St Agnes, Cornwall, England
Spion Kop, Northern Natal, South Africa.
North Wall, Dublin, Ireland
Lisnavagh, Rathvilly, Co. Carlow, Ireland
Bunbury, West Australia
There are times when this globe of ours becomes incorrigibly small, when the ghosts of generations past glide across the oceans of time to leave one frankly gob-smacked.
The following tale should appeal to those amongst you who enjoy the peculiar dynamics of family history.
It begins with Lieutenant Alfred Rudall of the Imperial Light Infantry who was killed in action on 24th January 1900, while fighting the Boers at the battle of Spion Kop. The 23-year-old was leading a charge when a pom-pom shell landed on his head.
I discovered Alfred’s fate while researching the Rudall family for my prospective (and now present) mother-in-law some years ago.
On the stairwell of her home in County Monaghan, Ireland, hangs a large framed photograph of another Alfred Rudall, her great-grandfather. This bushy-bearded soul was the son of a prosperous London merchant. As a young man, he’d been good enough on the violin to accompany the pianist, Clara Schumann. In later life, he served as a clergymen to the tin-mining community of St. Agnes on the coast of Cornwall.
Alfred who was killed in South Africa was a nephew of the Rev. Alfred.
So far, pretty straightforward.
When I posted the Rudall story on my website a few years ago, I had an email within 48 hours from an Australian lady called Julia who had come across it through the power of Google search.
Julia told me that yes, Alfred had indeed been killed at Spion Kop but, before he died, he was married in South Africa to an Irish girl called Eva Halpin. And six months after Alfred’s death, Eva gave birth to a posthumous baby girl who was Julia’s mother. Julia later sent me a photo of Eva which is our photo today.
Julia was thrilled to discover the back-history of her mysterious grandfather, Cornish miners, London merchants and all.
Precisely one day after Julia and I began our correspondence, I noticed the name ‘Halpin’ cropping up on a general enquiry to a rather brilliant genealogical group (firstname.lastname@example.org) whose interest focuses on County Carlow, the county in Ireland where my family have lived for the past 350 years.
The author of this enquiry was a man called Bill who was seeking further information on members of the Halpin family, including a woman called Julia Villiers who had married one of the Halpins.
In my correspondence with Julia, she had let slip a throwaway remark that she was named Julia after one of her Halpin great-aunts who liked to sing.
I wrote to Bill and explained that I had just been in touch with a Julia who was named for a great-aunt Julia, and whose grandmother was a Halpin, first name Eva.
And Bill wrote back almost immediately to say that the Julia Halpin he sought did indeed have a sister called Eva. She married an Englishman in South Africa but all record of her had disappeared after he was killed at the battle of Spion Kop in the Anglo-Boer War.
Blimey, says I.
I quickly put Bill and Julia in touch, and suddenly Julia now had the back-story of both her mother’s maternal Halpin and paternal Rudall ancestry.
The story then became delightfully personal for me.
Firstly, I was commissioned to write a history of the Dublin Docklands. And it soon became apparent that many of the present-day bridges, quays and drains along the River Liffey in central Dublin are the work of an extraordinary engineering father and son, both called George Halpin, who oversaw virtually every project in the area from 1800 through to the early 1860s. The younger George turned out to be Eva’s grandfather.
But the double-whammy that really rather blew me away was that Eva’s grandparents, the Malones of Rathmore, were my family’s next-door-neighbours in County Carlow. The headstone for her grandfather Joseph Malone stands right outside the front door of our church in Rathvilly.
And Eva’s great-uncle John Malone was actually the manager of our family farm at Lisnavagh from 1848 through until his death in 1862. He lived in the same house where my own sister was living at that time.
I know it may well require a few loops in your mind to understand what I have just written. Suffice it to say, I wasn’t remotely surprised when I discovered that, following the death of her husband in South Africa, Eva Rudall and her baby daughter made their way to Australia where they settled in a small town on the west coast called Bunbury.
With thanks to Bill Webster, Julia Moran, Eldrith Ward, Virginia Hartley & Miriam Moore.
The Ruddal Family – http://www.turtlebunbury.com/history/history_family/hist_family_rudall.html
The Halpin Family – http://www.turtlebunbury.com/published/published_books/docklands/north_wall/pub_books_docklands_halpin.html