Pte Joseph CURRAN [1886-1916]
John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland image no. 702692-19151009-s0023-012,

Joseph James CURRAN

Regimental Number
War Service
Egypt and Western Front
Prior Military Service
10 Jul 1915 at Brisbane, QLD
09 Nov 1915 from Brisbane, QLD, on the HMAT A62 Wandilla
Next of Kin
Mother – Catherine “Kate” Curran, Coonamble, Dubbo NSW
Date & Place of Birth
28 Nov 1886, Maitland, NSW
Marital Status
C/- Maggie Kitching, Oxford Hotel, Maryborough, Queensland
None known
Physical Description
5 feet 9 inches, 174 pounds (175.3cm, 78.9kg)
Eyes grey, Hair brown, Complexion fresh
Roman Catholic
Killed in Action, 19 Jul 1916, Fromelles, France. On German Death List - aged 29
Place of Burial
No known grave.
V.C. Corner, (Panel 3), Australian Cemetery and Memorial, Fromelles, France
Positively Identified

Finding DNA to identity Pte 494 Joseph J. Curran

Help Needed.

As Joseph is named on the German Death List, and his death location identified in German Army documents. We consider it highly likely that Joseph awaits identification. For this, we need to locate DNA carriers. In relation to mitochondrial DNA, our searches so far have revealed:

    Sibling Sister searches:

  • We have found no evidence of sisters for Joseph.
  • Mother and maternal Aunt searches:

  • See story for more detail but in summary we have not located any other issue from Catherine (Kate) Curran.
  • Possible names of maternal Aunts include: Sheely, perhaps an Irish variation to Cicely or name changed to Cicely; Bridget, who we cannot confirm is related; and lastly Margaret, who married a John Patrick Dever, at Branxton NSW in 1888.
  • Grandmother Search:

  • We have not found a line and are most desirous of contact with any family from a maternal line directly linked to Ann DUGGAN who came from near Falcarragh (also known as the Crossroads), County Donegal. Variations to Duggan surname could include Doogan, Dugan, Doohan amongst others.
  • Ann and her husband Michael CURRAN emigrated in 1864 on the ship “Montrose”. Other families from the Crossroads area on that same immigrant ship included Currans and Doohans.
  • Sadly, Ann died in childbirth at Maitland NSW in 1871 which led to the family being split, and the children losing contact with one another.
  • We know little of Ann’s family in Falcarragh in county Donegal however our research indicates that members of her family have either died out or emigrated.
  • As all other avenues have been exhausted, we need assistance to find this part of her family. (See panel at end of this story.)
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Crossroads / Falcarragh area in Donegal including the townland of Glasserchoo where Joseph’s maternal grandmother (Ann DUGGAN) is believed to have originated.
source Google Maps 2022

“Lost waif” to “soldier brave”

Joseph James CURRAN was born on 28th November 1886 in Maitland, New South Wales, Australia. His mother is recorded as Catherine (also known as Kate) Curran and his birth was illegitimate. Our researcher found court records which confirmed his father’s identity, and we managed to trace a very willing donor who has supplied a Y DNA donation. Tracing his mother, her family or any other births has so far (2022) proved impossible.

Joseph’s upbringing could fairly be described as awful and the following extracts from newspaper reports relate to two court hearings regarding his childhood.

Published 26 February 1887 (Joseph then aged 3 months):

“AFFILIATION. -Kate Curran v. Edward Cantwell.

The defendant was charged with having neglected to contribute towards the support of an illegitimate child, of whom he was the putative father. Mr. Young appeared for the complainant. The paternity, in the opinion of the Bench, was fully established.

Complainant gave positive evidence in support of the complaint, and two other female witnesses - one of whom he had also seduced, and had failed to marry after the death of the child, and he admitted that he was the father of the infant - swore to certain incidents which went to support the complainant's story. It would seem from the evidence that his excuse for not marrying his first victim was the difficulty in which he found himself with regard to the complainant.

Defendant denied that he was the father of the child, and contradicted point-plank the main points in the statements of the female witnesses.

The Bench adjudged the defendant to be the father of the infant, and ordered him to pay 7s 6d per week for twelve months towards the support of the same, the first payment to be made next Friday; and further directed that he pay £3 3s professional costs, 7s 6d court costs, and 3s expenses of a witness, in default levy and distress, or fourteen days' imprisonment.”

East Maitland Police Court. (1887, February 26). The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 - 1893), p. 7. Retrieved April 22, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18893327

Published 3 October 1894 (Joseph aged almost 8):


A lad named Joseph Cantwell, alias Curran, on remand, was charged with habitually wandering and loitering about the streets in no ostensible lawful occupation.

Constable Hilder stated that he found the lad at 11.30 p.m. on the 28th ultimo sleeping in a box at the rear of Mrs. Bishop's residence. He had noticed him for about a month, and complaints had frequently been made to him about the lad sleeping, out.

Bridget Bishop stated the lad was the illegitimate child of Kate Curran, and he had been living in her house for some time. Latterly she had not received anything for his support, and was unable to keep him. She had sent him several times to his father, Edward Cantwell, at Morpeth, but he always came back again.

The Bench ordered the lad to be sent to the training ship 'Sobraon.’ “

East Maitland Police Court. (1894, October 3). The Maitland Daily Mercury (NSW : 1894 - 1939), p. 2. Retrieved April 10, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article124730288
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The Sobraon Training Ship was used as a boys’ reformatory 1892-1911

Joseph only lasted two weeks on Sobraon as he was physically too small and young. He was a small seven/eight-year-old while the others were 6 or 7 years older, so he was back where he started - on the streets of Maitland.

Little is known of the following years until he enlisted on July 10th 1915. He listed his address as in care of Maggie Kitching, Oxford Hotel, Maryborough in Queensland and gave his occupation as labourer. His mother is named as his next of kin - so they had maintained a relationship – and Joseph gave her address as Coonamble, Dubbo, the last known to Joseph. Sadly, and despite numerous attempts at contact by the Army, his mother was never located. Research has shown that a Kate Curran died on 25 April 1915 while working at Brewarrina Hospital, New South Wales. This appears likely to be “our Kate”, and it is possible that, unknown to Joseph, his mother had died three months before he enlisted.

Kate’s Irish parents came to Australia from Crossroads in Donegal under the Donegal Relief Fund which was set up to help distressed people in Donegal. Kate was born in Maitland, New South Wales in 1869 but her mother, Ann (nee Duggan), died in childbirth when Kate was two. This is what most likely led to the disintegration of the family. At this stage, Kate had two older sisters - Cicely and Bridget/Margaret- and brothers, John and Michael.

Kate’s father, Michael Curran, who was a fettler on the railways, remarried in 1876, left Maitland and had a new family. This new family - and their descendants - believed the children of his first marriage returned to Ireland.

Searching for Joseph

This search has been most unusual for two issues which are rather unique - and the second of these, places a significant need on locating more donors for Joseph, or of finding an appropriate non-DNA identification method.

The first issue is that in most circumstances with illegitimate births, we manage to locate the mt DNA sample via the mother’s family quite easily, and struggle with ever identifying the father. In this case the reverse is true.

The second and far more important issue is that Joseph is identified, along with Cyril Johnston, Alfred Thompson and Leonard Broadhurst in the German archives for World War1. The remains of Cyril, Alfred and Leonard have all been identified – making it an almost certainty that Joseph lies in Pheasant Wood Cemetery awaiting identification. To put it bluntly, (and frustratingly) we know he is there, but have not been able to prove it!

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Map sourced from German archives annotated to show locations of fallen Australians, including (in red) Joseph Curran.
source Peter Barton, The Lost Legions of Fromelles (2014 Allen and Unwin), insert after page 164

The German Death List

Joseph was reported missing on 19 July 1916 and the German army later sent a report (known as a death voucher) confirming Private Curran’s details:

'Australian Soldier Jos. James Curran, 31st Btn. fell in the neighbourhood of Fromelles on 19/7/16.'

NAA BA2455 Curran Joseph J

This information was re-confirmed by German authorities on 24 October 1919.

There is also a handwritten note on Joseph’s army file – ‘buried at Fleurbaix, Sh.36 NW H.21.d’ – which only adds doubt to the fate of Joseph. After wide consultation, it is thought that the reference in the NAA Service file, is not a site of burial, and that he indeed lies “Unknown “at Pheasant Wood Cemetery.

Joseph’s identity disc was received from German authorities in August 1916. It seems that attempts were made to return this to his mother, but that correspondence was returned unclaimed.

Mrs Curran was never officially notified of her son's death because she could not be traced, although the army attempted many times over the years to find her. As late as 1924, authorities were still seeking to trace next of kin to make payment of war pensions or the war gratuity to which serving soldiers and their next of kin might be entitled. As we now know, his mother, Kate, had died in 1915.

In May 1920, personal effects were sent in accordance with his will to Maggie nee Kitching - who had married widower James Joynson in August 1916. The inventory of personal effects consisted of wallet, notebook, and photo.

Notes on Private Curran’s file states that the soldier’s personal effects were placed into storage in December 1927. This is likely to include his identity disc probably returned unclaimed in May 1917 after being sent to his mother’s old address and other items listed but not returned to Maggie Kitching (eg. medallions, receipt for bank book, letters, etc.). Possibly it also included the memorial plaque and scroll issued for the families of deceased soldiers and also the medals issued (1914/15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal) for Joseph Curran, initially noted as Untraceable and so filed.

Summary of Research by Fromelles Association of Australia

1) Identified a Y donor from natural father’s line and Y DNA donated. A second Y DNA donor would be helpful.

2) Currently searching for a mtDNA donor from his mother’s line, having searched extensively in Australia and in Donegal, Ireland.

3) As for Joseph’s mother’s siblings, we have found possible traces of them in Australia:

  • Cicely possibly died in 1928 in South Australia, no known issue
  • Bridget/Margaret married Patrick Dever, had 2 sons and died age 30 in 1894
  • John married Margaret O’Halloran and had no known issue; he died in 1941
  • Michael died 1944; never married and no known issue
  • Mary died in 1886 aged 14

4) Joseph’s grandmother Ann, nee Duggan (Dugan / Doogan):

  • She was born in 1836 in Glasserchoo, about 10 kilometres west of Falcarragh in county Donegal
  • Her father was Michael Duggan and her mother Bridget.
  • We have been unable to trace family although there was an Owen Duggan from the same location, who died in 1868 in Maitland.
  • Two other Curran families (Manus and Margaret Curran and Daniel and Mary Curran) and a Doohan (possible variation of Duggan – Owen and Bridget) travelled to Australia with Michael and Ann Curran to Australia in 1864.

We have used crowd funding to raise money for searching overseas for selected “difficult” soldiers using professional researchers. In this case we hired Michael Walsh and we also received much help from our own volunteer researcher Mairead Crinion, both living in Ireland, to further expand our knowledge.

An extract from notes of Michael Walsh helps identify the likely birthplaces:

“I began by consulting the authority on Townlands in 19th century Ireland and discovered that there was a Cross Roads Town situated in the Townland of Falcarragh which straddles the Civil Parishes of Tullaghobegly and Raymunterdoney and lies within the Barony of Kilmacrenan and the Poor Law Union of Dunfanaghy.”

Michael Walsh
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A map of the relevant part of county Donegal courtesy of Michael Walsh. We have highlighted in yellow Falcarragh and Glasserchoo which are only about 10 kilometres apart.
source Www.openstreetmap.ie

Michael went on to evaluate evidence pointing to the respective parentage and birthplaces of Ann Duggan and Michael Curran. Evidence points to Michael’s father and grandfather both being named Manus Curran and likely residents of Meenaclady, the area just to the west of Glasserchoo.

In addition, our wonderful researchers from St Clare’s College are currently developing a media campaign for information on the family of Joseph J Curran. Their work began in August 2021 and aims to encompass social and other media.

We would be most grateful for any help with this genealogical brick wall.

DNA is still being sought for family connections to, One Y and two mtDNA donors are sought.

SoldierJoseph James CURRAN (1886-1916)
ParentsEdward CANTWELL (1860-1926)
and Kate CURRAN (1869-1915)
PaternalThe CANTWELL Family of Maitland, NSW
MaternalMichael CURRAN and Ann DUGGAN or Doogan (1836-1871) from Crossroads, Falcarragh, Donegal.

Note Manus and Margaret Curran travelled to Australia with Michael and Ann. We presume there is a family connection but have no definitive evidence to date.

Seeking DNA Donors

Fromelles Association of Australia


The Fromelles Association welcomes all contact regarding this soldier.
(Contact: royce@fromelles.info or geoffrey@fromelles.info).
We also urge any family members to contact and register with the Australian Army
(Contact: army.uwc@defence.gov.au or phone 1800 019 090).


The Fromelles Association maintains this web site, purely by donations received.
If you are able, please contribute to the upkeep of this resource.
(Contact: bill@fromelles.info ).