e. Chapter 5 : Margaret’s childhood.

Pam Robbins,  grandaughter of Albert Fegan has spent many long hours  researching and collating information about the Fegans.  She has unearthed certificates, manifests and newspaper articles and pieced together a detailed family history.  In this post I borrow heavily from Pam with thanks.

Matilda and John Fegan

Matilda and John Fegan.  I would guess that they would have been about 50 in this photo which would put it at circa 1885. (Any advances anyone?)

I love Pam’s description in 1995 of this photo above.

“In a studio photograph, Matilda Fegan, a soldier’s daughter from County Tyrone sits tall and dignified in her good clothes; her attractive face is smooth and round and her black hair drawn into a bun.  John, her husband, casually stands in coat and waistcoat, his feet nonchalantly crossed showing well worn shoes.  He is tall and good looking with thick dark hair and long dark side whiskers, but his bushy beard and moustache are white.  His pale face is in complete contrast to his leathery brown hands.”

 John and Matilda had emigrated to Australia on a ship called the “David McIvor” in 1857 with their baby Joseph – they had assisted passage as labourers were required in Victoria due to the Gold rush.  It is possible that they wished to escape poverty in Ireland.  The “Potato Famine” occurred in 1846 – 1856 decimating the population.   In Ireland John was a servant at an assylum and was illiterate.  Matilda had been living at Mullaghmore House, a church education society when she was married at 19 in 1852.  No information is available regarding her mother but her father Joseph Wright had a military service record.  It is not known why she was living at this institution.   John worked as a farm labourer in the Geelong region  for the 8 years before settling at Koyuga and during this time 3 more sons were born. William 1858, John 1861 and Albert 1863.

In 1864 John was able to select land on the railway line at 9 mile point on the Shepparton Echuca Railway line at Koyuga which was part of the deal for railway workers.  John was working as a  “Plate Layer” for the railways by this stage. The farm had some dairy cattle and cropping of wheat and oats. The property was named “Tyrone” after the area of Ireland they hailed from.   At Koyuga Eliza was born in  1865 and Francis in 1868.  Margaret was born in 1870 and Samuel in 1872.  Margaret was the 7th  child of 8.

Fegan house

Photo circa 1995 on the front verandah of the house at 9 mile point Koyuga. with L – R Kate and Elise Couchman,  Edith Hicks, Keith Fegan, Dorothy Fegan,  Lorraine Couchman,   and Sally Fegan.  Photo taken by Barbara Pavone

Koyuga is now a very quiet region but it seems to have had a livelier history at the time of Margaret’s childhood.  The school opened just up the road in 1874 and closed in 1884 which was very opportune for Margaret and she may have attended this school.

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A plaque erected at the old site of the Koyuga Primary School.

However, Pam in her research discovered that Sam (Margaret’s younger brother attended the Kanyapella school which may indeed have been closer to the homestead.  She could find no evidence of Margaret even attending school.

“It seems that the Kanyapella school may be the one that the children attended as there was no school in the immediate area of Koyuga until 1876. Sam ( born in 1872) completed his schooling at Kanyapella in 1886 and received his “Certificate of a Child being Sufficiently Educated.” (an email from Pam to me recently)”

In Pam’s research much is made of the musically talented Fegan family who would apparently entertain the locals at the dances at Koyuga and Echuca Village.

“The family in the early days were noted for their musical talent and conducted an orchestra of their own”  (Riverine Herald Obituary Margaret Hicks published June 25th 1954). 

Margaret was a piano player and Sam a fiddle player.    There is no mention of either Matilda or John being musical,  however it would seem that this love of music (and talent – if you believe that can be hereditary) has been passed down to many of their children’s descendants (including myself, Barbara, my mother and my Aunt Lorraine and her daughter Sarah and also Pam Robbins and many of her family)

The region had a shop and a hall and halls were often the hub of community social gatherings, the railway station would have enabled ease of access to Echuca as well.

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The old shop next to the Railway line in Koyuga.

When considering Margaret’s childhood you can make some educated observations.  She was the 7th of 8 children born in 16 years of a family who would not have been “rich” or “well off”.  She had the opportunity of education as pointed out and music must have been valued in the home.   Lorraine pointed out to me in a recent email  that there was a fair share of tragedy to befell the Fegans as Margaret was growing up.

“When I look at Margaret (Maggie’s) own Fegan Family, there were 2 older Brothers who died, plus the oldest child, Joseph had an argument with his Father (John Fagan) and left the property for good. I remember Dad told me Matilda died of a broken heart over Joseph, as they were close. The younger Sister, Frances (Fanny) had a broken love affair which I heard about from Dad too.

Margaret was only 19 years old when the third eldest child died – John ‘Jack’ Fegan B – 1861 D – 1889. He was 28 yrs old. He worked in the Echuca Flour Mill within 5 years of working there, from Phthisis – Lung Disease, TB and Silicosis. Jack had the 1st child who only lived 5 weeks  – grief for family here. Jack died when Matilda (May) his second Daughter, was only 3 years old.

Margaret was born in 1870 – her oldest brother Joseph was 16 and she was the 7th child.  It would have been a full, busy house. It was a weatherboard home.  There would not have been money for servants,  at least there were ample brothers to chop wood and fetch wood but with such a large family the domestic chores would be many, cooking, laundering, cleaning, mending, sewing – Margaret would have had her share of these tasks.   There would also have been farm chores to attend – perhaps milking, feeding calves and tending a vegetable garden.

Perhaps she attended one of the local schools.  Maybe she had piano lessons for she certainly played the piano reportedly very well.    I remember the treadle sewing machine at Truro and wonder if it was indeed Margaret’s

Margaret sewing

This is Margaret sewing on her Verandah as an older woman at Truro.  Obviously not wanting her photo taken.

Margaret was of the era (which was a very long one) when a woman was required to marry well, in order to prosper. This was a fact reinforced by the fate of her sister Fanny,  jilted in love and destined to look after her parents till they died. She then lived with her sister, Eliza.  Eliza was Margaret’s sister in law, married to her brother, William. Eliza struggled to make ends meet when William died.

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The attitude of the times is well demonstrated in the following quote from the Riverine Herald announcing and describing the marriage of Margaret Fegan to William Charles Hicks in “Hymenial Celebrations”  15th September 1893. .

“Mr James Gunn proposed “The Bridesmaid,” and happily expressed his belief that the pick of the basket was still left, which was encouraging to the young men”

Thus for Margaret to meet and (hopefully) fall in love with young Mr Charles William  Hicks of a fine, wealthy family from Echuca Village it was viewed as a very favourable match as stated in the same article.

“Miss Maggie, the youngest daughter of Mr John Fegan, a well known and respected farmer was there and then joined in the bonds of holy matrimony with Mr Charles Hicks, well and favourably known in the athletic world,  the second son of Mr William Hicks of Echuca North and member of the council of the newly formed Deakin shire”

2 thoughts on “e. Chapter 5 : Margaret’s childhood.”

  1. Barbara Pavone said:

    Anita I remember Grandad saying that “Mother was a beautiful pianist and she had never had any lessons”
    Many Irish families had (and still do) this musical gift.
    Before I had any music lessons I was playing tunes I liked on the piano. I would have been between 8and 9 years old.
    One day she heard me playing and said to my father, “Roy that child is musical, you must have her taught properly” love, Mum.

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