It is the 24th October 1858. Captain William McCarthy Murray of the 2nd West India Regiment is –I’m not sure where, to be honest, but possibly based at the barracks at Gorleston. His wife, Catherine, is in Gorleston somewhere, giving birth to what I think was her second child. Did she know she was expecting twins? I have no idea, but so it proved. Constance Mary Murray was born at 7.55 am, her brother Alfred Rymer Murray an hour later. Both twins were baptised the next day. Neither grew up at Gorleston. In fact, I have no idea why Catherine was in Gorleston, unless her husband was based there. Nor do I know how long she spent there. By the time of the 1861 Census, Catherine is a widow. So far, I have not found any record of William’s death. Catherine is living with her two sons, William (age 8) and Alfred on Jersey, which is where she married – and, presumably met – William. They married on the 8th May 1845, when William was a lieutenant: their marriage certificate states that he was 25, she 20; both fathers had also been in the Army; she was born in London, he in Sierra Leone, where presumably his father was based at the time. This is the only record for William’s parentage that I can find. His father, Thomas Murray, was a surgeon in the West India regiment, but had died by the time of his son’s marriage.
Yet what of baby Constance? Where was she in 1861? Well, a Constance Mary Murray is living with her grandmother Sarah in London, along with three of Sarah’s children. I can find no definite link to prove that Sarah Murray was the mother of William McCarthy Murray. Sarah was born in the West Indies, which is one link, and starts to give a fairly exotic feel to Constance’s family. What I do know is Sarah Marshall married Thomas Murray in Honduras in 1808. This Thomas was an Assistant Surgeon in the West India regiment, and was living in Jersey when he died in 1834 of a liver complaint contracted from long residence in tropical climes. I know this, for I found a bundle of documents relating to the Murray family, mainly linked to the Army pensions, which widows were entitled to – but had to prove their marriage first. In Sarah’s case, it seems she also had to prove the death of her husband. It is likely Catherine did not, as there are no papers relating to William’s death.
Going back to baby Constance, I have no idea whether she was living permanently with her grandmother in 1861, or just staying there to give her mother a break. Both Sarah and Catherine were in receipt of Army pensions, yet neither had a live-in servant, so money cannot have been plentiful. Trying to cope with a bereavement and 3 children, two of them toddlers, may have been too much. It would not be surprising if Sarah took young Constance on, either temporarily or permanently. What happened next? Well, I know Catherine re-married in 1864 to an older man, who had a son near to Alfred’s age. He later died in 1877, but the 1871 census shows Catherine and Alfred still in Jersey, together with Catherine’s second husband and his son. No sign of Constance. Neither is she with her grandmother; I haven’t found any mention of Sarah’s death (Sarah Murray was a popular name), but in 1871, we find Constance much closer to where she was born. Closer, in fact, to where she would live the rest of her life. She is a pupil at All Hallows Orphanage, Ditchingham. That was a surprise.
Constance would have been eligible for Orphan’s rates, as these applied to those who had lost one parent as well as both. [For those who may not be aware of our history, the Orphanage took in girls of the upper classes, which I suspect meant upper middle; they also took in boarders, at (in theory) full fees. All the girls needed educating, so the Orphanage was run as a school in term time. Orphans were clothed, and while girls could go home during the holidays, those with nowhere to go would stay]. This is where Constance was at the age of 12. I kind of hope that she would have spent some time with her mother and brothers, but Jersey is some way from Norfolk and I suspect some, if not all, of the holidays were spent with other girls at All Hallows. This was not necessarily a dull time – there is an account of Christmas in one of our magazines, which shows that they were cared for and encouraged to enjoy themselves. The picture is the Orphanage in 1866; you can see M. Lavinia sitting amongst the girls, with a Novice standing on the edge. Would Constance have been among the girls? There are no records to tell us when she may have first arrived.
Many of the Orphanage girls were sent there because they would need to earn their own living, and I imagine this may well have been the case for Constance. That sending her to the Orphanage was not an attempt to get rid of her, but rather a means to ensure she had an education befitting her station, and to support her once she grew up. it is entirely possible that she was very close to her family, but likely we shall never know. Where Constance went when her education was finished, I have no idea, but by 1881, aged 22, she is once more back at Ditchingham, this time as a Novice of the Community. She was professed [made her vows] in 1883, and by 1891 she had returned to the Orphanage, this time as head. She spent most of her life either at the Community House or at the Orphanage (later School), although she also spent some time in Canada. That she had leadership qualities shows through: she was not only Sister in Charge of the Orphanage, but was also Assistant Superior of the Community twice.
Joining the Community was not a natural step for an Orphanage girl – Constance is only the third girl from the Orphanage/School that I know for a fact joined us, although others have become Associates. A good grounding in the Christian faith was part of their education; there was an Oratory in the Orphanage buildings, and they may well have joined the Sisters in their Chapel. Something must have drawn Constance to the Community – not always an easy step, when they knew you as a schoolgirl. Something that grounded her here that she couldn’t find elsewhere. Some desire to follow Jesus, to walk in his steps, in this very specific vocation as a member of the Community of All Hallows. For, ultimately, that is what our lives are all about: following Jesus, wherever they happen to be. I can find out much through census data, and elsewhere, about what they actually did, but their faith underlies all that, and is unknown unless I find a more personal reminiscence somewhere. Unknown, except for God, who knows all and contains all. Who knows Sister Constance, and knew her throughout her life, however well her family may or may not have known her. Who knew, saw, loved, the development of her faith, her struggles and her weaknesses. Who loved and forgave her. Who does the same for us.