Shields Family - F300

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Shields Family
Robert and Mary Jane - F300
Marriage 5 Jun 1857
Mochrum, Scotland
Name Robert Shields
Lived abt 1836 – 17 Mar 1897
Name Mary Jane Fitzsimmons
Lived abt 1836 – 25 Sep 1865
Agnes Shields (b. 1 Dec 1858)
Catherine Shields (15 Mar 1864 – 3 Oct 1892)
John Shields (b. 16 May 1860)
Mary Jane Shields (b. 27 Sep 1862)

The extended Shields family travelled steerage in the City of Adelaide from London to South Australia in 1874 on a free passage.

Life in Ireland and Scotland

Like their parents, farm labourer John Shields (born ca 1814) and his wife Agnes, the children Samuel, Robert, James, Catherine, William and Hannah Shields were all born in Ireland. About 1850, the family migrated to live in the parish of Mochrum, Scotland, where another daughter, Agnes, was born.

John Shields soon found work there as an agricultural labourer. As it came time for some of the teen-aged children to leave home, each moved to live on local farms to work as a ploughman, a farm labourer or a house servant for farmers who were working 100-200 acres with the help of three or four employees


Mochrum Main Street
Location of Mochrum

Mochrum is a small village and agricultural parish in the county of Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. It now has a population of about 125 which is considerably fewer than about 150 years ago when there were 187 inhabitants living in the village alone - it was then known as the Kirk of Mochrum (in the county of Wigtownshire).

Today, just as it did in 1874, the village consists primarily of a Main Street - a long row of mostly large, terraced cottages dating back to the early 1800s. The handsome schoolroom (designed to receive 150 children and opened in 1872), the former Manse (later The Green Mantle Hotel), the George Inn, and the Post Office & grocer's shop still survive as private residences. More than twenty of these buildings are heritage listed.

Both the prominent church building, which was built in 1794 and later enlarged, and the joiner/undertaker's business are still in business today. A row of eight semi-detached houses was added in the early 1930s.

The village is set among the woodland, meadow, pasture, and cultivated land that come within Mochrum Parish, which includes a number of farms and scattered cottages, the small fishing village of Port William, and the hamlet of Elrig.

The higher ground overlooks Luce Bay and the Irish Channel, and offers a fine view that includes the Isle of Man, and the mountains of Morne on the Irish coast.

Now, as then, the inhabitants of the parish are chiefly employed in agricultural pursuits, growing crops of all kinds in soil that is mostly a rich deep loam. They also rear a considerable number of cattle and sheep.

Migration to South Australia

Following the death of his father, John, Robert Shields was prompted to migrate to South Australia with his extended family in 1874, and applied to the nearest colonial agent for free passage to Adelaide. As a group of very suitable and much-needed migrants they were readily accepted, and were issued tickets to travel down to London to join the City of Adelaide as steerage passengers. They sailed from the River Thames in late May 1874, and eventually were landed safely at Port Adelaide after a voyage of three months.

Although the three generations of Shields had all spent their lives within farming communities, they chose to make their way to the thriving copper mines that had recently been opened on northern Yorke Peninsula. Mining labour was in short supply, so Robert and the boys had no difficulty in finding work as miners at the Yelta Copper Mine, near Moonta.


Yelta Mine in 1872

Moonta was becoming an important part of Yorke Peninsula's Copper Triangle community (Moonta, Wallaroo and Kadina), known as South Australia's 'Little Cornwall'. The description derives from the high number of Cornish immigrants who flooded to the area after the discovery of copper ore, bringing with them the skills necessary to make the copper mines successful.

They were soon joined by hundreds more 'Cousin Jacks', recruited by the mining companies from depressed Cornwall. The Cornish, with generations of mining expertise, were skilled miners and artisans (particularly stone-masons) and quickly assumed a central role in the mines at Moonta. Cornish methods were used to work the mine, in the design and construction of buildings and in labour organisation.

Settlement of the mining areas was haphazard. Each mining company allowed the families of its miners to settle on the mining leases, in residential clusters adjacent to the workings. By 1865 there were 800 miners living on leases. A lack of social planning, and the influence of the prominent Cornish culture, led to villages clustered around the mines themselves. The major residential area was Moonta Mines, with other settlements (suburbs) at East Moonta, Hamley Flat, Yelta and Cross Road. All these villages were soon surrounded by the industrial workings, as mining development expanded beyond expectation.

The earliest dwellings were primitive, using native pine and canvas, but as the mines became established the miners built small squat cottages of wattle and daub, or limestone rubble, after their shifts. Larger houses, providing homes for managers and captains, were built away from the mine workings, and later in the town of Moonta.

The government township of Moonta was established in 1863, but the miners remained near the mine workings. By 1871 the Moonta Mining Company employed 1,145 people and there were reputedly up to 6,000 people living on the mining leases. Life was not easy at Moonta Mines and the other villages. Fresh water was scarce and epidemics of typhoid were decimating. In 1873 the lack of sewage and water services led to a typhoid outbreak that killed up to 300 people, mainly women and children.

Government planning and a concern for social welfare at Moonta Mines increased during the late 1870s. The Moonta Mines Public School opened on the mining leases in 1878 and compulsory education was introduced. In 1899 it was said that the main track from Moonta to Kadina was “lined on both frontages with the clustered cottages of Cross Road, nearly every one of the neat little dwellings having a pretty little garden in front.” It was a thoroughly populated area of 500 people, and the railway stop was being planned.[1]

A slump in copper prices in 1878 led to the closure of the Yelta mine, and a dramatic reduction in the near-by mining population. There were some revivals as the price of copper improved, but the mines finally closed in 1923. Nevertheless Moonta and its ‘satellite’ ghost villages, including Cross Roads, have survived into the 21st century.

The Extended Shields Family

Shields Family - F300

Robert Shields was born in Ireland about 1836, and migrated with his parents to live in Mochrum, Scotland. Like his father he became a farm labourer, although subsequently he found work as a railway labourer. On 5 June 1857 he was married in Mochrum to Mary Jane Fitzsimmons, of a similar age and the daughter of local farm labourer Robert Fitzsimmons and his wife May Murphy. The Fitzsimmons had also migrated from Ireland.

After more than a year of suffering, Mary Jane died in Mochrum on 25 September 1865 at the age of 30, leaving Robert as a widower with four children below the age of eight years.

Robert died at Cross Road at the age of 62 on 17 March 1897.

Agnes Shields, who was born in Mochrum on 1 December 1858 to Robert and Mary Jane, became a house-servant when she left school. In Cross Road she was married in her father’s home to Samuel James Griffin on 26 December 1880.

John Shields, born to Robert and Mary Jane on 16 May 1860 in Mochrum, had become a farm labourer like his forebears.

Mary Jane Shields, their sister, was born in Mochrum on 27 September 1862. She married Richard Stacey in the Shields’ home at Cross Road on 23 December 1882.

Catherine Shields, the youngest child, was born on 15 March 1864, also in Mochrum. In Cross Road she died on 3 October 1892 aged 25 years.

Shields Family - F189

Agnes Shields nee Thomson was Robert’s widowed mother . She had been born in Ireland about 1814, and had married John Shields. About 1850 they migrated to Mochrum, Scotland with their six children. John had died in Mochrum about 1871. Agnes died at Cross Road on 6 April 1875 at the age of 63, only seven months after arriving in South Australia.

William Shields, Robert’s brother, was born in Ireland about1843. In Mochrum he had been a ploughman and farm labourer, and had some experience as a miner. In Cross road he lived with his wife Eliza. In July 1883 their 8 years old daughter was found to have been drowned in their board-covered underground tank, having fallen through the trap-door while trying to obtain water, despite being forbidden to do so.

Hannah Shields was Robert’s sister. She was born in Ireland about 1845, and had become a farm servant in Mochrum.

Elizabeth Janet McDowall Shields had been born to unmarried Hannah at Mochrum on 12 January 1864.

Agnes Shields was Robert’s youngest sister. She had been born about 1855, after the family had migrated to Mochrum. In Cross Road she was married to John Barnabus Edgecombe on 14 December 1875. One of their children was named Robert Shields Edgecombe.

Robert’s eldest brother, Samuel Shields was born in Ireland about 1835 and also raised in Mochrum. He found his way separately to join the other family members in Cross Road near Moonta, South Australia. Samuel died in Cross Road at the age of 73 on 29 September 1908. His wife Elizabeth had died there in 1905 aged 64.

Another brother James may also have joined them in Cross Road. There were several events relating to James Shields and his wife Ellen.



  1. Adelaide Advertiser, Saturday 9 September 1899