Some ‘hard’ drinking in the WINTER line

James WINTER (c.1806-1882), a brother of my great-grandfather, Edward WINTER (c.1812-1869), emigrated to Australia from Ireland with his wife Tirzah (nee DELMEGE) in 1851. The couple headed for the goldfields. They found gold, made some money, spent it on drink.

How do I know this? Here’s my trail…

In my internet ramblings for WINTER clues I found a reference to a book listing the families who had emigrated from West Limerick Ireland. Knowing the WINTERs were from this part of the world, I investigated.

The book is called West Limerick Families Abroad by Kate Press and Valerie Thompson Published in 2001 by Kate Press, Malvern Australia. I was able to access it at the State Library of Victoria (SLV).

The families were listed in alphabetical order. There was a solitary entry for WINTER under W:

James Winter b. Dromcolliher, Co Lim., d. Vic Aus 1882, m. 1836 Thirza Delmege, b. Killeheen d. After 1882…

Knowing the documented birthplace of another sibling of Edward’s was ‘Dromcolliher’, County Limerick, I suspected James was a relative. The entry continued:

…Letters written home by James WINTER (see P. J. O’Connor All Worlds Possible) show that James and his wife emigrated to Melbourne, Australia before April 1856 (page 216)

The mention of this other book, All Worlds Possible, and the couple’s immigration details turned out to be wonderful leads to further research.

Unfortunately, the only place in Australia I could access All Worlds Possible was in Canberra at the National Library of Australia. But as it happened, not long after discovering the book in 2013, I visited Canberra for the Australian Palliative Care Conference. At the end of the conference, I dragged my friends along to the library. Finding the book was a very exciting moment…


All Worlds Possible: The Domain of the Millers of Coolybrown

By Patrick J. O’Connor. Published 1993 by Coolanoran, Newcastle West, Co. Limerick

The author was a relative of the Miller family of Coolybrown, County Limerick. He published the letters his forebears wrote home to family and friends in Ireland from their ‘new’ countries. FamilySearch summarized the book as:

A history of the Millers (originally Müller), who came to Co. Limerick, Ireland, in 1709. Christopher Miller settled in Coolybrown, Kilscannell Parish about 1825. He and his wife, Barbara Delmege were parents of nine children. Tobias emigrated to North America, Christopher to South Africa, Edward to Australia, Richard to India. Robert remained at Coolybrown and inherited his father’s land. Each of these sons is followed.

Many German Protestants relocated to the area around Coolybrown, County Limerick Ireland in the early 1700s. The Millers, or Müllers, were no doubt descendants of these refugees. They left Germany to avoid further persecution from the French and also in response to a desire by the English landlords to increase the Protestant population in Ireland. They were known as the Irish Palatines. If interested, you can read more about them here

It’s a possibility that the WINTERs were also Irish Palatines but I have no evidence to support this….as yet.

The book reveals that Edward Miller was the nephew of James WINTER’s wife, Tirzah WINTER (née Delmege) and Tirzah was the sister of Edward’s mother, Barbara MILLER (née Delmege).

A search of the passenger lists from the UK to Port Phillip reveal the arrival details of James and Tirzah WINTER:

They arrived in Melbourne on 2 May 1851 on the ship, James T Foord.

1851 James and Tirzah WINTER on passenger list of ship James T Foord. Religion given as Episcopalian. Courtesy of Ancestry

1851 On arrival of the ship James T Foord at Port Phillip. James and Tirzah leave the depot ‘on own account’. Courtesy of Ancestry.

Interestingly, on the same ship are two teenage WINTER boys, namely, John WINTER, 14 years old and William WINTER, 16 years old.

1851 John and William WINTER on same ship, James T Foord. They may be sons of John WINTER, eldest brother of James and Edward. Courtesy of Ancestry

1851 John and William WINTER JAmes T Foord. Go to friends in Market Square Melbourne highlighted

1851 On arrival in Port Phillip John and William WINTER go ‘to a friend Michl Yallen Market Squ Melbourne’. Courtesy of Ancestry.

On leaving the ship the boys were to meet a friend at Market Square Melbourne no doubt previously arranged and James and Tirza ‘left the depot on their own account’.

Who were these boys?

I knew they weren’t the children of James and Tirza as James’ death certificate records ‘no issue’ under children.

1851 James' Winter's death certificate

6th June 1882 Death certificate of James WINTER. BDM Victoria Reg No. 6407

The death certificate confirmed that James was indeed my Edward’s brother as the parents were the same, that is, William WINTER and Lydia WINTER (née HOVENDON).

Research done by others infers that James and his brother Edward WINTER were from a family of at least nine children. Many of these children and their progeny migrated to Australia and many of them were named William, John or James. This makes it difficult to distinguish them from each other; brothers, uncles and/or cousins, but from what I know of the WINTER line I suspect the boys on the ship were sons of John WINTER, the eldest brother of the James in the letters and my Edward.

On arrival, James WINTER is recorded as a 36-year-old thereby making his birth year 1815. But according to his death certificate he was 76 at the time of his death in 1882. This makes his birth year 1806 and his age on arrival as 45. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, details on a death certificate may not be accurate and the same goes for details on passenger lists, especially ages. It’s more than likely he put his age down on the passenger list—by nearly 10 years in this case—in order to qualify for emigration. There may well have been a cut off age for immigrants purporting to be labourers.

Back to the book…

The author of All Worlds Possible has recorded some of the contents of twenty-five surviving letters written over the period circa 1855-1893 between the relatives in Ireland and Australia.

Of the 25 ‘three are from the pen of James WINTER, the brother-in-law of Barbara Miller of Coolybrown, while the remaining twenty-two come from her son Edward’:

…the earliest letters from Australia to Coolybrown come from the pen of James Winter…(page 68)

NB The excerpts of the letters as presented here are as transcribed by the author in the book.

The first letter

….was from James to his brother John WINTER in Ireland:

Not dated. The address is Springs Melbourne.

I can presume that Springs is the farm Edward WINTER was renting in Tullamarine, Victoria that I researched in an earlier post, What’s in a Name? 

The letter (pages 68-69) concerns sending money home for his brother John to come out to Australia:

Dear brother, I am in good health. I expected to hear from the boys, as they promised to send me some money for to send you along, with whatever I could spare myself. But they never wrote to me since they went up the country…

I suspect the boys James refers to are William and John who came out on the ship with James and Tirza. As I say, they are possibly the sons of the letter’s recipient, John WINTER. The letter continues on, giving a glowing report of how much money can be made from gold:

…I spent only eleven weeks in a stranger’s employment since I came out. I took one tour to the diggings last October and stopped out, between travelling and working for ten weeks. I made £111-2-4 of what got picked up. The people have made fortunes now by gold digging. This country is full of gold. In some places they pick it up as fast as you might pick pebbles on the square at Dromcoloher…

On my family history trip to Ireland in August 2014 I went to the village of Dromcolliher, County Limerick. It’s a very confusing place name as it’s spelt a variety of ways. Here’s just a few: Dromcolliher, Dromcollogher, Drumcolloher, Drumcollogher etc.

Coolybrown, the home of the Millers, is just north of Newcastle West, County Limerick.

2014 Village square in Dromcolliher, County Limerick. Author’s private collection.

It was in Henry’s cafe, Dromcolliher, just off the square, that I met two local gentlemen who graciously interrupted their morning tea to help me find WINTERs in the area. More of that in a later post.

The square today is basically a car park for the village but I’d say it was once a pretty sight as alluded to in a folk song penned by the Irish songwriter Percy French (1854-1920). The chorus:

“I suppose you’ve not been to Drumcolliher?
Ye haven’t? Well now I declare,
You must wait till you’ve been to Drumcolliher
And see the fine place we have there.
There’s only one street in Drumcolliher,
But then ’tis a glory to see:
Ye may talk till You’re dumb, but give me old Drum,
For Drum is the place for me.”

There is actually more than one street in Dromcolliher but maybe Percy had trouble with the lyrics.

Returning to James’ letter….

…They dig from one foot to 30 or 40 feet deep. When I worked I knew a party of men in 2 months to get 197 lbs weight of gold. A man pick’d out of a sod a wedge of gold worth £180. A man may earn £3 per day. The fact is wherever you turn your face is a goldfield…

You could say James WINTER had a good dose of ‘gold fever’. It must have been quite a sight after the ‘misery of Ireland’ —a quote by Monsignor Dooley, another generous stranger who helped me out with the family history.

1853 Travelling to the diggings, the Keilor Plains. Victoria. Artist J. A Gilfillan (John Alexander), 1793-1864. SLV http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/116192

The letter continues, confirming the couple were staying with James’ brother Edward WINTER at Springs:

…I send you a draft for £10. It is only a present. I hope you wont think it too small. Dear John, there is nothing to trouble me but home, when I think of my poor countrymen working hard for Indian meal∗ and to see the bullock heads left in the field to the dogs. You will tell my poor mother if she still lives she may have plenty of money between the boys and me. I do not wish to drain myself out, as I have no home yet. It is living with Edward I am and I intend to fix a living when I will be my own landlord. But not a word about Tirzah or any of the family.

I gather this means that none of Tirzah’s family have written to the couple. The rest of the letter is missing. As with many other immigrants they yearned to own their own land.

•cornmeal (Merriam-Webster dictionary)

The second letter

…from James to his sister-in-law, Barbara Miller (née Delmege), Tirza’s sister. Not dated and no address. The letter (pages 70-71) speaks of some troubles between the two prior to emigration and that Barbara may have accused James of writing Tirzah’s letter to her:

My Dr. Sister Barbara,…I first read your former letter and though far away I am, I read with tears. [I] was obliged to withdraw and when I came in to my tent, I requested of one of my mates to write for me. Now after an hour’s composure I take the liberty of trespassing on your time. Hoping that you entertain the same opinion of me as you did on our first acquaintance, and be convinced my Dr. Barbara that I never for one moment lost my least esteem for you, although I did not go to see you. I think you will be the more ready to admit this when you recollect the untoward circumstances I was placed in for some time before I left home. But the Lord be praised for his mercies…

James goes on as though he needs to prove to Barbara that he’s not a lay about, but a hard worker and that they are doing well and he’s looking after his wife, her sister :

…Either me nor my wife never knew want since we came to this country. We have the best preserves [of] all kinds that England can produce [and] Irish bacon and butter, as well as our colonial produce. Dr. B, your sister never had reason to buy a stone of sugar or flour, nor a pound of tea, as the first supply of tea I put in the tent where I now sit to write this rigmarole was 140lbs…Besides we have about 20 laying hens and when Tirzah can spare a dozen fresh eggs she can get from 9s. (45p.) to 12s. (60p.) per dozen for them…Besides this, I have fenced a piece of ground and cultivated it in such a manner as that I had radishes, turnips, onions, shillotts in abundance for the whole season and I am sure if I counted what cabbage and lettuce together with a little of the aforesaid that it would exceed £50. And my Dr. Barbara, Believe me I done all this besides working with my mates at gold digging, that is to say by over hours and sometimes by moonlight. I leave you now to guess whether I work hard or not. I have two mates who board with me and one of which wrote Thirzah’s letter. He is Captain FitzHerbert, late of the Horse Guards…

It certainly seems that James needs to improve his image in the eyes of his sister-in-law. The letter also mentions that he will write to Rebecca, another of Tirzah’s sisters. Rebecca died in 1856 so this dates the letter as pre 1856.

They obviously haven’t got a permanent residence yet as they’re living out of a tent.

He signs off…

…Believe to me to be your most affectionate brother till death.

The third letter

…from James WINTER to his nephew, Edward MILLER, Coolybrown, Ireland (pages 71-73). Dated 10 April 1877. Address: Wedderburn (Victoria, Australia). Many of the WINTERs appear to have put down roots in this area.

  Wedderburn, 214 km north of Melbourne, began as a mining township, founded on a goldfield. Gold was first discovered there in 1852.

My Dr. Nephew…You want my advice as to whether this or America would be the likeliest place for a young man to get a living. With regard to this country, gold digging is not a payable pursuit for many years past, but as you say you have capital. You can go and travel the country as far as you please and select any area not exceeding 320 acres of land, which is the highest one person can get….

After giving further details on how to acquire land, he makes reference to his own nephews settling in the area:

…There are six [of] my nephews [who] have selected within 7 miles of this place and each holding the largest area allowed. And I thank my God they are all located on one square block adjoining each other. As the Lord placed the children of Israel in the land of Canaan, so he has place my friends in this good land…

James is obviously pretty pleased he emigrated to Australia.


In 1877, Edward MILLER chooses to emigrate to Australia. He writes home to Ireland about his trip out, his impressions of Melbourne and the demon drink:

…The colonial ail is certainly the curse of the colony. I, for my part, I made up my mind with God’s help never to drink any of it….the drinking in Melbourne is something fearful..(page 75)

It’s a well recorded fact that many immigrants to the Australian goldfields drank heavily; a coping mechanism of sorts. He writes home to his brother Robert in the year of his arrival in the colony giving an uneasy picture of his Aunt and Uncle (page 77):

I must give you a description of Wedderburn where James Winter and Aunt Tirza [live]. They could be as happy as the days are long but for the curse of the colony, the colonial ail. They both drink very hard. I have been told…they were worth £1000 at a time…

And something you’d rather not read about your kin:

…He treated her very bad and that was the cause she drank. They care for nothing in fact but drink. They have a fine garding [garden?]. It is well kept, but what good is that. As fast as they make a shilling they drink it….While I was there I felt wretched and they did not care so far what became of me provided I gave them drink. Let none of the friends see this…

Bush scene, three women panning for gold SLV cropped

Mid to late 1800s ‘Bush scene, three women panning for gold’. Courtesy SLV http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/95365

James and Tirza had slipped into the scourge of the colony it seems.

Edward Miller continues in the same vein in a letter to his mother (page 77):

Dear Mother, Aunt is very strong but very much addicted to drink. In fact [she] cares for nothing else, but she has enough as far as the goods of this world are concerned. She recollects scarcely anything about home, but I did not catch her in her right senses yet…I need not tell you to say anything about Aunt Tirza or James Winter. I believe what is to be will be, but all parties drink hard our here or nearly all.

James and his wife had obviously become an embarrassment to the family—not to be mentioned ‘at home’.

Life on the goldfields was rough and tough and James and Tirza like many others revelled in the early gold but when it became harder to get, life turned sour.

In another letter home, Edward Miller describes the landscape—’it is rightly named the bush or wilderness’— and adds:

..when the gold was plenty and land easy got they, that is parties, who got the gold did not keep it [but] drank and gambled it as fast as they got it. The fact was this, that they thought the gold would hold always (page 78).

Edward is now disinclined to stay with his Auntie Tirzah and wants his mail directed to him c/o John Winter at Wedderburn, ‘be sure not to James WINTER!’

…I staid with John Winter for a good bit. His wife is Cunningham from above Newcastle…no mother could do more for me. She was a Roman Catholic but parties out here make no distinctions like old Bigoted Ireland (pages 82-83).

This is John Kelly WINTER, another nephew of James and Edward WINTER. He’s the son of another of their brothers, William WINTER, who stayed in Ireland.

The rest of the book relays many excerpts of Edward Miller’s letters back home but there is no further mention of James and Thirza WINTER. In later letters, Edward becomes frustrated with his Irish kin and the lack of reciprocity of his letters but it doesn’t stop him writing to them. He remains determined throughout his time in Australia to earn money and return to Ireland which he does after years of droving, shearing and all manner of farm work.

The book All Worlds Possible was a very valuable find. It gave me some wonderful personal insights into a branch of the WINTER emigrants to Australia, the good and the bad. I hope to eventually find the death certificate of Tirza to see how and where the poor woman finally ended her days.

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2 Responses to Some ‘hard’ drinking in the WINTER line

  1. Patrick O'Connor says:

    I am delighted to discover the use to which my book was put. I presented a copy to the National Library of Australia in 1999, when sojourning briefly in Canberra. The letters of Edward Miller are a wonderful evidential source.

    Patrick O’Connor

    • Marg says:

      Hello Patrick,
      How wonderful you found the blog! Your book was invaluable in developing a story about James WINTER. I didn’t even know he existed before I found your book. As is often the case in Australia the stories of immigration have been lost, unfortunately. I can still remember the day I found your book in the National Library. I was delighted. As you know Australia is big and I live in Melbourne so Canberra is not exactly around the corner. The conference came as a great conduit to visiting the library. The letters are a fabulous resource for those of us trying to work out our ‘beginnings’ in Australia. Many thanks for the comment and for publishing the book! Marg Coghlan.

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