Page 24 Mum’s Family: Samuel James Brown and his Wider Family; Mary Ann Smith

Mary Ann Smyth or Smith apparently married twice. Family folklore, as related by Mum (Mary Gibson) was that both husbands were called James Brown and that they were brothers.

This is not quite true and actually hindered my investigations for many years but most of what Mum remembered was very useful indeed.

On the 1911 census Mary Ann, first husband James Robert, their children and a “relative” named Samuel Brown lived in their Douglas Street, Beersbridge Road, Belfast house.

After James Robert died in November 1918 Mary Ann and Samuel James married (though I still cannot find the evidence of this).

C198 at Belfast City Cemetery

The photo above was taken by myself at Belfast City Cemetery in August 2022. It shows the grave of James Robert Brown, ie my great grandfather. I am most grateful to a kind member of staff at the cemetery enquiries office for helping locate the position on the ground. He also told me that this was one of the “better ” locations, just within the original or “bell” part of the cemetery for all that it was unmarked.

Strangely enough, two graves along is a wrought-iron bounded double grave bearing the name of Brown. Could these be more relatives? That remains to be ascertained. As the record below shows, the grave was opened in 1904 to bear Robert James Brown’s parents, who had died on the same day in 1904. The grave was bought by Samuel Brown, presumably his brother rather than the cousin. The fourth occupant was a young boy named Samuel Murphy.

Young Samuel died at Purdysburn Fever Hospital but had a home address of 67 Isoline Street. Tracing his birth, his father was John Murphy and his mother was Matilda Cosby. Matilda Cosby was the daughter of Thomas Cosby, the widower who married Christina Brown in 1903. Thus, he was the step grandchild of William and Sarah Brown.

Samuel Brown was the tenant of a house known as The Ink Bottle near Holywood from 1922 until 1930. Family members have spoken about the family living at this house and Christina Brown had a son there in 1922 which makes it likely that her mother was living there too.

Mary and her second husband Samuel moved from The Ink Bottle around 1930 because a child in the family was sickly and a doctor had advised moving away from the seaside and up to higher ground. Thus the family moved to the Rocky Road at Gilnahirk. Below: the family home at Rocky Road, Gilnahirk. This is where Mary Ann Smyth and Samuel James Brown died.

Samuel was not aged 40 as James said on the 1911 census- he was around 34. Perhaps he looked older, perhaps James felt threatened by his presence. By all accounts (Desi Gibson, Mary Gibson) the two were happy together and Mary Ann was devastated at his funeral. 

Desi Gibson,  explained to me that Sam had lately started a new job at the Harland and Wolff Shipyard in Belfast. He was eager to make friends and fit in so he went along with a group of new colleagues to a football match one Saturday afternoon. It was a wet day and he got soaked. Sam developed pneumonia and died as a result. My uncle said that the shipyard were very good about paying his pension to Mary Ann even though he had only worked for them a short time.

Sam was buried at Dundonald Cemetery in an unmarked grave but a very helpful member of staff (this was before the database was accessible online) helped me to locate the grave and name the other occupants of it.

The unmarked grave is at E3 706, Dundonald Cemetery; it is around the highest point of the graveyard. Buried there are Eliza Brown, aged 63, buried on 29th March 1908, John Brown aged 1 and a half, buried on 9th April 1912, another John Brown who was 76 when he died on 25th January 1928. The fourth occupant is Samuel James Brown himself, who was 58 when he was buried on 21st March 1935.

Now, the ages may prove to be accurate or they may be as reliable as Mary Ann’s when her death was registered. The easy way of reading this data is to say that Sam was buried with his parents. As to the young boy, perhaps that was a brother to Christina and the other girls.

Samuel was buried at Dundonald Cemetery in an unmarked plot with his mother and father. Below is a memorial notice placed by Mary Ann the next year to show that although they could not afford a headstone, or perhaps thought it was not their place to put one up, Sam was still much missed:

Unless the marriage had been a very open one her reference to his daughters and grand daughters was inaccurate. Samuel was not evel living with the family in 1901, for instance. Local church records might prove helpful regarding some questions around the various branches of the Brown family, for instance the second marriage of Mary Ann Smyth probably between 1919 and 1921 and whether Samuel was acknowledged as the true father to any of her children.

Samuel James Brown hailed from Bessbrook in South Armagh, just as James Robert did, and it is likely that the two families knew each other; indeed, they took parallel paths in moving to East Belfast in the late 1890s.

Samuel James Brown’s Brothers and Sisters

Generation VII   Family of John Brown and Eliza McLoughlin

1. Agnes Brown, born 1/10/1869 Bessbrook; possibly died 1874

2. Martha Brown, 26/7/1871 – 1/12/1953 Mullaglass; died Bloomfield St, Belfast

3. John Brown, born 16/7/1873 Mullaglass

4. Robert Brown, 7/8/1874 – 1951 born Mullaglass

5. Samuel James Brown, 3/5/1875 – 19/3/1935 born Mullaglass; died Rocky Road, Gilnahirk

6. Elizabeth Jane Brown, born 7/6/1877 Mullaglass

7. William Brown, 6/5/1881 – 4/9/1946 born Mullaglass; died Belfast

2. Martha Brown married Thomas  Deeney. The couple married at St Luke’s Church in Mullaglass on 8th January 1898 but then lived at 10 Bloomfield Street in East Belfast. 

They had two children, Agnes and George. She died on 1st December 1953 and my grandmother, her niece, is buried only a few yards from her at Dundonald Cemetery.

3. John Brown and Eliza McLoughlin’s son John Brown, born 1873. John became a blacksmith and married a woman named Elizabeth Law. John must have been an interesting man but I have found limited records on him. He is recorded as a lay reader on some documents and his family moved to Drumbeg on the banks of the River Lagan. John served on the Select Vestry of that church before the family moved to Sheffield in Yorkshire. John became a minister, I have read. However by 1939 he was a cinema manager!

They lived at House 25 Drumbeg on the 1901 census.

I found that he was a blacksmith’s helper in Bessbrook and then at Drumbeg near Lisburn. There he met Lizzie  Law    from Englishtown in Co Antrim. They married at Drumbeg’s St Patrick’s Church of Ireland. Interestingly, John described himself over the next few years as either a blacksmith or scripture reader. It seems very likely that he was assisting at St Patrick’s.

Although the wedding took place in Drumbeg John gave his address as Bessbrook and the couple had two children born there, John James and Stewart Rennie.

By the time of the 1901 census they were living in Drumbeg, however, and the couple had more children whilst there: Henry and Mary Ellen. However, by 1911 they had left Ireland and were found on the English census at Sheffield. 

Below: the 1911 census entry for Sheffield. it shows that John was an Anglican lay reader. John James was 15 and working at a steel foundry, Rennie, Henry and Mary were attending school. 

Find My Past provides maps showing exactly where people lived, in the case of the Browns 93 Ridgeway Road.

John Brown could also be located on the 1939 National Register. His wife was not at home but he described himself as married. Presumably the children were all living elsewhere. I could locate Stewart Rennie Brown but not view the entry clearly.

Despite County Down being given as the place  of birth of John James and Stewart Rennie the boys were actually born in Bessbrook. Here is another census excerpt which shows John James Brown staying with members of the Law family at the same time. This is rare but occasionally someone is shown in two houses on census night!

Here is the family on the 1911 census:

As can be seen, there were now 2 more children, Henry and Mary. They were born at Drumbeg.

When war came every household in the UK took part in registration. This was conducted in Sept 1939. Many details are still redacted where the person is under 100 years of age unless proof of death is offered by the person seeking the information. John  Brown and wife Elizabeth on the register at 19 Herriley (presumably street) in Sheffield.

Stewart Rennie Brown died on 6th July 1976. His address then was 52 Endowood Road, Millhouses, Sheffield. He left £13,754. Stewart had married Constance Dudley in summer 1929. On the 1939 register he was a settlement officer for Sheffield City Council. 

She died on 24th Feb 1985 and her address at that time was 84 Ringinglow Road, Sheffield. Her assets were estimated at not above £40,000. 

4. Robert Brown. We are very fortunate to have a photo of Samuel James Brown’s brother Robert, thanks to Cecil Miller:

I know that Samuel James Brown was buried in a specific grave at Dundonald Cemetery. In the same grave are his parents Eliza Jane Brown and John Brown. With them is the young John Brown who died aged 1 and a half the week before the Titanic sank.

I could not find the birth registered of John Brown to James Robert Brown and Mary Ann Smyth. I then looked for his death and found that his father was named as Robert Brown of 58 Humber Street. Next I located his birth and found only one possibility- Robert Brown of Humber Street and his wife Mary Sands. Yet this boy was buried with Samuel Brown and his parents!

The solution was that there were more Brown brothers than I had realised, this being the child of one.

I conducted further searches and noted that there were several births of children recorded to Robert Brown and Mary Sands between 1904 and 1911. I did not recognise any of the names but the births were recorded in the Lower Newtownards Road area of East Belfast.

I also located Robert Brown and his wife Mary on the 1911 census, living with their children Elizabeth Jane, Eva, Robert, Agnes andof course little John. Robert Brown said he had been born in Bessbrook, Co Armagh. A daughter named Emily was born in 1914. I am grateful to Cecil Miller (Dec 2019) for providing further information on this branch of the family. Apparently there were 10 children in total to Robert and Mary (I have found births of 9) and several died very young. Mary herself died.

Father Robert Brown served in World War One, joining the 10th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles. After the war he remarried. Robert was evidently a man who valued education as school records held at PRONI show his children all enrolled and attended school.

5. Elizabeth Jane Brown. Elizabeth was born in June 1877. She married a sailor (peacetime fireman) in Belfast in 1915. He was a widower named John Watson. They lived at Tamar Street in East Belfast. John was serving on HMS Prince at the time of the wedding. Elizabeth registered the death of her father from their Tamar Street home.

6. William Brown  was a blacksmith. He lived with his family at 32 Foxglove Street for at least 20 years. He married Sarah Martin and they had several children. William’s children attended Bloomfield National School.

Foxglove Street in East Belfast, adjoining Grove Street East.

Children of William Brown and Sarah Martin: Generation IX

John Brown, born 1908

Violet Brown, born 1910

Mary Ross Brown, born 1911

Eliza Jane Brown, born 1913

Sarah Brown, born 1915

The Northern Whig of 10th August 1916 carried a little snippet regarding this family, telling us that Sarah Martin’s brother, Rifleman TW Martin had written from a prison camp in Germany to tell her that he was alive but injured and in enemy hands. He had previously lived with her, presumably at Foxglove Street. 

John Brown and Eliza McLoughlin

This map shows where John Brown farmed in 1863. He was the father of Samuel James Brown, and possibly an uncle of Robert James Brown, both of whom had a relationship with Mary Ann Smyth. My thanks to for their excellent support package for Griffith’s Valuation. John held land at 1 below (shared with 2 others) and then more land at 2. 1 is just above the M in Moyrourkan, 2 is below it.

Mary Ann Smyth’s Parents

Mary Ann Smyth was the child of Robert Smith and Sarah Jane Hunter. They married in 1868 and Robert died within a short time. Sarah Jane’s father was shown as a carpenter named William Hunter according to the marriage certificate. As she was apparently born in the 1840s there was no state birth certificate, though it is possible that a church wedding record survives. 

The marriage certificate shows that they married at the end of July 1867. Fate determined that they would be together little more than a year. Both lived at Derraghmore, where there was a quarry. This might be where Robert laboured. The certificate also suggests that Robert had been born around 1843, Sarah Jane 1845. His father David was a lath maker.

Death certificate of Robert Smith, showing that he was an oiler and had suffered consumption for 17 weeks. Robert died in November 1868, only months after the birth of Mary Ann. 

Poor Mary Ann Smyth was an orphan by the age of 13 as her mother, Sarah Jane, died on 16th January 1881. At the time she had been a millworker in Bessbrook, described rightly as a widow. The informant was a William Hunter, though whether this was her father or brother is not known. 

What I have found (August 2020) is that there is a death register for William Hunter, carpenter of Bessbrook. This was on 3rd June 1888. He was a widower, so we cannot find the name of his wife. However, the informant was his son William, so hopefully there are Hunter relatives out there to make contact with. William was estimated to be 74, born around 1814, but as we have seen with Mary Ann Smyth such ages are not always reliable. 

Who was her mother? When did she die? These are issues unresolved as yet.

Using Irish BMD free online I engaged on a trawl through for other Hunters in Bessbrook likely to be related to William Hunter the carpenter. The name Hunter is, or was, fairly common in the Newry registration area so I had a fair number to trawl through but found some more likely relatives. Sarah Jane was one of several brothers and sisters. With birth registration starting in 1864 and William apparently born in the 1810s I did not expect to find births- I was searching for marriages.

With the father name William Hunter, location Bessbrook and his occupation as carpenter I located several likely siblings.

Family of William Hunter:

1. Nancy Hunter, married Bernard Hughes, labourer. Both were living at Rathfriland, Drumgarth. This was on 22nd October 1851. His father was Patrick Hughes. Nancy made a mark on the register.

2. Marianne Hunter, married Samuel Fry on 15th September 1856 at Newry Parish Church. Samuel was a labourer.  Marianne was said to be aged 20.

3. Sarah Jane Hunter, married Robert Smith 1867.

4. William Hunter who reported his father’s death. 

5. George Hunter, married 13/12/1868 aged 27 to Ann Jane Parker aged 20 of Ballykeel (?), Rathfriland, daughter of James Parker, farmer. This wedding took place at Newry. George was a tradesman living in Queen Street, Newry. His bride’s father must have been quite wealthy as there was a newspaper notice of the wedding, describing him as the second son of Mr William Hunter. She was second daughter to James Parker, esquire. 

6. Louisa Hunter, married 25/4/1873 at Camlough to John Adamson. Brother George Hunter was a witness. Their ages were not given. John Adamson was a mechanic of Bessbrook. 

As for their mother, she might have been named Rachel. There is a death registered at Newry of a Rachel Hunter on 25th October 1894, aged approx 81. Rachel was said to be the widow of a carpenter. She died of old age, influenza and acute bronchitis. A Mary Anne McCullough was present and reported the death. Perhaps this was another relative?