One Woman’s Journey
As a child growing up in Virginia, images of a couple in matching frames hung in my maternal grandparents’ home. In time, these images migrated to my house in Maryland where I hung them, once again side-by-side, in my guest room. I knew who they were – William and his wife, Jane (Lloyd) Bonynge, but I did not really know them. The photograph of Jane shows a thin woman, perhaps in her early 60s, with deep-set eyes; she looks prim and proper. But who was she really? About a year ago, I set out to learn more about my great-great-grandmother and uncover the story of her life’s journey. And what a journey it was.
Jane (Lloyd) Bonynge (c.1812-1886)
As a newly married woman in Dublin in the 1830s, Jane could not have imagined how her life would unfold. Before she died in New Jersey in 1886, Jane would give birth to eleven children, lose her husband when he was only 42, fall into debt, have an embarrassing experience with a wayward suitor, and make her way to the United States with all 10 surviving children ultimately joining her. Jane was tenacious; she persevered. She was a survivor.
Jane was born in either 1812 or 1813, probably in Dublin. While there are several couples who may be her mother and father, no proof of her birth has been found. For me, the names of her parents are not as important as the life she led after her marriage on 22 December 1832 at Dublin’s Parish Church of St. George to William Bonynge, a schoolmaster, born in 1810. Jane was “of this parish” and William was of Kings Inn Street, only a few blocks from St. George’s on Hardwicke Place. The couple wasted no time in beginning their family with their first child, William Francis, born 9 September 1833. The young family lived on Dispensary Lane, a street then located off Lower Dorset Street, and were still there on 4 June 1836 when their second child, Mary Anne Jane, was baptized at the Parish Church of St. George.
By the time their third child, Emily Maria, was born in January 1838, William was a gentleman and the family had moved to an elegant Georgian residence at 16 Henrietta Street. Only a few years earlier, in 1828, the No. 16 residence had been “carved out of” No. 15 Henrietta Street, a large residence built in the 1740s. William, Jane and their three children, with baby Robert arriving in August 1839, appear, from outward appearances, to have been living a happy life as the children arrived regularly and healthily. The family continued its attendance at St. George’s, a short distance up the hill. Ellen Sophia arrived in July of 1841, John Thomas was born in January 1843 and Harriett Selina was born in March 1844.
Perhaps William feared their lives were too good to be true, for on 17 August 1843 he took out a life insurance policy on himself with the Royal Exchange Assurance Corporation of London, paying his premium in full through July 1846. While the life insurance could support Jane and the family financially in the event of William’s death, it could do nothing to prevent the death of seven-year-old Emily Maria on 7 March 1845. The death of their daughter from inflammation of the bowels must have been a crushing blow. It took William a full week to purchase a grave at Mt. Jerome Cemetery in Harold’s Cross, paying 4 Pounds for one plot. Upon the site he placed a dark gray gravestone engraved with “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away” and “Erected by William Bonynge ESQ in remembrance of his beloved Daughter Emily Maria” with the dates of her life.
The happy life on Henrietta Street was shattered. In November 1845 William rented a house at One Blakeney Parade Sandymount Strand at forty pounds per year, and the family left their home on Henrietta Street and their parish church for south of the Liffey. Nine months later the arrival of another healthy child, Henry Arthur, the author’s great-grandfather, brought joy to the household, but this new life nudged William, once again, to consider the financial future of his family should he die. In a Memorial dated September 15, 1846, William entered into a complicated arrangement for support of his widow in the event of his death. He selected two men he could trust with this responsibility: his brother, Thomas Reilly Bonynge, a schoolmaster in Betaghstown, County Kildare, and his brother-in-law (his sister’s husband) Thomas Wallace, a surgeon and apothecary who worked in Trim in County Meath.
A mystery remains as to what kind of work William performed to support his ever-growing family and to live life as a gentleman. The family’s house in Sandymount was beautifully decorated with furniture and household goods “of great extent and value” – or at least this is what William claimed in the Memorial of 1846. But what was the source of William’s income? A clue appears in the 1847 Dublin Almanac where William is shown sharing 17 Henrietta Street as a workplace with John and Robert Swift, proctors of the Prerogative and Consistorial Courts and proctors of office to Lord Bishop of Derry. Years later in an 1857 newspaper article, William was described as “a gentlemen who had been many years in the employment of Mr. Swift, the proctor.” Making the trip between his house in Sandymount and his office in his old neighborhood must have taken up much of William’s work day. Apparently the compensation was worth the commute.
While the financial benefits of working with the Swifts must have been substantial, there was strife in the office. In the “Freeman’s Journal of 11 July 1851, the Swifts, the petitioners, and Bonynge and Wallace (William’s brother-in-law) were the respondents. Something had gone awry in the work place; unfortunately details about the cause and results of this law suit are not known. What is known is that Jane gave birth to two more sons, Edward William in 1849 and Albert in 1850.
Soon after the unpleasantness with his employers, William and family left Dublin and moved to Bachelor’s Lodge, a large estate in Scallionstown, near Navan, in County Meath. The main house at Bachelor’s Lodge, built in the 1720s, was then, and remains today, a beautiful estate with expansive grounds; it must have been a relief for Jane to permit her children to run freely in the healthy countryside. William’s sister and brother-in-law, Jane and Thomas Wallace, lived nearby in Scallionstown House, which may have played a role in the family’s choice of a residence as William’s health was failing. Wallace was, after all, a surgeon and an apothecary; having family, especially a family member with medical knowledge, was an asset. Sadly, in August 1852 William died of dropsy at age 42 at his residence, Bachelor’s Lodge. His body was removed to Mt. Jerome’s Cemetery and placed in the same grave as his daughter, Emily Maria, who had died seven years prior. On Emily’s tombstone Jane added the words: “Here also lie the remains of her father, Wm Bonynge, who died 10th August 1852 aged 42 years; Deeply and deservedly regretted.”
Not only was Jane on her own after 22 years of marriage, but she was two months pregnant. Her final child was a girl named Emily Maria after the daughter who died and who shared a grave with her husband. It is hard to imagine how terrified Jane must have been, a pregnant widow in her 40s with a flock of children to raise.
Life away from the hectic and dirty city must have appealed to Jane, for in 1854 she leased 131 acres with farm buildings, a house and an office in Grange on the Bective Road midway between Navan and Trim. William must have left a tidy estate as the Grange property was leased at 93 pounds 15 shillings a year. Her eldest son, William 21, was of an age to help guide Jane in financial matters, and both William and his brother, Robert 15, could help, physically, on the large farm where the Bonynges raised cattle and wheat. Jane and children settled on the farm, and the future appeared bright.
Appearances, of course, are not always what they seem. It wasn’t long before Jane was taken to Petty Sessions court in County Meath in March 1855 for not paying five shillings for wages due a Mr. Harrelly; her son Robert, age 16 testified on his mother’s behalf. The case was postponed to the next court day, 19 March, where the defendant, Mrs. Jane Bonny [sic.], refused “to pay complainant five shillings for wages.” This was the first in a string of cases where Jane was taken to court for unpaid wages, refusing to pay for the threshing of her wheat and her Poor Rate, and for allowing her black cattle to “trespass” on others’ land. The last of these cases was heard on 6 July 1857 when Jane was taken to court by a neighbor for allowing her five horses to trespass on his cropland. Her two eldest sons were also in court. Their uncle, Thomas Wallace, charged the sons with allowing two horses to run loose, suggesting the happy family arrangement William and Jane envisioned when they moved to the country was unraveling. In another case, Jane owed a man 2 pounds for wages. The unpaid worker and the brothers got into a verbal tussle in Balgill and the sons charged the man with assault; he countersued for payment of the wages due him by their mother.
By the fall of 1856 Jane realized she could not keep the farm, and she contracted with land agents to rid herself of the Grange property. One of the agents, Thomas Kellet of Capel Street in Dublin, became enamored with the widow Jane and began courting her, making vague promises of marriage. She took his intensions seriously, perhaps hoping that a marriage with Kellet would allow her to keep her farm and pay her debts. When he failed to marry her, Jane took him to the Court of Common Pleas in June 1857; he failed to appear in court to defend himself.
A detailed accounting of the court proceedings appeared in “The Advocate” and “The Meath Herald, and Cavan Advertiser.” How embarrassed Jane, a proper Victorian lady, must have been to hear details of her personal life shared in court, but she was fighting to keep herself financially afloat and to right the wrong she felt had been made against her by what the newspapers referred to as “the gay but youthful Lothario.” She was mocked in court, with the Chief Justice, after hearing that Jane had nine or 10 children, exclaimed “Oh! Good gracious me!” With that, the courtroom burst into “loud laughter.” The letters Kellet had written her were entered as evidence, and her sons William and Robert recounted the many interactions between their mother and the land agent. Robert swore that he heard Kellet say to his mother : “’My darling, how could I have asked you to walk when I had a carriage?’” He kissed her hand again, and said he had not slept all night thinking of her.” After a long proceeding with details about Kellet kissing Jane under her bonnet and tickling her on her knees, the court awarded Jane 35 Pounds in damages and costs.
In debt with her reputation in tatters, and friends and neighbors no doubt gossiping, Jane made a bold move. She packed up six of her children, went to Liverpool, got aboard the “Lady Franklin” and headed for New York City, arriving on 16 Sept. 1857. Curiously, she left her two youngest behind; family lore is that the girl born after William’s death had scarlet fever and was unable to travel. Perhaps her next youngest, Albert, had scarlet fever as well. Jane was in a hurry to leave Ireland, never to return.
Two years later, her first born, William, now 29 years old, arrived with the two youngest children, leaving only a married daughter, Mary Anne Jane (Bonynge) Garnett, in Ireland. This daughter probably took care of her two youngest siblings before William accompanied the little ones on the “City of Manchester.” In 1867, Mary Anne and her six children arrived in New York City. Once again, Jane had all of her children – and grandchildren – together. Five of these newly arrived grandchildren Jane had never met; imagine her excitement.
In their new country, Jane’s children began dispersing to Brooklyn and nearby Hoboken and Jersey City Heights, New Jersey. As the grandchildren came along in large numbers, almost all were within visiting distance. Jane maintained her own household, raising the younger children at various locations in lower Manhattan until they were old enough to head out on their own. All but one child stayed within visiting distance. John Thomas must have enjoyed life on the farm in County Meath, because he quickly moved to the mid-west where he married in 1865 at age 22, working the rest of his life as a farmer in Illinois. Jane’s other sons worked as a stenographer, court reporter, attorney and one as a carpenter who became a building contractor in Hoboken. All her children married, and all but Harriett had children.
During her later years Jane moved to Jersey City Heights, just outside New York City, where she maintained her own household at 61 Waverly Street; her daughter Harriett (known as Hattie) lived next door and surely watched over her mother during Jane’s final illness. When Jane died on 13 January 1886 at age 73, her body was taken to Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx and laid to rest next to her youngest son, Albert, who had died nine years earlier.
Jane’s journey from Dublin to County Meath to the United States was filled with ups and downs. She kept her family together and close to her on both sides of the Atlantic. It must have brought joy to her in her final days to know her perseverance had paid off and that her legacy would live on. At her death she had 39 grandchildren, and more were to be born. Today those dozens of grandchildren have many hundreds of descendants living throughout the world. Thank you, Jane, for your hard work, your perseverance and your dedication to your family.
Author at William’s grave in Mt. Jerome
Susan Bonynge Strange, USA
With gratitude to my Bonynge cousins, Charlene (Bonynge) Adams and Rita (Bunnage) Wagner
Design and Conservation Report, No. 15 and 16 Henrietta Street Ryan W. Kennihan Architects, Dublin
Registry of Deeds, Memorial Year 1846, Volume 15, Folio 132 registered 17 September 1846
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