Catherine's parents, Winifred Moloughney and William Whelan arrived in Adelaide from Tipperary, Ireland as free immigrants on the ship Catherine in 1851. Catherine was born about 1853. The family moved to the goldfields in Bendigo where William died in June 1854. In October 1855, Winifred married Thomas Gleeson in Bendigo. Thomas had arrived in Van Diemen's Land on the Kinnear in 1842 and held a conditional pardon. Winifred and Thomas were both from the parish of Latteragh in northern Tipperary. In 1856 the couple moved to Tasmania and settled at Dry Creek in the New Norfolk district. Winifred gave birth to four children there. Tragedy struck again in February 1862 when Thomas died as the result of an accident. Alone and unable to provide for her children, Winifred made an application for admission to the Orphan School of three of her children, Catherine Gleeson(Whelan), Thomas Gleeson and Winifred Gleeson in September 1862.
A record of Catherine's discharge from the school could not be found. Nine years of age on admisssion, she would have been twelve years old in 1865. Winifred, her mother, had married for a third time to John McRedmond in 1864. Catherine married William Briers in May 1872 in the Catholic parish of New Norfolk. Her half-siblings, Thomas Gleeson and Winifred Gleeson, were witnesses. William Briers was the son of Robert Briers and Lydia Jelley of Lachlan, near New Norfolk. The couple had a large family.