charge at the Killeries, Mary Ann could have been aged about 18, Benjamin the younger was 14, Ellen 12, Thomas 10, Jane 8, Eliza 6 and Rachel 3. During the next 10 years to 1859, at which time Benjamin the elder was transferred away from the Connemara back to his home territory in Co Wicklow on the east coast, Mary Ann had married, had had three children and had died; Thomas, the younger son, had joined the Royal Navy; and Benjamin the younger, Ellen, Jane and Eliza had matured into adults. In 1859 Benjamin the younger would have been aged 24, Ellen, 22, Jane, 18, Eliza, 16 and Rachel, 12. As yet, we have no information about what occupations could have been available for these young people, but it is possible that perhaps the older four children moved away from the Connemara to look for work. Perhaps they went to Dublin.

One can only guess at the horrors that the young Tyrrells witnessed during the years of the Great Famine and what impact these experiences had on their development. However, all of the family survived, and between 1864 and 1874, the entire family, beginning with my great grandfather Benjamin the younger, and his three sisters Ellen, Jane and Eliza in 1864 and ending with Ellen and Mary Ann Pollington in 1874, emigrated to Queensland, Australia. No Tyrrells remained in the Connemara region.

They mostly settled in Gympie, where gold was discovered in 1867, and opportunities abounded. There were some tragedies, but mostly the outcomes were positive. Of the many grandchildren who were born, 23 survived into adulthood, 20 of whom were born in Queensland. All of these children grew up in very different circumstances from those that their parents had experienced. They all became respected pioneer members of their communities.


  • Mary Ann, the oldest child, married Henry Pollington in 1851 when she was still a minor. They had three daughters in quick succession between 1852 and 1854 – Ellen, Mary Ann and Elizabeth Jane. Mary Ann died before October, 1856, which was when Henry Pollington remarried to Louisa Hawkshaw. However, each of the Pollington daughters survived. It seems likely that the little girls had significant contact with their grandparents Benjamin and Bridget, perhaps even becoming part of the Tyrrell family. Later details show that the youngest daughter, Elizabeth Jane,aged 13 years, emigrated to Queensland with her grandparents in 1867. The older two girls, Ellen and Mary Ann, emigrated to Queensland together in 1874, aged 22 and 20 years respectively. They joined the rest of the family who were living in Gympie, Queensland.
  • Thomas, the younger son, joined the Royal Navy in 1858, aged 19. He served on various ships until 1872, when he was invalided out at age 33, in receipt of a Royal Navy Pension of #12/3/- per annum. In 1873 he came to Queensland to join the rest of his family, who had emigrated previously. From 1876 to 1887 he served on lightships off the coast of far north Queensland, being the Master of his lightship from 1879 to 1887, with a salary of #200 per annum. He married Barbara Gray in Brisbane in May, 1888. They did not have any children.
  • Benjamin the younger, the older son, does not seem to have joined the Royal Navy, nor to have had any interest in the sea. It is not known what other occupations were available for him. However, his apparent affection for “Salruck” may indicate that he made a connection with the people there – perhaps he was employed in some capacity, either in the fields or, as is evident later in his writing skills, in a clerical capacity. Nothing is known about where Benjamin the younger lived or what he did until he emigrated to Queensland in 1864, aged 28. All that is known is that, when he married in Maryborough in 1871, he stated that his occupation was contractor and builder. He became a successful storekeeper in Gympie, following the discovery of gold.
  • Ellen, Jane and Eliza emigrated to Queensland, Australia, in 1864, along with their older brother Benjamin. They were aged 26, 21 and 19 respectively. When the sisters married (in 1868, 1868 and 1866 respectively), only Eliza claimed an occupation – milliner.

Rachel, the youngest of Benjamin and Bridget’s children, emigrated to Queensland, Australia in , aged 20 years, in the company of her parents and the 13 year old Elizabeth Jane Pollington. Benjamin had been discharged from HM Coastguard in 1865, and was in receipt of his pension (#39/18/- per annum).

By Jan Kelly.

E-mail: jan.kelly@bigpond.com 



One Comment

  1. Claire Pattison says:

    Read your history of Benjamin Tyrrell with great interest. Eliza Tyrrell was my great great grandmother. The only thing I am finding confusing is her marriage certificate. She married Charles Rowe, who was on the same ship to Australia as her, Ellen , Jane and Ben.. The certificate states that her mother was Belinda Driscoll ( at least , I think that’s what it says. The writing is difficult to read.) Can you cast any light on this?

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