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Mary McDonnell (1794–1869), born in county Mayo – Part I of III: 1794–1839

Home > Family history > Ireland > McDonnell of county Mayo > Mary McDonnell (I)

… or more precisely :
Mary Hodder otherwise Anderson formerly Burke née McDonnell alias Macdonald.

Contents :

On this page:—

  • Part II : 1839–1853 opens in new page
    • Inmates of the workhouse
    • 1841 Census / Marriage to John Anderson
    • The Brook in Gillingham
    • Who was John Anderson?
    • Attestation of son, James, to the 39th Foot
    • 1851 Census
    • Death of John Anderson
    • See also
    • Footnotes
  • Part III : 1854–1869 — opens in new page
    • Marriage to Charles Hodder
    • Who was Charles Hodder?
    • Who was Mary’s father, John Macdonald [sic] ?
    • Return of daughter Margaret’s family
    • Illness and death of son, James
    • Death of Charles Hodder
    • 1861 Census & life with her daughter, Margaret (Burke) Huggins
    • Death of Mary Burke [sic]
    • Footnotes

Introduction :

The recent discovery (21st January 2021) of a marriage record held by Medway Archives in Kent, England has lifted Mary McDonnell’s life story out of the inscrutable murk of family history mystery. Previously, there was a gap of twenty odd years unaccounted for (1839–1860), and a strong suggestion of an irregular marriage. To tell Mary McDonnell’s story, this biographical sketch takes the form of three chapters, each having several sub-titles:

  1. a narrative of Mary’s life as the wife of a soldier —John Burke, a regimental tailor— until his death at Chatham on 2nd May 1839;
  2. a timeline of events from 1839 to 1853, when her second husband, John Anderson died; and,
  3. a similar timeline from 1854–1869, including a third marriage to Charles Hodder, the deaths, mere months apart, of her son and of Charles Hodder, concluding with her own death at Winchester.

Part I : 1794–1839

Birth c.1794 :

Mary McDonnell was born c.1794 in the county of Mayo, townland and parish unknown. Until her husband, John Burke‘s death in 1839, we catch just one fleeting glimpse of Mary in the written record—the baptism of her daughter, Margaret, in Tralee, county Kerry. From a marriage record (her third), we learn that the priest recorded Mary’s father as John Macdonald, a smith by trade. 1

Birth of daughter, Margaret Jane :

A record of the marriage of John Burke and Mary McDonnell has not been found. 2 Our first sighting of them as man and wife is in the record of the baptism of their daughter, Margaret Jane Burke, on the 11th May 1823. Margaret was baptised by the Rev. J. Quill in the chapel at Tralee, county Kerry—where John Burke was stationed with the 39th regiment of foot. The sponsors were Patrick Brenan, a tailor with the 39th, and Mary Galihir. 3

When John’s regiment was subsequently posted to Limerick, five months after the birth of Margaret, thence to Cork one year later, 4 presumably Mary followed with babe in arms, and almost certainly by shank’s mare. In this and in other ways, the lot of the soldier’s wife was unenviable. There being no separate quarters for families, a shawl or a blanket suspended by the bed provided the merest pretence of privacy in barracks.

Life at Gillingham, Kent :

By November 1825, the 39th had shipped to Chatham, Kent, from which port most of the regiment shipped out to New South Wales during the next three years. 5 John stayed at Chatham as part of a depôt detachment, working as a regimental tailor. The family either lived in barracks or, if John’s income were sufficient from the set rates paid for tailoring, or sought rented lodging in Chatham or Gillingham.

Map of the town of Chatham in County Kent, England, on the Medway, highlighting the locations of Holborn Lane and The Brook lane.
Chatham, on the Medway (c.1863); highlighting the location of Holborn Lane. Source: Ordnance Survey (UK). Kent XIX (includes: Chatham; Frindsbury Extra; Rochester). Surveyed 1863–1865, published 1869. Digital image hosted online by the National Library of Scotland (accessed 17th Jan. 2021). Edited by Alison Kilpatrick (2021) by cropping map to that part of the town of Chatham near Holborn Wharf, and to highight the location of Holborn Lane.

Births of James and Maria Anna at Gillingham :

The births of a second daughter, Maria Anna, in November 1828, 6 and of a son, James, in December 1832, 7 at Gillingham implies residence either in the barracks at Brompton (which lies between Chatham and Gillingham), or in Gillingham town.

Death of John Burke :

It would be tempting to believe that Mary’s husband, John, worked in more favourable conditions than those soldiers who did “hard” service. However, the regimental tailors laboured in cramped, dank workshops that were poorly ventilated. Woe betide, then, the weakened constitution that came into contact with any of the tropical diseases brought to the depôt barracks from military outposts in tropical climes.

In 1834, began to experience pain in his loins in 1834, spreading to his arms by 1836. He was invalided and sent to the General Hospital at Fort Pitt, once for Ague and twice for pain in the pit of his stomach. Inevitably, a regimental board convened, and ruled that John was unfit for Active duties of a Soldier in consequence of Rheumatic affection and Impaired constitution. 8 After his discharge in August 1838, the family lived in Holborn Lane, Chatham.

Not long afterwards, in the summer or autumn of 1838, a young corporal named John Huggins, an Irishman posted with the 45th regiment at Canterbury, began to take an interest in their daughter, Margaret. The romance proceeded merrily along, until a marriage is presumed to have been solemnized in December of the same year. 9 John and Margaret Huggins’ first child, Mary Ann, was born on the 14th June 1839, at the Windsor barracks. 10

Unfortunately, however, Mary’s husband had died of fever just six weeks earlier, on the 2nd May. 11 Widowed, in possession of a small pension perhaps, Mary was in no position to travel to Windsor to greet her new grandchild or to offer her daughter any support. Rather, she could only have been consumed with the question of how to support herself and her young children, Maria Anna and James. Though her daughter had been just fifteen years old at the time of her marriage, it must have been a source of some relief for Mary Burke to know that Margaret was now provided for as the wife of John Huggins.

Proceed to Part II (of III) of this biographical sketch.


  1. Church of England. Parish of St Mary, Chatham. Solemnization of a Marriage. Extract: Marriage solemnized at the Parish Church in the Parish of Chatham in the County of Kent. 1854 August 4. Charles Hodder, age 49, widower, occupation: pensioner; residence: [The] Brook, Chatham; father: Richard Hodder, cabinet maker. Mary Anderson [sic] (signed with her mark), age 60, widow; residence: ditto.; father: John Macdonald, smith. Married in the parish church according to the rites and ceremonies of the Established Church after Banns by the Rev. Robert F. Wheeler, Curate; witnesses: Gurfa? [Sarah? or George? nearly illegible] Bourke or Burke or Bowke; Ellen Slattery (signed with her mark). Original record held by Medway Archives and Local Studies Centre, archival ref. P85/1/61, no. 121. Digital image online at Medway Archives, (extract by Alison Kilpatrick, 2021-01-21). ↩︎
  2. Note:—Every parish register in the county of Mayo has been scanned by the writer for a marriage occurring before May, 1823. ↩︎
  3. Irish Genealogy. Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Ireland. Church Records. Extract: Margaret Burk, date of baptism: 11 May 1823; father: John Burk, mother: Mary McDonnell, address: New Barracks, Tralee, county Kerry; baptised by the Rev. J. Quill, sponsors: Patrick Brenan, Mary Gallihir, Roman Catholic parish church at Tralee, county Kerry; book no. 3, page 10, entry no. 106, record identifier KY-RC-BA-457560 (accessed 2012-03-25). ↩︎
  4. Cannon, Richard. Historical Record of the Thirty-Ninth or the Dorsetshire Regiment of Foot. London: Parker, Furnivall & Parker, 1853 (pp. 65–7). ↩︎
  5. Cannon, Historical Record of the Thirty-Ninth, op. cit. ↩︎
  6. Roman Catholic Church (England). Parish of St Paul [Paulinus], Brompton, Kent. Solemnization of a Baptism. Transcript: “Die 6’â [6th] novembris anno Dei 1828° nata et Die 17’[xx] [17th] ejusdem mensis et anni Baptisata est Maria Anna Burk filia johannis Burk [—] militia ex 39° Regto et Mariæ Burk (olim McDonnal) conjugum. Patrinus fuit Andrew Sidny – matrina Mary Berwick[?]. A. me R’s Salmon M’so Apo.” Digital image online at (transcript by Alison Kilpatrick, 3rd Aug. 2021). ↩︎
  7. Roman Catholic Church (England). Parish of St Paul [Paulinus], Brompton, Kent. Solemnization of a Baptism. Transcript: “Die 8 Decembris A D 1832 et die 16 ej. mensis Baptisatus Jacobus Burke filius Joannis et Maria Burke/olim McDonnell / conj: patrinus fuit Jacobus Coleman matrina Maria Colemana me / J [E?] McEany[?] Mig’o Apo.” Digital image online at (transcript by Alison Kilpatrick, 2021-08-03). ↩︎
  8. British Army Service Records, 1760–1915. John Burke (1795–1839), Claremorris, county Mayo, regimental tailor, 96th and 39th Regiments of Foot. Original record: The National Archives (TNA), London. Archival ref. WO97/551/9. Photocopy obtained by research commissioned from Dr. Christopher Watts, military historian, 2003; confirmed to digitised copies held online by (transcript by Alison Kilpatrick, 25th March 2012). ↩︎
  9. Note:—John Huggins obtained three weeks’ leave from Canterbury to Chatham in December, 1838. Source: The National Archives. British Army. Pay Lists, 45th Regiment of Foot. Extract: March 1838, John Huggins received into 1st Battalion from Depot at Canterbury; from April to June, and Sept. to Dec., at Canterbury; October to December – at Canterbury, on pass to Chatham December 1–24, returned on 24th December 1838. Archival reference WO 12/5747. Research commissioned from R.N., military researcher (London), 7 December 2004. ↩︎
  10. General Register Office, England & Wales. Certified Copy of an Entry of Birth. Extract: Mary Ann Huggins, date of birth: 14 June 1839, place of birth: Windsor, Berkshire, England; father: John Huggins, Corporal, 45th Reg’t of Foot; mother: Margaret Huggins formerly Burke; registered in Windsor Registration District, informant: John Huggins, father. Copy purchassed by Alison Kilpatrick, application no. PAS 493279, registration no. BXCA277019 (2004-03-11). ↩︎
  11. General Register Office, England & Wales. Certified Copy of Entry of Death. Extract: John Burke, male, age 41 years, Tailor; died 2 May 1839, Holborn Lane, Chatham, England; cause of death: fever; informant: Ann Harfleet, Holborn Lane, present at death; registration district: Medway, subdistrict: Rochester. Copy purchased by Alison Kilpatrick, application no. 3949627-1, DYD 245150, 28th March 2012. ↩︎

Source citation for this page: — Kilpatrick, Alison. “Biographical sketch for Mary Burke née McDonnell (1794–1860) of county Mayo – Part I.” Published online to Arborealis,, 24th January 2021, edited 14th Oct. 2023; accessed [insert date of access]. All rights reserved.

Updated 16th Oct. 2023.