View of Chatham, Kent in 1832, where John Burke and Mary McDonnell lived from 1825–1839.

Mary McDonnell in, “The lot of the soldier’s wife” (revisited)

Image credit:Picturesque views in England and Wales: Chatham, Kent in 1832. (See details, below.)

Since writing the first installment of “The lot of the soldier’s wife” in 2015, the recent discovery of a (third) marriage record lifts Mary McDonnell out of the inscrutable murk of family history mystery. Nevertheless, Mary has led us on a merry genealogical chase to learning what was her lot for the twenty-one years between the death of her (first) husband, John Burke, in 1839 and her own death in 1869. In fact, as the most recent edition of her life story illustrates, she remarried twice and had a habit of using her first married surname as circumstances required.

For the time, Mary Burke alias Hodder otherwise Anderson née McDonnell lived to a good old age. This is particularly the case when we consider how arduous and uncertain were the prospects for the widow of a soldier. The words, precarious, tenuous, and vicissitudes, come to mind.

With her husband, John Burke, regimental tailor to the 39th Regiment, from 1819–1825 she travelled to many parts of Ireland: the cities of Dublin, Cork, Tralee, and Limerick, then returning to county Cork to the town of Buttevant. By 1828, she and John were at Chatham where, after his death in 1839, Mary lived for at least fourteen more years in Chatham with her second husband, John Anderson. A record of this marriage has not been found. This rite might have been solemnized in the Roman Catholic chapel in Chatham, or it might have been irregular in form. In addition, questions remain about the children who were enumerated in Mary’s and John’s household in 1841, a line of research which is in progress.

Sometime after her marriage to Charles Hodder in 1854, the couple removed to Chichester, but — why Chichester? Perhaps the hope was that, unlike the rough neighbourhood that was The Brook in Chatham, Chichester offered not only a more temperate climate but also beautiful aspects of the South Downs to the north and the flats leading south towards the English channel. Unfortunately, Mr Hodder’s habits were less than temperate and after his death, Mary went to live her remaining years with her daughter Margaret’s family, first in Waltham Abbey and finally, in the ancient cathedral city of Winchester.

Mary McDonnell lived a geographically expansive, much storied, and occasionally troubled life. She managed to raise a family successfully, if her daughter Margaret’s life is but one measure. The mores and customs of the nineteenth century meant that when she married John Burke, Mary was casting her lot with the cultural dictates of Empire and Army, and the strictures laid down by men upon women. As was the case for legions of women who followed their soldiers, Mary’s was the unenviable lot of the soldier’s wife, yet she endured.

Source citation for this page: — Kilpatrick, Alison. “Mary McDonnell in, ‘The lot of the soldier’s wife’ (revisited).” Published to Arborealis, online at, accessed [insert date of access.].

Image credit: — Artist: After Joseph Mallord William Turner (1774–1851). Picturesque views in England and Wales: Chatham, Kent (1832). Tate Archive. Archival ref. no. T05089. Licensed under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported). — Important note: Visit the Creative Commons licence link to learn how you can use this picture AND the restrictions imposed for re-use. The Creative Commons has issued a similar explanation of the rights and restrictions attaching to this image.

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