Wednesday, April 08, 2015

LAST week, while exploring Laois connections to early 20th-century Dublin, I indulged in a bit of family nostalgia as I recalled visits to an uncle’s house on Lansdowne Road.

I left you as I was pondering the discovery of Mary Curwin from Queen’s County. Mary was engaged as a domestic servant at house No 1 Lansdowne Road, in the employ of Charles L Townshead, or so it seemed.

Closer inspection, however, revealed a transcription error in the 1901 census in respect of Mary’s employer. The seemingly innocuous misuse of the letter ‘a’ instead of ‘n’ at the end of his surname almost consigned Charles L Townshend to the relative obscurity of the nine others who shared the name Townshead in that particular census.

As it is, the discovery of the error has restored Charles Loftus Townshend to his rightful place among the 40 others of that surname, the bulk of whom are related to him. It may take the national archives some time before they update their data, but there is no doubting the true identity of Mary Curwin’s employer.

But before I delve any further into the Townshend side of things, it would be remiss of me to leave Mary Curwin to one side. After all, it was she who led me to No 1 Lansdowne Road in the first place.

At the time Mary was recorded in the 1901 census, she was 31 years of age and unmarried. And it seems she is the sole Curwin representative from Queen’s County within the entirety of that census.

Of the 16 entries for Curwin in the 1901 census, 13 are accounted for in three family entries in Co Longford. All 13 are native to that county. Given that these families are from the same electoral district and mostly from the same townland, it is likely that all are related.

Apart from Mary Curwin, the only other family of Curwin in the 1901 census occurs in an entry for Creswell’s Cottages, located at Pembroke West in the same electoral district as Lansdowne Road.

At a stretch, this family might offer a connection to our Mary. Here resided Fany Dillon, a Dublin native. Residing in the same house are her two sons, both labourers. The elder son, Henry Curwin, is 41 years of age and was born in Kilkenny, which is not a million miles from Queen’s County. The younger son’s particulars raise an eyebrow though, as Nicholis Curwin, at 24 years of age, is recorded as having been born in west India. Mary could be a middle child of this family, but there is no basis in fact for such an assumption.

By 1911, the trail for Mary Curwin goes cold. By now, she is no longer in the employ of the Townshends, nor does she appear in her own right in the 1911 census. Of course, she may have married in the meantime. Such an event might account for her leaving No 1 Lansdowne Road and would make it difficult to trace her in the later census.

It is interesting though, that Fany Dillon and her sons Henry and Nicholis seem to have disappeared from the 1911 census also.

As for Mary Curwin’s employer and his family, the 1901 census is quite revealing. Charles Townshend is described as a land agent, though I have since discovered that he was, in fact, part of a dynasty of land agents.

There is also a cosmopolitan feel to the household. His wife Beatrice is a German national, and her mother, who is present in the house at census time, is of French origin. This European dimension is also reflected in some members of the domestic staff. Anna Moser is described as a nurse domestic servant and, like her mistress, is also German, as is Mary Wergner. This Mary, like her Queen’s County colleague, is also described as a domestic servant, and at 31 years is of an age with Mary Curwin. I wonder how both Marys got along with one another?

Though Mary Curwin has disappeared from the household by 1911, the level of representation from Queen’s County among the domestic staff remains unaltered, with the appearance of May Kerwick, whose Queen’s County credentials we will examine at a later time. At 40 years old, May, like all the domestic staff in the house, is unmarried. With any luck, the Queen’s County origins of both Mary Curwin and now, May Kerwick, may unlock some further connections between the Townshend family and Queen’s County.

As we take our leave of house No 1 Lansdowne Road for the moment, you may be feeling a little short-changed on the detail regarding Charles Loftus Townshend and his family connections. Believe me, we will be returning to the Townshends in the future. The simple truth is, that within the past week, I have unearthed such a deal of information on this family (whose origin in Ireland dates back to 1647), that I simply don’t know where to begin, or indeed, where it might all end.

Little did Mary Curwin from Queen’s County suspect that, over 100 years since she was going about her daily business in the environs of Lansdowne Road, she would be getting a noble mention in a newspaper from her native county two weeks running, and, in the process, help to solve a mystery about her employer, who had fallen through the cracks in the 1901 census.

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By Tom Cox
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