Get to know your neighbours – The Merlin/Gorman families of Falkland Street

Sticking to Falkland Street today we visit with the family of William and Rebecca Merlin and their daughter Abigail and her husband Patrick Gorman.

The Merlin family has a long history in the North End of Halifax in that they arrived on the ship ANN in 1750 as part of the Foreign Protestant migration. Unlike most of their other fellow migrants they did not relocate to Lunenburg in 1753 but instead stayed in Halifax where the founder of the family in Nova Scotia George Merlin established himself as a tanner – opening a tannery in the proximity of the Queen street Sobey’s in today’s South End Halifax. The North End, however, played prominent in the lives of the Merlin family as it was where George’s first wife  of unknown name is likely buried having died on the passage over from Europe and where he along with his third wife Ursula (Pandover) Schaffer Merlin are also buried in the cemetery of the Little Dutch Church.

Headstone of George Merlin. Cemetery. Little Dutch Church. Halifax (photo credit: Hector Martinez)

Headstone of George Merlin. Cemetery. Little Dutch Church. Halifax (photo credit: Hector Martinez)

The Merlin family would eventually relocate to two prominent Halifax County communities – Harrietsfield and Prospect and establish themselves there. William Henry Merlin the great-grandson of George Merlin via his first son John Philip Merlin (who arrived with his father and mother in Nova Scotia in 1750) was born in Prospect in November 1823 and would go on to marry in 1847 to Rebecca Coolen daughter of George Coolen and Johanna Duggan who was also born in Prospect in December 1829. They would have 9 children all of whom would move to Halifax by the late 1860s and establish themselves in the North End. Henry would die in 1869 at the Provincial Hospital due to Epilepsy at the age of 49 leaving a relatively young family to be raised by a now widowed Rebecca. By the end of the Century the family was living on Falkland Street in a multi-generational, multi-family home.

The household consisted of the following people in 1891:

Rebecca Merlin, age 60

John Merlin, age 41 her son

William Merlin, age 28 her son

Patrick Gorman, age 32 her son-in-law

Abbie (Abigail) Merlin Gorman, age 29 her daughter

Etta Gorman, age 4 her granddaughter

John Gorman, age 2 her grandson

It wasn’t uncommon for families to live in multi-unit buildings – in this case the building also housed the large family of William Hayman and his wife Mary and their 5 children. John Merlin (above) was a butcher and likely worked at one of the local shops in the Old North End neighbourhood, or possibly at one of the larger factories around town. Patrick Gorman is listed in the 1891 Census as a labourer meaning he likely did general work around town either day work. To give perspective of how much a general labourer would make in the early 1880s if you were lucky enough to secure work at Robert Taylor’s shoe factory which was located at the corner of Brunswick street and Duke street you’d make between $2.00 and $4.00 per week. By the end of the century when Halifax was experiencing a healthy economy workers were being paid significantly more. Phyllis Blakeley points out in her study of nineteenth century Halifax that “In 1898 the Halifax blacksmith was paid $1.66 a day, carpenters $1.68, machinists $2.00, painters $1.66, plumbers $1.74 and bricklayers $2.50 a day.” (Glimpses of Halifax, pp. 36-37).

1904 would be a significant year for the Merlin/Gorman household of Falkland street, a dark year. The first incident took place in February 1904 when their eight year old daughter Florence Eileen Gorman (b. 23 September 1896) passed away on the evening of 18 February due tuberculosis. The second incident that took place happened on 27 April 1904 when Patrick Gorman passed away after a severe Asthma attack.

Gunner Patrick Gorman, of the 1st Regiment Canadian Artillery, was buried yesterday afternoon with full military honours. The funeral took place from his late residence, 18 Falkland Street, and very largely attended. The body was drawn on a gun carriage and a firing party led the cortège, the body was interred at Holy Cross Cemetery. – The Acadian Recorder, 2 May 1904

Interestingly for a genealogist the obituary that appears above provides an added layer of story to the story of the Gorman family. Patrick Gorman was in the military. If you look at his death record, the 1891 Census and all other related documents he’s listed merely as a “labourer”. Based on his obituary we see that he had a whole other life, appears to have been well-respected and was part of a larger community in and around the North End. We will learn more about Patrick’s employment when the next unfortunate event occurs in this family’s story.

“Here, There and Everywhere” – The death occurred this morning at 18 Falkland street of Mrs. Gorman, widow of Patrick, who died a few months ago, and who was then an employee of the Armouries. Mrs. Gorman was 42 years of age and leave a family.

“Deaths” – GORMAN – At 18 Falkland Street, October 18, after a short and painful illness, Abigail,  widow of the late Patrick Gorman, aged 42. Funeral takes place on Thursday, at 2.30 from late residence, to Mount Olivet Cemetery.

The Acadian Recorder, 18 October 1904

Further investigation into the cause of death of Abigail shows that she suffered from a short but ultimately fatal case of tuberculosis. Abigail’s death record also cites that she was working as well – which isn’t shown in any other documents to date – as a housekeeper. Likely taking on work after the death of her husband. Abigail’s obituary also shows that Patrick was working out of the Armouries, which means he worked close by to the house. The fact that both Patrick, Abigail and Florence died from lung related diseases also suggests that there was likely very poor air quality in and around the Old North End. This would of course require a further investigation to help flesh out a theory. However, when one does a short investigation the family lost their 4-year-old son Edmund in 1895 and their 2-year-old daughter Hilda in 1900 due to meningitis. So the ten-year period between 1895 and 1904 was a very sad period in the life of this family.

The result of the death of both Abigail and Patrick and their young daughter Florence in such a short period of time must have been very dramatic for the Merlin/Gorman household. At the time of their death the couple has four living children, all of whom would go on to live long productive lives. The children would likely have continued to live with their grandmother Rebecca (Coolen) Merlin but she too would pass away in 1909 of “pulmonary congestion” which again implies bad air quality.

For the purposes of this article this is where the story ends. The Merlin/Gorman family highlights the interesting people who made up the Old North End. The interesting connections between where people lived and where they worked. This family is just one of many who lived, worked and ended their lives in the Old North End.