Wednesday, April 15, 2015

IF YOU have been following this column over the last few weeks, you will know that a stroll down Lansdowne Road has yielded a deal of information on the comings and goings of the family of Charles Loftus Townshend and his household staff. Much of it has been gleaned from the recorded information, such as it is, for house No 1 Lansdowne Road in the census of 1901.

Previously, my primary interest concerned people native to Queen’s County working in Dublin at the turn of the 19th century. This time around, it seems to be the case that each person I discover proves to be less than straightforward in yielding up family information. In many respects, the census, while a valuable source of information, is oftentimes quite a blunt instrument, as many variables can obscure the true picture.

In the case of Mary Curwin, a domestic servant from Queen’s County, who appears in the 1901 census, there are certainly more questions than answers in relation to her origins. In like manner, May Kerwick, her replacement in the Townshend household, recorded in the 1911 census, who also hails from Queen’s County, is proving to be difficult to pin down.

But just when I was about to resign myself to this latest dead-end, a little glimmer of hope emerged.

If you search the 1911 census for the Kerwick surname, and specifically those who were born in Queen’s County, on the face of it you will find only two people. Naturally, May Kerwick, who took up her duties with the Townshend family in Lansdowne Road, appears. But the second entry has proved quite interesting. Maria Kerwick, a 75-year-old widow, is residing in house No 14 in Rathmoyle, Abbeyleix.

The head of that household is one Mary Byrne, also widowed, and 50 years of age. Mary lives there with a son and daughter, both unmarried and 22 years and 20 years of age respectively. The daughter, Maggie, provides further interest in her occupation as a carpet maker. It is probably safe to assume that Maggie was employed in the carpet factory in Abbeyleix, given that it was still operating at that time.

Of course, that particular factory – though hardly a vestige remains – has guaranteed its place in the history books on foot of an order it fulfilled for a number of carpets used by the White Star Shipping Line when it was fitting out the ill-fated Titanic.

Ironically, the fame attaching to the Titanic carpets tends to mask many other important orders fulfilled by the factory – orders such as those from Harrods of London, Marshall-Fields of Chicago and individual private orders such as that for the bishop’s palace in Kilkenny. Heritage House in Abbeyleix houses a very informative carpet factory exhibit. But I digress.

Back to house No 14 in Rathmoyle and Maria Kerwick residing with the Byrne family. In Maria’s census details, the entry regarding her relationship to the head of the household (in this case, Mary Byrne) is unusually put. Maria Kerwick is recorded as ‘Mother of Wife’. I can only assume that the intent is to convey that Maria is Mary Byrne’s mother. But have these Kerwicks any connection with May Kerwick in Lansdowne Road? Well, the short answer is: I don’t know. But in an unusual twist in the tale, while I was exploring possible Townshend links to Queen’s County and having discovered a Kerwick connection to Rathmoyle, I chanced to add Rathmoyle to my search for Townshends.

Up popped an old newspaper clipping, which recorded a sad event in the life of Horatio Uniacke Townsend and his family – that being the passing of their fourth daughter, Sophia Henrietta, at Rathmoyle. As far as I can determine, this event occurred in December 1872. And there was a further research bonus, as Horatio Townsend is described as ‘HU Townsend CE County Surveyor, Queen’s County’.

Though Horatio doesn’t use the ‘h’ in his surname as Charles Loftus Townshend does, they undoubtedly belong to the same family, Charles being a nephew of Horatio’s.

In other records on Horatio, the late Sophia Henrietta is not recorded among his many children. It is sometimes the case that, in the event of the death of a young child, they are omitted in future family listings. Hopefully, though, some further research will yield more pieces of the Sophia story.

Whether the employment of domestic servants from Queen’s County in the Townshend residence in Lansdowne Road remains just coincidence or some form of family loyalty to the county on foot of Horatio Uniacke Townsend’s tenure as county surveyor has yet to be unraveled.

But for now, I think it is enough to remember Sophia Henrietta Townsend, who seems to have been long forgotten but for a recent stroll down Lansdowne Road.

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By Tom Cox
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