William Bourke/Burke was born in County Tipperary, Ireland, in c. 1833-34, most likely the son of John Bourke and a first wife who died before his marriage to Judith Meehan in c.1840.
In the shipping list for the 'Duchess of Northumberland', William is listed as the son of John Burke, 34, and Johanna Burke, 23, and his age is given as seven and a half. All three were born in County Tipperary, Ireland, and were Roman Catholics.
Judith Bourke was pregnant on the voyage, and not long after their arrival in Melbourne she gave birth to Michael, the first of five sons who would be William's half-brothers.One brother, Joseph, did not survive infancy. Judith also gave birth to Ellen Bourke, William's half-sister.
William was aged about nineteen in 1853 when his father John died.The family was living in Kilmore at the time, and with the next oldest child aged only twelve, William would have had to help his stepmother bring in an income to help support his siblings.
When the Bourkes left Kilmore to take up land grants on the Murray River in the parishes of Burramine and Boosey c. 1870, William selected two blocks next to his brother Paddy Bourke. They were allotment numbers 4 and 5, each comprising of 80 acres.
Paddy Bourke started up the Burramine Store on one of his blocks, and I have in my temporary possession at the moment a number of the ledgers that he used to keep accounts from c. 1870 until the 1900s.The first one he used is a very large leather book, inscribed on the front "Noah's Ark Store, December 1871. Patrick F. Bourke."
On the inside cover is "Noah's Ark, December 11, 1871. Patrick Bourke."
There are hundreds of people featured in these books, mostly local but also those who were passing through the district, or those who still lived in Bylands or Kilmore where Paddy and his family had lived previously.
Amongst these, of course, are many Bourkes, some with a small notation beside their names to help distinguish who was who. All of those Bourkes who were related to Paddy seem to have the word "Metal" scribed beside their name at the top of their respective pages. What this 'Metal" refers to, I have absolutely no idea, but would love any suggestions on the matter!
I found the first entry for William Bourke in 1872, when on May 29 he bought 4 drinks. June 7 1872 must have been a day for either celebrating or drowning of the sorrows, because William on that day had 28 drinks and some tobacco added to his account, and 18 drinks the day after. This is quite interesting, because it was not for some years after that the Burramine Store was also granted a Publican's license!
In 1873 there was only one transaction by William, and that was in December.The same in 1874...one transaction recorded when William payed rent of fifteen pounds that was owing out of eighteen pounds.
1875 saw much more activity between William Bourke and his brother Paddy's store, with no drinking,but tobacco being regularly purchased. 1876 was much of the same, as was 1877 up until August 31.On that day a pair of hobbles was added to William's account, although William himself could not have purchased them as on August 28, 1877, he was admitted into the Beechworth Asylum!
He was taken to Beechworth by the Police after becoming delusional, and was classified as being a danger to his family. His admission form gave the following information:
Nearest relative or friend: Patrick and Michael Bourke at Boosey near Cobram.
By whom brought: Police
Previous address: Yarrawonga
Marital status: single
Habits of life: temperate
Native Place: Ireland
Religion: Roman Catholic
Form of Insanity: Delusional
Duration of present attack: From 20th 8 days.
If disordered before, and how long: First attack.
If suicidal: No
If dangerous: Yes to relatives
If destructive: Yes.
Bodily conformation: Head, chest, abdomen, extremities: good
Marks of Violence(if any): This man has a black eye and a scratch over his nose and a few old scars about the legs.
This man seems full of delusions, one being that he has shot the devil.
September 3: Is very noisy and excited at times, has had to be put in seclusion once or twice.He is dirty in his habits and noisy at nights.
Can't translate next two lines.(except for 'September 10: Is getting thin')
Allowed on Leave- mental state improved 10th August, 1878.
(Sure enough, after no entries for almost 12 months, William Bourke again appears in Paddy's ledger on August 13, when he bought some tobacco followed a few days later by a pair of moleskin trousers and a pair of boots.)
William's medical records show that he returned to Beechworth from leave at 11:55 p.m on March 11, 1879.
"He has been quiet since admission, but is ___. Has had ophthalmia, which is still present(inflammation of the eyes).
2nd April: Patient has been weakly and delicate for the past ten days. Confined to bed and placed upon medicine and ___. Today he is improved.
22 April 1879: Improved and __ does a little work on the grounds.
June 13, 1879: Is in good bodily health. Mental state improved.Is becoming much ___.Works well.
15 July 79: General state improved.
Died on 15-12-84. G.P "
It is interesting that in the five-plus years between July 1879 and December 1884 when he died, there were no comments recorded about William's mental or physical state on his hospital record.
William Bourke's death certificate tells us that he died on the 15th of December, 1884, at the "Hospital For Insane, Beechworth." William Bourke, labourer/ male 49 years/ cause of death "General paralysis and disease of the brain". The result of a Magisterial Inquiry held by William Telford, Justice of the Peace.December 16, 1884.
No information re. parents./ Informant was a constable from Beechworth who was present at the inquiry.
William's body was taken back to Yarrawonga where he was buried in the Yarrawonga Cemetery on December 17, 1884. Witnesses to the event were John McNamara and his half-brother Edward Bourke./ Born in Ireland, not known how long in the Colony/ not married.
I wonder why William was buried in Yarrawonga and not Burramine like most of the other Bourkes? I have never seen a headstone for him in my wanderings through the old Catholic section of the cemetery, but then again most of the Bourkes in the Burramine Cemetery failed to be rewarded with a memorial marker of any description when they passed away.
I am so relieved to have finally, after so many years, found something concrete on the elusive William Bourke. I feel as though there is much more to add to his story, however. I remember years ago a friend and wonderful historian of the Yarrawonga District, Betty Browning, sent me an article from the Yarrawonga newspaper. It was the story of a young man whom I am sure was named William Bourke, who received an award for bravery for saving a man who was nearly drowned in a lagoon at Burramine while trying to cross it in a horse and carriage. Of course, I didn't even know of the existence of our William Bourke at that stage, and so have no idea what I did with the article. I will have to endeavour to find it again through a researcher perhaps.
That is all I have at present about William Bourke, but I am sure I will be adding more to his tale before too much time has passed.