McCaffrey, James and Catherine

Date of Birth/Death:


James McCaffrey was born in about 1828 in Cavan, Ireland. He married Catherine McIntee (born about 1834) while in Ireland. They left behind their home in Cavan at a time when immigration was heavy. The potato famine resulted in the deaths of around a million people, and, with other factors, lead to an exodus from Ireland to the new world. Like so many of Willunga’s pioneering families, the McCaffreys left their birth country to make a new life.

Their ship, Velocity, left Plymouth on 24 March, 1855. Catherine and James were lodged in the steerage married couples quarters, and were organised into a “mess” to manage the distribution of food and water with 4-6 other passengers who were probably also from central Ireland. Catherine and James experienced rough weather, calms and icebergs. The smell of the families quarters would have been pungent. In addition to human food and waste, and infrequently changed babies, Velocity’s portholes were poorly designed for ventilation. Despite the smells and inevitable tensions of crowding, however, the passengers were orderly and well-behaved. James and Catherine arrived in South Australia on 24 June 1855.

James worked at the slate quarries, including Martin and Bastian’s quarry, and undertook local building work as well. In 1860, he purchased land in Willunga township (Lot 2) for £11 pounds. The house built on the land is now known as McCaffrey Cottage at 21 St James Street. During James and Catherine’s years in Willunga, they lived through the expansion of the colony, economic boom and decline and fears of foreign military invasion.

Catherine died on 19 September, 1901, to be followed in death by James on 26 September, one week later. They were buried in St Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery, Willunga. James and Catherine left behind 4 living children. One of these children, Bernard Ambrose McCaffrey, was well known in South Australia as an educator, singer and sportsman. The eldest son, Peter became an engine driver in Mt Gambier. Mary Ann married Joseph B. Fels and moved to Abbotsford, Victoria. The youngest daughter, Catherine, lived in Mylor, probably with Bernard Ambrose and his wife.

Today, McCaffrey Cottage remains as a visible testament and memorial to two settlers who helped to build the township of Willunga.


1860. James McCaffrey of Willunga. Extracts from SA General Registry Office (GRO) Information.
1901 ‘Family Notices‘, The Express and Telegraph 21 September, p. 4.
1902 ‘Family Notices‘, Southern Cross 26 September, p. 8. ,

MCCAFFREY, Bernard teacher Mylor School and MCCAFFREY, Peter engine driver Mt Gambier, sons of the late James McCaffrey of Willunga, who died 25/9/1901. His wife, Catherine McCaffrey, had died 19/9/1901, of morbus cordis and bronchitis, aged 69 Application 24349, Extracts from SA General Registry Office (GRO) Information,

Velocity, The ShipsList (online)

Haines R. (2003). Life and death in the age of sail. Sydney: University of New South Wales.

Hassam A. (1995). No Privacy for Writing: Shipboard Diaries 1852 – 1879. Carlton: Melbourne University Press.

Willunga Courthouse records

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