Photograph of Ben Chifley’s parents
This photograph of Ben Chifley’s parents hangs on the wall of the Study at Chifley Home. It is an undated studio photograph of Patrick Joseph Chifley (1862-1921) and his wife Mary Ann (ca.1856-1929), formally posed and offering a rather stern unsmiling presence.
Both parents were of Catholic Irish stock, with Patrick born in Bathurst and Mary Ann arriving in New South Wales from Ireland in 1878 as an unmarried assisted migrant. The couple met in Bathurst through the family of George Fish, who employed Patrick as a blacksmith. They were married in 1884; a son, Joseph Benedict, was born in 1885. Benedict was suggested as a name by the Mother Superior of St Benedict’s Convent in Queanbeyan, where Mary Ann had worked as a housekeeper. Ben would become the name of choice for Joseph Benedict Chifley.
In 1890, at the age of five, Ben was sent by his parents to live on the family farm at Limekilns with grandfather Patrick and aunt Mary Bridget, his father’s stepsister. Over the next nine years, Ben would occasionally see his father, who sometimes came out to help on the farm, but only rarely his mother and little brothers, Dick and Pat. Life was likely hard on the farm for Ben, as well as lonely. Ben Chifley once reflected that those childhood years spent as a “general dogsbody” on the struggling farm with his at times tyrannical grandfather helped “force the iron into his soul” that stood him well in adulthood.
Ben returned to live in Bathurst in 1899 following his grandfather’s death. We cannot say how Ben might have felt on returning to his family. In his later life, however, he showed a deep appreciation for family relationships as evident in his great fondness for his brothers’ children, his nephews and nieces.