Victorian Workhouse Webinar

Aside

I have just attended a webinar from The National Archives in London entitled “Why Did the Victorians Fear the Workhouse”. The Presenter was Paul Carter the Principal Specialist in modern domestic records. He has a particular interest in poor law records.For this they use software called Blackboard Collaborator. Ear plugs are needed for the audio. You can see film of the presenter on the top left corner and a display board on the right with diagrams etc. On the bottom left there is a message box where you can ask questions. Paul was very approachable and knew his records. You are sent instructions before hand on how to connect to the webinar and it will be reposted on the website at the National Archives.

I wanted to know if Agnes, my great aunt, wife of Alex Fraser, Master of the South Dublin workhouse would have been compelled to be Matron since her husband was Master. It just didn’t seem possible that she could do that and raise a large family. Also, I hadn’t read anything in the memoirs about her actually working there, just some memories of having Christmas teas etc.

The answer was yes with the idea that she might be able to carry on if he died with the help of another man they would hire (This sounded like it was a common scenario). That didn’t happen in Agnes’s case, she apparently had to leave when Alex died. Whether we will ever find out why, I don’t know. BUT again another example of how amazing Agnes was. Matron of the workhouse, mother of 8 children, one of whom was lost in her last pregnancy, adoptive mother to her sister’s 3 children and hostess to an open house for all her family. And she lived to be 104 years old!

The webinar was brief but full of useful information, the diagrams giving us examples of what we might find in the records. This was related to English records but gave me an idea of where I might look in Ireland. The sure answer to my question would be to find the employment registers for the South Dublin Workhouse.

This was an interesting experience! Oh yes, I had to be ready by 8 a.m. because they started at 4 p.m. their time. That took a little figuring.

 

Current Events

Just a little aside to tell you what’s been going on. As in the previous post, I have been attempting to read Michael Prestwich’s, Edward 1. It has been slightly dry and definitely not as reader friendly as Marc Morris’s, A Great and Terrible King. Although I did feel that Marc’s book had a definite sympathetic bent towards Edward. Prestwich’s book is more a confusing reword of the facts of his reign as taken from the financial accounts of the time. This of course, is useful for citing your own research but so far, does little to flesh out the person of Edward himself in the way that Marc does.Again, let me caveat that with the fact that I am only partway into the book.

While there is no doubt that the facts are essential to proving the likelihood of a certain event taking place, it does take talent to bring that to the public. It is rather distracting to have numbers written all over the place when I am reading. Hopefully sometime in the near future they will find better ways to cite sources. That being said , I like it when the writer says that prior thoughts on a subject couldn’t have been correct because ……. and there is the fact.  We can never fully know what the motivations may have been behind someone’s actions unless we were there. History is always incomplete. We are a little more certain of the outcomes of their actions. Let me say this though, it is hard to even begin to imagine the world Edward was thrown into as a young man. The term “living large” would hardly describe it. Some were up to the task , like Edward, and some were not, like his father.” It is a pity that the closest most young men will get to this kind of history is in a video game. I would recommend Marc’s book as a good basic book that can hold your interest. When I am done with Prestwich’s book I will do some comparing. If my mind isn’t boggled by then.

In other news, I had put my Irish research to bed in order to get on with the Scottish side of the family and that is how I got into this thing with Edward. He was the scourge of the Scots and I became curious about all the claims against him. However, things suddenly started to crop up. First, I got an email by an offended second cousin who felt I had portrayed her in a bad light (which I have tried to rectify), then I got an email from a lady who has worked at Garden Hill for 20 years and suddenly came upon my post Life at Garden Hill. That was the home of my great aunt and uncle who ran the South Dublin workhouse. It was converted into offices. She wanted to know if I had more info and has colleagues writing about the St. James hospital which was built over it. The house will be torn down and replaced by a pediatric wing. Then just the other day, I got a long-awaited reply from William Healy, whose great grandfather was acquainted with the Phillips family (my mom’s family). He is trying to help me locate the graves of my great grandparents and is sending information on that. Mystery there is that everyone keeps saying that 3 brothers came to Canada instead of 2. I was told the first one died when he was young but I have not found a death record for him. That leads me onto another chase to see if either of these is true. It is all unexpected but exciting! I hadn’t thought of my posts as being permanently up there for people to read years after I wrote them. Lesson learned.

 

Bruce’s Choice

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries . . . 

So wrote Shakespeare in his play Julius Caesar. He may  very well have been talking about Scotland’s heroes William Wallace and Robert Bruce. It is played out in the movie “Braveheart” when Wallace talks before the Battle of Sterling,  “. . .  Fight, and you may die. Run, and you’ll live; at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day  till that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they will never take our freedom?”  Wallace was willing to pay the price of freedom but he was not in the position of Robert Bruce, the other lead contender with Balliol for Scotland’s throne.

There was another Scottish leader, the Caledonian, Calgacus who also gave a speech to his army before he fought the Roman general Agricola. It was recorded by Tacitus, Agricola’s son-in-law. Part of it reads, “We have neither fruitful plains, nor mines, nor harbours, for the working of which we may be spared. Valour, too, and high spirit in subjects, are offensive to rulers; besides, remoteness and seclusion, while they give safety, provoke suspicion. Since then you cannot hope for quarter, take courage, I beseech you, whether it be safety or renown that you hold most precious. Under a woman’s leadership the Brigantes were able to burn a colony, to storm a camp, and had not success ended in supineness, might have thrown off the yoke. Let us, then, a fresh and unconquered people, never likely to abuse our freedom, show forthwith at the very first onset what heroes Caledonia has in reserve. ”   Tacitus’s writing makes really interesting reading, allowing for a certain natural bias. Of course, it required translation, being written in Latin. You can find a good copy here.

Whether “the Bruce” was as weak and confused as portrayed in the movie is a matter of conjecture. He was born in July, 1274 to Robert Bruce, 6th Lord of Annandale and Marjorie, Countess of Carrick. The Bruce family (formerly de Brus) were a Norman family that came to Scotland with David 1. His grandfather, Robert was claimant to the throne of Scotland during the Great Cause. The Bruce family were long-time supporters of the English crown. When Edward awarded the crown to John Balliol, Robert joined Wallace in the Scottish revolt. He became a guardian of Scotland along with John Comyn but resigned a few years later because they did not get along. He then submitted to Edward “returning to the king’s peace”. During this time the family supported the English against Wallace and he was captured and executed.

But things started to change when Robert argued with John Comyn at Greyfriars Abbey and stabbed him. This was not a good thing, his father had died and he was in line for the throne. But now he was excommunicated by the Pope, a man more powerful than Kings themselves. The Bishop of Glasgow, Robert Wishart, another key player in this drama, saw the necessity of Bruce getting to the throne and had him absolved. Robert moved quickly and was crowned King of Scotland at Scone on 25 March, 1306.

He met Edward at the Battle of Methven and was defeated. While on the run, at Strathfillian, Bruce was ambushed by the McDougalls (often joined by their relatives, the McDowalls, my ancestors). They had been on his side until he murdered John Comyn who was a relative. He barely escaped and went into hiding in Ireland. The next spring, Edward marched north again and captured his wife, daughters and sisters as well as Isabella MacDuff who had crowned him. His sister Mary and Isabella were hung in cages for four years. His brother, Neill was executed .

Robert returned in 1307, having found his strength in guerilla warfare, and defeated the English at Carrick. He went on to gain control of almost all of Scotland. Then he advanced into northern England burning every stronghold as he went. He had sent his brother Edward to Ireland to gain them as allies, but they only gained support from Ulster and Donal O’Neill. Although Edward was crowned as King of Ireland, he was killed at the Battle of Faughart in Louth. The Irish just couldn’t see where there would be a difference between being ruled by the English or the Scots.

Edward I died on the trip north to defeat the Scots in 1307.  In 1314, his son Edward II, moved north to break the siege at Stirling Castle in Edinburgh. His army was considerably larger than Bruce’s. Again, opportunity presented itself which Bruce was quick to use. The geography of the land was such that it would allow him to bring the English army into a vise-like situation, in short they would have no room to manouevre. Potholes were dug into the road which would force the army to bunch up into this position. It took two days for Robert Bruce to win the Battle of Bannockburn.  Edward was actually undone by his own wife Isabella who along with her lover, Roger Mortimer, invaded England from France and  forced him to give up the throne of England to his son, Edward III. In 1328, Edward  finally recognized the right of Bruce to the throne of Scotland and recognized Scotland’s independence.

 

Fighting Without and Within

When the Romans left Scotland in the early 400’s, they left behind the remains of forts along Hadrian’s Wall, a system of roads and a series of buffer states they hoped would keep order in Britain. They had more pressing issues in Europe that would eventually lead to the decline and fall of a mighty empire.

The tale of Argyll on the west coast of Scotland, being invaded by Gaelic tribes from Ireland who then absorbed the Picts, has recently been challenged by archaeologists. There is no evidence on the ground of a struggle or of a different way of life than the one already there. It is now believed that Dal Riata (Dalriada), as the area was known, had a native population who spoke the same language (Gaelic) as their neighbors across the sea in Northern Ireland (some 12 miles away). The Romans used the term “Scotti” or “pirates”  to describe the Gaels in a derogatory way. They were known for harassing the Roman merchant ships along the coast. Around 563 A.D.,  the Irish monk, Columba followed and began to convert the Picts to Christianity.

Kingdom of Dal Riata  580-600 AD

Kingdom of Dal Riata 580-600 AD

During the Viking raids, in 839, the king of Dal Riata was slain and Kenneth Mac Alpin began his fight for the throne which he won in 847. Under Kenneth, the kingdoms of the Scots and Picts would unite and become known as Alba. During the late 900’s, many violent struggles for the throne began. One of these struggles was between Duncan I and Macbeth, one of his generals, familiar to us in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth.  In 1057, Macbeth was killed by Duncan’s son, Malcolm III. Malcolm allowed people in England who opposed the rule of William the Conqueror, the Norman king, to settle in Scotland. This he did under a system of feudalism whereby land was granted in exchange for things such as military service. After Malcolm’s death in 1093, the Scots continued to fight England for their freedom often becoming allies with France.

During the reign of Malcolm’s successor, Alexander III (1249-1286), there was a time of piece and prosperity for Scotland. He married Margaret, daughter of Henry III of England but refused to recognize Henry as overlord of Scotland. He then went to war against the Norwegian king Haaken to regain control of the Western Isles. Haaken died and the Treaty of Perth was signed with his successor, Magnus which granted him the Orkney and Shetland Islands. Scotland retained the Western Isles and the Isle of Man .  An agreement was also made with the MacDonald Clan who had fought with the Norwegians. They were able to keep their lands in the isles by recognizing Alexander as their overlord. From this they greatly profited and soon became “Lords of the Isles”, strong enough to remain independent of the monarchy to a great degree.

Alexander’s wife Margaret died along with the three children he had by her and this left him with only his granddaughter Margaret as heir. She was being raised in Norway with her paternal family. Alexander remarried in 1285 to Yolande de Dreux who belonged to a powerful French family. Tragically, on his way to meet her in Fife, he met with an accident which killed him. Yolande, apparently pregnant at the time, had a child who was stillborn. This left the throne to Margaret, the granddaughter. Tensions rose when many of the Scottish nobles, including Robert Bruce I, protested rule under a Norwegian queen.

Alexander III

     Alexander III

The Norwegians applied to Edward I for help in gaining the throne. Edward agreed to do this with the condition that Margaret would marry his son. To this the Scots would not agree.The problem was solved when the child Margaret died on her way from Norway to Scotland.

During this time period, we know two things about my family although further research would without doubt uncover more. One, the family of my great great grandfather, William McDowell, had its origins in Galloway, home of the Lords of Galloway. And two, that John Gartshore, ancestor of my maternal grandmother, was granted land by exgambion by Alexander II, father of the above, for land in Kirkintilloch, Scotland between the years 1211 and 1231.

 

 

The Eldest

At the beginning of this blog, I mentioned how some members of a family are spoken of with fondness and admiration and I mentioned William McDowell. It was also this way with my great-uncle George Holmes Phillips. William was George’s grandfather.
I first met Uncle George during a bizarre experience I had when visiting with my grandmother Jane at the age of 14. I was put to bed in “Uncle George’s room”. It was very tiny just like the little house that my grandparents lived in but cozy. The window on my right had the customary blind in the window which would throw the shadow of people wondering through the yard at night. My family was rife with stories of the predations of the local degenerates who passed through looking to steal something. I was a city girl and found the whole situation very nerve-wracking. That coupled with the fact that I was sleeping in Uncle George’s bed left me in a disturbed sleep. I woke up at some time during the night, feeling a hand on my shoulder, and there, at the foot of the bed, stood two men; the faces were clouded but there clothes stood out. One in farm clothes and the other in dress clothes. I was frightened to say the least! Then, I realized there was someone talking or rather having a heated argument in the other room. The shadows disappeared and I crept out to the main part of the house. My grandmother was rummaging around in her bedroom having a real go-round with someone (I assume my grandfather) in a state of dementia, of which I had no idea existed. Eventually, my mother came out and calmed her down. No one ever spoke of it. The brothers appeared again on the second night. I have always wondered what they meant to tell me. But will take it that they would like their story told!
In 1905, at the age of 17, school-leaving age, George was put aboard the S.S.Saxonian bound for Boston. He would probably make the rest of the way to Winnipeg, Manitoba by train. Left behind were his two sisters and his brother, Richard. His sister Sophie would not see Canada until 1913, the other, Evelyn would not leave Ireland. He had $31 in his pocket and listed himself as a farm labourer, a definite step down from the life he had known.  On the 1906 census of the Prairie Provinces, he was living at a boarding house in Winnipeg. Unfortunately, that census does not state the occupation of the person.
In 1907, George returned to Ireland, I assume in relation to Richard coming over. He came back to Canada on the S.S. Caronia, July 24, 1907. A few months later, Richard followed on the maiden voyage of the RMS Lusitania, docking in New York on Sept 14, 1907.  The Lusitania was torpedoed by the Germans in 1915, off the coast of Ireland. That was the year my grandparents married. Still, I can’t help but imagine the reaction of my grandfather to the news of the ship going down. He had laboured on farms for 8 years before getting married.
In the 1911 Canadian census, George was working in a saw mill on Valdez Island in British Columbia. On the 1916 census, he was with Richard and Jane on their farm in Manitoba, the start of a lifetime of companionship between the three. The couples first son, George Holmes was also listed with them, so you can see the respect that they had for him. It is likely that he helped them in many ways.
In 1920, George made an ill-fated attempt at marriage to Dorothy Johnston in Vancouver. She however, was not for the homesteading life so that didn’t last long. He never did remarry.The land in the Lawrence municipality of Manitoba did not lend itself easily to farming so the two brothers took to raising cattle. Below a pic of George at a cattle fair in St. Rose du Lac, Manitoba (in the dark suit on the right).

Uncle George St. RoseUncle George visited Ireland several times. Here he is enjoying a dance with one of the New York relatives in 1960.

George Holmes Phillips N. York 1960My grandparents had many rough times in the isolated environment they found themselves in and Uncle George seems to have always been there along the way. What they lost in coming to this cold and vast land, they gained in friendship and loyalty. George and his sister Sophie eventually bought neighbouring farms to my grandparents. All this I will go into further along.

Richard, George and Jane in their latter years. 1960

Richard, George and Jane in their latter years. 1960

George is buried in the Magnet Cemetery, Magnet, Manitoba along side of Jane and Richard. Rest in peace, Uncle George.

Headstone, George Phillips, Magnet, MB. 2007