The Lyons Families in Colac

By Judy Newman

The history of the Lyons families who settled in the Colac district, Victoria, in the mid-19th century,  begins with the arrival of Denis and Mary Lyons and most of their family, from Cork, Ireland,  into Sydney in 1836, and the arrival of Michael Lyons from Athy, Nicholastown, Co. Kildare, Ireland, and some of his family members, into Melbourne in 1841. While these two families share the same name, they were not related. Lyons is a common Irish surname.

Denis and Mary Lyons had two sons and seven daughters, and they arrived in Sydney with six of these daughters. It would appear that the eldest son Denis, never migrated to Australia, and that a younger daughter Catherine didn’t arrive in Port Phillip Bay until 1841. It’s not really known when Patrick, the younger son, came to Australia. He may have accompanied Catherine, but he never married and died in Bendigo in 1914. Five of the daughters (Abigail, Elizabeth, Ellen, Bridget, Mary Anne) had their passages paid for in a bounty scheme to bring more women into the colony of New South Wales and the parents paid for the sixth – Anne Honora.

Denis found work quickly as a Superintendent of the Government Domain in Parramatta and as a building supervisor of the new penal settlement on Cockatoo Island where the family lived. Elizabeth and Abigail, the older girls, found work as housemaids. Abigail married a German man, Phillip Brumm in 1844. Phillip had arrived from London in 1840 but his origins are unknown. They were publicans in George Street, Sydney.

Denis and Mary Lyons moved to Melbourne in 1839 with their unmarried children. Denis worked as a bailiff, they lived in Lonsdale Street, and were active members of the St Francis Church. Ellen married William Scott and they lived in Melbourne until her untimely death in 1842. Bridget married Cornelius Donnelly in 1852 and they moved permanently to Tasmania. Mary Anne married wealthy Melbourne businessman James Quirk in 1845 and they lived in Carlton. Catherine married William Riordan, they had one child and they lived in Bendigo where she died in 1890. Elizabeth married Michael Lyons in Melbourne in 1842 and they moved to the Colac district. Anne married a French beekeeper, Jean Baptist Dutfoy, in 1848, and they joined Elizabeth and Michael Lyons in the Colac district, as did Abigail and Phillip Brumm, who left the hotel business in Sydney. So three of the daughters of Denis and Mary Lyons made their home in Colac at one point.

When Robert, Dorothy, and Judy Brumm ( with other family members) travelled to Colac in 2018, it was to research the lives of their great grandparents Phillip and Abigail Brumm. Phillip and Abigail had run a wild pub in Sydney, and they were reported in the papers for breaking licensing laws, keeping a ‘disorderly’ house, and domestic violence against each other. Perhaps joining Elizabeth and Michael Lyons in Colac in 1849 was a fresh start. They brought their  three children with them, and another two sons, William, and Charles, were born in Colac. Colac was on the edge of the burgeoning Victorian Gold Rush and opportunities were afforded.

Despite having lived in Colac for a few years and having two children there, we found the footprint of the Brumms in Colac to be very small. Because it was so early in the life of the district, we found no school or church records. I have found reference to Phillip running a bakery called The Germany Baker but mostly he worked for his brother-in-law Michael Lyons in his hotels. This was a volatile relationship and the biggest ‘footprint’ that Phillip left behind was in the reporting of the Colac courts where he was in trouble for fighting, drunkenness,  and stealing. Phillip and Abigail moved to Tasmania for a while where another child was born but moved back to Victoria for Phillip to work as a gold miner. Their last child, our grandfather Robert, was born in Bendigo in 1858. Phillip was part of the Eureka Stockade. He was committed to the Yarra Bend Lunatic Asylum in 1859 and Abigail literally dropped dead, drunk, in the streets of Bendigo, leaving behind their seven destitute children. They were taken in at first by the Bendigo Benevolent Society but were then ‘rescued’ by Abigail and Elizabeth’s sister Mary Quirk and moved to Melbourne.

Michael Kerwin Lyons arrived in Australia with his father’s sister Maura. His siblings who joined him later in Australia were Bridget, Patrick, Margaret, and Lucy. Bridget Lyons migrated with her husband Martin Anthony in 1854 and their six children, and it is their graves that we located in Colac Cemetery in 2022. Lucy Lyons travelled to Australia with Bridget and Martin and their family. She met a man on the ship called Daniel Tracey (Treacy) who she married in the same year, at Michael Lyons’ Victoria Hotel (sometimes called Lyons’ Hotel) in Rokewood. Dan Tracey was a wheelwright and coach builder, who later became the local Colac undertaker. They lived in the district and Lucy died in Colac, but Dan died in Yarra Bend and was buried from the home of his daughter and son-in-law in North Fitzroy . Margaret married Joseph Scott in 1858. She lived in Murray Street, Colac and died there in 1895. She and Joseph are buried in the Colac Cemetery, but we could not locate their graves. Patrick Lyons married Margaret Keefe and they lived in the Colac and Rokewood areas. Patrick Lyons is reported to be buried in the Rokewood Cemetery, but I have not found a record of his grave but a Margaret Lyons, presumably his wife, was buried there in 1858 in an unmarked grave.

Elizabeth and Michael Lyons had a successful and documented life in the Colac district as publicans, farmers, business owners, and in Michael’s case, a land developer. Elizabeth and Michael Lyons were living in Barabool, near Colac when their eldest son John Perry, was born in 1843. Their daughter Mary was born in nearby Ceres in 1845. They were living in Rokewood in 1845 but the next son Maurice was born in Geelong in 1847. Their other children were all born in Colac – Robert 1949, Michael 1851, and Ellen, 1852.

Michael was the second person to buy significant tracts of land in Colac. He purchased a seven acre block with a frontage to the main street as well as a five acre block between Polwarth Street and the Commons School Reserve. His True Briton hotel, Colac’s second, was built to the rear of this land, known as Lyons Estate, in 1849. It was nominally in Murray Street but fronted Little Wood Street.Gold was discovered on Michael’s property in the early years of the gold rush, inflating the land’s value considerably. There are claims the land had been falsely ‘salted’ with gold. Michael sold his hotel at great profit but bought it back for a nominal price shortly afterwards.

The True Briton burnt down a few years later. Michael retreated to Rokewood after this, where he owned the Victoria Hotel, a large house, and acres of land. In Rokewood Michael was also trustee of the land set apart for the use of the Roman Catholic Church.On the Lyons Estate Michael, a committed Catholic, having earlier supported the building of St Mary’s Church in Geelong, provided a barn, known as Lyons’ Barn, for a place of worship for the temperate Wesleyans until their church was built. He thus supported other early European settlers with limited resources. There is still a Lyons Street in East Colac today. When he returned from Rokewood in 1853, he built the Bridge Inn Hotel, in a building that was once a store, in Murray Street. This hotel later become the Perseverance Hotel. When Michael died in 1857, aged just 40,  the licence for this hotel had not been finalized and it wasn’t until 1860 that his widow Elizabeth, became Colac’s first female publican when the licence was granted to her. Elizabeth died later that same year and their orphaned children were also taken in by her sister, Mary Quirk of Melbourne.

Michael is listed as residing in Rokewood at the time of his death, but he died in nearby Dereel. Perhaps he and Elizabeth were visiting Elizabeth’s sister Anne and her husband Jean Baptiste Dutfoy who lived and had bees there. Jean Baptiste and Anne lived in the Colac district for decades. Jean Baptiste died in 1898 and he is buried in Rokewood and the Lyons family descendants found his gravestone there in 2022. Anne Dutfoy died circa 1913 in Cardigan, near Ballarat.

Descendants of the Brumm & Lyons families – Judy Newman, Dorothy Healy and Bob Brumm on their 2018 visit to the Lyons grave in Geelong Eastern Cemetery

Because Elizabeth Lyons died and was buried in Colac, she became part of the Almost Forgotten Project conducted by the Colac Family History Association which researches people buried in Colac before 1900. It is through their Facebook activity about the project that Robert, Dorothy, and Judy met their previously unknown cousins, brothers John, Tony and Michael Lyons and were able to travel with them to Colac and surrounds in 2022. John, Tony, and Michael are the great grandchildren of Michael and Elizabeth’s son Michael Lyons. The two families are further connected because Robert Lyons, another son of Michael and Elizabeth, married his first cousin Lizzie Brumm, daughter of Abigail and Phillip Brumm.

Colac & District Family History Group volunteers have been the critical link in driving the research and connections for the descendants of the Lyons family in this area. Dawn Peel, Colac’s eminent historian, has deepened our knowledge of  the Lyons family and what life was like in the early days of Colac. It is unknown where Elizabeth is actually buried in the Colac Cemetery as not all records from these early days have survived. Michael Lyons is buried in the Geelong General Cemetery. In the same grave are John Perry, Michael and Elizabeth’s son and a Mary Lyons 1783 – 1848.

This Mary Lyons is considered to be Michael’s aunt who travelled to Australia with him. Certainly, the dates are correct, and it is easy to see how Maura becomes Mary. However, Maura did not marry and one reference I found had this Mary listed as a widow. Another record has Maura dying in Colac in 1849 but being buried in Grant, Victoria. The other possibility is that this Mary Lyons is the mother of Elizabeth Lyons, Abigail Brumm and Anne Dutfoy, her daughters, who all lived in Colac. Mary did move to Colac from Melbourne to be near her family after the death of her husband Denis in 1846 and this is where she died. The death date on the headstone is different by one year from what is recorded by some as her death year and there is no record of her burial in Colac. This is not surprising though given the date – either 1848 or 1849. If this is not her, then there is no record of her being buried in Geelong either.

The Lyons families, through the children of Denis and Mary Lyons from Cork, and Michael Lyons and his aunt and siblings from Kildare, are very early settlers in the Colac district and  presumably there are people living in Colac now who are their descendants – Michael Lyons’ sisters who came to Colac with him all married and had large families. But others left the district, especially those whose parents died young, and moved to places as far away as Maryborough and Rockhampton in Queensland, and this is where our Lyons and Brumm stories grow from.

When the Brumm descendants visited the Geelong General Cemetery in 2018 it was clear that someone had paid to have the Lyons family plot refurbished. There was also a marker there with a link to a Lyons family Australia website. As it turned out, it was John, Tony and Michael Lyons and their sisters Margaret and Rosemary who were responsible. If it wasn’t for a shared love of family history and the amazing work of Colac & District Family History Group volunteers, we may never have met. How privileged we are.