A TALE OF TWO SISTERS


Decades before the Irish potato famine, John and Mary Mulqueeny of County Clare had two daughters. Well, they probably had many more offspring, but we need only concern ourselves with the two, Bridget and Ellen. In fact, it is likely that Bridget was one of the oldest of a large group of siblings and Ellen one of the youngest, because no less than 20 years separates them, Bridget having been born in 1803 and Ellen around 1823.

On Christmas Eve 1839 Bridget at age 36, married Martin Sullivan, also from Clare, in Plymouth, England, shortly before setting sail for Port Phillip. They were both illiterate farm workers, and they took up residence in a slab hut in the notorious Brickfields, near where the Sidney Myer Music Bowl now stands. Life must have been tough, but they were hardy souls. Despite her late start in the reproductive game, Bridget managed to produce eight children, all of whom lived to adulthood. Martin and Bridget, bless their souls, are my great-great-grandparents.

As tough as life might have seemed here, it was soon much tougher for the family members they left behind in Clare, as the famile took hold in the second half of the 1840's. Bridget must have sent word back home, beckoning her young sister, Ellen, to join her. Ellen arrived in 1850 and soon thereafter married a John Maloney. They too produced eight children, the youngest being born in 1866, precisely 140 years ago.

At that stage the two sisters probably would have been astounded to think that 140 years hence one of their descendants would be comparing their reproductive output. Had someone asked them to estimate how many descendants they would have had bu the year 2006, they would have been non-plussed, and even to guess which one would have had more would have been no more than the flip of a coin. Maybe 100? 200? Even 400? Well, all these guesses are wrong for both sisters, but bizarrely, they are far too few in Bridget's case, and far too many in Ellen's.

I am still trying to compile Bridget's full list of descendants, but it is certainly going to exceed 1,000. As for poor young Ellen, despite the flying start she gave to her dynasty, all I can discover is one solitary survivor. Now some optimistic readers might say "Ah, ah! Don't abandon hope. This one might be the waist of the hour glass, and a great blossoming of the clan may yet eventuate." Don't hold your breath, dear readers. That one is a 72 year old spinster.

Whereas Bridget's tree demonstrates the robust reproductive rates typical of our society through the intervening years, especially the Catholic sector, Ellen's is quite odd. Of Ellen's eight children, only one married and reproduced, and she too had eight children. And a similar thing happened in the following generation, and in the generation after that. Whereas Bridget bequeathed to her progeny a robust appetite for the joys of the flesh, to which I can personally attest most happily, the inheritance from Ellen would appear to be a propensity for bachelorhood and spinsterhood, more suited to Shakers than Catholics. What accounts for this strange pattern? Some medical condition? Some psychological condition? Darwin at work? I have no idea.

But the stark difference in the two trees raises in my mind the question of what would be a norman number of descendants for a woman of that period to have. Certainly Ellen is well below the norm, and I suspect that Bridget is well above the norm, but what is the norm?

And that leads to another question. Just how exclusive is entitlement to membership to the Port Phillip Pioneers Group? If there were 70,000 residents in Victoria in 1851, and let's suppose that only 20,000 of them were women, and if each of these had, what, 400 descendants, say 300 now living, weel goodness, there's 6,000,000 potential members!! More than the total population of Victoria. OK. OK, I can hear some of you pointing out errors in my analysis, saying that there is overlapping and double-counting, while others are shouting that I am not a demographer's boot lace, with which I agree.

Be that as it may, I see that we are now up to Member Number 1323. Thanks to Bridget and Martin and many like them, the PPPG still has plenty of scope for growth.

Contributed by Richard Olive ( PPPG Member No. 1307 )


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