James Maguire – 1834 – 1915

James Maguire

by Janice Calcei, from notes by Gwen Wells and other sources
Updated: 4 November 2022

James Maguire was born in 1834 at Westmoreland County England, to Irish born parents, his father also James and mother Ann Maguire. He had arrived in Australind, Western Australia at the age of eight with his parents, four brothers and four sisters by the ship Trusty in December 1842. He died on 13 January 1915 at his Dardanup farm, reportedly involved in farm work up until a few days before his death.

Plans seen by the family of Australind before sailing implied an established settlement but on arrival the family were shocked to find the town was still only a campsite in the bush. Most of the settlers and labourers who had preceded them were living in huts or tents. The family left for Wonnerup, near Busselton, and then went on to live near Perth. James attended the newly-established Catholic school in Perth, somewhere near the Archbishop’s Palace, and was messenger boy to the first Bishop of Perth.

The family then settled on land in Dardanup on 8 May 1850 near Prinsep Park, in a two story house occupied by James’ brother John, and wife Catherine.  James Senior died in 1854 and is probably buried in the cemetery under the sandhills in Bunbury near the beach. A small cottage by the pear tree was the residence for mother Ann.

Elizabeth Maguire (nee Carberry)

James married Elizabeth Carbury in 1855 at St John’s Pro Cathedral in Perth and settled on a property adjoining his brother John. The Homestead was at the crossroads of Ferguson and Waterloo Roads.

James and Elizabeth produced nine children and their descendants are scattered throughout Western Australia.  Their eldest daughter was Mary Jane O’Neil. She became a very prominent citizen and capable midwife attending to the women of the District. She reared her granddaughter Eileen (Bub) Rodgers after her mother died in childbirth. 

Michael, the youngest was killed in a mill accident leaving a wife, Catherine, and four young children. James Maguire looked after the young family until Catherine married John Harris.

James accumulated much land in and around Dardanup district.  One area was the famous “Maguire’s Paddock” where regular race days were held at Crooked Brook. People coming from surrounding districts travelled by train to this site. 

Brothers James and John were affectionately known as “Lord John” and “Big Jim”. John Maguire was post master at Dardanup for some time.

James was remembered as neighbourly, agriculture-minded, and a staunch Catholic. He was closely involved in raising funds to build the old church now known as Thomas Little Hall.  He was a Justice of the Peace and served as Chairman of the Wellington Districts Roads Board after its formation in 1894. When the Dardanup Roads Board was formed, James continued as a member, sometimes presiding over meetings when the Chairman Ephraim Gardiner was unable to attend.  He was involved in most of the planning and construction of roads, bridges, and culverts in and around the district at this time. He participated on local committees for race meetings, the Agricultural Hall and the Church.

After many years dealing with Roads Board matters, James retired due to ill health. He received a public presentation and citation for his service from the Roads Board and the people of the District. A newspaper article in the Southern Times in June 1902, Mr James Maguire Banquetted, recounts this gathering at the Dardanup Agricultural Hall. He resided with his daughter Mary Jane O’Neil until his death in 1915 aged 81 years.

James Maguire had served on the the Roads Board (Wellington and then Dardanup) for close to forty years and was remembered in his obituary as an interesting raconteur and generous neighbour who acted in the interests of the less fortunate.

Maguire’s role in the escape of John Boyle O’Reilly

John Boyle O’Reilly

One of the most interesting aspects of his life was the part he played in helping the Irish Fenian, poet and journalist, John Boyle O Reilly, to escape from Western Australia.

O’Reilly, convicted of having withheld knowledge of an intended army mutiny and sentenced to twenty years penal servitude, was a prisoner of the Crown in Bunbury and working on a road gang throughout 1868. Keen to escape Western Australia, he asked the advice of local priest, Father Patrick McCabe who counselled O’Reilly not too make rash decisions that risked worsening his situation, and that he bide his time while McCabe looked for an escape route. in February1869, McCabe arranged with Captain Baker of the American whaler Vigilant, from New Bedford, to take O’Reilly on board his vessel.

There are a number of different versions of the exact circumstances of the escape as told by descendants of the main protagonists, understandable given the danger of exposing the role of people who were well known in the community at the time. Some versions of the story may have arisen from the false leads given to authorities to confuse the trail taken by the escaped convict. The account below by Ormond Waters appears well researched and accords with that of A C Staples in his history of Harvey.

Father McCabe had sought James Maguire’s assistance to help O’Reilly escape. At the end of 1868, when the convict road gang moved their camp to the Koagulup swamp (Cokelup in Gelorup). James Maguire, Chairman of the Dardanup Roads Board, was at work clearing the site of the present Bunbury racecourse. O’Reilly had more freedom of movement than other prisoners in the road gang and would carry a weekly report from his warder into the Bunbury depot, situated at the old Police Station.

Acting on behalf of McCabe, Maguire hailed O’Reilly as he was on his way to Bunbury and informed him of the plan for his escape. On 17 February 1869, at the end of the day’s work, O’Reilly changed his convict boots for a pair Maguire had given him and made his way through the bush in the dark to a large red gum tree on the Ferguson River just east of Picton Junction. James and his brother John made themselves known to O’Reilly and together escorted O’Reilly on horseback for the 12-mile journey north-east to the coast near the Buffalo homestead. James had arranged a herd of cattle to come behind to obliterate any tracks made by the party.

The Buffalo Hut – 1960s

Hiding in the bush, they awaited the sighting of the ship Vigilant on 18 February, and then rowed out in a small boat. Unfortunately the ship didn’t see them and moved off in another direction. James and John left O’Reilly in the hands of Mr Thomas Jackson of Buffalo and proceeded to arrange another attempt. Behind Thomas Jackson’s homestead were three large hollows in the sand dunes which were thickly sheltered by peppermint trees. O’Reilly remained in hiding there until McCabe was able to arrange another pickup.

In 14 days McCabe and Maguire procured the services of the captain of the ship Gazelle, and this time O’Reilly was successfully taken on board. O’Reilly farewelled his rescuers knowing the great risks they had taken.  He was then transferred to the American vessel Sapphire off the Cape of Good Hope, and landed at Liverpool under the name of John Saule. From Liverpool O’Reilly secured a passage to America, where his personal qualities and literary ability secured him a leading position in the journalistic world. As editor of the Boston Pilot, O’Reilly made his mark and, as a poet, became famous.

During the time he was hiding, the authorities were looking for O’Reilly.  Locals remained tightlipped and sent the them off on false trails. Given that James held such a prominent position in the community, the risks of becoming involved in this adventure were considerable.

O’Reilly never forgot the assistance provided by Maguire, and wrote to him for some years after the escape.


  • Death of Mr James Maguire of Dardanup, WA Record, Saturday 30 January 1915, page 15. Includes letters from J B O’Reilly to Maguire.
  • Staples A C; They made their destiny – History of Settlement – Shire of Harvey – 1829 – 1929 (1979), Shire of Harvey, Western Australia.
  • Wells, Gwen; Maguire Family – Pioneers of Dardanup
  • Waters, Ormonde D P; John Boyle O’Reilly, an article written on behalf of the Bunbury Historical Society Inc. (198?)

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