How do we solve a problem like Maria?

Back in the 1990s, when I first started researching the family history, I innocently thought that my migrating forebears came to Australia and settled in one place. I soon discovered that, more often than not, immigrants to Australia in the mid 1800s often spent years finding their way; making money, losing money, battling disease, battling nature, battling each other. And eventually, if they were lucky and prosperous enough, they bought a parcel of land and then settled down. My forebears were no different.

A prime example of my lack of genealogical experience was the interpretation I made, or nearly made, of an inscription on the headstone marking the grave registered to my great great grandfather, Luke COGHLAN, in the Melbourne General Cemetery. The inscription reads:

Front of headstone. RC H19. North Avenue, Melbourne General Cemetery. Image taken 22 Nov 2015. Author’s Private Collection.

Erected by


of Northcote

in memory of his daughter


who departed this life

November 14th 1857

Aged 11 years & 6 months.

There are no particulars on the headstone indicating Luke is buried there but the register says he is.

But, was this Luke COGHLAN ‘of Northcote’ really my great great grandfather?

I was inclined to think ‘no’, as I’d only ever heard my dad talk about the COGHLANs ‘of Bullarto’, near Daylesford—never ‘of Northcote’. Although, I did know that my Luke did have a daughter named Maria. She was listed as one of Luke’s children on the passenger list (see below). But unfortunately, I couldn’t find her death certificate. If I had, it could have potentially told me her parents’ names and their place of residence, thereby, verifying that I had the right Luke and that he did reside in Northcote in the 1850s.

So, on arriving at what I perceived as a bit of a dead-end, I placed the grave in the ‘too hard basket’. There just wasn’t enough information to pull it all together. It sat there for a number of years. But, eventually, with the increased availability of certain resources, I was able to confirm that Luke ‘of Northcote’ was indeed my Luke and that Maria, his daughter, died of a disease that is common today.

Here’s the process and what I found…

The search for Luke COGHLAN’s final resting place

The first step was to obtain Luke COGHLAN’s death certificate from Births, Deaths and Marriages (BDM) Vic:

31 July 1871 Death certificate of Luke COGHLAN. Courtesy of BDM Vic. Reg. No. 6496.

The record states that Luke died on 31 July 1871 in ‘Glenlyonshire’. He died of bronchitis and cystic disease, at the age of 66. He was buried in the Melbourne General Cemetery on the 2 August 1871.

The Victorian Places website gives a description of Glenlyonshire:

Glenlyonshire was proclaimed on 12 December 1865. Its area of 310 sq km included the timber towns of Bullarto and Lyonville, Drummond, Coomoora and Yandoit.

This, more than likely, placed Luke in Bullarto which ‘fitted’ with the family stories.

Other details of verification: ’18 years in Victoria’, therefore, arriving in 1854. This also ‘fitted’ with the arrival details.

(The COGHLAN family arrived in Adelaide, South Australia on the ‘Sir Edward Parry’ on 25 March 1854 after leaving Plymouth 90 days earlier on Christmas Day 1853. The family unit consisted of Luke 37, his wife, Ellen 34 and their children: William 18, Anne 16, John 15, James 13, Patrick 10, Maria 7 and Catherine 5. Michael, the eldest, and another son, Luke, were not on this ship. They did come to Australia but I haven’t, as yet, found their arrival details. Another son, Daniel, was born in Australia-according to his death certificate)

Luke’s children, at the time of his death, as listed on his death certificate were: Michael 34, William 33, John 30, James 28, Patrick 27, Luke 26, Maria (deceased), Daniel 18, Catherine (deceased), Ann (deceased).

It’s interesting to note that by the time Luke died in 1871 all three of his daughters, Maria, Catherine and Anne, had predeceased him.

Luke’s age at death is recorded as ’66’. If this is correct, he must have put his age down on migrating; he was more likely to be 47 on arrival in Australia rather than 37.

Death of Luke’s daughter, Catherine COGHLAN

In the 1990s, I searched for the death certificates of all the daughters. I was only able to find one, and that was Catherine’s:

1 January 1859 Death certificate of Catherine COGHLAN, 8 yo, daughter of Luke COGHLAN and Ellen COGHLAN née Navin. Courtesy of BDM Vic. Reg. No. 396.

Catherine died on New Years Day, 1859, in Pentridge. I was a little perturbed when I read this. The only Pentridge I knew was the prison. What was an 8 year old doing in a prison?

A moment of enlightenment came a few months ago when I was doing some research in the Genealogical Society of Victoria (GSV). One of the volunteers overheard me relaying the sad story of Catherine dying in Pentridge. She politely interrupted and said, ‘Do you know that Coburg was once known as Pentridge?’

And with that, another assumption was put to bed.

I felt relieved for Catherine. I’m glad she didn’t die in a prison. At the same time, I was kicking myself for not having read up on the history of the suburbs. Leafing through Richard Broome’s book, Coburg: Between Two Creeks, published in 1987 would have enlightened me much sooner. A lesson learned.

Also, if I had have known about the change of suburb name, I might have given more credence to the notion that her father, my Luke, was indeed ‘of Northcote’, considering the close proximity of the two suburbs, Coburg and Northcote.

(On Catherine’s death certificate, the cause of death looks like ‘trauma’…I could be wrong. If anyone can enlighten me on a possible alternative, please let me know. I’ve checked for inquests for Catherine but there aren’t any recorded).

Back to the search for the location of Luke’s grave…

Still in the ’90s, I checked the Register of burials in the Melbourne General Cemetery compiled by the GSV for the location of Luke’s grave.

I identified Luke COGHLAN’s grave as RC H19. (RC=Roman Catholic). The site of the headstone.

A search for other COGHLANs in the Register revealed that Luke’s daughter, Maria, was in fact, in the same grave as Luke. It also revealed that they were not alone. There were four other occupants.

The occupants of Grave RC H19:

  • Maria COGHLAN    bur. 14 Sep 1857,  11 years old
  • Catherine COGHLAN    bur. 2 Jan 1859,  8 years old
  • William L. COGHLAN    bur. 13 Mar 1870,  2 years old
  • Luke COGHLAN    bur. 2 Aug 1871,  75 years old
  • Ellen COGHLAN    bur. 20 Apr 1874,  4 months old
  • Victoria P. COGHLAN    bur. 22 May 1878,  3 months old

The burial details of ‘Catherine COGHLAN’, date and age, coincided with those found on the death certificate I had found for Luke’s daughter, Catherine.

Then who were the other three occupants of RC H19?

It wasn’t until fairly recently that I discovered the identities of the three children, ‘William L.’, ‘Ellen’ and ‘Victoria P.’. Using the free index search on the BDM Vic website which became available last year, I determined that all three were the children of Patrick COGHLAN and Mary Teresa O’BRIEN. Patrick, being Luke COGHLAN’s son.

So, in regards to Luke COGHLAN, the occupants of RC H19, besides himself, were two of his daughters, and three of his grandchildren.

Locating Luke ‘of Northcote’

The 1856 Electoral Roll for Sub-district: Pentridge, District: East Bourke. State: Victoria records Luke COGHLIN as a ‘farmer’ on a leasehold, Goodwin’s Paddock, ‘near Northcote’. (Reference: ‘Australia, Electoral Rolls, 1903-1980’; Ancestry )


With the introduction of digitized Australian newspapers by the National Library of Australia as part of the website, Trove, in 2008, I was able to find additional information about Luke in this area by way of a couple of advertisements.

The first advertisement, placed in the ‘Lost and Found’ section of the Argus, 6 December 1856, Luke offers a reward for the return of two horses that had either been stolen or had strayed from Goodwin’s Paddock. Horse stealing was rather prevalent in those times.


The advertisement locates Luke on Goodwin’s Paddock, between ‘Pentridge’ and Plenty Road. The ad also mentions the Pilgrim Inn.

The Pilgrim Inn, is known today as the Croxton Park Hotel on High Street, Thornbury. (High Street was once known as Plenty Road). It was the first hotel in Darebin.  You can find out more information about the history of the hotel on the Darebin Libraries’ Heritage website. Click here.

In 1859, another advertisement, once again, places Luke COGHLAN on Goodwin’s Paddock. This time Luke is calling for ‘wood splitters’.

So, during this time, the mid to late 1850s, Luke appears to be doing quite well financially but he has had plenty of sadness: the early deaths of two of his children, Maria, aged 11, in 1857 and Catherine, aged 8, in 1859. A tough start to a new life in the colony.

(Another daughter, Ann, may well have died around this time too. I have been unable to find her death certificate).

I became intrigued by Goodwin’s Paddock. Could I locate it?

The search for Goodwin’s Paddock

The probable location of Goodwin’s Paddock is Allotment 139, Parish Of Jika Jika. The land was bought by Thomas Goodwin, a Melbourne storekeeper, from John Carey in 1849. The Allotment, bounded by Merri Creek, Bell St, High Street and Miller Street is now part of the suburb of Preston. Sources: Darebin Heritage-Oakover Hall and the Newsletter of the Friends of Merri Creek, ‘Merri Growler’, Aug 2015-Oct 2015

I’ve highlighted the area on a present day Google street map. See below:

Just recently, I took a walk along the Merri Creek trail, near Goodwin Street.

18 Dec 2106 Merri Creek trail, near the end of Goodwin Street, Preston. Author’s private collection.

It’s a beautiful tranquil walk. The paths are well maintained and the gums offer some shade along the way. It was hard to believe I was in the middle of suburbia. At one point I heard some ‘babbling’. It reminded me of the Irish babbling I recorded and posted in Sights and Sounds of Ireland, Part 3

I wonder if the babbling of the Merri Creek reminded the COGHLANS of their homeland? It certainly reminded me of the soft babbling I’d heard in Ireland. Although I don’t think the Merri Creek was always a soft babble. It sometimes became a raging torrent, no doubt causing all kinds of headaches for the new farmers. But they were there because of the rich alluvial soil, perfect for market gardening, and the new migrants had to be fed.

Here’s a short recording of the babbling Merri Creek as I heard it on my walk:

Some additional information confirming Luke COGHLAN’s burial in the Melbourne General Cemetery

Once again, Trove was my hero.

I found a couple of Funeral notices in the Argus relating to Luke COGHLAN. One is an invitation to the friends of Luke, and the other is an invitation to the friends of Luke’s son, Patrick, the licensee of the Curzon Hotel, Hotham (now North Melbourne), to follow Luke’s funeral:

1871 Funeral notices for Luke COGHLAN of ‘Kangaroo Creek, near Daylesford’ in the Argus. To be buried in the Melbourne General Cemetery. Accessed through Trove.

The funeral was to move from Spencer St station at 1030am on Wednesday, 2nd August 1871 to the Melbourne General Cemetery.

The first notice gives the final abode of Luke: ‘of Kangaroo Creek, near Daylesford’. The creek runs from Bullarto to Malmsbury. I was in the right territory. I had the right Luke.

But what about the elusive Maria?

Finding Maria…

I have just recently found Maria’s death certificate after trying several variations of her name on the search page of the BDM Vic website. She turned up as ‘Mary COGHLAN’, right age, right year, right parents:

12 September 1857 Death certificate of ‘Mary’ COGHLAN of Northcote, Merri Creek. Image courtesy of BDM Vic Reg. No. 5725.

There’s a few minor discrepancies between the details on the headstone and those on the certificate but there’s enough corroborating information to confirm that this is the Maria COGHLAN of the headstone.

Discrepancies: the Month of death is different by 2 months and the day is out by a couple of days. Luke may have erected the stone years after Maria died and memories of dates can get a little fuzzy. I’ll also give some leeway to the maiden name of her mother, recorded as, Navan. In giving the information, William, Maria’s brother, being a young informant (21 yo), who couldn’t write (signed with an X) and speaking with an Irish accent, may have been misheard by the Registrar. Consequently, ‘NAVAN’ may have been heard instead of  NEVIN, and ‘Mary’ may have been heard instead of Maria.

Her father, Luke’s address is ‘Northcote, Merri Creek’.

So, the young 11 year old Maria died of the flu. A disease which still kills the young, the elderly and the vulnerable today. It must have been devastating to lose his daughter only 3 years after the family’s arrival in the new colony and especially after surviving the 3 month sea voyage from the other side of the world.

Additional confirming information came in the form of a funeral notice for Maria published in the Age and the Argus:

It’s interesting to note that it says ‘…his late eldest daughter Maria…’. Perhaps Anne, documented as being five years older than Maria on the passenger list, had already died by this stage.

A visit to the Melbourne General Cemetery

I recently returned to the cemetery to check out the headstone. The last time I’d seen it was about 20 years ago, in the rain. I remember being very excited on finding it, especially in such great condition. This time, in glorious sunshine, I was pleased to see it was still in really good condition.

For those interested in seeing the headstone, it is easily accessible. It’s on North Avenue, not far north of the Catholic Chapel and on the same side as the memorial to Elvis.

If you have trouble finding it, or you get lost, you can visit the Front Office, near the main entrance and they will help you locate the grave site. The image below gives you a better idea of its location. It’s the sandstone headstone in the middle of the picture next to the railing around the Moriarty grave in the foreground. The bluestone building in the background is the Catholic Chapel.

RC H19 Melbourne General Cemetery. Author’s private collection.

The back of the headstone faces North Avenue. There is a biblical inscription on this side. It is a fairly common Catholic prayer for the dead of the time. See caption of image below:

Back of headstone: It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins. 2 Mac XII 46. RC H19 Melbourne General Cemetery.

The dedication of the headstone to Maria infers that Luke held his eldest daughter in very high esteem, and that by erecting a lasting monument he was ensuring her life was honoured and that she would be remembered. Finding the headstone certainly led me on a chase to find her story.

Have a safe and Happy New Year everyone! See you back on the blog in 2017.

Thanks for your faithful reading, liking and commenting throughout 2016. Very much appreciated.

Cheers, Marg

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12 Responses to How do we solve a problem like Maria?

  1. brian cockerall says:

    A good read, Marg. I now know Luke as a real person, not just a name from history. Thank you

  2. Lenore Frost says:

    I doubt that the cause of Catherine Coghlan’s death would have been trauma – this would most likely have led to an inquest. It looks like a poorly written and poorly spelt disease, possibly of some duration (because you would expect a doctor to be called to certify the death). It might be something along the lines of Anemia or Asthenia. The scan is of very low resolution and it is hard to see the outlines of the letters properly. If you scan it at a higher resolution (say 300 dpi) you might be able to make out the letters more clearly. There are websites which list 19th century diseases and diagnoses which you could look at further.

    • Marg says:

      Thanks Lenore. I will try a higher resolution. I hadn’t thought of the first letter being an A but, in fact, it does look like one when compared to an A in the next record (not shown). Thanks again. Marg.

  3. Rosemary says:

    Fascinating stuff Marg. I was wondering if the word could be “struma”?? Rosemary x

    • Marg says:

      Hi Rosemary. You could well be right. I had to look up the definition…something to do with the thyroid, a goitre perhaps? That would probably fit with the times. And with no treatment available it could turn into a chronic condition eventually leading to death. Thanks for your thoughts, Marg x

  4. crissouli says:

    A great reminder to look further to ‘marry’ family stories with facts… often, the reality is right in front of us, but we don’t dig deeply enough. Well told, well researched and very interesting…gthanks, Margaret.

    I have included your blog in Interesting Blogs at Friday Fossicking at

    Thank you, Chris

    • Marg says:

      Thanks Chris,
      I have to constantly remind myself to keep an open mind; what appears to be the case may, in fact, be something quite different once further information comes to light.
      And thanks for the inclusion on ‘Interesting Blogs’,
      Cheers, Marg

  5. Geoff says:

    Interesting to ponder what Melbourne would have been like when Luke and family first arrived in 1854. It was only 19 years or so since John Batman first sailed over Bass Strait and up the Yarra River, but things obviously developed at a cracking pace. It appears this was the year of the first census in the colony, and this snippet from the Museum Victoria site describes 1854 as “a pivotal point in Victoria’s history”. You’ll see why when you read it – lots happening. It was a pivotal point for Coghlan history too!
    Paste it into your browser:

    • Marg says:

      Thanks Geoff. The Coghlans were certainly in the thick of the formation of a new colony with plenty of mouths to feed, arriving by the boatload. And thanks for the link!

  6. Heather Rose says:

    great read Marg as usual. I feel like I have entered into a real life Sherlock Holmes investigation or perhaps Miss Marple when she gathers everyone into the downstairs lounge and slowly imparts the facts of the case and they get to hear her impeccable reasoning.
    with regard to Catherine’s death, I vote for ‘Anemia’, it just looks like the word to me.


    • Marg says:

      Thanks Het. It certainly does become a process of elimination, connection and avoidance of assumption-the biggest pitfall of them all. I’m glad you didn’t liken me to Inspector Clouseau-although he is rather lovable and I think he gets his ‘man’ in the end.
      You could very well be right about Catherine and Anemia! Marg

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