Michael Williamson was born in 1803 in Belfast, Ireland, to Edward and Anne Williamson (nee McDermott). In 1824 he married Annie Owens at St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Belfast. The couple had four children, two sons and two daughters. In 1840 the family migrated to Australia on board the Resource. Another son born in 1842 died soon after birth.
Williamson was the first of three generations to serve on Redfern Council. His son William Williamson was an alderman from 1863 to 1881, and mayor on three occasions. His grandson Thomas Michael Williamson was an alderman from 1882 to 1887, and mayor in 1888. The Williamsons were an influential Sydney family and some ten Williamsons served in local government.
Michael Williamson died in 1862 on April 27, at home in Botany Road, Redfern, after a long illness.
Occupation & interests
Williamson was listed in immigration records as a farm servant, but little is known of his employment in Australia until 1849, when he successfully applied to become the licensee of the Belfast Wine Vaults, located on the corner of Boundary and Regent Streets in Redfern. In this large public house, Williamson rented out rooms and sold wholesale and retail ‘wine, spirits and porter’ by the case, or more commonly by the gallon (about 4.5 litres). The pub was also a popular venue for public gatherings, with crowds spilling onto the footpaths when meeting rooms were full. In 1856, Michael Williamson transferred the license to his son William, who took over the business.
The Belfast Wine Vaults was pulled down in the early 1880s when the railway tunnel was built at Cleveland and Redfern streets.
Williamson had considerable property (in 1858 he was listed in the Assessment Books as landlord of no less than ten dwellings), and owned a kiln where he made and burnt the bricks used to construct his own and many other buildings.
Michael Williamson’s first involvement in civic affairs took place in the 1850s, when he chaired political meetings for the Sydney Hamlet, a colonial parliamentary electorate stretching from Paddington to McMahon’s Point.
Local government service
Michael Williamson was elected as an alderman of the inaugural Redfern Council in 1859, and was its chairman within the first year, serving as mayor from 1860 to 1861. He was active on the Improvement Committee, working to improve local roads and services and chaired the Finance Committee, issuing ‘distress warrants’ to residents who had not paid their rates.
Biography researched and written by Marian Lorrison, November 2015.
‘The suburbs of Sydney’, written for the Evening News, by Mary Salmon, June 4, 1903, p.3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article113912869
‘Legislative Assembly: Business for this day’, The Sydney Morning Herald, May 22, 1860, p.5 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13040872
‘Meeting at Redfern’, Empire, March 5, 1856, p.5http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article60174683
‘Redfern Municipality – Nomination of Councillors’ The Sydney Morning Herald, September 6, 1859, p.5 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article130303094
State Records Authority of New South Wales; Kingswood New South Wales, Australia; Entitlement certificates of persons on bounty ships; Series: 5314; Reel: 1316 (Assisted Immigrant Passenger Lists)
Ancestry.com. Australia, Death Index, 1787-1985 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. (Death in 1862)
State Archives NSW; Series: 14401; Item: [4/82-83]; Reel: 5062 (publican’s license, 1849
‘The Redfern Tunnel’, The Evening News, September 25, 1885, p.4
Empire, March 5, 1856, p.5 – Meeting at Redfern. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article60174683
Sydney Morning Herald, April 28, 1862, p.1 DEATHS,, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13227742
Michael Williamson, Williamson Family History, City of Sydney Archives, TRIM 2013/39690