William James Flynn (my Great Great Grandfather) was born on 9 April 1856 in Queenstown, Ireland and was the eldest child and son of his parents, John Flynn and Catherine Foley.
John and Catherine Flynn
He was the child of a soldier who had fought for many years in various campaigns but he never really would have been able to fully appreciate what life was like while his father, John was away fighting. He was only a year old when John was discharged from the military with a pension and this significant moment in John’s life would ultimately become the pivotal point which would shape both William’s and the rest of his family’s lives.
As a little boy he lived with his family in Ireland and over the next few years his mother gave birth to several of his siblings: Mary Ann Flynn born on 8 April 1858 in Clogheen and John Flynn born on 12 June 1860 in Femoy.
The small family survived on John’s military pension until he received an enticing offer to join the Enrolled Pensioner Guards stationed in Western Australia. As an Enrolled Pensioner Guard John would continue to receive a pension, he could take his family with him and after serving in the Guards for some time, would receive a grant of land in the new colony. Considering the difficulty in obtaining land in his home country, John probably thought the move would be best for both himself and for his family.
The offer was taken and on 16 March 1862 five year old William found himself leaving England aboard the ship ‘Norwood’. He was by no means alone on this journey. Not only was he surrounded by his parents and siblings but he also shared the ship with other Enrolled Pensioner Guards and their families as well as the people they were guarding; the convicts. The 290 convicts on board may not have been completely bad. Their crimes mostly ranged from larceny or robbery but to a small child, these toughened men in chains may have inspired fear.
The 85 day journey was also not without its dramas. Though there were no deaths to report, there was however a birth. William’s mother was heavily pregnant when she left England and his brother, Edwin was born on 2 June 1862 while at sea; a week before the ship’s arrival in Fremantle on 9 June.
As he got off the ship, William was greeted by a world vastly different to his home country. Despite these differences, his young age would’ve helped him settle in and adapt quickly.
During these early years he welcomed three new siblings to his family: Samuel Henry Flynn born on 14 November 1865; Robert George Flynn born on 6 April 1867 and Michael Flynn born on 3 June 1869. Sadly he also had to say goodbye to one of them. His younger brother, John passed away on 9 October 1865 at age five.
He probably went to school for many years until he reached the age where he could go to work. Luckily for William he was blessed with a smart mother who knew that for her sons to succeed in life, they would need to have a decent occupation. As was the practice back then, she arranged and paid for each of her sons to be apprenticed in separate trades. William’s trade was bootmaking.
The years rolled by and as promised William’s father eventually received his grant of land in Perth. Unfortunately, he only enjoyed it for three years of his life. At age 21 William said goodbye to his father and laid him to rest with his brother in East Perth Cemetery. Both were later exhumed and buried in the family plot at Karrakatta Cemetery.
Time would eventually heal all wounds and the grief would not last forever. Love would’ve also helped. Through his brother, Edwin he met a young girl, Elizabeth Maud Holt who in 1877 at age 15 had immigrated from England to start a new life in Western Australia.
Elizabeth was a kind, intelligent woman and the couple eventually wed on 6 August 1882 in St George’s Church. William was 26 and Elizabeth was 20.
St George’s Church in 1870
William and Elizabeth Flynn in later years.
Though my information with respect to his apprenticeship is scarce I do know that at some point during the late 1870s and early 1880s he began working with a man named Alex Bergin. They went into partnership together and established a boot and shoemakers business under the name of Bergin & Flynn which operated in both Fremantle and Perth. By 1885 however the partnership was dissolved by the mutual consent of both parties and William decided to carry on his business alone, now trading under the name of ‘William Flynn’.
For about the first 10 years of their life together, William and Elizabeth lived in Perth and William continued working as a bootmaker. During this period they had four children, all of whom were given their mother’s maiden name as their middle name. This was a trend that continued for all of their children. William John Holt Flynn was born on 8 August 1883; Edwin Holt Flynn was born on 2 November 1885; Eleanor Holt Flynn was born on 28 August 1887 and Hubert Alan Holt Flynn was born on 16 July 1889.
The world back then was vastly different to the world as it is today. Infant deaths were all too common and unfortunately William and Elizabeth were not immune. Their son, Hubert did not live past infancy and on 22 July 1890, he passed away. He was a child born with red hair and Elizabeth often said that it was difficult to rear red headed children. This however may have simply been something she said as a way to cope with the loss of her child.
In the 1890s, around the time of the gold rush in Kalgoorlie the Western Australian government decided to build the Eastern Railway. Gold and the possibility of making one’s fortune attracted people from all over Australia with the intention of riding the economic waves the discovery created. William and Elizabeth (perhaps like many others) assumed the railway would go through the town of York and so decided to take their family, pack up their belongings and relocate to York where William could establish his business as a bootmaker and service the town as well as the passengers stopping by.
Their assumption about the railway was incorrect. In the end the Eastern Railway did not travel through York but instead travelled through Northam. Elizabeth suggested to William that they follow the railway line and set themselves up at the end in Kalgoorlie but William wanted none of it. He was a rather stubborn man and once he’d made his decision to stay in York, nothing was going to change his mind.
From this point on, York became the family’s permanent home. William set his business up as a bootmaker and they all lived in a small mud brick house by Bland’s Brook. There they kept a few cows and also had several chickens.
It was while in York that William and Elizabeth had many more children: Catherine Holt Flynn was born on 1 July 1891; Ernest Holt Flynn (my Great Grandfather) was born on 11 August 1893; Mary Ann Charlotte Holt Flynn was born on 28 December 1898; Vera Holt Flynn was born on 1 July 1899; Warwick Holt Flynn was born on 1 January 1902; Faith Elizabeth Holt Flynn born on 26 July 1905 and Samuel Henry Cedric Holt Flynn born on 11 December 1908.
Together they had a total of ten children that survived past infancy. Living in the little mud brick house could’ve been difficult but luckily the children’s births were staggered in such a way which meant that there were only ever about five people in the house all at once. As the elder children grew up and started working, they moved out and created more space for the younger children.
Throughout the years William continued to work as a bootmaker in York. He was a generous businessman and would often allow customers to take their shoes with them and pay him later. His generosity with respect to payment of accounts meant that his bills would often be outstanding for some time and eventually he’d send his young son Ernest out to the various houses as his debt collector.
In keeping with the business of shoes, he also started a slipper factor in York in partnership with another man. The factory may have had the opportunity to succeed if not for the fact that William’s business partner absconded with the money and completely disappeared. The effects of such deceitfulness from someone he trusted took its toll on William and he suffered a nervous breakdown. Though he somewhat recovered from the blow, the loss of the factory (which employed many other people in town) remained with him for the rest of his life. He was never quite the same again.
As time passed by, William saw his children marry and he subsequently became ‘the Grandfather’ to numerous grandchildren. He was rather an imposing figure in their lives and unlike the grandfathers of today, he didn’t have an awful lot to do with them.
His granddaughter, Elizabeth referred to him simply as ‘the Grandfather’ and recalled moments where she and her siblings would make a game of quickly running away because “Grandpa was coming”.
On 6 August 1932, William and Elizabeth reached a milestone that not a lot of people have the opportunity to reach. Their Golden Wedding Anniversary marked 50 years of marriage and was celebrated at their son Warwick’s house in Greenmount. Long marriage seems to have run in the family and years later William’s granddaughter, Audrey also reached this milestone with her husband Ronald. They however went a little further and made it to 60 years.
William’s health slowly declined and in his final years he began to suffer from dementia. He and Elizabeth moved back to the family house at 79 John Street, West Perth but despite the move his illness became more and more apparent. He was constantly seen walking but this only ever extended to circling around the house for hours on end. It became important for all people to remember to keep the gate shut so that William couldn’t wander away.
He was 81 years of age when he passed away on 19 November 1937 at his home in West Perth. A day later he was buried in the Anglican section of Karrakatta Cemetery.
William James Flynn is an ancestor who, at the back of mind, I always wanted to write about. For the longest time I hesitated in starting his story for fear that I did not have enough information on his life. The journey has been a slow one but for making the request and essentially getting me into gear, I offer my sincere thanks to Peter Covi.
Many stories and information concerning William James Flynn were obtained through discussions with his granddaughter, Elizabeth Mary Flynn.
Various facts courtesy of the Judith Wood’s synopsis of the Flynn family.
Information concerning William’s immigration in the ship ‘Norwood’ courtesy of Convicts to Australia (http://members.iinet.net.au/~perthdps/convicts/con-wa30.html).
Western Australian Births, Deaths & Marriages (http://www.bdm.dotag.wa.gov.au/).
Photo of St George’s Church courtesy of State Library of Western Australia.
1885 ‘Advertising.’, The Inquirer & Commercial News (Perth, WA : 1855 – 1901), 11 February, p. 4, viewed 3 November, 2011,
1885 ‘Classified Advertising.’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 9 April, p. 1, viewed 3 November, 2011,
1932 ‘SOCIAL.’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 17 August, p. 17, viewed 19 November, 2011, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article32541535
1932 ‘Family Notices.’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 6 August, p. 1, viewed 19 November, 2011, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article32548029
1937 ‘Family Notices.’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 20 November, p. 1, viewed 19 November, 2011, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article41590828
- All In A Name – Tips for your research (rootsbyrebecca.com)