North Street, Newry, County Down

North Street, Newry, County Down
North Street, Newry, County Down

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The search for Patrick Alfred Jennings [1831-1897]

           This is the story of a search, not a search for Patrick Alfred when it began, but a search for someone without a name and without a place, who quite possibly lived only in the imaginations of my family, and principally in the mind of my father. This nameless relative was reputed to have set out for Australia and to have been extremely successful there. So successful that he had built Government House, a Government House somewhere, no one was quite sure where, which was still in use when my father was alive, or so the story went, and for all I know, may still be in use today. One of my cousins had undertaken a search in the sixties to find this elusive relative and had come up with the name of Bourke. His mother, my aunt, who was an authority on these things, told him firmly that he was talking rubbish, that he knew nothing at all about the matter. He continued to search, undercover so to speak, and without any further success, until his death in 1974.
Almost thirty years passed and the Internet became a reality. One day, I thought, perhaps, just a little search would do no harm, and I might be the one to put this family mystery to rest forever. I had no name to search for. I didn't even have a place. So I started with the only thing I did have, my own name. Within minutes I had found Patrick Alfred Jennings and the story of Colebrook House, New South Wales.
 Colebrook House was built by William Augustine Duncan in the early 1860s. Duncan was New South Wales Collector General of Customs from 1859 until his retirement in 1881.
 "The focal point of Duncan's home was its impressive ballroom. Much use was made of cast iron decorative work imported from the Colebrookdale foundry in England. The interior was enriched with moulded plaster borders painted in pastel colours and surmounted with capitals and mouldings picked out with gilt. Ornamental roof lights in etched glass added extra light to the rooms."
After Duncan's retirement Colebrook was occupied by Patrick Alfred Jennings and it was here that he was living when he became the first NonLabor Catholic premier of New South Wales in 1886, remaining here until 1892.
At first it seemed as though I had been successful in my search. But there was one problem, or indeed two. Patrick had not built Colebrook House himself. That had been done by his predecessor William Augustine Duncan. And Colebrook House had been demolished in 1960. A seventeen-story unit block stood in its place. It is this building which now bears the name of Colebrook. The gates from the earlier Colebrook House form the entrance to the Rose Bay War Memorial. I had to grudgingly accept that Patrick Alfred Jennings was not the man I was looking for.
            By now something about him had begun to intrigue me, and I wanted to know more. Keying his name into the computer for the first of many searches I began to piece together the story of an ambitious and successful man, a story that was to take me across the sea from Ireland to the goldfields of Australia, from sheep stations to politics, from family man to patron of the arts, from business to religion. Clearly Patrick Alfred Jennings, whoever he was, was a man of many parts.
            I had no reason to believe that Patrick was a relative, but I was not entirely surprised when I found that he came from Newry, Co. Down, where my own family had lived. The grave of Patrick's father, Francis, lies in St. Mary's graveyard in Newry, close to the graves of two members of my family. He is buried there with his mother Mary, and four of his children. There is no mention on the headstone of the illustrious man one of his sons was later to become.
            Sir Patrick Alfred Jennings [1831-1897] is buried in Waverley Cemetery, Sydney, New South Wales.

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