Family Ties

Samuel Wright II

In 1842 after 20 years in Australia Samuel Wright visited his home in Ireland, presumably on the death of his brother. In August 1843 he sailed on the Strathedon which travelled to England via Madras. Captain Wright was in his late fifties when he arrived back in County Cavan. His father and eldest brother Thomas had died in 1816 and his mother ten years later. Despite the potato famine he found his brother Edward and wife Jane (Wimp) and their children alive and well. Mary Ann was 27, Caroline 26 and Willy (Samuel William) 22. We don’t know whether his other brother James was still alive at this time but he certainly spent some time with his sister-in-law Elizabeth Ann and her children Martha, Charlotte and Samuel. Samuel was then almost ten and the girls a little older. These five photos are from very old glass slides and are believed to be James and Elizabeth Wright their son Samuel and his sisters Charlotte and Martha.

James WrightEliz Wright

samuel and sisters

Nothing is known of how Samuel’s parents met nor where and when they were married. It is believed they lived in Shercock but he was born in Swanlinbar. By the late 18th century Swanlinbar was one of Ireland’s foremost spas and it is quite believable that Elizabeth was ‘taking the waters’ when her third child was born.

The young Samuel was very well educated. In his early years he was taught at home by a governess. Then he went to school in Dublin and later attended King William's College (KWC), Isle of Man from August 1843 - May 1844. It is very likely that he was away at school when his uncle arrived. KWC was one of the first public schools to be founded in the 19th Century - built from the proceeds of the Bishop Barrow Trust it opened in August 1833 and still continues, very successfully, today. Built in 1830 it stands at the head of Castletown Bay, and is of mixed early English and Elizabethan character. It extends S.E. by E. and N.W. by W. 210 feet. The transept at right angles to this direction in the centre of the building, including the Tower and Chapel, is 135 feet. The Tower, placed between the Chapel and the rest of the building, rises to a height of 115 feet.

Around the time young Samuel was a pupil –‘the ordinary course embraced the Greek and Latin classics, Hebrew, with Greek, Latin and English composition, history and geography, the mathematics, with mensuration, fortification and navigation. The modern languages and drawing are optional. The course of religious instruction is according to the doctrine and discipline of the Church of England. The tuition-fees vary, according to age, from £4 to £10 per annum. The board 30 guineas.’

At ten, Samuel was probably a few years older than most new boys. About one in three of the pupils came from off the island.
“What sort of a Crossing ?"— the familiar greeting from the quay as the boat steals up to her berth. And it stands for something that marks us off from other schools, something not always of pleasure but always of adventure, making for virility, stirring in our blood a touch of the old Viking spirit that built the Empire. – from an early school history.

KWCKWC today

Life at KWC around 1844 is described by (Professor) E. Spencer Beesly

When I went to King William’s College after the summer vacation of 1846, Farrar and I were both fifteen, he being a few months my junior. He had been there for several years, and had just reached the highest form. I was placed in the same form, and we shared the same study. We at once became great friends. I had been taught entirely by my father, and had read, in a loose, slovenly way, a great deal more Latin and Greek than Farrar had; but he was the more accurate scholar, and he always beat me in examinations. Our study was a tiny room high up in the tower, just big enough to hold our two chairs, a table, and a wooden coal box of cubical shape with a cover, which furnished a third seat. The table must have been a very small one, for I remember that our two writing-desks, when opened, completely covered it. The room was lofty, relatively to its other dimensions, and in winter very cold. Our coal box was filled up once a week, and its capacity was not great, for one of us used to carry it up to the study. We could, therefore, not afford to have even the smallest fire, except in the evening ; and very cold we often were as we sat at our work. Everything was on the same Spartan scale. For breakfast and tea we had thick pieces of buttered bread : for dinner one very scanty helping of meat, with boiled rice or swedes instead of bread or potatoes. Bread was very dear that winter, and the potato crop had perished. On Sundays there was pudding, and on Thursdays treacle roll ; on other days no second course, My recollection of those dinners is vivid. ‘I used to rise from them almost as hungry as when I sat down. Silence was strictly enforced. If a boy was observed whispering to his neighbour he was " stood out," and lost the remainder of his meal.

I do not know that we had any claim to a more liberal dietary. The charge for our board and education was very low, and I dare say the margin of profit was small enough. I do not remember that there was any illness while I was there. The situation was a very healthy one on the seashore, and the schoolrooms and dormitories were airy and not overcrowded. There were four boarding-houses. Ours occupied a wing of the college, and consisted, I think, of about forty boys.

The classical teaching was poor, the mathematical —a subject in which my education had been entirely neglected — was, I believe, better. Æschylus, Demosthenes, Virgil, and Tacitus were the classical subjects that year in our form. Our Greek and Latin composition did not go beyond Kerchever Arnold’s books. We were made to write English verse sometimes, in my opinion a most useful and humanising exercise for schoolboys. Farrar shone at this; and I, and others, caught some of his enthusiasm for poetry. But we were almost entirely without books, and we had access to no library. A few well-thumbed novels, liable to confiscation, circulated surreptitiously. We had no news-papers, and knew nothing of what was going on in the world. In the winter there was postal communication with England only twice a week.

The religious teaching, of which we had a good deal, was of the narrowest evangelical type. It was for that reason that Farrar and I and many other boys had been sent there. But none of the masters had any religious influence that I know of. The moral tone, at the beginning of my time, was neither better nor worse than in most schools ; but in the course of the year it was much injured by some new arrivals. Perhaps this deterioration was confined to our house; I remember little or nothing about the others. Farrar’s influence was always exercised on the side of all that was honourable, high-minded, humane, and refined. He was already as a boy what he was afterwards as a schoolmaster, a "preacher of righteousness" and not a preacher only, but a shining example and a support to all who were well inclined. Having never left my home till I went to King William’s College, I was quite unprepared for the difficulties, dangers, and temptations of school-life, and I had great reason to be thankful that I was from the first thrown into close intimacy with so valuable a friend.

In a well-organised school, where his remarkable ability and untiring industry would have procured for him monitorial authority, Farrar, who had plenty of pluck, would have had the means of repressing and punishing evil-doers. But there was no such organisation at King William’s College. The law of the strongest prevailed, and there were many older and stronger than Farrar. But his approbation and friendship were valued by the better sort, and many, no doubt, were kept straight by unwillingness to lose his esteem.

Games were not cultivated in any systematic way. Cricket was as primitive and unconventional as upon a village green. There was no regular eleven. Foot-ball was pursued with vigour, but with no particular rules. I do not remember that Farrar played cricket, but he was fond of foot-ball and fives.

I left King William’s College at midsummer 1847. Farrar had to return there after the vacation. He wrote to me very despondently. The examination at mid-summer had placed him at the head of the school. There were no more honours for him to gain. He had learnt all that any one there could teach him. It was a dreary outlook for an ardent young fellow conscious of his own ability and thirsting for better instruction. But before the end of the year his prospects brightened. His parents returned from India. His father became the incumbent of a parish in the north of London, and Farrar, living at home, pursued his studies at King’s College. I was with a private tutor at Brixton, so we saw one another from time to time. During 1850-1853, while he was at Cambridge and I at Oxford, we did not meet, but we kept up a correspondence. In 1854 we were again thrown together as assistant masters at Marlborough.

I am sorry that I have not been able to paint my old school in more favourable colours. My friendship with Farrar is the only pleasant recollection that I have of it. I believe it is now an excellent school."

Why Samuel should leave the school after such a short time is unknown. It may signal the death of his father or be the result of a traumatic incident in January 1844.

Between two and three o'clock of the morning of January 14th, 1844, a fire broke out in the dining-hall of the Principal, in the western wing of the College; its origin has never been discovered. Owing to the circumstance of the entire roof of the building being connected throughout, and two wainscoted and floored corridors running from end to end, the flames spread with fearful rapidity, and in a very short time consumed (with the exception of the greater part of the Vice-Principal's residence) the entire building, tower and chapel. There was a great destruction of property. The library was all but wholly consumed. Most providentially no accident of life or limb occurred, though the inmates of the College numbered nearly 100.

During the rebuilding the work of the School was carried on at houses in the neighbourhood and the buildings were re-occupied shortly in June 1844. Assuming Samuel did not return to KWC it seems that this decision was made while his uncle was in Shercock. Captain Wright, with thirty cabin passengers, sailed on the
Persian from London (via Portsmouth) on 18 September 1844 and arrived in Sydney 27 December. He had been absent from his property in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales and his duties as magistrate for nearly a year. In 1847, it was decided that Samuel, should go to Australia and live with him.

His cousin Willy, then 27, seemed to relish the opportunity to see the world by accompanying the younger boy on the voyage. Samuel William Wright was the only son of Edward Wright and Jane Wympes . The two left Ireland and travelled to Liverpool where, on 26 November 1847, they boarded the 379 ton barque
Reginal Heber commanded by Captain John McFarlane. Their companions as cabin passengers were a Mr. McFarlane and Mr. E.H. Stead; in steerage were the brothers Charles and Henry Bromley. After spending both Christmas and New Year at sea Captain McFarlane deposited the two in Sydney four months and two days later. Samuel was then fourteen and William 28.