Mary Ann Rowe was the oldest child of Newlyn cordwainer/shoemaker William Rowe and his wife Alice (nee Daniel). As such I’m sure her early life was spent helping her young mother with the eight children that followed Mary Ann.
She herself was born just over 200 years ago in the Cornish fishing village of Street An Nowan, Newlyn. Mary Ann was baptised on 17 January 1913 in Paul Church, up on the hill above Newlyn and the neighbouring fishing village Mousehole. I have spent decades walking past this church on holiday, but only this year did I actually go inside. It was much bigger than I was expecting, although thinking about it, as the parish church it did have a large flock to gather together.
Depending on the source you check, the church could be named after one of any four different St Pauls [here]. Whichever you go with, parts of the granite church are hundreds of years old but much had to be rebuilt after 1595 after surviving a burning raid by the Spanish (7 years after the famous Spanish Armada), with musketball holes still in the wall to prove it.
Mary Ann married a fisherman named Thomas Rowe in 1843 (the surname is coincidence) and described herself as a servant; I believe she was the unmarried female servant Mary Rowe who in June 1841 was living in the same building as Mr & Mrs Adams, the Innkeeper in Tolcarne. Tolcarne Inn is another building I’ve walked past all my life. It’s been hard work tracking down her husband-to-be in that census but it appears he’s lodging about 5 minute walk away, in the Street An Nowan area of Newlyn, just a couple of census book pages away from Mary Ann’s parents and her younger siblings.
By 1851 Mary Ann is back in Street An Nowan area herself in Chapel Street. Mary Ann describes herself as a fisherman’s wife. I think Thomas may be away at sea for the census; I can’t see his name listed at the back of the enumeration book where the boats and crews are recorded. Interestingly, on her page of the census, the head of the 6 listed households are all female, every husband away from home. Mary Ann has her mother’s unmarried sister Elizabeth Daniel, a retired servant, staying with her. Mary Ann goes on to live in Chapel Street for many decades.
Thomas is home in spring 1861 and 1871 and still recorded as a fisherman in both censuses. However in October 1878 he died aged 72 and was buried up in Paul Cemetery.
Mary Ann lived on in Chapel Street. She was still in her own home in 1881 but in 1891 was lodging with the Treneer family in the same street.
The single most intriguing thing about Mary Ann’s story for me was that she gave her occupation in 1891 as midwife. I’m generally a bit cynical about this and suspect it would not have been any formal role given her age, location and circumstances, but more likely would have been just years of lay experience comforting and supporting women at their most vulnerable time, with faith in her presence and experience perhaps being the most beneficial aspect of her involvement. However, it does state that she’s employed, so perhaps I’m doing her an injustice… I read, in an online newspaper story, of a vague passing reference to a book where nurses qualified to practise as midwives are recorded. Not sure how I could check that out. I wonder whether she helped her nieces Mary in 1870 and Louisa in 1879 with their labours…
Mary Ann died on 13 June 1899 in Newlyn and was buried on 18 June in Paul cemetery.
So although she didn’t have any children of her own, the love and care she’d given to other women and their children over her 86 years must have been phenomenal.
Some history of midwifery links:
- The Heritage Collection of the Royal College of Midwives
- The Midwives Act 1902: an historical landmark
- Call The Midwife – An Historical Perspective
- StudentMidwife.net A brief history of Midwifery
© Lynne Black, 2 November 2015
First published: https://starryblackness.wordpress.com/2015/11/02/mary-ann-rowe/