WHEN John and Mary Byron first stepped on Australian soil 172 years ago, there’s no doubt they dreamt of a better life for their family than the one they left behind in Liverpool, England, five months earlier.
The couple, both 32 years old, and their young family of four sons survived an arduous sea voyage aboard the Georgiana to sail into Port Phillip Bay in February 1841.
The assisted immigrants settled in the Port Fairy area, known then as Belfast, where they bought 20 hectares (50 acres) of farm land from James Atkinson.
It was a tough life, made even tougher when the family expanded with the birth of their last son Henry.
Just 20 months later, tragedy struck the hard-working couple.
To make ends meet John took on an extra job and it was this drive to support his family that ultimately claimed his life, descendant Maria Staaks told The Standard.
“To bolster the coffers, John worked at another job delivering bales of hay to Strachan and Company at Geelong and back loading stacks of flour either as supplies for himself or for the flour mill at Rosebrook,’’ Mrs Staaks said
‘’It was on one of those trips that he fell off the dray. The wheel of the dray ran over his neck and he died.’’
Left to raise their sons — Lees, William, Abraham, Alfred and Henry — alone, Mary Byron did the best she could, eventually remarrying and moving to the Ararat district about 1853.
Four of the Byron sons married and settled around Ararat, but Henry moved back to the south-west, working as a labourer before buying land at Nirranda, where he settled.
The young man and his second wife Winifred Tully raised nine children: six girls and three boys.
“They were doing it tough, but happy — that could be said of the generation and the various families as well,’’ Mrs Staaks said.
This tale and many others will be told and retold at a reunion of the Byron descendants next month.
Mrs Staaks said at least 100 Byron relatives would attend the event at the South Rovers clubrooms in Warrnambool on November 9 and 10.
‘’Many descendants of the Byron brothers still live around the Ararat, Port Fairy and Warrnambool districts,” she said.
“Of the original Byrons there’s about 4000 descendants. A lot of them have now dispersed all around the country, but most of Henry’s descendants are probably around this district still.’’
Clare Dubay’s book about the Tully family in Australia will be launched at the reunion.
“Other activities will be photo displays, including a who do you think they are? photo board containing unidentified photos, a power point display and memorabilia,’’ Mrs Staaks said.
A highlight of the weekend will be a walk around Warrnambool cemetery, where there are at least 12 Byron-related graves, the first dating to 1874 and belonging to Henry Byron’s first wife.
“We are hoping to encourage a new generation to take an interest in their Byron family history and this reunion would be a great forum to foster that curiosity,’’ Mrs Staaks said.
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