​The recent intense and prolonged heatwave experienced by Ireland reminded me of a short newspaper article I came across a few years ago.  I included it in my contribution to the Journal of the West Wicklow Historical Society, No. 6 (2011), ‘Miscellaneous Biographical Notices Relating to Baltinglass, 1748-1904’.

The article recounted the tragic death of a little boy during a hot spell in August 1882.  It appeared in the Saturday 12 August edition of the Kildare Observer, under the heading ‘Death from Sunstroke’:
During the past week a child of Mr. Felix Bowes, of Baltinglass, died from the effects of the intense heat.  The deceased was a fine little boy of five years of age, and was playing with a number of other children, when he complained of having a pain in his head, and, after a short illness, succumbed.  It appears his head was uncovered, and it would be desirable children should not be allowed to expose themselves to the heat of the sun this weather.

The little boy was John Bowes.  He was indeed five years old, as he was born in Baltinglass on 7 January 1877.  On his birth record he parents were named as Phelim Bowes, a tailor, and Margaret Bowes, formerly Parker.  The names Phelim and Felix were used interchangeably, due to Felix being used as a pseudo-translation of Phelim.

The exact date of John’s death is in doubt.  Theoretically, the newspaper was published on Saturday 12 August but it may have appeared a few days before or after that date, as local newspapers often did until recent years.  John’s death record gives his official date of death as 13 August, but it was not registered until 13 October, so the date is most likely inaccurate.  The record stated that the uncertified cause of death was ‘Sunstroke two days’.

A little bit of digging showed that Felix Bowes married Margaret Parker in 1870 June in the Leeds area of Yorkshire.  They were not identified in the 1871 Census in England and the first reference found to them in the Baltinglass area was John’s birth record in 1877.  Presumably Felix was a Bowes of Killabeg, Co. Wicklow (between Shillelagh and Tullow), as Catherine Bowes of Killabeg was informant on John’s birth record.  John’s mother, Margaret, converted to Catholicism in Baltinglass on 17 October 1878.  She was baptised conditionally and the record stated that she ‘was married before Baptism in Protestant Church’.  The record gave her parents as Edward Parker and Sarah Watson.

Felix and Margaret Bowes had three younger children – Charles (1879), Felix (1881) and George (1882).  Felix died at birth.  Then, the following year, John died of sunstroke.  George died just over four months after John, aged seven months.  The cause of his death was hydrocephalus, more commonly called ‘water on the brain’.  The final tragedy came sixteen months later, when Margaret herself died on 21 April 1884 at the stated age of 36.  The certified cause of death was ‘Decline’, which she had suffered for ‘years’, possibly from the birth of her last child.

The loss of four members of his family in the space of three years did not entirely defeat Felix Bowes.  Four months after his wife’s death he married again.  This was not unusual and, indeed, with at least one living child it was necessary that he find a wife who would share the burden.  He married Mary Roche of Baltinglass in August 1884.  Initially they lived in Car’s Rock, just outside the town, where their son, another John, was born in 1885.  Their other children born in Car’s Rock were Michael (1886), Catherine (1888) and Walter (1890), while Felix (1892) and Edward (1894) were born in Baltinglass.  Edward died at five weeks old.  Felix Bowes, the father of the little boy John, died a widower in April 1916 in Baltinglass Workhouse, at the stated aged of 78.

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