Fearless Female 31 March: A retrospective on Bridget McSharry nee Furlong

Lisa Alzo of The Accidental Genealogist blog presents Fearless Females: 31 Blogging Prompts to Celebrate Women’s History Month. The final challenge for the month is to write a 500 word mini-profile of a female ancestor. I’ve chosen one of my lines that I don’t write about often, and a female ancestor who rarely appears in my blog spotlight.

Bridget Furlong was born to Martin Furlong and his wife, Margaret nee Sta(u)nton and baptised on 29 December 1840 at the Roman Catholic Church, Tullamore, Kings County (Offaly).  The Griffith Valuations place the family in the townland of Shr(u)agh, but their absence from the church records suggests they were not native to Tullamore. Nothing is known of Bridget’s early life other than that she lived through the devastating experience of Ireland’s Great Famine. Later generations of Furlong men would be skilled Gaelic footballers. Were Bridget’s brothers, John and Martin, similarly talented?

Bridget married James Sharry, a railway man, in Tullamore on 21 May 1859 (witnesses John Horan and Maria Slavin). Their sons, Peter (1861) and James (1865) were both baptised in Tullamore but their second son, Martin, was baptised in 1863 at Arklow, Wicklow. Their childrens’ baptisms track the family’s movement from Tullamore to Arklow to Gorey, Co Wexford where the family settled in the townland of Knockina, probably in a railway house.

Around the time of their 23rd anniversary the couple made the decision to emigrate. Queensland was building its extensive railway network and James would have readily gained employment as an experienced railwayman. James and Bridget and eight of their ten known children (James, John, Mary Agatha, Margaret, Bridget Agnes, Catherine, Esther Anne, and Patrick) arrived in Rockhampton on board the Melpomene on 20 January 1883. The family name changed to McSharry, possibly to piggyback on the renowned railway company, McSharry and O’Rourke. Son Martin may have died in Ireland[i]. Eldest son Peter, wife Mary, and his young family would arrive in Australia a year later, changing his name to McSherry.

The McSharrys settled first in Rockhampton where James worked as a railway platelayer[ii]. As with the Irish records, BDM events track their geographic movement. Daughter Margaret died in Rockhampton in 1884, aged 12, of shock from burns. John, aged 19, drowned in the flooded Claude River in March 1887 while working as a labourer on/near Mantuan Downs station. Their youngest son, Patrick, died in Gympie in 1889 of pericarditis, aged 8 years. Newspaper reports seem strangely silent on the deaths except John’s. James McSharry is not listed as the informant on the certificates.

Bridget reappears running boarding houses, first in Maryborough (1892-93) and then in Derby St, Rockhampton (1894-97). James disappears entirely from view and nothing has been found of his death. Did James desert her as I suspect, or has his death gone unreported somehow? Certainly life went badly wrong for her and the family not very long after their arrival. Down all these years I feel the terrible sorrow of her loneliness and the betrayal of her dreams, but no loss of faith.

Bridget McSharry née Furlong, a widow aged 59, died in Rockhampton on 13 July 1900 and is buried in the North Rockhampton cemetery.

SOURCES:

Tullamore Parish register – information received from Offaly Historical Society. Confirmed through LDS microfilm 926186.

Griffith Valuations on microfiche (Tullamore).

Gorey parish records viewed on site.

Queensland Immigration records.

Official Queensland death certificates.


[i] Bridget’s death certificate lists three sons and one daughter deceased: John, Patrick, probably Martin and Margaret.

[ii] Queensland Death Certificate for daughter Margaret McSharry.

Fearless Females 17: Social Butterflies? More Martha than Mary

Lisa Alzo of The Accidental Genealogist blog presents Fearless Females: 31 Blogging Prompts to Celebrate Women’s History Month. #17 – Social Butterly? What social organisations or groups did your mother or grandmother belong to?

My first thought was “social butterly?” “My family?” Even Trove is unable to turn up stories of my mother’s or grandmothers’ involvement in such social events. One of my grandmothers died in her sixties, which of course I think is quite young as she was a similar age to me now. My other grandmother lived into her 80s but I have virtually no recollection of her even leaving the house. Surely she must have? I’m certain though that she was not involved in any social events or service organisations.

Perhaps not “social butterfly” in the generally accepted meaning of the phrase but nonetheless my mother has a history of service which evokes more Martha than Mary for those with a biblical background. The Catholic church has always been my mother’s linch-pin and she has been part of various committees within it as well as doing the church flowers and the like. She and Dad also did Meals on Wheels for some time too after his retirement. Throughout my school years she was also involved in supporting my schools in various practical ways.

Around the time I married and left home to live in Papua New Guinea my mother also took on a role as Commissioner with the local Girl Guides, of which I’d been a member for some years. She seemed to enjoy this activity but because I wasn’t around I didn’t really learn too much about what she did with them.  Before her own marriage she’d been part of the Women’s Air Training Corps learning aircraft identification etc during World War II and assisting with the library.

It’s interesting to see that this service heritage has passed down to me and my children as well, with engagement in various school or church activities over the years. Interesting, too, to know that this kind of parochial service stretches back to the 18th century in my mother’s family lines.

Fearless Females 13: Moments of Strength – Emily Melvin

Emily Melvin (nee Partridge) with her husband Stephen Gillespie Melvin, probably c1906-1910.

In honour of Women’s History  Month, Lisa Alzo of The Accidental Genealogist blog presents Fearless Females: 31 Blogging Prompts to Celebrate Women’s History Month. This post is my response to Day 13, Moments of Strength.

Emily Partridge was the second wife of Stephen Gillespie Melvin. His fist wife, Janet Melvin, had died fifteen months earlier on Peel Island shortly after arriving on Australian soil.

The year 1887 was to be an annus horribilis for Emily and her family, a year of many moments demanding courage, determination and loyalty. Emily was still only a young woman of 28 but she needed all the strength she could muster.

1887 started with a major flood in Ipswich, Queensland in which her husband Stephen Gillespie Melvin, nearly drowned. Some newspaper reports suggest he was trying to move goods from his bakery and confectionery store, but given the year’s subsequent events I do wonder if it was an accident. A young man, Thomas Shadrach Livermore, was awarded a bronze Humane Society medal for saving Stephen from the flooded Bremer River.

No sooner had the family recovered from that fright, than Stephen was involved in a legal case over a land dispute to develop a coal mine, in which he was one of the defendants. Around the same time his business went into liquidation, no doubt partly due to the court case and perhaps also due to stock losses from the flood and his over-ambitious expansion plans. Stephen lost the court case and the judge charged him and four others with perjury believing they had given false evidence at the land case trial. At the subsequent trial Stephen was found guilty and sentenced to 5½ years gaol. Two of the others were also found guilty while the remaining two were declared not guilty.

Throughout these terrible times, Emily would have had to keep her young family of five children together and her spirits up. The evidence suggests that she was supported in this by her parents, William and Hannah Partridge. Her family had been in Ipswich since the early days and it’s likely she found the whole experience bewildering and shameful. Her family were staunch Methodists and the Melvin business had had a good reputation, so it surely must have been humiliating to be in the public gaze in this way.

We can barely imagine how Emily felt when her husband was sent to gaol for those long years. I’ve read the trial papers in detail and I certainly felt that the evidence was ambiguous: very much a case of “he said, she said”.  Fortunately for the family, Stephen was granted a remission of his sentence after appeal to the Queensland government executive. Thanks to this, 1887 Emily’s annus horribilis ended on a positive note and the family could start to regroup. Emily’s courage and determination had been rewarded. Emily and Stephen’s reunion must have been celebratory as my great-grandmother Laura was born in due time after Stephen’s release from gaol.

Emily continued to work with Stephen to rebuild their business and some years later she bravely relocated with him to Charters Towers to start afresh. Emily went on to have another 8 children with Stephen 6 of whom survived to adulthood. She must have been both emotionally and physically strong.

Fearless Females: The tragic stories of Julia Kunkel and Janet Melvin

Lisa Alzo of The Accidental Genealogist blog presents Fearless Females: 31 Blogging Prompts to Celebrate Women’s History Month. March 11 — Did you have any female ancestors who died young or from tragic or unexpected circumstances? Describe and how this affected the family?

There are two tragic deaths of young women in my family tree. One was my maternal great-grandfather’s first wife, Janet Melvin nee Peterkin and the other my paternal great-grandmother, Julia Celia Kunkel nee Gavin.

Janet Melvin nee Peterkin

Janet Melvin’s story is a truly tragic one. Last Friday, 2nd March 2012, was the 135th anniversary of her death. Janet set sail for Australia from London on the Woodlark in October 1876. With her were her husband Stephen and infant son Lawrence, aged 4 months.

The family were all when the ship arrived in Moreton Bay in January 1877, but not long after Janet fell ill. She died on 2 March 1877 at Peel Island, in quarantine. I feel so sad when I think of her courage in making this voyage then knowing she would leave her infant son motherless. I was consoled that her husband and son were still with her on Peel Island when she died, and she wasn’t entirely alone. Janet had just turned 22.

Janet’s son Lawrence survived this early tragedy but I’m told his father tended to favour him above his other children – hardly surprising under the circumstances. My family descends from Stephen’s second wife Emily nee Partridge.

Julia Kunkel nee Gavin

Julia Kunkel saw more of life perhaps than young Janet but she also died young, at only 42, in what I feel was a particularly gruesome way. This was her obituary:

OBITUARY: Darling Downs Gazette 21 November 1901

We sincerely regret to have to record the death of Mrs George Kunkel, wife of the respected railway ganger of Geham, and daughter of Mr Denis Gavan (sic), of this town. The deceased was born in Dalby and was 42 years of age, and leaves a husband and 10 children to mourn the loss of a good wife and mother. Deceased, who had been ailing for some time, came in about a week ago to consult Dr McDonnell, who found her to be suffering from a serious internal disorder and at once pronounced the case to be hopeless. On account of the weak state of her heart, the doctors could not administer chloroform and had to perform an operation without its aid. Although the operation was a success, the patient’s constitution was too weak to make the recovery and she gradually sank and expired at 3.45 on Wednesday morning. The husband is at present also in a poor state of health.  Deceased throughout her life has been a particularly devout adherent of the Roman Catholic Church.  The deepest sympathy is felt for the bereaved husband and children in their terrible loss. The funeral leaves Mr D Gavin’s residence off Seaton St at 2 o’clock this afternoon.

Each time I read this I am horrified anew at the prospect of her being operated on without anaesthetic because she had a weak heart. Her husband died only five weeks later on Christmas Day 1901 leaving their children orphaned.

The impact on the family was significant because while some were old enough to be self-sufficient, they took on some responsibility for the younger ones. Over the years the siblings became alienated for different reasons and the younger ones in particular seemed to suffer the loss of their parents the most. I often wonder if my grandfather’s marriage at a rather late age wasn’t influenced by seeing what happened to his mother.

Julia Kunkel was laid to rest with her mother in the Drayton and Toowoomba cemetery on 21 November 1901. The full story of Julia and George Michael Kunkel is told in Grassroots Queenslanders: the Kunkel family.

Tomorrow I’ll be visiting her grave site, so the timing of this post is particularly apt. One of my family history “bucket list” items is to put a grave stone on her grave which she shares with her mother and a friend.