Love Story

Edith Alice was the youngest daughter of Rev. Henry William Brougham, D.D. (1827-1913), Dean of Lismore and his wife Lucy A. Beecher. Both her parents came from distinguished families: educated, pedigreed, landed gentry.

John’s parentage is still a mystery to me but he was probably poor. He was likely raised a Catholic like other Prendergast families on a farm in the neighborhood of Lismore but his faith, like his parentage is still obscure. Maybe not irrelevantly, there was a (Protestant) priest named John Prendergast who served as Dean of Lismore but that was in 1583-1610 some 300 years before Edith Alice’s father occupied the same office.

John was a hostler, a person who looked after horses, and he most likely served as a coachman to Rev. Brougham at the time he met Edith.

The Hunting Stud, 1845. John Frederick Herring.   The man who painted this was a self-taught artist who worked initially as a coachman in York and Doncaster. Though the painting was made some 30 years before John Prendergast began his career it does depict a stable in the north of England, the kind of place John knew well. Tate Gallery reference no. T03430.

The coachman married the minister’s daughter but we don’t know when exactly John began working for the Rev. Brougham or when he and Edith met or where or how their match was lit. Was it at church or in the stable? If there’s a bodice ripper moment in the story, this is it.

Ceiling of Lismore Cathedral, photo from a blog, The Irish Aesthete, Sancto Catharge non Delenda Est, July 13, 2015. 

They were both 26 years old at the time which likely meant different things to each of them. John was just about average marrying age for the time and if he was an ambitious young man from a poor land-scarce family he would have been on the lookout for a chance to emigrate. Edith was perhaps a bit past her prime marrying age. Since the famine, rates of unmarried people were rising in Ireland and Edith at 26 was staring at spinsterhood.

We know from actual records that they married in Lismore, Ireland in early April, 1894 and left for America later that month.

Image from the Lismore Heritage Center. The Blackwater river flows past Lismore Castle on the right. Lismore Cathedral is on the left its spire visible above the wooded river bank. Edith Alice Brougham spent her early life at the Deanery attached to Lismore Cathedral.

We also have written recollections, one of which is from a June, 1986 letter written by Rev. Brougham’s successor in office, Gilbert Mayes, Dean of Lismore, 1961-1987. He gave a different account of their marriage and departure.

1986 letter from Gilbert Mayes, Dean of Lismore. Letter in possession of Dorothy Rabiet (Prendergast), Dean Brougham’s great granddaughter.

“He was Dean Brougham’s coachman and he and the dean’s daughter ran off to America. They got the boat in Queenstown (Cobh) and were married in America. Eventually they went to a relation of the Broughams and settled them…Apparently the pair eloped and were already at sea before the elopement was discovered.”

Gilbert Mayes, Dean of Lismore, 1986

Dean Mayes makes clear in the letter that he heard about the elopement from John Prendergast’s unmarried nephew and there is no telling how many times it was repeated before it got to him, so no wonder Mayes got their place of marriage wrong. A left-behind unmarried nephew would also have had his own ax to grind.

What else did these two get wrong?

To give them credit, John and Edith did in fact get the boat in Queenstown (Cobh) as Dean Mayes noted. An arriving passenger list shows Mr. J. Prendergast, a clerk and his wife departing from Queenstown, Ireland as second cabin passengers on the ship Teutonic, arriving on Ellis Island in New York on April 25th 1894, carrying three bags each.

Illustration of RMS Teutonic of the White Star Line by William Lionel Wylie, Royal Museums Greenwich Collection.

Dean Mayes also correctly noted John’s occupation. The 1900 US census and an Augusta, Maine city directory lists John F. Prendergast as a “hostler” or man who looks after horses at a stable or inn. John was clearly a horse guy.

The arriving passenger list also noted that John and Edith Alice were married which is consistent with the Irish index record of their civil marriage, but not Dean Mayes’ account which had them married in America. The marriage index record is given as a date range between April – June 1894 which means John and Edith must have married in early April, just before their voyage.

What about an elopement? Did they conceal their marriage from their families and “run off” as Mayes wrote? 

Here is an other account of the affair from Alwine Mona Ivy Brougham (1891-1980), daughter of Henry W. Brougham, Edith’s older brother. Mona writes:

“youngest daughter of the Dean.  had an affair with the young & dashing groom who was teaching her to ride.   Her parents got to hear of it & forthwith she was married offhand to the groom (whose name alas I do not know) & they were bundled off to America & her name never mentioned again!   But I hear he fell on his feet in Australia worked in a Stud Farm & was so well thought of that he inherited it when the owner died.  Good for Edith (I hope)”

Source: Notes by Mona BL, originally posted by Karen Bruce Lockhart 28 Feb. 2010.
Photo of Mona Brougham, Edith Alice’s sister. Source: member KarenBruceLockhart originally shared this on 24 Jan 2010 

Mona’s version of the story fits the fact that the young couple married in Ireland and rather than elope, their affair was revealed or discovered and they were “bundled off” to be forgotten as some kind of embarrassment to the Brougham family. 

What sort of embarrassment? Mona seems to actually admire the class crossing aspect of affair, the ambitious and dashing young riding instructor and his student, the daughter of the distinguished Reverend Dean, Doctor of Divinity. Good for Edith she says.

On the other hand, Edith Alice had the weight of generations against her. To marry below one’s class was to betray the family.

As 18th-century novels like Richardson‘s Clarissa and Fielding‘s Tom Jones make clear, it was vital to the gentry that sons and daughters who stood to inherit, married people of equivalent or greater social rank. Ostracism, even disinheritance, often awaited those who did not. Once thus married, sons and daughters consolidated the family’s properties and also its social and political standing. Though small gentry, like the Broughams, were somewhat overshadowed in Cumberland and Westmorland by big families like the Howards and the Lowthers, considerable holdings could be built up through wise marriages, judicious purchases and the rewards for loyal service to local magnates.

Mark Thomas. A History of Brougham Hall and Highhead Castle. Phillimore & Co, Ltd. 1992. p.19.
Image from the movie Tom Jones, a 1963 British comedy film, an adaptation of Henry Fielding’s classic 1749 novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling. The plot turns around a love match between two people thwarted by their mismatched social rank, which resolves when a case of mistaken identity is revealed. One of the best movies of all time IMHO.

Another Brougham descendant, Peter Brougham Wylie, mentioned Edith Alice and her departure in a 1998 family history titled A Gathering of Broughams But Not a Clean Sweep:

Edith Alice, date of birth unknown. It is said that she eloped with a groom, one Prendergast, and they went to live in America. There he found employment with a relative who owned a small but successful horse-breeding farm in Kentucky, and subsequently inherited the property in the absence of closer relatives.

Peter Brougham Wylie. A Gathering of Broughams but Nor A Clean Sweep.1998. p.77

Edith Alice’s entry in this volume is located among a long list of brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles. Her father and grandfathers were educated clergy, “A Clerical Dynasty” according to the title of Chapter 12. She also appears on Chart 3, Brougham of Ballyhaise and Lismore, alongside her brothers and sisters. That chart records Edith Alice’s brother John William Brougham’s descendants down to my generation, but does not include any of Edith Alice’s descendants. 

Hello Brougham cousins far a wide. Here’s your Yankee contingent.