Saturday, November 21, 2009

The aftermath of Mary Meehan's Death.

Patrick Meehan's life after being acquitted of his wife's murder in 1860 is largely a mystery to me until his death in 1895. Thanks to his obituary, we can know that after his trial in Melbourne, Patrick spent some time alluvial mining in the Upper Goulburn district on the Jordan River:

" After the gold discoveries at Gaffney's Creek and Wood's Point he went to the Upper Goulburn, and he and Mr William Oliver worked in the Jordan River, at the other side of Wood's Point, where extensive sluicing operations were carried on.
Upwards of twenty years ago he selected land at Dairy Creek, and after working hard at fencing, cutting down the timber, clearing, scrubbing and burning for some years he let the farm and went to reside at Geelong. Three years ago he returned to Dairy Creek."
- Yea Chronicle, Thursday, October 3, 1895.

As far as I can determine, Patrick Meehan never remarried, and the question must be asked "What happened to his baby daughter and little son after their mother's death in 1860?"
Mary Mockler Meehan did not have any siblings or parents living nearby to raise her children, and Paddy Meehan hardly seemed to be of a temperament to take on the job himself. The most probable solution to the problem most likely lay with Paddy's sister, Judith Meehan Bourke, who lived in the Bylands area close to Kilmore. Judith had been widowed since her husband John died in 1853, and at the time of her sister-in-law's death she was raising four teenage sons and a nine year old daughter- Michael was 18 years old; Paddy 16; John 15;Edmund 13 and Ellen 9. An older step-son, William Bourke, was also working and living in the Kilmore area. Judith would have most likely taken the two children while her brother was held in custody after Mary's death, and for a period afterwards.
In the early 1870s the Bourke family moved away from Kilmore to select land in the Burramine and Boosey districts on the Murray River, and at some time Patrick Meehan selected land at Dairy Creek near Yea. On an old parish map of Yea which shows the property of Patrick Meehan (Allotment 135, through which runs the Dairy Creek), the date 29 May, 1876, is noted.

It is purely speculation, but possible that Michael Meehan moved to Burramine with his Aunt and cousins when he was in his teens, as he was living in Yarrawonga at the time of his marriage in 1893. There was a rift between son and father, and when Patrick Meehan died in 1895 he left his only son a shilling in his will.The relationship between Michael Meehan and his aunt Judith Bourke was much closer, and Judith left her nephew fifty pounds when she dictated her will in 1904.

The fact that Mary Hanorah Meehan was living at Yea at the time of her marriage to Michael Coonan in 1881 suggests that she lived with her father. She was the main beneficiary of Patrick Meehan's will, with her eldest son Michael Francis Meehan inheriting all after his mother's death.
Another surprise from Paddy Meehan's will was the fact that he left his housekeeper, Sarah Burdick, the quite substantial sum of sixty five pounds a year until her death. Sarah's life story is quite interesting in itself, and will be summarised in the next blog entry.

POST SCRIPT: March 26, 2011:
Thanks to the online publication of a little article appearing in the Yea Chronicle on May 18, 1893, we have on our hands another Meehan mystery:

" Mr. P. Meehan, after an absence of several years from the district, has returned to the Dairy Creek, where he and Mrs Meehan will be warmly welcomed by their many old friends. Mr and Mrs Meehan were in Yea on Monday, and received numerous congratulations on their hale and hearty appearance. The sea breezes from Corio Bay have evidently agreed with them for, as one lady remarked, "Mrs Meehan looks actually younger than she did when leaving the Dairy Creek."

The million dollar question is...Is the Mrs Meehan referred to in the article actually Sarah Burdick, Patrick's housekeeper to whom he left money in his will? I have searched for marriages of a Patrick Meehan, born Tipperary, between 1860 and 1893, and despite there being several, none were "our" Patrick. Is the mention of "Mr and Mrs Meehan" simply polite 19th century society glossing over the fact that Patrick and his partner were not married? Patrick may have tried to pass off Sarah Burdick as his wife, as suggested by the article about "Mr and Mrs Meehan" returning to the Yea district in 1893, but after his death it was reported in the local paper that he had "made liberal provision for his housekeeper, Sarah Burdick."

I don't know why Patrick and Sarah would have lived together as man and wife without marrying...there was no impediment to their marriage, as both of their partners had predeceased them. You would think that as a Catholic man Patrick would have felt the need to legally marry a woman who was living with him as a wife, if only to placate wagging tongues and the local Catholic priest.

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