Our connection to a famous Scotsman

I will now return to my mother’s side of the family, to some of her paternal ancestors. My mother was always fascinated by our Scottish heritage, in particular our descendant from the Douglas family. I remember her telling me, “we’re descended from famous Scots – Braveheart is our story, but not the Mel Gibson character, we were from the other side”. She did plenty of research and I have screeds of documents to show for it.

mums research

The ancestor in question is Grace Douglas, my great great grandmother. She was born in Carlisle, North West England, near the border of Scotland in 1852 and emigrated to New Zealand at the age of 11 with her family. She was from a family of six children, born to Francis and Elizabeth (nee Kidd) who were both listed as “hand loom weaver cotton” on the 1851 census. In the early 19th century textile mills, engineering works and food manufacturers built factories in the city of Carlisle. One of the mills, Shaddon Mill, became famous for having the worlds 8th tallest chimney and was the largest cotton mill in England. The expanding industries brought about an increase in population as jobs shifted from rural farms towards the cities. This produced a housing shortage where at one point 25,000 people in Carlisle only had 5,000 houses to live in. People were said to be herded together with animal houses, slaughter houses and communal lavatories with open drains running between them. Living conditions were so bad that riots were common and some people emigrated. The problem wasn’t solved until the end of the 19th century when mass housing was built west of the city walls. (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlisle,_Cumbria)

It must have been a huge expense to bring a large family out to New Zealand, but the desire to seek a better quality of life for them is understandable. They arrived on board the Helvellyn on November 16, 1863.


birth record Grace Douglas

Grace Douglas’ birth record, (source: FreeBMD. England & Wales, FreeBMD Birth Index, 1837-1915 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006. )

(source: FreeBMD. England & Wales, FreeBMD Birth Index, 1837-1915 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006. )

The first document I had relating to Grace was a marriage certificate to Alexander Young (the subject of two previous blog posts). I was confused at first, because she is listed as Grace Thomson on the certificate. To my surprise, I discovered that she was a widow and much younger than her second husband. Through further research I discovered that she was, in fact, married three times in her lifetime, a fact that wasn’t passed down in family folk lore! That was the first of many surprises about this ancestor.

My family were strict Catholics so to find an ancestor who had been married three times was astounding – my mother certainly kept that detail about her much beloved family tree quiet! Grace was quite a character. My mother wrote:

My mum's info on Grace Douglas

From my mothers research on our Douglas ancestor

Grace was 19 when she married Peter Thomson in 1871 (although the marriage certificate lists her as being 24. Dates on many of the records appear to be incorrect which can be very confusing).

Marriage Cert Peter Thomson and Grace Douglas

Marriage Certificate Peter Thomson and Grace Douglas

She had four children to her first husband and three to her second, one of whom was Annie Frances Young, my great grandmother. Grace showed her strength of character throughout her life, especially when her father collapsed and died in her arms. She had to face an inquest which was probably a very harrowing experience, as documented in this newspaper clipping:

Newspaper Article Grace Douglas' father dying

Source: New Zealand Herald 16 September 1892 Results of the inquest into Francis Douglas’ death

(source: New Zealand Herald 16 November 1892)

Mum’s aunty Virgie wrote to mum: “I think your son James has a nose just like Gramma Grace had. She was a midwife and after Grandad died when mum was 15 she rode a horse from one house to the next. We were all born at home.”

About that link to Braveheart. As I said at the beginning of this blog post, my mother was fascinated by the Douglas name. She had pages and pages of research, had written away for further information, and made a kilt for herself in the Douglas Tartan which she wore proudly.

Douglas tartan

The Douglas tartan


In regards to a Douglas being a character in “Braveheart”, Braveheart is a 1995 epic historical medieval war drama film directed by and starring Mel Gibson. Gibson portrays William Wallace, a 13th-century Scottish warrior who led the Scots in the First War of Scottish Independence against King Edward I of England. The story is based on Blind Harry’s epic poem The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace and was adapted for the screen by Randall Wallace. Elizabeth Ewan describes Braveheart as a film which “almost totally sacrifices historical accuracy for epic adventure”. The “brave heart” refers in Scottish history to that of Robert the Bruce, and an attribution by William Edmondstoune Aytoun, in his poem Heart of Bruce, to Sir James the Good Douglas: “Pass thee first, thou dauntless heart, As thou wert wont of yore!”, prior to Douglas’ demise at the Battle of Teba in Andalusia. It has been described as one of the most historically inaccurate modern films. (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Braveheart)

My understanding of this era of Scottish history is sketchy at best, but as far as I can tell, I may be descended from Sir James Douglas. My mother certainly liked to believe it! I can only trace my family history back six generations on the Douglas line, so I can’t verify it yet!

During the Wars of Scottish Independence, Sir William Douglas the Hardy, Lord of Douglas was governor of Berwick-upon-Tweed when the town and Berwick Castle were besieged by the English. Douglas was captured and was released only after he had agreed to accept the claim of the Edward I of England to be overlord of Scotland. He subsequently joined William Wallace in fighting for Scottish independence. Wallace’s huge act of rebellion attracted the attention of common folk and Scots nobles alike, all of whom were unwilling to bear Edward I’s bonds. These, including James Stewart, to whom William Wallace’s father had been a vassal, Sir James Douglas, and Robert the Bruce allied with Wallace and, under the tutelage of the Bishop of Glasgow, Robert Wishart, they prepared to throw off the shackles of the English. However, Douglas was captured and taken to England, where he died in 1302, a prisoner in the Tower of London. (source:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clan_Douglas)

My great-great grandmother Grace certainly demonstrated some of the tenacious spirit inherited from her forebears, a Scottish trait that is in all of us when faced with adversity. That strength of character helped her forge a life in New Zealand where she lost her father in distressing circumstances, and married three times, mothering seven children. Whether we are descended from Sir James Douglas, or not, the Scottish strength of spirit is in us all.

Our Polish Ancestors


As I was growing up, I was always aware that dad’s family had Polish ancestory.  My dad’s mother Louisa was descended from Polish ancestors who settled in the South Island. The first Poles in my family to emigrate to New Zealand left what was then West Prussia in 1872. Poland was divided after the Franco-Prussian war, and Prussia was under German rule. There were laws against the Catholic Church, forcing closures of Churches, Polish Schools and the use of the Polish Language in public. Many Poles wanted to escape this, seeking freedom for their children and the ability to better themselves and rise above the poverty they were suffering in Europe. During this time many of them had their land confiscated and were extremely poor with little offer of employment. Many had heard of the possibility of migrating to America, Brazil, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand. They would pool together what little money they had for the traveling expenses.

The New Zealand Government offered free passages up til 1876, after which immigrants had to be nominated and find their own funding for the passage. Many families sent money back for this. A German company had entered into an agreement to find 2000 migrants within 2 years from 1871, and it is thought that many of the Poles believed they were actually traveling to America. Joseph Gorinski (Gurzynski) and his wife Anna arrived on board the Palmerston on 6 December 1872, in Port Chalmers, Dunedin. Joseph and Anna brought their 3 young children on a 5 1/2 month journey from Hamburg. The Palmerston was the second major shipment of Poles to New Zealand, and the first to the Otago Province, under the Vogel scheme. 105 Poles were on board, the majority of whom were from West Prussia, ethnically the Polish regions of Kashubia and Kociewie in North Poland.

By the end of January the single men had been sent out to employers such as farmers in the area. Families were harder to find positions for, however, because they had many children and they did not speak English. The Immigration Officer applied to give the remaining families a contract on the Southern Trunk Railway between Dunedin and Clutha. The Gorinski family was sent south to Scroggs Creek on contract work with Brodgen and Sons to lay the southern railway through the Taieri.

The Poles were known for their hard work. The conditions that they worked in were very difficult. In order to build the railway it was necessary to drain the Taieri. The workers cut large ditches to drain the swamp before formation work could begin and they had to work in great depths of water from early morning til dusk. At Waihola alone some 180 men were working, and by the end of 1872, over 320 men were employed on the section and it was possible to see men at work along the whole 35 miles of the line. After some major setbacks the railway line was opened for service on 1 September 1875. Afterwards several families followed the construction southwards while others remained in and around Greytown and Waihola. Many of them stayed around the Taieri area, including my family who settled in Allenton. Work could be found on farms or at the Waihola flaxmills or working for the Lime and Phosphate companies at Milburn and Claredon.

Having been there myself, I can understand the reason why they stayed in the area. Rolling green hills stretch away, and it must have been a very peaceful place to live. In the winter it is blanketed in snow, so conditions would have been harsh. Allanton is just outside Dunedin, near the International Airport. There is nothing really there, other than houses. It hasn’t been touched by the commercialisation of large companies such as Bunnings or McDonalds.

Plaque in Allanton Cemetary dedicated to Polish settlers in Otago

Plaque in Allanton Cemetery dedicated to the Polish Settlers in the Otago region

Joseph and Anna had another 10 children in New Zealand. Unfortunately one of their children is believed to have died aboard the Palmerston – Francisca Rosalia, aged 2. One of their sons, Johann, died at Greytown aged 11 on 12 September 1880. The 82′ Freeholders lists Joseph as owning 80 acres to the value of 280 pounds at Greytown. Joseph, a farmer, was naturalised as a New Zealand citizen on 14 November 1893. He died on 6 July 1909, aged 67. Anna died on 28 September 1923 aged 78. They are both buried at the Allanton Cemetery. I was able to visit the cemetery and see my ancestors’ last resting place, although the headstones are heavily decayed now.

J Gorinski, Annie Gorinski headstones

This headstone is from my ancestors, Joseph and Annie Gorinski, the first Polish settlers from my family, who immigrated to New Zealand in 1872

Anna’s parents Johann Franz Klass and Apollonia Buca Postowlowo, decided to follow her out to New Zealand. As both their daughters, Anna and Paulina, had migrated to New Zealand, they decided it was better for their third daughter Rosalia, aged 16, to be with her sisters. Another four children had died in childhood in Poland so perhaps they thought that living conditions would be better in New Zealand. They arrived aboard the Fritz Reuter in Napier on 18 March 1875, then traveled south to Greytown where they resided until they passed away. Apollonia (Paulina) died aged 68 on 27 December 1889, and Johann died at the Dunedin Hospital on 22 April 1876 aged 81.

Rosalia married John Black from Ireland and they had about 11 children. John was postmaster and shopkeeper at Allanton. Joseph’s brother Franz Bernard Gorinski also emigrated to New Zealand and settled in Invercargill. He worked as a labourer, shepherd, surfaceman, platelayer and railway porter.

Anna Gorinski (nee Klass) (1845 - 1923)

My great-great-grandmother Anna, one of the first Polish immigrants in New Zealand. Source: https://polesdownsouth.wordpress.com/in-new-zealand/early-polish-settlers/annis-family/k-l/gorinsky-family/

One of Joseph and Anna’s children, Rosie Gorinski, was born in 1875 and married Charles Newman, an Englishman, in 1893. Their daughter Louisa Anne Newman, was my grandmother. She was born on 29 April 1901 and married my grandfather Harold Joseph Norris on July 3, 1922 after meeting him in Rotorua. They are buried together in Rotorua Cemetary.

The Polish culture is still strong amongst descendants of the first Polish settlers in New Zealand. The Federation of Polish Organizations in New Zealand is celebrating 145 years of Polish Settlement in New Zealand this October. Their aim is to keep Polish traditions and language alive. It is thanks to their Website https://polesdownsouth.wordpress.com/ that I have found so much information about my Polish ancestors.

Finding Relatives through DNA

DNA testing – How it can be used to grow your family tree

I follow numerous genealogy groups on Facebook and have memberships to a number of websites. Finding records online is time-consuming. Sooner or later, delving deeper into the records becomes inevitable as all the free websites are exhausted. Networking with others researching the same family tree can be a wonderful source of information.

I didn’t want to have my DNA tested at first, but after reading about other people’s successes in finding distant relatives, I was encouraged to take that route. My main doubts were around the safety of the information in the databases held, and also my doubts about whether anyone related to me had bothered to have their DNA tested! Most people who aren’t researching their family tree have their DNA tested to find out their cultural background, no doubt lured by the Ads that Ancestry.com puts on TV. In the end I too was lured by the prospect of finding out new information that had previously eluded me.

My DNA test didn’t give me any surprises about my genetic background. As expected, I am 97% European, made up of British Isles (81%), East Europe (3%) and Iberian Peninsula (7%). There’s also a scant amount of Scandinavian, Italian and Greek, and Finnish.

I did get in contact with some distant cousins, which was a pleasant surprise. I never expected any of my relatives to have used DNA testing for genealogy. I met with two of my second cousin 1 x removed when I went to New Zealand in March. They are descended from Patrick and Bridget Brady, the Irish immigrants on mum’s side of the family. My cousins are very involved with tracing our family tree and it was lovely to meet with them and talk to other people about relatives long since passed as if they were still alive! When you study the family tree, you can rattle off names, dates, places, like the back of your hand. They don’t think you’re nutty knowing all those details!

I’ve also corresponded with cousins from dad’s side of the family but I’ve always found his Polish side more challenging to research. I decided to ask him if he would have his DNA tested while I was in New Zealand, to help in this research. I was ecstatic when he agreed, but I knew I would probably only get one chance at it because I might not see him again for some time. The test was initially deemed to be insufficient by FTDNA so I was really disappointed, but then about a month later the results came through! They must have run them through a second time and found enough DNA on his hastily taken cheek swabs, to be able to get the results.

Chromosome Browser Results

My dad and my chromosome browser results – all that yellow means we match on all chromosomes (definitely father and daughter!)

The difference between dad’s results and my distant cousins’, is remarkable. We match on all 22 chromosomes tested and he is my father without any doubt! I’m also envious of the number of close matches he has compared to me. I have not contacted any of them as yet because corresponding backwards and forwards takes time. There never seems to be enough time for my hobby. As I write this I am on holiday, which is the first time I’ve had to write my blog in months. My aim is to write the story of my family, particularly the New Zealand immigrants’ stories, and have it there for my children and the other descendants of these pioneers, for all time.

The initial test I did was through Ancestry.com, then I transferred it to FTDNA and Gedmatch. My father’s test was through FTDNA because it is easier to manage with elderly people – two cheek swabs rather than a vial of spit. His test is also on Gedmatch. Ancestry.com has the largest database at 5 million testers, so if you are testing for the first time it is recommended to start there, then transfer to FTDNA and Gedmatch for free. Another $19 US will then open your results on FTDNA. The websites are all very different to use, and I’m not fluent enough in them to be able to give any individual advice or assistance on them. I’m still learning how to interpret the results myself. There are some wonderful Facebook groups and blogs dedicated to this. Using this resource opens up a whole other area of genealogy to you, and can help you to meet other people who are researching your family tree. Some people use it as a way to find a long lost relative, for example after adoption. It helps to have as many people in the family tested, although so far I’ve only tested myself and my father. In time I hope to have other people in the family tested.

If you have a Facebook account, I recommend that you join a group with DNA for Genealogy as its core interest, for example Using DNA for Genealogy – Australia & NZ. Groups like these answer any questions you may have, and give support and advice to other members.

A Century Since the Great War – Memoirs of a Soldier



To mark this year’s Rememberance Day, I’m going to write a copy of my Grandfather’s memoirs which were included in my Uncle Jim’s book “Our Father”. What better way than to write it from his own perspective. We are lucky to have this account of his war years.

“Harold has left an account of you youthful years in Hoylake which he has entitled “Memoirs of a Cheshire Cat”. The story begins in 1914 when he was 18 years of age. Quote: “Meet you as usual on the ‘Prom’ tonight, near the band.” “Right-o, Ernie!” The ‘Prom’ in question, my home, a small seaside town (Hoylake) some eight miles from Liverpool. The Band – a small band of Hungarians who came for the season each year, making a living from the collections amoung the seaside visitors. Ernie – my pal, Ernie Bryers with whom I spent most of my leisure hours. Time – the last week in July, 1914. The sun was just setting behind Hilbre Island, in a fiery sea.

Ernie was already at the rendevous when I arrived … but no band! Odd clusters of people waited around; there was a rumour going about that the Hungarians has been suddenly recalled because of a threat of war with Austria. On that beautiful evening, with straw boater worn at a rakish angle attached to the lapel of my coat by a thin black cord, set off by a bow tie and a winged collar, there were no thoughts of war which meant nothing to us.

Within a week, ‘war’ was on everyone’s lips. Ernie and I still met on the Prom, but all our mates had gone, being Territorial Reservists. Come the 6th August – Yes, we’d better go to town and enlist like everyone else; the show will be over by Christmas, and we may as well be in for the fun. Upon enlisting, our first taste of things to come was to stand naked in long rows, waiting for the doctors to ‘pass’ us. I walked out of St. George’s Hall in Lime St., a soldier for the duration – Private 16471, H. Norris of the 18th Kings Liverpool Regiment, with the customary shilling.

Little did I know ‘which’ Christmas would see me home again. There followed five years of intense military training, crammed into twelve months, by officers and N.C.O.s of the Grenadier Guards, under Colonel Trotter. By the time we were to go overseas – sailing from Southhampton in November, 1915 – we had been tested to carry our 90lbs pack on a route march of 28 miles in one day. In truth, the regiment was fighting fit, the men at their physical peak.

A murky November morning found us in Calais, being herded into cattle trucks for destination unknown. We arrived eventually at Doullens, whence we trekked to Bray on the Somme, taking over a quiet part of the trenches in the village of Carnay. Then followed six months of soul-destroying boredom, living with lice, filth and general physical misery. Alternate 8 day spells in the trenches and out, until June of 1916, when things began to stir all around us. Heavy artillery, shell dumps, new troop concentrations. Our own preparations were pepped up by special courses and lectures: all talk was of the coming offensive. On or about the 24th June, the bombardment started, the din indescribable, night and day; as each day progressed, the tempo increased.

On the 30th June, we moved up the line for going over next morning. Most of the fellows were writing letters. I am sure that many of them had some premonition it would be their last, and so it was for 75% of the battalion. We were detailed to go over in waves. Some only reached the parados, others fell immediately in front of the trench and very few of the first wave reached their objective. What hell let loose! What slaughter! What a sorry line up for roll call after that first Somme scrap! So many of my cobbers missing.

I am transferred to Battalion transport and given charge of two mules in a limber wagon, ride and drive. Our work consisted of transporting ammunition and food rations as close to the front line as possible under cover of darkness. Food is packed in sandbags, water in bensine tins, Mills bombs and .303 bullets in boxes. A Transport Officer with sergeant would lead the convoy, usually three limber wagons and a medical cart. Trips up the line varied according to the amount of shelling and the nature of the road or track. In the intense darkness, one developed cat’s eyes, and we dreaded moonlight. ‘Jerry’s’ artillery could spot our silhouettes and at times we became sitting targets for them. Our mounts sensed the danger and a near-hit made them bolt on many an occasion. Several times I have crouched over the centre pole between the mules, hoping for protection from shell splinters. Am sure I’d have made a good trick rider in either a rodeo or a circus! The risk of falling in front of the wheel was of no concern; my only thought was self-preservation.


War Medal Roll – Harold Joseph Norris

After a short spell behind the line, back again for the second battle of the Somme, this time alongside the New Zealanders at Dicketbush near Ypres. The intense cold, that Silver Fern Y.M.C.A. Marquee where one could get a steaming cup of cocoa for a penny, worth all of a quid. To see those Kiwis opening their wonderful parcels from home – real butter, cakes and cookies that made our eyes goggle. What a wonderful country New Zealand must be! The boys found a piano in a deserted house and hauled me along for a sing-song. The house was crammed with Scots, Aussies, East Lancs, Bedfords, everyone singing their heads off. Jerry planes were overhead dropping bombs too close for comfort, but no one worried.

We move up to Ypres, Zellebeck Lake, Stirling Castle and those hellish duckboards. Everything goes up front by packhorse. The Battalion dump is at the end of about 1 ½ miles of duckboards along which, in pitch darkness, we lead our pack mules, and on frosty nights, it was a nightmare trying to keep one’s feet. To slip off was to plunge into a sea of mud. I can still smell the dead mules and horses left abandoned alongside those duckboards.


Living conditions around Ypres were very bad. Constant shelling made ‘bivvying’ in shell holes the safest, with one ground sheet stretched across the top; underneath, with one’s mates, it was warmer to sleep together on the other ground sheet. No baths, no change of under-clothes for weeks; we are now lousy. In fact, it becomes a relaxation to burn the eggs under our armpits with a lighted match.

We shift to a new sector, behind Zelleback Lake, next to a battery of 4.7 howitzers, a very unhealthy position. The horses were restless on the line. Bill Watts, my mate and I had rigged a ‘bivvy’ with empty shell cases and in a few minutes we were asleep, with the horses fed for the night. A mightly crash woke us and instinct made us run to release our horses. Our camp was being shelled, pandemonium reigned among the horses that, in their fright, had pulled tight the halters on the line. I was one of the last to free my two, hanging on to them like a demon. I hung on to their bridles whilst they carried me into the pitch darkness, racing to catch up with the others.

My delay in getting away proved providential for me. Just as we caught up with the tail end of the other horses, a shell dropped in their midst. What a mess! The screams of horses and men! My mate was killed, together with a number of other drivers and were all buried together in a mass grave the next morning.

I think this was the hottest part of the line and we were more than thankful when relief came so that we could move back from the trenches for a spell. At last, a bath and change of clothes! My skin was pitted all over with bites and scratches from the lice. These rare spells gave us the opportunity to scrape the mud off the horses and our clothes and try to restore the harness to fit state for inspection, even to the polishing of our brass buttons.

During these periods we generally had the opportunity of hearing Mass and going to Confession, mostly out in the open or, if available, within the remains of a church. If there wasn’t time before going back into the line, the padre would give us general absolution sitting on his horse as we passed by en route. We instinctively made an act of contrition. What a tremendous comfort that was to us, and I’m sure, to many non-Catholics also.


British Troops eating their Christmas dinner in a shell hole

As the war progressed, we seemed to get hardened to the dangers, the hardships and the food, but life could still be made miserable by the sergeant if he wasn’t strictly fair and just with his men. For instance, the convoy work was allocated equally among the drivers. The strain of one convoy per night was usually quite enough, but if a driver had to do two trips it was tough for both horses and driver. If one was unfortunate enough to annoy the sergeant during the day, he could and did make a man do more than his share of driving The horse lines were picketed every night in three shifts, 9-12, 12-3 and 3-6. Naturally, the worst picket was from 12 to 3 a.m.

It might happen that after long periods in the saddle, when the opportunity to sleep does come, it is very deep sleep, and if one happens to be on the 12-3 picket, unless the man on duty before you wakes you up properly, it is inevitable that you will fall asleep again, so that the 3-6 picket is also not called. A hiatus of 6 hours! This would be a very serious offence, and according to the leniency or otherwise of the officer in charge, could have dire consequences.

For some time I had been in the sergeant’s bad books, and things had been most uncomfortable. My turn came this night for the 12-3 picket. I could have slept standing up but a kick woke me, the sergeant standing over me. “What’s the meaning of this? No picket all night! Norris, you’re for it!” Fortunately for me, our Transport Officer, Lt. Williams, was human and undoubtedly was well aware of the amount of strain and work we had undergone; furthermore, it was now nearly two years since I had been in the line without leave. The matter was prevented from going to the Colonel, and it was with relief I took my medicine from the sergeant.

March, 1918 – We move through Abbeville to face Ham. Rumours that “Jerry” is massing in from St. Quentin. Intelligence thinks Zero day will be either the 20th or 21st. Sure enough, before dawn, the bombardment began and we were pasted with everything. About 7 a.m. he broke through on our left; soon we realised he was encircling us and our only line of escape lay across the Ham bridge. All roads led to the bridge. In no time, the road to the bridge was jammed with remnants of different regiments, and by the next day it became a rout. We on transport followed the leader until we approached Amiens where we came to a line of Frenchmen newly dug in. By this time the English were well and truly disorganised; we seemed to have lost contact with our battalion. However, we continued our trek to the coast, where we handed over our transport to the newly arrived Americans.

After being re-grouped, I was transferred to the 13th Kings, 13th Platoon, 13th Section. In no time we were engaging the “Jerries” near Maubeuge, close to the French – Belgium border. We appear to be on the move north. Jerry is really on the move at last. We seem to be taking the front line in relay with the rest of the brigade. At least we are now in open country and moving, but for how much longer? Again we are moving up front. After one of our usual road-side fall-outs, we get the order to “About turn!”. What’s this? On the way back, whispers, wild guesses pass through the ranks until we arrive at our camp of the previous night. We are lined up in front of the Colonel seated on his dapple-grey horse. “Well boys, the job is over.” In the stunned silence that greeted his announcement, hardly a voice could be heard. It took some time to sink in. For myself, I felt like bawling like a kid.

After nearly fiver years of continual misery, hardship, tension and grief … to end so suddenly! My first thought – I’m sure to see ‘HOME’ and all it means, again. Over the next few days, we regain our spit and polish before moving into Germany for the occupation. We trekked through Namur, Liege and Aix-lachapelle, finally arriving in Kerpen, a suburb of Cologne. We were billeted with German families. How heavenly to taste civilisation once again, a soft bed and in my case, a Catholic old couple. The walls were adorned with photos of their sons in U. boats, in Artillery, some draped with black bands.

Now I lived for the day when I would board a train from Cologne to Boulogne, en route to London and HOME. It was not to be until Feb. 1919, and when the day of my discharge came, I received a petty 25 pounds for five years service. It scarcely paid for my working clothes.

Upon reaching home, I found that my brother Doug had arrived before me. I saw him only once overseas in the Ypres sector. He was with the artillery, the 18 pounders, I think. I exchanged just a few words with him, hoping to get a chance for a yarn the next day, but when I returned, his battery had moved during the night to the Italian front. My first days at home saw a thorough de-lousing, burning every vestige of under-clothes. How heavenly to feel clean again! The terrible toll of the war was brought home to me when I found that so many of my cobbers had not returned, but how soon they were forgotten in the mad round of dances, parties, etc. that followed when the chaps returned from overseas.”

The memoirs go on to describe Harold’s emigration and early years in New Zealand, where he met my grandmother and went on to have nine children including my father Cyril. He passed away when I was just 2 years old. It’s only been in the last few years that I have been researching my family tree, that I have come to appreciate his war service and what it meant to his country and all the Allied forces. It’s a miracle that he survived, considering so many didn’t. He is buried with my grandmother in Rotorua cemetary.


Remembrance Day

This blog post is going to go off track, for a very good reason. It is dedicated to my grandfather, Harold Joseph Norris, who fought in World War 1. Up until now I have been writing about my mother’s paternal side of my family. I will be revisiting my father’s side of the family in greater detail in the future, but for now I want to briefly tell my Grandfather’s story. The information for this is from my uncle’s book about the Norris family, Our Father, a Prodigal Son, by Rev, J.D. Norris.

Google Earth view of 44 Walker Street, Hoylake.  This is my grandfather's childhood home

Google Earth view of 44 Walker Street, Hoylake. This is my grandfather’s childhood home

Screenshot of the Google Earth view of Harold’s childhood home in Hoylake (on the left-hand side of the road – 44 Walker St. is where the white car is. This building is likely to be the same building due to its age).

Harold Joseph Norris was born in Cheshire, England, on 6th March 1896. He lived at 44 Walker Street, Hoylake, a village on the cost near West Kirby, known for its golf-links and promenade. It is about 8 miles from Liverpool. At the age of 18, in 1914, he enlisted in the 18th Kings Liverpool Regiment as Private 16471. 100 years ago, in November 1915, he had completed his basic training and was on his way to war, sailing from Southhampton to France.

The Cover of my uncle's book showing Harold Norris in his army uniform, 1914

The Cover of my uncle’s book showing Harold Norris in his army uniform, 1914

He endured lice, filth and general misery in the trenches at Somme, until June 1916 when they were hit by heavy artillery, shell dumps and bombardment night and day. On 30th June they were moved up the line for going over next morning – very few of that first wave reached their objective with 75% of their battalion losing their lives in that first Somme battle.

Harold was transferred to Battalion transport and given charge of two mules in a limber wagon. His work consisted of transporting ammunition and food rations as close to the front line as possible under cover of darkness. After a short spell behind the lines, they returned to the front line for the second battle of the Somme, at Dickebush near Ypres. Many of his comrades lost their lives here because they were so close to the enemy lines.

In March 1918 they moved through Abbeville, to face bombardment from German forces. Many of the English battalions were severely diminished in size so Harold’s remaining regiment joined with the 13th Kings Liverpool Regiment. They engaged with the enemy at Maubeuge, close to the French – Belgium border. After moving again up to the frontline, they were suddenly ordered to about turn. A colonel rode up on his horse and announced that the war was over, to their surprise and delight, after nearly five years of continual misery, hardship, tension and grief.

They trekked through Namur, Liege and Aix-la-chapelle, finally arriving in Kerpen, a suburb of Cologne, for the occupation of Germany. Harold was billeted with a German family. It wasn’t until February 1919 that he boarded a train from Cologne to Boulogne, en route to London and home, to be finally discharged from the Army. He received 25 pounds for 5 years’ service.

I have been able to research his war records and he discovered that he received 3 medals: The 1914-15 Star, the Victory Medal and the British War Medal. I don’t know what became of the original medals but I plan to order replicas and frame them in his memory.

The 1914 Star or 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal.  These are the medals Harold received after WW1

The 1914 Star or 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal. These are the medals Harold received after WW1

Harold emigrated to New Zealand in 1921 on the Waimana. The British Government were offering a free passage to any of the colonies in the Commonwealth to returned soldiers who could pass a medical examination. Because the prospects in England weren’t to hopeful for him, he decided to go to New Zealand. He met and married my grandmother Louisa, who had descended from Polish and German immigrants, and they had nine children including my father Cyril.

Grandad passed away in 1968 when I was 2 1/2years old. My memory of him in the front room of his house in Rotorua is probably my earliest memory. He was very tall with a moustache which was popular in those times. I have so much respect for him and all the other WW1 allies who fought for our freedom, and if he hadn’t survived the war, many descendants would not be here today.

Harold Norris in February 1968. six months before he passed away

Harold Norris in February 1968. six months before he passed away

A Scotsman in our Clan

Alexander Wallace Young – A Scotsman in our Clan

We are just as much Scottish as Irish in our Geraghty side of the family. Alexander Wallace Young is my mother’s paternal Great Grandfather. He was born in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire in about 1825 (see my previous blog post where I discuss the difficulty in finding out the exact date due to differences between his marriage certificate and death certificate).

My great great grandfather, Alexander Wallace Young's birthplace - Kilmarnock, Lanark, Scotland

My great great grandfather, Alexander Wallace Young’s birthplace – Kilmarnock, Lanark, Scotland

Source:  http://maps.nls.uk/ National Library of Scotland.

In my mother’s papers I found two certificates for Alexander Young – his marriage certificate to Grace Thompson in 1884 and his death certificate in 1902. She had researched this line of the family in depth, and I have been able to find further records of his life as well.

In the 1861 Scotland Census Alexander lived in Glasgow with his wife Jane Blair (married in Gorbals, Lanark on 14 November 1853) and 3 children – 5 year old James and 10 month old twins Alexander and John. Gorbals is an area on the south bank of the River Clyde. By the late 19th century it had become over-populated and adversely affected by local industrialisation. Many people lived here because their jobs provided their homes and they could not afford their own. It became widely known as a dangerous slum associated with the problems of drunkenness and crime. It was subject to efforts at redevelopment, which contributed to more problems such as homelessness and the spread of disease (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gorbals).

His life as a grocer in the industrial part of Glasgow would not have been easy, so it is not hard to see why he emigrated to New Zealand in 1862. The Young family emigrated to New Zealand on board the Indian Empire, arriving on 20 October 1862. By then one of their twins had passed away, and Jane had had another baby, Helen (or Ellen) Jane in 1861. It is interesting to note that Alexander had listed his occupation as labourer on the passenger list, which would have helped him with the application for assisted migration. Labourers were a listed occupation but grocers weren’t!


NZ Daily Southern Cross, Volume XVIII, Issue 1638, 21 October 1862, Page 2

NZ Daily Southern Cross, Volume XVIII, Issue 1638, 21 October 1862, Page 2

From 1853 to 1870 Scots came in sufficient numbers to keep New Zealand more Scottish than the United Kingdom – in those years they made up more than 30% of New Zealand’s UK-born immigrants, even though they formed only 10% of the United Kingdom’s population. Auckland continued to draw a smaller proportion of its immigrants from Scotland than from England and Ireland. But recruiting agents in Glasgow in particular ensured that considerable numbers of Scots came to Auckland as land grant immigrants between 1858 and 1862.  Source: http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/scots/page-4

Once in Auckland, Alexander did what he knew best and opened a grocery store in College Hill in the 1860s which was an area of Auckland where many Roman Catholics bought land in the new subdivisions in order to be near the Catholic centre with its Church, Convent & Schools. Names such as “Dublin” & “Green” reflect this development. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ponsonby,_New_Zealand#History

These photos show what College Hill was like in the time that the Wallace family lived and worked there, in the late 1800’s:

This is a view east across Freemans Bay to Hobson Street. The church in the upper left is St Mathews in the City (next to it is the smaller wooden version which it supplemented - it then served as the church hall). The shops at the bottom of the photograph are directly behind the Destructor (now Victoria Park Market).   Source:  'Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1-W213

This is a view east across Freemans Bay to Hobson Street. The church in the upper left is St Mathews in the City (next to it is the smaller wooden version which it supplemented – it then served as the church hall). The shops at the bottom of the photograph are directly behind the Destructor (now Victoria Park Market). Source: ‘Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1-W213

Looking west from the City Destructor towards Ponsonby Road, showing Gasometers on the corner of Franklin Road (centre foreground) and College Hill (right) and the Rob Roy Hotel (centre left foreground), Beaumont Street (right off College Hill)  Source:  'Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1-W213'

Looking west from the City Destructor towards Ponsonby Road, showing Gasometers on the corner of Franklin Road (centre foreground) and College Hill (right) and the Rob Roy Hotel (centre left foreground), Beaumont Street (right off College Hill)
Source: ‘Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1-W213’

Alexander owed two grocery stores, one on Chapel Street and one in College Hill. The electoral rolls support this. He suffered the loss of his wife Jane in 1877 and his daughter Ellen in 1883 aged 21. A year later Alexander married my Great Great Grandmother, Grace Thomson, when he was 52 and she was 38. My mother had a copy of their marriage certificate amongst her papers.

scan marriage cert Alexander Young and Grace Thomson

I’ll tell Grace’s story in my next blog post – she led a very interesting life.

Uncle Hughie wrote some interesting stories about Alexander Young in his letters to my mother. He said that he had some land granted to him in Arapohue, which he never lived on. It was granted to him through a land settlement or ballot. He never lived on it, but he supported Jim Young, his son by Jane Blair. His great grandson still lived on the land in 1985. My grandfather Terence Geraghty looked like Alexander Young according to Uncle Hughie.

My mother also kept letters that her Auntie Virgie (Virginia Ellen Geraghty) had written to her. Auntie Virgie said that Grandad Young (Alexander) had a shop in Auckland but a depression came and they moved to the goldfields near Coromandel and the three children went to school at Kuatuna. He got lost in the bush and was wet and cold for a few days and developed a rare disease called Locomotive Alexi. The poor man was in a wheelchair for five years before he died. My mother had to leave school at age 10 and go to work. There was no social welfare in those days. Grandad had a grown family when his first wife died. Two married sons Jim and Bob got farms out of Dargaville and his only daughter Ellen died at 21. Gramma Grace was a widow with four young children and she met him, he was over 60 when they married. They had Lizzie, mum (Annie – my Great Grandmother), and Uncle Dave

I haven’t been able to find any information about Locomotive Alexi but the closest thing I can find is a reference to a syndrome that the Japanese Orthopaedic Association (JOA) described called locomotive syndrome. This syndrome, or “locomo” in short, refers to those elderly who have come to need nursing care services because of problems of the locomotive organs, or have conditions which may require them to have such services in the future. Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3184225/

Death Certificate - Alexander Young

Death Certificate – Alexander Young

His death certificate says he died from Tabes Dorsalis and Hemiplegia in an Old Mens Home in Thames. Tabes Dorsalis is a disease of the spine. The first description of the disorder was given by a French neurologist , Guillame Duchenne in 1858 who called it l’ataxie locomotrice progressive (progressive locomotor ataxia ). But the word tabes dorsalis was coined in 1836 even before the actual cause was discovered. Tabes in Latin means “decay” or “shriveling”; dorsalis means “of the back.” These indicate the location and type of damage occurring in the spinal cord. It is also called “spinal syphilis” or “syphilitic myelopathy.” Syphilis was widespread in the early part of the twentieth century but there has been a ten-fold decrease in incidence since then due to better screening measures and effective antibiotic therapy. Therefore classic, full blown forms of tabes dorsalis are seldom seen in the twenty-first century. Pain is quite bothersome and has a serious impact on quality of life. Ataxia, dementia and blindness are incapacitating. Death usually occurs due to rupture of enlarged blood vessels and damage to heart valves, which occur as a part of tertiary syphilis. Rarely, a urinary infection will lead to sepsis and death. Source: http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Tabes_Dorsalis.aspx

It doesn’t sound like a very nice way to live out your final years. Alexander lived a very tough life from the rough area of Glasgow to the early days of Auckland, and finally a painful last few years in a nursing home in Thames. He fathered seven children including my great grandmother Annie Frances Young.  He is buried at the end of the Auckland Harbour Bridge with his first wife and daughter.  May they all Rest in Peace.

 Alexander Young 1825 -1902
 Annie Young 1887 – 1967
 Terrance Geraghty 1908 – 1984
 Diana Rose Mary Geraghty 1937 -1991

Brick Walls and Road Blocks

Alexander Wallace Young

When researching my Scottish ancestors I came up literally against a brick wall. This brick wall:

Screenshot (5)

source: https://www.google.com.au/maps/@55.8510031,-4.261613,3a,75y,17.19h,86.55t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sKXQS7lUOZi7X75JzSNIHbA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

I’m just as fascinated by where they lived and what their lives were like before they came to New Zealand. I was keen to find out what their house looked like in 1861. I searched Google Maps for their address that I found on the 1861 census and all I found was a brick wall at 44 Cook Street, Glasgow. I haven’t yet found photos of their street from that time, however, I found a nifty tool on-line on the National Library of Scotland website, which overlays today’s map with historical maps. With the aid of this tool I discovered that, even in 1861 they lived right near a railway in the middle of factories:

Cook st today

Above photo: Cook Street, Glasgow, today

44 Cook street Glasgow

Above: the overlay of today’s map with historical map

Glasgow map 1861

Above, Glasgow map, 1861

cook street showing what the buildings were for

Above: Glasgow map, showing what the buildings were used for.

Source of maps: http://maps.nls.uk/geo/explore/#zoom=18&lat=55.8513&lon=-4.2635&layers=80

There’s no escaping the fact that my ancestors the Youngs lived in a very seedy area of Glasgow, right near the railway lines. Alexander Wallace Young lived here with his wife Jane Blair and four children in the early to mid 1860’s. He worked as a grocer, and he possibly had his shop here and the family lived behind the shop.

The census records for the United Kingdom are a fascinating record of how my ancestors lived. It shows the occupants, their ages and relationships with each other, their address, and occupations. While researching my mother’s Scottish great grandfather Alexander Wallace Young was relatively straight forward, records for my Irish ancestors are not as easy to find. I’ve come up against many roadblocks in my research which can be very frustrating. Roman Catholic Church records from 1864 onwards are starting to be digitalised, but you need to know their Parish, and take into account that many records were written in Latin so the spelling can be very different to today’s spelling. Names were also abbreviated, so Patrick Geraghty can be listed as Pat or Patt, and Geraghty has many different spellings as well, like Gerty, Gerraty, and Gerhty.

It’s part of the challenge while researching our ancestors and it’s always exciting when you finally find their marriage certificate or emigration documents after looking for them for months. I suspect that many of my ancestors from that time period were illiterate or only spoke Gaelic as well, meaning that the person writing the official records had to transcribe them phonetically. Interpretation of these records from originals dating back to the 1800s creates another challenge. I’ve tried reading the originals when they’re available online, and I can appreciate how difficult their job is.

It’s easy to be led astray by false leads as well. There were two Census records for Alexander Young for 1861, both married to Jane Young, and with children named the same. One had him born about 1825, the other 1832. To confuse matters even more, his death certificate and marriage certificate also had different dates of birth, so it took a while to sort that out. I’m confident that I now have the right Alexander Young in my family tree! My next blog post will have more information about Alexander Young – he had a very fascinating life.

scan - 1861 census Alex Young


From Ireland to New Zealand

My maternal great great grandparents emigrated to New Zealand from County Cavan in Ireland, in 1866.  Three generations of Geraghty’s lived in Tuakau, on the Waikato River (between Auckland and Hamilton) before my grandparents moved to northern New Zealand.  Here are some photos of how Tuakau looked in the early 1900’s

Main street, Tuakau township

Tuakau Hotel. Main street, Tuakau township. Price, William Archer, 1866-1948 :Collection of post card negatives. Ref: 1/2-001523-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22556804

Tuakau township, photographed by William Archer Price, possibly between 1910 and 1930. In the foreground flax fibre is laid out for drying and bleaching. In the middle distance is the railway station and yards, with the main street in the distance. The Creamery can be seen near the tall trees in the middle distance.

Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23117228

Tuakau Hill with railway yard and rolling stock in the foreground. A road leads up a slight incline towards houses and church buildings. Near the railway yard flax is laid out to dry. Photographed by William A Price in early 1900s.

Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23073105

Railway yard at Tuakau, photographed possibly between 1910 and 1925 by William A Price.
Shows railway shed, rolling stock, and livestock loading ramp. In distance on left is the Post & Telegraph Office.

Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23130861

Before roads were improved, railways provided faster, more reliable transport. By 1875 a line stretched from Auckland to Mercer to connect with river boats. The railway reached Ngāruawāhia in August 1877, Frankton (near Hamilton) in December 1877, Ōhaupō in June 1878 and Te Awamutu in 1880.  Auckland and Wellington were finally connected in 1908.

source: http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/waikato-region/page-7

Overlooking the Waikato River, and Tuakau bridge under construction, 1902. Photographer unidentified.

Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22781310

The Waikato River is the longest river in New Zealand, running for 425 kilometres through the North Island. It rises in the eastern slopes of Mount Ruapehu, joining the Tongariro River system and emptying into Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake.  It is fast-flowing, fed by snow-capped mountains in central New Zealand.  Transport inland to the Waikato region from the ocean was via the mouth of the Waikato River.

The Creamery at Tuakau.
Delivery carts lined up outside the creamery at Tuakau (situated at the railway end of the main street). An importing business is situated across the road on the left. Photograph taken by William A Price in early 1900s.

Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22569854

Dairy farms were an important industry in this area and  Waikato land was ideal for cows – flat or rolling – with high rainfall and sunshine hours, and mild winter temperatures that allowed grass to grow nearly all year round.  There was an increasing export industry of milk products especially after the 1880s when refrigerated containers enabled exports to England.

Tuakau Hotel. View of the front facade of the hotel, a two-storeyed wooden building with french doors opening onto the 2nd storey verandah. Photograph taken by William A Price in early 1900s.

Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23218773

 Seventy years old, Tuakau, 1983.

This is St Andrew’s Catholic Church, Tuakau, which was opened on 26 October 1913, photographed the month before its 70th anniversary.  The Geraghtys were devout Catholics so my grandfather would have worshipped here as a child.  Source:  Manukau Research Library, Courier collection, box 18/67.
Footprints 00509

An excellent source for further reading is the following:

Taukau Structure Plan Built Heritage Assesmment – https://www.waikatodistrict.govt.nz/Documents-Library/Files/Documents/Plans,-reports,-publications/Structure-Plans/Tuakau-Structure-Plan/Built-Heritage-Assesst1.aspx

It mentions the Irish Immigrants arriving on the Ganges in 1865

 “Immigrants  from  the  Ganges  (arrived  in  Auckland  on  14  February  1865  from Queenstown,  Ireland),   the  Dauntless (arrived   15   May   1865   from   Kingston,   Dublin)   and   the  Lancashire  Witch (arrived   2   June   1865   from   London)   were   granted   a   ten
acre   block   along   with   a  quarter acre  town  section  in  Tuakau. From  their  ships  most  of  the  settlers  went  first  to  barracks  in  Onehunga,  then  on  to  Drury.  Women  and  children  were  housed  there  while  the  men   travelled   on   the   Great   South   Road   to   Pokeno   ‘and   thence   by   way   of   Whangarata  through   a   bush   track   on   foot   to   Tuakau  where   the   Government   had   provided   military  tents.
The  women  and  children  followed  later  and  generally  began  life  in  Tuakau  in  nikau  whares  with  earthen  floors.  Conditions  for  the  early  immigrant  settlers  improved  only  slowly  and  a  letter  writer  to  the  Daily   Southern   Cross in   November   1866   suggests   that   things   got   worse   before   they   got  better:
A  few  days  ago  I  visited  the  settlement  of  Tuakau,  and  was  not  only  disappointed, but pained  at  the  appearance  of  the  place.  Of  the  fine  body  of  immigrants  planted  there   but   few   remain,   and   with   one   or   two   exceptions   there   is   a   sad   poverty-stricken  appearance  about  it. “
In  the  early  years  many  male  settlers  were  employed  by  the  government  to  construct roads.  The flax industry was also an important industry in the area.  By  1870  there  were 161  flax  mills  in  New  Zealand, including  those  in  the  Waikato,  and  these  employed 1766  workers. The demand for rope made from flax was high in the 19th century.
Production  and  export  peaked  in  the  early  20th century,  by  which  time  Tuakau  was well  established.  The  Waikato  River  was  used  to  transport  the  flax to the  Great  South Road  where  it  was  carted  the  rest  of  the  way  to  Auckland.   In   1992   long time   resident   Percy   Lapwood  recalled  that  there  were  ten  or  more  flax  mills  in  operation in  and  around  Tuakau  in  the  early 20th century:
“The  first  I  remember  were  at  Tuakau  Beach,  John  Poland’s  and  EC Frost’s.  Later
Poland’s   was   taken   over   by   Chas.   Dromgool   and   also E and G Lapwood.  Somervilles had  a  waterpower mill  on  the  creek  below  Mrs  M Dromgool’s  and  this was later worked by  Mr  M  Geraghty  and  then  Mr  JJ Dromgool.  A  little  further  up the  creek  Mr  Chas. Dromgool  had  a  waterpower mill.  Messrs  Poland  and  Black  had  a  water  mill  at Black’s Bridge  on  Buckland  Road,  Mr  BG Geraghty  at  the  foot  of  Harrisville  Hill,  while  Mr  F Geraghty  had  one  on  Mill  Road.  Later,  Mr  M Geraghty had  a steam powered plant  just a  few  yards  up  the  creek  from  the  bridge  a  little north  of  St.  Andrew’s  Church.”
The Geraghty’s he referred to are probably Bartholemew Ganges, Patrick Michael (Mick) and Francis.  Laurence Terence, my great grandfather was a “flax miller” in the 1914 census, so possibly many of our ancestors were employed in this important industry.  It’s interesting to see their names mentioned in historical texts, which gives us some insite into how they lived.  Descendants of the original pioneer family still live in the area.

A Series of Tragedies for the Geraghty family

The Geraghty grave in Tuakau cemetary

The cemetary at Tuakau has many Geraghtys. There is a large monument which contains Bridget and Patrick and a number of their descendants. One of their sons, Patrick Michael, is buried there along with his wife Charlotte. I knew their story would be tragic because the inscription on the gravesite reads : “Patrick Michael Geraghty who was drowned in the Waikato River 25 April 1904 aged 32yrs. Also his wife Charlotte died 8 March 1896 aged 21 years”.

I searched the internet for newspaper articles about his death, because I was certain it would have made news, and this is what I found:


New Zealand Herald, Volume XLI, Issue 12559, 28 April 1904, Page 4

Source: National Library of New Zealand. Papers Past

Newspaper article re. drowning of Patrick Michael Geraghty in 1904

A flaxmiller of Tuakau, Mr. Michael Geraghty, has been drowned. It seems he was a passenger on the steam launch Victory, which runs from Huntly to Mercer. The deceased was taken aboard during the trip, and stood in the stern. When about two miles below Churchill he fell overboard when attempting to avoid some overhanging willow trees. Mr. Soffett, who was in charge of the launch, immediately turned back, and searched for the deceased for two hours without success. Another attempt was made to find the body by a party in charge of Constable Waterman but again without result. Mr. Geraghty was 32 years of age, and leaves a widow with a young family.


New Zealand Herald, Volume XLI, Issue 12561, 30 April 1904, Page 4

Source: National Library of New Zealand. Papers Past

Newspaper article re. Inquest into the death of Patrick Michael Geraghty in 1904

An inquest was held at Mercer, before Mr. F. Webster, J.P., concerning the drowning in the Waikato River of Michael Geraghty, flaxmiller. The jury returned a verdict to the effect that the deceased was accidentally drowned.

The circumstances of his death are tragic indeed, which must have impacted on the Geraghty family very much. Names are commonly passed down from generation to generation, and the name Michael is no exception – one of my great uncles was named after him, born the year following his death. And one of my uncles is also named Michael – his father was born four years after the death, and would have grown up hearing the story from the family.

One sentence in the newspaper articles caught my eye –

Mr. Geraghty was 32 years of age, and leaves a widow with a young family.

I knew that his wife Charlotte had died on 8 March 1896 aged 21 years, from the inscription on the gravestone, so at first I thought the newspaper had got it wrong. On further investigation, however, I discovered he had married again after her death, and had had five children to Mary Hannah East between 1900 and 1905. I also discovered that Charlotte had had a baby, Michael, in 1896.

This raises another question – did Charlotte die during childbirth or soon after? I don’t have an exact date of birth for Michael, but I will be investigating this further – even if I have to pay for her death certificate and his birth certificate.

The Geraghty family must have been thrown into turmoil during those years – they first lose a young daughter-in-law, possibly in childbirth, leaving them with an infant. Then, 8 years later they lose their son, leaving his second wife a widow with five children. I would like to think the large Irish family rallied around her and supported her while she brought up five children on her own.

There are further questions raised here. I know that Bridget and Patrick adopted a boy named Joey from my great-uncle Huey’s letters to my mother. In the same grave as them is buried their son Joseph, who died 25th June 1912 aged 16 years. This would have put his birth date as 1896. Did Bridget and Patrick adopt him because his mother had passed away? It was very common in New Zealand for families to “adopt” children within the family. Whether it was done legally is another matter. I wouldn’t know where to start looking!

Here is what Uncle Huey said about the adoption:

One day after Mass, where they were told, a woman had had a baby, who couldn’t survive, because she had no milk and there were no women nursing at the time – he was a “prem” and slightly deformed with only 1 finger on his right hand – they had no cattle at that time – they went around to this place and on the way home old Bridget wanted the child. Well there was a hellova row. Pat had to give in and they went and got the babe, and kept a 24 hour vigil over him. She had a tin of condensed milk and managed to keep him alive for about 3 days, when he started to liven up. She sent a guy off on horseback to Auckland to get more condensed milk and she saved him. He was the very first child to be reared in this colony by that method. Old Brid kept and reared him, they called him “little Joey”. I believe he helped Uncle Mick to plough “Cloudlands” Hamilton, that included Ruakura. He could handle a 3 horse team with that one finger. He’s buried with them all in the family grave.”

It’s a very intriguing story, and it just confirms my belief that the early settlers in New Zealand were made of incredible stock. They faced such adversity but just got on and dealt with it with hard work and lots of love.

The Geraghty Name

The Geraghty Name

My grandfather, Terence David Geraghty, was a lovely, gentle, happy man. He was born in Tuakau in 1908. As kids we knew he was from Irish stock, which he was very proud of. He often wore a green jersey – the Irish colour. He was the quiet half of the couple – my grandmother Kath was extroverted and loud! Grandpa was happy to sit and listen to everyone else and because he was quite deaf I’m sure a lot of it washed over him. His favourite party trick was to recite an old ditty “There’s a hole in my bucket” – he spoke both male and female parts of the poem, swapping a ladies hat and a man’s hat on his head for each part. Inevitably he would end up mixing the words up and having us all in stitches.

“There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza,
There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, a hole.

        Then fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
        Oh fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, fix it.
With what shall I mend it, dear Liza, dear Liza?
With what shall I mend it, dear Liza, with what?

        With a straw, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
        With a straw, dear Henry, dear Henry, with a straw.

But the straw is too long, dear Liza, dear Liza,
The straw is too long, dear Liza, too long.

        Cut it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
        Then cut it, dear Henry, dear Henry, cut it.

With what shall I cut it, dear Liza, dear Liza?
With what shall I cut it, dear Liza, with what?

        With an axe, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
        With an axe, dear Henry, dear Henry, with an axe.

The axe is too dull, dear Liza, dear Liza,
The axe is too dull, dear Liza, too dull.

        Sharpen it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
        Oh sharpen it, dear Henry, dear Henry, hone it.

On what shall I sharpen it, dear Liza, dear Liza?
On what shall I sharpen it, dear Liza, with what?

        On a stone, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
        On a stone, dear Henry, dear Henry, a stone.

But the stone is too dry, dear Liza, dear Liza,
The stone is too dry, dear Liza, too dry.

        Then wet it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
        Then wet it, dear Henry, dear Henry, wet it.

With what shall I wet it, dear Liza, dear Liza?
With what shall I wet it, dear Liza, with what?

        Try water, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
        Try water, dear Henry, dear Henry,use water.

In what shall I fetch it, dear Liza, dear Liza?
In what shall I fetch it, dear Liza, in what?

        In a bucket, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
        In a bucket, dear Henry, dear Henry, a bucket.

There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza,
There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, a hole.”

Grandpa used to drive an old car, an Austin A40, and whether it was because his hearing was so poor or perhaps he had a little bit of dementia, he drove like a horse with blinkers on. Every Sunday he and my nanna would drive to our place for lunch after church. There was a huge busy intersection at Lake Road, which he’d drive through whether the lights were red or not, oblivious to the chaos it caused. My nanna would regail us with stories of near misses while grandpa never seemed to worry too much. That car was his pride and joy, along with the vegetable garden.

Grandpa’s gentle nature passed on to my mother, and her two brothers resembled him in looks. I was always concerned about my second son Daniel’s weight because he’s very tall and skinny, but when I compare him to his great-uncles and great grandfather, I can see where he gets his looks from and worry less about how thin he is.

My grandparents married in 1934 and started their family in Kaipara which is in Northland, the north of the North Island of New Zealand. They had four children, two boys and two girls and lived  in Dargaville until their daughters moved to Rotorua. My grandparents then packed up and moved to Rotorua as well where they lived happily in retirement.

1969 photo - my Nanna Kath, father Cyril, Grandpa Terence, mother Diana and uncle Terry

1969 photo – my Nanna Kath, father Cyril, Grandpa Terence, mother Diana and uncle Terry

Grandpa's grave in Rotorua cemetary

Grandpa’s grave in Rotorua cemetary

My mother Diana, sister Suzanne, Grandpa Terence (in green jumper!), brother James and Nanna Kathleen on my brother's First Communion day October 1971

My mother Diana, sister Suzanne, Grandpa Terence (in green jumper!), brother James and Nanna Kathleen on my brother’s First Communion day October 1971

I’ll talk more about my grandmother Kathleen’s family heritage in later posts – for now I’m just concentrating on the Geraghty family story.