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Saturday 4 July 2015


The nineteenth century is the century when we became obsessed with keeping records, marking our achievements and our contributions to society. It’s all wonderful material now for anyone researching their nineteenth century ancestors. The fact that I can find almost nothing about my great great grandfather Richard William Ralph Sadleir (1819-1876) is frustrating in the midst of so much readily available data. It seems almost an insult to his sketchy memory. But for the time being I know I am beaten when – in any Google search of his name – it is only articles from this blog that come up!

His immediate family have been no easier to flesh out, not even Eleanor, the daughter who became my great grandmother. As for the next generation, Eleanor’s four siblings were not only obscure but unproductive of descendants. Her two sisters Margarita (c1850-1930) and Alicia (1855-1921), like so many of their era, were required at home as companions to their widowed mother and stayed on the shelf after she died in 1906. Then both in their 50s, they remained maiden aunts until their deaths.

St Silas Church, Toxteth, 
bombed 1940, demolished 1954, consecrated in 1865 
around the time the Sadleir family moved to the area

Of her two brothers, Richard Ralph lived a bachelor’s life with (I suspect) some adventures. Growing up in Toxteth on Merseyside, he was by the age of 17 a ship’s broker’s apprentice, before frustratingly disappearing from the radar. Forty years later in 1911 he re-emerged in County Wexford, still unmarried, describing himself as a retired prospector! Where had he been? What had he done? I cannot find him anywhere.

But surprisingly in 1913 he finally got married, at the age of 59. He was back on Merseyside and his 50-year old bride Mary Elizabeth Frances Louise Kennedy had been in the same position as his sisters, stuck at home with a widowed parent. Mary’s mother  died only the year before her wedding: Mary was free at last to marry, and one wonders how long she and Richard had waited for this opportunity. Were they childhood friends? In 1871 during Richard’s apprenticeship Mary was living in Sheffield, eighty miles away, so perhaps not. But were their families old friends? Mary’s parents were married in 1849 in Clonmel, County Tipperary, just thirty miles from Sadleirswells, the Sadleir family home which Richard’s father had to sell in 1854 (the year Richard was born); and the families were certainly in the same social circle.

Sadleirswells, in Co Tipperary

1849 was an interesting year to be in Clonmel. It was the focus of international attention when it became the scene of the trials of the Young Irelanders whose rebellion at the height of the Great Irish Famine the previous year had failed. The uprising, known locally as the Battle of Widow McCormack's Cabbage Plot, was not on the same scale as other European revolutions of that year, in Budapest, Paris and elsewhere. In Clonmel the local police force defeated the rebels, but Mary’s father Major Hugh Kennedy, an officer in the Royal Marines, may well have had a hand in their suppression. 

Mary and Richard’s late wedding was very much a family affair. All four of the couple’s parents were dead; but the officiating minister, in Christ Church in Birkenhead, was Mary’s reverend brother Hugh. And the witnesses were William Henry Castle (Eleanor’s husband, Richard’s brother in law, my great grandfather), Alicia Sadleir (Richard’s sister), Alexander Kennedy (another of Mary’s brothers) and Kathleen Mary Knight (who I’m guessing was the matron of honour).

Christ Church, Claughton, Birkenhead as proposed in 1846 – slightly amended, it opened for worship in 1849, the year Mary Kennedy’s parents were married. Mary Kennedy and Richard Sadleir were married there in 1913.

Marrying so late in life, there were naturally no children from Mary and Richard’s union. And so it seemed that I and my brothers and sisters were the only living descendents of my great great grandfather Sadleir, because Eleanor’s fourth sibling, Richard’s younger brother Eyre, died, like his spinster sisters, unmarried.

Or so I thought. Then this morning I discovered a transcription error in my  research notes about Eyre. More in the following blog!

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