(Parents of Peter Byrnes):


Mary Wilson (c1820-1864)


Line of Descent to Peter Byrnes:

Mary Wilson

(Great Grandmother)

James Byrnes

Thomas Byrnes

Peter Byrnes


c1820-23 in  Ireland[1]


February 20, 1864 at Rawbelle, near Monto Qld, of dropsy[2]


Cemetery at Old Rawbelle Station[3]




1. William SEXTON (1844, County Meath, Ireland)[4]



(Margaret) Mary SEXTON (1845 - 1930)[5]

William SEXTON (1847-1917)[6]

Sarah SEXTON (1851-)[7]

Joseph SEXTON (1853-)



2. Francis BURNS (unconfirmed - probably de facto)[8]


James Byrnes [9]  [born SEXTON] (1857-1932) married Grace Pobar, 1882, Toowoomba

Mary's husband was an English soldier, William Sexton who was probably about 10 years old than she was.  After many years in England's American colonies (the West Indies and the territory which was to become Canada), William's regiment had come home to be based in Ireland from 1843-45.  So far, we haven't located the actual marriage records but it was indexed in the notifications of the Marriage Licence Bonds for the Diocese of Meath in 1844 held by the Public Record Office of Ireland.

The next year, in September 1845, Mary gave birth to a daughter on the Pestonjee Bomangee, a convict ship contracted by the British Government to transport convicts to Van Dieman’s Land. 

William, an Army private, was part of the Pestonjee Bomangee's Army escort made up of a Captain of the 65th Regiment of Foot, a lieutenant, four non-commissioned officers and 41 rank-and-file of the 65th.  Also on board were six woman (including Mary) and six children - and another soldier, Private Francis Burns, destined to be Mary’s second partner.

Before the ship had even set sail, Mary gave birth to their first child, a girl, Mary Margaret (the child's name is sometimes reversed even on official documents). The journal of the ship's surgeon makes interesting reading, with his comments on the extreme weather conditions at the start of its voyage, and on the health of the convicts.  Mary herself on at least one occasion after the birth of her baby, was admitted to sick bay, suffering "obstipatis", possibly a post-natal complication.  After three days treatment, Mary was deemed "cured" by the Surgeon.

The birth was registered by the master of the Pestonjee Bomanjee in January 1846, after the ship arrived in Hobart, with its cargo of 298 convicts. However, the child had previously been baptised in Woolwich, before the vessel had lifted anchor and headed south.  The Woolwich baptism register recorded her name as "Margaret"[10], while the Tasmanian papework renamed her as "Mary". 

 - copy of the baptism entry for St Mary Mardalene, Woolwich, courtesy of Sexton family researcher, Margaret Pope.


 The regiment, and the Sexton family, returned to Sydney from Hobart before sailing on to Wellington, New Zealand later in 1846.

Mary's second child, a son William, was born in Wellington in 1847, followed by Sarah in 1851, Joseph in 1853, and James in 1857.  This youngest child was most likely the child who became known as James Byrnes, taking the name of Mary’s second partner, Francis Burns.

right: Wellington in the 1850s, at the time when the Sexton Family lived in Tinakori Road

 Mary and Francis weren’t legally married (Mary’s first husband died in New Zealand in 1865 after Mary's own death) – and although Mary’s death certificate gives ‘Sydney’ as the place of marriage to Francis, no marriage registration has been found so far.  It’s probable Mary and Francis deemed it advisable to leave New Zealand for Queensland soon after the birth of young James in 1857.

In the early 1860s, Mary and Francis, along with her children, lived and worked on the property Rawbelle, in the Monto/Gayndah district of Queensland, where Francis was employed as a shepherd.  Mary, a housekeeper at Rawbelle, died at the young age of 41, soon after the family made the move from New Zealand to the much harsher country of the sheep property.

Her death certificate, which spells her surname as BURNS, gives her husband's name as Francis Burns.  It says Mary was born in Ireland, of unknown parents, and had five children living.  She died of dropsy (an ailment of the kidneys), from which she had suffered for six months before her death at Rawbelle.  She was buried in an unmarked grave in a little cemetery (below), beside the banks of the Nogo River.


The lonely cemetery at Old Rawbelle Station.  Mary’s unmarked grave is at the far right of the burial ground.

Notes on the history of [Old] Rawbelle station say that:

"Nothing now remains to mark the site except a peaceful little graveyard, in which sleep two former managers of Rawbelle, two other white men, a white woman, and a Chinaman".[11]

Mary was that white woman.


[1] IGI entry; Death certificate of Mary Burns, 1864 (Queensland Registrar of Births, Deaths & marriages)

[2] as above

[3] as above

[4] Pro of Ireland, Marriage Bonds for the Diocese of Meath, 1844; Notes from Surgeon’s Report on Pestonjee Bomangee ( Tasmanian Archives, Admin 101/59 reel 3206) refers to Mary as the wife of Pte Sexton; and Qld death certificate of Mary’s son James Byrnes, 1932

[5] Surgeon’s Report as above

[6] William Sexton’s Queensland death certificate, 1917.

[7] Birth certificate of Sarah Sexton, 1851, New Zealand.

[8] Mary’s death certificate, as above.

[9] Marriage certificate of James Byrnes and Grace Pobar, 1882 (Queensland BDM) and James’ death certificate 1932 (Queensland BDM)

[10] for this information on the birth of Mary's first child, I'm indebted to family history researcher, Margaret Pope,  The baptism can be found in the1845  baptismal records of the Parish of Woolwich, page 199.

[11] Souvenir of the Centenary of the Central and Upper Burnett River district of Queensland, 1848-1948, page 21