Friday, 9 February 2018

The Story of Sarah Mary Josephine McCane

This post tells the story of my maternal Grandmother, Sarah Mary Josephine McCane (1894-1970).     Updated: 2020 with new photos!

In 1894, the year of my Grandmother's birth, Karl Benz received a US patent for his gasoline-driven automobile; Coca Cola was sold for the first time in bottles; Thomas Edison's kinetoscope (moving pictures) was shown for the first time; the decision was made to hold the modern Olympic Games every 4 years; London's Tower Bridge opened; Ethel Turner's novel, Seven Little Australians, was published; and the future Prime Minister of Australia, Robert Menzies, was born.

Charters Towers c.1900

Sarah Mary McCane was born in September of 1894.  She was born at Bridge Street in Charters Towers, Queensland, which was the home of her maternal grandparents.  So it would appear that her mother Margaret went to her own mother's house for the birth of her daughter. When Sarah was born her father, Owen McCane (Muckian), was aged 31; and her mother, Margaret Farrell, was 28.

The family name 'McCane' was a variation of the original Irish surname 'Muckian'.  Sarah's father, Owen had left Ireland with the surname Muckian, but had arrived in Australia with the surname, McCane.  It is likely that when departing London, the person recording the details heard the surname spoken in the Irish accent, understood it as 'McCane' and recorded it as that.

Sarah was the daughter of an Irish immigrant (her father) and an English immigrant born of Irish parents (her mother).  She was the second child of Owen and Margaret.  Her sister Susan had been born 2 years before in 1892.

After Sarah, there were 5 boys added to the family.

Edward William was born in 1896, when Sarah was 2 years old.
Thomas Owen was born in 1899, when she was 4.
John Michael was born in 1901, when Sarah was aged 6.
James Patrick was born in 1904, when Sarah was 9.
Edward Joseph was born in 1907, when she was 12 years old.

Unfortunately, the eldest boy Edward William, died in 1905, when Sarah was aged 10.  The death certificate records the cause of death as 'accidental drowning' in the Burdekin River.

Northern Miner (Charters Towers) Feb 6, 1905, p.4

Northern Miner (Charters Towers, Qld. : 1874 - 1954), Monday 6 February 1905, page 4

A sad drowning accident occurred at the Burdekin yesterday, the victim being a lad named Edward McCane aged eight years. The boy, with a younger brother went fishing, and fell off a log into the water. His little brother ran to give the alarm, but first went to the pumping station engine-house, which was untenanted. He then ran home and told his father, who is one of the foremen at the station. The father rushed down to the spot, and others came to his assistance, but it was 45 minutes before the body was recovered under the bank in 8ft. of water. All efforts to restore life were futile.

Such a tragic event!  I wonder if Sarah was at home when her little brother rushed in to tell her father about the accident?  Would she have gone down to the river?  Losing a brother under such tragic circumstances must have been traumatic for the 10-year old Sarah.  It would have broken the hearts of her mother and father.

Reading through the funeral notice, it's evident that there was a large extended family to support Sarah, her mother and father, and her siblings through the tragedy.  Mr. and Mrs. Farrell were Sarah's maternal grandparents.  Mr. and Mrs. D. Davies (nee Farrell) were her uncle and aunt, her mother's sister.  Mrs. F. E. Shaw (nee Farrell) was another of Sarah's aunts, on her mother's side.  The gentlemen mentioned ... Messrs. Thomas, Matthew and P. J. were all uncles, brothers of her mother.

I would suspect that Sarah and her older sister Susan, would have been very close when growing up.  They were only two years apart in age, and would likely have spent a lot of their time together.  I imagine the younger brothers might have become a little annoying and tiresome at times.

Sisters Sarah (on the left) and Susan (on the right) McCane   Contributed by Carmel and Terry O'Donnell

In early 1914 the sisters spent time holidaying together, when Sarah would have been 19 and Susan 21.  There was a very brief mention of this in the 'Social and Personal' column of the Evening Telegraph (a Charters Towers newspaper).

Evening Telegraph (Charters Towers), Sat. 10 Jan. 1914, p.4

"The Misses McCane have left for Cairns, where they intend spending a holiday."
It was obviously a newsworthy event!

Northern Miner (Charters Towers), Sat. 9 Oct. 1915, p. 6

The following year, 1915, the Northern Miner (Charters Towers) newspaper published an electoral list for the Kennedy electoral district.  Sarah McCane, who would have been 21 years old and eligible to vote, was listed as living on Bridge Street in Charters Towers.  Her occupation was listed as 'School Teacher'.  She was the only McCane registered as a voter in Charters Towers that year, so it seems her mother, father and younger siblings had moved, along with her older sister, Susan. Sarah was not alone however.  She was living with her grandparents and her uncle at her grandparents' home on Bridge Street.

Sarah's sister had been listed on the 1914 electoral record, the year before, as a 'School Teacher' as well, but she was listed as living (and working) at Molongle Creek, near Gumlu.  So it looks like the McCanes had moved to a farm at Molongle Creek, but Sarah had remained at the family home in Charters Towers, perhaps because of her job.

Australian City Directories 1917

It seems that Sarah had definitely left Charters Towers before the end of 1916 though.  Her name is mentioned in the November 25th, 1916 edition of the Bowen Independent.  It seems she had ruffled the feathers of one J.Eyre Massey.

Bowen Independent, Nov 25, 1916

It seems Miss McCane first of all had the effontery to call J. Eyre Massey a "secretary" when in fact J. Eyre Massey was a "general secretary"!!!

Obviously there's a huge difference!

The gist of the complaint to the editor was that Sarah McCane has questioned why her name and contribution to the Bowen Patriotic Fund had not been published.

Reading between the lines though, it seems that Sarah was highlighting the fact that many of the small contributors were never mentioned or acknowledged, but the "principal donations" (the well-off!) were seemingly always listed.  Well done Sarah for standing up for the little guys! 

By 1917, the Australian City Directories' record (a list of all Australian citizens) shows that Sarah, now aged 23, was living and working at Merinda.  Her sister and father were still living at Gumlu.  There is no mention of her mother Margaret at this time.  So in 1917, Sarah was teaching in the small town of Merinda, just outside Bowen.

Interestingly, there is a brief mention of Sarah McCane in the Townsville Daily Bulletin, dated 26th of February, 1918.

A tiny little article had been placed in the newspaper by Sarah.

It's very difficult to read the original, so I've transcribed below ...

Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld. : 1907 - 1954), Tuesday 26 February 1918, p.4

RUSSELL. — In loving Memory of Private Albert (Bert) Russell. 
Killed in Action in France, February 26th 1917. 
There is just one thing death cannot sever, loving remembrance, which lasts forever.    (Inserted by Sarah McCane.)

It seems that Sarah had previously had a sweetheart, Albert Russell, known as Bert; and he was taken from her while fighting in France.  She was remembering him on the first anniversary of his death.

Bert had probably signed up in 1916, so perhaps she had met Bert in Charters Towers.  Perhaps he had been a fellow teacher and they had met through work.  I know no more details about this unfortunately.

The 1919 census record shows that Sarah. aged 25, was now living at Molongle Creek with her parents, but no longer working as a teacher.  Her occupation was listed as"home duties" and it's interesting there was an additional note: "care of O. McCane".  That would have been her father, Owen.

Does that mean she was taking care of her father, or was in the care of her father?  I'm not entirely sure of the circumstances. Why would that statement appear on an electoral roll? Her father Owen would have been aged 56 at the time.  He was a farmer, so perhaps he had been a victim of some terrible accident on the farm!  Perhaps it was Sarah who had fallen sick and was being cared for at her parents' home.

Sarah McCane on her wedding day 1921  contributed by Terry and Carmel O'Donnell

Sarah McCane married James O'Donnell on the 16th of June, 1921 when she was 26 years old.  James was living and working on a farm nearby, on Armstrong Creek.  Sarah and James were married at her family's home in Gumlu.

Update: Two years after I had initially posted this story, I received an email from a McCane relative after he had found my ancestry blog.  He has shared some beautiful photos, including this one ...

Sarah McCane, her parents and siblings, on her wedding day - contributed by Lawrie McCane
This is a photo of the McCane family on Sarah's wedding day.  What a treasure!

Back row L to R:  my grandmother's brothers, James Patrick (Jim), Thomas Owen (Tom), John Michael (Jack) and Edward Joseph (Eddie).
Front row L to R:  Sarah McCane (my grandmother), her father Owen McCane, her mother Margaret McCane nee Farrell, and her sister Susan McCane.

 At this point, I'll mention the '52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge'.  The prompt for this week is 'Favourite Name', and I have to say that my Grandmother's name has always been one of my favourites, amongst all the ancestors I've been researching over the last eight years.

Anyone researching Irish ancestors will understand the predictability of names in Irish families.  Not many strayed from the usual naming pattern. In the case of girls, usually the first born was named after her maternal grandmother and the second daughter was named after her paternal grandmother.  So in this case, the first born daughter, Susan's maternal grandmother was indeed a Susan.  Sarah's paternal grandmother was indeed a Sarah.  All good so far!

Then I come across my Grandmother's name recorded on her marriage certificate as Sarah Mary Josephine!  The Josephine seemed completely left field!  There are no other family members in her lineage with that name.  Not a single one!  I've searched high and low! It seems completely out of place and I'd love to know its source.

Was it a confirmation name that Sarah had chosen for herself, and then proudly used for the record of her marriage? I'm not sure there was a Saint Josephine on the list of choices for a confirmation name back in the early 1900s!  Was it an extra middle name chosen by her parents, and if so, why did she have three Christian names and her sister only two?  It's a mystery to me!

Now, enough digressing, where was I?  1921!  Sarah married James, and they moved onto his farm on Armstrong Creek, near Kyburra.  They went on to have 8 children over a span of 15 years, six sons and two daughters.

Edmond James, born in 1922, when Sarah was 28.
My mother, Margaret Brigid was born in 1923.
Maurice Owen was born in 1925, when Sarah was aged 31.
John Joseph, born 1926, when was 32 years old.
James Thomas was born in 1928.  Sarah was 33.
Edward Martin was born in 1931, when Sarah was aged 37.
Then another daughter, Marcella Therese was born in 1934.  Sarah was aged 40.

This fantastic McCane / Bidgood / O'Donnell family photo was taken either in 1934 or 1935.  Sarah McCane (aged 40) is seated to the right of her elderly mother Margaret McCane (nee Farrell), and she is holding baby Marcella.

On the other side of Sarah's mother, is her sister Susan holding her son Neville.  My mother (Sarah's eldest daughter) is standing behind Sarah and little sister Marcella.  Other members of this photo are Sarah's three brothers, the McCane boys (from the right in the back row: Jack, Tom and Jim), their wives and children; along with Sarah's own five sons.

The photo was taken at Sarah's parents' farm at Molongle Creek, near Gumlu.  Unfortunately Sarah's father, Owen McCane (Muckian) had died by this time.  He had passed away several years before in 1930, when Sarah was 35.  I'm not sure where Sarah's husband James was when this photo was taken!  Perhaps he was the one taking the photo.

Sarah went on to have one more son, Terence William, born in 1937 when she was aged 43. Sarah, her husband James, and their family of eight stayed on the farm at Armstrong Creek, near Kyburra, for over twenty years.  It was not always an easy life on the farm.  It took hard work, resolve and perseverence to remain there for that period of time.

In an article published in the 1929 edition of the Townsville Daily Bulletin, Sarah gives a little glimpse of her life on the farm.  She was giving evidence at a Civil Sitting at the Supreme Court in Townsville.  Sarah's husband James had sued the Beak Pastoral Company for alleged cattle trespassing on his property, and was claiming £400 for trespassing and damage done by defendant's cattle to his land and crops.  Sarah was called upon to act as a witness for the plaintiff - my Grandfather James O'Donnell.

Townsville Daily Bulletin, May 8th 1929, p.5

During her testimony, Sarah mentioned that she sometimes helped with the planting and in the previous year, 1928, she had helped with some of the 2000 tomatoes that were planted, all of which had been raised from their own seed.  She went on to say that she always helped her husband with the packing of the tomatoes at the end of the growing season.

The case highlighted a number of problems faced by Sarah and her husband James on their sugar cane and tomato farm, right from the start of their married life.  Aside from cattle straying in from the neighbouring property of Rocky Ponds, there was mention of frost, the cost of shipping crops to market and the variable return on those crops, along with the impact of a wet season over a dry one.

After more than 20 years of hard work on the farm, Sarah and her husband decided to leave and take their now grown family to settle in the town of Bowen, which was not very far away.

This photo would have been taken around 1945, after the family had moved off the farm and into Bowen.  This is a shot of the family at their new home on Richmond Road.  Sarah would have been about 51 years old.

Sarah, aged 61, lost her mother Margaret McCane (nee Farrell) in 1955.

Her youngest daughter Marcella died in 1961, when Sarah was 66.  Her eldest daughter Margaret died in 1968, when Sarah was 73 years old.

Sarah herself passed away in 1970, aged 75.  She was survived by her husband James, her six sons, her sister Susan and three brothers.

At the time of my Grandmother's passing, I was aged 10.  So many of my memories of her revolve around sitting at the long dining room table at Dalrymple Street, having a roast lunch after 9.00 am Mass on a Sunday.  I have clear pictures of Grandma in the kitchen cooking and preparing the meal for the family members who had dropped by.

My brother's memories:
"I do remember Nanna being very Church going, every Sunday it was off to the 6am Mass and the 7am Wednesday mass (Benediction I think they called it). 
On Sundays when Nanna made corn beef for lunch she would use the left overs to make corn beef fritters for tea, and then out came the bowl of hot soapy (good old Sunlite soap) water at night to catch the flying ants and moths."

One of the most precious items I have of my mother's is her W.M.U. cookery book, published in 1951 and purchased at The Herbert St. Grocers in Bowen, owned by the Bull family.

Inside that old book my mother wrote down her mother's (my Grandmother Sarah's) recipe for home-made ice cream.

I remember the taste of that ice cream very well!  Rich and creamy.  It would be served out of a long aluminium tray that had been frozen and would stick to your fingers when you first picked it up out of the fridge freezer.

My Grandmother's recipe:

Another of my memories associated with my Grandmother and her home was sitting out on the verandah reading from the fascinating Coles Picture Book.

I'm not sure if I had bought it from my own home or if it was one of my Grandmother's books, but I can remember poring over the pages of that book with great delight while sitting in the cool breeze out on the verandah.

My brother has also reminded me that our Great Uncle Eddie (Grandma's brother), ran the Bowen public pool that was directly across the street from our grandparents' house.  We used to go there, mainly on the school holidays, to learn how to swim ... and we were allowed in for free!  My brother Mark does recall however ...
"We were not allowed to ask great uncle Eddie for any lollies when we would go to the pool.  (He ran the pool back then) There was a bit of a family disagreement happening."
I do remember Grandma telling us not to ask for lollies after our swim ... but I'm sure we did get some!

Special Note to any family members:  If you have memories to add, photos or information to share, can I graciously ask that you do so.  If there are events that are not quite correct, do please let me know.  Please use the comments box below or email me.  All contributions are invaluable and will provide future generations with a story to truly treasure.

Extra note:  I'm joining the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks project / challenge.

The prompt for Week 6 is 'Favourite Name'.

You can join by blogging or posting on social media with the tag #52ancestors.

Check out this FB page:  Amy Johnson Crow

1 comment:

  1. I have included your blog in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at
    Thank you, Chris

    I love your detailed stories.