Thursday, 26 April 2018

Farrells in the Family and some Riverina Rogues

At last, I’ve begun to learn more about the Farrells in the Family…

What follows is based on notes jotted down on pieces of paper following various conversations with my father – Noel Lyell (1924-2003). They are sorted by the name of the person being described. Dad’s words are in italics. I’ve also recently connected with cousin Steven Farrell and we’ve been able to share information.

Dad’s mother Beatrice Keys (1883-1960) was born in Hillston in the north-west of the Riverina region of New South Wales. Her father, George Alexander Keys, had migrated with his northern Irish Presbyterian parents when he was about 10 years old. 

George married ‘local’ Emma Farrell on 15 May 1879, the daughter of publican Dick Farrell and his wife Kate – who were Catholics.

Richard’s father Mick Farrell had migrated as a carpenter from Cork Ireland as a free settler. Catherine Ahern followed him a few years later and they married in Sydney in 1833.

More about these people in later posts…

Emma Farrell (1860-1949): Dad’s maternal grandmother

I got on very well with her. Several of the stories Dad mentioned probably came from Emma and although he didn’t say so, it’s reasonable to believe that he spent a fair amount of time with his grandmother in his early years when his mother was single.

Her father was from Piney Range.

Met Ned Kelly when they slept on top of the wool cart. ‘Always a gentleman’, his boys helped. 

Lived at Terrence [a terrace?] House in Elizabeth Bay at the end of her life similar to the house Paul Keating later owned. Had a set of friends in Elizabeth Bay and Rose Bay; part of the Farrell circle which she kept to herself. Some connection to Queensland and Charleville.

Remembers her 80th birthday celebration held in Melbourne. This would have been around 8 March 1940 - her actual birthday - and presumably held in Melbourne because that’s where Beatrice, as well as Dad and his brother Al were all living. His sister Joyce was in the USA. 

Didn’t go to her funeral. He mentioned this several times and it was obviously a great regret. At the time, October 1949, she was in Sydney and Dad was working in Melbourne.

Dad said ‘there were 1,000 bottles of champagne at the wedding’. 
This item may explain why… 
Riverine Grazier, 31 May 1879, p. 2.
Rev. Matthew Smith was a Church of England minister.

Where is Piney Range?

Piney Range gets a fair mention in accounts of the family. But where is it?

The Greater Hume Council explains:
'Known as the ‘crossroads of the Riverina, Walbundrie was a thriving gold rush town of several thousand people. Formerly called ‘Piney Range’, because of extensive stands of Cyprus Pines in the district, the village is now a rural service centre. On 15 June 1855, the Bulgandra (or Walbundrie Reefs) goldfield was proclaimed, eight miles from Piney Range, making Bulgandra the larger village.'

Most of the towns in this story are in the Riverina. Walbundrie is a third of the way north from Albury to Lockhart where the roads point and intersect with a waterway – Billabong Creek. Courtesy

‘Gentleman Jim’

On another occasion, Dad mentioned ‘Gentleman Jim Farrell’ who was a dapper billiardist and ‘took a shilling a point’. This may refer to Emma’s brother James, though he died in 1899. Dad also applied the name ‘Gentleman Jim’ to his grandfather George Keys who was also a billiardist. Keys was certainly a billiardist but I have no other information about whether James Farrell was.  He also had a wool carting business. ‘Also’ because both he said his grandfather George Keys did this as well.

Dad thought the Farrells had a sheep station in the Riverina and he remembered as a young boy on his tricycle when a snake came towards him. A Farrell uncle ‘saved’ him by throwing the snake in a tank.

Farrell family

Dad met one man with two children one his age [i.e. born about 1924] and another three years olderWife was a relative of [his Keys uncle] Hock’s [wife, who was "Annie" Dorothy Hume] he thinks. Was also a magician [as was his father Al Poe and adopted uncle Maurice Rooklyn], lived on the dole and had a Buick. Went over the new [Sydney] harbour bridge in their Buick. In general, didn’t get on with this family then. The Bridge was opened March 1932 and at this time Dad was with the Lyell family in Lane Cove.

There were some tensions between Ivy Lyell and Dad’s natural family which the young teenage Noel may have reflected and may be the reason why he perceived his mother and sister Joyce’ contact with them as something they kept to themselves. By the age of 17, Noel had decided to get to know his natural family again starting with his mother. (Separate note) Lived in Rose Bay.

Jack Farrell

Had two kids a bit older than Dad. If the kids were Dad’s age they would be nephews of Emma so this could be one of the several sons of James Alfred Farrell (1859-1899).

Joshua Farrell (1866-1942)

Dad referred to his maternal grandfather as Josh Farrell but it is the name of his grandmother Emma’s brother who obviously made an impression on him. Josh moved to Charleville in 1919 after the death of his first wife. Charleville certainly features in Dad’s memories of the Farrell family as well as the name Joshua.

Josh Farrell in 1909 at Bathurst court
for charges of larceny and horse-stealing.

Beatrice Keys (1883-1960): Dad’s mother

Pregnant with Noel [Dad speaking of himself in the third person] she picked a hospital [St Margaret’s, Sydney] to have him at, draped a flag over the end of the bed for donations for the first boy born on Christmas day that year.

[Beatrice] Knew Tex Morton [and] George Sorlie [who] wrote ‘Rose of Mine’ [this needs to be verified] she had the original [score] and sang it sometimes before [her husband Alexander Poe’s] ‘black magic’ show. ‘Daisy Park’ and on the Lachlan River and also Bogan’s Gate [are locations] connected with Keys / Farrell clans. [Also] Bribie Island [near Brisbane but no further information on this].

“You can tell the gang that we’ll all be there, in our cottage by the sea”. She would sing this to Dad; it was a jolly song, not a lament. [His brother] Jack says she died singing it. Unfortunately, I can’t find out anything about this song.

Some relevant information on Daisy Park: In 1897, a ballot was conducted by the Forbes Land Board for leasehold land on Big Burrawang. One of the lucky ballotters, Bill Dwyer, drew a block near Gunning Gap between Bogan Gate and Bedgerebong. He pitched his tent on his new farm in the Spring of that year and immediately began digging a well and building his family’s first small house. The Dwyers named their farm Daisy Park after the 'vast areas of white daisies' that grew amongst the box and yarran trees on the western side of the block. I can’t yet verify if the Keys or Farrells were connected with this land, but this is worth following up.

[Beatrice was] Intelligent uncanny [I think he meant ‘canny’, but he also saw her as ‘psychic’] likeable and shrewd. Had to resort to many things during the depression to support her kids. When in the air-force [1942-1946], Mum [that is my mother Joan Marsh] went into Harry Rooklyn’s cafĂ© lounge in Sydney. Beatrice was available to read palms and tea-leaves with two of her air force friends. Beatrice was definitely psychic and Mum was later able to recall the veracity of some of her predictions.

George Alexander Keys (1849-1910)

Met him. This is not possible since he died in 1910 and separately Dad mentioned that he was much older than Emma. Obviously, his name lived on and Dad may have merged the stories with memories of another relative perhaps it was Josh Farrell again or a Keys relative.

Travelled on bullock drays [with Emma] and slept on top for fear of dingoes. One time fell off after which he slept on a hammock underneath. Sometimes Emma travelled with him without the kids. May have hustled with grandfather Poe using billiards. Was called ‘Gentleman Jim’ when he played billiards. Perhaps the ‘Gentleman Jim’ name was taken from James John ‘Gentleman Jim’ Corbett (1866–1933) an American professional boxer. Boxing seems to have been a popular pastime with the Keys and Farrell families as it was with the Lyell family.

Transported wool, [which was] seasonal work. The Keys family had left Hillston by 1890 and lived in Melbourne where George ran a billiard hall for a while before George and Emma separated. Emma returned to New South Wales and George moved to Western Australia where he became a publican and continued to enjoy billiards. He may have visited Ireland before returning to Australia to end his days in Queensland. His father, also named George (1828-1894), remained in Hillston and is buried there.

'Hock' Keys (1880-1923)

Hock is worth a separate item. He was a famous boxer and son of George Alexander Keys and Emma Farrell. He was Australian Lightweight Champion, well known and well liked in his day. He served in the AIF during World War I, but sadly became an alcoholic and died of pneumonia. He figured prominently in Dad’s memories and was regularly mentioned by Emma, Hock’s mother, who is buried with him. His father was a publican who made sure his customers knew he was Hock’s father, which was presumably good for business.

Smith's Weekly, Sat 26 Apr 1930 Page 20.
Fighters and fearless horsepeople.

Comment from Dad’s sister Joyce, as he recalled it

Joyce had a boyfriend, Arch Richie (introduced by Harry Rooklyn). Arch went to Queensland with Joy [in the 1930s] and looked up the Keys family in Charleville as there was some story of a relative there. On their return, grandma [Emma] said there were three [Farrell] boys, one [in the Navy] and the other two officers during World War I. They (or one) had property at Charleville. 

Again, this is a reference to Josh Farrell.

Dad, his sister Joyce and their mother Beatrice – Emma’s daughter – were a family unit in the 1920s but at the time of this visit Dad was living with his foster family who didn’t like him associating with his natural family. 

Do you know more?

These impressions of people are only partial portraits. If any of the names, places or stories sound familiar to you, please let me know. You can leave a comment below or send me a note at

Walbundrie Public School commenced classes in 1878.

Corrections made 31 August 2018



I recently started on Twitter and put up a note with no hashtag encouraging Poe men to look at the FTDNA site. In less than a week, 10 viewers clicked on to the Poe YDNA project site out of 33 looks. Not many but as a result I created a hashtag #YPoeDNA and sent out another tweet and included a picture.

The tweet is “Poe men please provide DNA – Y? It’s the best way to solve our family history mysteries!
The objectives of the tweet are:

Promote the Poe FTDNA project
Encourage more men to take part.
Encourage discussion, information sharing and research on Poe / Powe family history.
Document what’s known.
Reduce ‘speculative’ genealogies.

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