Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Story of Michael Meehan and Margaret Gleeson

Michael Coonan was born in Duncairn, Kings County, Ireland, in c, 1820,the son of Jeremiah Coonan, farmer, and his wife Catherine Conroy.
At the age of twenty he emigrated to Melbourne on the ship 'Mary Nixon', which arrived in November of 1841.There was also a Mary Coonan from Kings County on board the 'Mary Nixon'...Michael had a sister named Mary who emigrated to Australia, but it is not certain whether this Mary Coonan was his sister.His siblings Hanora, Thomas and John also emigrated to Australia in the years to follow.
Three years later in 1844, Michael married Irish girl Margaret Gleeson at St. Francis Catholic Church, Melbourne.Margaret was the daughter of Tipperary farmer Daniel Gleeson.
Twenty three year old Margaret Gleeson had arrived in Melbourne on board the Irish Immigrant ship the "Diamond" on November 4, 1841. Also on the "Diamond' from County Tipperary were Michael Gleeson, aged 27; Biddy Gleeson aged 27 and Catherine Gleeson aged 20- it is unknown as to whether these Gleesons are related to each other or to Margaret.
Michael Coonan and his wife Margaret had the following children:

Margaret Coonan: born 1845, Melbourne
Catherine Coonan: born 1847, Melbourne. Died aged three days.
Jeremiah Coonan: born 1848, Melbourne. Died 1927, Euroa, aged 77 years.
Michael Coonan: born c. 1848, Melbourne. Died 1853, aged 5 years.
Daniel Coonan: born 1852 Melbourne. Died aged one day.
Patrick Coonan: born 1853. Died aged 10 months.
Michael Coonan: born 1854. Birth was not registered.

Of the seven Coonan children, born between 1845 and 1855, only three survived to adulthood...Margaret, Jeremiah and Michael. Catherine, Michael, Daniel and Patrick all died in infancy or early childhood. Catherine and Daniel died before they were even a month old, and Patrick and Michael both died of measles within six days of each other in December of 1853.

Around December 31, 1854, Margaret Gleeson Coonan was admitted to the Yarra Bend Lunatic Asylum, suffering from "Insanity and puerperal mania". She had given birth to son Michael only seven weeks previous to her admission.
When researching Puerperal Mania in the 19th century, I was amazed at how often examples of tragic cases associated with this disorder surfaced in Australian newspapers. For example, in 1871 the 'Brisbane Courier' published the sad story of mother of six, Mrs Romph,who whilst suffering from puerperal mania killed two of her small children with a knife and wounded the other four and herself before being disarmed.At the inquest, her doctor stated:
"I have no hesitation in stating that she was suffering from puerperal mania, from which she is not yet recovered; my reasons for arriving at this conclusion are her general incoherence,absence of sleep without fatigue,irregular state of bodily functions, her expression, movements, appearance, her having born many children at short intervals of time, long periods of lactation , and general loss of memory, these, with other symptoms,leave no doubt in my mind that the prisoner was suffering from mania. Puerperal mania frequently exhibits itself in acts of violence similar to those now under investigation."

Initially I had failed to see how a mental condition such as puerperal mania could actually cause a person's death, ruling out suicide of course. Research showed, however, that it was common for mothers with this extreme disorder to actually stop eating and virtually starve themselves to death:
" It is often difficult to persuade the patient to eat, indeed at times it is necessary to employ force to supply her with nourishment. Another unpleasant feature is an occasional disposition to commit suicide."
In a case reported in the Argus newspaper in 1859, just four years after Margaret Coonan's death,a woman named Elizabeth Jane Ellis died at the Yarra Bend Lunatic Asylum , the cause of death being given at the inquest as "puerperal mania". The article stated:
" Deceased, who was about 37 years of age, was very violent and destructive, and could hardly be prevailed upon to take her food. She never improved in health and died on the 24th instant."

Margaret Coonan was admitted to the Yarra Bend Asylum only a week prior to her death. She had given birth to her seventh child seven weeks before her admission, so her husband had probably tried to cope with the situation for some time at home before resorting to having her committed.

Mary Coonan was buried in the Melbourne Cemetery on January 8, 1855. The grave stone on the Coonan family grave states that she was 28 years old, but she was actually 35 as stated on her death certificate.

Michael Coonan was a widower at the age of 34 years.His surviving children were nine year old Margaret, seven year old Jeremiah and the baby, two month old Michael Francis.Like many other men in his situation, Michael married again...on April 15, 1856, at Brighton, Michael Coonan married 18 year old Irish girl Lucy Nihill. Their story will be continued after I post some certificates and other documentation.

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