Robert Charles Colhoun married Elizabeth Ann Parke in Dublin on the 8th of February 1872. This is the story of their marriage and their family.
We don’t have any pictures of Robert in his youth, but since he was a good looking man well into his older age, he must have been quite a handsome young man. Eliza was a lovely young woman with brown hair and brown eyes.
Robert was a teacher at the Church of Ireland school in Ballinamore, County Leitrim, Ireland and 7 years Eliza’s senior. According to a note written by her son, Alex, the school is where they met. Given that it was very unusual for someone 16 (the age that Eliza was when she met Robert), she may well have been a teacher’s assistant.
There was some sort of romance between the two, and Eliza found herself pregnant. It appears that Robert had left Ballinamore around this time, and was teaching in Ballyshannon, County Donegal. How frightened Eliza must have been to find herself pregnant and unmarried. According to A Social History of Ireland, 1870-1970:
Within the farming community, the plight of an unmarried girl who became pregnant was critical. With the emphasis on agreed or ‘matched’ marriages amongst those with land in post-Famine Ireland, the increased importance of female virtue was stressed, as ‘an unvirtuous daughter could be the ruination of an otherwise thrifty and farseeing man.’
Frequently girls were cast out by their families and forced to become vagrants, many resorting to the workhouse or prostitution. Women for whom a marriage partner could be found never fully redeemed the disgrace caused to themselves or their families.
We don’t know if Robert knew that Eliza was pregnant when he left Ballinamore, nor do we know when he came to find out. All we know is that at the time of her marriage, Eliza was listed as living in Dublin at 44 Lower Ormond Quay…which at the time was Glynn’s Hotel. Had her parents put her there to remove her from the eyes of the small village they lived in? Probably.
Robert was listed on his wedding documents as living on Church Avenue, Ballyshannon, County Donegal. The only thing on the tiny spur of a road that is Church Avenue is the Church of Ireland church and the accompanying C of I school.
Eliza was said to have a very sweet, accommodating personality. She was the eldest of 3 sisters. Her father, William Parke (age 55), was a prosperous farmer. Her mother, Elizabeth (also called Eliza) Taylor Parke, was about 37 when her 17-year-old daughter got pregnant and then married the schoolteacher, Robert Charles Colhoun.
No matter what he thought of the marriage, or of his daughter and Robert Colhoun, William Parke went to Dublin and witnessed their marriage. He was one of the two witnesses on their marriage document. The other was Sarah Haddock. We don’t know who she was. It is possible that she was the companion to Eliza. She needed some sort of chaperone in Dublin.
Robert was 24 and Eliza was 17 at the time of the wedding. Robert was listed as a Bachelor of ‘full age’; Eliza was listed as a Spinster and a Minor.
Did Eliza’s mother or sisters attend her wedding? We don’t know. What we do know is that Eliza never saw her family again. Either did Robert. They seem to have set sail for Canada immediately after the wedding. Their son, Charles Kingsley Calhoun, was born 16 days after their wedding, on 23 February 1872. He may have been born on the ship or he may have been born when they reached Canada. I have yet to find a record of his birth.