The story of Joseph Beale (1801-1857)
Article by Bridie Dunne
The first Quaker to arrive in Mountmellick was William Edmundson who settled in Rosenallis near Mountmellick in 1659. He was accompanied by a group of young Quakers from the North, including Thomas Beale, his wife and son Joshua. The Beale family line continued in Mountmellick with john, another Joshua and William who was born in Annagrove in 1765 in the house that was built by Thomas Beale. William and his father were cotton manufacturers in Irishtown. William died in 1818 and his sons Joseph aged seventeen and his brother William aged thirteen helped their mother to manage the business. When Joseph assumed ownership, he diversified into wool, brewing and flour milling. Joseph became an expert in wool and traded with France and England. His reputation stood high in business and in the community generally. At age 25 he married Elizabeth Lecky from Cork. Sometime after their marriage, Joseph was obliged to travel on business to England in 1825. After his departure, Elizabeth became very ill with measles and died after the birth of her daughter before the anticipated period. She was buried in the Friends Burial Ground in Rosenallis. Joseph arrived home a widower and father of a baby daughter Elizabeth. He was now 24 years old. Five years later he went to Enniscorthy on business where he met Margaret Davis, a beautiful girl who was well educated in the Quaker Boarding School in Mountmellick. She had knowledge of Latin and Greek and later had the ability to run schools. The couple married in Enniscorthy in 1832 and Margaret settled into Annagrove House where she established a lifelong close bond with her seven-year-old stepdaughter Elizabeth. Joseph, in 1836, built a large house “Derrycappagh” to accommodate his growing family. Their second child died in infancy and in 1843, croup killed two of their baby sons in five days. Derrycappagh the once pleasant happy home became a sad and lonely place. Joseph, Margaret and their family moved to Monordreigh near Barkmills, two miles from Mountmellick, where Joseph owned a house and mills. The children were happy there listening to the cheerful sounds of the mill stones grinding and looking at the machinery at work. In 1848 another child died in infancy. Four of their children were now dead. When grain was available, the mill ground Indian corn to feed the starving people. Joseph Beale continued to provide employment unprofitably as long as he could and keep his mills going. Margaret was a skilled embroiderer and set up a cottage industry where she taught women to create embroidery pieces that she and her friends could sell to help the poorest women and girls. The embroidery was called Mountmellick Work and is known and practiced throughout the world. Margaret set soup kitchens with the help of her daughters and these Quaker kitchens became the model for use throughout the island. The Quakers contribution extended far beyond their relative numbers, about 3,000 in all. They succeeded in distributing £200,000 worth of relief throughout the country. The years since the famine dragged on and Joseph decided to emigrate to Australia where the wool industry was thriving. Margaret and the younger children were to remain with hope of selling Monordreigh. Joseph, his son Joseph 16 and Francis 15 together with Joseph’s faithful servant Dan Kennedy and Dan’s son James sailed on “The Sarah Sands” from Queenstown to Melbourne on 28th September 1852 and arrived in Melbourne on Christmas Day 1852 and in December 1854 Margaret and her six children, with her faithful nurse maid Mary Brophy and Mary’s daughter Charlotte sailed on The Eagle from Liverpool to Melbourne arriving in April 1855.It was indeed, and to quote Margaret’s words, it was a very happy meeting. Sadly, Joseph died suddenly after attending the Quaker meeting house only two years after their reunion.
The book “Joseph Beale, the reluctant immigrant from Mountmellick to Melbourne” published in September 2019 tells the story of the journey through the lives of Joseph and Margaret and their children and some of their grandchildren. It also includes the contents of the twelve letters which Joseph writes to Margaret while on board ship and after his arrival in Melbourne. The book is available through the Museum.
The museum has a display of Mountmellick embroidery, both original and contemporary pieces. Classes and workshops are available on request. Materials and copies of original patterns are for sale. Guided tours are also available.