Home   Back

The ELDON Family History


The connection between the ELDON family and the NEWMAN family was made when Edna Florence (Dina) NEWMAN married Ray Eldon FOX whose granmother was an ELDON.

Rachel ELDON
born - 7th November 1827 Ireland, died 6th March 1898 Adelaide, Australia

The Fox family, as I knew them, were very much more interested in their connection with the Eldon family through their grandmother, Rachel ELDON, than they were in their Fox ancestors. Very early in my friendship with them in Australia I heard the romantic myth about Rachel Eldon, who, the story went, was a daughter of Lord Eldon, the Earl of Eldon, and how she fell in love with a stable boy on the estate, James Fox, and eloped with him to Australia. They were very proud of this connection with a famous man and the names "Eldon" and "Rachel" have been used for names of children through the generations.

As well as tracing back the family in the Australian records I also, (because of this story) made a study of the Earls of Eldon in Burke's Peerage and Debretts.

John Scott, The first Earl of Eldon (1751-1838) was a very well known personage in his time, being the Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain for many years (1801-1827) and having a great deal of influence on the law of the land. He had the reputation of being extremely slow and careful in his judgements but also very just in his rulings. Although he was against almost every reform such as the abolition of slavery, the reform of prisons, emancipation of Catholics and the Corn Laws, he goes down in history as a great statesman.

I was delighted to find that the second Earl of Eldon did have a daughter called Rachel. Although there was no Rachel in the family of the famous Lord Eldon, the first Earl of Eldon. In any case his dates were a bit early for the dates I was estimating for the Rachel, the ancestor of the Fox family. Burke's Peerage only gave the second Earl's daughter's date of death, 1869, but I was a little worried when I found that the surname of the Earls of Eldon was not Eldon but Scott as Rachel was always known in the family as Rachel Eldon. After many more investigations including writing to the present (fifth) Earl of Eldon (to which I did not get a reply), I discovered that Rachel, the daughter of the second Earl of Eldon was born in 1849. This was a blow for by now I had information to prove that this Rachel could not be the one I was seeking.

As I now knew that the Rachel who was the daughter of the second Earl of Eldon was only five years old when James and Rachel arrived in Australia, I looked for other Rachels in the large family who might fit. There were no other Rachels who were daughters of any Earl of Eldon or any other member of the family whose dates fitted. The only other possibility was an illegitimate daughter, but there was always the problem that the surname of the Earls of Eldon was Scott, not Eldon. In fact the name Eldon must have been chosen by John Scott for his title from his estate in a small village called Eldon near Newcastle and I now realise that the family name of Rachel Eldon must have originated from the same village, probably in the 12th or 13th Century, but this knowledge was to come much later.

I next turned my attention to County Armagh, Ireland, as it had been mentioned in the Genealogical Index and the shipping list. (See Fox Family for details) There I found the marriage certificate of James Fox, blacksmith, son of John Fox, blacksmith, and Rachel Eldon,daughter of Joseph Eldon, farmer, on the 22nd September 1853. Neither of them could sign their names. (They named their first son after both their fathers.) A witness to the marriage was Samuel Eldon - another name carried on by James and Rachel in their family. The marriage took place in the parish of Tartaraghan, County Armagh, Ireland.

I contacted the rector of Tartaraghan and he sent me the following information:-

"Joseph Eldon of Tartelgne, father of Rachel who married James Fox in 1853, was buried here (Tartaraghan) on 14.5.1863, aged 73 years, i.e. he would have been born about 1790. His wife was called Rachel, but I have no means of telling her surname. The children of Joseph and Rachel were:-

(1)Samuel, born c1821, married 11.5.1854 Mary McFarland of Cloncarrish townland. He died 17.10.1867, and she died 23.8.1890, aged 73. They had issue - a daughter Rachel, born 14.7.1854.
(2) Martha, born 1826, married 2.12.1846 James Kirkland of Cloncarrish townland.
(3) Rachel, born 7.11.1827, married James Fox, 22.9.1853.
(4) Mary, born 28.6.30
(5) Elizabeth, born 21.5.1832, married 6.9.1860 Edward Anderson of Derrylee townland.
(6) Mary, born 21.8.1835

There was another family of Eldons living in the neighbouring Townland of Clonnacash. They would obviously have a common ancestry."

The Rector also told me that there is an old grave in the churchyard with the following inscription:-

HERE LYETH THE BODY OF
JOHN ELDON WHO DEPARTED
THIS LIFE JULY 29.1785
AGED 74 YEARS

Although not proven, this could well be Joseph's grandfather and Rachel's great-grandfather which would mean that they were a well established family in that area. The rector told me that in the 19th century the area was quite thickly populated, mostly with farmers, and where weaving was done by the women in the home. I understand that it is a very quiet, sparsely populated area now.

I did not set out to disprove this legend but to verify it. I suppose my findings are almost as much a disappointment to me as they will be to direct descendants of Rachel Eldon. It is interesting to contemplate that James and Rachel would have come to Australia with Irish accents. When and how the legend of Lord Eldon started I have no idea - Irish blarney perhaps. When they married Rachel was 26 years old and James 27 or 28.

The surname of Eldon is not an Irish name but an `outwith' name, as the Irish call it, as it came originally from outside Ireland. There is a small village in the county of Durham, England, near Bishop Auckland and south of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, called Eldon. This most likely is where the Eldon family originated, but they must have left there in about the 12th century. This was the time when surnames first began to be used and the name of Eldon would have been attached to the family as a place from which they had come, e.g. Joseph from Eldon. Although Eldon is not a very common name in the south of England, there is quite a large concentration of that name in Lincolnshire and in Norfolk on the International Genealogical Index. Maybe this particular family moved west to Lancashire and then over the sea to Ireland in one of the pushes to establish Protestants in Ireland. We know that there were Eldons in County Armagh 1785 as that is the year when a John Eldon died and was buried in the churchyard in Tartaraghan. He was 74 when he died, the questions are how long had he been in Ireland, was he born there and what of his parents before him?


Map of Ireland showing Northern Ireland (shaded red)
and County Armagh (darker) in the early 19th Century


What was Ireland like when Rachel Eldon was growing up there on her father's farm? I have been lucky enough to find some valuable books to give me answers to this question: one is Ordnance Survey, Memoirs of Ireland, Parishes of County Armagh and the other is The Famine in Ulster by Christine Kinealy and Trevor Parkhill.

The land of Ireland was divided up in several different ways. First of all there are the Provinces; there are four of these - Munster, Leinster, Connaught and Ulster. Ulster contains nine counties; six of these being in what today is called Northern Ireland and three of them being in Ireland or Eire. Northern Ireland is still part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and is often referred to as Ulster but this is not strictly speaking correct. Then there is a further division into counties; there are six of these in Northern Ireland. The Counties used to be divided again into Baronies, which were named after the most important landowner in the area, but these have now fallen into disuse. The next division was into parishes and they, and the smallest administrative division of townlands, are still in use. The word `townland' is a misnomer and arose from a mistranslation of the Gaelic words baile fearainn which actually means `homestead land' but the word baile later had a secondary meaning `village' town' or `city'. So townlands have nothing what-so-ever to do with a town; they are a collection of a few small farms. The size of Townlands varies between 50 and 500 acres so they are very small divisions indeed.

From the marriage certificate of Rachel Eldon and James Fox, we find that Rachel came from the townland of Tarthlogue and James from the townland of Timakeel and that they were married in the parish church of Tartaraghan in the county of Armagh. The Barony for this was Oneilland, the O'Neil family having previously been the largest landowners and most important family in the area. Armagh was in the part of Ulster which is now Northern Ireland. Both of the townlands are about three quarters of a mile by a third of mile in size and are divided up into very small farms. Tartaraghan and Kimakeel are a little less than two miles apart. There is no smithy in Timakeel marked on the map but there is one in Tarthlogue so perhaps James had come to work in Tarthlogue and met Rachel there.

The Irish people love to lavish names on their land and there is scarcely a rock or clump of trees that goes unnamed. Each of the fields comprising a farm has its own name, e.g. the river field, the chapel field, the road field, the coursing field, the bush field, the nine acres and so on.

In the book of Memoirs of Ireland, Parishes of County Armagh, which was written to accompany the Ordnance Survey maps of Ireland, there is a very detailed description of the parish of Tartaraghan, its scenery, its people, their occupations, the climate and the crops for 1835 and 1837. At this time Rachel Eldon would have been 8 to 10 years old.

The parish of Tartaraghan was situated in the northern part of the county of Armagh and in the barony of Oneilland West. It is bounded on the north by Lough Neagh and its extreme length is six miles and the breadth five and a half miles (approximately 11,612 acres). Of this the northern part (two miles long and two miles wide) is bog. In the bog there were the remains of trees, still standing, and these were used for building material and for fuel. The peat of the bog was also a very valuable fuel and the process of cutting and drying turf provided employment for a great number of poor people. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica the bog lands were also used for rough grazing for sheep and cattle. In the bog there were several small hills rising above the main bog and these were cultivated. Possession of land was very important to the Irish people and every available scrap that could be used was used.


Shaded areas show Tartlogue, Rachel Eldon's Townland
and Timakeel, the Townland of James Fox
The scale at the bottom of the map shows how very small the fields were
.


Rachel's father, Joseph Eldon, was a farmer so she was brought up on a farm. The farms were very small, being only from 4 to 40 statute acres. They were held in tenancies from landlords either under leases of 3 lives or for one life of 21 years. The fields on the farms were very small, badly shaped and enclosed with banks of earth. The crops that Joseph Eldon would probably have grown were wheat which was sown in November and reaped in August, barley and oats which were sown in March and reaped in July and August, flax, sown in April and pulled in July, potatoes planted in April and lifted in November. He would probably also have kept a few cows, some sheep and hens.

The size of the farms meant that they could not supply a viable living for a family. A second income was very necessary. For many years Ireland has been famous for its linen and most of the flax for it was grown in Ulster. After the crop was harvested and the outer part of the stem allowed to rot, the inner fibres of flax would be sent to the mills to be processed and spun although some was spun by cottagers. It then came back to the farmhouses where the wives of the farmers wove it into cloth. Rachel's mother, another Rachel, would probably have spent a great deal of her time weaving linen and more than likely have taught her daughter some of the skills. A tolerably good weaver earned from 3 shillings to 4 shillings a week and a spinner only from one shilling to one shilling and 3 pence a week.

In the book `Ordnance Survey, Memoirs of Ireland' the 1835 account of the parish is different from the 1837 one in some respects. In the 1837 account it says that the cottages were good, being mostly built of stone, whitewashed and thatched. The 1835 account says that the cottages were built of mud. Both accounts said that they were all one storey and consisted at the most of 2 or 3 rooms. Many only had one room. Some of the very small cottages seem to have been rather miserable places. The description given is that they frequently consisted of one very small apartment, the walls of which were built with sods placed upon the bare bog without any flooring, the roof was covered with straw in a very loose manner without any opening for the smoke beyond a small opening in the roof. There was a great want of comfort and cleanliness about them. Potatoes formed nearly the only article of food amongst the lower order of people. Those of the better class had good stone cottages and their diet included oatmeal or milk and butter and occasionally meat.


A typical thatched farmhouse in Ireland.

A description of the parish scenery said that the southern part of Tartaraghan (where Tarthlogue and Timakeel were situated) was picturesque and well cultivated. There were hedges around fields and some wooded areas. The northern part, near to Lough Neagh, consisted principally of extensive tracts of bog covered with heath, which (excepting the islands within the bog) had a wild and barren appearance. The highest land in the parish was 161 feet.
There were three schools listed in these Memoirs. School was not compulsory so whether Rachel Eldon went to school I do not know. However, the fact that both she and James put a cross instead of a signature on their marriage certificate does not necessarily mean that they could not write. The schools seem to have been very small with between 50 to 88 pupils from the age of under 10 to 15. There were very few pupils who stayed at school after the age of 15. The pupils paid 1 penny a week for their schooling. Instruction was given in "intellectual instruction" from Kildare Society books and moral instruction. On Saturdays the catechisms were taught. Most of the pupils in the schools were Protestant although there were a few Roman Catholics. No Roman Catholic school is mentioned. Two of the schools were for both boys and girls, one of them was for girls only. There were many more boys altogether in the schools than girls. Did this mean that girls were not considered worth educating, I wonder?

There were also several churches. They were St Paul's, the Parish Church (Church of Ireland) where Rachel and James were married. It has a Churchyard where several members of the Eldon family are buried. In 1835 the population of the parish was 6300 of which 4020 were of the established church, the Church of Ireland (equivalent to the Church of England), 1880 were Roman Catholics and 300 were Presbyterians.

There seems to have been very little in the way of entertainment. The people in the northern part of the parish were said to enjoy dancing and those in the southern part liked to follow the hounds on foot. There was a meet on 3 days of the week during the hunting season. There was no fair or market in the parish but people could go to the ones held in Portadown, Dungannon and Armagh which were not far away.

The Fox family that I knew believed that Rachel Eldon was musical and brought a piano out to Australia with her. Whether or not this is true I do not know but it is certainly true that many of her descendants were musically talented so perhaps a piano was kept in the home in Ireland and music was one of the forms of the family entertainment.

The Great Famine
So here we have a picture of the environment in which Rachel Eldon spent her childhood up to the year 1845 when she was 18. That year was the beginning of the Great Famine. It is often thought that the potato famine only effected Southern Ireland as Northern Ireland was more prosperous than the south but this is not so. Northern Ireland, with its industry in and around Belfast was certainly more prosperous than many places in the south but there were areas in County Armagh which were the most densely populated in the country and rural communities which were facing mounting problems. The parish of Tartaraghan was one of the hardest hit. In the years before the famine, technical innovations in linen factories in Belfast had severely undermined the economic well being of the weavers in the rural areas and their families. As well as this there had been a slump in trade, especially in the demand for linen and cotton.

The farms had become very small partly owing to the practice of dividing the land up between all the sons in the family and partly because when the family income could be supplemented with the weaving of flax not so much land was needed to keep a family and often some was sold off. With industrialisation and the slump in trade this extra income from flax weaving was taken away and the farmers were struggling to feed their families.

Then in 1845 blight caused the failure of much of the potato crop There had been crop failures before . Between the years 1800 and 1845 there had been several crop failures and their subsequent resulting famines. These had been dealt with by traditional providers of relief - clergy, landlords, large farmers - who initiated steps to provide assistance to help the destitute. The difference at the time of the Great Famine was that it was not just for one year. The blight returned to Ireland in 1846 and again in 1847and local relief could not cope with it. In Armagh a workhouse, with a capacity for 500 inmates had been set up in 1841 but by 1846 it was full to over-capacity with 805 inmates and this went on increasing . There was a high dependence on the potato amongst the rural poor of Ulster. It was the staple food of an estimated two fifths of the population. Many people potatoes only, for breakfast, lunch and supper. From every area came harrowing reports of human suffering and the condition of numerous working class people was described as being one of `extreme deprivation and distress'. The consequences of the famine - distress, disease, emigration, evictions and excess mortality - were evident throughout Ulster. In Tataraghan, the parish in which the Eldon and the Fox families lived, the Rev. Clements complained that the area suffered from absentee proprietors and that `a large number of the most wretched tenants are not assisted by the landlord'. Again in Tartaraghan, The Society of Friends, commenting on conditions there said, `Last year, to have been buried without a hearse would have been a lasting stigma to a family; now hearses are almost laid aside'. Mass burials were becoming commonplace. The Society of Friends, in reporting that people were dying of starvation added that one member reported on seeing a four year old girl, `a few weeks ago a strong healthy girl, who was so emaciated as to be unable to stand or move a limb'.

Rachel Eldon, born in 1827, would have been in her late teens during the time of the Great Famine. I wonder how much she and her family were effected by it and how much of this misery she saw. None of the Eldon family are reported in the parish burial register as dying at this time so maybe they escaped the worst of it. Maybe they had sufficient land and crops to allow them to keep themselves from the worst of the famine.

However it was not so many years after the famine that Rachel and James Fox decided to emigrate in the Joseph Rowan in 1854 to Australia. Maybe they did not want to face any such catastrophe again. It was a good decision for them too as James Fox prospered in Australia. Although he started there as a blacksmith it was not long before he had opened up a business as a carrier, employing several men. He also built a substantial house for himself and his family in the suburbs of Adelaide.

Home   Back