Nicholas Delaney

Born:1772 In:  Co Wicklow, Ireland
Died:Mar 9 1834 (at age ‎~62‏)In:  Penrith, NSW, Australia


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Immediate family

Elizabeth Ann (Betsy) Delaney (born Bayley)
His wife
Mary Ann Anne Delaney
His daughter
W J (John) Delaney
His son
Thomas Delaney
His son
James Delaney
His son
William John Delaney
His son
Nicholas Delaney
His son
Charles Delaney
His son
Jane (Margaret J) Delaney
His daughter
Martha Delaney
His daughter
Edward Delaney
His son
Mathew Delaney
His son
Clara Delaney
His daughter
Clare Delaney
His daughter
<Private> DELANEY
His child
Jerry J Delaney
His father
Ruth Ann Delaney (born Dyer)
His mother


1802 Convict 1828 Publican Woodriffs, Evan, New South Wales


Transported to Australia aboard "Atlas II" in 1802 for 'life'. Trial at Wicklow in 1799.

Living at Emu Plains in 1825 when Martha was born.

The below is an extract from "Delaney Decades", I hope it is of help to you.

"Nicholas and his compatriots were transported from Cork Harbour, on 30th May, 1802 per the Atlas 2. The Master of the ship was Thomas Musgrave and the Surgeon was Thomas Davie. Of the 193 male convicts transported, only 5 died on the voyage. Quite a remarkable feat for that period. Having rounded the Cape safely, the Atlas 2 finally arrived in Sydney Cove on 30th October, 1802, after a voyage lasting 153 days.

On arrival in New South Wales, Nicholas was assigned to Major George Johnston of the Rum Corp fame. In the early days with Johnston, it is believed that Nicholas worked as a groomsman on Johnston's property at Annandale.





A new biography of this Irish rebel and convict

by two of his descendants,



Who was Nicholas?

As a young man living on the borders of Ireland's Counties Wicklow and Wexford, Nicholas was caught up in the violent events of the Rebellion of 1798. After the rebels were defeated, he was tried and convicted of murder on the word of a notorious informer. Sentenced to death, he was reprieved and sent as a convict to Australia. His Government road gang built some of Australia's oldest roads. Later he married and became a farmer and innkeeper, one of the first to settle west of the Blue Mountains.

This book tells the story of Nicholas's eventful life against the background of rebellion in Ireland, the suffering of convicts in Australia and the forging of a new country. It is a tale which has captivated genealogists and historians in Ireland, Australia, the UK and America. Now, for the first time, it is available in an illustrated paperback from BANNER, ISBN 0 9533418 0 1.


On July 6, George Heppenstall, John Myers, Richard Twamly, his brother George and nephew Robert Twamly were held up by three men ?on the highroad leading thro Kilpipe?. Myers was soon allowed to go ? we must assume he was not a revenge target. The rest of the captives, referred to by Edward Neil as ?the orange men?, were put under guard. Heppenstall and Richard Twamly were to die.

Kilpipe is a small town by the Derry Water, south of Aughrim on the Carnew ? Arklow road. Nearby, the road forks off north-west into the Wicklow Mountains, where many of the insurgents had fled, and passes through Aghavannagh, where they had that day made a temporary camp. Although the troops were not yet pursuing them into the mountains, the presence of anyone on the Aughrim road would be unwelcome to the rebels ? and these men were instantly recognised as enemies...

The only witness to finger Nicholas was, not surprisingly, Bridget Dolan [a notorious informer and former rebel]. She said that she had been at ?the rebel camp at Aghavanagh? when ?two men and a Boy were brought Prisoner ~ by the Prisoner Edward Neil and the Prisoner Nicholas Delany and several other Rebels ~ Neil had a Pistol and Sword and Delany had a Gun?.

The men were taken back onto the road and shot by Ned Neil and Nicholas: ?There was a ring around the men who were killed and the Prisoners Neil and Delany were within the ring, and within less than two yards of the murder?d men when they fired.? Replying to Nicholas?s cross-questioning, Dolan was positive that he had been one of the party that brought in the captives and that he ?certainly fired the Gun at one of them?. Nicholas and Neil attempted, through further questioning, to show that she was not sure of the time or the exact place of the murders, though she gave a precise description of the roadside which enabled us to find the site 200 years later. Neil tried to discredit her evidence:

~ On your oath were you bribed to swear against me ~

~ I was not.

It seems that the authorities found it important to identify Nicholas as being among the men present at Heppenstall and Twamly?s death. They took the trouble to bring in Bridget Dolan to swear that he was one of the murderers.


Nicholas now had another 16 months of ?long and severe confinement? before he was taken aboard Atlas II, bound for Sydney Cove. Any imprisonment in the 18th century was severe at the best of times; now the overcrowding with captive rebels made it even worse. The Irish Parliament had introduced many Acts for the regulation of prisons which the reformer John Howard found admirable, compared to the state of prisons in England and Wales. One of these was to order the purchase of a secure piece of ground beside a prison where the inmates could get some air and exercise. Unfortunately, Howard notes, ?the policy of this country in these matters is as defective in point of execution, as it is commendable in theory?. Howard gives a picture of Wicklow Gaol in 1789:

"WICKLOW COUNTY GAOL adjoins to the sessions house. On the first floor there is one room for debtors and another for women. Down six steps are two very damp rooms called the low gaol for felons, which have no air or light but by the iron grated door towards the street. A small court; no water. The county proposes to build a new gaol."


He and his fellow convicts spent these months in dangerously overcrowded gaols; the overflow was herded onto moored derelict, mastless ships known as hulks. There, in the foul air, stinking of wounds and excrement, they had to wait until ships were chartered and ready to sail. The unlucky ones died of ?gaol fever?, a virulent form of typhus which was endemic in prisons and frequent in the hulks.

Once a ship was in the bay, the ragged and filthy convicts were stripped, scrubbed and dressed in new canvas shirts in order to reduce the likelihood of infection spreading through the ship. They were then chained together and packed in batches of 120 into long cabins. It is a reflection on the conditions on land that prisoners competed to get out of the gaols and hulks and onto the transport ships ? whatever might lie ahead...

Convicts transported to America had been assigned to their ships? masters for the length of their sentences. The captains could sell on the services of their convicts; they therefore had a reason to protect their human cargo and land them in good health.

This was not what happened to convicts sent to Australia. Though they were still assigned to the ships? masters for the voyage, once they arrived, the assignment automatically passed to the colonial governor. There was little financial incentive for the captains to look after the convicts, although the governor might set up an enquiry into cases of outstanding malpractice or attempted mutiny. Prisoners were regarded as goods rather than as people. Captains were paid a sum for every convict shipped out and an extra amount if the transportee was still alive when the ship arrived in the colony. Presumably the ships? other cargo gained their masters enough profit to make the humans on board relatively dispensable.


On arrival in New South Wales, the luckier convicts escaped government service and were ?assigned? to a master ? often himself an ex-convict. The majority of convicts arriving in Australia were unmarried landless workers with an average age of 26, much like Nicholas. Where he differed from the crowd was the fact that he was a countryman and a political prisoner: most were urban thieves who did not know how to work the land.

It was Major George Johnston, commander of the New South Wales Corps, who was to be Nicholas?s master. As a senior officer ? and one of the largest landowners in the colony ? Johnston was a person of importance and would have had his pick of the newly arrived convicts. Nicholas, a young man, must have still looked strong and competent, despite the deprivations of the voyage.

The assignment system was centrally controlled. Convicts? masters had to feed and house their workers to standards regulated by the government. Any punishment of an assigned convict had to be endorsed by a magistrate. And, while unsatisfactory convicts could be returned to government service, they could, in theory, sue their masters if the conditions of assignment were breached. When adhered to, it must have seemed a fairly liberal regime to masters and assigned convicts alike. Certainly George Johnston rather prided himself on his treatment of his labourers. Asked his opinion on the controversial question of whether convicts really could be reformed, he replied: ??Yes?; he kept them hard at work and gave them plenty of vegetables?.


On October 17 1806 young Elizabeth Bayly (also spelled Bailey or Bayley) sailed from England, bound for Australia. She arrived in Sydney on April 4 1807, a free settler who had braved the long journey in the ship Brothers under Captain Oliver Russell. She was only 16 years old. In October 1808 she married Nicholas Delaney...

It is one of the paradoxes of Australian history that, as one who ?came free?, Elizabeth is less documented than her convict husband. It is nearly impossible to know why she came to New South Wales, apparently without any family to support her. Until the 1820s most women who went to Australia of their own (comparatively) free will were the wives or close relatives of men who went there. Fewer than one in five of the transportees in the colony were female, and the proportion of those who came free was even smaller. Women of any age were at a premium, and young women even more so.

The arrival of women, convicts or free, in the colony in its early days was not welcomed by the administration, which saw them not as sources of productive labour but as extra mouths to feed ? and threats to morality. The aim was to get them dispersed as quickly as possible, mainly as domestic servants. Britain?s view was that all convict women, most of them transported for theft, were impossible to reform and that, coming from gaols where ?extortion, prostitution, and drunkenness were routine?, as the Parliamentary Report of 1814-5 on Mendicity had found, they would turn the colony into an extended brothel. The fact that many women had been used sexually by the guards and crew while on board ship, and arrived pregnant or with a babe in arms, would have added to the administration?s prejudice.





Nicholas spent much of his working life in Australia as a maker of roads ? like so many other Irish emigrants. The colony needed roads: Sydney was growing fast and required paved streets and open spaces; and the Blue Mountains were crossed for the first time in 1813, making better access to the new cattle and sheep farming areas in the interior vital. Nicholas was involved in all these projects.

As he grew in favour with Lachlan Macquarie, governor from 1810-1821, so Nicholas began to make his mark on Sydney. Traces of his and his gang?s work survive to this day, and as this book goes to press there is growing support for their being preserved as part of the nation?s heritage...

Nicholas and his gang went work on the Governor?s new projects. One of their tasks was to help build ?Mrs Macquarie?s New Road?, also known as ?Mrs Macquarie?s Drive?, which circled Sydney?s Government Domain land...

By luck or planning, Nicholas?s gang finished the job on June 13, 1816, Elizabeth Macquarie?s birthday. As her husband noted in his journal:

'This day at 1. P.M. Nicholas Delaney the Overseer of the Working Gang employed for some time past in the Government Domain reported to me that Mrs Macquarie?s New Road ? (measuring three miles and 377 yards ?) around the inside of the Government [domain] ? together with all necessary Bridges on the same ? were completely finished agreeably to the Plan laid down originally for constructing it by Mrs Macquarie.

As a reward far their exertions in having completed ?Mrs Macquarie?s Road?, on this particular and auspicious Day, I have given Delaney and his gang of Ten Men, Five Gallons of Spirits among them ? as Donation from Government from the King?s store...'

More traces of Overseer Delaney?s work can be seen in central Sydney. With the major projects completed, small spaces left on the plan could be embellished, as Macquarie noted on July 1 l8l6:

'This Day Nicholas Delaney?s Gang of Labourers commenced clearing and levelling that Piece of Ground in the Town of Sydney, adjoining the Government Domain called ?Macquarie Place?, preparatory to its being enclosed by a Dwarf Stone Wall and Paling in the form of a triangle.'

And in the form of a triangle of grass and trees, a green oasis among the tall buildings, it remains to this day. The most prominent feature is the obelisk commemorating Francis Greenway, Macquarie?s emancipist architect. Distances in New South Wales are measured from this point; you could say that all roads from Sydney begin where Nicholas made his mark on the map.



The Delaney family tree starts with two mysteries. Just who were Nicholas and his wife, Elizabeth Bayly?

Nicholas, we know, came from the Wicklow/Wexford borders, and his mother and uncle lived in the little township of Ballyellis, near Carnew. Apart from the fact that he was a landless, illiterate labourer, that's all we know about him until his trial.

Elizabeth is even more elusive. Genealogists are fairly certain that she was not Irish. She might have been Welsh or English. Wherever she came from, she was of sturdy stock. She bore Nicholas 12 children, of whom at least two died in childhood - a low number at the time.

They were: Mary Ann, who died a baby; John, a successful man, twice married; Thomas, our ancestor, born in 1812; James and William; Nicholas, who may have died young; Charles, whose hand was damaged as a child; Jane, like Charles, sent to an orphan school and then given into the charge of their big brother John; the twins Martha and Edward; Matthew, born in the same year as the twins but who faded from history (was he a triplet who died?); and lastly Clara.

After Nicholas died, Elizabeth married three more times, but there is no record of her having further children.

In January 1834 Thomas married Lucy Simpson, herself the daughter of two convicts, Sarah Marshall and John Simpson. Theirs, too, was a large family, with Lucy also bearing 12 children. Jane, the first, died a baby; then came John, another Jane, William, Sarah, Wilfred, Edward and Clara. Their son Thomas, always called Tom, who is our ancestor, was born in 1851; then came Mary Ann, Nicholas (Nick), Andrew (Andy) and Charles.

Tom married Mary Maude Wilson, whose own parents had a somewhat hazy past: her father, Robert Sandon Wilson, known in the family as 'the man of mystery', came from nowhere and returned there after a few years of marriage to Sarah Emma Henley - or was she Sarah Emma Dicks? Another unsolved puzzle in our tangled family tree. Mary's sister Emma married Andy Delaney, Tom's brother.

Mary and Tom had five children from their 1875 marriage: Ethel, who married Michael Maher and had one son, Laurence (Laurie); their only son, Laurence Thomas; Florence (Flo) and the two little girls, Winnie and Ella, who died young. Several of the photographs which illustrate A Rebel Hand were taken by Flo.

Laurence Thomas, born in 1880, broke away from the family tradition of working the land and left Moyne Farm as a young man. He travelled the world and finally settled in London with his wife, Rebecca Anne (Betty) Winter, where their only child, Patricia, was born. During WWII she lived with her father in Sydney and became an announcer for the ABC.

After the war Patricia returned to the UK where, as a postgraduate at Oxford, she met and married a handsome Welshman, Aidan Lloyd Owen. They had three children, Frances, Katharine and David. David and his wife, Polly, have just added Bethan Rose to the family (July 9th).



Nicholas Delaney died at Penrith on September 3, 1834. There is some confusion over his age at death: the convict records list his birthdate as 1772, which would have made him 62; the 1828 census gave his age as 50, making his birth in 1778 or 1779 and his age at death 55 or 56; his tombstone has him dying at 62...

His grave, shown below, can still be seen, a little weathered, in Sir John Jamison?s Catholic cemetery in Regentville, near Penrith. The headstone, topped with a round arch and square shoulders, still has this clear inscription in its worn sandstone:

SACRED [Maltese cross]


[Authors' note: the grave needs upkeep and several of Nicholas's descendants are hoping to get together to preserve this monument. If you have any thoughts about this, e-mail us and we'll pass your comments on to the Delaney network]


Please visit our page about our line of descent from Nicholas. If you're a fellow descendant, do get in touch!

© Banner 1999

Transported to Australia aboard "Atlas II" in 1802 for 'life'. Trial at Wicklow in 1799.

Living at Emu Plains in 1825 when Martha was born.

Convict. After trial on a charge of Double Murder at Wicklow in 1799 was sentenced to death. This was commuted to Transportation for life to Australia aboard "Atlas" on its second voyage in 1802. On arrival Nicholas was assigned to Major George Johnston of the Rum Corps. In the early days with Johnston, it is believed that Nicholas worked as a groomsman on Johnston's property at Annandale.

Nicholas received an Absolute or Free Paredon (No. 200) on 31st of January, 1813. Very few Convicts received an Absolute Pardon, which 'cleaned the slate' and allowed Nicholas to go anywhere including a return home to Ireland if he wished.

Nicholas was involved in the building of roads in the early colony as overseer of the working gang constructing "Mrs Macquarie's Road", in the Government Domain, including what may be Australias first Stone bridge, over what is now the Royal Botanic Gardens creek. He was also overseer of the convict gang that constructed Maquarie Place. Both of these projects are mentioned in the diary of Lachlan Maquarie, 10th April, 1816, 1 July, 1818, held in the Mitchel Library.
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