The Pyrmont O’Tooles

As industry flourished in Pyrmont and the population expanded, Irish families were well represented. In the aftermath of the Great Famine, emigration offered salvation, and Irish people in Sydney encouraged their kin to follow them. Several families of O’Tooles migrated in this way: Patrick O’Toole (1808-1879) was born in County Wicklow, and married Teresa Boyle in Dublin before the couple arrived in Sydney in 1842.

In 1855 Tobias O’Toole and Elizabeth O’Neill arrived in Sydney, from Country Wicklow.   Two years later they married and moved to Pyrmont where Tobias worked in the Saunders quarries. A long series of family sponsorships lead eventually to the arrival of parents Thomas and Hannah.

Some O’Tooles dropped the Gaelic prefix ‘O’ – until the 1870s, when many restored it as an expression of Irish patriotism. Their politics might waver but their Catholicism was never in doubt. With the other Irish residents, they began building St Bede’s Church, literally by hand. They also created very large families. Tobias and Elizabeth, for example, had twelve children. Although some became nuns and others did not marry, there were eventually 58 grandchildren. This was the stuff of J.D. Lang’s nightmares!

If the O’Tooles were typical of Pyrmont, their careers are revealing. Tobias worked in a Saunders quarry, then bought the Greentree Hotel. After his death, his widow Elizabeth took charge. Several children worked there and three of their sons enjoyed successful careers as hotel licensees. Some sons worked as carters. One then created a profitable sawdust business, which (when he left for the WA gold fields) he passed to another brother. Two grandsons (John and Phillip) became significant figures and are treated separately.

As they prospered, they could buy their own houses – in Pyrmont or elsewhere. Many of the children and grandchildren spent holidays in Curl Curl, and a few lived there in a large house bought by Uncle Andrew and Aunt Lydia who needed the space for their own 14 children. Even those who bought elsewhere maintained their links with St Bede’s, the pubs and the sawdust business.

It took a full century for the O’Toole dynasty to disperse.

Further Reading

  • C.F. Fowler, 150 Years on Pyrmont Peninsula: the Catholic Community of Saint Bede 1867-2017