Boot Makers of Clunes                                             

John Mulcahy 1824 - 1913                                      Sarah Payne 1823 -1901                                    Maternal grandparents of Valdis Muriel Skidmore

The Mulcahys: from Ireland to London

John Mulcahy’s parents were John Mulcahy and Ann (Hannah) Mulkay, both born and married in Ireland. Their first child we know of was Elizabeth who was born in Adare, Co. Limerick in 1822. A farming family, they soon felt the economic strain of rural life in Ireland and like many other Irish decided to emigrate. Their first stop was Wales and here in Pontypool, Monmouthshire, John junior was born in 1824.

Like many Irish before and after them, the family soon traveled to London, and in 1841 were living in the parish of St. Luke Finsbury, at 14 Crown Court (now beneath the Milton gate building). John and his father made a living as boot makers, a very common trade amongst Irish immigrants, and a trade John would successfully carry on in Australia many years later. In these very poor parts of London, tradesman and artisans were neighbours of beggars and thieves, living in overcrowded and usually unsanitary conditions. The Mulcahy family at 14 Crown Court included nine members and shared this address with the Kent family, also Irish shoemakers, a family of six.

Cross’s New Plan of London 1861 shows the vicinity of the Mulcahys in 1841 at Crown Court, north of Fore Street, below White Street. Source:

The Mulcahys living at this address on the census night in 1841 included the parents John and Ann and six of their children: John 15, Catherine 14, Edward 12, Thomas 9, Ann 7 and Victoria 3. Also there was infant grandson Stephen Grainger, son of eldest daughter Elizabeth (not listed at this address). Elizabeth was a dressmaker and married Henry Grainger, a boot maker, in 1838. They lived at Sun Court, Golden Lane, another very poor area of London, not far from her parents.

The Payne family

The Payne family origins are unclear. The name is common around Great Marlow in Buckinghamshire where Sarah Payne was born on December 23rd 1823 (according to the non-conformist baptismal records from Reading in Berkshire). However there are no birth records in Great Marlow to confirm this and I can find no records of her parents there – Charles Payne, a shoemaker and Ann Gunnell. There were also many Gunnells in Marlow at this time. There is a record of the marriage of Charles Payne and Ann Gunnell in Frimley, Surrey in 1816, although the bride’s name is spelt Gurnell.

The family were Non-conformists (neither Catholic nor Anglicans) and records of Charles and Ann’s children’s baptisms are to be found in the Nonconformist Registers of Dr. William’s Library in London. The register also gives the name of the mother’s father – Thomas Gunnell. Charles and Ann had at least six children found on this register with their birth dates – William Charles 5/8/1817; Sophia 25/9/1819; George Gunnell 3/12/1821; Sarah 23/12/1823; Frances 15/9/1827 and Ann 11/11/1832. There is also a record of Sophia and George being baptised at the Albany Congregational Church Hounslow, Middlesex and it states the parents were from Old Brentwood and later, New Brentwood. So this is the first record of where this family lived, not far from London.

In 1841 the family was living in Reading, Berkshire, now part of the London metropolitan area but then a country town on the road to London. Charles aged 45, Ann aged 45, and three of their children William, aged 20, Frances aged 11 and Ann aged 7 (the approximate ages from the 1841 census) were living at Cambridge Place. Sarah aged 15 and her sister Sophia aged 20, appear to be servants of the Vines family at Castle Street. None were born in that parish. George Gunnell Payne, their child in the non-conformist registers, is unaccounted for. In 1849 Sophia Payne married Henry Lovelock, a plumber. They were living in Stoke Newington and Sarah was one of the witnesses to this marriage in the parish church.

In the 1851 census there is a record of Sarah Payne, aged 25, a nursemaid to solicitor Richard Bloxham and his wife Elizabeth when they were visiting friends in Kent. The birthplace given for Sarah is Great Marlow, Buckinghamshire. (In the 1861 census the Bloxham family have a house keeper, Ann Payne, a widow aged 56 born in Marlow Buckinghamshire. This could be Sarah’s mother Ann who put her age back, possibly in order to keep employment.) 


Around this time Sarah met John Mulcahy. After banns were published, they were married at St. Mary’s, Whitechapel on March 19th 1852. They were both living in Charlotte Street, Whitechapel at that time, in the east end of London where many Irish, Jews and other migrants had settled. Henry Lovelock and Ann Payne (Sarah’s mother or sister?) were the witnesses to the marriage. Charlotte Street is now incorporated into Fieldgate Street. The church of St. Mary’s, once an ancient church, rebuilt in the 19th century, was destroyed during bombing in World War II.  Sarah may have met John through her father, both being boot makers. Four months after their marriage, their first son John Stephen was born in the newly developing area of Islington at Albion Place, Holloway Road (probably near the present day Furlong Rd intersection).

Charlotte Street Whitechapel, running east-west, south of Whitechapel Road, north of Commercial Road. From Weller’s Map of London 1868. The Mulcahy lived there in 1852.   Source:

Leaving London for Adelaide

In the early 1850s  there was much talk and promotion about the Victorian goldfields in Australia which attracted thousands of British migrants. London at that time was growing fast and although it provided more opportunities than the countryside, there was much social and economic upheaval due to the ongoing effects of the industrial revolution and the enclosure system. Huge influxes of migrants from all over Britain and elsewhere in Europe, many rural poor, could not be well accommodated. Slums grew and city improvers and developers sought to demolish “problem areas” in order to clear away the unsightly, the unhealthy and the criminal. Certainly the condition of most of the areas of London where the Mulcahys had lived would not have encouraged them to remain. Better opportunities could be found in Australia.

South Australia

On July 2nd 1853, John, Sarah, one year old John Stephen and John’s younger sister Ann Mulcahy, boarded the government ship “Standard” at Plymouth dock and set sail for Port Adelaide, arriving there on October 13th. During the 104 day journey, Sarah gave birth to their second son William Henry, one of nine  babies born on the ship. The family settled in Adelaide for a few years and in 1855 their third child, Thomas George, was born. There are two newspaper reports in the South Australian Register of November 23rd and December 16th 1853, regarding a John Mulcahy, shoemaker of Currie Street Adelaide, who was amongst a group of jurors who were fined for “not answering to their names when duly called upon” for jury duty. They were each initially fined 20 shillings, but refusing to pay, were subsequently fined £1 each. If this is our John Mulcahy then he wasted no time in finding employment after arrival in the colony, and as all the other jurers were also tradesmen and businessmen, none would have been too pleased at having to give up their working time to serve as jurors on a murder trial (This was an inquest into the suspicious death of a 12-week-old baby boy).

John’s sister Ann settled in Adelaide and married John Foote in 1857, and later Joseph Townsend. She died there in 1868.

View of the City of Adelaide in the 1850s when the Mulches lived there. Wood engraving by W. Wurzbach 1854  Source: “Gleason's Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion” 1854

Move to Victoria

Around 1857, John, Sarah and their three children travelled to Victoria, settling for a few years at Ballarat, a fast growing town built on the profits of the Victorian gold rush and the scene of the famous Eureka Rebellion of 1854. The next two Mulcahy children were born there: Charles Gunnell in 1857 and Sarah Ann on October 3rd 1859.

By the early 1860s the Mulcahys had moved to Clunes, another busy gold mining town in central Victoria, where they set up their own boot making business. Their sixth child Sophia Elizabeth was born at nearby Mt. Beckworth on October 1st 1861. Records of the Mulcahys' activities in Clunes are found as early as 1863 where the rate books show their residence being on the Back Creek Road. The Burgess’ Voters’ Roll of 1864, shows John Mulcahy as having rateable property in Short Street and in 1866 adding a property in Creswick Road. By this time, their seventh child Eliza Catherine had been born on December 23rd 1865.

On April 10th 1867, their eighth and last child Fanny Caroline was born. Vaccination records show this baby was immunised on December 11th 1867 at the age of 8 months. At about this time, their eldest son John Stephen, had joined his father in the boot business, as was recorded on the shop window in Fraser Street.

“J. Mulcahy & Son” boot shop, Fraser Street Clunes. Said to be John, Sarah and  four of their children, but may be John Stephen Mulcahy and his wife and family.                 Source: Elaine Medlin

Upper Fraser Street, Clunes c1886 showing Robertson’s Butchery which was next to  Mulcahy’s Boot Shop.                Source: Clunes Historical Society

Through the 1870s the Mulcahys owned property in Thornton and Short Streets as well as renting property on Creswick Road. In 1875, son John Stephen married Cornish girl Margaret Roberts. John Stephen became a very active community member involving himself in many sporting clubs, social and community groups and later moved to the Melbourne suburb of Auburn and continued his association with his home town through the “Clunes in Melbourne” social group. He also remained in the boot business as a boot dealer. In 1878 John and Sarah’s second eldest son William Henry, a miner at the time and later a carter and driver, married local Creswick girl Phillippa Grace Perry. They also eventually moved to Melbourne living in the suburbs of North Melbourne, Carlton and later Essendon.

John and Sarah Mulcahy, probably taken at Clunes, Victoria.                                    Source: Elaine Medlin

Family tragedies

The early 1880s saw two family tragedies. The first was on November 3rd 1882 when son Thomas George was killed in a Ballarat mining accident. He was 27 years old and unmarried. The news reports tell how he fell down a shaft at the Williams Freehold Mine, Redan:

“…The evidence showed the men were coming to the surface at the change of shift, and had arrived at no. 1 plat. The three had started up the logging (the machinery was under repair) when the deceased missed his hold and fell to the next level. When taken up he was alive and spoke, but he died almost immediately afterwards. The men could have reached the surface by means of a windlass and rope, but preferred climbing up the logging. Mr. Stewart, Inspector of Mines, gave evidence that the shaft was in good repair, and that he could not discover the exact spot where deceased lost his hold, or the cause of it….” (The Argus 3/11/1882)

The cause of death was a fractured skull and internal injuries.

The next year in 1883, there was another very sad occurrence when the son of Margaret and John Stephen Mulcahy, Richard Charles, died at theage of 5 years.

Moves to Melbourne

Eventually all the Mulcahys left Clunes for Melbourne. In 1886 Sophia Elizabeth, a “costumier”, and John Harrington Langdon, a railway employee from Beaufort near Ballarat, married at her brother William’s home in Palmerston Street Carlton. Over the years she moved from the inner suburbs, and when widowed lived in Oakleigh and Malvern. In January 1891, Charles Gunnell Mulcahy, a compositor, married his housekeeper, a widow Charlotte Mary Snellgrove. He later moved to Sydney. On his marriage certificate he describes his father’s occupation as a “foot costumier”! 1891 is also the earliest record of John and Sarah in Melbourne, when they set up house (and probably shop) at 8 Toorak Road South Yarra. It was here in June that Fanny Caroline married George Vining Rogers, a mercantile clerk from South Australia. Also married at this address were Eliza Catherine to Samuel Joseph Lanceter, an assistant manager born in Warrnambool. They eventually lived in The Broadway in Camberwell, and later in Caulfield.

Primitive Methodists and Bible Christians

All of John and Sarah’s children were married by Non-conformist ministers, some Primitive Methodists and some Bible Christians. These evangelistic forms of Methodism eventually became absorbed into the Methodist church by the early 20th century and like most other Protestant religions amalgamated into the Uniting Church by the 1970s. Their origins and greatest followers were amongst the English working classes and as these were a large proportion of migrants to Australia, their religion came with them. There were many Primitive Methodists and Bible Christians where the Mulcahys settled, in South Australia and in Clunes, and they were also well established in Melbourne in the mid 19th century. The Mulcahys had close connections with these churches,  probably due to their mother’s influence (the Paynes being Non-conformists, specifically Congregationalists, in England). John Stephen was a member of the Clunes Bible Christian church and his brother Charles’ marriage was conducted by the head of the Primitive Methodist church in Melbourne, and performed at the church Manse in Carlton.

Final years

John and Sarah spent their last years together living in Toorak Road South Yarra at number 8, and finally at number 34 in 1901 when Sarah died. She was 77 years old and the cause of her death was heart and kidney disease. She was buried in the Wesleyan section of the Melbourne Cemetery. Sometime after that John went to live with his eldest daughter Sarah Ann Porter and her family at 187 Bell Street Coburg. This is where John died in 1913. He was 89 and died of senile decay. The Clunes Guardian reported:

“The death is announced of a former highly respected resident of Clunes, in the person of Mr. John Mulcahy, in his 90th year. The death took place at Coburg on Saturday last. He leaves a family of three sons and four daughters, one of former - Mr. J. S. Mulcahy - for many years carrying on a business as boot merchant in Fraser Street.”

Looking west along Bell Street Coburg from Hudson Street c1915  Source: PictureVictoria

Click here to continue to Fanny Caroline Mulcahy and George Vining Rogers’ story