The Gawn family of Donegore



Children of James

Children of Andrew

Children of Robert


Other sources

  1. The Parkgate Presbyterians - the First Donegore Story, by Donald Alexander, 2011
  2. Various correspondence with Donald Alexander
  3. A history of the the Second Donegore Presbyterian Church, compiled / edited William A. Gawn, 2008

Family trees

McConnell /Gawn family tree
Family trees of the McConnell and Gawn families



Lord Salisbury
Lord Salisbury, Robert Gawn's renowned Clydesdale stallion

Photo courtesy of Billy Gawn

Andrew Gawn house
The house in Halftown where Andrew Gawn lived. In the photo is his granddaughter Sarah Mary ('Aunt Siadie') and two Bell children

(The house is no longer standing)

Photo courtesy of Billy Gawn

The Gawn family were farmers, living in the hills of County Antrim in the late 18th and 19th centuries. The family, in particular the descendants of three brothers, James, Andrew and Robert, were connected by marriage and shared fortunes to the two branches of the McConnell family, namely the descendants of James McConnell of Ballysavage (see page on Samuel and Agnes McConnell) and those of Thomas McConnell of Ballywee.

The source of much of the material given here is the excellent website1 created by Billy Gawn (William Andrew Gawn, born 1933), whom I had the pleasure of meeting in 2018, together with Donald Alexander, a descendant of the McConnell family. See also the introductory page The McConnells.

The father of these three brothers was James Gawn (snr.) (1737-1793); the mother (whose name is not known) lived from 1744 to 1800. The relevant descendants of James, Andrew and Robert Gawn are shown on the Family Tree (left). There were four other siblings (John, Sarah, Elizabeth and Agnes), about whom relatively little is known. Most of the locations mentioned here are shown in the map of southern Co. Antrim.

Second Donegore
The Second Donegore Presbyterian Church, Dunamuggy

The Gawn family belonged mostly to the Second Donegore Presbyterian Church in Dunamuggy, north of Parkgate. This was formed in 1788 as a breakaway from the First Donegore.2,iii Several members of the family were Elders of the church, and many were married there. The list of Session Members for 1848 includes James McConnell, possibly the same as married Mary, the daughter of James Gawn (see below).

James Gawn

The eldest of the three brothers, James (1766-1816) owned farmland in Halftown, Co. Antrim. His eldest daughter Mary (born 1803) married one James McConnell of East Ballywee in 1829. It is tempting to speculate that this was the brother of Thomas McConnell (1803-1878), also of East Ballywee. (Perhaps James was the younger of the two, as he married three years after Thomas.) James Gawn is buried in Kilbride graveyard.

Andrew Gawn

The middle brother Andrew (1777-1853) leased land in Halftown from his brother James in 1801. He married Margaret McMillan in 1806 in First Donegore, although he had connections to both Donegore and Kilbride parish churches (both Church of Ireland), and is buried at Kilbride. They lived in Halftown (see photo above) and had 11 children, only six of whom married. The eldest, Agnes ('Nancy') (1807-1891), married Thomas McConnell of Ballywee in 1826. They lived in Ballywee and had 12 children, five of whom emigrated to New Zealand. See the page on Thomas McConnell for details.

Thomas and Agnes McConnell
Thomas and Agnes McConnell (daughter of Andrew Gawn)

Photo courtesy of Donald Alexander

Andrew's eldest son James married Ann McMeekin and lived with their large family in Carnearney, near Ballymena. John and Thomas both married and lived in Halftown. Thomas and his wife Esther Bell had five children: one, Andrew, was the grandfather of Billy Gawn (see above); another, John, moved to New Zealand in 1875 where he worked as a gardener in Ashburton, near Canterbury. The youngest, Sarah Mary (known in the family as Aunt Siadie) lived in her grandfather's house in Halftown (see photo above).

Two of Andrew Gawn's daughters married: Elizabeth to one John Bell (possibly the brother of Thomas's wife Esther), Mary to James Warwick of Browndodd. The other five children (Margaret, William, Sarah, Martha Jane and David) did not marry, and lived in the County Antrim district. Andrew Gawn died in 1853, his wife Margaret in 1878. Both were buried in Kilbride graveyard, along with their children Martha Jane and William.

Robert Gawn

The youngest Gawn brother, Robert (1782-1820), was a farmer from Donegore who moved to Halftown. He married Margaret McMichan in First Donegore and they had one son William (1813-1880). Robert's wife died at age 21 soon after William was born. William married Margaret McMillan (1812-1867) of Browndodd, who was perhaps related (niece?) to the Margaret McMillian (1786-1878) who married Andrew Gawn, William's uncle. Robert and his wife Margaret are both buried in Kilbride graveyard.

Robert and Martha Ann Gawn
Robert and Martha Ann Gawn (née McConnell) in 1860

Photo courtesy of Billy Gawn

William and Margaret had six children, three of whom went to live in New Zealand. Eldest son Robert (1836-1917) emigrated first to Australia in 1857 to work as a carter in the goldfields near Melbourne. He was joined there three years later by Martha Ann McConnell (daughter of Thomas): they married in Melbourne in 1860. Following the discovery of gold in the Otago region of New Zealand in 1861, the two moved there and set up home in Caversham, a suburb of Dunedin. Robert worked as a carter, farmer and horse breeder - his stabling yard was one of the largest in the area. They were joined a few years later (ca. 1865) by Samuel and Agnes McConnell and their young daughter Rachel. Samuel initially worked for Robert, and later went into partnership with his Robert's son William Robert.

Billy Gawn has estimated that Robert Gawn influenced some two dozen people, many from Co. Antrim, to emigrate to New Zealand at that time.i

W R Gawn and Samuel McConnell
William Robert Gawn (left) and Samuel McConnell (centre) and neighbour

Photo courtesy of Billy Gawn

Robert Gawn never came back to Ireland, but bought a substantial farm at Mosgiel, on the Taieri plains near Dunedin, which he named Deerpark after the deer park on the Holestone estate in Ireland. He later bought two other farms, Crosshill and Holmhead. He and Martha Ann had five children, including William Robert (1869-1951) (photo left), who became the business partner of Samuel McConnell. Robert became well known throughout New Zealand as a horse breeder, specialising in Clydesdales. He and Martha Ann are buried in East Taieri cemetery.

Two of Robert Gawn's siblings also made the journey to New Zealand: his brother James Murdock Gawn emigrated there 1863, where he married and lived near Deerpark. Robert's sister Agnes ('Nancy') moved to New Zealand in the 1860s and lived in North Taieri, where she married Hugh Gibson, also a successful carter and horse breeder.1,ii