The Beyond the Headstones series of posts was inspired after having spent a bit of time in Wangaratta cemetery, visiting loved ones, attending funerals or wandering around taking photos. In some sections I have been known to point at a headstone and exclaim “I know her!” Aside from the weird looks I get from my companions, what I mean to say is that I have some personal knowledge or research that brings the person commemorated on the headstone to life. They are no longer merely a name with a dash between two dates. They are people who can be remembered for the lives that they lived, and not just represented by a cold, mute stone.

This featured headstone is for a family from Docker’s Plains, the patriarch of which seemed to have remarkable longevity.

Byrne family headstone – Copyright: Conversations With Grandma

Alice Byrne, nee Murphy was the first in the family to pass away. Her burial is not recorded in cemetery records as cemetery records for this period have not survived. Alice was born in Tipperary (probably around Templederry where her children were born) in Ireland to Thomas and Joanna Murphy. Her death did not make the newspapers so her death certificate and the headstone bearing her name are perhaps the only tangible reminders of her life.
At the funeral of Alice’s husband Patrick it was reported that 36 vehicles (wagons, buggies, etc) and 70 horsemen passed through Wangaratta following the cortege. Newspaper reports of his death don’t hint at why this farmer was so well respected, instead focusing on his age, with reports varying between 102 and 104 years. If this age is correct, Patrick was up to 30 years older than his wife and it is likely that Alice was not his first wife.
Long Life.— Mr Patrick Byrne, father ofthe Messrs Byrnes farmers, Docker’s Plains, died on last Thursday, at the extreme age of one hundred and two years. The old gentleman who, in appearance did not look much more than seventy, had nearly all his faculties about him to the last, and was in the habit until very recently of walking to Wangaratta and back to his residence at Docker’s Plains, a distance of some seven miles, almost every week with the greatest ease. He also took a keen interest in all local and parliamentary matters, and read the speeches of our legislators with great avidity. He was a native of the county of Tipperary, and by no means a rigid teetotaller.
Little Alice Byrne was the next family member to be remembered on the headstone, although she had died several months before her grandfather. She was a daughter of Alice and Patrick’s son William and his wife Johanna McCormick and was only two years and four months old at the time of her death.
Death. — We are sorry to have to record the death of Mr Edmund Byrnes, farmer, Docker’s Plains, which happened at his farm, Estcourt, last Monday morning, at the age of 73. Mr Byrnes was a very old resident of Estcourt, but before settling at the latter place had been engaged mining at the Three Mile Creek,  Beechworth, from 1855 to 1858. He was of a very genial disposition, and a general favorite with everyone. He leaves a widow [Catherine Murphy] and two daughters.
Edmond/Edmund is a problematic person. His reported age at death puts his birth year around 1814. This would put Patrick’s wife Alice at around 14 or 15 years at the time of Edmond’s birth. Although Alice is recorded on Edmond’s death certificate as his mother, it seems more likely that she was his step-mother, or her own age at death was under-reported. A birth year of around 1814 would also make Edmond 49 years old when he married Catherine Murphy in 1863 and more than 20 years older than his wife. This is not unheard of, but perhaps lends some weight to Catherine being Edmond’s second wife. Edmond was a successful farmer who left a substantial estate consisting of over £1,000 worth of real estate and £260 worth of personal estate to his wife Catherine.
Catherine Byrne, nee Murphy, was a daughter of Peter Murphy and Mary Malone. She left two daughters, Alice Gertrude who married John Eugene Evans, and Mary Teresa who married John Mitchell Richards.

Byrne family grave – Copyright- Conversations With Grandma

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