Walter Adams, pillar of the church, one-time Mayor and current member of state parliament, had a secret.


Walter Adams is marked on the left of this picture from the late 1880s or early 1890s.


Like his daughter-in-law, Catherine Mackinlay Adams Forrester, he was a bigamist.


Catherine Mackinlay  1868-1939

Catherine Mackinlay


Walter Adams (1830-1892)

Walter Adams (1830-1892)













After their arrival in New South Wales in 1849, Walter’s family (parents, brothers and sisters) lived initially in Sydney and then in the Hunter Valley. 

In 1851, Walter married Elizabeth Parnell in West Maitland, New South Wales.  In 1854, he married Mary Shannon in Gayndah, Queensland.

Mary Shannon (1832-1904)

Mary Shannon (1832-1904)

There is no record of the death of an Elizabeth Adams between 1851 and 1854 although the early records are incomplete.  Walter claimed to be a bachelor when he married for the second time.

What happened to Elizabeth?  She may have married Henry Baker in Richmond, New South Wales in 1853 or that may have been a different Elizabeth Parnell.

Did Walter and Elizabeth just agree to go their separate ways?

Was the reason Walter started a new life in Queensland to put some distance between them?

Did Mary know?


Black sheep and bigamy

What did Walter Adams, former Mayor of Bundaberg, Member of the Legislative Assembly of Queensland, respected and revered member of society, think when his son announced his intention to marry the daughter of a convicted criminal?

Walter Adams (1830-1892)

Walter Adams (1830-1892)

Admittedly, it was 16 years since Patrick Mackinlay’s release from prison but the sensational court case had been front page news.  Surely Walter would have known about it.

The Mackinlay Conspiracy





Walter’s son, James, was the black sheep of the family so perhaps his father’s opinion didn’t matter very much to him.  He was of full age and didn’t need his father’s permission to marry.

The relationship between Walter and James was obviously a rocky one.  In 1890, Walter wrote to his daughter about her brother, “I told him a few wholesome (sic) truths for which I shall not beg his pardon”.  Walter and James seem to have been reconciled shortly before Walter’s death in 1892 when Walter amended his will to include James as an executor and trustee (Connor, 2012).

James’ marriage was ill-fated.  James Walter Adams married Catherine Beatrice Mackinlay in Bundaberg in 1887 but by 1900 the couple had separated.  They never formally divorced.  Divorce after all was much less common, harder to obtain, and they were both Roman Catholic.

James Adams and Catherine Mackinlay  1887

James Adams and Catherine Mackinlay

James seems to have lived a lonely, semi-nomadic life in his remaining years with a horse named Gladys his final companion (Connor, 2012).

Catherine’s sisters had moved to Western Australia in the early 1900s because of a mining boom.  Catherine (or Sissy as she was known to the Mackinlays) and her two youngest children followed.  In 1908, Catherine married James Richard Forrester in Greenough, making herself a criminal by committing bigamy.

In those days of limited communication, Western Australia was a long way from Queensland.  Catherine was unlikely to run into anyone who knew that her first husband was still alive.  Of course her sisters knew but they doubtless thought Catherine better off well away from a man who family oral history says drank a lot and beat her.

Catherine in later years with her son, Ossie.

Catherine in later years with her son, Ossie.


Connor, R.L. and Connor, J.K. (2012). Bundaberg’s Beginnings: the Endeavours of Its Very Early Pioneers. Richard Laurence Connor: Brisbane.