Hugh McGrath
by Peter Moore


My grandmother, Ada McGrath, was born in Gundaroo 21 Jan 1884. Her father was Hugh Anthony Joseph McGrath who operated a general store in Gundaroo called 'London House' which was on the corner of Cork and Lot Streets.


The Grosvenors were the first white settlers in the area - it was Cornelius O'Brien who had purchased the Hadwick estate, Yass, where Hugh's parents James and Bridget worked when they came to Australia in 1842. It was at 'Hadwick' that Hugh was born and reared.

Hugh and Sarah (Sarah Ann née Weldon) made their home at Gundaroo. Hugh worked for Hugh Valance who owned the general store in Gundaroo When Valance sold out, Hugh worked for the Jones brothers who were probably related to Sarah Anne, as her half sister Johanna had married Algernon Sidney Jones, a storekeeper, who also lived in Gundaroo.

The Jones brothers did not stay long in business - barely two years - and their former employees, Hugh McGrath and Jack Hart took on the business; Hugh acting as Manager and Hart as hawker (in the course of which Hart met and married Mary Williams, daughter of the Sutton blacksmith). The trading name of the store was 'London House'.

Before long they opened a branch store at Tallagandra, NSW, and later were asked to take over the Post Office store at Sutton, NSW. This last advancement aroused the jealousy of one of the local residents, William Affleck who persuaded his father to lay the foundation of a rival general store, the 'Caledonia'. To mark the opening, Affleck invited local residents and people of note from near and far to be present at a dinner and social evening to be held at the Royal Hotel. Hugh McGrath and Jack Hart were 'going to make things hum' and 'would have Affleck out of the Caledonian Store in six months' but they overstocked and over expanded. Affleck would brook no opposition and by 1885, approximately ten years later, he brought the erstwhile successful business of McGrath and Hart to liquidation, buying them out at eleven shillings in the pound (55%).

It was the failure of the Gundaroo store that motivated Hugh to move to Sydney where he found employment with Mark Foys, one of the leading stores in Sydney. (The fine building still stands on Elizabeth Street, not far from Central Railway.) When the family first came to Sydney they lived at Riverstone, where James, the youngest, was born on 28 October 1887.

It had been a big break for Hugh and Sarah to take the decision to leave Gundaroo where there were so many memories, for it was a farewell to family and friends. Sarah Anne had relatives in the area, her brother Robert was living in Queanbeyan and it would appear that her mother, Mary Anne, was living with Robert after her husband's death. Hugh also had relatives close by in Wagga Wagga; his eldest sister Anne, her husband James O'Hehir and their family conducted the 'Hume Hotel' in Wagga Wagga.

Their stay in Sydney was short and it was not long before Hugh was back in business at Narrandera - no doubt encouraged by family at Wagga Wagga with news of business opportunities. Business prospects then took the family to The Oaks and thence to Bathurst. Here Hugh worked for the Great Western Stores - the manager was Jewish, and Hugh always claimed that he learned a lot of sound business acumen from his Jewish associates - and later managed their store at Oberon.

It is not known how long the McGraths resided in Bathurst, but it was here that Mary Veronica and Ada met their future husbands - Philip James O'Donaghoe and Frederick Lawrence Critchley.

A great sorrow came to the family in the year 1900 as the 21st birthday of Veronica Mary was approaching. Her mother was making the birthday cake and Joseph had scarcely arrived at work when he was called back home to Morriset Street, Bathurst. His mother was ill having suffered a cerebral haemmorhage at the young age of 49 years. She was seen by Dr T Edwards but within a day Sarah Anne had died - only 11 days after Veronica Mary's 21st birthday.

Hugh was only 42 years of age, but he had a capable and loving daughter who at the age of 21 years stepped into the role of homemaker for her dad and her two brothers and sister. She cared for them for approximately four years until the time of her marriage to Philip James O'Donaghoe.

Before moving to Portland, NSW, Hugh had been managing a shop in Oberon, NSW. He was sad and deeply grief stricken, his two daughters had married, and sitting alone in the Oberon store he raised his eyes as a young woman entered. In a moment of illusion he imagined that Sarah Anne was walking back into his life, and from that time a friendship was formed between himself and Ada Anne Whiteley of Oberon, daughter of James Whiteley. Father Tom Doran celebrated the marriage ceremony of Ada and Hugh at St Ignatius' Church, Oberon, in the year 1907 - 7 years after the death of his first wife.

Before long Hugh opened another store at Kandos, NSW. At first his two sons Joseph and James were working in his store and he later appointed James as the manager of the Kandos business.

Hugh had a fine character - he was the soul of integrity and honour - a man of great religious faith.

Everything went well for Hugh until the depression of the 1930s struck. It was a time when many people were ruined, many lost jobs, and people were unable to pay their bills. It had a snowball effect for business and professional men who extended credit to customers and clients and as a result the Kandos store crashed. A younger man than Hugh would have lived to see the black years of depression lift and a boom period for business come again, but Hugh was now in his seventies. At the age of seventy five years he contracted Bright's disease (a granular degeneration of the kidneys) and after a short illness he died on 8 February 1932. He is buried in the district cemetery at Bowenfels.

Hugh considered that the Kandos store had been a mistake for much had been invested in it. Before depression struck business seemed to be at the height of prosperity; Hugh had been a capable and successful business man for over fifty years. His wife Ada, Anne and their daughter Claire decided to wind up the business, Hugh's son James, wife Elsie, and their four children moved to Sydney. James' brother in law, Philip O'Donaghoe, was instrumental in arranging him a job on the Railways and James remained with the NSW Railway department until the time of his retirement.


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