For those of you who love a mystery and solving puzzles, here’s a nice one to be getting on with. Unlike the fictitious Da Vinci Code, this one is for real.The document reproduced below was worth about a million dollars in today’s money to Catherine Hayes. It gave her back control over her assets which had all been transferred to her American husband William Avery Bushnell on their marriage in accordance with English law as it was in 1857.
A lovely and very helpful assistant in the Mairie in Biarritz, spent about an hour of her time getting out the original register of deaths in 1858 and trying to find other information for me from her colleagues.In addition to that, she gave me a free certified copy of the entry. Such a level of service was exceptional in my research although the majority of libraries, archives and others were indeed helpful.
Here is a scanned image of the document which is of course in French which Catherine was fluent in. Your task is to translate and find out what is wrong with it. I’ve given you enough information above to check its validity. One thing which I guess I should tell you because you haven’t got the registers is that entries were signed by the Mayor and only the Mayor for any year I looked at going back to 1790. (I’d already scanned through the registers on microfilm in London before going to France.)
This is the famous document: (Will be uploaded again soon)
Catherine Hayes would have been familiar with the 19c Paris arcades. They were very popular for shopping and socialising since they provided shelter from the elements and a clean tiled floor to walk on. At the height of their popularity, there were over 150 of them providing short cuts linking the streets of central Paris. Some would have been lost in the Haussmann reconstruction which occurred after Catherine Hayes left Paris in 1844 but she would have seen the effects on her later visits which ended in 1860. Relatively few remain today and a selection of those is shown above. Well worth visiting especially on a rainy day.
Most people go to Biarritz to gamble or to enjoy the surfing. You’ll never guess what I was doing there so I’ll tell you. I was looking for Willy Bushnell’s grave and I spent two weeks searching every graveyard in Biarritz and Bayonne. I braved mad dogs, the midday sun and wild boar to trace every 19c burial place there is. I suffered cuts and bruises, dehydration and the loss of my precious research papers which were stolen from my car along with my camera and passport.
You may be wondering if I looked in the registers before going on this physically tough tour. I certainly did and they told me that nobody had bought a permanent plot for any Hayes or Bushnell in 1858. Unfortunately, the burial registers run from 1859 only so there was no hope there either. So I searched and searched to prove or disprove a point.
Biarritz is a pleasant place with many Victorian villas still standing and they are all strictly preserved now by order of the Mayor. I couldn’t pinpoint the precise location of the one in which Willy died but I found the census showing it was a small place occupied only by the owner, his wife and a 16 year old maid in a poorer quarter of town.
I tried hard but did I find Bushnell in Biarritz? Yes and no. All will be revealed in due course.
Many writers appear to have been under the impression that one or both of these two Irish women were Catholics. Let me tell you here and now, the religion of Catherine Hayes and Lola Montez was Church of Ireland into which they were born and bred but at times they pretended otherwise. In parts of the world, Catholics were in the majority and it was best to appear to be of that faith.
Catherine Hayes helped Father Matthew, the temperance advocate, when she was in New York and gave a concert to raise money for the roof of a Catholic church in New Orleans. Lola Montez had to pretend to be a Spanish Catholic to become a Countess of Bavaria. Imagine an Irish protestant from a lower class background being able to achieve that status in a country which was then violently anti-protestant. She must have been a very good actress to fool everyone including the Jesuits. Neither Catherine nor Lola cared much about any faith.
In the 19c, the official religion in Ireland was the Protestant Church of Ireland and the ruling class belonged to it. There was bitter animosity between Catholics and Protestants which continues to the present day in some areas. A mature student at a local Adult Education Centre wrote some essays which have been published in a booklet. This is what she says about going to school in the 1950’s at the age of four.
“My oldest sister carried me to the school on the carrier on the back of the bicycle. I will always remember my sister ( name removed) leaving me at a neighbour’s gate. I would go through the neighbour’s yard. I never stopped to play with the children there. There were nine children in that family and they went to a different school. We were Church of Ireland and went to the Church of Ireland school.”
That’s an example of the deep divisions in Irish society which prevented even the children from mixing and perpetuated the hatred and suspicion which fueled the Northern Ireland troubles.