The Tener Family

This is a journal kept by Dennis Holmes and friends concerning the Tener Family.
The links below will take you to the "Tener Blue Book" - "TENER: A History of the Family in France, Ireland and America"; and to a Finding Aid.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Not much is written in the Tener family history book, the Tener Blue Book, on the life of Robert – son of John Kinley Tener I and his wife Mary Frances Tener, Nee Evans. However, by reviewing the many letters written by his mother to her dear friend in Dublin – between 1846 and 1864, we can develop a short story about this son, who never married nor had any issue.

Both Robert and his brother George Edward were born in 1824 – we do not know which was born first, nor the precise dates of their births. Their portion of the Tener family headstone at Desertcreate is also lacking this degree of specifity – Robert’s only states a date of death and an age of 34…… even this does not coincide with the Tener Blue Book!

In Nov. 1845, when he was about 21 years of age we learn that Robert was working on the railroad with his Uncle Isaac, JKT I’s brother.

In December 1846 we learn that Robert has taken up drawing, and was becoming so good at it – self taught, that his mother sought out a fine set of instruments to be given as a Christmas present – he was about 22.

Shortly after Christmas 1846 Mary wrote that Robert became a “Baroneal Engineer’ for the railroad. Mary wrote, “went off on Sunday to Clogher to commence his work as Baroneal Engineer—having passed a pretty severe ordeal.” I suspect some kind of an apprenticeship, or testing procedure?

We get a slight description of Robert in a letter of Feb 23, 1847 - - - - Even though Robert is working ‘away’ from home, he took the time to visit for as weekend, and we begin to get a scription of him: “ had a visit from our dear Robert on Saturday till Monday morning. He is grown quite a big man—you would wonder he is so tall and clever—almost portly, yet not lusty.”

In April we learn that there seems to be a wanderlust developing within Robert, as his mother writes to her dear friend that she thinks “he will soon be going far away.”

In May 1847 preparations are under way for Robert to leave, at least off to England. She requests her friend to seek a gentlemen’s dressing box, with an engraved plate bearing the initials “R.W.T.” In addition the box must have ‘with a little place in it for an eyewater glass--his poor eyes, from severe applica­tions, are weak & tender and these glasses are very nice for bathing the eye.’

In July 1847 Mary notified her friend that ‘Robert has left’ and two other sons are preparing to go to Bethany to college.

In Dec. 1847 Robert’s health comes into question, his mother wrote about a visit during which he did not tend to his appetite! Additionally his work in England was quite taxing, and it did not appear as if her were tending to a proper diet, nor adequate rest. In one letter Mary wrote that he “has a great deal to do & much toil but his only grievance is the witnessing the distressing condition of the people—he has 500 poor creatures under his inspec­tion.”

March 10, 1848 - - - - Mary writes about her son Robert taking ill:
Let me hear from you as I feel somewhat uneasy. My dear Robert is confined to bed and Dr. attending. It is an inflamitory cold accompanied with scarlet fever but of a mild form…

April 11, 1948 - - - - Mary wrote that Robert is recovered, “and his good looks restored.” But, we also know that mother’s can have a built in bias!

In January 1849 Robert’s mother is concerned because Robert has not adopted the family religion; he has not had the baptism she wants dearly for him. She gives him a bible to read.

March 7, 1849 - - - - Again, there is word that Robert is not well – this occasion perhaps working himself too hard?
Robert has been very poorly some time, I think from confinement to the mapping; but hope air and exercise will soon restore his looks.

Jan 2, 1850 - - - - Mary gives us a hint, perhaps, or things to come: Robert is of a more bold or roving ambitious nature.’

April 26, 1852 - - - - From the above, Mary is aware of Robert’s seeking something, noting his “bold or roving ambitious nature”. Here we learn more:
“Robert leaves home as soon as possible for Australia.”
Mrs. Cole apparently has ‘contacts or friends’ in Australia and Mary asks for a letter of introduction to help Robert when he gets there. Additionally, she makes references to position opportunities due to the gold digging going on in Australia.
Mary also wrote that her son Edward would soon be finished with his studies in Bethany, and Robert could size things up for his brothers who might also pursue positions there?
“We expect Edward in Autumn and by next year Robert will be able to judge if Australia be a good place for him to remain in and his brothers to go to; and if not, the three will likely meet in America, for Ireland has no inducement for the best & most useful of her Sons. Patronage discriminates not.”

(***Somewhere I read that the journey by boat from Ireland, to England to Australia would take some 107 days! A long time for a mother to worry about her son – and perhaps another 100 days for mail to get back to her?)

In June 1852 Robert left for Australia – off to seek his fortune in the gold fields. But on his way, while in England, Mary wrote in her letters that he had his “likeness taken there”.

In the Spring 1853 she receives her first letter from son Robert. And then two months later she learns that he again takes quite ill – details of which are lacking!

By November 1853, with no word from her son for over six months, and reading in a newspaper of a dysentery epidemic there, she fears the worst! But, in February 1854 she receives a letter from him. He does not achieve his dreams of riches, but he continues to work along, and he has his health returned.

In Dec. 1854, no word from Robert, Mary gets word from another friend in Australia that Robert went deeper into some newer gold fields. In the Spring 1855 Robert writes, a long detailed letter, and explaining he had done well, and yet lost much to ‘speculations’.

But also Robert begins to mention that he is at least in some degree homesick, and in April 1856 he is on a boat and headed back to Ireland: not the wealthy man he had envisioned himself to be by that point!

May 16, 1856 - - - - Mary is pleased, her son Robert is home again! . My precious Son is indeed again with us. The same tender loving heart and manly mind, not the least injured by so long a sojourn in Victoria, but possessing- the same principles of integrity and uprightness which he carried abroad. Oh! what a bless­ing thus to receive him from 'the fiery trial' for it is truly a trial both religeously and morrally as well as physically.
It would be vain to attempt to write you any thing like an account of the circumstances attendant on his visit to the Colony, but should we be favored by a while together I will have much interesting intelligence for you. Being utterly disgusted with the iniquities of Melbourn from high to low, he went to the diggings where there is comparative propriety and entire personal safety and numbers of respectable and worthy men from all parts. He says there is quite a false idea prev­alent that the diggers are an unruly bad set. He says such is not the case, and they are every day becoming more improved as a population since they are purifying the diggings of per­sons whose characters are irrealamable.

We do not know what he did between the time he returned home from Australia, and 1860, but as the year 1860 begins, Robert is very ill. In his mother’s own words - - - - - -

Jan 15, 1860 - - - - We learn that Robert is very ill, and his mother fears the ailment may be a fatal one! “My own dear, darling most precious Robt. has been in bed the last 3 or 4, I think 4, weeks on Tuesday and tomorrow we are to have a consultation of 3 Doctors; but I dread the fatal disease has set in and is too far gone. His poor blighted youth. Oh, my Son! A neglected cold, neglected because he cared for nothing about himself, seems lively to issue in consumption. ..........I am always with him and mostly up till 2 or 3. I am in ceaseless pain with rheumatism these many weeks but still able 'Thank my gracious Father' to wait on my dearer Self.”

Jan. 31, 1860 - - - - Perhaps it is a good thing that Mary Tener had a dear friend in Mrs Cole to whom she could share he deepest fears regarding her son, Robert:
“It does look like ingratitude not to answer to the sympatsizing desires of my friends especially you whose sympathy is really dear to my heart, but as you may well sup­pose my time is entirely taken up, if not in acts of attendance, in mental anxiety and ceaseless thoughts. How easy a task it is to nurse-tend, where the mind is at ease, either as regards the issue of the complaint or the absence of that heart sinking which those only know who are deeply attached to the object of fears & hopes. Even all that true Phylanthopist, Miss Nightingale, went thro' is not to be compared with the sufferings of my mind & heart even for one half hour; but it is not of myself I wish to speak, so I shall only add to please you that my health is wonderfully sustained tho' suffering a most distressing pain (continuously) in my back bone between my shoulders, which nothing tried has at all relieved. I cannot lift even the Tea pot without very great pain in that part; but I have to do many thing's much more difficult than lifting the Tea pot, so I just set myself to suffer and endure for the sake of him so very dear to me. I would, however, be truly thankful for a mitigation of this constant pain. Fesas and hopes alternate in regard to my dear Robert. Some symptoms are better; others still por­tentous. ....... He does not go down stairs at all but moves into the opposite rooms every day while his own is being ventilated & cleaned up.........The Doctors still say, "If he gets on till Summer,'' but what is not contained in that “if”……..
My poor fellow, his early griefs & trials endear him still more to me. It may be that “He who delighteth in many'' will spare his life for a blessing yet to himself and to us and that the last half of his life shall be the best. He is ordered Mutton Chops and bitter Ale, and indeed Dr. Neville’s hopes seem mostly to depend on his "being able to take this diet.............”
Feb. 18, 1860 - - - - “I know right well you often wish to hear of my dearest Robt. and I would send you line often but for the constant occupation of thought & time; and you know, however short a note, it yet steals time; and when I sit down to write, I am very apt to forget something I should have done; so you will never judge your poor friend's silence but your love will "believe all things.''
I cannot say anything decided about Robert. He is in an uncertain state. The sharp, shrill cough continues. It is like bronchitis cough and the hoarseness remains and a shooting pain occasionally thro' the side and little appetite, still he is not emaciated. The remedies used are blisters--­rubbing in Iodine, sedative mixture, light bitters, and we are about to keep the fume of Tar in the room. Oh! may the good Lord spare his life—to this I know you will say 'Amen.”
Having completed his dressing as far as my share of it, I return to you while waiting his coming into the opposite room.............
Sunday----This is a terrific day. Robert's cough was worse last night. Dr. Henry was here yesterday and tried the applying of solution of caustic to the windpipe by means of a feather. It is a disagreeable operation tho' not painful and it is a mere chance if the least particle of a drop ever ever gets to the affected part. Sometimes he uses a bit of sponge which is more disagreeable and not of more avail, I suppose; but the frequent application may do something.
I am now going to get the Tar vapor. We got an inhaler from bro. Thos. to inhale Iodine

June 21, 1860 - - - - The apparent inevitable approaches: “I snatch a moment to say to you that I am not unmindful of your last tender note, but I cannot reply to any of my friend's sympathetic communications unless when there is a necessity, and I know you will excuse me. Susan is always here now and is as occupied as myself. Oh! my Friend, I must not begin to write you any particulars. This is the time to keep the nerves strung and admit of no feelings to weaken energy. My most precious! My most precious! He wont be long here. Oh! awful, awful, consuming , fearful, dreadful disease--beyond human skill if not taken in time, and seldom is it suspected in time. I could not tell you half his sweetness, his patience, his sub-duedness. I trust the Lord will take him to His own Love. He sees now that there is no substantiality in this world, no undying love but the Saviour's.”
July 12, 1860 - - - - Mary wrote to her friend, “2 oclock last night my precious Son closed his eyes on this world and is now I feel sure in a better and happier.”