My mother’s family is Gammell. They come from Limerick Ireland, in the town and parish of Bruff, which lies on the Morning Star river and is now almost a suburb of Limerick city. The family are descended from a John Gammell, a weaver who married a Catherine Bennett in Bruff 26 February 1813, There were a few Gammells of Bruff at that time. One, William, was a witness at John’s wedding. Other later Gammells are mentioned on ancestry.com’s message boards including a Daniel born about the same time as John’s son John. John and Catherine had at least four children (I mean I can find only four baptisms on the Irish Family History Association site at https://rootsireland.ie/ifhf/subscribe.php and only three of these on the Catholic parish site http://registers.nli.ie/help). Three of these children, James, Bridget and John, all came to Parramatta NSW Australia. James was one of my great great grandfathers. I’ve written elsewhere about James on BestQuest so will say no more here. His brother John is the one I want to investigate in this essay. The predominant fact about this John is that there are almost no facts surviving about him. The map shows Limerick city, Bruff, and town Tipperary.
What I know about the younger John Gammell is this:
• he was born at Bruff 24 December 1820 (birth transcript Irish Family History Association)
• he purchased land in Ross Street Parramatta in 1845 where he and his brother James had a smithy (land transactions recorded in Plaza West industrial archaeology report)
• he married an Ann Levy at St Patricks Parramatta 02 January 1853, witness Margaret Gammell, James’ wife (church register)
• he had a daughter Mary Eliza baptised St Patricks 01 Jan 1854 (under the name ‘Gamble’) (NSW BMD Index and church register)
• he was buried at St Patricks 10 May 1854 and laid in the plot of his brother James (church register).
What I don’t know about John Gammell is considerable:
• when he travelled to Australia and under what name
• whether he first made his way to Parramatta or joined his brother James there
• who his wife Ann Levy was (there were three, one married 1835 at Scots Presbyterian church to John Hurley; one in 1839 at St Johns C of E Parramatta to John Edwards; and one 1853 at St Patricks Parramatta to John Gammel. The one who married John Hurley was apparently the same one placed as a child in the Parramatta orphanage, born 1820 to a Thomas Lever, a soldier)
• how, where and why he died
• why there is no record or news story about his death and no inquest. John died 17 months after his marriage and one month after the birth of his daughter.
As there are no details beyond the date on St Patricks church registers, I have relied on John’s daughter’s marriage announcement in the newspaper of 26 August 1883 which states Mary Eliza was the daughter of John Gammell, blacksmith of Ross Street Parramatta and Ann Levy. Mary married Daniel Joseph Cullen, and the marriage was dissolved on the grounds of desertion 15 August 1895.
John’s tombstone doesn’t mention his relationship to his brother James, and gives his age incorrectly as 25 years (should be 33). The tombstone of John’s sister Bridget, who married a Richard Edwards in Parramatta, also has several dates that are incorrect. Bridget gives her birthdate and her husband’s date of death incorrectly, and might be the source of incorrect data for some of her children’s ages.
There are reports in the newspaper of an Ann Gammell, keeper of a disorderly house where drinks were served, who is later called a drunkard and once a prostitute, in the Parramatta court records of 1859/60.
It’s not uncommon to find these gaps of information in the surviving records. What I find unusual is the silence about John’s death. He was 33 (or 25), had recently married and had a child, and was a partner in a presumably successful business in Ross Street Parramatta. He died suddenly and unexpectedly. Causes might be infection, suicide, murder or accident, all of which would attract the attention of newspaper reporters. But the NLA site Trove has nothing under any spelling variant of his family name I can think of.
The missing death
Inquests are indexed on the NSW Archives site http://www.records.nsw.gov.au/state-archives/indexes-online/indexes-online but only to 1824. However inquests are usually mentioned in newspaper reports. James’ wife Margaret Downey was found dead and an inquest performed, as was the case with her sister Mary. Both these cases were reported in the newspapers. Could there be concealment of information about John’s death on the part of family members? In those days scandal was often hidden from outsiders.
The obscurity surrounding John’s death is in contrast with the information about his brother James. James can be traced through his immigration papers, even though he travelled under the name Gannon. In Sydney his name was on several subscription lists, and the Colonial Secretary’s papers include a letter from him finalising the purchase of the land in Ross Street North Parramatta. His children’s births and marriage are announced in the newspapers, and he has a death notice mentioning his long residence at Parramatta. The only mystery about James Gammell is that the marriage at Tipperary 24 February 1838 is between Margaret Downey and John Gammell, not James Gammell. As the immigration papers dated 1840 state Margaret was James’ wife, the marriage entry must be an error. James’ son James says on his DC that James had 10 children, but this seems another error.
I’m told that ancestors would go to considerable lengths to conceal a scandal like an illegitimate birth or act of adultery. They probably wouldn’t conceal a crime. If there was concealment about John’s death it will probably never be uncovered. If there are missing records though they may one day come to light.
©2016 Original material copyright Phillip Kay. Images and other material courtesy Creative Commons. Please inform post author of any violation.