Mystery Monday: The Railway Men of Orizaba, Part 2

Edward Joseph Organ (1859 – 1893)

“To Dear Mrs. F. Perrotin, Mater in Mexico”

Looking over the collection of photographs that belonged to my great-great grandmother, Catherine (O’Grady) Perrotin, I found one that was especially compelling and have been wondering about its subject for some time now.

Though he was not my ancestor, he certainly was related to someone, and it seems only fitting to honor his memory, out of respect for the friendship he shared with Catherine and her family.

Edgar Joseph Organ dedicated this cabinet card photograph to Catherine Perrotin on February 27, 1893.   Taken at the Lucio Diaz Studio in Orizaba, Veracruz, Mexico, the photograph is addressed to her as his “Mater in Mexico.”

Catherine, who would have been about 51 at the time, might indeed have been a mother-like figure to many of the expatriate railway men in Orizaba at the time.  Most likely, many of these young men, originally from England, Ireland, France, and the United States, had embarked on their great adventure working on the fledgling Mexican railway, Ferrocarriles Mexicanos, as bachelors, while others may have left wives and children behind for several years.  Catherine already had been living in Mexico for at least 25 years.  She would have been able to offer wisdom and counsel to these young men on the local customs, manners, and language.

In this portrait, Edgar strikes a somewhat casual pose.  His broad hands appear strong from years of physical work.  He is dressed either as an engine driver, leaning against a half column on top of which are stacked three or four books.  Perhaps these were to indicate that he was an educated man and enjoyed reading.  This seems to be borne out by his strikingly beautiful handwriting on the reverse of the cabinet card.  He also seems to have had some artistic talent, evidenced by the flower, leaves and feathers he incorporates gracefully into his capital letters.

Edgar Joseph Organ

The great care that Edgar took to dedicate this to my great-great grandmother aroused my curiosity about him.  Documentation varies, but he was born in the southwest region of the United Kingdom in about 1859, in either Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, or Monmouth, Wales.  Cheltenham lies some 22 miles east of the village of Ruardean – where Timothy Bennett lived with his own family – while Monmouth is about half that distance to the west.

According to the England and Wales FreeBMD Marriage Index: 1837 – 1915, he and Elizabeth Maria Woodward registered their marriage in Gloucester between October and December 1879.

They appear two years later in the 1881 England Census, living at 18 Salisbury Street in Cheltenham, with a six-month-old infant daughter, Elizabeth.  By this time, Edgar is identified as a 22-year-old railway fireman. Both he and his wife are noted as born in “Gloster” – the abbreviation for Gloucester.

Did Edgar and Timothy Bennett know each other before they went to Mexico?  It seems likely, especially as both had been railway firemen before they advanced to engine driver.  They probably trained together on the double Fairlie steam locomotive in Bristol, down the River Severn, where the Avonside Engine Company manufactured some 53 of these for Ferrocarriles Mexicanos to navigate the steep grade from Cordoba to Orizaba, Veracruz, until the railway converted to electric engines in 1920.

Though it is uncertain when both men left for Mexico, we know that Timothy married Maria Dolores Perrotin at the railway station in Orizaba in September of 1885.  Months before Dolores’ father, Francois Perrotin, died of meningitis in 1891, Dolores and her husband and young son moved from Mexico to England to live near Timothy’s mother and family in the Forest of Dean.  Catherine would join them in 1895.

Two months after dedicating his portrait to Catherine Perrotin, Edgar appears as an engine driver on the passenger manifest of the ship Aurania, arriving in Liverpool, England, from New York on April 25, 1893.

Tragically, he died some six months later on November 28, 1893, in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England.  He was only 32.  The entry in the National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1861 – 1941 does not list the cause of death, but it does indicate that he left a widow, Elizabeth Maria Organ, who received his effects in the sum of £178 when the will was administered on December 23, 1893, just two days before Christmas.

Was Edgar ill before he left Mexico?  Did he become ill after arriving in England?  Or did he die accidentally?

Where was Edgar and Elizabeth Maria’s daughter, Elizabeth?  Unless she died before her father returned to England, she would have been about twelve years old in 1893.  The other possibility is that she could have been living with relatives during this time.  In any case, I cannot find her after her initial mention in the 1881 England Census and wonder whatever became of her.

Any extra money that Edgar might have brought home from his adventurous sojourn working on the Mexican Railway would have come in handy for Elizabeth Maria, though it could have not lasted long after she became the sole breadwinner.  In a sad turn of events, she reappears in the 1901 England Census in Barnwood, Gloucestershire, working as a storeroom servant at Barnwood House, formerly an estate that was later converted to an insane asylum.   Listed as a widow, Elizabeth was 39 years old.  Had she not only lost her husband but her daughter, too?What happened to her after that?  I only wish I knew.

Copyright ©  2012  Linda Huesca Tully

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