Bernard Ferns - Cath Winters

Hubert Ferns' grandparents Bernard Ferns and Catherine (Cath) Winters came from Birr, Kings County (County Offaly), Ireland.

Bernard Ferns
Bernard was born about 1816 in Birr, Kings County, Ireland. Death date in Australia is unknown.

Catherine (Cath) Winters
Catherine was born about 1819 to parents Johnathon Winters and Ann Cleary.
Catherine died in 1900 and was buried in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia on 21 April 1900.

Bernard and Catherine Ferns had six children who were:

Ellen Ferns, born in Birr about 1836.

Eliza Ferns, born in Birr about 1838.

Catherine Ferns, born in Birr about 1839.

John Ferns, born in Birr about 1841. John died in 1906 aged 65 and was buried from St Alipius Church in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia.
The BDM, Victoria search tool records John as 'FERRIS, Jno, Mother: Cath WINTER, Father: Ferris Bernard, Place: St A [St Alipius Church, Ballarat], Age: 69.

Mary Ferns, born in Birr about 1842.

William Hubert Ferns, born in Birr and christened on 27 August 1843. William married Johanna O'Leary on 5 February 1875 in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia and they had seven children. William died in 1925 aged 82 and was buried on 14 March 1925 at Footscray Cemetery, Melbourne, Australia.

Bernard and Cath Ferns are discussed further in the Australian section

William and Johanna Ferns are also discussed further in the Australian section.

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Birr Barracks Gate, Crinkill

Crinkill Village
Bernard Ferns was recorded as living at Birr Barracks, Crinkill. 

Crinkill is a small village on the outskirts of Birr that had a population of 682 people in 2016. The village originally grew up around a British Army military center named Birr Barracks, which was constructed around 1808.

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Birr Barracks - Parade

However, the barracks was abandoned by the British Army around the time of Irish independence and it was burnt down in July 1922 as a result of civil unrest around that time. Today only the ruins of the outer wall remain.

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Birr Barracks - Bell Tents

Birr Barracks
The barracks were built by Bernard Mullins at the instigation of Lawrence Parsons, 2nd Earl of Rosse, who had supported the need to build some barracks within a few hours’ march of the River Shannon, and were completed between 1809 and 1812. This period was at the height of the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) in Europe. In 1873 a system of recruiting areas based on counties was instituted and the barracks became the depot for the 100th (Prince of Wales's Royal Canadian) Regiment of Foot and the 109th (Bombay Infantry) Regiment of Foot. Following later reforms, the 100th and 109th regiments were amalgamated to form the Prince of Wales's (Royal Canadians) Leinster Regiment from 1881.

Some 6,000 recruits enlisted at the Barracks during the First World War and an airfield was built there in 1917.

The Prince of Wales's (Royal Canadians) Leinster Regiment was disbanded at the time of Irish Independence in 1922. The barracks were taken over by the Irish Army at that time but a small group of Irish Republican Army irregulars took control of the barracks and burnt them to the ground on 14 July 1922. The remaining ruins were demolished in 1985.

The Birr Military Cemetery is one of the few surviving features of Birr Barracks. The people buried there are a mix of soldiers, soldiers’ wives and children, the latter make up most of the burials.  

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Birr Barracks - Archaeologists

In 2018 at the site 'Fourteen Acres’, directly west of the Birr Barracks, the Irish Archaeology Field School undertook archaeological excavations during which they located a series of mock training trenches constructed during World War One (WW1). A 1919 newspaper refers to 'a staged mock battle as well as ‘sandbagged’ trenches.' 

Ferns Migration
Bernard and family emigrated via England and sailed to Australia aboard the vessel Matoaka. They departed from Liverpool on 14 February 1854 and arrived in Melbourne on 26 May 1854 after a journey of 101 days.

The Matoaka passenger list records Bernard (38) and Catherine (35) as adults with children John (12), Mary (10) and William (8), and single adults aged 14 or over Ellen(18), Eliza (16), and Catherine (15).

Matoaka (also listed as Mataoka) was a 1092-ton wooden New Brunswick full-rigged ship built in 1853 for Willis, Gunn, & Co. She was sold to Shaw, Savill, & Albion by 1859. Between 1859 and 1869 she made eight voyages to New Zealand. Her fastest run from Bristol to Lyttelton, New Zealand was 82 days in 1862.

On 13 May 1869 the Matoaka left Lyttelton for London under Captain Alfred Stevens with 45 passengers and 32 crew - but was never seen again. Unknown to all on board, except for the officers, was that she was carrying £50,000 in gold on board. In 1865 she was classed as 1322 tons. There is speculation that the Matoaka may have run aground on the Auckland Island's and searches of the Islands were carried out.

The Auckland Islands were located incorrectly on maps and were actually right on the best line for sailing vessels to swing south from New Zealand into the 'Roaring Fourties' to get a swift run east to Cape Horn and the route home to England. Many shipwrecks have been recorded on these islands, a well-known one being that of the General Grant which was also carrying gold aboard. Gold hunters have dived along the island's western cliff faces searching for shipwreck evidence in these storm-tossed waters.

South Africa
Mark and Donald Ferns, sons of Hubert and Isabella's boys Henry and Michael Ferns, had an interesting discussion at a family get-together which is worth recording here.

Both Mark and Donald worked at NHNZ - New Zealands natural history film specialists. They were there at different times, so they were pondering whether each of them knew of another Ferns who had worked at NHNZ. The discussion indicated the other Ferns was a gent from South Africa. Mark and Donald understood that one of the Ferns family sailing to Australia had left their ship part way along the journey to Australia and New Zealand and had settled in South Africa instead.

In February 2023 there was an intersting discussion between cousins on a social media channel. Cousin Brian Ferns posted that he was watching an Auckland cricket match, saying 'Is this young fella I am watching on TV at the moment related?'. He posted a picture of Danru Ferns, a bowler for the Auckland Aces. To which the author (Rex) had replied 'He is not on my family tree chart but I am keen to find the South African branch of the Ferns Tree - he could be a starter.'

This was followed by a second comment 'Well blow me down, he comes from South Africa!!!' after finding out online that he had been born in Pretoria. Brian followed this up with 'I will ask him on Facebook where his family originated from.' The name Danru seems to derive from first names Daniel Kruger.

Danru replied to Brian 'I do believe there is a link to Ireland for the Ferns family in South Africa. I will ask my Dad as he had a look at the family tree a few years ago'.

So, watch this space for futher progress on this topic.


Victoria Public Records Office, Assisted Immigrants Passenger Lists (Ferns family)
Parish of Birr Baptismal Register 1760 - 1899 (William Ferns)
Footscray Cemetery Records. (William Ferns)
Marriage record William Ferns and Johanna O'Leary, 5 February 1875. St Alipius Church, Ballarat.
Find a Grave - - Ballaratt New Cemetery (Cath Ferns)
VIC BDM REG: 14929/1906 (John Ferns, Death)