AN IRISH ROMANCER: THE SEARCH FOR THE REAL WALTER ROBERT FITZGERALD-MOORE.
Walter Moore, if that was his real name, was my grandfather, but he died 25 years before I was born. His origins are shrouded in mystery and even the circumstances of his death - "in the arms of his mistress" as my father so bitterly put it - were kept secret for many decades.
At the time of his marriage to my grandmother, Marion Sophia Greenway, his first wife Elizabeth may still have been alive. Her existence was never admitted and her surviving children, Robert, Anita and Lizita, were introduced as his nephew and nieces (no attempt was ever made to identify the brother whose offspring they were alleged to be). His descendants made every effort to hide the truth by denials, by burning all the papers that they could get their hands on, and by "romancing" about the remarkable man he was.
He made two great fortunes and lost them both, but not without tasting the fruits of his success in the enjoyment of mansions, carriages and liveried footmen. His son Robert, whom he was unable publicly to acknowledge, was as great a romancer as his father and left an equally obfuscated trail of birth dates and parentage. Some years ago I undertook the immensely difficult task of checking every statement and record that I could lay my hands upon. I have been very successful in dispelling some of the lies; but much less successful in arriving at the truth. The search continues!
Birth and ancestry
It would be satisfying to begin this story with the birth of the hero on a given date at a particular location. But from the very start we have to admit that we know neither for certain. The confusion is due to a deliberation obfuscation practised by the man we shall call “Walter Moore” from an early age. Thus we find his age given as 30 and his state as “single” in the census of 1881 when he was living with his mother Hannah Moore in Paddington. In fact, he was, at that time, either married or a widower, had fathered at least four children, and had been born, not in 1851 as this age proclaims, but possibly as early as 1838 and almost certainly no later than the date of 1846 to which he admitted on the occasion of his second marriage, to Marion Sophia Greenway. This confusion about his birth date continued even after death, since his death certificate, attested by his “nephew” (probably his son) Robert Forbes Moore, gave his age as 52 (i.e., birth date circa 1844) whereas the headstone to his grave in Coolgardie Western Australia (C of E Section Grave B57) is inscribed with the age “49" suggesting a birth date of 1847.
The next question is where? In the interview he gave to the reporter from Table Talk (Melbourne, 1891) he states that he was born at his father’s house “Toney Duff”, Tullavin, County Cavan. The British census, referred to above, gives his birth place as Dublin. There is, as far as I can tell, no place named Toney Duff in the Tullyvin area.
What then of “Tullavin”? This meant a lot to Walter Moore who named his house in the Melbourne suburb of Elsternwick “Tullavin”. Perhaps the reporter for Table Talk misheard, because the homonym is Tullyvin. This is some way from Tonymacgilduff, although it is also in the RC parish of Kilsherdany. There were indeed Moores at Tullyvin. William Moore Esq. of Tullyvin left a will dated 21 January 1803 probated at the Prerogative Court Armagh 22 March 1803. He had apparently no legitimate issue, although he had a daughter, Helen Moore, by Eleanor Pate. However, the clan was probably a large one as he left instructions to be buried in the family vault at Tullyvin. He left James Moore, the eldest son of his old tenant Thomas Moore of Aughatolan Co. Cavan a sum of money. So Tullyvin is a possible place of origin but there is no record of a Toney Duff in that area.
A fourth possibility is that he was born in Dublin. He liked to suggest that he was connected to the Moores of Drogheda and even adopted their armorial bearings - though the Australian engraver who made a magnificent bookplate for him shared with Walter a lack of Latin which made nonsense of the motto! His connection with these noble Moores was further intimated by his use of the forenames “Ponsonby” and “Garrett” in naming his sons. As a final irony, the person who composed the obituary for his son Robert, who died in Auckland in 1938, wrote that he was “son of the late Ponsonby Fitzgerald-Moore of Kalgoorlie, West Australia”. I do not believe that such a person existed and have to suppose that Robert had created him as a “doppelganger” for his true father, Walter of Coolgardie!
1. Extract from the Register of Marriages kept at St. George’s Cathedral, Madras: 1882 October 14. Age given as 35.
2.The information on the parishes is taken from “Al Beagan’s ‘Genealogy Notes’” published on the Internet.
3. New Zealand Herald, June 13th, 1938.
School and apprenticeship
Walter’s schooling is said to have been at Ashgarden Academy. No trace of such an institution has been found. Walter says that after leaving school he was articled to a lawyer. He also said that his father was a barrister although no Benjamin Moore appears in the legal records for Dublin (checked 1840-1850).
Walter reported working for the Millwall Ironwork Company and assisting in the building of the Northumberland and the Agincourt. The Millwall yard is on the Isle of Dogs in London and the Northumberland was laid down there in 1861, launched 1866 and completed in 1868. Walter’s claim seems reasonable in this regard. However, the Agincourt was built by Lairds at their Birkenhead (Liverpool) yard, being laid down in 1861, launched 1865 and completed 1867. He might have started in London and moved to Liverpool because his next job was on the Isle of Man, just offshore from that city. Walter said he worked at the Glen May mine. The Glen Meay or North Foxdale Mine was in fact never developed to production although exploratory workings were carried out, chiefly between 1857 and 1865 but continuing to 1869. This fits in well with Walter’s chronology.
Some time between 1861 and 1869 Walter set sail for Quebec. Presumably from the port of Liverpool. The date can be narrowed down, if we accept the veracity of two other statement he made in this connection. The first is that, “At this time the civil war was raging between north and south.” The American civil war was fought from 1861 to 1865, so that narrows the gap. “Without any delay Mr. Moore accepted an engagement to repair the engines of the well-known blockade runner “Palmyra,” just docked after the capture of Savannah.” This permits a further refinement as we know that Savannah was captured in 1864. One’s confidence in this account is, however, weakened by the fact that no trace of the “well-known” vessel “Palmyra” has been found. This includes a search of the “Civil War Naval Chronology 1861-1865
In Walter’s account, he travelled from Quebec City to Montreal en route for Boston. Continuing from Montreal, Walter described an incident “approaching St. John’s in Canada East.” The first true railway built in Canada was the Champlain and St. Lawrence Railroad from La Prairie on the St. Lawrence River to St Johns on the Richelieu R (St-Jean-sur-Richelieu)., built as a portage between Montreal and Lake Champlain. The line opened officially on 21 July, 1836, and so no narrowing of the date is provided. The only other candidate would have been Saint John N.B. but the railway did not reach that city until some time after confederation in 1867. Another clue to the date is given by his statement that the Bank of Michigan had been defunct for two years at this time. Research continues. He was then to travel to Mexico before returning to Australia and dying in Coolgardie Western Australia on the 31st July 1896. He is buried in the Coolgardie Cemetery.
The following link to Ancestry.com shows the names of his children by his two marriages - http://ancstry.me/1M0E7sI
4. Canadian Encyclopedia, 1996.
I am indebted to Moya Sharp, from Outback Family History,
for both the story here and the photo of the gravestone in Coolgardie Cemetery... here..
N.B. This story was written by the unnamed granddaughter of Walter Robert Fitzgerald Moore...