12 March 2015

#FearlessFemales - Day 11 - The tragic death of Catherine Dempsey

Today's Fearless Females blogging prompt is:

March 11 — Did you have any female ancestors who died young or from tragic or unexpected circumstances? Describe and how did this affect the family?

Sadly, I have to say I do have a female "ancestor" who died both young and in tragic circumstances.

That ancestor was Catherine Dempsey. My first cousin once removed.

Catherine was born in 1930 in the Gorbals of Glasgow, Scotland - the daughter of James Dempsey and Mary Cooke Rutherford. Though born in Glasgow, she apparently grew up in Dundee.

Photo from the Aberdeen Press and Journal newspaper 11 July 1949
Source: The British Newspaper Archive
I'll let my mother tell you the story of her young and tragic death straight from the notes in the family research she had done on my father's family:

Cathy Dempsey became a nurse and worked at Merinskirk Hospital at that time it was a TB Hospital. Cathy met a young man there called Bill (surname not known). Bill had TB and was a patient at the hospital. He seemed to be getting better and he and Cathy married. Cathy was 18 years old then. They got a nice room and kitchen to live in and were quite happy for a while until Bill started getting sick again. This time he was told he was dying but after a few weeks he seemed to be OK again and Cathy was still working at the hospital.
Then Cathy's sister Mary Dempsey came to visit her. Mary had just become engaged to to a young man called Bobby Boland and she wanted to show Cathy her ring. Bobby Boland was an up and coming boxer. Mary could not get an answer when she knocked at the door so she went to her Uncle Willie's house then to Bill's parents house but no one had seen Cathy or Bill for over two weeks. They also contacted the hospital but Cathy hadn't been at work for over two weeks. So they went back to the flat to try again.
The next door neighbour said that a bad smell was coming from the place so they called the Police who broke down the door. When they got inside they found Cathy, she had been stabbed and had been dead for at least two weeks. There was no sign of Bill.
The Police searched for over a week but couldn't find a trace of Bill, then they heard about a young man who had jumped off the Bridge Street Bridge and the body had not been claimed so he had been buried as unknown. The body turned out to be Bill.
Mary Cook (Cathy's mother) thought she would take Cathy's body back to Dundee to be buried with a Catholic funeral but because Cathy and Bill had married in a Registry Office and also because Bill was Protestant she was refused a Catholic burial. (The church laws were very severe and strict in those days.) This caused a big fight because all the Dempseys were Catholic and were taught by nuns. Cathy was finally buried with a Protestant burial service and because of the bitter feelings the Catholic refusal had caused the family, her sister Mary Dempsey married Bobby Boland in a Protestant Church

Over the years some of the story got a bit muddled as it was handed through my father's family to reach my mother in the late 1980s.

Bill, Cathy's husband was William Alston. They were married on December 31st 1948 when Cathy' was just 18. Her occupation is listed as Student Nurse at the Mearnskirk Hospital. Bill's occupation was Male Nurse at the same hospital, so he wasn't a patient but a colleague.

Cathy was a probationary nurse, but at the time of her death she was working in a tobacconist shop. Bill had also changed professions from nurse to putting green attendant.

The bridge Bill jumped from was the Glasgow (or Jamaica St) Bridge over the Clyde River in Glasgow.

Cathy's sister Mary - who found her sister - married James Angus Boland in 1950 not Robert (Bobby) Boland though they were brothers.

Cathy's death is listed as July 10th, 1949 though it is likely she had been dead at least a week before being found (last seen alive on July 2nd) and reads Consistent with Compression of the Neck. She hadn't yet turned 19.

Bill's death is listed as July 3rd, 1949 and reads Consistent with Asphyxia by drowning.

Of course with such tragic deaths there were newspaper articles as well such as this brief one from the Glasgow Herald but it was also reported in newspapers in Aberdeen, Dundee and Bristol - many of these reports have slightly differing accounts of what happened to the Alstons. But regardless of what they say, this was a terrible tragedy for both the Dempsey and Alston families.


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