Chapter 4: Robert & Mary (Gibson) Crawford and family of James, Robert, Margaret and John Hamilton Antrim, Belfast 1820 to 1916

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 100

Robert & Mary (Gibson) Crawford and family of James, Robert, Margaret and John Hamilton Antrim, Belfast 1820 to 1916

We have very little information about our family’s time in Ireland.  At some time around 1820, Robert and Mary Crawford moved to County Antrim, Belfast.  Mary’s parents were Robert and Mary Gibson (ne Marshall) who had married in Glasgow where Robert was recorded as being a “Weaver”.  They had several sons born in Glasgow however moved to Elgin where Mary was born.

We have no knowledge of where the Crawford’s lived, or what they did for a living between 1820 and 1855.  Robert is listed on his son James Crawford’s marriage certificate issued in Geelong, Victoria in 1855, as being a “marine” or “mariner”, his mother as Mary Gibson, and James’ place of birth being Belfast.  I did find one advertisement placed by a Robert Crawford in which he was seeking cargo for a boat traveling from Belfast to Liverpool.  There  is no way of knowing if this confirms that he was a mariner involved in trade or a marine based at Carrickfergus.

We also know that James Crawford had a younger brother Robert Crawford, who also emigrated to Australia.  He also had a sister Margaret Crawford, who may have been older and another younger brother John Hamilton Crawford.  James Crawford would have been born in 1831 and Robert Crawford in around 1844. 

James Crawford arrived in Geelong, Victoria in 1852 or1853 and Robert Crawford at Melbourne in June 1863 on board the ship “Royal Dane” from Liverpool at 19 years of age.  He is recorded as being a “Laborer” as were the majority of men.

Mary Crawford and her husband Samuel Chesney died in late February 1855 when the immigrant clipper “Guiding Star” was lost at sea.  It was one of only two immigrant ships to sink prior to 1875. The Chesney’s left their one-year old daughter Mary Chesney with her grandparents and were sailing to join James in Victoria.

When Robert jnr. died in Deniliquin in 1875 the death certificate records that he was 33 years of age and his place of birth was recorded as “Carick”.  If the shipping records are correct, he would only have been 31 years old when he died.  They were unable to record his parents or if he was married, so it is highly likely that the “Carick” recorded referred to Carrick, the north eastern part of County Antrim north of Belfast. The Crawfords might have lived anywhere in Carrick, even in Carrickfergus itself which in 1838 was recorded as having two walled communities on either side of the town, one being the Scottish Quarter and the other Irish.  The town itself was English with a castle manned by “marines”

Mary and Samuel Chesney sailed on the “GUIDING STAR”.  “It was owned by Miller & Thompson (Golden Line), Liverpool and built in 1853 by W. & R. Wright, St. John, Nova Scotia; 2,013 tons; 233x38x22.1 ft; The large clipper GUIDING STAR, owned by Miller & Thompson's Golden Line completed her first round trip to Melbourne in 1854. On January 9th 1855, GUIDING STAR departed Liverpool to Australia with 62 crew and officers and 481 passengers on board, mostly emigrants. She was insured for £12,000, a huge amount at that time. She was last seen in the Southern Ocean by the American Ship MERCURY, on 12th February 1855. On 19th February, large icebergs were seen and narrowly avoided by the ship GEORGE MARSHALL, on the same route of GUIDING STAR, which at that time was about 36 hours behind the George Marshall. Ever since never was heard of the Guiding Star. It is thought that she was embayed in a huge icefield that had boundaries extending from 44°S-28°W to 40°S-20°W. Many emigrant ships, including the GUIDING STAR promised a fast passage and they did that by going as far as possible South to catch up with favourable winds towards Australia. From calculations, GUIDING STAR is assumed to have foundered in the night of 20th/21st February. Hocking C., Dictionary of Disasters at Sea during the Age of Steam

Hobarton Mercury (Tas. : 1854 - 1857), Monday 29 September 1856, page 2

Miscellaneous Shipping News.



Among the emigrant ships lost in 1855, are two, to Australia, &c., the Iowa, which sailed on the 29th April, 1854, and the Guiding Star, which sailed on the 9th January, 1855, and which have never since been heard of. The former of these belongs more properly to the losses of 1854, but when our report for that year was written there was still hope that she might be safe. The latter was chartered by us, and had on board 481 emigrants, with officers and crew amounting to 62 persons, in all 543 souls. She was last spoken on the 15th February, a little to the Eastward of the Cape of Good Hope. After that we are left to conjecture her fate. But as vessels which were making the pass-age between the Cape and Australia about the same time, encountered very extensive fields of ice, and in some instances received severe damage, we cannot but suppose that her loss must be thus accounted for. In our charter parties we stipulate that our passenger ships shall not go beyond a certain south latitude ; but during 1855 the ice is said to have come unusually far to the north, so as to have rendered any such restriction virtually useless. Deep as is our regret in having to record this loss, we cannot but feel that having dispatched to various colonies during the fourteen years ending in December last 686 ships, carrying upwards of 200,000 persons, without the loss of a single life by shipwreck, except in this instance, we have in reality great cause for thankfulness, notwithstanding the accident to the Guiding Star.—Sixteenth Report of the Emigration Commissioners.


A Colonial Land and Emigration Commission was created in 1840 to undertake the duties of two earlier and overlapping authorities which were both under the supervision of the secretary of state. These were the Colonisation Commissioners for South Australia, established under an act of 1834, and the agent general for emigration, appointed in 1837. The new commission dealt with grants of land, the outward movement of settlers, the administration of the Passenger Acts of 1855 and 1863 and, from 1846 to 1859, the scrutiny of colonial legislation.


In 1855 it became the Emigration Commission. In 1873 the administration of the Passenger Acts was transferred to the Board of Trade. The commission's powers were gradually given up to the larger colonies as they obtained self-government, and after 1873 its only duties were the control of the importation of Indian indentured labour into sugar-producing colonies and it was abolished in 1878.


Griffiths Valuation Records indicate that in 1859, Robert Crawford owned a house in Magherafelt.  It was occupied by a tenant, James Donaghy and was located on “The Diamond”

In 1859 the Diamond in Magherafelt consisted of modern-day Market Street plus parts of Rainey Street and Queen Street.  The Griffith's Printed Valuation listed 34 properties in the Diamond in 1859. I have shown these properties in red on the map below. You will see that No. 1 was the Market House which was located opposite Broad Street. Today this space is occupied by a roundabout. Building No. 2 was at the corner of Broad Street and present-day Rainey Street. Nos. 3 and 4 continued down towards Rainey Street as far as the entry shown in on the map No. 5 was across the street and Nos. 6, 7 and 8 were in modern day Queens Street [formerly Moneymore Pass Street]. No. 9 was on the other side of Queen Street and No. 10 was at the corner with modern day Market Street. The numbers then ran up that side of Market Street as far as 23. No. 24 was on the opposite side of the street and the numbers continued down to No. 34 at the corner of Broad Street. Note that the numbers in front of each building in the street are numbers assigned by the valuers later in the nineteenth century to replace the numbers that they had assigned to properties in 1859. Have a look at these photos which show what was there in 2007 but the buildings [obviously modernized] are located on the same sites as they were in 1859.

As to how Robert Crawford came to be a landowner with some 650 acres (Lisnahilt and Rathkeel) near Ballymena and a house in Magherafelt, I assume he either inherited or purchased with the proceeds of a shipping business.  Because he is recorded as a “marine/mariner” in 1854 and died 15 years later with this estate, it would appear he may only have come to own the land later in life.  To inherit, he would have to be the oldest surviving son/grandson of George Crawford, so could have been in line from a Scots Irish family. 


His will is interesting in that it makes no mention of his granddaughter, the daughter of Margaret and Samuel Chesney.  Perhaps as a result of her testimony in the trial of John Hamilton Crawford for murder resulted in her estrangement from the family and she may have gone to live with the Chesney grandparents. 

There were many newspaper reports about her being taken away from the family and moved to Dublin in preparation for the trial.  Robert petitioned the court for her to be returned to the family, however they ruled that because her parents hadn’t documented that they had appointed Robert or Mary as her guardian, they had no legal rights.

It is also interesting that he names his son as John Hamilton rather than just John, perhaps because of the significance of the Hamilton family.

Crawford, Robert

Died 22 July 1869

Amt of Assets


In the name of God, Anun, I Robert Crawford, of Magherafelt

In the County of Londonderry, Gentleman, do make this my last

Will and Testament, in manner following, I bequeath to my wife

Mary the house & premises I hold in Magherafelt & the land held

therewith, with all chattels in said house during her natural life.

I also bequeath to my said wife an annuity of twenty five pounds

per annum for her life payable 1st May and 1st November.  I direct my

executors to receive the rents of my property and after realising my

personal Estate to pay off all my debts taking as much out of the

rents as will make up what may be required.  After my debts are paid

I bequeath to the children of my son James for their lives share and

share alike £120 to be paid by my Executors.  I also bequeath to my

son Robert for his life the sum of £120 to be paid by my Executors

out of the rents of my property.  I also bequeath to my son John

Hamilton for his life the sum of £120, to be paid by my Executors

Out of the Rents of my property.  I direct the residue of the Rents

If any to remain in my Executors hands and to be distributed

after paying their Expenses & charges amongst my sons and

their children in such proportion as they may think most deserving

or most needful.  I devise my lands of Rokeel and Lisnafelt in

the County of Antrim after the death of the youngest of my

sons now alive to the eldest son od my son James and in case

he be not alive to the eldest son of my son Robert, and in

case he be not alive to the eldest son of my son John Hamilton

then to the second third or other sons of my son James their heirs and

assigns.  I bequeath to my old friend Richard Donolly an annuity of

Ten pounds per annum during his natural life.  I bequeath to the

Daughters of my old friend George Brown £10 each.  I bequeath to

My Executors £5 a year each for their trouble.  I bequeath to my boy

Hugh Simpson Ten pounds.  I appoint Richard Donolly and James

Sands Magherafelt my Executors and Trustees.  Dated this 11th June

1869. Robert Crawford

J. Glover, John Carey

No 4 In Her Majesty’s Court of Probate.  The District Registry

At Londonderry.  In the goods of Robert Crawford, Gentleman, deceased

I john Glover, of Magherafelt, in the County of Londonderry, solicitor


John Hamilton Crawford never married, and that might have been because of his having served ten years in prison for the manslaughter of the family maid in 1865.

Belfast Morning News - Monday 03 April 1865 SHOCKING OCCURRENCE IN MAGHERAFELT. a Correspondent.)

On Thursday evening last, about nine o'clock p.m., Head-Constable Rogers received information that a young man, named John H. Crawford, Magherafelt, had killed, in his father's house, an old woman named Mary Duffin, who had been in the employment his father for the last 21 years.

As soon as Mr. Rogers received the intelligence, at once proceeded to the scene, where he found the body of the old woman lying on the floor in a pool  of blood. He then arrested the prisoner, and conveyed him to the police station to await the result the inquest. This was held on the body on Friday, before David Kelly, Esq., coroner, and a most respectable jury.

William M'Graw, a lad about 14 years of age, servant to the father of the accused, deposed that the prisoner had come into the house about ten o clock Thursday night. He accused the deceased of using some improper language towards his mother, and, lifting the tongs, struck her the head, from the effects of which she fell to the ground. Witness then stated that the accused put one foot her chest, took hold of her by the hair, and kept knocking her head on the ground till she was dead. He then told M'Graw that if would say a word he would give him the same sauce. Witness then gave him a dishcloth, by means which he wiped the blood off deceased's face and his own hands.

Mary Chesney corroborated M'Graw's statement. On examination of the body it was found that nine of her ribs were broken, that a deep gash was above one of her eyes, and several other wounds.  The jury, after twenty minutes' deliberation, found a verdict that deceased died from the effects wounds received at the hands of John Hamilton Crawford. The prisoner was then removed in custody of the police. He seemed deeply affected throughout the investigation at the awful position which was placed. Mr. Crawford is a most respectable young man, and was highly respected by all who knew him.


Derry Journal - Wednesday 26 July 1865


John Hamilton Crawford was indicted for the willful murder of Mary Duffin, Magherafelt, on ‘30th March last. The prisoner pleaded not guilty,” and was defended Mr. Dowse, Q.C., and Mr. Hamilton, advised Mr.Maturin. Messrs. Major, Henderson, and Richardson prosecuted.

The following jury were empaneled to  try the case: Messrs. Henry J. Walker, Thomas Young, Robert Wilson, James Thompson, Oliver Stewart, Hugh Stevenson, Thomas Robinson, James Pachell, Wm. D. Porter, Matthew M'Clelland, James M'Corkell, and Jolm M'Adoo.

Mr. Major stated the case for the prosecution. He said the circumstances of the case were very few indeed. The prisoner who stood in the dock charged with this awful crime, had resided with his parents at Magherafelt up to the time of the murder. The deceased, who was hired servant, lived in the same house.

On the 30tb of March last some controversy took place between the prisoner’s mother and deceased. The prisoner was absent during the unpleasant altercation. On his return home in the evening, little niece of the prisoner's, who resided with them in the house, told the prisoner what had taken place. and that deceased had called his mother opprobrious names.

The prisoner, hearing this from the little girl, perpetrated the act for which stood charged. He (the learned counsel) would ask the jury to be guided solely the evidence which they would hear, and if any reasonable doubt existed in their minds, would ask them to give the prisoner the benefit of it.

William M‘Grath, examined Mr. Henderson, Q.C. —I recollect the 30th of March last; was living in the house with the Crawford family that lime; the prisoner also lived in the house; witness knew the deceased; she lived in the house with the Crawford’s; I was in the house when the deceased and prisoner's mother had the dispute; heard the deceased call prisoner’s mother whore; the prisoner's mother went to bed early that night; recollects when the prisoner came in; witness and Mary Chesney and the deceased were sitting the fire;

Mary Chesney related to the prisoner all that bad taken place between his mother and deceased ; the prisoner, on hearing this, said if he knew it was true he would knock her (the deceased's) two eyes into one; the prisoner then beat deceased with his fist severely; the deceased took up the tongs to save herself, but the prisoner took them from her and gave her a blow which knocked her down, dashing her head against the grate stone; be afterwards dragged her to the foot of the stairs, where be kicked her with his feet; the deceased, in the struggle, bit the prisoner's finger, whereupon the prisoner leaped on her, putting one foot on her neck and another on her abdomen, when be crushed her very severely; after this the prisoner went to bed and left deceased lying on floor; prisoner said before going to bed that would give deceased as much more beating the next morning; witness and the girl Chesney went to bed at the same time the prisoner did, and there was no person left in the kitchen with the deceased; prisoner and witness came down stairs after some time, and after examining the woman they found that she was dead ; prisoner then awoke his father to consult what should be done ; the father, after praying for some time, told prisoner to apprise the police and doctor of what had taken place ; the prisoner went immediately to the barrack and brought the police to the house; the doctor also came, at the request of the prisoner.

Cross examined Mr. Dowse—The deceased was addicted to drink; she was half drunk on the night she was murdered ; she was quarrelsome and abusive; the prisoner was what might be termed ‘‘half drunk,” and a good deal excited that night; only the prisoner took the tongs from the deceased she would have given him severe beating; when deceased and the prisoner were struggling she caught bold of one of his fingers in her mouth and bit it severely, so to cause it to bleed profusely; prisoner bad to press her mouth open so as to get his finger extricated ; police barrack was opposite Crawford’s house; witness was in the crown witness depot in Dublin since the time of the murder; was brought several limes to the Four Courts to see witnesses examined and cross-examined by counselors ; had a shilling a week while in Dublin, with his meat and clothes.

Mary Chesney was next examined by Mr. Richardson, but her evidence was merely repetition of that given by the previous witness. Cross examined by Mr. Dowse—Was in Dublin in the crown witness depot since the time deceased was murdered ; the police never told witness what evidence she should give on this trial; was brought the Four Courts frequently with the lost witness, to bear the trials going ; the deceased was drunk almost every day; deceased had a plaster on her breast from some injuries she had received previous to the 30tb of March last; deceased made a wicked blow at the prisoner with the tongs ; witness saw deceased fall frequently while under the influence of drink.

Dr. Patterson, examined Mr. Major—Witness had made post mortem examination of the body of deceased ; the left side of her head was greatly bruised and mutilated; there were abrasions of the skin on different parts of the face ; her chest was quite elastic, and her ribs were broken ; witness also examined her lungs, chest, and abdomen, and found them in healthy state.

Sub Constable Hannigan gave evidence as to the prisoner coming into the police barrack to inform them of all that had occurred between himself and deceased ; when the police went to the house deceased was lying dead on the floor with flesh wound on her forehead ; there were marks of blood on different parts of the floor.

This closed the ease for the Crown. Mr. Dowse, in a powerful appeal, addressed the jury in defense of the prisoner. He said there were only two classes of offences against the laws of this country equal in enormity to the one for which the prisoner in the dock stood charged. One was treason, and the other murder, cold blooded murder, actuated with malice aforethought. The first offence did not now occur in this free country, and when the other unfortunately occurred, it differed greatly from what had been set up counsel for the Crown as murder in the present case. He asked the jury for a moment to consider the difference between murder and manslaughter. The one was perpetrated by the midnight assassin, who, with malice in his breast, planned and plotted the life of his victim. The other was perpetrated on the spur of the moment, while its actor was animated with all the passion and rage to which our human natures were prone. He would ask the jury could they class the offence for which his client stood charged as murder *”

He then proceeded to show the provocation which the prisoner had received from the deceased. Let them search the whole vocabulary of the English language from beginning to end, and they would not find single word so gross or insulting what the deceased had made use of to the prisoner’s mother on that unfortunate occasion. He would not for moment deny that the deceased had met her death from the hands of the prisoner, but it was not until he had beard of the opprobrious language that had been used by deceased to his mother that committed the act. What the prisoner bad done was unmanly, ungenerous, and inhuman, but be would ask them was it murder, and was it actuated by malice aforethought?

He next referred to the witnesses examined for the prosecution, and denounced the authorities for having acted in manner which was unworthy of a free country. The witnesses had been trained to give their evidence in Dublin; they had been brought regularly to the Four Courts to learn the art of examination and cross-examination, and he would ask the jury not to attach much importance to their evidence.

Several witnesses were examined for the defence, including the father of the prisoner, the tenor of whose evidence principally was that deceased had been of intemperate habits; that her language was most abusive; and that frequently, when under the influence of drink, she met with accidents which enfeebled her so much that it would take very little violence on the part of the prisoner to put an end to her existence. It was also proved that the prisoner and the deceased had been on the very best terms up to the period on which this terrible outrage took place.

Mr. Hamilton briefly addressed the jury on the evidence tendered for the defence, when His Lordship charged the jury. He said that no one, even the Counsel for the prisoner, could for a moment question but that the deceased had met her death from the bauds of the prisoner. The language and opprobrious names made use of by the deceased to the prisoner’s mother were no justification for him to forget his manhood so far as to commit such an act. The jury had the power to acquit the prisoner of murder and find him guilty of manslaughter. He considered that the charge of malice on the part of the prisoner bad not been sufficiently proved. On the contrary, the prisoner and deceased appeared to have been on the most intimate terms up to the time of this unfortunate occurrence. He saw nothing in the demeanor of the Crown witnesses to make the jury doubt their evidence, which remained uncontradicted. In conclusion, be would ask them to be satisfied in their minds that the prisoner was guilty of murder before they would bring in verdict to that effect.

The jury, after a short deliberation, found the prisoner Not guilty of murder,” but Guilty of manslaughter.” His lordship acquiesced in the verdict, and sentenced the prisoner to ten years’ penal servitude.

John Hamilton Crawford died on 2nd June 1916 at the family home in Magherafelt, leaving an estate of £1,550. 12s 3d

Northern Whig - Thursday 03 August 1916

 STATUTORY NOTICE TO CREDITORS. the Goods of JOHN HAMILTON CRAWFORD, late of King Street, Magherafelt, in the County of Londonderry, Gentleman, Deceased. Notice is hereby given, pursuant to the Statute 22 and 23 Vic., chapter 36, that all Creditors and other Persons having any Claims or Demands upon against the Estate or Assets of the above-named Deceased, who died the 2nd day of June, 1916, are hereby required, on or before the 15th day of September, 1916, to furnish (in writing) the particulars such Claims or Demands the undersigned, Solicitors for the Reverend W. Lindsay, the Executor, to whom Probate of the Will of the said Deceased was on the 21st day of July, 1916, granted forth of the District Registry at Londonderry of the King’s Bench Division (Probate) the High Court of Justice Ireland. And Notice is Hereby Further Given, that after the. said 15th day of September, 1916, the said Executor will proceed to distribute the Assets of the said Deceased, having regard only to the Claims and Demands which he shall then have had Notice as aforesaid. Dated this Ist day of August, 1916. VENABLES BYERS, Solicitors for the said Executor, 60, Dawson Street, Dublin, and Cookstown, County Tyrone. 


Belfast was the center of linen manufacturing in Ireland at that time, and Ireland along with Germany were the major exporters of linen to Europe and the world.  As to the role Robert Crawford played, we can only speculate.  He may have been employed on a ship trading between Belfast and Moray as there are records of “Andersons” owning ships and engaging in trade.  Then again. he could have been working the Belfast to Glasgow, Manchester or Liverpool routes, or even Belfast to New York.

Then again, he might have been a “Marine” serving in the British Navy.

In 1800, Ireland was made legally part of the United Kingdom and by 1820 to 1860 when Robert and Mary Gibson lived in Belfast, much of the population of Belfast was Scots-Irish.  The Irish were predominantly peasant farmers working land owned by English absentee landlords.  They produced large crops of corn and potatoes.  The corn they exported to England, while potatoes became their staple food to a greater degree than in Scotland where it was 50% of their diet.  The population of Ireland in 1841 was 8,000,000, double what it is today, and 100’s of thousands had moved to Glasgow and Liverpool to work in their factories, particularly girls as young as 13. 

A non-denominational state education system was introduced in 1831, so James Crawford and his siblings would again maintain the family heritage of a good education.  Perhaps James even finished school and learnt a trade as a “painter”, as he recorded on his marriage certificate in Geelong.  Whatever, in his late teens between 1845 and 1849, Ireland suffered from the potato blight and over 1,000,000 died of starvation and another 1,000,000 emigrated to America, Canada and Australia. 

Submitted: March 17, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Galgano. All rights reserved.


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Add Your Comments:

Facebook Comments

More Non-Fiction Books

Boosted Content from Premium Members

Short Story / Other

Short Story / Science Fiction

Poem / Religion and Spirituality