Forgotten tales

stories of my family

Old friends in the old country

In John Hickson’s book, Notes of Travel, the Martin family turns up in passing on a few occasions, and oddly enough plays a small role in the history of our family. It was the Martin family who hosted John (JCH) and his daughter during their stay in Killarney in 1893:

We arrived at Killarney at midday and were met by our old and dear friends Mr William Martin and his family… (Hickson J, Notes of Travel 1893, p.34)

JCH had been gone for 23 years. As a young man of 22 he had left Ireland to seek his fortune in Australia, following his older siblings who had successively departed over the previous 15 years. He had succeeded beyond his wildest expectations, and when he returned to Ireland in 1893 with his eldest daughter, Alice, he was a wealthy man. As a timber merchant and property developer in the young city of Sydney, by the age of 45 he was rich enough to be able to retire from active work and live on the income from his investments.

He had married soon after his arrival in Australia and together he and his wife Martha were raising a family of 10 children, the youngest of whom was still an infant when JCH embarked on his world trip. He had built a big home in Sydney which he named The Grove after the “family seat” in Ireland. I have little doubt that he returned to the land of his birth with a certain amount of pride in both his own achievement and the land that had afforded him such success.

William Martin and his family were “dear and old friends,” according to JCH, but they lived in Killarney, some 20 km away from Killorglin where JCH had grown up. I found myself wondering about who William Martin was really and how he and John Hickson knew each other. After some research on the internet it became clear that William was a rather successful businessman himself.

He was some years older than John Hickson, having married in 1865, five years before JCH left for Australia. His marriage to Phillipa Eager was registered in Killarney. He is variously recorded in publicly available documents as being a grocer (1867), a seedsman (1870), an auctioneer (1880), and a flour and meal dealer (1881). His business was located in Main Street, Killarney, though in later years he appears to have moved around the corner to New Street. Thom’s Irish Almanac and Official Directory of 1884 indicates that William Martin became a town commissioner, and another directory records that in 1893 he was a Commissioner for Affidavits. JCH himself was a Justice of the Peace in Sydney, so they no doubt shared notes about their official duties when they were reunited in Killarney on John’s return.

But how did they know each other? The clue lies in a reference a few pages later in JCH’s book to a Roger Martin, who appears to have been related to William. JCH had taken the train to Killorglin where he wanted to visit his mother’s grave:

Dromevalley, the necropolis of Killorglin, contains the dust of many dear to me: there lie some of my earliest and best friends, my faithful schoolmate and companion, R. Martin, and beyond all, my dear mother, with some of my brothers and sisters side by side. (Notes of Travel, p.40)

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The “necropolis” of Killorglin

Roger Martin was most likely a younger brother of William Martin. Slaters Royal National Commercial Directory of Ireland 1881 indicates that Roger was also a seedsman, manure dealer, flour and meal dealer. But his business was in Killorglin, not in Killarney like his older brother’s. It seems likely that the Martin family lived, like the Hickson family, in Killorglin, but that William moved to Killarney to set up his business in the 1860s, and married and settled there. Roger, however, remained in Killorglin.

It becomes clear in JCH’s book that Roger Martin was John Hickson’ closest childhood friend. They had surely remained in touch by letter over all the years of their separation and John had dreamt of the day when they would meet again. However, before that day came, Roger passed away. Of his arrival in Killorglin that summer day in 1893 John writes:

I met many friends who had known me in youth, but found many changes in faces and places; and of the companions I once knew, some had left, some were dead, and a generation had risen up “who knew not Joseph.” There was one whom I missed intensely, my old and valued friend and companion, the late Roger Martin; and for many years in contemplating my visit to my old home, the pleasure of his companionship and his warm-heartedness would loom up as the central feature. (Notes of Travel, p.37)

They were the same age, both born in 1848. But by 1893, when the 45 year old John Hickson returned to Ireland, his good friend had already gone to an early grave. Online records show that he died in 1891, at the age of 43, but to discover the cause of death I will need to get a copy of the death certificate. Was it illness, or accident? Whether he had a wife and children is also unclear. If he was survived by a family JCH does not record it in his book. When John and his daughter returned two years after Roger’s death they were guests not of his dear friend, but of Roger’s older brother, who lived up the road in Killarney.

A few weeks back my daughter Hanna and I visited Dromevalley, “the necropolis of Killorglin.” It is on sloping ground among green fields on the other side of the Laune River from the town centre. I searched in vain for Hicksons or Martins in the graveyard. I could not find John’s mother, his siblings, or his friend. If at some time they had headstones, they seem to have gone now. But JCH apparently found them in 1893 when he was there.

John Hickson clearly mourned the loss of his old friend. Much had changed since he had left but his loss caused the most pain. It surely made him more certain that his rightful home was now Australia. His descriptions of Ireland betray how dearly he loved his native land, but his destiny was decided. He was now a citizen of another country and though he would visit Kerry again on several occasions over his remaining years, Ireland would never be home again in the way it was during his childhood.

Roger Martin, strangely enough, plays a bigger role in our family history than simply being John Hickson’s friend. His name appears again in connection to another of our ancestors from Kerry. It is a tangled web of relationships and JCH plays a part in that story too, as does his older brother William Hickson. But that forgotten tale will have to wait for another blog.

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The view beyond the graveyard in Killorglin

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