William A. Stewart was born in 1826 to the farmer Joseph Stewart of Crossnacreevy, Comber, Co. Down. His mother may have been Ann Stewart. His known brothers were our great-great grandfather, Joseph Stewart of Dublin, John Stewart of Crossnacreevy and Robert Stewart. He also had a sister, Mary Stewart.
One of the most prominent farming families in this Moneyreagh area were the Huddlestons. In 1844 Robert Huddleston, a poet, published a volume of his works, 'A Collection of Poems and Songs on Rural Subjects.' Included at the end of the collection was a list of subscribers, and these include Joseph Stewart of Gransha and William A. Stewart of Crossnacreevy; William was only 18 when he subscribed to his neighbour's book.
William A. Stewart married Margaret Burke in Downpatrick Registry Office on 27th December 1851. William, the son of the farmer, Joseph Stewart of Crossnacreevy, was a hosteler living at 29 Prince's Street, Belfast, while Margaret was the daughter of a labourer, John Burke, with an address at the time of her marriage in Downpatrick. The witnesses were William Lascelles and Agnes Crothers.
It seems that the family of Margaret Burke had their origins in Leveroge, Drumbo, Co. Down, south of Lisburn, since a known cousin was Hugh Geddes Burke who originated there.
William Stewart can be traced through the Belfast street directories. In 1851, at the time of his marriage to Margaret Burke, he was at 29 Prince's Street, as he was in 1865, and ran an eating-house and stabling yard there. In 1863, the street directories note him at 18 Marlborough Street, which actually runs into Prince's Street.
Prince's Street and Marlborough Street intersect Ann Street, where, on 9th February 1868, William's younger brother, Joseph Stewart - our great-great grandfather - was living at 88 Ann Street when his wife, Elizabeth Madine gave birth to a second stillborn child who they named Joseph. 88 Ann Street is on the corner of Prince's Street where William A. Stewart had his eating house and stabling yard.
William A. Stewart gave up his stabling yard in about 1868, according to evidence given to his 1881 inquest by his daughter Margaret Stewart and was subsequently unemployed - perhaps the William Stewart who ran a pub at 92 Ann Street in the 1870s was a different man altogether?
(Note: Throughout the 1870s, another William Stewart ran a pub at 92 Ann Street. This was not our ancestor but, instead, was William Stitt Stewart, who not only held a licenced premises at 92 Ann Street, but also at 19 Ann Street. In the 1884 street directory, a publican named Ellen Stewart was listed at 92 Ann Street - this was Ellen, the widow of William Stitt Stewart who had died in 1882, and the licence had passed to his wife, who died in February 1887.)
The Children of William A. Stewart and Margaret Burke:
It is known from the records that the couple had four daughters.
The children of William and Margaret were born prior to official registration, but Jane Stewart was born circa 1855 in Belfast, and her sister, Margaret was born circa 1859. There was also a sister, Agnes Stewart, who witnessed Jane's wedding to James M. Orr and who was named in newspaper reports of 1881 when her father committed suicide at home. Jane Stewart was working as a machinist prior to her 1875 marriage to James Orr. Margaret was working locally in York Street Mill in 1881, while daughter Agnes, in 1881, was working for the Belfast linen company, Betzolds of Fountain Street. There was also a fourth, unnamed, daughter who was living at home in 50 New Lodge Road in 1881 when her father killed himself. A later report of court proceedings in the Belfast Morning News of 15th February 1882, in which the widowed Margaret Stewart, née Burke, struggled to get a life insurance payment of £6 10s. from the City of Glasgow Friendly Society, mentioned incorrectly that William A. Stewart's widow was named Agnes, and that a daughter was named Sarah Stewart. Although the newspaper report in this instant got several facts wrong, perhaps the fourth daughter really was named Sarah Stewart?
On 26th October 1871 in York Street Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church in Belfast city centre, William A. Stewart's brother, John Stewart of Crossnacreevy, married his second wife, Elizabeth McGowan. Elizabeth was the daughter of John McGowan, a labourer of Ballystockart, Comber, Co. Down. William A. Stewart was one of the witnesses at the wedding. The brothers' sister, Mary Stewart, had earlier married Hugh Morrow in the same York Street church on 13th Sept. 1865. (Another brother was Robert Stewart who married Jane Madine in Killinchy Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church on July 9th 1860. Both bride and groom were living in the Madine's hometown of Killyleagh at the time of the marriage and Robert Stewart gave his profession as a mechanic. Jane was the youngest sister of Elizabeth Madine who was married to another of the Stewart brothers, Joseph Stewart from whom we directly descend.)
I've often wondered why the siblings married in central Belfast rather than make the short trip home to Crossnacreevy, Moneyreagh, and marry there - it turns out that a local Moneyreagh native, Rev. John Jelllie, had been the Unitarian minister at home until 30th December 1861, when he had accepted a new post at York Street Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Street in central Belfast, so it seems that both John and Mary Stewart chose to be married by their old minister in his new premises. Our own direct ancestor, Joseph Stewart, another of these Stewart siblings, chose to marry in the Church of Ireland faith, probably because this was his wife's preferred church.
William A. Stewart died under tragic circumstances on 3rd December 1881 at 50 New Lodge Road; the newspapers recorded that he died from a head wound inflicted with a hammer. An inquest concluded that he'd committed suicide by fracturing his skull while in a state of unsound mind.
From 'The Belfast Telegraph' of Dec.5th 1881: 'An inquest was held on Saturday on the body of Wm. Stewart, who was found dead with his head broken, in the yard of his house in New Lodge Road that morning. Evidence was given that, for the past two months, the deceased talked foolishly. The Coroner described the case as a most extraordinary one. The jury returned a verdict of suicide, while in an unsound state of mind.'
Belfast Newsletter, 5th December 1881:
'EXTRAORDINARY CASE OF SUICIDE IN BELFAST
On Saturday morning, the body of a man, William Stewart, aged 55, residing at 50, New Lordge Road, was discovered in the yard. The breast was resting on the ledge of the ashpit, whic h is almost four feet in height. The head was hanging over in the ashes, the hands were outstretched in front, and a small hatchet was lying between the hands in the ashes. The scalp was removed for nearly five inches, and in the centre of the wound there was a hole in the skull. Dr. Dill, coroner for the borough, and a jury, held an inquest on the body, at half-past five o'clock, in Mr. Crawford's public-house, New Lodge Road. Sub-Inspector Singleton was present. Head-Constable Howe had charge of the case.
Margaret Stewart, daughter of the deceased, was the first witness examined. She deposed that her father had kept a yard for stabling, but had given it up about thirteen years, and was not able to get another. He had since only been able to do household work for the family. He had been in good health until within the last two months. Since then he took something on the back of his neck like a carbuncle, but it was nearly well. Witness last saw him alive that morning at her bedside. He came to waken her. That was about twenty minutes past six. He was in the habit of wakening her to let her out for her work in York Street mill. She dressed and came downstairs, and found the deceased sitting on his own beside the fire. He was sitting with his hands closed, and witness desired him to go to bed. He had then his trousers and his shirt on him. He did not reply, and witness afterwards went out, her mother telling her that she would make him get in. She was afterwards sent for, and heard that he was dead. It was about twenty-five minutes past six when she left the house, and the message came before breakfast time. She came home and found him lying dead on the kitchen floor, with blood about his head. Some time before he took the carbuncle - two or three months - he sometimes talked foolishly, and appeared a little weak in the mind. She did not know what made his mind weak. She had heard him say that he was in the way instead of working, and she believed he felt that he was a burden to his family. He and his family always agreed perfectly. There were in the house, besides the deceased, three daughters and their mother. When she left the house to go to work, her two sisters and their mother were in the house in bed in separate rooms. Her mother was lying in the bed which her father had been sitting on.
To Head-Constable Howe - A man, his wife, and a baby, named Hyndman, had the front room of the house to themselves. They were also in the house when she left it.
A Juror - Had your father the full use of his legs and arms? No, he was lame of one knee, and had been lame for as long as I remember. Could he go about without crutches? He generally carried a stick, but could go a short distance without a stick. When he was going out, however, he generally took a stick. Was it true that he was going to the workhouse yesterday or today? He was not going to the workhouse; Mother was going to get him into the Royal Hospital; but I don't think he knew that himself.
Dr. Charles Wadworth deposed that Wm. Stewart, the deceased, had been occasionally attended by him for about six weeks. He had first been called to see him about a carbuncle on the back of his neck. Witness looked upon him as a debilitated, weak old man. He also appeared rather simple in mind. Witness was called on that morning, and was at the house about nine o'clock. The deceased was then lying dead in the kitchen. Witness discovered a very extensive scalp wound on the top and centre or crown of the head, extending from the forehead backwards. The wound was about five inches in length. The scalp wound went down to the bone, exposing it. About the centre of the wound there was a fracture of the skull, extending into the brain. The brain was injured underneath. The edges of the wound were ragged; it was not a clean cut. The brain was to be seen, and a small portion had protruded. The wound was nearly an inch deep into the brain, and must have been produced by some sharp and moderately-heavy instrument, but it was not done with one stroke. That was the only wound he saw. The deceased died from the effects of that injury. The injury must have been an ante-mortem one.
The Coroner - Was that a self-inflicted wound? Oh, yes: I believe it is possible.
Was it not rather in a peculiar position for a self-inflicted wound? It was most peculiar.
It was in a position you never saw before? I never saw the same before. I can understand how much easier it would have been for another person to have inflicted the wound than for any person to have inflicted it on themselves. There would be no difficulty about the hatchet produced inflicting the wound.
Is that weapon the most likely to have been used? It is the only weapon that I have been shown.
In his own hand was it possible to be done? Oh, I think so, with the force that could have been used. To produce the injury as I saw it, it must have taken more than one blow. The reason I say that is, that the skin wound is twice as long as the edge of the hatchet, and that the edges of the wound are ragged.
And then, doctor, do you think that he would have been able to do more than one stroke? Well, at first, knowing that he was an old man, I was rather astonished that he could have been able to inflict the wounds.
A Juror - Could he have inflicted a second wound on himself? He could if the first blow had only caused a scalp wound, and had not produced concussion of the brain; but if the first blow had fractured the skull it would have been impossible for him to give himself a second blow. Although he was feeble of limb, he had great power of arm; but it must have required a great determination for one to inflict the wound on himself.
The Coroner - It certainly required great bravery.
A Juror - Didn't it surprise you when you heard that he had done it on himself? Well, I must say it did.
To the Coroner - I heard that he was accustomed to work a mangle, and that probably kept his arms active and strong.
The Coroner - Did you see anything peculiar in the temper or disposition of the family towards him? They were all crying.
Were those tears crocodile? Well, Doctor, I can't say that.
Well, you can form an opinion? I may say that during the time I have visited him, the family appeared attentive, and gave me no reason to think that there was anything wrong.
You didn't see anything that led you to believe they were tired of him? No, they were exceedingly attentive to him, and seemed to want to ge the carbuncle cured.
A Juror - Do you know he was a member of any burial society? Well, I heard incidentally that he was, but that he would only get £5 or £6.
The Coroner - That would only bury him. You have no grounds to suspect that the wound was inflicted by any person other than himself? Well, I don't think so. I find that the hatchet fits the wound in the skull.
To A Juror - If he had been struck from behind, the shape of the wound would have been reversed. The blow was inflicted from before. It appears to me most astonishing that he could have done it.
The Coroner - Still you don't retract from your statement that it must have been inflicted by himself? I did not state that he must have done so. I said it was possible for him to have done it himself.
Well, you say it was likely to have been done by himself?
Witness - All I can say in reference to it is that it is most astonishing to me how he had strength to persist in doing it if he did do it.
Agnes Stewart, daughter of the deceased, deposed that she got up to go to work at eight o'clock that morning to go to her work in Betzold's in Fountain Street. When she came downstairs, she saw the coalhole door and the yard door open. She then went into the yard, and there she discovered her father lying with his head over the breast of the ashpit. She went up to him and raised his head, and saw that he was dead. Blood was on the flags of the yard. She then ran into the house and awakened her mother, who was in bed sleeping. She then ran and told Hyndman, the lodger. When she came back her mother had got the length of the yard door, and her mother and Hyndman then carried her father in and put him on the kitchen floor.
To Mr. Singleton - The body was warm then.
To The Coroner - When they were carrying him in witness saw the wound on his head. She afterwards saw the hatchet lying in the ashpit, where they raised him.
To Mr. Singleton - The hatchet is usually kept in the coalhole.
To the Coroner - She never heard of any dispute in the house between the members of the family or the lodgers.
To Mr. Singleton - The head was lying with the wounded part down at the ashes. He was still on his feet and the hands were outstretched in front. They had him insured in a burial society for nearly nine years. She though 1d a week was what was paid. They were to get £6 10s, she thought, but she had since been told that owing to the way in which he died they would not get anything. They thought his foolish talk came from the pain he was suffering from the carbuncle.
To the Coroner - She asked Mr. Dunlop to send for the police.
To Mr. Singleton - The lodgers were asleep. The deceased constantly boasted of his strength of arms.
Constable Drought deposed that Dr. Dunlop was driving along North Queen Street , and told him that a man had been found dead in the New Lodge Road. Witness went to the place, and on entering found three women and a man. They were all bewailing what had happened. He saw the dead man in the kitchen. He examined the ashpit, and found a pool of blood on the edge. There was more blood in the ashpit. The hatchet (produced) he found on the ashes in the ashpit. It was covered with blood. He examined the yard, but found no marks of a struggle.
To Mr. Singleton - He examined the inmates of the house, but found no blood about them. They all had white aprons on.
Mrs. Stewart deposed that sometimes her husband would have gone about wringing his hands. Sometimes he would sit for a while before the fire and get up saying "What's this?".
The Coroner, in summing , said the case was one of the most extraordinary he had known, yet they had only evidence to suppose that suicide had been committed.
The jury returned a verdict that the deceased had committed suicide by striking himself on the head with a hatchet while in an unsound state of mind.'
Margaret Stewart was present at 50 New Lodge Road in 1875 when her daughter, Jane Orr, gave birth to Thomas Edwin Orr.
A Margaret Stewart - most likely the wife of William A. Stewart - was present when William A. Stewart's brother, Robert McKitterick Stewart, died on 18th November 1880 in Killyleagh.
Following her husband's death, Margaret Stewart, née Burke, moved from 50 New Lodge Road and was noted at Limestone Street in October 1884. I don't know where or when she died. Her two daughters, Jane Orr and Margaret Stewart, emigrated to Philadelphia shortly after this, along with Jane's husband, James M. Orr. They kept in contact with their cousins, the four daughters of Joseph Stewart and Elizabeth Madine, who had settled in Dublin in the 1880's.