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One family's journey from Ballymacash to Canada

The Digger tells the story of the Workmans' and their local connections

A rare photograph of the original Workman family home at Ballymacash in 1909. lt was taken during a visit of several descendants of the Workman family

A rare photograph of the original Workman family home at Ballymacash in 1909. lt was taken during a visit of several descendants of the Workman family

OVER two hundred years the Workman name was well-known in 1he Ballymacash area of Lisburn. The family eventually relocated to Canada and a number of the Workman children became prominent citizens of 1heir adopted country.

Several unique photographs e-mailed from the other side of the Atlantic last year depict the Workmans' ancestral cottage as it was in 1909, when some of the descendants of the family returned to the area. John Haynes, who forwarded the photographs informed me that his paternal grandmother Catherine Gowdy Haynes (nee Workman) told him that the "Workman tourists" were hugely disappointed when they visited the cottage situated in the Ballymacash area. "They had gone over with some very romanticised ideas of what the old house would look like" he said.

John Haynes great-great-great grandfather Joseph Workman was born on the 9th December 1759 to a miller, Benjamin Workman, at Moneymore. At the age of 28, Joseph went with his oldest brother, Benjamin to America. He took up employment there with the University of Pennsylvania as a mathematical tutor under his brother Benjamin who was a professor of mathematics.

The Workman family history has been penned and preserved in the form of a journal written by Dr. Benjamin Workman the eldest son of Joseph, born on the 4th November 1794 at Ballymacash. This journal includes a unique insight into the Ballymacash area during the author's early childhood.

His recollection of cavalry, accompanied by artillery, marching past his father's house on their. way to the Battle of Antrim in 1798 emphasises the importance of his journal when exploring local history.

The "pretty painting of the wheels of the gun carriages' was a striking image to young Benjamin. He also recalled his mother lifting him up one evening so he could see over the thorn hedge and witness the "lurid glare arising from the burning of the village of Ballynahinch on the evening of the battle that was fought there."

The journal's author informs us that his father Joseph Workman left Philadelphia in 1790, due to ill health and sailed to London. Whilst there he was intent on patenting an improvement to the mariner's compass which had been invented by his older brother Benjamin.

However, he discovered the mechanic who had made some of the parts for Benjamin had already fraudulently patented it as his own. On returning to Ireland, Joseph became a teacher, firstly at Milltown, Derriaghy and then Ballymacash.

The school-house at Ballymacash had been built in 1790 by the Rev Phillip Johnston, who was then vicar of Derriaghy Parish Church. He appointed Joseph to be schoolmaster. It was there he met his future wife, Catherine Gowdy, the eldest daughter of the Rev. Johnston's land steward, Alexander Gowdy.

The position of land steward was given to Gowdy on the death of his father but he was unable to perform the role satisfactorily and eventually Joseph Workman was given the position and later was appointed deputy clerk of the peace by the Rev Johnson.

Benjamin Workman informs us that these duties called his father away almost on a daily basis and as a result "his retirement from the school deprived the vicinity of that educational means." The journal records that Joseph was given the schoolhouse to reside in. He would later secure a plot of land about five and three quarter acres and he built a schoolhouse there.

Most likely this is the building situated at Ballymacash corner, later used by St. Mark's Parish Church as a hall and now a retail outlet.

Benjamin informs us that a family called Gribben resided in the house adjacent to the Workman family in 1806. Records in the 1860 period show there were still a family of Gribbens residing in a row of buildings, presumed cottages, on what is now the Nettlehill Road, on the upper side of the old schoolhouse, on the opposite side of the road.

Benjamin eventually went into the teaching profession and later taught at Mullaghcarton school. In 1817, whilst sitting at an evening meal at Ballymacash, he observed 11 beggars entering the gate of his father's house and asking for alms. This image had a powerful effect on him and would be the catalyst for him deciding to seek his fortune on the other side of the Atlantic ocean.

On the 27th April, 1819 he bade farewell to his family and neighbours at Ballymacash for a new life in Canada. It was the last time he would see the home of his childhood.

On the 27th April, 1819 he bade farewell to his family and neighbours at Ballymacash for a new life in Canada. He records this event in great detail in his journal. It was the last time he would see the home of his childhood.

He recalled that his last vision of the family home was on the apex of a hill he refers to as "Bawn's Hill." It is likely this was at the brow of the hill on the Nettlehill Road, or at the junction of the Pond Park Road, Lisburn.

Benjamin's younger siblings - Alexander, John, Joseph, William, Ann, Samuel, Thomas and Matthew Francis, together with their parents, would all eventually all follow him to Canada. Alexander, who married Mary Abbott from Magheragall, went in 1820. There is an interesting entry in the Orange lodge records of Ballymacash LOL 317 dated the 13th April, 1820 in relation to Alexander Workman's departure. He and William Brady, both members of the lodge, had been granted a certificate "previously to them going to America."

Seven years later, Samuel, Thomas and Francis arrived, and by 1829 the remainder of the Workman family had also emigrated.

A later obituary report in the Belfast Newsletter dated 1892 records the final exodus of the Workman family from their "handsome cottage" at Ballymacash on the 6th April 1829. "On that occasion quite a crowd of people conveyed the carts containing the baggage of the emigrants." They were reported to have arrived in Quebec over a month later on the 15th May. Benjamin Workman was appointed headmaster of the Union School, Montreal where he was later joined by his brothers Alexander and Joseph. He later studied medicine and he became a doctor.

In 1856 he was appointed as Assistant Medical Superintendent in the Provincial Lunatic Asylum, Toronto where his brother Joseph held the position of Superintendent. Dr. Joseph Workman, in his distinguished career had been elected the first chairman of the Toronto Board of Education in 1850. In the late 1870's he was elected president of the Canadian Medical Association, the Toronto Medical Society and the Ontario Medical Association.

The local press regularly reported on the successes of the Workman family. Local readers were informed in 1854 that Joseph Workman was on £500 a year salary with a free house and board for himself and his family on his appointment as Superintendent with the Provincial Lunatic Asylum.
In 1874 the death of Mary Workman (nee Abbott), wife of Alexander, was announced. She had been a founder of the Ottawa Protestant Hospital. Her husband, who was the owner of a hardware business, later became Mayor of Ottawa.

William Workman became a successful businessman and he held the position of Mayor of Montreal from 1868 - 1871.

Thomas Workman, another successful businessman, held esteemed positions as president of Molson's Bank, first president of the Sun Life Insurance Company and a director of Canada Shipping Company. He was also elected to the Canadian parliament in 1867.

The Workman family had strong connections with the Unitarian Church.

Christine Johnston, In her book "Joseph Workman - The Father of Canadian Psychiatry" credits Joseph as having been the key founder of the First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto in 1845.

The Workman family worshipped at Dunmurry Unitarian Church. The current minister there, the Rev William McMillen, told me he was fascinated with the story of the Workman family. On a visit to the church he pointed out to me a pew known as the "Workman pew" which had once been used by the family. At one time it had been marked with a plaque, but it had been destroyed as a result of a bombing incident in the area.

The Workman family name had once appeared on a headstone in the adjoining graveyard, but another scourge of modern day living - vandalism, resulted in the destruction of the headstone. The Workman burying ground is believed to be situated close to the Montgomery family grave.

The Rev MacMillen is designing a floral festival for St. Mark's Parish Church, Ballymacash, Lisburn. A typed copy of part of the Workman journal will be one of the exhibits on display at the flower festival and historical exhibition during the weekend of Friday 7th October to Sunday 9th October, 2011 at St. Mark's Parish Church, Ballymacash Road, Lisburn.

Thanks to Christine Johnston, Canada, John C. Haynes, a descendant of the Workman family and the Rev. MacMillen for their assistance in locating material for this article.

Further reading on the Workman family is contained in the biography of Joseph Workman, titded

"The Father of Canadian Psychiatry" by Christine I.M. Johnston (ISBN: 0-9686558-0-7)

The Digger can be contacted via The Ulster Star Office or by email: diggerarticle@hotmail. corn

Next: From Ballymacash to America - The Brady family