Monday, July 16, 2012

Mystery Monday: Alice Ward and her Mariner Husband, a mystery solved

In a post entitled A determined father keeps his family together, I wrote about the fact that Alice Fitzpatrick Ward emerged as a hero of sorts for the Ball family of my grandfather, my mother, and her siblings. In 1937, a few months after the death of her grandniece Mary Fitzpatrick Ball, the then 75 year old widow Alice Fitzpatrick Ward moved into the home of the Ball family to help her grandniece's husband Patrick care for his children. The presence of Alice meant none of the children could be taken away.

When Alice came to the Ball home she brought with her a large wooden and leather chest, inside of which the children were absolutely forbidden to look. My mother was told the chest contained keepsakes from Alice's life with her late husband, a Mariner, a ship's captain who died at sea. My mother was told Alice had been many years widowed. Beyond that she knew nothing of Alice's husband, not even his name.

Who was grand-aunt Alice Fitzpatrick Ward? What had her life been before she came to the Ball household to care for the children of her deceased grandniece Mary? Who was her mysterious husband, the sea captain?

Alicia 'Alice' Fitzpatrick was born in April 1861 to Joseph Fitzpatrick and his wife Mary Kettle in Donabate, County Dublin, Ireland. Alice was christened 26 April 1861. She was the third born child, and second born daughter, of Joseph and Mary's eight children. Alice's younger brother Thomas Fitzpatrick was my mother's grandfather.

On 14 August 1886 in Rowlestown, County Dublin, Alice Fitzpatrick was joined in marriage to James Joseph Ward. Ward was born in 1859 to Thomas Ward and Alice Shiels in Skerries, County Dublin. At the time of her marriage Alice was living with her family in Warblestown, and James and his family were living in Malahide, County Dublin. Alice's father Joseph was already dead when she married James. The father of James was still alive, and both James and his father Thomas are identified on the marriage registration as Mariners.

Marriage Registration of James Ward and Alice Fitzpatrick.
Click on image to view larger version.
The fact of the marriage itself is something about which I am intrigued. Alice's father had been a 'farmer, victualler and grocer' in the countryside of North County Dublin. A victualler provided food and provisions to travellers; so, initially I wondered did James Joseph Ward meet Alice Fitzpatrick while he was acquiring victuals for his ship? However, when I discovered that Alice's father died in 1871, I realized he would not have been the source of their introduction. Perhaps they were introduced by the Kettles, her mother's family. Who is to say? The marriage produced no children, so there are no descendants to fill in the details of their history for me.

Sometime after their marriage in 1886 Alice and her James left Ireland and fell off the map, so to speak, only to reappear in the census records of 1901. When viewing the map be sure to zoom out in order to see all of the places in Ireland, England and Wales which played a role in the history of Alice and James.

View Mapping the life of Alice Fitzpatrick and James Joseph Ward in a larger map

In the 1901 English census, James Joseph Ward was indeed a Mariner working onboard a ship called the Despatch; however, he was not the ship's Captain, but rather its Chief Mate, more commonly known as first officer.

James Ward's ship The Despatch was a 138 tonne sailing schooner employed as a 'Coasting Trader'. On the night of the 1901 UK census, The Despatch was stationed 20 miles off Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, U.K.. A coasting trader was a ship which worked up and down the coast of the United Kingdom delivering goods from one port to another; the ship did not travel across international waters, thus the name 'coasting trader'.

Until recently, this is the point in my research at which the story ended. I know what became of Alice Ward, the widowed grand-aunt who cared for my mother and her siblings. On 27 May 1952, at the age of 91, Alice died at Roebuck Castle; she is interred with her spinster sister Teresa in this grave at St. Colmcille's Churchyard, Swords, County Dublin, Ireland.

The grave of Teresa Fitzpatrick and Alice Fitzpatrick Ward
The mystery of the story of Alice and James is: what became of Alice's husband James Joseph Ward? When did he die? Did he perish at sea with the coasting trader ship, The Despatch, or with another ship? Was he ever a ship's captain? I still had a lot of questions for which I wanted answers.

Never to be one deterred by a good mystery, using the following questions, I began to plot out how I would find the solution.

1] What do I know about Alice and James?

They were married in 1886.
The marriage produced no children.
My mother was told James was a sea captain.
My mother was told James died at sea.
My mother was told Alice was 'long widowed' when she came to live with the Ball family in 1937.

2] What might I learn from a timeline?

Creating a timeline allows me to see how the facts fit with respect to time, and makes more clear any gaps in the timeline.

1886: Alice and James married in Ireland.
1901: James is in Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, UK; Alice is in Ireland
1911: James is in Devonshire, England; Alice is in Ireland.
1914 - 1918: World War I takes place.
1921: James no longer appears in the census of England; there is no Irish census for 1921.
1937: Alice is widowed, and once again living in Ireland.

There it is, the HUGE gap of 26 years right between 1911 when I last see them in the records, and 1937 when the widowed Alice Ward moves into her deceased niece's home to care for Mary Fitzpatrick Ball's motherless children.

While it is entirely possible that James may have given up his profession of Mariner, and with his wife Alice moved back to Ireland, my instinct told me to look in England first. Since I have no record for him in the English census of 1921, I took a chance and decided to limit my search to the the years between 1911 and 1921.  Given that World War I is smack in the middle of these years, I decided to further limit my search to the years 1911 through to 1918, intending to look at the other years if needs be.

After much searching within those seven years, I finally found a trace of James Ward in 1914. He was indeed a sea captain, commanding a merchant ship bearing the rather unusual name 'Madby Ann'. In the bottom corner of an English newspaper, a brief article provides details of the accident which would end his life. In part the article reads as follows:

The Dover News article led me to search for information on British deaths at sea. The page pictured below from the Registrar-General of Shipping and Seamen, which is a return of deaths at sea, reports the full facts of the matter. The Liverpool address on this document together with another return which reports his last known address in Dublin helps to confirm this man as my James Ward.

Source: Return of Deaths at Sea, Registrar-General of Shipping and Seamen via
The cause of death reads, "Off Bardsey Island main boom guy striking Captain throwing him against sky light and it was afterwards found he had broken ribs and punctured lung."

Now I have most of my answers, although some questions do remain. Since he is not interred in St. Colmcille's Churchyard with his wife Alice, was James Ward buried at sea or was he buried in Pembroke Dock, Wales? Perhaps his remains were returned to his place of birth, so is he buried with his own people in Skerries or Malahide, County Dublin? The death was reported to the Irish Registrar, so does the GRO hold an official death registration in their records? These are all questions which I hope to be able to answer when I am in Ireland in September.

Click on images to view larger versions.


  1. I really enjoyed reading your account of James Ward. I remember when I was visiting in Kinsale a couple of years ago, I found a number of headstones for individuals who had died at sea. in the churchyard only a block from where I was staying. At first I thought they might be from the Lusitania but later discovered they were from merchant vessels that had sunk.

    1. Hi Margel,

      Thanks for your comments; they are much appreciated.

      James' father who was also a mariner is buried in a south Dublin county cemetery called Deansgrange, so I had hoped to perhaps find him there, but had no luck. I've also come across a number of mariner's graves, and some of them are quite wonderful looking. I posted a few of them in 2010 on my cemetery blog:


  2. Terrific piece of research and report!! Well done!!

    1. Thanks Carol!! I really appreciate your comments.


  3. A wonderful tale. Glad you found some answers!

    1. Thanks Colleen! I really appreciate your comments.


  4. Good story of sleuthing Jennifer. I have a mariner ancestor from Leith, Scotland who's buried in Rotterdam -somewhere! Another on the to-do list.

    1. Thanks Pauleen! I really appreciate your comments. Rotterdam? My friend Ineke lives there, and I have always wanted to visit, but never have. I bet there would be some really interesting graveyard treks to be done. I hope you are able to check it off your list and find your mariner.



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