The Sinking of the R.M.S. Leinster

People on board

Fanny Wookey

WOOKEY, Fanny née McCalman

Fanny McCalman was born in Cheshire in 1860 to Colin McCalman and Barbara Strong Browning, both from Scotland. Colin was a ‘Ship’s Purser’ and there were at least four children in the family. In 1871 they were living in Birkenhead and in 1881 Fanny was a ‘School Governess’ there, as was her sister Beatrice. It was there also that she married Frederick Wookey in 1884. He had been born in Taunton, Somerset in 1853 where his father, Francis, was a Linen Draper with ten employees, according to the 1861 census. In 1871 his family had moved to Crosby in Lancashire, where Francis described himself as a Merchant and Landowner. Neither Frederick nor his older brother John were with the family, though a John McCalman, Merchant’s Clerk, was there. He may have been a brother of Fanny McCalman.

Fanny WookeySometime in the 1870s Francis Wookey purchased the Salmon Leap Mills in Leixlip, Co Kildare, where he set up a Water Flock Manufacturing business, converting old textiles into flock for upholstery and bedding. There had been a Woollen Mill there for many years, previous owners having been bankrupted.

Frederick and John also moved to Leixlip, living in Weston Lodge, and Francis seems to have moved between England and Ireland. John died in Leixlip in 1880, his occupation given as Accountant. When Frederick and Fanny married in 1884 they lived in Weston Lodge, and when Francis died in England in 1891 Frederick took control of the business. It became the largest employer in Leixlip with fifty staff, and Frederick was appointed a Justice of the Peace.

Fanny and Frederick had four children, Beatrice in 1885, Frederick Maurice in 1887 and twins Frances Norah and John Neil in 1891. Unfortunately John died at the age of four and a half months. At the time of the 1901 census Frederick Maurice was attending Campbell College in Belfast and in 1911 he was working as an Electrical Draughtsman in Stretford, Lancashire. He had spent a year working with Sir Howard Grubb, the optical designer, aiming to gain all-round engineering experience before he took over his father’s factory. However, as soon as war was declared in 1914 he enlisted as a Motor Dispatch Rider in the Reserve Signal Corps. In February 1915 he was given a commission at the Front and joined the 1st Battalion of the Royal Irish as 2nd Lieutenant. Frederick Maurice was fatally wounded on the 15th of March while leading his men into battle at St. Eloi.

Frederick had had some problems with the business in Leixlip during the 1913 Lockout. He refused to continue employing anyone who was a member of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, even though he had no other dispute with his workers. In general, he seems to have been regarded as a good employer.

Frederick died in Leixlip in July 1918 aged sixty-seven and with two daughters and no son to take over the business his widow Fanny decided to sell up. A Jewish refugee, Benny Woolfson, who had come to Ireland from Latvia in 1903, offered to buy the mill, reputedly offering a down payment in gold sovereigns and a promise to pay the full purchase price over the years.

Fanny agreed to this and prepared to leave Ireland and return to her family in England. She travelled on the 10th of October on RMS Leinster and did not survive the sinking. Her body was recovered and she was buried in the family grave with her husband in St Mary’s Graveyard in Leixlip. Fanny’s two daughters remained in Ireland, both working as teachers, neither marrying. Frances Norah died in 1939 and was also buried in Leixlip while the eldest, Beatrix as she styled herself, lived until 1964. Then at the age of seventy-eight she was involved in an horrific car crash in Enniskerry when she and her eighty-year-old friend and a seventy-nine-year-old man standing at his front door all were killed. A tragic family.



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