Clare County Library
Clare Genealogy
Home | Search Library Catalogue | Foto: Clare Photo Collection | Maps | Places | Archaeology | History | Search this Website | Copyright Notice | What's New

Mary Ellen Fairbairn (nee McNamara) 1881-1955 by Ann Rackstraw

Introduction; Chart: Ancestors and Descendants of Mary Ellen Fairbairn (nee McNamara); Research methodology


Mary Ellen (nee McNamara) Fairbairn was the daughter of James and Bridget (nee Keane) McNamara and the granddaughter of John and Bridget (nee Hart) McNamara and Laurence and Catherine (nee Keane) Keane.

Mary Ellen is remembered with great affection by her grandchildren as a small feisty lady who, in her later life, loved to play Housie (Bingo) and travelled into the city of Melbourne to play Euchre, where she wore an eyeshade and looked like a professional gambler. Although living in small, single fronted houses, Mary Ellen always found a place in her home for various family members when they were in need.

Mary Ellen had survived a tragic childhood, in March 1888, when she was seven, the family moved from the Paris Creek area in SA to Round Hill near Broken Hill NSW. Between August and October of that year the oldest daughter, Kate, became ill and died after four weeks, baby Bridget was born, possibly premature, certainly sickly, and the oldest son, Laurence was injured in an accident and died two weeks later. The mental health of their mother, Bridget, deteriorated, and the family later returned to Adelaide where their father was hospitalized with lead poisoning on 22 June 1890. James then returned to Broken Hill to work, leaving Bridget and the children in Adelaide. On 2 October 1890 their mother was admitted to Adelaide Asylum, and the children were taken in by their uncle, Thomas McNamara, brother of James.

On 12 March 1891, by a Magistrates order, the four surviving children were sentenced to one year in the Magill Industrial School, a State Government children’s home, as destitute children, this sentence was extended a number of times over the years. The children were placed with various families, several placements failed owing to reports of ill-treatment or a decision that a particular person was an unfit guardian.

Mary Ellen finally gained her freedom at age 19, on 5 Sept 1900, at first she worked as a domestic in South Australia, then travelled to Western Australia where she met and married Henry Hunter Fairbairn on 5 Dec 1906.

Mary Ellen was buried in an unmarked grave in Coburg Cemetery with her husband Henry Hunter Fairbairn and three of their children; Annie, Henry David and Jean Mary, who all died under three years of age.

Recently a memorial was installed by John Rackstraw on behalf of all the grandchildren of Mary Ellen (nee McNamara) and Henry Hunter Fairbairn.

This report is not an effort to list all the McNamara and Keane descendants, but to tell the story of Mary Ellen, her grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, nieces and nephews, cousins, and of her husband and their children.

Headstone of Mary Ellen Fairbairn
Photograph by John Rackstraw

Ancestors and descendants of Mary Ellen McNamara

Research Methodology

Although research is not complete and new records constantly become available, this document contains the information collected to date and, hopefully, will be updated in the future. I have recorded the information as accurately as possible. In a few instances where I have made assumptions, these are based on all the information gathered, and the application of logic. If you are aware of any errors please contact me and I will make any necessary corrections in the next edition.

The information has been extracted from records and indexes to records, which are currently available to the public. All Australian states publish indexes to Births, Deaths and Marriages; allthough they vary in date range, they restrict the years available for privacy reasons. For instance, South Australia has published indexes for births to 1928, marriages to 1937 and deaths to 1972; I have supplemented these records by using various cemetery and military records and electoral rolls available on

Because of the expense, I have limited the purchase of birth, death and marriage certificates. Where I have been unable to locate birth records, I have estimated the date and place of birth using marriage records, where available, which contain information provided by the person during their life. Unfortunately it is sometimes necessary to calculate the birth place and date using death records; but this is the least reliable method.

Because of limited information published on indexes, I have been unable to find records of some individuals who may have moved to another state or, in one case, immigrated to the UK.

The information contained in both certificates and indexes may contain errors or inconsistencies. Some parties providing information for registrations were illiterate, therefore the person recording the information wrote down what they heard, and this was complicated in some cases by the informant speaking with a strong Irish brogue. Also indexes are prepared by people, however dedicated and skilled, who have to interpret unfamiliar names and spelling, appalling handwriting and faded ink.

Where there is a variation in the personal name e.g. Ann/Anne/Annie, I have recorded the name as it appear in the birth record or the earliest found record and list the other name/s as variations.

All measurements quoted are Imperial Measurements and all currency quoted is in Sterling; Pounds, shillings and pence.


Publication Details


From Ireland to Australia