The Sad Story of William B. Upton

(Updated November 17, 2017)

When I was looking for on-line information about my 3X great-grandfather William Bayly Upton, I came across a few items about a William B. Upton, born around 1828 and living in Cashel. I wondered who he might be and if he was related to the Uptons I was researching. Recently I concluded that he was related but the question remained: who was he? I thought there were two possible candidates: William Upton, son of William Upton, apothecary, and brother of Eliza Upton (my great-grandmother); and William Bayly Upton, son of David Upton, and first cousin of Eliza. I don’t have good evidence of this but I believe that Eliza’s brother William died as a boy in 1849. That has left David Upton’s son as the most likely person.

When David Upton died suddenly  in 1846, he left his widow Mary nee Gilbert and three children in Cashel. I have found their eldest son was William Bayly Upton, probably born in early 1828. The second son was Matthew Gilbert Upton who was born in November 1829. The only daughter Frances (Fanny) was born around 1837. So, at the time of their father’s death, they were aged about 18, 16 and 9 respectively.

At some time between 1846 and 1860, Mary Upton emigrated from Ireland to the United States with her daughter Fanny. Mary owned property in Cashel but was not living there in the 1850 Griffith’s Valuation records. So I think she had left Cashel by 1848 or 1849. Her son Matthew may have emigrated on his own in 1851. To date, I could not find any of them in the US Census for 1850.

In the 1860 US census, Mary and Fanny were living in New York City while Matthew was living in San Francisco. Mary and Fanny do not appear to have prospered in New York; Mary died in Brooklyn in 1869 and Fanny died in New York City in 1876. Fanny was unmarried.

Meantime in California, in 1860 Matthew was a widower with a young son, William Bayly Upton, aged 3. (The young boy was living with a family called Gorham, presumably because his father could not care for him on his own.) Matthew was an editor of the San Francisco ‘Bulletin” newspaper and continued in this occupation for many years. Around 1865 he married a second time and had two daughters, Frances and Elizabeth. In 1892, Matthew’s son William Bayly Upton also had a son, William Bayly Upton Jr., and he in turn had one son, William Bayly Upton III, born in 1929 and died unmarried in 1984. As far as I can tell, that is where the male line of Uptons from Cashel ended in the United States.

Here is an abbreviated version of the Upton family tree showing the David Bayly Upton line and how it relates to Eliza Upton and the Smith family.

On-line searches have not shown any trace of Matthew’s brother in the United States and I believe he stayed at home in Cashel. In the Upton family book written by W. H Upton in the 1890s, there is a cryptic comment about this particular William Bayly Upton that “his life was wrecked in early manhood”. What did this mean? See what you think from the story I have been able to piece together about this unfortunate man.

The following descriptions of William B. Upton come mainly from the Irish Prison Registers we well as from Dublin Workhouse registers and a couple of newspaper items. Already you can see this is not going to have a happy ending. Nor does it have a happy beginning, in early 1860.

Bear in mind that William Bayly Upton, this man’s grandfather, was still alive in 1860 and continued to live in Cashel until January 1863. William B. Upton also had three aunts and numerous cousins living in the town. His cousin Eliza Upton married Lancelot Smith in 1862 and she went to live on the farm at Rathcoun with the Smiths. They stayed at Rathcoun, very close to Cashel, until 1871 when they moved to the farm at Corballis in County Dublin.

The first time that it is recorded that William Upton was sent to gaol (or jail if you prefer) was on February 23, 1860. He was charged with assault – the record does not say who he assaulted. He was committed to Clonmel Gaol by the Hon. J. M. Ffrench at the Cashel Petty Sessions with a sentence of bail or three months. The Clonmel Gaol Registry shows he was discharged on May 22, 1860 so obviously he did not have bail money. The registry also includes information about the person being imprisoned. Age: 32. Can he read and write: yes. Religion: Protestant. Height: 5′ 8.5″. Physical appearance: blue eyes, auburn hair, fresh complexion.

On July 5 1860, William Upton was charged with insubordinate conduct in the Workhouse in Cashel. So we know that by this time (if not earlier), he was living in the Workhouse. Again he was committed to gaol by the Hon. J. M. Ffrench with a sentence of 14 days’ hard labour; he was discharged the second time on July 18, 1860. (This time, the registry says he was 5′ 9″ tall and had hazel eyes.)

On August 14, 1862, William B. Upton was charged with refusing to work in the Workhouse. This time in the Clonmel Gaol registry he was described as: aged 34; can read and write; Protestant; 5′ 9″ tall; blue eyes, fair hair, fresh complexion. He was committed to gaol by the Hon. J. M. Ffrench and sentenced to one month’s hard labour. The prisoner was discharged on September 10, 1862.

Having apparently learned nothing from this experience, William B. Upton was charged on October 30, 1862, with four offences of refusing to work in the Poor House (the same institution as the Workhouse). The Clonmel Gaol Registry description this time was: aged 34; read and write; Protestant; 5′ 9″; hazel eyes, auburn hair, fresh complexion. He was sentenced by the Hon. J M. Ffrench to 14 days’ hard labour times four (in other words, to 56 days of hard labour); he was discharged on December 24, 1862.

This particular episode was reported in a somewhat jocular manner in the local newspaper, the “Tipperary Free Press”, on October 31, 1862:

A pauper inmate of the workhouse named William Upton, was brought up for refusing to work on the farm for four consecutive days, and otherwise infringing the regulations of the house. Upton had frequently occupied a position in advance of the Cashel Magistrates, with a body guard around him. On the present occasion he retired, and will not appear in public until about Christmas. He is going for training at the county gymnasium.

Leaving aside the contemptuous tone of this little item in the newspaper, it is worth noting the mention of the frequency of William Upton’s appearances before the magistrates in Cashel and the comment about a “body guard”. Does the latter imply that this man was prone to being violent?

On May 7, 1863, William B. Upton was back again at the Cashel Petty Sessions court, this time charged with seven offences under the Poor Law. What those offences were is not stated in the Gaol Registry. His description: aged 35; read and write; Protestant; 5′ 8.5″; hazel eyes, auburn hair, fresh complexion. He was committed to gaol by I. M. Bushe, Esq. and Richard Phillips Esq. to one month’s hard labour times 7. He was discharged on November 18, 1863.

Three and half years later, William B. Upton was back in court. On June 21, 1867, he was charged with using “threatening language, etc.”.  No further details are given to show who he threatened or what the “etc.” represented. His description: aged 39; can read; Protestant; 5′ 8.5″; grey eyes, sandy hair, fresh complexion. He was sentenced by the Hon. J. M. Ffrench Esq. to bail of £10 and sureties in £5 each or six months. Hard labour was not mentioned this time. He was discharged on December 4, 1867, so again he could not raise the money for bail.

On July 7, 1868, William B. Upton charged a blind man with an assault at the workhouse. The “Tipperary Free Press” of July 17 gives its version of what this case at the Cashel Petty Sessions was about:

William B. Upton charged a blind man named Denis Gooly with an assault at the workhouse on the 7th instant. It appears Gooly had been struck by some missile which was thrown, and he brandished an old floorcloth over his head, which struck Upton in the face, and he retaliated by giving Gooly a blow to the temple. Case dismissed.

Further trouble ensued. On August 27, 1868, William B. Upton was again charged with assault and was sentenced to two months’ hard labour by the Hon. J. M. Ffrench at Cashel Petty Sessions. By now, William B. Upton was 40 years old. The Gaol Registry description also says: can read and write; Protestant, 5′ 9″; hazel eyes, auburn hair, fresh complexion. He was discharged on October 21, 1868.

I have included the personal descriptions from the Clonmel Gaol Registers because it helps to confirm we have the same person each time. Although the first two events are about “William Upton” and the others are about “William B. Upton”, I think the descriptions of personal characteristics show it is the same person each time.  The age matches the estimated birth date and the Protestant religious affiliation is uncommon in the Clonmel Gaol registers. The height measurements vary only slightly although the eye colour and hair colour seem to change a few times. The “fresh complexion” descriptor is not particularly meaningful since it seems from the registers that almost all prisoners had this. Not many Irish people are sallow (the other option).

The last time that William B. Upton was in Clonmel gaol was in 1868. I assume he continued to live at the Cashel Workhouse as a pauper. William B. Upton died in 1874 in Cashel. His age in the civil registration records is given as 44 but he would have been 46.

A very sad, poverty-stricken, violent and short life. Here was a man who must have had many opportunities to do well in life but was unable – for whatever reason – to take advantage of those opportunities. William B. Upton’s father David Bayly Upton was Actuary to the Government Savings Bank in Cashel and Clerk of the Quarter Sessions – both highly responsible positions – before his untimely death in 1846.

His grandfather William Bayly Upton was a relatively wealthy man of considerable education and status in the town of Cashel. I wonder what he thought and felt about this grandson who was his namesake and could have been his heir. Did William B. Upton suffer from some form of mental illness that nowadays would have been identified and treated? It seems clear to me that the Upton family had given up trying to help him so he descended to being a pauper in the local workhouse and being sent to prison periodically for insubordinate and violent behaviour.

I also wonder when William B. Upton became destitute. We know he was in the Cashel Workhouse in 1860. There is a record in the Dublin Workhouses registers of a William Upton from Tipperary aged 28 in 1856 who stayed for a few months in the North Dublin Workhouse. Had he already been disowned by his family at that date? What had he done to have earned that treatment? When did he have to seek help under the Poor Law that would require him to live and work in the Cashel Workhouse? These are questions that have no answers and we are unlikely to get any from the records of his time.

A sad story indeed.


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