The Gillen Family in Clare

Updated: Mar 3, 2020

Thomas Gillen (1823-1873) and Bridget McCann (1829-1920) emigrated from Cavan in 1855, they lived at Onetree Hill northeast of Adelaide for a few years, and had three children before following his brother, Philip, to Clare in 1864.

  • Two further Gillen children were born in Clare;

  • their sons attended Sevenhill College;

  • the family was deeply involved locally, and

  • their children made significant impacts on wider colonial society


His son the Honorable Peter Paul Gillen (1858-1896) was a resident of Clare for 35 years; he was a representative of this district in three Parliaments; and for four years Commissioner of Crown Lands of the province.

Mr. Peter Gillen had two brothers— Mr. F. J. Gillen, S.M., Stationmaster of Alice Springs (A Sub-Protector of the Aboriginals near Alice Springs, Francis Gillen worked with Baldwin Spencer as an amateur anthropologist.)

and Mr. Thomas Philip Gillen, who was in the storekeeping business with his uncle, Mr. Philip Gillen, at Clare.

He also had two sisters—

Miss Gillen, of Clare, and Mrs. Butler, wife of Mounted-constable Butler, who was stationed for a time at Happy Valley.


Peter Paul Gillen (pictured at right) ), shopkeeper and politician, had moved up-country to Clare in 1862.

Mr. Gillen was a son of the late Mr. Thomas Gillen, of Clare, and was born at Golden Grove in 1858. With his father and family he removed to Clare. at the age of four where he had resided ever since.


As a young man he entered the employment of Mr. A. Clarke, storekeeper, of Clare, and subsequently entered into the general storekeeping business as a member of the firm of P. & P. P. Gillen, which has since been largely extended and carried on solely by him.


Mr. Gillen was a Director of several Western Australian mining Companies. He was also a Director of the Southern Cross newspaper with his colleague, the Hon. J. V. O'Loghlin.


Peter's brother, Mr. Thomas Philip Gillen (pictured left) was one of Clare's most respected and prominent townsmen, being mayor from 1910-1912.

He was born at Clare in March 1868, being a son of Thomas and Bridget Gillen.

After his schooldays were over Mr. Thomas Gillen went to Port Pirie and later in life to Terowie, where he worked at storekeeping for a number of years. He married Miss Theresa McGillick at Saints Michael and John's Church, Terowie, on Oct. 10, 1894, and commenced business as a storekeeper in Clare in 1896.

Gillen's Store was at 245 Main North Road in the centre of the town of Clare, on the corner of Ness Street.

Mr. Gillen took a great interest in 'Links with the Past.'

Typical of his thoroughness was that he was not certain of dates and particulars about Dan. O'Leary, so he paid a visit to St. Michael's church yard in a busy Saturday lunch hour in order to read the tombstone and be sure that he had given facts correctly. This was a few days before his final illness.


We lament his passing, but recall with pride his kindness of heart that led him to assist every worthy cause and take a human interest in the every-day life around him, and (of) the cultural and progressive aims of all sections of society.


Read more:


T. P. GILLEN GENERAL STORE - Northern Argus (Clare, SA : 1869 - 1954) Fri 5 Apr 1940 Page 2 "That civilisation has improved, bringing with it greater degrees of comfort and luxuries, is proved by the fact that accounts of life in the Middle Ages tell of the keen competition between the ladies of the Court of England to secure long lengths of silks, laces, and linens, while dates, ginger, spices and other condiments were literally fought for; and the 'Sea Dogs' of Old England, were not slow to perceive that exorbitant profits were to be amassed by the sale of these highly valued commodities were they able to trade for them in the East." "In the modern world of to-day these and many other items have become necessities, but research laboratories are for ever launching new materials, styles, condiments, and more hygienic alloys in which to pack edibles on a grasping world. It behoves the store keeper, then, to keep up with the times, and present to his circle of customers the latest delicacies in the way of tinned and dried foods, groceries, dairy produce; and in the way of general drapery, Manchester, and delightful new materials." "This can be claimed as accomplished by Mr. T. P. Gillen, who established his general store some half a century ago, and who since its inauguration has maintained a standard of goods equal to those kept in any store in the town." "Assisted by his son (Mr. Tom Gillen), J. S. McGillick, and various other relatives this progressive storekeeper aims to satisfy every need of the purchaser in drapery, grocery and hardware, and we must not omit the additional benefit gained by shopping at Gillen's Store, which is that every cash drapery docket will be credited with 7½ per cent, discount in cash — a fact which should weigh heavily these days when 'economy' is uppermost in our minds." "Mr. Gillen's progressive ideas can be partly attributed to the fact that he is genuinely interested in the various civic activities that are of value to the town, and was mayor for several terms, secretary of the Racing Club, and president of the local, show. Such keen civic pride earns its own reward, and the popularity of Mr. Gillen's store speaks for itself." "A delivery that has as its motto, 'Always on Time,' is maintained, and as orders made by ringing Clare 22 can confidently be expected in the shortest time, Gillen's Store remains a firm and steadfast enterprise in the town."


More About (Mayor) Thomas Philip Gillen

From the Southern Cross newspaper (Adelaide, SA), Friday 21 November 1941, page 11

"An ardent member of the Catholic community, he would have wished nothing better than to pass on as he did on All Saints' Day, and be buried on All Souls' Day." Thus said the "Northern Argus", Clare, in its full-page notice of the death of Mr. T. P. Gillen, of Clare.


He came from a stock that had already found a place of honor in the annals of settlement and culture in Australia, and he added his own rich contribution to the things that have made the Gillen family at Clare one of the most noted in the State.


The late Mr. Gillen, who was born at Clare in 1868, was a son of the late Thomas and Bridget Gillen, pioneer townspeople. He was educated at the Sisters of St. Joseph's School,in Clare.. Later he went to St. Aloysius' College, Sevenhill, when the first Rector of the -college was the late Fr. Anthony Strele.


After his schooldays were over Mr. Thomas Gillen went to Port Pirie and later in life to Terowie, where he worked at storekeeping for a number of years. He married Miss Theresa McGillick at Saints Michael and John's Church, Terowie, on Oct. 10, 1894, and commenced business as a storekeeper in Clare in 1896.


In a lifetime of public effort Mr. T.P. Gillen was endowed with a natural talent for public speaking, had a flair for organisation, was tenacious of purpose, had a quick and business acumen sense of humor not given to ordinary men. His word was his bond and the clarity, and probity of his business associations have always been an inspiration to his friends and associates.


A staunch member of St. Michael's Catholic Church, Clare, he was known far and wide by a wide circle of friends. In civic affairs he held the office of Mayor of Clare over three terms.

  • He took a wide interest in pastoral, farming, and agricultural and horticultural pursuits.

  • He took a wide and unfailing interest in Federal and State politics.


Gravestone at Seven Hill Cemetary,
Gravestone of P P Gillen at Sevenhill Cemetery
  • His late brother (Hon. Peter Paul Gillen, M.P.), who was Commissioner of Crown Lands in the Kingston Ministry, had one of the largest State funerals ever seen in the North, when he was buried at Sevenhill on September 22, 1896, aged 38 years. (pictured at left)

  • Another of Tom Gillen's brothers, Mr. Frank Gillen, after whom Mount Gillen in this State is named, this brother Frank went to Adelaide and Alice Springs, and became postmaster at Moonta and Charlotte Waters, after which he was made a. special magistrate and. protector of aborigines, and became a noted authority on the Australian aborigines. By request of the Government, in collaboration with Professor Baldwin Spencer, of the Melbourne University, who held the Chair of Biology, Frank Gillen published three scientific books which have made the name of Gillen famous.


The "Northern Argus"gives the following unique record in evidence of the late Mr. Gillen's services to God and country: :


  1. president Hibernian Catholic Benefit Society;

  2. secretary Clare Football Club;

  3. secretary H.A.C. B.S. Sports, Sevenhill;

  4. president Clare Club;

  5. vice-president Mid North Football Association;

  6. president Clare Cricket Club;

  7. patron, president, and treasurer, and first honorary life member of Clare A. & H. Society, Inc.;

  8. chairman Clare Vigilance Oval Trust;

  9. member of Clare Oval Trust;

  10. secretary Clare Racing Club for 33 years, also first honorary life member;

  11. auditor Clare District Council and Hutt and Hill Rivers District Council;

  12. auditor Clare Dried Fruits Association;

  13. councillor Clare Corporation for a number of years;

  14. Mayor of Clare for three years, 1910, 11,12;

  15. member of the committee building Clare and District Hospital;

  16. member of Clare and District Hospital Board;

  17. foundation member, Clare Bowling Club;

  18. president and secretary Clare Coursing Club;

  19. member of Clare Dramatic Club;

  20. president and secretary of Clare Golf Club;

  21. chairman St.Michael's Catholic Church Committee;

  22. member of choir St. Michael's Church;

  23. member of Clare Victoria Relief Society;

  24. chairman Clare to Spalding Railway Committee;

  25. director Clare Co-operative Brewing Co.;

  26. representative South Australian Soldiers' Fund;

  27. member of Back to Clare Committee;

  28. member of executive committee of Patriotic Carnival, 1941.

  29. Arranged first continental on Bain Rotunda;


He was asked to contest Stanley District for House of Assembly on the death of his

brother, Hon. P. P. Gillen, and again on the death of Mr. W. P. Cummins, M.P.


The largest cortege seen in Clare for many years paid tribute to the late Mr. Gillen's sterling worth. The pall-bearers were his brother in-law, Mr. J. S. McGillick, Mr. P. H. Quirke, M.P., Mr. W. P. McBride, and Mr. W, Slattery. The burial service was conducted by the V. Rev. Fr.

J. L. Forster, S.J.; assisted by the Rev. Fr. P. J. Dalton, S J., and the Rev. Fr. F. O'Keefe, of Norwood.

May his soul rest in peace.


Gillen Francis James (Frank) Gillen, Anthropologist (1855-1912)

The strange career of the Australian conscience Dean Ashenden 10 June 2010 [Inside Story]

The remarkable collaboration of anthropologists Baldwin Spencer and Frank Gillen,

“bearers, shapers and captives of the Australian conscience”

Francis J. Gillen (front left) and W. Baldwin Spencer (front right) at Alice Springs, Northern Territory, in 1901. The men in the back row are (from left) Erlikiliakira, Mounted Trooper Chance and Purula. (From Museum Victoria)


THIS IS a story about an Englishman, an Irishman and the strange career of the Australian conscience.


  • It begins at the top of a rocky hill in Central Australia, at sunset, on or about Friday 20 July 1894.

  • The Englishman and the Irishman have just met, and there is romance in the air. They are in a magical place at a magical time of day. Each is an exotic to the other.

  • Baldwin Spencer, the Englishman, is a professor. Frank Gillen, the Irishman, is a postmaster.




Spencer, aged thirty-five, is the son of a wealthy, protestant industrialist from Manchester and a relatively recent immigrant, now resident in Melbourne.

  • Gillen, thirty-eight, was conceived in Ireland but born in Australia to Catholic store-keepers in a South Australian country town.

  • Spencer is an Oxford graduate, Gillen an autodidact.

  • Gillen is tending to the portly while Spencer is slight; each sports a big droopy moustache.

  • Both are charming and gregarious, love a pipe, a whisky and a yarn, and they follow politics and world affairs with a nice balance of agreement and dispute.

  • Both are of liberal mind, anti-clerical, and pro the development of the Australian continent and an Australian nation, but Baldwin is an Empire man and for Capital, while Frank is an ardent Home Ruler with Socialistic tendencies.

  • Both are modern men. And both are utterly fascinated by the Aborigines.

They would become the most famous – and infamous – duo in the history of Australian anthropology.


  • By the time Frank Gillen met Baldwin Spencer he had been in Central Australia for almost exactly half of his life, but his encounter with the Aborigines began before he even got there.

Early in 1874, when he was an eighteen-year-old operator at the Adelaide terminus of the brand-new Overland Telegraph Line, Gillen was the recipient of a grim message from the Barrow Creek repeater station, nearly 1200 miles north in the wilds of Central Australia.

  • Two of the station’s staff had just been speared by “treacherous natives” while taking the evening air and listening to one of their number play the violin.

  • Over the hours that followed the young Gillen played a part in a scene that might have come from Rider Haggard.

  • He was the intermediary in poignant exchanges between the dying stationmaster in Barrow Creek and his wife in the Adelaide GPO.

  • Gillen was vehement in support of the vigilante squad of linesmen from the stations up and down the Line who rode out and slaughtered dozens of men, women and children.

  • Just over a year later Gillen was on his way north to take up a position at another of the Line’s remote stations, and he kept a diary.....

Read more:

  1. Continue the story of Spencer and Baldwin in The strange career of the Australian conscience Dean Ashenden 10 June 2010 [Inside Story]

  2. Spencer & Gillen A journey through Aboriginal Australia Francis James Gillen and Walter Baldwin Spencer amassed what is perhaps the most influential collection of Australian ethnographic material ever assembled. Their work had a decisive influence on the early development of anthropology, particularly in Europe.

  3. Wikipedia: Francis James Gillen

  4. Biography Gillen, Francis James (1855–1912)

  5. View the SBS documentary Frank Gillen | Programs - SBS - AIRED ON 24 February 2016: EXPIRES ON 29 June 2021

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