Michael and James Gannon

The Gannon family may not have shared the triumphal sentiments expressed in the 22 January 1820 issue of the Dublin based Saunders’s News-Letter, but it was no doubt a relief to many readers that ‘three notorious robbers’ had been put behind bars, pending trial.[i]


The three prisoners were tried at the March Meath Assizes, Home Circuit.[ii]

Robert Gannon, Michael Gannon, and Patrick Gannon, indicted, for that they at Baltrasna, in the County of Meath, on the 10th of January last, did assault Ann Read, and take from her person, silver tea spoons, forty-eight tenpenny tokens, three bankers notes, each for one pound, several broaches, rings and other articles, the property of William Read.

Ann Read, examined by Mr Green – Witness is the wife of William Read; recollects the evening of the 10th of January last; left her own house on that evening and was preparing to go Athlone; left her house about six or seven o’clock on a jaunting car in company with her two daughters[iii]; the car was drove by a neighbour of her’s; some men met her on the road near Baltrasna; it was a dark night; saw three men; they called upon the driver to stop, that he was the King’s prisoner; each of them had a pistol; they made her get out of the car; they took from her three pounds in notes and some silver; they got the key of her trunk, and took tea spoons and broaches. (Here witness identified the several articles produced to her.) The spoons had her and her husband’s initials; witness would not know any of them that so robbed her.

James McCann, an approver, examined by Mr. Greene[iv] – Witness knows the prisoner at the bar; went out with them to commit a robbery the evening they robbed Mrs. Read’s car; on the road saw a jaunting car a distance from Old Castle, and three ladies in it; on coming up, Patrick Gannon asked the man who was leading the horse, for it was a severe night, where he was going; McCann said he was glad to have company; they were walking all behind one another, and sometimes altogether; they stopped the car and took out the ladies; they took from the elder Mrs. Read three pounds in notes and a cartridge of silver; a little desk was broken open, and spoons and other articles taken out; the prisoners and witness travelled all night, and in a house on the bog, near Kinnegad, where the Gannons rested themselves, they auctioned the goods they took from Mrs. Read, and breakfasted in Kinnegad. Witness was taken in Clonmel by Major O’Donohoe’s police, when he made the discovery; Michael Gannon got a small ring, Patrick Gannon a large one; witness got a broach and purchased the spoons, but Gannon held them as he had no money. (Witness here identified Mrs. Read’s property.) – He was out with the Gannons from the 5th of Jan. until the day of the robbery; on that day met a Mr. Nugent; the Gannons intended to waylay him, but he would not give into it.

Cross-examined by Mr. Ball – Mr. Ball, previous to entering upon the cross-examination, stated, that he came forward for them, considering it an act of humanity and charity, their attorney, who received their money, having deceived them, and who never through proper to make his appearance.

James McCann, cross-examined – He had known the prisoners some time; knew them first in Dublin; understood they followed the dealing business; means dealing in cattle, and that they lived in Old Castle[v]; went to the fair of Old Castle with them.

Did you not pass a bad note there? I will not answer that question.

You are on your oath to tell the truth – answer it? I am sworn only to tell what I know of this transaction, and only to give evidence on this trial.

Did you hear of one James Kavanagh? I heard of many a James Kavanagh, and knew many a Kavanagh, but I will not answer such questions.

Did you know one Thomas Wade? I knew a Mr. Wade, but what has that to do with this?

Did you not effect his escape out of Newgate, and afterwards give information and procure his arrest, to obtain the reward? No – it was impossible, I was at the time in Trim gaol, and would be sorry to aid his arrest.

Did you know the person who did aid his escape, and afterwards had him arrested – I mean Howard? I know Howard, he is in Newgate for it?

Is he not your brother-in-law? Yes, Sir.

And this Wade arrested at Clonard, where Howard was stationed? I heard so, but I know nothing of a reward; I never applied for, or had I any thing to do with it.

Were you in Swords in December last? I believe I was, about that time.

Where did you stop when in Swords? In a public house; Gannon passed a bad note there; a constable came in with a note, and asked was William Smith there? Michael Gannon stood up and said, I am. Patrick Gannon and witness then came in, and passed themselves as Dublin Police, and got the note; witness and Patrick, and the real policeman, brought the prisoner, Michael, to Santry to have him committed, and on the road they knocked down the constable and escaped; witness when taken up had some of Mrs. Read’s property on him; on the 30th of December, with the assistance of the Gannons, robbed a Mr. Fishbourne; they had a conversation with the driver of Mrs. Read’s car on the road; had a general conversation with each other about a writing box taken out of the car, which Patrick Gannon broke open.

Laurence Carroll, examined by Mr. Greene – Witness is in the employment of Mrs. Read; was, through the severity of the weather, leading the jaunting car the night it was stopped; observed three men on the road; was directed to stop, that he was the King’s prisoner; did not attend to this, when he was knocked down; does not know any of the party; it was very dark.

Thomas East, examined by Mr. Greene – Witness is Sub Constable of Westmeath; knows prisoners at the bar; identifies them; first saw them on Tuesday evening, the 11th January, at Harwood, very near Kinnegad; met them in a public house; went in consequence of information he received, with several constables; saw them altogether sitting in a small parlour before the fire; witness’s party burst open the door so suddenly, that prisoners did not expect them; they were very drowsy, and appeared fatigued; asked their names; one gave his name as William Robert Smith, the other Mr. Spade, and that they might dig with him as soon as they pleased; prisoners had arms; Robert Gannon had a pistol, and Michael Gannon a case, a powder horn and balls; Patrick Gannon had no arms; found in Patrick Gannon’s breast pocket eleven silver spoons (the spoons which Mrs. Read was robbed of) heard Gannon say be bought them from some dealing person.

Edward Armstrong, examined – Is a Westmeath Constable; accompanied last witness to a public house; arrested three prisoners; searched Michael Gannon; he went by the name of William Robert Smith; found on his person seven silver spoons in his side-pocket, Mrs Read’s property.

George Mathews, a Westmeath Barony Constable, was present with last witness; searched the prisoner Robert Gannon; found a pistol, cartridge, balls, and flint; found nothing else on him; searched Michael Gannon; got on him a watch and steel purse. On his cross-examination admitted this arrest took place in consequence from Thomas McCann, the approver.

On McCann’s being arrested, Howard, who was a Constable, and brother-in-law of McCann, would not allow him to be searched.

Thomas Nugent, Esq examined – This Gentleman said he recollects the 10th of January last; on the evening of that day an attempt was made to stop him by four men; they were in front, and opened as if to let him pass; was coming from Old Castle fair; rode smartly; this was about five o’clock, and about three miles from where Mrs. Read was robbed, the said four men met him; one of them, Robert Gannon, the prisoner, seized the reins, and said he was the King’s prisoner; he put spurs to his horse and escaped being robbed; two shots were fired after him when he had got about a perch, one of which entered the horse’s ribs; lodged information before Mr. Battersby, and identified prisoner in Mullingar gaol.

Cross-examined by one of the Gannons – Did you not in Trim gaol refuse to identify me? No, but I said I would do so when necessary; I could not be mistaken in you; you were in my employment.

Questioned by prisoner – Now, Sir, was it not in consequence of my threatening to bring an action against you that you are now prosecuting? No. The witness here explained the conduct of the prisoner and his family while in his employment – they conducted themselves very improperly, lazy and rogueish; this the prisoner extracted from him.


Mr. Ball – My Lord, as the prisoners’ Attorney has left them in the lurch, will you allow one of them in the side dock? Court – Mr. Ball, I cannot grant your request.

Mr. Ball – Then, my Lord, I must go to them?

Court – Make way for Mr. Ball.

John Gannon, examined by Mr. Ball. The three prisoners at the bar are his sons; recollects the 10th of January last; Robert Gannon left the house, and his niece along with him; recollects it was not the 10th but the 11th, it was on a Tuesday; he slept in his house the on the night before he was to go to Kinnegad to meet his brothers, who promised to send him some money.

James Lynch, examined – Knows the prisoner at the bar; saw him last in Kinnegad; saw McCann the approver there also; this was on the 11th of January; heard them talk about spoons; McCann sold the spoons and watch to Patrick Gannon; about eleven o’clock in the morning, witness gave evidence in consequence of a letter he received from Gannon, in Court. – Have you the letter about you? No, my Lord, it is most probable it is burnt.

Maria Gannon, examined – Witness is first cousin to the prisoner; on the 11th of January went with Robert Gannon to Kinnegad; it was on a Tuesday; heard Mr. McCann offer a parcel of spoons and a black gown; heard argument and a bargain made for purchase of spoons in two bundles; (here the witness identified the spoons claimed by Mrs. Read, as the spoons sold by McCann;) McCann in here presence delivered the spoons, and left the house.

The case here closed on both sides.

The Noble Lord recapitulated the evidence, which, as far as supported by the solitary evidence of the approver, should be maturely considered – Mrs. Reed [sic] spoke of only three persons attacking her car; this differed from the account given by McCann, but then the Jury would consider the darkness of the night, and the manner in which the prisoners conducted themselves; but Mrs. Reed’s [sic] evidence was strongly supported by the testimony of Mr. Nugent. This Gentleman has brought the prisoners altogether in number as described by McCann, within a short distance of where Mrs. Reed [sic] was robbed; he has sworn positively to one of them; the Jury, his Lordship was sure, would maturely consider their verdict; if guilty, they would say so; and if they had a reasonable doubt, they would acquit the prisoners.

The Jury retired for about 20 minutes and found the prisoners all guilty.

Meanwhile, at the same Assizes session, another Gannon brother had made an appearance in court.[vi]


So here we have three Gannon brothers – Robert, Michael and Patrick – ‘dobbed in’ by their accomplice McMann, and ‘capitally convicted’ for highway robbery, which carried a sentence of death. The fate of Robert and Patrick has not been established, but Michael Gannon’s sentence was commuted to transportation for life, to be served in the distant colony of New South Wales. James received a lesser sentence of 14 years transportation, the ‘standard’ punishment meted out for forgery and fraudulent dealings.



The Gannon boys were sons of John Gannon and his wife Alicia (née Gelshin), who were probably the couple (John Gannon and Ally Gilsenan) who married on 22 November 1790, and the family home was at Mullingar, Westmeath, in the province of Leinster.[vii]

As described in 1837, Mullingar, situated on the River Brosna, was a parish, market town and assize town, about 39 miles from Dublin, then supporting a population of 8869 inhabitants, about half of whom lived in the town. While the principal trade was wool, Mullingar also boasted an extensive brewery and malting establishment and two large tanneries. Fairs were held in April, July, August and November, the latter being a great horse fair attended by many English buyers.[viii]

Michael Gannon had been born about 1798 and James Gannon about 1801. As noted above, there were at least two other brothers – Robert and Patrick – and, as we will see, Michael and James had at least two sisters – Catherine and Eliza. John Gannon was a carpenter-joiner by trade, and both Michael and James followed in their father’s footsteps.[ix] John Gannon died sometime before 1842, and possibly in 1835 if he was the John Gannon who died on 28 September 1835 at Mullingar, but his widow lived to celebrate her 100th birthday. Her death, at age 100, was registered at Mullingar in 1870.[x] Following their conviction, Michael and James left their home town for ever and never saw their parents again.

Following their trials, the pair were committed to the Kilmainham Gaol, in Dublin, on 12 July 1820.[xi] Eight days later, 20 July 1820, they were transferred to a vessel to take them from Dublin to Cork where they were to board the convict ship Almorah (2).[xii] Normally this leg of the journey would have taken no more than 40 hours, but bad weather forced a stopover at Waterford where the vessel was windbound until 12 August. Not anticipating such a delay, the only ‘comforts’ provided were straw mats which were laid out over the ballast. There was quite a bit to do prior to sailing to ready the Almorah for her journey. On 12 August, under the supervision of Dr. Trevor, Superintendent and Medical Inspector, Michael and James Gannon were two of 160 convicts who were examined and berthed as they embarked on the Almorah and, having washed, they were provided with the clothing allotted to them. Two days later, Dr. Draper, agent for convicts, sent on board rations – consisting of oatmeal bread, beef and vegetables – for victualling the prisoners and guard. On 17 August Dr. Trevor went on board and mustered the men. The Almorah eventually departed from Cork on 24 August 1820. According to Samuel Alexander, the ship’s surgeon, the voyage was particularly difficult. The vessel leaked, the prisoners suffered from seasickness and an outbreak of dysentery. Alexander partly attributed the prevalence of sickness to the conditions on board the transfer vessel on which the straw mats had become wet and rotten, and “the state of the people being transferred was truly miserable”. Later, some of the crew mutinied and were placed in irons, requiring the Master to requisition prisoners to assist in navigating the ship. The Almorah arrived at Port Jackson on 22 December 1820. The prisoners were landed on 5 January 1821 and forwarded to Parramatta for service with private settlers or to labour on public works.[xiii]

Notwithstanding the ‘difficult’ passage, it seems that the prisoners generally had benefitted from their sea voyage. According to the Sydney Gazette of 6 January 1821:[xiv]

Yesterday morning the prisoners brought by the ships Almorah, Captain Winter, and Asia, Captain Morice, were landed. They were inspected in the forenoon by His Excellency the Governor and Commander in Chief; who was pleased to express to the Commanders and Surgeons of each vessel the highest satisfaction at the appearance of the men, who, one and all, testified to His Excellency their gratitude to the Gentlemen to whose care and tenderness they had been confided by a benign & merciful Government, in the most lively terms of heartfelt praise, acknowledging they had experienced universal kindness and general attention; indeed, their particularly healthy appearance confirmed the expressions of their grateful feelings, which spoke more than language was capable of giving utterance to.

Apart from seemingly appearing fit and healthy, we can get an idea what the Gannon boys looked like from the description recorded in the convict indent. Michael was 5ft 6½ in tall and James stood at 5ft 4in; both were of fair to ruddy complexion with brown hair; Michael’s face was pock pitted and his eyes were hazel; James’ eyes were recorded as ‘dark’.

The September 1822 Muster records James and Michael as working in the Sydney Lumber Yard, one of the biggest centres of convict employment in the early days of Sydney. Nearly 100 years later, historian Charles H. Bertie evoked the scene at the Lumber Yard.[xv]

We are standing at the intersection of Bridge street with George street, looking towards Pitt street, and if, in some previous existence, we were standing there, say in the year 1820, it was a strange sight that met our eyes on the right-hand side of Bridge street, between George and Pitt streets. The place was called the Lumber Yard, and in and out of the buildings that skirted the yard we would see men come dressed in a bizarre costume, half black and half yellow. For these were the convict workshops where the artisans unfortunate enough to be of that company were employed … The men were employed in sawing timber, in carpentering, and making articles of furniture for the Government establishment. They were marched down to the yard in their clanging chains every morning, and back every evening.[xvi]

Earlier in the year Michael Gannon had appeared before the Magistrates Court (Hannibal McArthur and Henry Grattan Douglas Esquires comprising the Bench) at Parramatta on 15 January 1822 on a charge of having been absent for 21 days from his employ. He was sentenced to 50 lashes and ordered to “make up the deficiency of his works”.[xvii]

At this point in the account we will deal separately with Michael and James Gannon (click on the following links).

pdf-image Michael Gannon

pdf-imageJames Gannon

© Leonie Fretwell, 2017


[i] Saunders’s News-Letter, 22 January 1820, p.2. The report was also carried in the “State of Ireland” column of the London newspaper, The Morning Chronicle, 28 January 1820, p.4. During his term as chief secretary of Ireland (1812-18) Robert (later Sir Robert) Peel was responsible for a major modernisation of the police system in Ireland. Peel masterminded an Act, 54, George III, c.131, passed on 25 July 1814, “To provide for the better execution of the Laws in Ireland, by appointing Superintending Magistrates and additional Constables in Counties in certain cases.” On foot of this Act, Peel formed the Peace Preservation Force. The PPF was at the disposal of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland for use in any district that had been ‘proclaimed’ in a disturbed area. The first resident magistrates were appointed under the 1814 Act. (http://irish-police.com/irish-constabularies-1800-1836/).
[ii] Saunders’s News-Letter 15 March 1820, p.2.
[iii] A jaunting car was a light two-wheeled carriage for a single horse, with back to back seats for 2 or four people, and was the typical conveyance for persons in Ireland in the 1800s, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaunting_car.
[iv] In English law an approver is a person who confesses to committing a crime and gives evidence against his or her accomplices.
[v] Oldcastle is a town in County Meath, located approximately 13 miles from Kells. Politically and culturally the area has a strong tradition of support for radical republicanism; a local paper published in the town in the early 1900s gave its name to one of the Irish political parties, Sinn Féin, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oldcastle,_County_Meath.
[vi] Freeman’s Journal, 11 March 1820, p.3.
[vii] There is some uncertainty about Alicia’s maiden name – alternative suggestions include Kinsela or Gilsenan; Findmypast, Ireland Roman Catholic Parish Marriages, Meath Parish Register, Marriages 1790.
[viii] Samuel Lewis, A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, S. Lewis & Co., London, 1837. Today Mullingar remains a significant commercial location, famous for the neighbouring lakes, Lough Owel, Lough Ennell and Lough Derravaragh, and for the export of Mullingar pewter – Mullingar, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mullingar.
[ix] Philip Geeves, ‘Gannon, Michael (1800–1881)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gannon-michael-3587/text5557. However, one of the witnesses at the trial of Michael Gannon suggested that the Gannon brothers were cattle dealers.
[x] Findmypast, Ireland Roman Catholic Parish Burials Transcription; Ancestry, Ireland, Civil Registration Deaths Index, 1864-1958.
[xi] Findmypast, Irish Prison Registers 1790-1924 Transcription. Kilmainham Gaol was opened in 1796 as the County Gaol for Dublin. Over 4,000 prisoners were transported to Australia via Kilmainham Gaol, Visitors’ Guide, The Office of Public Works, http://www.heritageireland.ie/en/media/39954%20KilmainhamGaol.pdf.
[xii] Ancestry, New South Wales, Australia, Convict Indents, 1788-1842; Ancestors of Griffith Parry and Michael Gannon, http://freepages.family.rootsweb.Ancestry/~-sherring/parry/1015.html. Biographical Database of Australia (BDA), http://www.bda-online.org.au, Biographical report for Michael Gannon.
[xiii] Free Settler or Felon? “Convict Ship Almorah 1820”, http://www.jenwilletts.com/convict_ship_almorah_1820.htm.
[xiv] The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 6 January 1821, p.3.
[xv] Ancestry, New South Wales, and Tasmania, Australia Convict Musters, 1806-1849.
[xvi] Charles H Bertie, The Story of Old George Street, Tyrrell’s Limited, Sydney 1920, http://www.oldgeorgestreet.com/Bridge-Street.html.
[xvii] Ancestry, New South Wales, Australia, Colonial Secretary’s Papers 1788-1856, Returns of Proceedings taken at the Magistrates Court Parramatta for the Quarter ending March 31st 1822.

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1828 New South Wales, Australia Census (TNA Copy)
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Parramatta Chronicle and Cumberland General Advertiser)
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