The Search for Caroline O’Reilly’s Grave

Guest post by Tim Fitzthum, Point Ellice House Volunteer Interpreter

Visitors to Point Ellice House Museum & Gardens are sometimes inspired to share their knowledge, stories, and photographs relating to Point Ellice House or other aspects of local history. This shared knowledge adds to our understanding of local history and reveals aspects of the Point Ellice House story that have been lost to us through time. We value these contributions and encourage others to share their knowledge.

One recent contribution comes from Tom Osaki who wrote an account of the death of Caroline O’Reilly and the reason for her grave being located in England and not Victoria. The information was uncovered by researching Peter O’Reilly’s diary entries, family correspondence, archival records, and old photographs. The following is an abbreviated version of Tom’s account of Caroline O’Reilly’s last year.

A Monument With No Burial

If you visit the O’Reilly family graves at Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria you will find the monument for Peter and Caroline O’Reilly and notice that Caroline is not buried there. The inscription reads:

IN LOVING MEMORY OF HON. P. O’REILLY OF BALLYBEG. CO. MEATH, IRELAND.
DIED AT POINT ELLICE, VICTORIA. SEPT 3, 1905. AGED 77.
ALSO OF HIS WIFE CAROLINE AGNES WHO DIED DEC.23. 1899, AGED 68.
BURIED AT CHERITON, KENT, ENGLAND.

To understand the mystery of Caroline’s burial in England, one must uncover the circumstances which led to her death.

Caroline’s Last Year

Throughout most of 1899, Caroline O’Reilly, age 68, was ill and suffering from heart palpitations and abdominal pains. The exact cause of her pain and illness was unknown until a Dr. Jones examined Caroline in November. His diagnosis read, “an organic disease of the heart.”

Two months prior, a letter arrived from Caroline’s brother, Sir Joseph Trutch who had retired to England after living in Victoria. Joseph wanted the O’Reillys to immediately come to England, believing a change in air would help restore Caroline’s health. Peter was reluctant to say yes due to his wife’s poor health and the possibly difficult three-week journey. For over three months they debated. It wasn’t until December 3rd when Caroline’s doctor said he believed she was well enough to make the trip that the decision was made to go.

The next morning on December 4th Peter, Caroline, son Frank and daughter Kathleen left home to catch a train for New York City. During the trip Caroline’s health worsened. In Winnipeg, just four days after leaving Victoria, Peter recorded, “Cary [Caroline] much weaker. She suffers much.”  It took five more days before the party reached New York and boarded a ship for Liverpool, England.

Twelve days after leaving Victoria, while still crossing the Atlantic, Peter’s diary entry for December 16th reads, “Cary very ailing. Kit [daughter Kathleen] never left her mother’s side. My beloved wife is perceptibly weaker.”   The ship’s doctor examined Caroline and said he could do nothing for her other than to try and keep her comfortable. Caroline was still conscious.

Peter’s diaries are blank from December 19th to 22nd; during this time the ship arrived in Liverpool and Caroline was transferred to a nearby nursing facility. In the early hours of December 23rd the O’Reilly family learned of Caroline’s passing. Her death certificate recorded the cause as “Dilated Heart 10 months, Pulmonary Congestion 9 days, Cardiac failure.”

The O’Reillys buried Caroline in Cheriton, a small village in the county of Kent located 300 miles from where she died. On December 26th, 1899, the day Caroline was buried Peter entered in his diary, “Our beloved Cary was buried at Cheriton.”

Search for the Grave Begins

The O’Reilly diaries do not provide clues for why Cheriton was chosen, but only a mile away is the city of Folkestone where Caroline’s sister, nieces and nephews lived. The O’Reillys were frequent visitors and familiar with the area.

An online search of public Cheriton cemeteries and burial records for Caroline came up empty. The search then turned to church cemeteries. The O’Reillys were Anglican and there was only one Anglican church in Cheriton with a cemetery existing in the 19th century – St. Martin’s. Unfortunately, St. Martin’s did not retain their older burial records and a British genealogist was contacted to search the Kent Archives. There the burial record was found confirming the cemetery and burial date, but not the location within the 6-acre cemetery. With assistance from the church and the Folkestone Local History Society, the location was narrowed to the ‘Old North’ section.             

With this knowledge, Tom traveled to St Martin’s Cemetery to find and photograph Caroline’s grave thinking that would be the end of the story. Upon arriving, it became obvious that the Old North section was in very poor condition. Many gravestones were tipped over, others were sunk into the ground and partially covered by soil, weeds, and debris. Some graves were missing their monuments and ivy blanketed the ground. Some gravestone inscriptions were legible, but Caroline’s gravestone was not found. Unfortunately, limited time for exploration and lack of tools meant the search had to end.  If Caroline’s grave still existed it would have to be located somewhere in the ivy-covered area.

Image of Caroline O'Reilly's Grave
Caroline O’Reilly’s grave; St Martin’s Church Cemetery. Image HP029611, Royal BC Museum & Archives

Photo and Grave Found

Attention then turned to the BC Archives where thousands of photos and records documenting the O’Reilly family are kept. It was decided to search the photo archive. Surprisingly, on the first day of looking three photos appeared.  Two photos were of St Martin’s Church but the third photo was of Caroline’s grave decorated with flowers. The gravestone in the photo could be clearly read.

SACRED TO THE DEAR MEMORY OF CAROLINE AGNES.

THE BELOVED WIFE OF P. O’REILLY  OF POINT ELLICE, BRITISH COLUMBIA.

Caroline’s O’Reilly’s grave, 2018. Photo: Vince Williams.

WHO ENTERED INTO REST 23RD DECEMBER 1899.

The stone monument consisted of a cross draped with a distinctive floral garland. Also shown were the neighbouring monuments and their unique shapes. Armed with this knowledge, the Folkestone Local History Society agreed to search the cemetery. Within weeks, Caroline’s grave was found in poor condition, covered in ivy and partially buried. The ivy was cut away and just enough soil removed to uncover the monument’s base and inscription. Once exposed it was clear that the text in the photo matched the monument. The cemetery had finally surrendered its secret – the monument belonged to Caroline O’Reilly.

 

 

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