Daniel Joseph Brosnahan’s war

One of the unexpected results of my visit to the ‘Peg Leg” Brosnahan family reunion in December 2017 was the gift of a photograph of my grandfather, Daniel Joseph Brosnahan, from his WWI service in the Middle East.  Tim Brosnahan had come across it among his family’s photos and knew it was not “one of ours” and asked me if I knew who it was.  I immediately recognised Grandad and was very grateful when Tim gave me the photograph.  The fact it was in his family’s collection seemed like another indication of the familial links between the Peg Leg Brosnahans and our family.  The photograph shows two members of the 16th (New Zealand) Company of the Imperial Camel Corps to which my grandfather was transferred from the Canterbury Mounted Rifles in October 1916.  His friend was a fellow Lance Corporal in the Company, Robert McSkimming from Patearoa in Otago who was killed in fighting near Jaffa in November 1917.


I wrote a piece for the extended family about my grandfather’s war experience some years ago and I thought I’d add that here – with some edits – to make it more easily accessible to any who were interested.  I will also add a new gallery of a collection of photographs that seem to have been taken by Grandad and that turned up unexpectedly a few years ago.  There are just over 50 images, but quite a few of them are blurry or faded or basically unusable.  I’ve made a selection of the others and put them here as a common resource for the family and as a general indication of the environments in which Grandad and his mates had to operate in Palestine.  It was very tough country and the fighting against the Ottoman Turks was equally tough – as can be seen from the freshly dug graves that feature in some of the photos.

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Grandad’s photos: the freshly dug grave of Lance Corporal John Budge, KIA 13 November 1917.

Freshly dug graves in the desert.


Grandad’s photos: two more freshly dug graves in the desert

Unfortunately we don’t have captions to identify the places or people in the photos and the sequence is a complete guess too.  Nonetheless the photos are a real family treasure, illustrating some of the things Grandad shared with us about his war experiences – like camel racing in the desert – and so worth sharing.

And here is my account of Grandad’s war distributed some years ago at a family reunion of his descendants in 1999:

Grandad’s War

All of us who remember Daniel Brosnahan will recall his pride in his military service during the First World War. Personally, I can remember him telling of his visit to the pyramids in Egypt, of camel racing in the desert and of his gunshot ankle. My Dad recalls a rare anecdote of a midnight rendez-vous in the desert with Arab irregulars led by T E Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia). He was a proud participant in Dawn Parades and the annual Anzac Day commemoration. And of course all of the grandsons were promised Grandad’s gun if they got their haircut to his satisfaction – from which I formed the distinct impression that the .22 rifle in his wardrobe cupboard was THE rifle, as used in the Egyptian desert. So for me at least the war experience was a big part of my mental map of who Grandad Brosnahan was. In researching the Brosnahan family history I used military records to track down a number of the men of the war generations. In doing so I came across a few more details of Grandad’s war which I would like to share with the rest of the family as we gather together in 1999. Reflecting on the reality of his war service underlines how lucky we all are to be here today. Grandad was lucky to survive and might easily have suffered the fate of the two cousins who posed proudly with him in their uniforms in the photograph below. These two brothers, Michael (rear) and Charles Scannell (right), died within days of each other, Michael in action at Messines in June 1917 and Charles soon after from illness in South Africa after an accident on his troopship. So of the three, Daniel alone returned to South Canterbury to live out his natural term of life.


Daniel Joseph Brosnahan enlisted In the New Zealand Army on the 27 March 1916 for the duration of the conflict. He was a 22-year-old farm labourer working for his father John Hugh Brosnahan at Levels. He had some military experience already, under the compulsory military training scheme that saw both he and his older brother Hugh serve as Territorials in the 8th South Canterbury Mounted Rifles in the pre-war years.  His first four months in the army were spent in training in New Zealand. He left as part of the 16th Reinforcements to join the Expeditionary Force in Egypt, disembarking at Suez from the SS Mooltan on 21 September 1916. He was destined to become part of the Imperial Camel Corps, a composite force of soldiers from throughout the British Empire who were to use camels for long range operations in the hostile environment of the desert. Accordingly he spent the next few months at Abbassia on the outskirts of Cairo where he learnt how to handle and care for a camel.

Some of Grandad’s photos – he is circled in red where he appears

In January 1917 he was posted to the 16th (New Zealand) Company of the Imperial Camel Corps at Port Said.   He was in the field from 1 October 1917 and on 1 December was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal. He then spent a short time at the School of Instruction at the Ferry Post. His military record gives few clues as to what he was involved with until it records his wounding on 30 March 1918. This gives us a fix on where he was and with whom. And as luck would have it, a book With the Cameliers in Palestine was published in Dunedin in 1938 by one of New Zealand officers of the I.C.C., Major John Robertson. This provides some very useful detail of the action in which Grandad took his wound – the raid on Amman by Shea’s Group in late March 1918.

The raid on Amman (now the capital of Jordan) was part of an attack on the Hejaz railway on the high land east of the Jordan River. It aimed at the destruction of a railway tunnel and viaduct at Amman to disrupt Turkish communication lines with their base. The raiding party was under the command of Major-General Shea and known as “Shea’s Group”. It was made up of the Anzac Mounted Division, the 60th Infantry Division and the Imperial Camel Brigade. Amman was just 30 miles east of Jericho which had recently been recaptured by the Anzacs, but it stood on a plateau 3,500 feet above sea level. There were no bridges across the Jordan river and no passable roads beyond it. A pontoon bridge was strung across the Jordan after a small group of soldiers had swum across the river under cover of night on March 22.

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Grandad’s photo: possibly of the Jordan river crossing on 22 March 1918

The river crossing was a bit of a nightmare. The pontoon bridge had been strung across in less than eight hours, in the dark and under heavy fire from the Turks who were well positioned in tamarisk trees along the river bank. The river was swollen and discoloured, tall trees on either side cut off the view while dead Turks and British casualties still littered the river bank. Each Camelier had one unwilling camel in front and a second even more unwilling beast behind him. The sound of artillery and machine gun fire could be heard not far ahead.   The Cameliers pushed on across the river and up into the foothills, halting by the Wadi Kefrein in the afternoon. Worse was to come.

The next evening the Cameliers left their camp at Talat ed Dumm on the Judean hills and marched all night down the steep mountain road, through Jericho and across the Jordan Valley to within half a mile of the northern shore of the Dead Sea.  At 6pm on 23 March the Cameliers mounted and rode up the wadi. As they entered the hills it began to rain and soon the track became a slippery quagmire. The country soon proved too difficult for the force’s artillery support, which was forced to retreat – its absence to be keenly felt in the battle ahead. The party was to climb over 4000 feet (its point of departure by the Dead Sea being almost 1300 feet below sea level) up steep rocky mountain sides. Camels were not designed to follow the steep, and now muddy, goat tracks being used and had to be driven hard by their riders. All night they struggled on through the dark and rain and mud. When dawn broke they found themselves atop a mountain plateau but the mist and cloud prevented any view of their surroundings. On they pushed with frequent stops as animals fell and blocked the track. Through the day and into the next night they struggled on, the rain and mud seemingly without end. At daybreak the next day the rain finally ceased, the countryside opened up and at midday a halt was called. After a quick meal those not on duty turned in and slept until well into the next morning – after 80 hours strenuous travel since their last sleep.

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Grandad’s photo: maybe of the climb up through the mountain tracks on 23-24 March 1918

The Fourth Battalion of the Imperial Camel Corps was despatched to demolish part of the Turkish railway, blowing up five miles of track between Libben and Kissir, before rejoining the right flank of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles for its attack on the Turkish position at Amman.

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Grandad’s photo: possibly of the Hejaz railway that was the object of the raid

They were subjected to attack after attack on the 28 and 29 March but held these off and gradually advanced toward Hill 3039 overlooking the town of Amman. At 1.30am on the 30th they advanced on the hill over a flat tableland of about half a mile, driving the Turks from their positions at the point of the bayonet. A second advance carried them to the crest of the hill overlooking the town where the only protection was from whatever stones and rocks could be gathered together – the soil was too shallow for the digging of trenches.

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Grandad’s photo: I.C.C. cameleers in action

All day long this exposed line was subjected to heavy fire from Turkish artillery and machine-guns and counter-attack after counter-attack from the Turks. The 16th New Zealand Company (including Lance Corporal DJ Brosnahan) was on the extreme right flank and one Turkish advance advanced almost to the muzzles of their rifles. Lieutenant Crawford of the 16th moved out openly to direct his men and was struck down, Lieutenants Thorby and Adolph led charge after charge until mortally wounded. Corporal MacMillan of the Lewis Gun Section was seen advancing and firing from his hip until he too fell. Trooper McConnell, one of the regular packmen, had a supply of bombs and throw them with deadly efefct until he too fell pierced with bullets. “The same spirit animated the whole Company, and the enemy was held off till darkness fell.”   Sometime during this action on 30 March Grandad suffered a gunshot wound to his right ankle.

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Grandad’s photo: I.C.C. machine-gunners

With Turkish reinforcements coming from two directions, and no artillery support, the position was deemed not worth the cost of defending any further and a retreat to the Jordan Valley was ordered. But the evacuation of the wounded was the next challenge. The casualties were heavy and the dressing station was a mile and a half behind the line across the flat table-top exposed to artillery and machine-gun fire. Stretcher bearers were frequently hit while crossing it. From this dressing station to the next clearing station was a further ten miles. Those who could not walk or ride had to be carried in camel cacolets or tied to the backs of horses.

“The tracks were so rough and slippery that time after time the animals fell, causing intense agony to the sufferers on their backs … A camel cacolet consisted of an arrangement of two stretchers, hung one on each side of a special saddle, in which the patients lay. Two men had always to be carried, the weight of one balancing that of the other, on the opposite side … This method of evacuating the wounded was an agonizing experience to them, but it was the only available means of saving their lives or preventing them from falling into the hands of the Turks. From the clearing station the wounded were conveyed to the Jordan Valley in limbers, another ten miles, and from there motor ambulances carried them to the railway, some seventy miles from the front line. All cases that could be safely moved were then forwarded in hospital trains to Cairo, a further journey of over two hundred miles, the total journey from the front sometimes occupying a fortnight or more.”

Grandad reached the 45th Stat. Hospital at El Arish on the 4 April, then the 44th at Kautara on 7 April. The next day he was moved to the 27th General Hospital at Abbassia and on the 12 April to the Aotea Convalescent Home at Heliopolis. His condition was improving by early May. Two months later on 19 June he was discharged to the New Zealand Base at Ismalia. On 15 July he boarded a ship for the return to New Zealand but was then detached to a Rest Camp at Port Said on 29 July. H e was admitted to the No 14 Australian General Hospital on 16 August suffering from influenza. Finally on 29 August he embarked on the SS Wiltshire at Suez for his return to New Zealand arriving on 9 October. He was discharged from the New Zealand Army on 6 February 1919.

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Grandad’s photo: fellow convalescents and a nurse, 1918.

This was not the end of Grandad’s military career. He was recalled to the army in the Second World War serving as a sergeant at the Burnham Military Camp. The Imperial Camel Corps has a monument to its memory, which Bede and I were lucky enough to visit in December 1998. It is in a park beside the Thames River in the heart of London, just by the Charing Cross Tube station. It features a camelier atop his camel and lists all of the major engagements of the Corps as well as the names of its dead. At first Bede and I were disappointed not to find D J Brosnahan’s name there – until it dawned on us that if his name were there, we would not have been!


The Imperial Camel Corps monument in London.

Photo By PAUL FARMER, CC BY-SA 2.0, [https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14450588]


Celebrating with the “Peg Leg” Brosnahans

Just before Christmas I was thrilled to receive a phone call from Tim Brosnahan in Timaru, inviting me to attend a reunion of the “Peg Leg” Brosnahans at the end of December in my capacity as Ceann Fine.  This is a regular event, held every few years, for the descendants of John “Peg Leg” Brosnahan and Hanorah Driscoll (or O’Driscoll).  It took place at Raincliff, not far from Pleasant Point and the location where I launched my book The Kerrytown Brosnahans at a similar reunion for my family back in 1992.

I have always been fascinated by this particular branch of the South Canterbury Brosnahans for several reasons.  The first is that when I began secondary school at St Pat’s in Timaru in 1976, there were eight boys with the surname Brosnahan among a school roll of just 216.  That made it the most common surname in the school and saw the old Kerrytown joke revived in the school’s satirical magazine The Mickey Doo Press that “if you throw a stone over the fence you would hit either a cow or a Brosnahan”.  Yet of the eight St Pat’s Brosnahans, only one – my first cousin Mark – was clearly related to me.  The other six were all descendants of “Peg Leg” and the relationship between us was quite uncertain.  It was a similar situation among the girls at the complementary Catholic secondary for girls, Mercy College.  There, Brosnahans at six, came in second behind the Scotts (9) as the most common surname, tied with the O’Connors, also six, and just ahead of the Dalys, Gallaghers and Sullivans who all had five girls at Mercy.  The Irish roots of South Canterbury’s Catholic population were obviously still pretty evident among my generation.

“Peg Leg” Brosnahan also fascinated me because there were only two John Brosnahans among the original generation who emigrated to South Canterbury from County Kerry and the other one was my great grandfather, John Hugh Brosnahan (or Sean Hugh as he was known).  I can remember being very excited as a History student in my first year of Masters at Canterbury University when we were being shown a bunch of reference sources for Canterbury history and I came across an entry in the 1905 Cyclopedia of New Zealand: Volume 4 Canterbury for John Brosnahan of Levels.   Since that was where my great grandfather farmed, I felt sure this was a reference to him.  In fact, it was to the “other” John and I was just a little disappointed when I realised this.

When I began my research into the Brosnahans and other pioneer Kerry immigrants to South Canterbury, I quickly discovered that John “Peg Leg” Brosnahan was a key figure in the initial Kerry group who began the link to South Canterbury, and that he had close ties to my Brosnahans who were part of the same group.  John came to South Canterbury in 1862 on a ship called the Echunga.  He was accompanied by his sister Margaret as well as a number of other Kerry folk, including Patrick Brosnahan from my extended family group and the Hoare family.  Given the lack of migrant recruiting for New Zealand in Kerry at this time, the arrival of such a substantial group from that area to South Canterbury is pretty firm evidence of ties to an earlier migrant or migrants who must have passed on details of the place to their people at home in Kerry.  It seems almost certain that this was Richard Hoare who had come out a few years earlier to Otago and then made his way to South Canterbury and work on the Levels estate.  Both Patrick and John Brosnahan must have known the Hoares in Kerry and in each case became tied to them later through marriage in the colony when my John’s sister Mary married Denis Hoare and John “Peg Leg” Brosnahan’s daughter married Denis’s son Patrick.

Quite apart from the close interweaving of the family lines that such a marriage involved (typical of the Kerrytown families), the shared journey as pioneers to South Canterbury suggests pre-existing connections in County Kerry.  That becomes even more certain when you see that the next link in the migration chain also involved members of both families.  This was on the barque Rachel which came to Timaru in 1865 and carried amongst a very small complement of immigrant passengers my Patrick Brosnahan’s siblings Hugh and Mary, and John Peg Leg and Margaret Brosnahan’s parents James and Mary Brosnan (yes, he spelt his surname differently to his son) and their remaining siblings. So a second set of inter-connected migrants. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be possible now to reconstruct exactly what their relationship might have been, whether familial, neighbours or just friends.  Nonetheless, I am sure that we are closely connected. So it was lovely to meet up with some of those Brosnahans from my school days and share a bit of our clan history with them in a very convivial atmosphere.


John “Peg Leg” Brosnahan’s descendants, Raincliff, 27 December 2017

As for the nickname “Peg Leg”, it’s a straightforward reference to John’s losing a leg in a carting accident after which he made do with a wooden replacement.  You can actually see the “peg leg” in the photograph of John and his extended family on his 60th wedding anniversary that is in a new gallery I have added for photos from this branch of the Brosnahans.  Here is a close-up:

The peg leg

Maggie Gaffaney, descended from John’s sister Margaret who was also on the Echunga and who married Michael Gaffaney in South Canterbury, has put together a substantial amount of material about the Peg Leg Brosnahans on her blog Iwikiwi so if this is your family, or you just find the Kerrytown story interesting, check it out:

The Brosnahans of Temuka series

Tim Brosnahan also send me some relevant references from 19th-century newspapers, one of which provides further indications of the mesh of connections between the various Brosnahan families at Kerrytown.  This is an account of the farewell held for John and Hannah when they retired from their Levels farm to Temuka in 1907, published in the Temuka Leader newspaper of 8 August that year.  Here are some excerpts that refer to John’s success in the colony but also the early days in South Canterbury, chain migration and suggest another close link with the Jeremiah Brosnahan family:


On Tuesday evening a very pleasant gathering took place at Mr John Brosnahan’s, Arowhenua, the occasion being a “send off’’ and presentation to Mr and Mrs Brosnahan, who after nearly 50 years’ residence on a farm at Arowhenua, were about to retire and live in Temuka. There was a large attendance, friends from all parts of the district coming to do honour to the guests of the evening. A splendid spread was provided, and the chair was occupied by Mr. W. Barry, on his right being the guests of the evening, Mr and Mrs John Brosnahan, and on his left Mr Jeremiah Brosnahan.

After the toast of “The King” had been loyally honoured, the chairman proposed the toast of “Our Guests, Mr and Mrs Brosnahan,” who were leaving the Arowhenua district, although they were not going far away. Mr Brosnahan had practically finished his life’s work – having provided a farm for each of his five sons, and each of which farms would be good work for an average man to acquire in a lifetime – and was going to live in quiet retirement in Temuka. Mr Brosnahan’s success showed that he was possessed of good business ability; but Mrs Brosnahan had been a very good helpmeet, and unless the family had worked as they had done with their parents they would not be in the position they are in today. It was very creditable to all, and was an object lesson to young persons in the district to work together, and put all their earnings “into one pot”. (Applause). It they did so they would soon have a pot of their own. Residents knew of the hospitality of Mr. and Mrs. Brosnahan, and they would be greatly missed at Arowhenua …

Mr John Fitzgerald in responding said it was true he was one of the old identities, and thanked them for coupling his name with the toast. He gave a few of his reminiscences; in the old days when they went to Timaru, they knew everyone there, but now when they went there, there were very few they knew. Large numbers of persons had settled there, and this was what had made the place prosperous.Mr John Fitzgerald said when his ship arrived in Timaru one of those on board exclaimed what fine wheat – alluding to the tussocks. They had not been long there before the Magistrate, Mr Woollcombe, came aboard and advised them to come ashore at Timaru, as it was a much better place than Christchurch. He believed Mr Woollcombe was right, but he unfortunately went on to Christchurch. In those days they did not have wood or brick houses, but sod, and the roof was thatch, not iron, and they sewed it with flax. In some places after heavy rain they would see the gable end of their house fall in, but they put it right and battled on (Applause).

Mr Driscoll said he was glad to see so many present to wish Mr and Mrs Brosnahan happiness. It was 40 years since he came to Levels plains, and Mr Brosnahan was there shortly before him. There was no Temuka then, and a man had to go a long way to get work. Mr Brosnahan settled down here and did well. In those days the rivers were unbridged, and it took a man about four days to go to Christchurch. In these days a young man if he wanted to go to the Exhibition or to Temuka jumped on to his bicycle and took the train to Christchurch and was soon there and back. In the old days Mr Brosnahan had to walk to Temuka, but nothing daunted him and other old settlers, and they had succeeded, he wished Mr and Mrs Brosnahan every success. …

Mr John Fitzgerald said he had much pleasure on behalf of many friends in presenting Mr and Mrs Brosnahan with the handsome and valuable sideboard that stood in the adjoining room. He knew them before they came to New Zealand, and was shipmates with them. They were at Arowhenua before him. They were always good neighbours and ever ready with good advice and assistance. Mr Brosnahan and his sister, Mrs Gaffaney, were the first of the settlers, and it was no doubt owing to their letters home that so many came here from the old land, and when they arrived they had his advice and help. He never shut the door on any man. He had much pleasure on behalf of their friends in making the presentation to Mr and Mrs Brosnahan, and wished them all future happiness. (Applause).

Mr Jere. Brosnahan said he had lived close to Mr and Mrs Brosnahan for about 35 or 40 years, and had received much kindness from them. When he was ill they had been particularly kind, and Mrs Brosnahan had gone and lived with his wife for a couple of months while he was in the hospital, and he would never forget it.

Mr John Connell said he met Mr Brosnahan the day he landed, 41 years ago, in Timaru. He had been a friend of himself and his wife and children, and he could never forget it. But of all the praise they had said for Mr Brosnahan, he must say a word for Mrs Brosnahan, and that she was the best of the two. (Applause)…

A great deal of credit is due to Mr and Mrs Jere[miah]. Brosnahan for the trouble they took in making the arrangements for the presentation and send-off.”

Brosnans and the formation of the Australian Federal Police

A couple of years ago on this blog I began looking at Brosnans/Brosnahans who died on active service during WWI.  I never took that further than the Australian Brosnan war dead and maybe I should carry on the work a bit further.  Right now, however, it seems more appropriate to remember Brosnans who made their mark with anti-war activity.  Over the next wee while I’m going to write up something of the Brosnans who opposed conscription in New Zealand and paid the penalty of losing their freedom for their troubles.  But first, I want to mark an important centenary being celebrated in Queensland today.  This commemoration remembers a pair of Australian Brosnan brothers who took their anti-conscription fight direct to the Australian Prime Minister of the day, Billy Hughes.  On 29 November 1917 Pat and Bart Brosnan were involved in throwing eggs at the PM as he got off a train at Warwick in Queensland during Australia’s controversial conscription referendum debate.

One of the eggs hit the prime minister’s hat, setting off a physical stoush on the railway platform as Hughes’s supporters and anti-conscription protestors clashed.  After the latter had been removed from the station, the Prime Minister began his speech promoting conscription.  But Pat Brosnan returned to the platform and began interjecting.  This prompted Hughes to wade into the crowd, calling for Pat to be arrested.  And here’s where this minor incident in the great furore of those months in 1917, when Australian society was riven by the conscription issue, took an unexpected turn, and one that would have long-term consequences.   The policeman at hand, you see, was Senior Sergeant Henry Kenny, a Catholic of Irish descent who refused to make an arrest on the grounds that the egg throwers might have breached Commonwealth law but he was only answerable to the Queensland government.

This led directly to Hughes subsequently setting up the first Commonwealth police force since he was convinced that the Queensland force was “honeycombed with Sinn Feiners”.  The significance of the  “Warwick egg incident” is even noted on the official website of the current Australian Federal Police:

“… federal policing in Australia can trace its origins to the closing stages of World War 1 to an incident when Queensland Police would not follow the directions of Prime Minister William Hughes.  On 29 November 1917 while campaigning to introduce military conscription, Hughes was the target of eggs thrown by protestors when he arrived at Warwick Railway Station in southern Queensland. Prime Minister Hughes was incensed that the attending Queensland Police would not arrest the offenders under federal law, so when he returned to Parliament he set about drafting legislation to create the Commonwealth Police Force (CPF). The ‘Warwick Incident’ was the last straw for the Prime Minister who was engaged in a range of jurisdictional struggles with the Queensland Government at the time.”

I don’t know much about Pat and Bart Brosnan but years later when Billy Hughes died, Pat Brosnan was interviewed by the Melbourne Age, expressing his sympathies for Hughes’s widow and his admiration for his long ago adversary:

Melbourne Age, 30 October 1952:

“Mr. Patrick Brosnan, the man who threw the celebrated Warwick egg at Mr. W. M. Hughes in 1917, is going to send Dame Mary Hughes a telegram of condolence. Mr. Brosnan is 77 and a retired horse trainer, who has been living with his wife at Sandgate for the last two years. ‘Billy was a great old feller,’ he said today. ‘I would have loved to meet him, but never did. I hit him fair and square with the egg as he arrived at Warwick railway station. He just kept on going. ‘The “little digger”‘ was
campaigning for conscription at that time. He may have been right, but I did not want to be conscripted”.
The Southern Downs Regional Council has now named the little park outside the railway station Billy Hughes Park.  It runs along Brosnan Crescent, which seems more than appropriate.  Today a plaque recounting the history of the egg throwing incident was to be unveiled there and the call went out for Brosnans to join the celebrations: Calling all Brosnans  I hope lots of them did.

Polish honour for Toitu curator

Thursday, 19 Nov 2015

Toitu Otago Settlers Museum curator Seán Brosnahan. Photo: Peter McIntosh

Toitu Otago Settlers Museum curator Seán Brosnahan. Photo: Peter McIntosh

Toitu Otago Settlers Museum curator Seán Brosnahan is one four people from Otago to be awarded one of Poland’s highest honours, the Polish Gold Cross of Merit.

The chairperson of the Polish Heritage of Otago and Southland Charitable Trust (POHOS), Cecylia Klobukowska, said he would be acknowledged for his research into the history of Polish heritage in New Zealand, and in Otago and Southland in particular.

“In 2004, Seán curated Poland to Pahiatua: Remembering the Refugee Children of 1944and in 2006 Our Southern Poles: Otago’s Polish heritage 1872-2006.

“Other exhibitions have included Our Southern Poles: our Polish Heritage (2008), which was shown with the international exhibition from Poland Joseph Conrad: Twixt Land and Sea,” she said.

“These exhibitions have explored the history of the first Polish settlers arriving in Otago and Southland in the19th century and those who arrived in New Zealand during and after World War 2.

“The exhibitions have allowed everyone to learn more about Poland’s history and culture.”

Our Southern Poles also went to Poland and was shown in Warsaw, Gdansk, Starogard Gdanski, Krakow and Lublin.

Mr Brosnahan said he admired the Poles, who had “a rich and at times tragic history”.

“It has been a pleasure to discover these stories, work with this community and to see the way the local Polish community have reanimated their traditions in New Zealand and passed them on to their children and our community.”

Other recipients are: Margaret Ann Howard, artist (Dunedin), Carolina Meikle, POHOS Board member (Dunedin) and Czeslawa Panek, POHOS founding member (Oamaru).

They would be awarded their honours by Polish ambassador H.E. Zbigniew Gniatkowski at a function at the museum for invited guests on Saturday evening.


Source: Polish honour for Toitu curator | Otago Daily Times Online News : Otago, South Island, New Zealand & International News

A new Brosnan family gallery: the Thady Micks.

Finally, I have managed to add another gallery of Brosnan/Brosnahan images to this site (it’s taken me ages to work out how to do it).  All of these photos relate to the Timothy Michael (Thady Mick) Brosnans of Kerrytown and  were provided courtesy of Stephanie Brosnan following the family reunion held at Easter 2014.  This is the first of the ‘other’ Brosnan/Brosnahan families from Kerrytown that I have been able to add to this site but I would be happy to add others. It would be especially good to have further photographs of the pioneer generation and what you might call the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Kerrytown settlement, i.e. those Brosnans and Brosnahans who came as immigrants from County Kerry.  I’d love to have more of a ‘rogues gallery’ sort of representation of the founding fathers and mothers of all the Kerrytown Brosnan/Brosnahan families rather than just my own branch.  And indeed, the pioneers of other Brosnan/Brosnahan families from around New Zealand.  Let me know if you have such images to share.

Otago WW1 film honoured at awards

The irregularity of my posts here reflects busyness in other areas.  Still, I can promise a nice tranche of new Brosnan/Brosnahan photos will be appearing here soon.  In the meantime, and without wanting to be boastful, I thought I’d share this recent acknowledgement for the documentary I filmed with my son Joseph last June as part of my work as a museum curator.  Journey of the Otagos tracked the Otago units of New Zealand’s WW1 contingent across the battlefields of Gallipoli and the Western Front. It was recognised as the best museum project in the New Zealand Museums awards last month:

Otago WW1 film honoured at awards | Otago Daily Times Online News : Otago, South Island, New Zealand & International News.

Brosnan/Brosnahan: Thady Mick’s crew

At Easter this year I was honoured to be invited to address the descendants of Timothy Michael “Thady Mick” Brosnahan, a famous figure among the Kerrytown Brosnahans, as they gathered in Timaru and Kerrytown for a family reunion.  It was my first real ceremonial function as Ceann Fine since the Gathering in 2013.  Margaret and Bernard Hempseed, there as members of Thady Mick’s descendant group, had also been present with me in Kerry and were inspired to have a sash made to add to the accoutrements of my role.  I had my hawthorn stick of course and was proudly showing it off when they made the surprise presentation.  I was very grateful for their thoughtfulness.

With my new "Ceann Fine" sash in Kerry colours, Easter 2014.

With my new “Ceann Fine” sash in Kerry colours, Easter 2014.

The descendants of Thady Mick form a fascinating example of the optional spellings of the Brosnan/Brosnahan surname when it is used in the English form.  Thady had two wives, each of whom bore him children.  Those born to his union with Mary Sullivan went by the Brosnahan surname.  When she died and he remarried Bridget O’Neill, the children of the ‘second’ family went by Brosnan.  I suppose it was one way of keeping clear as to who belonged to who.  Anyway it means that Brosnan and Brosnahan are mixed up in this particular way in a manner that is untangleable (if that’s a word).

To add to the confusion, Margaret Hempseed’s mother married first a Brosnan (of the Thady Mick line) and then a Brosnahan.  Margaret, born to Winnie McGuire and Fergus Brosnan, was therefore a Brosnan.  Her sister Claudia, meanwhile, the daughter of Winnie and her second husband Harold Brosnahan, was a Brosnahan (of the John ‘Peg Leg’ line).  I made some play of this in my address to the reunion, pointing out that however our surname if spelt in English, it is an Irish name and O’Brosnácháin is the ‘proper’ spelling of the name.  I heard an Irish speaker in a TV documentary refer to the Brosnahans collectively as what sounded like “Na Brosnacháiní” which I guess is the plural.  Please correct me if this in wrong.

Tony Brosnan outlines the schedule for the Brosnan/Brosnahan reunion at Kerrytown, Easter 2014.

Tony Brosnan outlines the schedule for the Brosnan/Brosnahan reunion at Kerrytown, Easter 2014.

Thady Mick Brosnahan's descendants at Kerrytown, Easter 2014.

Thady Mick Brosnahan’s descendants at Kerrytown, Easter 2014.

The reunion itself was a fun gathering with visits to farm properties at Kerrytown that are no longer in family hands, a dinner, a Mass and a lunch at Temuka.  I really enjoyed meeting a whole new set of Brosnans/Brosnahans, seeing so many physical and social characteristics that seem to  be common to all the Kerrytown families, and hearing stories of this vibrant energetic branch of the tribe.  Na Brosnacháiní go bragh.

Margaret Brosnan Hempseed at Kerrtown, Easter 2014.

Margaret Brosnan Hempseed at Kerrtown, Easter 2014.

Margaret Brosnan Hempseed with her Kerry flag at the site of the old Kerrytown convent, Easter 2014.

Margaret Brosnan Hempseed with her Kerry flag at the site of the old Kerrytown convent, Easter 2014.

Plaque commemorating the old Kerrytown convent site.

Plaque commemorating the old Kerrytown convent site.

Rare postmark from the old Kerrytown post office, thanks to Bernard Hempseed.

Rare postmark from the old Kerrytown post office, thanks to Bernard Hempseed.

All photographs above courtesy of Bernard Hempseed.

The Fallen Brosies of the AIF



The records of the AIF are all available online through the Australian National Archives which gives digital access to every soldier’s service record.  Just search by name and select the “World War 1” option under the Category of Record menu:


There are five Brosnans listed on the CWGC website as members of the Australian forces who died during the war.  Here they are in alphabetical order by their Christian name:

1.  Driver A (Angus) A Brosnan, 1321.

Died in France on 27 September 1918, age unknown but probably 29.  Served with 15th Battery off the 5th Brigade Australian Field Artillery.  Buried in Roisel Communal Cemetery Extension IM17.

Angus was a 26-year-old miner from Scarsdale when he enlisted at Ballarat in July 1915.  He was just 5’3″ tall, with a dark complexion, brown eyes and dark, straight hair. He was a Catholic.

Angus went overseas on the “Ceramic” which left Melbourne for Egypt on the 23 November 1915.  He came down with mumps in March 1916 and was hospitalised in Abbassia (Cairo). He then transferred to the 1st Light Horse Training regiment and joined this regiment in the field in France on 15 September 1916. Just a week later he was detached to traffic control duties with the 1st Australian Division Headquarters.  He went back to the Light Horse on 19 December 1916.  He was back with HQ and traffic control in March 1917 and then detached to the 1st Anzac Cycling Battalion.

In June 1917 Angus went sick with a case of gonorrhoea that saw him hospitalised in Rouen.  He returned to the Light Horse Regiment from hospital.  In September 1917 he was again in trouble when he refused to stop smoking in his billet – an environment where inflammable material was stored – and that earned Angus 96 hours of Field Punishment No 2.   In November 1917 he was transferred to the 15th Battery of the Field Artillery Brigade as a gunner.  He was made a driver soon afterwards.  At the end of 1917 he got a two-week leave to Britain and may have taken the opportunity to visit Ireland as so many colonial Irish did in like circumstances.

Angus was killed in action in September 1918 and is buried just a few kilometres away from Peronne, the town I stayed at for four days last month.  I notice that he is buried alongside another member of his unit who was killed on the same day.  I would guess that this may indicate they were members of the same gun crew and taken out by the same shell, although there is no further detail on this in the record.  Peronne is one place that really appreciates Australians as they liberated it from the Germans in August 1918.  There is a special Australian memorial there and the Aussie flag is much in evidence in the town.  Angus’s next-of-kin was his sister Mrs Kathleen Sullivan of Smythsdale Victoria and he also had one brother Daniel Brosnan of Park View, Burgundy Street, Heidelberg, Victoria.

2.  Private Jack J Brosnan, 2886.

Died in France on 13 January 1917 aged 18.  Served with 1st Australian Pioneers.  Buried at Heilly Station Cemetery, Mericourt-L’Abee VE25.  He was the son of Maurice and Harrie Brosnan and a native of New South Wales, born in Ballina.  Jack was an apprentice printer with the Sunday Times newspaper in Sydney.  The newspaper gave him a camera, engraved with his name, when he joined up (his mother later sought to have it returned by the Army after his death).

Jack was admitted to hospital suffering from shell shock within a month of joining his unit in action at the end of June 1916 and then, having rejoined them in October 1916, he was fatally wounded by a shell in the right thigh and arm the following January.  He was a fair-haired boy who stood just under 5’4″ tall and was a Catholic.  When Harriet received her son’s personal effects after his death they included a rosary, scapular and pray book but there was no sign of his camera.

3. Private John J Brosnan, 2385.

Died in France on 24 July 1916, age unknown.  He served with the 12th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force.  He has no known grave; his name is recorded on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial in France.  John Brosnan was a 31-year-old case maker in Perth when he enlisted in May 1915 but he was born in Collingwood in Melbourne, the son of John Brosnan.  He was 5’10” tall, with brown hair and eyes and recorded his religious affiliation as Wesleyan.  By August 1915 John was in action with the 12th Battalion on Gallipoli but within weeks he was struck down by dysentry and enteric fever and evacuated, first to Mudros, then to Alexandria and finally to England.  He rejoined the Battalion in the field in France in July 1916 but again within just a fortnight he was reported missing in action and subsequently confirmed as killed in action.  John’s elderly father died in April 1918 and the Army could find no other blood relations to mourn John junior’s loss or receive his personal effects and service medals.

4.  Private John J Brosnan, 2083.

Died in France on 28 August 1918 aged 42.  Served with 4th Australian Pioneers.  Buried at Crouy British Cemetery, Crouy-sur-Somme VI D17.  John was the son of Hugh and Julia Brosnan.  His enlistment record says that he was born at “Glenbeath, Kallorglan, Ireland” but I presume this is actually Glenbeigh, Killorglin.  His next-of-kin is given as his brother Maurice, still in Ireland and with an address as Callyniska, Glenbeath, Kallorglan, Co Kerry, Ireland”.   John was a labourer, a Catholic, aged  38 years and 8 months old when he enlisted at Rockhampton in Queensland on 16 February 1916. He was 5’10” tall with a dark complexion, grey eyes and dark hair.

John went overseas on 1 May 1916, first to Egypt and then on to England in August where he joined a Pioneer Training Battalion.  He got into trouble for being AWOL from an army base at Perham Downs the following month, losing 6 days pay and being put into detention for 72 hours.  In November he crossed the channel, spending the customary couple of weeks in training at Etaples before joining his unit, the 4th Australian Pioneers in the field in France. He got a leave in England the following August and was then hospitalised when an old eye problem flared up.  He rejoined his unit in October 1917 but his health continued to be a problem and he was detached to the Australian Corps workshops in March 1918.  But his health continued to worsen and he died of disease (dysentry) on 28 August 1918.

In January 1919 John’s personal effects were sent to his brother and sister, Maurice Brosnan and Julia Sullivan at “Collyniska, Glenbeigh, Co Kerry”.  There wasn’t much: a disk, wallet, letters, photos, cards, a silk handkerchief, a religious book, a pouch and some religious emblems.  John had made a will using the standard form in his army daybook on the day o this death, leaving all he had to Maurice and Julia, plus 50 pounds for the upkeep of his mother’s grave in Ireland.  This replaced an earlier will from 1917 that John had lodged with solicitors in Brisbane.

This sounds like a sad end to a lonely single man’s life.  But maybe not.  In John’s file there are a number of letters from people enquiring after him, having seen his casualty notice in the newspapers.  One was his cousin, Miss Dymphna Sullivan of Shamrock Street, Blackall in Queensland where John had lived when he first came out from Ireland.  The second was from a Mrs Thompson and a third from Miss Monica Thompon of Walsh Street, Newtown, Ipswich, Queensland.  They were enquiring after any messages, letters of photos in John’s effects as he had been corresponding with another Thompson daughter, Ethel, since he left Australia and “she was doing some business for him”.  According to Monica, John “depended solely on my sister”.  Mrs Thompson wanted Ethel’s photo, her letters and small tokens returned.  This sounds like a romantic connection after all.

5.  Sergeant Patrick Joseph Brosnan, 22353.

Died in Sri Lanka on 10 February 1919 aged 43.  Served with the 7th Field Artillery Brigade of the Australian Imperial Force.  Buried in Colombo (Kanatte) General Cemetery RC I39.  He was the son of Jeremiah and Honora Brosnan and had been born in Co Kerry.

Patrick was a 41-year-old miner when he enlisted at Black Boy Hill (Boulder) in Western Australia on 8 January 1916.  He was separated from his wife and gave his mother Hanora (Honora) as his next of kin instead.  She lived at 3rd Avenue, St Peters, Adelaide, South Australia, as did John’s sister Miss Margaret M Brosnan.  Patrick was 5’10” tall, a Catholic, with a fair complexion, light brown hair and blue eyes.  He was appointed as a Gunner with the 23rd Howitzer Brigade of the 109th Battery.

Leaving Australia in May 1916, Patrick was soon promoted to corporal.  He lost this rank after going AWOL for 38 hours on 24 September at Larkhill in Wiltshire but he won the rank back after deploying to France in January 1917.  He transferred to the 7th Field Artillery Brigade (27th Battery) at this time and was subsequently promoted to Sergeant.  Patrick was wounded on 30 September 1917 and evacuated to England for treatment.  He also earned three weeks leave there in February-March 1918, a period during which he almost certainly made a visit to Ireland.

After the Armistice, Patrick was sent back from France to the Reserve Brigade of the Australian Artillery at Heytesbury in Wiltshire.  There, in early December 1918, Patrick caught the influenza infection that was sweeping through the troops.  He was hospitalised in England at the Sutton Veny military hospital and then sent on to Australia per the ‘City of York” which left Liverpool for Australia on 14 January 1919.  Patrick was disembarked at Colombo (in what is now Sri Lanka) on 7 February as a result of his illness and died in a military hospital there of pneumonia – a complication of the influenza infection – three days later.

Patrick was buried in the Catholic section of the public cemetery at Colombo.  A special war grave was supposed to be erected on his plot and his sister Margaret sent details of an inscription to be added to it.  Her suggested wording “In Loving Memory of P J Brosnan, Beloved eldest son of the late J & Honora Brosnan of 3rd Avenue, St Peters, South Australia” was too long for the 66-character allowance.  It was shortened to ” In Loving Memory  Beloved eldest son of the late J & Honora Brosnan”. However by 1924 no gravestone had actually been erected and Margaret’s inscription request had been lost.  Hopefully this was eventually sorted out; Patrick’s grave is an official war grave under the care of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Margaret also had trouble getting hold of Patrick’s personal effects. Three kit bags he was bringing back on the troopship went missing after this death and no insurance claim was allowed as the bags’ contents hadn’t been inventoried.  They were supposed to contain presents from Ireland and souvenirs from France, which suggests that Patrick had probably made a visit home to Kerry during the war.

Patrick’s war gratuity was paid out to his mother following his death, while through the war he had made an allotment from his pay to his sister, who was also the sole beneficiary of his will (made in France in June 1917).  When Patrick’s service medals were being sent out, enquiries were made about his wife who would have had a claim on them.  Honora informed the Defence authorities that “My son told me that he was married sone years ago in West Australia but he had not been living with her for the past twelve years and believed she had married again”.  No trace of the ex-wife could be found and so Margaret received Patrick’s medals subject to a sworn statement that she would return them to the Department if the wife showed up looking for them.

It seems unlikely that any of these men had any direct descendants and in some cases their immediate families seem to have died out too.  Perhaps there is no-one left to mourn their loss.  If so, I hope that this brief account of their service will act as a small tribute in their memory from Clan Brosnan.


A New Research Project: Clan Brosnan at war

Not much news from me for a while.  In fact I have been overseas again, this time on a work project associated with WWI commemorations.  It was for a video project we are calling “Journey of the Otagos” and which traces the movements of the Otago Infantry Regiment and the Otago Mounted Rifles through the battlefields of WWI.  The film crew was just me and my cameraman son Joseph.  Our journey took us first to Gallipoli and then across the Western Front through France and Belgium in a hectic 14 days where we found and filmed numerous sites associated with the Otago men at war.  These will be made into short programmes about Otagos’ war effort and shown at Toitu Otago Settlers Museum and elsewhere.  I kept a daily blog of our activities on the road, which might be of interest:


Meanwhile, I have decided to focus my research over coming months on all the Brosnans and Brosnahans who served in WWI.  This seems like a good way to remember their efforts and honour their memory, whatever we might think in retrospect about the cause they were serving.  In fact I hope to throw into the mix those clan members who were opposed to war service, such as Tim Brosnan who went on the run in New Zealand rather than accept his conscription to fight for the British King.  But first of all I want to set down all those who served and paid the ultimate price for their service.  To begin with the focus will be just on men (there are no women) who carried the Brosnan or Brosnahan surname.  Eventually I hope to extend this to other clan members who have a different surname but share Brosnan ancestry.

Feel free to add information, images, or more names if you can.

Russells Top Lookout, Gallipoli with The Sphinx behind me.

Russells Top Lookout, Gallipoli with The Sphinx behind me.


Filing at the Lone Pine Memorial in Gallipoli.

Filming at the Lone Pine Memorial in Gallipoli.