It sounds like an episode title in a wacky new period drama of the Sherlock or Ripper Street variety, but the Dublin Presbyterian Colporteur's Notebook, 1875, is actually a rare and wonderful journal recording the lives of a working class community in Dublin 140 years ago, and it is now making its debut online.
Marking Culture Night 2015, the Irish Genealogical Research Society (IGRS), in collaboration with Clontarf & Scots Presbyterian congregation, has launched an online database of images of pages from the Notebook. The pages have been fully indexed, allowing researchers to search for their ancestors by name.
The rare book was compiled during January to October 1875 by William Malone, a missionary-colporteur employed by Ormond Quay Presbyterian congregation. On his travels through the streets of Dublin between the two canals, Malone jotted biographical notes on approximately 10,000 inner-city Dublin Protestants. Given the lack of 19th-century census records for Ireland, this unrivalled and, until now, almost unknown resource sheds new light on approximately a third of the inner-city’s Protestant population.
Malone’s task was to 'seek out and visit unconnected Presbyterian families first, then Protestants of any denomination not attached to any place of worship...'. His journal provides a fascinating insight into Dublin life at the time. Sparing no flattery, he noted industry, clean living and godliness alongside squalor, drunkenness and child neglect. He recorded, too, his interaction with Roman Catholics. Of such a family he met in Prussia Street, in Stoneybatter, he noted that, having “entered the houses of several Roman Catholics & held some conversations on religious subjects…found them averse to Gospel truth & firmly attached to their own errors”.
One of the early, poignant entries notes a Presbyterian couple called John and Jane More, originally from Glasgow. Jane had been mother to 20 children, only nine of which had survived. The full entry reads:
"7th Jan 1875 - Found out a family of Scotch Presbyterians living at 5 Wellington Place - Father & Mother, John & Jane More, with 9 children living, 11 children dead. This family has been 26 years in the city & yet have not connected themselves with any church. They worship everywhere, principally the Methodist and Episcopal churches. Mother and daughter baptised by Principal MacFarlane, Glasgow. Husband works as confectioner at Connor's, King Street…working at Robinson's, Capel Street, by 27th March 1876.”
Later the same month Malone found a Mrs Hickey at Walshe’s Row, off Mary’s Place. He noted: “Husband…dead, had been an Episcopalian, - she Roman Catholic – 7 children very neglected & ignorant, attend no school”.
In June, he came across a Craig family in Temple Bar, “an exceedingly unhappy family, arising principally from drink…an inmate of this house, a servant…addicted to cursing.”
Thankfully, not all entries are so negative. Most note ordinary families, recording their occupations, education, number of children and places of origin, with asides about their openness to the reformed religion.
In launching the new database, IGRS Chairman Steven Smyrl said: “This major new source fills a huge void left by the lack of nineteenth-century census records for Dublin. Many of the descendants of the families noted are no doubt scattered across the globe and this information will enable them to bring their research back another generation or two and to identify where they came from before moving to the city. Rarely ever does a source of this importance surface, and never one with such glorious, though often heart-breaking, detail.”
The Dublin Presbyterian Colporteur's Notebook 1875 database is held exclusively on the IGRS website, IrishAncestors.ie. Only members of the IGRS can search the Index to the Notebook AND view images of its pages. However, non-members can search the Index to discover if any of their ancestors were visited by William Malone and recorded in his Notebook.