(edit: with the benefit of hindsight, it is possible that the above pictures could be the parents, rather than the parents-in-law, of Polly Small – hopefully I’ll be able to find out for sure)
The origins of both John Moxham and his wife Maria Moxham are unclear, but they were the first of the family to live in the townland of Killenboy. Family tradition has passed down a few stories about John, only some of which can be verified by surviving records. His birth year is estimated by his age given at the time of his death and in the 1901 census, but the baptismal registers of Tashinny Church only begin in 1821. As relayed to me by my father, John Moxham was from the neighbouring townland of Rathsallagh, but his father died when he was about 10 years old, and his mother soon afterwards, leaving him an orphan. At that point he was taken in by a relative named Bickerstaff who live at Glanmore House in the village of Kenagh, County Longford. Bickerstaff, according to my father’s notes, supposedly ‘did him out of some of his money’, but there are no specific details.
Little of this can be conclusively proven, but there are a number of documents which lend credence to parts of this story. Firstly, the Registry of Deeds holds some important papers that date back earlier than the church records. A deed of marriage settlement was agreed on 27 February 1816 (these marriage settlements were generally made just a few days before the wedding) between John Moxham, a farmer of Rathsallow (Rathsallagh), and Ann Gardiner of Loughan, County Longford. This John Moxham had a lease of 19 acres of Rathsallagh which he held for the lifetimes of Henry Moxham, John Butler and Thomas Canning (who was by then deceased). The third name on the marriage deed was John Crawford Bickerstaff Esq., also of Loughan (which adjoins Glanmore), to whom these lands were set for a period of one year (RoD 699/698/479838). It is known that John Moxham held 19 acres of land in Rathsallagh in the 1840s, and the date of this marriage would tie-in with his approximate date of birth, so by deduction it may be assumed that this couple were in fact his parents. This would also confirm the family story about a man named Bickerstaff being involved with his affairs, but if there was some sort of family connection between the Gardiners/Moxhams and the Bickerstaffs I have yet to find it. While it’s unclear to me exactly what the nature of this marriage settlement was, it might have simply been a financial arrangement with a mortgage-lender: in March 1785 George Moxham of Kilcurry (almost certainly John’s grandfather) had mortgaged the same 19 acres of Rathsallagh to John Bickerstaff of Kenagh (RoD 362/465/246229) and in August 1793 Mary Moxham of Rathsallagh (George’s widow) had again mortgaged the 19 acres of Rathsallagh to John Bickerstaff of Kenagh (RoD 474/458/302403). In May 1795 Mary Moxham set half of her part of Rathsallagh to her son-in-law Thomas Flood, the rent of which to be put towards the payment of a debt to ‘Mr. Biggerstaff’ (RoD 548/73/361172).
Finding any details about John being orphaned and made the ward of a guardian has been more difficult. The registers of Tashinny Church (of which the residents of Rathsallagh would have been parishioners) list a John Moxham of the parish buried on 4 July 1825 (no address or age given), while the Tithe Applotment Books from the following September say that an Anne Moxham held 13 acres in Rathsallagh and was subletting a further 5 acres to Thomas Donnelly. These papers may record the death of John Moxham’s father, and the ownership of the land by a woman in this era certainly implies that the former Ann Gardiner was a widow by September 1825. Further Tithe Applotment Books from 1831 to 1833 confirm Anne Moxham of Rathsallagh as both the landholder and a widow. An Anne Moxham of the parish died at age 60 and was buried at Tashinny on 6 April 1835, which may well be the same woman. This would leave John Moxham orphaned at about 16 years of age. It is also possible that John Moxham was ‘taken in’ before his widowed mother had died. The Office of Wards of Court, Dublin, which should record any legal guardianship arrangement, was only established in 1871 and doesn’t hold records from farther back. The vestry minutes of Tashinny Church record that in 1828 funds were allocated to “pay for sending of a foundling to Foundling Hospital” and in 1831 “for the support of a foundling”, but ‘foundlings’ were usually very young illegitimate and abandoned children. The Grand Jury of County Longford also sometimes awarded money to respectable gentlemen for the care of waifs and strays, but I have not found any reference in their Presentment Books to any such arrangement involving either John Moxham or John Crawford Bickerstaff.
Whether there is any truth in the story about John Moxham being cheated out of his money or inheritance, or whether it was simply an exaggeration based on bad blood or a disputed mortgage arrangement, may never be known. Bickerstaff was from a prominent family based in Lislea, Kenagh (adjoining both Loughan and Glanmore). He was a Justice of the Peace and was Grand Secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of County Longford in 1831. He died in October 1843, aged 54, and was buried at Kilcommick (Kenagh) Church. Curiously, the marriage register of that same church says that a Mary Moxham of Kilcommick parish married Thomas McKeown of Moydow parish on 8 February 1837 (the year is questionable – the sequence of the register suggests the year should be 1838), witnessed by John ‘Moyam’ (more likely ‘Moxam’). Soon afterwards, an application was submitted to the Charlton Charitable Fund, setting out that Thomas McKeon, of Loughan and aged between 15 and 30, had married Mary Moxam, aged between 15 and 40, on 8 April 1838 in Kilcommick. Thomas was the son of Joseph McKeon, a labourer of 20 years experience, while Mary (who misspelled her new surname ‘McKone’) was the daughter of John Moxam, a labourer for ‘many years’. Their application was certified and they received a payment. As there were no other Moxhams recorded in this parish, is it possible that Mary was a sister of John Moxham, and that she was also taken in by Bickerstaff? If so, there was no memory of her passed down through the family to today. She may be the Mary Jane McKeon of Abbeyshrule who was buried aged 37 in March 1854; in which case these may also be the Thomas and Jane McKeon whose daughter Jane was born 5 February 1841 and baptised in Moydow church. Coincidentally – perhaps – the widowed Thomas McKeon of Abbeyshrule went on to marry Mary Anne Mahary at Ardagh in 1856, who was the sister-in-law of George Moxham of Ratharney.
John Moxham was registered as a freeholder of land in Rathsallagh on 15 October 1839, entitling him to vote in elections, though he was living in Ratharney at the time. John – an illegitimate son of Joanna Dillon of Corrabawn, fathered by a John Moxham – was baptised in Carrickedmond & Abbeyshrule Roman Catholic Parish on 1 June 1839; it is not possible to say whether this particular John Moxham was implicated, but his age and address would make it quite plausible. On 18 April 1842 John was married to Maria Moxham, ‘a cousin’, by Rev. Gosselin at Tashinny church, in the presence of James Moxham and Robert Butler. The couple were both simply noted as ‘of this parish’, but by the birth of their first child – yet another John Moxham – in February 1843 they were specifically living at Rathsallagh. The same was true for the births of their children Margaret Anne (‘Annie’) in January 1845 and Maria Emily (‘Emily’) in May 1846, and the Rental Accounts of the Newcastle Estate from February 1846 record John Moxham with a family of six (these numbers don’t quite add up unless there are extended family members) holding 19 acres in Rathsallagh, with a “good house, profit by subletting”. The site of this house is marked on contemporary maps but no trace of it survives today. The same accounts list Robert Butler holding 40 acres in Killinboy (NAI M1865). This Robert Butler, probably the same man present at the Moxham’s wedding, was a descendant of the first Moxhams to live at Rathsallagh and a distant cousin of both John and Maria. His family had inherited a one-sixth share of Rathsallagh when it was divided up in 1793 (as had John Moxham’s grandmother Mary), and his father Robert Butler senior lived at Sunfield House within that townland. Returning to the oral history of the family, it was at this point that John Moxham undertook a mysterious ‘land swap’ which involved him moving from the traditional family home at Rathsallagh to a farm at nearby Killenboy (or ‘Killinboy’; officially ‘Killeenboy’). I have not found any deeds relating to this move, nor found any other examples of tenants simply ‘swapping’ the leases they held, so the reason and nature of this deal remain a mystery. However, Robert Butler junior was at the other end of this swap, and according to the Rental Accounts it happened between May and November of 1847. John Moxham had re-registered as a freeholder in Rathsallagh in October 1846 and a deed dated 15 June 1847 found him still living there (a second son, James, was born around 1847 but does not show up in the baptismal records and so no address is known). Was this land swap something to do with Mr. Bickerstaff, or with a family arrangement between distant cousins, or a deal over unpaid rents? This was, of course, at the very height of the worst year of the Great Famine, and in November 1847, at his new address, Butler was in receipt of a ‘poor rate abatement’, while by May 1849 Moxham owed almost two years rent to the Newcastle Estate for his land at Killenboy. Whatever the cause, on paper John Moxham did slightly better out of the swap, giving up 19 acres in Rathsallagh for about 32 acres (Irish measure) in Killenboy. The real reason may have had something to do with property speculation by the Butlers, father and son. In March 1846 Robert senior had acquired a piece of adjoining land in order to expand the grounds of Sunfield House. The Moxham farm ran entirely alongside the Sunfield farm, and by bringing the two divisions of Rathsallagh together they were able to combine them into a much bigger concern. Soon after, in May 1851, the entire Butler holdings were transferred back to the King-Harman family landlords, who around the same time had also acquired another one-third of the townland from the Roberts family (also descended from the first Moxhams). In November 1851 this large chunk of land was leased to a George Gamerson, but it would change hands a number of times over the years and both the land and Sunfield House would be sub-let to a succession of families. Robert Butler senior and junior ultimately sold all their farm equipment by public auction and moved permanently to Dublin.
Maria Moxham’s year of birth is impossible to be sure of – again, she was born before surviving baptismal registers began, but also the information on her headstone (died May 1875 aged 64) is considerably different from that on her death certificate and in the burial register (died 31 January 1876 aged 62; buried 2 February). Assuming that the headstone may have been erected some years after her death, the death certificate is probably the more reliable source, which would place her birth in 1813 or very early 1814. A family tree constructed by Isaiah Moxham in 1911, using land deeds and his own recollection, is the only evidence to suggest that Maria was the daughter of yet another John Moxham, of Driminure. Maria’s husband was most likely the second cousin of her father, but would have been considerably younger than him. John Moxham of Driminure was raised in Ratharney but, leaving that land to his brothers, he obtained a lease of 14 acres in the adjoining townland of Driminure in 1821, and was still living there in 1833. He probably had a large number children – Isaiah’s chart lists five, but baptismal records seem to list another three not mentioned on the chart. John is noted on the same chart as having ‘gone to America’, but this may be a mistake as he is much more likely to have stayed in Driminure for the rest of his life, and may be the John Moxham of Abbeyshrule parish who died aged 60 in December 1838. Another daughter of his was Jane Moxham, who married her Driminure neighbour Robert Cody in 1839 and had descendants still living there until the 1990s. The brothers of Maria and Jane were embroiled in a minor scandal in early 1844 when, being refused permission by the King-Harmans to sell their lease in Driminure and emigrate to America, they set about destroying the house they were renting. Two brothers were sentenced to six and two months, respectively, in prison with hard labour. It appears these brothers did eventually go to America and may well have fought in the United States army and raised families there.
John and Maria went on to have another five daughters after their move to Killenboy – Elizabeth Jane (‘Eliza’, baptised February 1849), Louise Eleanor (born November 1850), Teresa Amelia (born April 1852), Frances H. (‘Fanny’, baptised February 1854) and Sarah Isabella (born January 1856). Speaking in 1984, John and Maria’s granddaughters Margaret Chamberlain and Edith Cody recalled that they never met any of their father’s siblings other than their aunt Annie Tollerton who lived in London. As far as they were aware, the rest all emigrated to New Zealand. Both Annie Moxham, a milliner, and her brother James Moxham, a letter carrier, were living in Shoreditch, London, at the time of the 1871 census. In October 1872, back home in Killenboy, James died aged 25, having suffered for one year with phthisis (tuberculosis). Annie remained in London and married William Tollerton, also a letter carrier, later living in Finsbury Park. Their children included Maria Louis (1875), Teresa Emily (1877), William Henry (1878), John Joseph (1881), Mary Agnes (1882) and Eliza Ann (1885), but further details about the family are unknown. Emily Moxham, also a milliner, died at Killenboy in April 1875 aged 28, again suffering from phthisis (tuberculosis) for fifteen months. Fourth daughter Louise Moxham emigrated to the United States around 1874 and married Scottish-born John W. Ramsay (1862-1952), presumably after his arrival in 1893. In spite of Margaret Chamberlain’s recollections, Louise Ramsay was instrumental in helping her and her four sisters and three brothers to establish themselves in the United States in the early 20th century, and after her death in February 1929 she would share a grave with some of these nieces.
Eliza Moxham married Robert Boyd, a draper from Longford, in September 1879 at Tashinny, before they emigrated to New Zealand. The Cyclopedia of New Zealand states that Mr. R. E. Boyd established a drapery business at Queen Street, Waimate, in 1882, and conducted it for about twenty years. Margaret and Edith had later been in contact with Lulu Anderson, a daughter of their ‘Aunt Lizzie’. Eliza’s sister Sarah Moxham also went to Waimate at some point where, in 1886 or 1887, she married George Boyd (1859-1928), the brother of Eliza’s husband Robert Boyd. The same Cyclopedia of New Zealand says that George Boyd went to New Zealand in 1885 and was a storekeeper prior to joining the staff of the Waimate Industrial and Co-operative Association in 1895, becoming secretary in 1897. Their children were Elizabeth and George, and Sarah died in December 1931. Teresa Moxham married Arthur George Nicolls (1852-1910), a medical doctor from Edgeworthstown, in January 1883 at Tashinny and they moved to Timaru, New Zealand, in 1884 or 1885. The Cyclopedia says that Dr. Nicolls worked in various Dublin hospitals, assisted his father, Dr. Archibald Nicolls, at Ballinalee, County Longford, accepted an assistantship in Wales for two years, became associated with Dr. Crofts at Church Gresley, England, and ran a practice at Waimate for about nine years. He took charge of the Arrowtown Hospital for two years, settled at Stratford in 1895 for five years, and returned to Waimate to resume his old practice in 1901. Their children were Archie, Arthur, Alecia, Georgina and Caroline, and Teresa died in July 1923. Fanny Moxham became Mrs Morley and is buried in Waimate alongside her sister Sarah Boyd, having died in August 1931, but little else is known about her husband or any family.
As mentioned above, family matriarch Maria Moxham died in January 1876 of cancer. By reputation John Moxham was not a natural farmer; the comment was made that “he would sooner walk to town than use a horse and cart”. The Carrickboy Petty Sessions record that he was frequently prosecuted for failing to repay debts to the Abbeyshrule Loan Fund in the late 1850s and early 1860s, although to be fair most of the local population seems to have faced the same charge at some point. He was fined one shilling in February 1868 for allowing his ass to wander on the public road, along with two pigs and a goat. A number of cock-fighting spurs were unearthed some years ago in the vicinity of the old house, probably belonging to him, although the age of this original house is not known – whether it was built by this family or whether it was occupied by previous tenants like Robert Butler or his sub-tenants. Eldest son John supposedly spent some time in the United States (unclear exactly when) but was summoned back to help his father run the farm, which was falling into ruin. By a deed dated 7 February 1884 the house and farm were transferred from John Moxham senior to John Moxham junior, who was married less than three weeks later to Marianne (‘Polly’) Small (1863-1952) at Almorita church, County Westmeath (the wedding was witnessed by Gustavus Nicolls, who had also witnessed the marriage of Teresa Moxham to Arthur Nicolls). In documents from the 1880s John Moxham junior gave his address as ‘The Cottage’, Killenboy, but around late 1884 the original house was extensively damaged in a fire. At the time, John and Marianne were expecting the first of the eleven children that they would raise on their farm at Killenboy. A larger two-storey house was constructed in the field adjacent to the old home while the Moxhams stayed at a house in Ratharney owned by the Miller family. Many surviving papers from this time include the plans for the new house, the grant of a building loan of £150 from the Board of Public Works, price lists and estimates for building materials (mostly from Dublin merchants) dated October 1886, and a handwritten contract for a Patt. Casey to build the house for the sum of £47 and 10 shillings. Old John Moxham lived on there until May 1902, and was about 83 when he died. John junior died in January 1922, after which the farm passed on to another generation. The old house was repaired as a barn and cow-house, but still retains some of the fireplaces and windows from its former existence.
With thanks to Greg Davy, Lorraine McHerron, Sharon Lowry and Canon B.W. Kingston.