Friday, 2 February 2018

Bonny Mary

Whilst searching newspapers on the British Newspaper Archive recently I came across a rather peculiar article in the Newcastle Courant. The article was published on 21 May 1852, touching on the death of a local woman. It read:

"DEATH OF AN ECCENTRIC CHARACTER. – A woman, well-known by the appellation of “Bonny Mary,” and sometimes by the significant one of “Crazy Mally,” died on Wednesday the 12th inst., near Slaley. This poor creature travelled the county of Northumberland nearly fifty years as a sort of privileged beggar, being kindly received and fed by the farmers and labourers of the county, who became accustomed to her frequent visits. She always carried a large bundle of rags, and it is stated by those who knew her well, that during this long period of time she never slept in a bed, but always in some cow-byer or straw-loft. Her story is a melancholy illustration of youthful folly. She was a native of this town, her uncle (with whom it is presumed she resided) being a clergyman here. She eloped with a young officer, but subsequently returned to her relatives, who, however, incensed at her conduct, refused to receive her, and, being thus left friendless and destitute, she commenced her wandering life, bearing vicissitudes and trials rarely felt by those reared as she had been."

It's a rather compelling tale, I think you'll agree, and I wondered if I could find anything else on "Bonny Mary."

I had a look through the Slaley parish registers and found her burial rather easily.

From the Slaley parish registers.
It reads:

Name - Mary Johnstone or better known as Bonny Mary an Eccentric Person

Abode - Supposed originally to belong to North Tyne - place of abode But no fixed

When buried - 14th May

Age - 72

Now knowing her name, I was able to try the newspapers again, and found a death notice I hadn't seen before. It was the the standard sort, with an added extra.

"At HOLLIN'S HEAD, near Slaley, on the 12th inst., aged 72, Mary Johnson, better known by the name of Bonny Mary; she had been in the habit of travelling the county for a number of years."

After learning of Bonny Mary's real name, I quickly found the registration of her death. I was intrigued, so ordered a PDF copy of her death certificate from the GRO, and I have attached a copy below. 

It gives Mary's cause of death as paralysis, and describes her as a Mendicant - an archaic term to describe a beggar. 

Such a tragic life. 

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