The Crimean War, in which the Russian Empire fought against an alliance of France, England, the Ottoman Empire and later the Kingdom of Sardinia between 1853 and 1856 was notable for a number of reasons. It has become known as the first modern global war, even often referred to as ‘World War Zero‘. It was also known as the first ‘media war‘ – in that there was widespread coverage in newspapers of the day, and huge interest amongst the general population. It is estimated that approximately 30,000 Irishmen fought in the conflict, and one of those was Michael Farrell from Ballymacoda.
Michael Farrell was born in Ballymacoda on January 8th 1835. After schooling he worked as a laborer for a period before signing up to the British Army on October 8th 1852 in Cork city, aged just 17. Michael initially served in 99th Lanarkshire Regiment, before being transferred to the 77th East Middlesex Regiment, serving with the rank of Private and carrying regimental number 2856.
In September 1854, after Britain had declared war on Russia, the 77th East Middlesex Regiment was sent to serve in Turkey and then Crimea, the British forces fighting alongside their allies from the French and Turkish armies. The 77th saw action fighting at the Battle of the Alma (September 1854), the Battle of Inkerman (November 1854) and the Siege of Sevastopol (October 1854 – September 1855). Michael Farrell was injured twice at the Siege of Sevastopol during 1855. His first wounding occurred on July 25th, and was minor. But on August 28th he was wounded by shell fragments which required the amputation of two fingers on his left hand. The Treaty of Paris, signed in 1856, brought an end to the Crimean War.
After the returning from the war, records show that Michael Farrell was discharged from the British Army at Chatham in Kent, on January 22nd 1856, having served just over three years. He was still a young man, aged just 21. For his service in the war, Michael Farrell was awarded the Crimea War Medal, a silver medal containing a bar for each of the battles he had been involved in. He was also awarded a pension of 8d. per diem (8 pence a day), which was to later increase to 9d. per diem in 1874, and 18d. per diem in 1903.
The following year, having returned to Ireland, Michael married Catherine O’Brien, a native of Cappaquin, Co. Waterford. In 1858, Michael signed up to the Enrolled Pensioner Force (also known as the Pensioner Guards). This force consisted entirely of discharged soldiers on a pension, who would travel working as guards on prison ships bound for Western Australia. For Michael and his young wife, this meant free passage to Australia, and the added benefit of being eligible for a land grant in Western Australia after seven years of service had been completed.
Michael and Catherine were assigned to the convict ship the Edwin Fox, which coincidentally had been chartered by the British government to transport troops between Calais and the Baltic during the Crimean War.
The Edwin Fox left Plymouth on August 26th 1858 under Captain John Ferguson. Its destination was the Swan River Colony in Western Australia (what we know as Perth today). In addition to its convict cargo of 280, it carried 82 passengers including Michael and Catherine Farrell and 30 other men and their spouses of the Enrolled Pensioner Force. The ship arrived in Fremantle on November 20th 1858 after a voyage of 86 days.
Michael and Catherine settled in the town of Geraldton about 400km North of Fremantle, and he continued his work in the Enrolled Pensioner Force as a Prison Warder. They had at least ten children: Mary Jane (born 1859), Michael Jr. (born 1862), Margaret (born 1864), Ellen (born 1866), Edward (born 1869), William (born 1871), Mary Ann (born 1874), Lancelot (born 1876), Patrick (born 1876), and Katherine (born 1885).
In 1868, Michael Farrell was awarded a land grant at the Greenough Flats, just South of Geraldton. According to the records he was awarded locations ‘G36’ & ‘G37’, comprising of 20 acres each. Records indicate that this may have been a partial grant/purchase, in that Michael paid for a portion of the land in addition to the grant awarded as part of his earlier work in the Enrolled Pensioner Force.
Michael worked farming this land at Greenough for a period, but there is evidence he later worked as a lead miner which was a prevalent industry in the area. This may be because of some of the natural disasters that impacted the Greenough Flats in the ensuing years. Located on a flood plain, the flats were more susceptible to these events, and a major cyclone in 1872 and major flooding in 1888 contributed to the gradual decline in the number of settlers in the area.
Michael Farrell died in 1914 in Geraldton, a long way from his place of birth. In his life had been a soldier in the Crimean War, a guard on a prison ship bound for Australia, a farmer, and a lead miner. Catherine died 2 years later in 1916.
The thousands of descendants of Michael Farrell from Ballymacoda and his wife Catherine continue to live in Western Australia, and I wonder if they know of the village in East Cork where their ancestor came from?
References & Further Information
Crimean War Veterans in Western Australia, Record for Michael Farrell
UK, Royal Hospital, Chelsea: Pensioner Soldier Service Records, 1760-1920
UK, Royal Hospital, Chelsea: Regimental Registers of Pensioners, 1713-1882
UK, Military Campaign Medal and Award Rolls, 1793-1949
Enrolled Pensioner Force, Western Australia
Enrolled Pensioner Force, Western Australia, Record for Michael Farrell
The Edwin Fox Ship and Visitor Centre
Australia, Birth Index, 1788-1922
Western Australian Pioneer Index, 1841-1905
Pensioner Land Records, Government of Western Australia, Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries
4 thoughts on “Michael Farrell – From Ballymacoda to the Crimean War”
This is an excellent account and wonderful to find. I am one of Michael’s great-great grandsons, and had the pleasure of visiting Ballymacoda in my youthful travels back in 1989 – we knew from family records that he cited it as his birth place.
I was struck by the sheer lush green of the countryside – it must have been a harsh shock and challenge for him to adjust to farming in the relatively arid brown land in the Midwest of WA.
Ancestral research has come along way since then. The above account is consistent with what we understood up to the mid-1880s. There is some controversy about his movements after then, and some question about whether he remained in Geraldton or whether he left WA in his later years, dying interstate.
Hi Richard, thanks for the comment, and greetings from Ballymacoda. I recently received a copy of the land grand awarded to Michael also, after requesting from the State Records Office of Western Australia. I’ve just updated the article with an excerpt of this also. Interesting that you say there is controversy over whether Michael remained in Geraldton or not.
It was delightful to read this article about my Great Great Grandfather “Red Mick”.
My sense of him as a child hearing the stories was he was a bit “wild”.
Like my brother, Richard, I have also been to Ballymacoda in 2013. In 2020 I went to the Fermoy Barracks where he was stationed and to the church in Aglish Co Waterford where he and Catherine O’Brien were married.
Even though I am fourth generation Australian born, I’m Irish – seven of my eight Great Great Grandparents on my Dad’s side are Irish – all were sent in some way shape or form to the colony.
I have travelled to “home” 4 times now to explore the birthplaces of my ancestors and am returning in November, and a trip around East Cork is on my program.
Thank you for writing the article
Thanks for reading Sally, and for the comment.