Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Seven Years of Mary Coonan's Widowhood, 1893-1900.

Above: I have used this photo of Mary Hanora Meehan Coonan previously in this blog, in the section dedicated to her in the Meehan chapters. It was sent to me by Mary's grandaughter, Mary Coonan Waters, the daughter of Mary Meehan Coonan's eldest son Michael Patrick. As mentioned in an earlier entry, Michael Francis Coonan died at the age of only 38, and because his death was so sudden he passed away without having first made a will. His widow Mary Coonan was granted the Letters of Administration to deal with the estate, stating that only she and their three children- Michael Patrick, Margaret Frances and Thomas Emmett- were entitled to any share in the estate. Mary Coonan would have had the support of her sister-in-law, Margaret Coonan Butler, who was some 14 years her senior, and who had married in the year before Michael Coonan's death. She also had her elderly father, Paddy Meehan, living nearby at Dairy Creek, Yea. He had moved from the district some time in the late 1880s to reside in Geelong, leasing his farm, but returned to the Yea area in 1893. Mary's only sibling, her brother Michael Meehan, lived some distance away in the Murray River town of Yarrawonga. He married only two months after Michael Coonan's death on August 24, 1893. He worked as a labourer and shearer, and since his wife Annie Harris came to the marriage with three small children, Michael Meehan had to work hard from the onset to support his instant family. On Friday, March 2, 1894, more misfortune struck Mary Coonan when her house at Flowerdale was burnt down, destroying all of her family's possessions. The Yea Chronicle of March 8, 1894, reported the event as follows: "A fire occurred at Mrs Coonan's, Flowerdale, on Friday last, destroying the house and everything it contained, the only personal effects saved being the clothes in which Mrs Coonan and her children were dressed. The loss will be very considerable, as Mrs Coonan had recently purchased a quantity of furniture as well as three or four months' supplies of flour, groceries &c, and nothing was insured. The fire is supposed to have originated through the wind stirring and spreading the sparks from a burning log about 15 yards from the house, Mrs Coonan at the time being temporarily absent. Mrs Vorston, who was in charge of the house, had her hands severely cut whilst endeavoring to save some valuables from destruction." The Broadford Courier and Reedy Creek Times of Friday 9 March 1894, also carried the story of the house fire: " On Friday last the residence of Mrs Coonan, which is situated at the foot of The Sisters, was burned to the ground. It appears that a spark from a fire that was burning in a log some distance away from the house, had been blown by the wind to the house, and set fire to it. The building was constructed of light material, with canvas and paper lining, and was burnt in a few minutes, nothing being saved. Mrs Coonan has not yet been able to estimate what her loss has been, but it will be large, as she had a good sum of money, jewellery, and some valuable documents in the house at the time of the fire. Much sympathy is felt for Mrs. Coonan." Mary Coonan lost her father Patrick Meehan just over two years after her husband's death. He died on October 2, 1895, at his Dairy Creek property, and his death certificate gave his age rather precisely as "72 years 28 weeks and 3 days" !Like his son-in-law, Paddy Meehan had been involved in some type of accident that ultimately resulted in his death. Eight days prior to his death, Patrick had suffered a mishap that caused injuries to his bladder and kidneys. The other cause of his death was given as 'senile decay', so basically the circumstances of his death concerned a serious accident to an old man whose health was not he best anyway. Paddy Meehan, apart from a large bequest to Sarah Burdick, his housekeeper,left all of his estate to his daughter Mary Coonan and Mary's eldest son, Michael Patrick Coonan, who was 12 at the time of his grandfather's death.Patrick's only son, Michael Meehan, received a shilling and, as family legend tells it, a shotgun. Mary Coonan's sister-in-law Margaret Butler moved to South Preston in Melbourne some time between 1893 and 1900, and resided at 'Warnblano', Garnet Street.It was in Margaret's house that Mary Coonan died, aged 40 years, of heart disease and exhuastion, on July 31, 1900.It was her eldest child, 16 year old Michael Patrick Coonan, who made the trip to the Registrar's Office the following day to register his mother's death.Sadly, he did not know the name of his grandmother- little Irish woman Mary Mockler who herself had died so tragically young- and so the space for Mary Coonan's parents was filled in with "father Patrick Meehan farmer, mother Unknown." Mary Coonan was buried in the Coonan grave at Melbourne General Cemetery on August 2, 1900, reunited with her husband and two little sons,Jeremiah and Edward. Michael Patrick and his siblings, 14 year old Margaret and 7 year old Thomas, were left without parents, but thankfully their "Aunt Butler" was there to come to their rescue. Margaret not only adopted the three children, but also worked hard to make sure the Coonan farming land was kept safe for them until they reached legal age to take over themselves. Not only did Margaret Butler have to apply for the Letters of Administration for Mary Coonan's estate, but also for her brother Michael Coonan's as Mary had failed to fully execute said estate before her death.

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