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  • reiltinmurphy

Not our George Mathews.

This is the story of George Mathews who has nothing to do with Wexford except that in order to find the correct George Mathews who lived in the Castle in the early 1850s I had to completely eliminate this one from my enquiries. “Once upon a time” might be seen as a strange way to begin a factual story but if you are sitting comfortably, fasten your seat belt, and let us stick to the facts.

Once upon a time in March 1797 in Inverness, Scotland, a son was born to William Chisholm and his wife Mary Macintosh. William and Mary called their son Duncan; his baptismal sponsors were William Kennedy and Hugh Chisholm. Duncan grew up in a comfortable home where his father was a merchant and bailie (municipal officer and magistrate).

Duncan Chisholm was a leather merchant as well as practising as a solicitor in Inverness from 1819 until his bankruptcy in 1824 aged about twenty-seven. The John O’Groat Journal of July 4th 1851 goes on to tell us that Duncan Chisholm was “slender in person, about 5’9”, his shoulders high, complexion sallow and he seldom looked anyone in the face”. For his dress, the newspaper informs us “he affected a blue sourtout, a black waistcoat, pantaloons, and a hat”. Duncan Chisholm became bankrupt and vanished. A reward of fifty guineas was offered to anyone who could find him because many people were owed money. Eventually he was assumed to have died: indeed he did “die” and as the Arbroath Guide of 11th May 1850 puts it “he duly acquainted his relatives of the sorrowful event, his aged mother assumed the garb of mourning”.

Duncan Chisholm then resurrected himself as George Mathews, a former schoolmaster who was born at Alnwick, Northumberland, and enlisted to the 53rd Regiment of Foot in London on June 2nd 1825. How do we know? Because George Mathews later agreed that he had been Duncan Chisholm. There’s more to this story.

Having risen to “become a serjeant”, he was reduced from that grade after a few months, then promoted to a higher rank - that of staff-military clerk in the brigade office in Dublin. He must have married under the name of George Mathews and been based in Kilkenny because in 1828 his “only son” George Duncan Mathews was born there while George Mathews was in the 53rd Foot.

In about 1833 George Mathews made the transition from staff-military clerk in the 53rd Foot to the post of clerk in the Irish Secretary’s Office in Dublin Castle where, in about 1842, he is said to have earned ten pounds a week as Secretary of the Tithe Milennium Fund in addition to his pay as Clerk to the Irish Secretary - ten pounds was a good weekly wage in 1955. George Mathews Esq. lived in Sandymount, Dublin.

To continue with the 1851 John O’Groat Journal the bankrupt and dead Duncan Chisholm “was now, under another name, a man of fortune, high in office in Dublin Castle, a dispenser of magnificent charities, the counsellor of statesmen, the instructor of Parliament” - read that in comedian Billy Connolly’s voice for full effect! Dublin Castle was made aware of his past and George Mathews confessed to being Duncan Chisholm. An inquiry was appointed by the Viceroy Earl de Grey which concluded in 1842 that Duncan Chisholm alias George Mathews was “a public servant of unimpeachable integrity and was completely and honourably acquitted of every charge affecting his character.”

In 1847 George Mathews aged 46, widower, Gentleman, of Sandymount, married (by license) Lucinda Irwin aged 24 of 71 Abbey Street in the Union Chapel, St Thomas’ Parish, Dublin officiated by S G Morrison. Lucinda’s father was James Irwin, merchant. George’s father was named as William Mathews, merchant. Their witnesses were Robert McMeckan and David Hutchison. David Hutchison was a treasurer for one of the charities George Mathews handled. A couple of years later George Mathews was asked about his father’s name on the marriage register as it was an offence to give false information; he explained that as the church didn’t open until 8 and as their train left at 8.30 he had filled in the information beforehand but there had been no space for fathers’ names - on being asked the name he had said “William” and the Mathews was assumed. It was all rather rushed that morning ….

In about 1849, Mr Sadlier, the member for Carlow, drew attention again to George Mathews’ past as Duncan Chisholm as he was now in control of £30,000 annually much of which was due to go to Presbyterian churches. Lord Clarendon declared himself to be satisfied with the earlier verdict and refused to take another look.

However, by patronising some Presbyterian ministers and their churches over others, enough disgruntled Presbyterian ministers asked enough questions and a further inquiry was held. George Mathews was found to have put aside for his own use some four thousand pounds due to Presbyterian churches.

This long link below will bring you to the inquiry. All the letters involved. Everything. The saddest thing of all are the two under-clerks who were fired, their only crime, as one of them pointed out, was to have been given positions under George Mathews.

And George Mathews? He ran away. The Weekly Freeman’s Journal of Saturday 4th May 1850 received the following from a Liverpool Correspondent “I hasten to inform you that Duncan Chisholm, alias George Mathews, was on board the Niagara steamer which sailed from Liverpool on Saturday last”. It is safe to assume that by the time the SS Niagara reached New York George and Lucinda had settled on a new surname.

Even having read the newspapers and the letters in the link above I remain hazy as to exactly what happened as there is much detail about various parts of the Presbyterian Church. The basics is clear: that George Mathews defrauded the Presbyterian church of vast sums of money.

But the story isn’t over yet. George Mathews had a son, remember? Would you believe that he rose to be the Rev. George Duncan Mathews D.D., LL.D., general secretary of the Alliance of the Reformed Churches (Presbyterian) who travelled the globe as part of his job and did so much good for Presbyterians around the world?

The facts given above are on public record for the past 170 years. The facts below are on record for almost as long. But I have connected them with a couple of documents which I outline here. Then, if you agree, I will tell you about Rev. George Duncan Mathews’ life.

The first document is the Westmeath Guardian and Longford News-Letter of 27th May 1847 which lists students studying for the bar and includes George Duncan Mathews, only son of George Mathews of the Castle of Dublin.

The next document is a headstone. You will remember that we already know Duncan Chisholm’s parents’ names. You will remember that George Duncan Mathews was born in Kilkenny in 1828 and - to jump ahead in the story - he died in 1913. This headstone is in South Leith Churchyard, Scotland and can be found on the Find A Grave website. The inscription reads “William Chisholm Esq of Maryfield Lodge Inverness, Merchant and Bailie of that Burgh, born 8 March 1769 Died 28th June 1819. Also his grandson Rev George Duncan Mathews DD LLD, born at Kilkenny 23rd April 1828 Died at Brondesbury London 5 July 1913”. Family members are William’s spouse Mary MacTavish Chisholm 1779-1863 (we had Macintosh earlier, I won’t quibble) and William’s parents Hugh Chisholm 1725-1808 and Elizabeth Mcintosh Chisholm 1725-1813.

If you agree that I have made the connection please read on.

I recently found that in 2006 a Patricia Adams put a post on one of the genealogical websites looking for information about George Duncan Mathews - I replied to her email address but it was out of use. Patricia Adams already had a lot of information and had put up a work by G D Mathews DD LLD - A monograph sketch of the Sweynes of Skipness, the Mactavishes of Dun-ard-Righ, Knapdale, and elsewhere, their ancestors and descendants. I would love to be able to tell Patricia Adams that this research was into his own blood-line, his own grandmother’s family.

George Duncan Mathews was born in Kilkenny in 1828, studied for the bar in Dublin possibly at Trinity College, and applied, successfully, in 1851 for admission to the church.

Let us just pause here for a moment to note that his father with his new wife had, in 1851, recently fled the country in disgrace having defrauded the Presbyterian church of huge sums of money. Was this a factor in deciding on the Church, was George Duncan Mathews planning to “give back” as we might say these days?

The 1861 Census shows us George’s family living in Stranraer with his wife Maria who was born in Ireland and their children George aged 3 and Katherine aged 1 both were born in Stranraer. They have a 23 year-old servant called Elisabeth Alison. In 1858 George Henry Mathews had been born to George Duncan and Maria Irving, in 1859 when Catherine Louisa was born the mother’s name was given as Maria Fletcher Irving.

I wonder if “Katherine” was George Duncan Mathews’ mother’s name?

In 1864 the Rev. George D. Mathews of Bridge Street Church was Moderator of the Presbytery and officiated at an ordination. In 1877 George D Mathews was in New York.

In 1887 George Duncan Mathews married again. I cannot find any note of Maria Irving’s death but as the family (or maybe just George) moved around so much there seems to be no UK record of them in the 1871 and 1881 census.

George Duncan’s new wife was the widowed Elizabeth Knox, daughter of William Gilbert Esq. George is described as being “of Quebec” in the Belfast Weekly News which carries information of the marriage. They married in the Union Presbyterian Church, Bootle, Liverpool. Elizabeth’s late husband Robert Knox was also a Presbyterian Clergyman of Windsor Park Avenue, Belfast, and they had been married since 1870.

In 1888 George D. Mathews of Quebec was unanimously elected as the general secretary of the Alliance of Reformed Churches. It was noted that he had hitherto acted as the secretary for the American section but in future will reside in England.

The 1891 census has George living in Christchurch Road, Willesden, aged 63 with his wife Elizabeth aged 47, his daughter Katherine L aged 30, and two servants - Lilley McClure from Scotland aged 24 and cook Eliza Allison aged 42: Elizabeth Allison was with them in 1861. I wonder has Eliza travelled the world with them, or did George travel alone.

The Toronto Daily Mail of August 27th 1892 fills in some details of George D Mathews life. The Rev Mathews is in Toronto for a conference of the Pan Presbyterian Council on Foreign Missions. He is described as being well known in Great Britain, the United States and Canada. He is a graduate of Trinity College and has held professorships in systematic theology and moral philosophy in Morris College USA, and was Pastor of Chalmers church Quebec, so - as the paper reports - he does not come a stranger to this land.

The Leamington Spa Courier of 24th June 1899 recommends for ones leisure hour “Baku and the Fire Worshippers” by George D Mathews, DD. I regret I have been unable to find it online.

The 1901 census adds another member to the family who still live in Christchurch Avenue, Willesden: we have grandson George D Mathews aged 10 and born in the United States. Katherine is still there, single. And Eliza Allison is there too, aged 60.

The Illustrated Police News of June 1st 1901 has an article by the Rev George D Mathews about The Basutos, One of Our Allied Tribes in South Africa. George may be 72 but he is obviously still full of zeal.

Elizabeth Knox Mathews died on October 2nd 1909. She left effects in Ireland to the value of a thousand pounds.

In the 1911 census George Duncan Mathews, widower, is 82 and a “retired minister, private means”. He is still living on Christchurch Avenue with Katherine Louisa aged 50, and Eliza Allison aged 70 assisted by two other servants. There is a visitor, Isabel Elizabeth Brander, 35, single, a missionary teacher from Scotland.

The Rev George Duncan Mathews died at Christchurch Avenue in July 1913 and is buried in the South Leith burying ground. George left £3,459. Probate was granted to Katherine L Mathews, there were also effects in Ireland of £242. We have to assume that George Duncan was always aware of the truth about his father because some effort went into having him buried so far away in Scotland with his grandparents and erecting the new memorial.

I can find nothing more about Katherine Louisa Mathews, Eliza Allison, George Henry Mathews, or young George D Mathews.

So that is the end of the story of William Chisholm, Duncan Chisholm, George Mathews, and George Duncan Mathews.

Unless you know. some more …….

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