Bartholomew McNamara was born about 1791 in Clare, Ireland. His native place as shown on the shipping records when he came to Australia was Lisdrumlandna, Clare. He married Bridget Lenehan in 1830 and like many of their countrymen, they and their children were followers of the Catholic faith. Bartholomew and Bridget migrated from Ireland to Sydney, arriving on 14 August 1851. They travelled to Australia on the ship "Sarah" which departed about May of that year. They departed with all eight of their children but their eldest son Patrick died four days before they arrived. They settled in the Queanbeyan, NSW district.
Like many others of the time they were escaping from what was known locally as "an Gorta Mór" meaning "the Great Hunger" but is more commonly known as the Great Potato Famine. The famine was a period of widespread starvation and disease and it caused mass emigration from Ireland between 1845 and 1852. The McNamaras survived most of the disaster period but eventually in 1851 had to leave. Family legend tells that they had a choice of going to America or Australia but didn't know how to choose as they knew nothing about either country. So why did they choose Australia? That same legend tells us that they resolved the dilemma with a simple toss of a coin. Whether Australia was heads or tails is not recorded.