James and Mary O’Neill (Tyne)
Many people of European descent who were born in New Zealand after it became a Colony of Great Britain in 1840, have ancestors who made the long voyage by sailing ship to start new lives. I published the story of my search for Irish ancestors, among whom were James and Mary O’Neill, on this site on 7 December, 2019. travelwithgma.wordpress.com/category/ireland
This then is the story of their life in New Zealand.
The family embarked at Plymouth for transshipment to New Zealand on 29 September,1877, on an assisted passage, at a cost of forty nine pounds sixteen shillings. James and Mary accompanied by two daughters Mary aged 5 and Bridget (Delia)aged 3, arrived in Napier on 4 January 1878 on the Renfrewshire, after a voyage of 97 days. Their son Edmond, aged 17 months, died of diarrhoea on the voyage on 31 October 1877, and was buried at sea, in the vicinity of the Canary Islands. Five other children died on the voyage.
It is hard to imagine what daily life on the ship was like. The Renfrewshire does not look big enough to have carried 204 passengers plus crew and cargo – 300 tons of cargo were unloaded in Napier.
After such a long voyage, the family must have been looking forward to disembarking. According to the ship’s master, “when the Renfrewshire arrived at the Port of Napier, everyone was in complete health, and … all on board were up, dressed, and ready to go on shore.” It would have been very disappointing to find that the ship had been placed in quarantine because of an earlier outbreak of scarlet fever on board, and that they would not be disembarking for up to another 21 days. The ship was provided with fresh provisions, and arrangements were made for friends and family on shore to communicate with the ship.
Prior to disembarkation, all of the passengers clothes and possessions were fumigated. Mary would have been very busy, as “all the women then had to wash all their clothes and bedding after fumigation”.
A petition was drawn up by the Renfrewshire immigrants, complaining of being wrongfully detained in quarantine in Napier and was presented to the Minister for Immigration at Wellington. James and Mary must have signed the petition, as it was reported that all of the passengers had done so.
I imagine that the family was somewhat overwhelmed, still no doubt mourning the loss of their son, finally being disembarked to the Park Island quarantine station on 17 January, 1878, after 13 days in quarantine. The Barracks Masters book records show their arrival at Park Island, and fortunately for the family, their departure later the same day. The immigrant’s luggage was loaded onto drays to be taken to the Depot, and immigrants “were marched all into town to the Depot.”
The records stated that they were to go to a “friend’s residence in Napier.”
The Napier James and Mary would have seen on arrival. (Images – Alexander Turnbull Library Wellington)
Several of Mary’s siblings had already arrived Napier. It is possible that, on leaving the barracks, James and Mary stayed with one of them.
James was initially employed by Thomas Purvis Russell, a land owner at Woburn, Waipukurau. Woburn Station comprised 25,737 acres in 1851 – much larger than any farm James had worked on in Ireland. The Station ran sheep and cattle, and had 5 horses. The first sheep were merinos, imported from New South Wales.
In around 1878 Woburn was being cleared from a wilderness in which Maori hunted pigs, snared birds, fished Lake Hatuma and planted scattered patches of kumera and taro. A very alien landscape for James and Mary, who had been living around the Ballingarry area in Ireland.
The photographs from Woburn Station are held by the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.
James worked as a labourer and had the responsibility for the transport of timber to outlying areas and goods and supplies from Napier. James work involved ploughing and it is recorded in the Hawkes Bay Herald (24 June 1880) that James O,Neill was placed third in a single furrow ploughing competition for which he received a prize of a guinea (one pound one shilling). There is a small cottage near the woolshed which was formerly used for accommodating workers which dates from the 19th century. It would be similar to the house James and Mary and their children lived in.
It is not clear how long James and Mary lived at Woburn. Their son Martin was born at Woburn in January 1880. They had at least four more children, all born in Hastings – William 1882, Margaret (Maggie) 1884, Catherine (Katie) 1887 and Johanna 1889. Johanna died in 1890.
James attended a land auction for the lots in a plan of subdivision of the Township of East Hastings, held at the Criterion Hotel, Napier on 4 September, 1879. The owner of the land being auctioned was Thomas Tanner. James purchased Lot numbers 69 and 70 for 34 pounds. Lots 69 and 70 were in Karamu Road, on the corner of Avenue Road East. The address was 301 Karamu Road, Hastings.
Above: Early views of Hastings.
James built a house, stables and depot for his carrying business on the land. Initially water supplies were difficult, with daily supplies carried from Heretaunga Street. James is said to have transported timber for his new home in the goods he carted from Woburn to Napier/Hastings. The home remained in the family until 1940 when it was sold to NZ Railways for development into a bus depot. When the house was demolished in the 1940’s it was found to have been built with wooden pegs and had roof trusses which were screwed together.
James established a successful horse and cart carrying business in Hastings. He held the lucrative Royal Mail contract, for which he used an express cart. When he was joined in the business by his son William, a further low cart was was used for general cartage. James and William were well known for their contribution to the operation of the Hastings Volunteer fire brigade. Their horses were available to pull the appliances, and when not required were left to graze at leisure in the streets. It was a well known joke that firemen not only had to put out the fire, but also had to find the O’Neill horses afterwards.
James was prominent in the Hibernian Club in Hastings, which held its preliminary meeting at Kelly’s Hotel, Hastings in 1884. He occupied all of the offices in the Hastings Lodge. He was active in the Hastings Volunteer fire brigade and supported his sons in their involvement with the Rover Rugby Football Club.
The Hastings Parish of the Catholic Church began in 1882, and James and Mary would have been parishioners. A new Church was opened in 1895 which James would have attended, as did his children and great grandchildren. I took my first communion in that Church, and spent many unhappy hours there. The only part I understood was the sermon, as the mass was said in Latin. I did love the building though. Many family weddings and funerals were held in this Church. Sadly the Church was destroyed by fire in 1992, 100 years after the foundation stone was laid.
We are left to imagine what Mary’s life was like. From the hardships of the voyage to New Zealand, to life that would have been very challenging at Woburn and then to a home in Hastings where initially the water supply was difficult and having babies every couple of years. To add to the burden, Mary, to assist with family income, was kept busy as a midwife and in general nursing duties. In 1892, already suffering from consumption, she developed influenza and died on 20 April, 1892. Pity the older daughters -Mary and Delia, who became responsible for the rearing of the family.
James died on 10 July, 1920 at home in Karamu Road. His obituary can be found at Hawkes Bay Tribune July 10, 1920.
James left an estate of 1100 pounds. Probate of his will dated 5 February 1913 was granted to Denis Murnane, farmer of Meeanee (James brother in law, who married Mary’s sister Johanna in 1880) and his son William O’Neill. (Will and Probate record on Archway Archives New Zealand). Among his bequests was to his son William of “all his horse harnesses, carts and other conveyances, horse food, horse covers and all other plant and implements used for and in connection with my carrying business.”
Garry O’Neill, grandson of James and Mary for information about Woburn Station, and oral family history: M.B. Boyd “City of the Plains – A History of Hastings” published 1984 – page 125: Knowledge Bank – Hawkes Bay Digital Archives Trust – many references: Hastings Library.