The Byrnes Family

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The often turbulent years of the middle of the 19th century in strife-torn Europe was the time when many of Peter Byrnes' ancestors made their way to the other side of the world. They were soldiers, labourers, farmers and would-be farmers to whom the perception of wide-open lands, or possibly gold to be found, was enticing. They came from many parts of Europe - England, Ireland, Germany and what today is Croatia. One, Samuel Archer, who came from a line of soldiers, was born in France in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars,and brought his family to Australia after years in Mauritius, while others first settled in New Zealand before sailing west back across the Tasman.

Although all branches of the Byrnes family were here by the 1880s, none came courtesy of the English convict system. The first to arrive, Felice Pobar, landed in Australia in the early 1850s, at the time of the Victorian goldrush, well after the end of transportation to eastern Australia. However, at least three Byrnes ancestors, Francis Burns and Mary Wilson from Ireland, and William Sexton from Suffolk, had earlier gone to New Zealand via Hobart on convict ships - two as soldiers guarding the convicts, the other as the wife of a soldier on board the same ship. Once here, they became gold-diggers, shepherds and farm labourers, before establishing themselves in southeast Queensland as farmers and butchers (or both, as in the case of Christian Retschlag, William Dance and Felice Pobar).

Succeeding generations left the land to go into the printing trade and the railways. Several had large families, a consequence of which makes it almost impossible to trace all of today's descendants of the original settlers (although Neville Eveans has attempted this Herculean task on the Retschlag branch of the family).

There is a very large question mark over whether or not we are really Byrnes descendants; it appears that although the original Byrnes to come to Australia was the soldier Francis Burns, the child who grew up bearing his name (although with a change of spelling) was registered at birth in New Zealand under the name Sexton, his mother's husband at the time. Short of DNA testing, the question of the boy's paternity will never be answered and perhaps we should simply regard it as adding a touch of mystery to the family story.


August 2018:

Regarding that last paragraph above, and the possibility or desirability of DNA testing on the Byrnes line to clarify the birth line of James Sexton/Byrnes.....

It now appears through Y-DNA testing, which follows the DNA of the male line, that the likely father of young James was indeed Francis Byrnes, although, of course, William Sexton still has a role to play in our family history, as Mary Wilson's first partner, and the father of her four eldest children.