Sunday, 13 May 2018

The Story of Susan Downey / Muldowney / Downie

This post tells the story of my maternal Great Great Grandmother Susan Downey or Downie / Muldowney  (c.1842/1844-1919).  The records I've found during my research on Susan have her maiden name recorded as a 'Downie' on her marriage record, 'Downey' on her two daughter's (my grandmother's and grand aunt's) death certificates, and 'Muldowney' on a daughter's (my grandmother's) marriage certificate, as well as several of her children's death certificates.

I've not yet been able to track down a birth or baptism record to see which of these alternatives might be closest to her actual family name.  It's still a bit of a brick wall for me at this point.

I'm telling Susan's story this week for the Week 19 prompt of the #52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge.  The prompt is: Mother's Day

The line of ancestors back to my 2nd great grandmother is a line of wonderful women with interesting stories, and Susan's story is no different.  She is yet another resilient, hard-working and determined mother in my family tree.

As previously mentioned, I'm a little in the dark when it comes to Susan's date of birth.  Her age recorded on her death certificate and cemetery headstone indicates her birth would have been in 1850.  Her age as recorded on her record of marriage indicates she would have been born in 1843.  The age that was recorded on the passenger list when she emigrated indicated she would have been born about 1849.  Ages recorded on census records indicate she could have been born in 1844 or 1842.  All of this leads to the most likely birth date being in the early to mid 1840s! 

Place of birth is recorded on her death certificate as Roscommon in Ireland.  That of course would have been information provided by her son Thomas, and may not have been totally correct.  So far, I have been unable to find a Susan Muldowney, Downey or Downie born in Roscommon in the early to mid 1840s.

Details on her marriage record do include the names of her father and mother though, and this information would have been given by Susan herself.  So I can state that Susan's father was Patrick Downey (as recorded on the record of marriage, although his surname was spelt Downie) and her mother's name was Elizabeth Reynolds.

I can only really pick up Susan's story from the time around her marriage.  She had apparently left Ireland and moved to Scotland, sometime before 1865. I'm making the quantum leap in assuming she moved to Scotland with her mother, father and perhaps siblings in the 1850s-60s.  This might have been because her father was in need of work and had left Ireland in the hope of a better life.

Susan married in January 1865.  Her husband was Michael Farrell.  As can be seen in the Hawick Marriage Register above, they applied to be married on the 25th of January 1865, and were subsequently married on the 27th of January in Hawick, Roxburghshire in Scotland. 

The details on the marriage certificate, seen above, really intrigue me.

Wool factory in Hawick c.1870
At the time of her marriage, Susan's occupation was that of wool factory worker.

Hawick at that time was the centre of a thriving woollen manufacturing industry, and there would have been plenty of work available for Irish immigrants.

It's highly likely however that the workers were very poorly paid, worked long hours, and lived in rather terrible conditions. Was Susan's working life in the wool factory as hard as I imagine?

Susan was living at an address named '2 Back Row' in Hawick, which doesn't sound all that fancy! Both of her parents were listed as deceased, which makes me wonder whether she might have been living with other family members or lodging with strangers, who might have been fellow workers!

Her age is recorded as 22, which is information Susan would have given herself, so perhaps 1842 was her real birth year.  Given that both her parents were deceased by 1865, it's likely marriage to Michael would have been a more attractive proposition than continuing to live with relatives or lodging in what was likely very cramped conditions, and trying to support herself on a wool factory worker's wage!  It may have been true love though and she might have been eager to begin a new life with the man she loved.

Susan and husband Michael went on to have nine children over the next 21 years, but the beginning of their life together saw them leave Hawick in Scotland not long after they were married, and move to England.  Susan gave birth to her first daughter in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.

Margaret (my great grandmother) was born in 1865, when Susan might have been aged 22.
Thomas was born in 1868.
Michael was born in 1870.

The birthplace for these two boys was recorded as 'Cafield Cottages' in Durham, so Susan and her family had left Newcastle a couple of years after the birth of their first child.  It seems that Susan and her husband Michael were moving quite a bit, and I'm assuming they were searching for work with the promise of better pay and conditions.

Census Record 1871 for the Civil Parish of Holmside, District 1 Lanchester, Durham, England
The Census records of 1871 shows Susan, her husband Michael and family living in Holmside, Durham.  Susan was recorded as being 27 years old, Michael was aged 30 and the children's ages were - Margaret 5 years old, Thomas was aged 3 and Michael was only 1.

Not only was Susan caring for three young children, but there was also a lodger and her three small children living in the same house.  So No. 30 Hinde House had a total of nine people living there, 3 adults and 6 children all under the age of 6!  Given that Michael was working as a 'Coke Worker', I doubt that Hinde House was a sumptuous palace, so the conditions would have been cramped and no doubt challenging.

The very next year, in 1872, daughter Helen Ann (known as Annie) was born. 
Then daughter Elizabeth was born in 1873.

Sadly, Susan lost her second born son Michael, not long after the birth of Elizabeth.  Michael died at the age of 3, in 1873.

Susan gave birth to another son just a couple of years later, in 1876, and also named him Michael.
Patrick Joseph was born in 1878.
James was born in 1880.
Both Patrick and James were born in Stanley, Durham; but by 1881 the family was living in Tanfield once again.

Census Record 1881 for the Civil Parish of Tanfield, in District 1 Lanchester, Durham, England

The Census record of 1881 shows the family living at Havana Street in Tanfield. Susan was listed as aged 39 with no occupation.  Husband Michael was aged 41, and his occupation was listed as 'Coke Drawer'.  Son Thomas was aged 13 and was working as a 'Screener' at a colliery.  Helen Ann was aged 9, Elizabeth was 7, Michael was 5, Patrick was 3; and they were all listed as 'scholars' so they were attending school.  Baby James was 8 months old.

There was also a boarder living with the family of eight.  Daughter Margaret, the eldest child (my Great Grandmother) was at that time working as a domestic servant and living elsewhere in Durham.

Up until this point, I think Susan and her family were living very much "hand-to-mouth" as the saying goes, and it seems that Susan had been taking in lodgers for over ten years to help with the payment of rent and perhaps to help put food on the table.  Her husband Michael and son Thomas were working at rather low-paid, tough jobs and her eldest daughter was also out working at the age of 15. All of this paints the picture of a family in poverty and hardship.

Life continued on much the same for Susan, for another six years until 1887.  In March of 1887, Susan gave birth to her last child, Matthew Felix.  Considering it had been over six years since James had been born, perhaps Susan had lost a baby or perhaps more than one in the intervening period; or perhaps Matthew was an expected surprise after Susan and Michael had thought their family had stopped growing.

Not long after the birth of Matthew, Susan and some of her family boarded the ship 'Cheybassa' to emigrate.  It's likely Susan and her husband had been planning to emigrate for a while, and having another child at this point was most probably unplanned!

Susan, her husband Michael, along with their children Thomas aged 18, Elizabeth aged 12, Michael aged 10, Patrick aged 8, James aged 5 and baby Matthew (incorrectly listed as Michael) only aged 4 months, left London on August the 10th 1887 headed for Australia. Susan's two eldest daughters, Margaret and Helen, had already emigrated in 1886.

Unfortunately I haven't been able to find out any details about the trip of the 'Cheybassa' from London to Townsville in late 1887, other than the fact that the ship arrived safely in the port of Townsville on the 28th of September after a six-week voyage, and then sailed on to Brisbane.

Susan and her family disembarked in Townsville and would have taken a train out to Charters Towers where they met up with their two daughters who had been working there for over a year.  Charters Towers was to be Susan's home into her 40s and then onwards for the rest of her long life.

Australian Electoral Roll records show that she lived in a house on Bridge Street in Charters Towers from at least 1903 onwards, but I'm not entirely sure where the family was living before this.  Susan's children of course grew older, began working and then began moving on with their own lives.

Her eldest daughter Margaret married in 1892, just five years after Susan had arrived in Australia.  Margaret lived in Charters Towers until at least around 1915.

Thomas, Susan's eldest son, began working as a miner soon after they had arrived in Charters Towers.  He remained unmarried, and continued to live at home with his parents for quite some time.

Daughter Helen married in 1890, only three years after Susan had arrived in Charters Towers.  Whilst Helen and her husband lived in Charters Towers for a number of years, they did eventually move away.

Daughter Elizabeth married in 1897 and moved away further north with her husband almost immediately after their marriage.

Son Michael worked as a labourer for most of his life.  He married in 1901 and remained in Charters Towers.

Son Patrick worked as a miner, like his brother Thomas.

Son James married in 1905.  Son Matthew remained living at home with his parents until his early 20s.

Tragedy was to strike Susan's extended family in the years 1903, 1904 and 1905.  Three of Susan's grandchildren died during this time and were all quite young.  Granddaughter Eileen died shortly after her birth.  Granddaughter Myreen died just before she turned 2.  Grandson Edward died in a drowning accident when he was 8 years old.  As a grandmother myself, I can understand the absolute heartache that Susan must have suffered experiencing her grandchildren dying so young, and how she must have keenly felt the suffering of their mothers.

Unfortunately the latter years of Susan's life were to be filled with further anxiety and sorrow.

In 1916 her three youngest sons enlisted and were shipped off to war very quickly. 

Patrick was aged 38, and headed off to fight in France and Belgium.

                                   James was 36.  He fought in France.

Matthew was 29 and fought in France and Belgium.

Susan was by now in her 70s and no doubt held grave fears for the safety of her boys.  Sadly, only two of these sons were to return home, and neither of them were in the best of health.

Patrick had been killed in action on the 20th of September 1917.  This must have broken Susan's husband's heart as he died just two months later.  I can only imagine that Susan herself would have been completely devastated with the loss of a son and a husband in such a short time.  She and Michael had been married for 52 years.

Both of Susan's two other sons who had gone to war, returned home to Australia the following year, in early 1918.  James had been shipped home, after having been hospitalised in England for many months with a serious medical condition. Matthew was sent home in early 1918 as well.  He had suffered two broken legs in a serious accident in France. 

Sadly, another of Susan's sons died just eight months later.  Michael died in July of 1918.

Susan herself passed away six months after that.

Susan's death certificate states that she died of broncho pneumonia and heart failure, and was also suffering senility at this time.  Perhaps she had not been totally aware of what had occured since the outbreak of war in 1915, and was unable to remember the loss of her sons and her husband!

She was survived by six of her children.

Direct ancestral line of mothers for five generations.

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.  Please use the comments box below or email me.  It may prove to be invaluable to the story and provide future generations with something to truly treasure.

Extra note:  I'm joining Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks project / challenge.

The prompt for Week 19 is 'Mother's Day'.

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

Check out this FB page:  Amy Johnson Crow


  1. Love the collage of all the generations of women Bernadette. And what a sad life Susan led but I guess it was representative of what many women experienced. Hope you have a break through on Susan's birth one day. It is so frustrating having all the information but not being able to make that last link.

    1. Thanks for your comment Jenny, and yes I do think Susan's story was a common story for many women back then. There have been many similarities amongst the stories of so many of the women in my family tree. Hopefully one day I'll break down the brick wall in my research on Susan.

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

  3. My sister referred me to your blog, Bernadette, as Elizabeth Farrell is our grandmother. Thank you so much for sharing the results of your research. This is the first glimpse I've had into Elizabeth's life.

    1. Hello Jonathan. It was lovely to find your comment on my post and it's wonderful to hear that the stories reach other family members. My great grandmother was of course Elizabeth's sister, Margaret. I wonder if they kept in touch after they both married?