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An O'Grady Path into New Zealand History
by P. Danenberg, M. Murtagh & R. Murtagh

Thomas O'Grady's Descendants

The Emigration

In the First Part of our story of the O'Grady Path, we have recounted our best understanding of the circumstances behind the emigration of our Thomas O'Grady and his sister Margaret from Co. Clare to New Zealand in 1861. Although he'd been born as the first son of wealthy Squire Daniel O'Grady of Kildysart in 1839, and had been raised by him for the first eight years of his life as a possible heir to the extensive farmlands that his father held, those prospects changed dramatically in the mid-1840s. In the first instance, Squire Daniel decided to marry a more acceptable lady than Thomas's mother, Bridget O'Loughlin, and then fathered a legitimate son named Daniel with his wife in 1845. A second son, Edmond, followed in 1847, so our Thomas was then left with no immediate prospects of ever inheriting his father's lands.

Although Squire Daniel did provide-for Thomas's mother and the family that he'd produced with her by arranging her marriage to Edmund Walsh Jnr in 1847, accompanied by the leasehold of a valuable farm in Lisheen townland, the arrival of a son to Bridget and Edmund in 1849 then meant that Thomas would never be likely to inherit that farmland either. Under the ravages of the Great Famine at that time, this might not have seemed so bad, but with Squire Daniel's bankruptcy and death in 1853 when things were getting back to normal, Thomas's prospects became zero.

Thomas joined the Irish Constabulary as soon as he was old enough in 1856, since he couldn't afford a military career, but did receive training and valuable experience with them for four years. His subsequent plans to join the Pope's Army in Italy, were fortunately interrupted by the need to accompany sister Margaret to New Zealand. She was betrothed to a former neighbour in Clondagad who'd ventured to Christchurch and had become established there. The prospects in NZ seemed much better than those in Clare, so the emigration was undertaken, not only by Thomas and Margaret in 1861, but was also planned by Bridget and her new family for the following year in 1862. We believe that Thomas did receive significant financial assistance from his father's estates towards this life-changing step.

"Chrysolite" of 1129 tons and believed to be Thomas O'Grady's transport to Lyttelton in 1861
"Chrysolite" of 1129 tons and believed to be Thomas O'Grady's transport to Lyttelton in 1861

So Thomas and Margaret departed from London docks on the 19th of April in 1861, on board the "Chrysolite" en voyage to Lyttelton in the South Island of NZ. Although most of the migration ships took more than 100 days to sail to NZ, and many more than 130 days, Thomas and Margaret were lucky in their choice of vessel. Relevant details of the "Chrysolite" are available from page 351 of "White Wings" by Henry Brett, and record her as being of 1129 tons displacement, and under Captain D McIntyre. In 1861 she arrived off Lyttelton Heads when only 74 days out from London with a passage that was at that time marvellously fast. As an instance of the speed of the "Chrysolite", a son of Captain McIntyre, writing in the "Wanganui Herald" recalled the fact that on this particular trip in 1861, no sooner had sail been got on the ship as she was being towed down the channel than it was a case of 'look out tugs' and at one time the sailor was actually towing the little steamer, and to prevent accidents the tow line had to be cut!

A shipboard diary does exist for that particular 1861 voyage of the "Chrysolite" to Lyttelton, written by John Davies Enys, an English cabin passenger, and now held in the Canterbury Museum records. He was very happy with his cabin and the food, and wrote:

"The Captain is loved by everyone and also had his wife with him. They were to set off from Gravesend on Thursday 18th April in the evening but the ship did not cast off until 8.15am on the morning of Friday 19th April 1861. The pilot left them at 4.00pm. The voyage was very fast beating every other vessel they met for time from England - "have beaten them hollow," said John Enys. On Thursday 14th May, 27 days out, they crossed the line. Neptune and his wife with a baby and barber came to call. The men were shaved and their faces tarred. On Thursday 23rd a cabin passenger who had been larking fell overboard and drowned. On Wednesday 24th July they sighted some rocks off the end of New Zealand, about 50 miles south of Stewart Island. On Thursday 25th they saw the land of Otago. When they reached the port of Lyttelton everyone was talking of the gold fields of Otago. On arrival it was very cold in Lyttelton with snow on the Port Hills. John Enys also made the observation that the hills were covered in flax.”

After arriving in Lyttelton the "Chrysolite" went down to Dunedin, and there took on board several hundred diggers who were bound for the Victorian diggings. In 1861 she brought out 411 immigrants, in addition to 70 first and second class passengers. - (It might be noted that those diggers were a good ten years too late for the main Victorian gold rushes.)

Settling into Christchurch

The following paragraph, taken from RA Chapman's notes in the Canterbury Museum Archives concerns the Christchurch Immigration Barracks, to which Thomas and Margaret were taken.

"On arrival at Lyttelton the immigrants were transferred to the Christchurch Immigration Barracks situated in Market Place (now Victoria Square). Many of the immigrants from the "Chrysolite" were sick during their stay. After being checked on arrival by a doctor "two days were allowed during which the immigrants were free to wash and mend their clothing after their long sea voyage". The immigrants were expected to find employment and move on to their own lodgings. To this end they were encouraged by being charged 3/- a night after receiving one-week of free lodging. The barrack master issued daily rations - bread 1lb, potatoes 1lb, sugar 2oz, tea ¼ oz, salt ¼ oz. The immigrants were expected to do their own cooking."

It is interesting that Thomas's passenger record shows him to be a farm labourer, which suggests that he had no expectations that his RIC background would be of any use in NZ. However by a happy coincidence, he found that the immigration barracks happened to be located next door to the police barracks where the single policemen lived, being paid between £50 and £70 pa. So he was able to make good contact with them, and must have thought that his luck in life had changed to arrive in this far-off colony and find himself quartered so close to a likely source of employment. At that stage, the railways were offering single men 7/- per day plus a room if they worked for them, so it can be supposed that the offer of a job with the police was a much more attractive proposition to Thomas. In fact he was appointed to the NZ Police Force on 26th August, 1861 being less than one month after arrival in Christchurch. And it was on his employment application that we eventually found his stated date of birth as 26th March 1839. We think that Thomas's application with four years of experience in the RIC would have seemed like a godsend to the local Christchurch Force, so it is of no surprise to find his rapid elevation to high ranks. His Police career is covered in another Part of the O'Grady Path. But as an aside, some published details from 17 years later (on the 1st of Jan., 1879) for the pay-rates of non-commissioned police officers showed as follows: the three classes of sergeant received from 9s to 10s per day and sergeant majors received 11s per day. For six days per week and 50 weeks per year this gave an annual salary of about ^150. In September 1879 a seniority list of sergeants was circulated for promotion purposes, and was headed by the four remaining Sergeant Majors including Thomas O'Grady in Christchurch.

As for his sister Margaret, she married Patrick Cunneen in the Shands Track RC parish on 7th August, within ten days of arriving in Christchurch on the 27th of July. On their Intention to Marry document, they were aged 27 and 23 resp. Since the first parish church itself was not built until 1871, the ceremony took place in an unidentified "residence in Christchurch". From sources of local history, this was probably at "New Headford" being the residence of a Mr Patrick Henley in Shands Road, since he was an early benefactor of the RC church in that area. Here is a short summary of Margaret's history in Christchurch:

Shand's Track Links: After their marriage in 1861, Patrick and Margaret Cunneen settled into Shand's Track on the southern outskirts of Christchurch. Land records show that Patrick was given a Crown Grant on 21 Mar 1864 as recorded in Vol. 49D, p186, No. 31,009 which is signed by P.Cunneen. The official wording contains the script:, " do Hearby Grant unto Patrick Cunneen ...his heirs and assigns all that parcel of land ... about Twenty Acres ..... Rural Block 4257 .. ". We can imagine the pure joy of this Irish family at actually owning land for the first time in their family's history, compared to their earlier history of perhaps leasing but more likely just having to provide serf labour to some higher-class land-owner.

Over the subsequent fifteen years, they raised a large family of 7 boys and 3 girls, whose sponsors or godparents included: our Thomas O'Grady, our Frances O'Grady (named as Mary), Anne Cunneen (Patrick's sister), and Anne Lallor (ie Anne Cunneen after her marriage). As well as their farming activities, they apparently also ran a boarding house and an anecdote says that they used to put a candle-lamp in the window at night in order to guide people to it. Patrick died in 1887 from "bone disease", and could only mark his sign (a vertical cross) on his will, but Margaret went on to the age of about 97 before she died on 4th May, 1934 and was able to sign her will properly. She bequeathed her 23 acres in equal portions to three grandchildren.

Thomas's Mother in NZ
In early 2013, routine research for Thomas O'Grady's name on the "NZ Papers Past" website gave an unexpected reward, with the following entry in the "Christchurch Press" for 1st Dec., 1877.

O'Grady: At the residence of Mr Pat Cunneen, Mrs O'Grady, the mother of Sergeant-Major O'Grady of Lyttleton

There were no entries for a corresponding O'Grady death in the death indices. A search of the Roman Catholic Burial Register held at the Canterbury Public Library for 1877 gave the following: - "Welsh, Mrs [Bridget Welsh] on the 30th November was buried Mrs Welsh, Mr O'Grady's mother in the Catholic Cemetery Christchurch." This came as a complete surprise, but our excited follow-up research soon established Bridget's emigration details, with her clearly being in the company of an husband, Edmund Walsh, and their son, also Edmund Walsh.

27 Sep, 1862: Barque "Mersey" arr. ex London yesterday under Capt. Duncan Smith, 271 passengers incl. E. Walsh wife and child. One accidental death overboard.” - Lyttleton Times

Then we found all three of their eventual death details, as below:

9 Jan 1866, Elderly Irishman Edmund Walsh ex Shand's Track, Phthisis Pulmonalis (TB) over a long time, aged 41.”

#3073: 1871 30 Aug, Edmund Walsh age 22, Labourer of Templeton, Phthisis Pulmonalis, ChCh Hospital.

#527: 1877 Nov.28 Bridget Walsh, age 70, chronic bronchitis, m. to Edmund Walsh, 1 son & 1 dau., b. Co. Clare.

With two of our co-authors then scheduled to arrive in co.Clare a few weeks later, we also soon found the full details of Bridget's wedding in Clondagad in 1847.

18 Oct 10: Edmund Walshe to Bridget O'Loughlin marr. by P.Murphy Pt. Tim Walshe & Bridget Walshe” –sic

And coming from this, with the recognition of the land transfer that had occured in Lisheen, we were able to develop the full story presented in our Speculata for Thomas's father, Daniel O'Grady of Shorepark. We can suppose that the Walsh family lived with the Cunneens for some of their initial period in Christchurch, with the two Edmunds gaining useful work in the nearby farming community, as least until their health failed. And we ascertained that Bridget did rent a house across the road from the Cunneens. This means that Bridget was able to spend the last 15 years of her life in reasonably good contact with her two children and 20 grandchildren. After her death in 1877, Patrick purchased that property.

Thomas O'Grady's Family
On December 17 1863 and seventeen months after arriving in Lyttelton, Thomas married Frances Jackson Thompkins at St Michael's Anglican Church in Christchurch. Although that building was burnt down in the late 1860's, its very fine replacement was completed in 1872, and served as the Province's pro-cathedral until 1881. This new St Michael's Church was designed by William John Crisp and was built from massive matai timber members (black pine). It remains as one of the largest in the world for its style. Its distinctive belfry had been built in 1861, so was in place for Thomas and Frances's wedding. The new Christchurch Cathedral in Market Square (ie "the Square") became the Anglican Cathedral for Christchurch in 1881. It may be noted that this latter cathedral was ultimately destroyed by the major 2009 earthquakes near Christchurch, but the wooden St Michael's Church survived intact - a strange irony.

Frances Jackson O'Grady nee Thompkins 1841-1918
Frances Jackson O'Grady nee Thompkins 1841-1918 married Thomas O'Grady, 17th Dec., 1863

Frances Thompkins had been born in Berwick-upon-Tweed on 7 Jun 1840, and her early family history has been well researched back into the 1700's by Carole Cowan of Timaru - to whom grateful acknowledgements are made. Our Frances was the seventh of eight children born to Riddell Edward Thompkins and his wife, Frances nee Bowhill. Following the death of the father, Riddell, in 1843, and then the mother in 1857, our Frances decided to accompany her brother, Mark Riddle Thompkins (enrolled as a Freeman tailor in the Borough of Berwick-upon- Tweed) to New Zealand in order to join yet another brother, Thomas, who had emigrated there in 1855. She and Mark sailed on the "Regina" with 288 other passengers and arrived in Lyttleton on 4th December, 1859, after a voyage of 93 days.

It seems that their passage was paid for by Thomas Thompkins and his friend plus "best-man" named Vincent Sawtell who was a tailor on the corner of Colombo and Cashel Streets in the centre of Christchurch. It's reasonable to suppose that this tailor-linkage was the main reason why Mark and Frances followed this brother to NZ, rather than other brothers to Canada. Of significance (we think) is an Electoral Roll registration for Thomas Bowhill Thompkins living in Heathcote in May 1865, and since our Thomas was stationed at Heathcote from 1861-66, it's possible this is where he met Frances if she were also living there in 1862 or just visiting her brother around that earlier time.

Thomas Thompkins's wife, Joanna, and Mark were witnesses to the wedding of our Thomas and Frances O'Grady for which our Thomas was listed as a Sergeant of Police. On their Intention to Marry document at that time, their stated ages were 26 and 23 resp. Since all of the Thompkins were Anglican, it might be said that Thomas was at least a practical man in that he wasn't prepared to let the question of religion get in the way of his marriage. In that St Michael's still celebrates Anglican High Mass, the differences between the two churches was not great anyway. Unfortunately though, it seems that Thomas's easy-going attitudes were taken advantage of later by Mark Thompkins.

In Dec 1867, Mark Thompkins and a Joseph Coles (listed as publicans) leased Sawtell's property (Town Section 844) but in June of the following year took out two similar mortgages for ^344 each, one to Messrs Deacon & Vincent, and the other to Thomas O'Grady. They went into bankruptcy just two months later, but in December Thomas O'Grady bailed them out of the Deacon-Vincent mortgage by paying ,250 as settlement of the ,344 owed. In the following April, the trustee paid Thomas ,400 (as against his ,594 spent) but in due course retrieved only ,300 by on-selling the lease. So Deacon-Williams lost ,94, Thomas lost ,194, and other creditors presumably lost ,100, since the chattels wouldn't have been worth much. Suffice to say that later in 1869, Mark Thompkins could afford to take over the licence of the Woodend Hotel and 10 acres from an Arthur Ward and retain it for the rest of his life. Presumably these events terminated normal family links between the O'Grady and Thompkins families. But for us, they establish that Thomas had in his possession a significant amount of capital at that time which we attribute to a bequest from his family for leaving Co. Clare.

As might be expected with Thomas being transferred to various towns around NZ during his career, the birthplaces of the children also varied accordingly. Their first child, Thomas William O'Grady, was born on 9th October in 1864 in the Heathcote Valley near Christchurch where Thomas was stationed at the time, and was baptized on 11th of December. Clearly, Thomas was not inclined to name him as Daniel which would have been the normal Irish custom, but we understand a touch of resentment by Thomas towards fate and his father. Not much is known about this son's life, but once he reached voting age, he appears to have been living with his parents at all times. For example, in 1893, he was listed in Oamaru as a tobacconist and living in Severn St being the same address as his parents. Unfortunately he died on 12th of November in 1893 aged 29, although his tombstone in Oamaru indicates that he was only 26 year's old.

Georgina Mary O'Grady was born in 1866 in the Heathcote Valley also, and baptized on 1st July 1866 with the recorded sponsorship of Mark and Joan Thompkins. Having recognized the importance of Georgina Mahon to Thomas in his childhood at Shorepark, we can understand the logic of this name rather than the conventional wife's mother's name of Frances. Of further interest is that both Georgina and her mother were later baptized into the Catholic faith in Rangiora, under condition, on 31st Oct., 1869, noting that Thomas had been transferred to that district in June, 1867. So we think that Thomas did decide to influence his family's religious direction both because they were all further away from his brothers-in-law's influences, but perhaps also as a snub to him because of the fraud that had cost Thomas's money.

The Heathcote Valley running from Banks Peninsula down to the Canterbury Plains, with Christchurch invisible in far distance.
The Heathcote Valley running from Banks Peninsula down to the Canterbury Plains,
with Christchurch invisible in far distance. Ferrymead is at mid-extreme-right of pic.

Georgina (or Tottie as she was known) never married, but ran hotels in and around Christchurch, with the last one being on the corner of Madras and St Asph Streets. She died on 30th Nov., 1920 aged 54 in the Catholic Lewisham Hospital in Christchurch, and is buried alongside her aunt, Margaret Cunneen, at the Shand's Rd Cemetery.

From all accounts she was a very strong and even fearsome lady, who nevertheless gave strong support to her Catholic church. In her will, she provided money for the training of priests, and she also gave a scholarship to St Bede's College in Christchurch. She made provision for most of her nieces and nephews to receive good educations at Catholic schools, but did not do so for Harry's children. While this was later resented somewhat by those children, we think that they hadn't been told that Tottie had in fact left Harry a sum of £400 to spend as he wished. Perhaps she thought that Harry wouldn't appreciate education fully since he had received little himself, but more likely with his having seven children and all being daughters, her purse might not cope. Besides, their need for education would have been low since by the time Tottie died and her estate had been settled, even Harry's youngest daughter, Molly, would have been 14 or 15, and maybe like her sisters, had already left school.

Harry O'Grady was born on 25th of March, 1868 in Rangiora and baptized on the 9th of July, so was aged 19 years when his parents moved on their final "shift" into Oamaru. His childhood consisted of many such moves. His first NZ Electoral Roll entry was in 1893 where he was listed as a "farm servant" so it seems likely that he followed his early life as his father had done, as a farm labourer. In that Harry became the principal character in our story when Thomas O'Grady died, his story is told in more detail below.

Frances Mary O'Grady was born in Rangiora on 19th of Feb., 1870, and was baptized within eight days on the 27th of February. This abnormally rapid baptism (for NZ practice) suggests that she was not a robust baby, and we know that she died some 30 month's later in Nov. of 1871, but not from what cause. Thomas was based at the nearby (but much smaller) town of Leithfield at that time, so we presume that that town did not have a catholic cemetery because she is buried alone from the family in the Rangiora Cemetery with only a plaque to mark her death.

Fanny McLaren (nee O'Grady)
Fanny McLaren (nee O'Grady)

Fanny O'Grady was born in Leithfield on 19th of September in 1872, and baptized on 19th of January in 1873. She married John McLaren in the Christchurch Catholic cathedral on the 17th of February in 1897, but settled into Oamaru afterwards and lived in Stour St. They had two sons, John Ewen MacLaren and Douglas Mortimer MacLaren of whom John served in the First World War, and Douglas in the Second. Fanny died in her Gloucester St residence in Christchurch on 17th Dec., 1931. One co-writer, Mary Murtagh, can remember seeing very nice photographs of these two boys in their uniforms prior to going off to war, and was always impressed by them. So it is perhaps not surprising that her own two boys eventually carried two of these names forward.

The sixth child was Harold Mortimer Francis O'Grady, and was born on 31st March 1875, and baptized on 16th May in Lyttelton. Mort was listed as a commercial traveller on the Coast in 1908, but he married Augusta Hoffman on 19th May 1909 in Oamaru and after settling in Greymouth, they produced a family of two daughters, Eileen and May who never married, and "young" Mort. Another son named Tommy apparently had Downes Syndrome and died at age 20.

Mary Murtagh can remember her "Aunty Gus" quite well, and her two daughters who lived and worked in Greymouth - May became a matron at the hospital, while Eileen was a schoolteacher. A story exists that on one occasion, Eileen stamped her foot in front of the class over something that upset her and it went right through the floor. In recent years, Mary has renewed her acquaintance with young Mort's daughter, Margaret, who like Mary thought that her grandfather was named "Harry". After a little thought, they both realized that Harry could be used for both Harry and for Harold, but how Thomas O'Grady's family got on when both boys were at home was a puzzle. Then they remembered that his son (Margaret's father) was called "young Mort" so implying that Margaret's grandfather was called "Mort" around the home.

Francis Carrol O'Grady
Francis Carrol O'Grady

Francis Carrol O'Grady was born on 12th Oct, 1879 in Lyttelton, and was clearly named after his uncle back in Co. Clare. He was dux of St Kevin's in Oamaru and later became a mercantile clerk. He married Nellie Morrissey, who was a dress-maker, on 10th April 1913 in the Christchurch Catholic Cathedral. They had three sons: Thomas O'Grady, Francis Murtagh O'Grady, and Desmond Joseph Anthony O'Grady. Frank never married but his middle name provides an interesting link between the Murtagh and O'Grady families - his mother being Irish, presumably had a Murtagh ancestor in her family tree; Des lived in Riccarton until after the 2011 earthquake afterwhich he moved to Nelson and then back to Christchurch, all while in his 90's! The writers recently contributed towards Des having his Y-DNA profile measured, and since he is a direct grandson of Thomas O'Grady, this will have direct links back into the Kildysart genealogy and beyond.

Patrick Joseph O'Grady was born in Patea in Taranaki in 1885, and died in the Wanganui Hospital on 22 Sept., 1961, aged 76.

Mary Maude O'Grady (aka May) (below) was born in Greymouth in 1883 and married William Power an accountant in 1917. They had 3 children Desmond, Shona and Marie. She died on 3rd Nov., 1969, aged 86.

Mary Maude O'Grady (aka May)
Mary Maude O'Grady (aka May)

One final comment - it's a strange coincidence with Thomas O'Grady's wife Frances having a middle-name of Jackson, and one of his grandsons (Frank) having a middle-name of Murtagh (both of these being unusual surnames), that one of his GGG-grandsons is named Jackson Murtagh! Our Jackson is a garrulous and gentle 13-year old (in 2014) of large stature whom we would like to think reflects his Irish forbear.

Thomas O'Grady had a long and varied, but sometimes confrontational, career in the New Zealand Police Force, as described on an adjacent webpage. He retired from it in Oamaru on December 31 1901 at the age of 62 under section 13 Police Provident Fund Act with a life allowance of £120-9s per annum. After this retirement, Thomas and his family moved to a home in Rother St, Oamaru, but then for three or four years became an Inspector of Factories operating out of the upper floor of the Oamaru Post Office. No doubt his experience and stature around Oamaru would have made him a very suitable person for carrying out this role. With a thriving Woollen Mills, and various other factories in the area, Thomas would have been kept busy ensuring that all of the factory regulations were adhered to and that safe working places were achieved.

Only a few anecdotes have survived concerning Thomas, although contemporary reports suggest that he was a vibrant character who had many of his own interesting stories to tell. Although we can't vouch for their accuracy, they nevertheless convey impressions of an interesting and practical man. The incident concerning Mrs Simpson is recounted in the Appendix. It is said that Thomas enjoyed his grandchildren, but that if any of them were visiting him and perhaps became somewhat unruly, he would say "that he had an unused cell in his gaol for naughty children, and they might get locked up in there." Apparently it was great fun to be locked-up in his gaol so this was always enjoyed despite the threat.

Thomas O'Grady (1839-1913) in later years
Thomas O'Grady (1839-1913) in later years, with his little dog "Kuri".
Note his watch-chain, hat, and waistcoat.

Thomas's grand-daughter Kathleen, who was 15 when Thomas died, remembered him best in his duties as the Factory inspector working in the Post office building. She described him as a fine old man who was warmly regarded by his friends.

Thomas's Obituaries

Thomas O'Grady died on 15th of June in 1913 aged 74 in Nurse Stronach's Private Hospital from a perforated duodenal ulcer that had turned into peritonitis. His obituary which appeared in the Oamaru Mail on Tuesday June 17 1913 shows the high esteem in which he was held.

"Sergeant O'Grady, whose death is announced today, was a familiar identity in North Otago, and especially in Oamaru, where he resided for a number of years. The deceased gentleman was born in County Clare, Ireland in 1840 and while still a young man pursued Fortune in New Zealand, arriving at Lyttelton in 1862. Possessed of a genial disposition he made a host of friends, to whom he never tired of relating his almost lifelong experiences as a police officer.

Sergeant O'Grady joined the police force immediately after his arrival in New Zealand and was afterwards stationed in different parts of the Dominion, his districts including Poverty Bay, Thames, Napier and the West Coast. In common with police officers in the earlier days, Sergeant O'Grady had many exciting experiences, and in his dealings with some of the more desperate cases he used such tact and courage as showed his fitness for promotion in the force.

He was transferred to Oamaru about 25 years ago, when Inspector Thompson was in charge of the police district, and, on the latter's removal, succeeded him as officer in charge. Sergeant O'Grady, on his retirement from the force on superannuation, was superseded in his police duties by Sergeant King. Afterwards he was appointed Inspector of Factories, a position which he held until a rearrangement of the duties pertaining to that department forced him into private life. Since then Sergeant O'Grady had lived in practical retirement.

He was a prominent member of the Roman Catholic Community, and in the counsels of the church organizations his opinions were regarded with respect and esteem. Sergeant O'Grady also held strong political opinions on the liberal side, and, although a good fighting man in times of political stress, he was never offensive. The late Sergeant O'Grady had attained the age of 73 years. He is survived by Mrs O'Grady and four sons and three daughters, to whom the sympathy of the community will be extended in their bereavement.

Although the above obituary has a few errors in relation to dates and ages, it otherwise gives insight into the type of man Thomas O'Grady was. Other obituaries included most of the above, but included additional tributes as:

. . .probably the best known figure on Oamaru streets for the past quarter of a century” - Tablet

“. . .was the last of the force to hold the old rank of Sergeant Major in the New Zealand Police.”

“. . .Sergeant O’Grady was ever a popular official, and his career as an officer has been marked by many a stirring adventure

Thomas was buried in Oamaru after which Frances went to live in Christchurch with her daughter, but was buried with Thomas in Oamaru after her death on 2nd August, 1918 aged 77. Their family headstone in a prominent part of the cemetery seems to befit important members of that local society. The inscription on it reads:

“Until the day breaks and the shadows flee away RIP.”

Tombstone of Sergeant Thomas O'Grady, Frances Jackson O’Grady
Tombstone of Sergeant Thomas O'Grady, Frances Jackson O’Grady
and Thomas William O’Grady, Oamaru

While carrying out research in the Oamaru Historical Museum, we were fortunate to "find" Thomas's final Will and Estate documents. They showed that his total estate of over £1117 incurred death duties of £9/9s/3d and provided £67/13s/10d for each of his surviving seven children, and £643 /3s/10d for his wife, Frances. Note that both Thomas William and Frances Mary had predeceased him. Georgina and Frank (Francis Carrol) were appointed as his executors, and the papers included an interesting letter from Frank to their solicitor indicating that Frances had received a cheque from the Insurance Company upon Thomas's death, and that she was insisting on taking the proceeds herself. Frank needed the solicitor to explain that this money was really part of Thomas's estate and that she should pass it to himself so that the estate could be finalized. The sums involved in his estate were significant for those days, and again represented a high assessment of the worth of Thomas and his family to society.

Harry O'Grady's Family
As indicated earlier, Harry became Thomas and Frances's principal surviving male when their eldest son, Thomas William, died in 1893. Harry was born in Rangiora on 25th March 1868 and married Mary Bowler on 23rd August, 1894 in Oamaru, he being 26 and she being 25. Harry's early Electoral Roll entries show him as a "farm servant" and with addresses of both Severn St and North Town Belt. We suspect that in fact he lived at home in the Severn St police station, and worked out on the land to the north of the town. As for Mary, we know that she worked consistently at the Woollen Mills from January 1884 up until when she was married. Harry continued to be listed as residing in Severn St up until 1901, but we know that his brother-in-law, John Bowler, died at their home in Beach Rd in November, 1900. By then, he and Mary had had four daughters, so presumably Harry had thought it best to live separately from his parents. In any case, with Thomas due to retire in 1901 and planning to move to Rother St, it made sense for Harry to move before they were forced to. In 1902, he was listed as a "mill hand" at the Oamaru Woollen Factory so it seems as if he took the opportunity to change both his residence and his job in the first year of the new century. For the rest of his working career up until 1928, he evidently worked at the woollen mills, but after his father died in 1913, he shifted his family into Rother St where he and Mary remained resident until their respective deaths. A family story exists that their house in Beach Rd was washed into the sea, and while that is undoubtedly true, we believe from local historians that this would not have occurred until long after the Harry O'Grady family had left it and had started to live in Rother St.

Harry and Mary's children started arriving early and regularly over the next few years after their marriage in 1894. Frances Mary was born on 20th Dec, 1894 and baptized on 23rd Dec with godparents of Francis and Mary O'Grady. Her birth wasn't registered until Feb 1895. Eileen May was born on 4th November, 1896 and baptized on 2nd Dec. with her aunt, Frances O'Grady, as godparent. Nellie Kathleen was born on 5th November, 1898, and baptized on 14th Dec with a godparent of Nellie Corcoran. Winifred was born on 23rd July, 1900 and baptized on 2nd Sept with Kate McGrail as godparent.

The family talk of a stillborn son that was a great disappointment to Harry, and we presume that that probably happened around 1902 because the next daughter, Lilian Margaret, arrived on 20th Sept, 1903 and was baptized on 18th October with a godparent of Norah Connell. Queenie Doreen arrived on 6th October, 1904, and was baptized on 14th of December with Hannah Cartwright as godparent. Of interest is that the address of Doreen's birth was recorded in the baptismal record as "near factory" Oamaru, and this might suggest that she arrived early and somewhat unexpectedly for Mary since she and Harry were clearly listed in Electoral Rolls and in Post Office Directories as living in Beach Rd at that time. Their last daughter, Molly Cecily was born on 15th May in 1907, but we don't know her baptismal details. At that stage, Harry was surrounded by 8 females, and it might be supposed that he thought that that was enough. Certainly Jack Fowler, who married Molly, felt that Harry always enjoyed his company as another male to talk to whenever he visited.

From all accounts, Harry kept a good garden, and was an excellent shot with the rifle when it came to supplementing the family larder with rabbits. Plus he was a keen fisherman. He was commonly recognized as being a very quiet man, and perhaps this might be associated with the majority of strong women around him. He rolled his own cigarettes and often lit them with a taper from the kitchen stove. On one occasion he went with his grandsons, Reg and Des Fowler, to get firewood from the beach to the south of Oamaru, but the river which they had to wade through was too deep for him. Eventually though, he did wade through to help his grandsons. Harry died on 30th July, 1937, and is buried in his family plot in Oamaru Cemetery. Mary ensured that all of his guns were removed from the house after he died, but she continued to live in Rother St for another 16 years until 2nd of December 1953 when she died from bowel cancer (as reported by Jack Fowler). They are buried together with two of their daughters, Lilian and Winifred. In his obituary it was stated that:

"he was a keen sportsman and spent much of his leisure shooting, being a very accurate shot with the rifle; Mr O'Grady married Mary Bowler, a member of a very old Oamaru family, and to her and her daughters, heartfelt sympathy."

Harry’s Children
Harry and Mary's daughters were an interesting lot. Their eldest, Fanny, was stated to be very beautiful, but she endured a tragic life that nowadays would have been very different under our modern social attitudes. When she found herself pregnant and not planning to give her baby away, she went to Otahuhu and her son Michael Justin O'Grady was born in the first quarter of 1927. Fanny and he then went to Ashburton as a widowed Mrs O'Grady and son. She kept house for a gentleman in Ashburton and then married him in April 1929. Their son James Noel (private) was born on 25th December, 1929. Evidently Fanny's elder son, Michael, changed his name to his mother's new surname because all of his eventual children had that surname. Molly and her husband, Jack Fowler, used to visit Fanny occasionally, and apparently were the only ones to do so, but she died on 24th February, 1938, aged 43. It seems outrageous to us that either social pressures or else the Church's influence could so separate her from the rest of her family.

Fanny O'Grady 1894-1938 Eldest daughter of Harry & Mary, Mother of Michael & James Parsons
Fanny O'Grady 1894-1938 Eldest daughter of Harry & Mary, Mother of Michael & James Parsons

Eileen May O'Grady worked at the Bullards Fashion Store in Oamaru, and married Jack Hanlon, a non-catholic on 17th September in 1920. She later changed her name to Maie to avoid confusion with her sister-in-law Eileen Hanlon, and it stuck! They farmed sheep near Oamaru and their only child, Lorraine, was born in May, 1921. Three years later they moved to Roxburgh in the Clutha Valley of Central Otago and later in 1947 moved to Auckland where they lived until Jack died in 1962. Maie and Lorraine then moved back to Christchurch to be closer to the family.

Two of the writers, Mary and Ron Murtagh, remember Maie as a very correct lady who growled at them on one occasion when they were 20 minutes late for tea after being stuck in the North Auckland traffic over the Harbour Bridge. On a much earlier occasion, Maie had gone down to Christchurch to care for Molly's family after Molly had gone into hospital. Mary was somewhat lonely without her Mum in the house, and decided to defy Maie's edict that she wasn't to cross the street to visit her friend. Maie suspected that Mary had gone to the neighbour's house and despite Mary's escape through the neighbour's front door, Maie chased her around and around the garden until she caught her and promptly despatched her into bed until her father came home.

Maie died in 1976 and Lorraine in 2006. She told us that her great-grandfather Hanlon had also been in the RIC as a young man but had left Ireland in order to go gold mining in NZ. When that fever had subsided, he joined the NZ Police Force in Dunedin, so giving Lorraine the distinction of having had two great-grandfathers in the RIC and in the NZ police force.

Jack, Lorraine & Maie Hanlon with Molly, Mary & Jack Fowler
Jack, Lorraine & Maie Hanlon with Molly, Mary & Jack Fowler at Auckland Zoo, c. 1954

Nellie Kathleen O'Grady was also a somewhat stern and proper lady. After she left school, she was employed at a chemist's shop that had an upstairs room in Oamaru, and the story goes that all of the young men in town used to hang around the shop so that they could see Kathleen's ankles when she climbed up and down the circular stairway. She married William James Thompson, a Civil Engineer, in the Oamaru Basilica on 20th July 1923 in what must have been a memorable ceremony for Kathleen because she was just a small person and the Basilica is so large and impressive.

Kathleen (O'Grady) and William Thompson
Kathleen (O'Grady) and William Thompson

Their daughter, Colleen, was born in Takapuna, NZ on 27th July, 1924 and their son, Brian, was born in Kingswood, Sth Australia on 20th February 1929. William was the eldest son of Mrs M.Young-Thompson of "Moss Mort" in Wimbledon Park near London and worked for the Shell Oil Company, so it wasn't surprising that Kathleen and her family subsequently lived for some years on a Shell refinery island just near Singapore. As a consequence, they used to travel frequently to and from the UK and NZ on holidays. We think that Kathleen's somewhat imperial manner was probably developed as a consequence of living near Singapore with servants and being married to William with his English background. However, in 1934 they settled into Melbourne, where William died on 17th Sept., 1952.

Colleen & Brian Thompson
Colleen & Brian Thompson

Colleen spent her career working for the Australian naval Service in Melbourne, while Brian was an accountant with a number of Melbourne companies. Neither of them married, so when Ron and Mary Murtagh settled into Melbourne with their two sons, Philip and Douglas, in the late 1960's, Kathleen and Colleen and Brian all enjoyed having the children around them from time to time. It might be said that Colleen spoilt them a little with many visits to the pictures and associated children's restaurants but they all seemed to enjoy themselves. Kathleen eventually outlived all of her sisters and both of her children, so it was fortunate for her that Mary was on-hand in Melbourne to take care of her in her last several years. She died on 1st of May in 1990 aged 91.

Kathleen, Grand-Ma Mary & Winnie at the back door of Rother St
Kathleen, Grand-Ma Mary & Winnie at the back door of Rother St

Winifred O'Grady was from all accounts a lovely lady who devoted her life to looking after her mother, Mary, and all of her immediate family. It's clear that all of her nieces and nephews thought that she was a wonderfully warm and caring person. She died on 27th June in 1957, aged 56, from a cerebral haemorrhage after having atherosclerosis and hypertension for some time. It seems a shame that after caring for her mother for such a long time, she only had three years or so in which to lead her own life after her mother had died.

Winnie O’Grady
Winnie O’Grady

Winnie O'Grady & her mother, Mary, at an Oamaru function
Winnie O'Grady & her mother, Mary, at an Oamaru function

Not very much is known about Lilian Margaret O'Grady who apparently had Bright's Disease which caused her to be somewhat weak for all of her life. Unfortunately, she became pregnant and her weak heart condition made her more susceptible to eclampsia, known as "pregnancy poisoning" where her own kidney and heart systems became unable to handle the extra load imposed by her baby She died in Oamaru from the associated heart failure on the 8th of February in 1928, aged 24 years. It is interesting to note that this was one year after Fanny's first son had been born in Auckland, and three days prior to Molly's first son, Reg, being born. Lilian was buried in Harry's family plot at the Oamaru cemetery. Altogether, this must have been a heart-wrenching time for Harry and Mary with their different daughters experiencing all of life's drama in that one-year period.

Lilian O'Grady 1903-1928
Lilian O'Grady 1903-1928. Photo taken at Dainty Studios in Oamaru.
Note the same chair as in Kathleen & William's photo.
By elimination, we believe it's Lilian aged about 20 year's.

Queenie Doreen O'Grady was also a physically small person, and a story tells that her mother, Mary, once dropped her as a baby while reading a penny-dreadful magazine in bed. She married a returned serviceman named Eric James McClure, but both she and Eric smoked heavily and perhaps as a consequence did not have any children.

Mary recounts that on one Christmas eve while she was in town with Molly, they bumped into Eric in Cathedral Square, and being a little inebriated, he gave her half a crown as a present. Apparently Doreen wasn't too impressed. She died on 20th May, 1958 aged 53, from a cerebral haemorrhage while hanging her washing out on the line, and is buried at Bromley cemetery.

Eric & Doreen McClure, with Winnie O'Grady and Molly & Jack Fowler
Eric & Doreen McClure, with Winnie O'Grady and Molly & Jack Fowler

By this time, any reader could be forgiven for thinking that the dynasty of Harry O'Grady did not look like surviving for many generations, with his daughters either failing to marry, or failing to produce children who married, or else when they did produce children they either died or became estranged from the family. In this last case, Fanny O'Grady's son Michael would have provided a surviving male O'Grady line, but he changed his surname.

However, the success of Harry's line did become assured through his youngest daughter, Molly Cecily O'Grady. After her schooling, Molly worked with Winifred and Doreen in the Oamaru Railway Station Restaurant which was a high class silver-service and starched tablecloth establishment. A photograph exists of the three of them in their lace-fringed uniforms waiting for the next trainload of travellers to arrive. Molly met Jack Fowler who was an apprentice engineer in the Oamaru Foundry and who owned a big Harley motorbike. They married in Greymouth on 11th July 1927 and produced five children and 11 grandchildren, with our two female co-authors numbered among them.

Molly & Jack Fowler near Greymouth Railway Station in 1927
Molly & Jack Fowler near Greymouth Railway Station in 1927

With the greater recognition these days of the role of genetics in many diseases, it seems pertinent to point out that many of the O'Grady womenfolk seemed to suffer from some form of cardiac / vascular weakness. Not yet recounted is the fact that Molly was seriously ill in her mid-50s with such difficulties, and her daughter, Mary Murtagh, has had life-saving heart surgery already. Additionally, some members of the family have been diagnosed with haemochromatosis. So it might be of interest and potential practical help to future generations of the family if another researcher were to carry these observation through into a more detailed medical study. We don't know the cause of early death for other descendants of Thomas O'Grady, but these might be related, too.

Molly O'Grady on the back steps at Rother St, Oamaru
Molly O'Grady on the back steps at Rother St, Oamaru

In this final paragraph of the O'Grady story, it does seem relevant to return to the earlier observation that the most important decision in Thomas O'Grady's life was his joining of the RIC. This clearly became the stepping stone to the rest of his successful life in NZ despite his possible disadvantage of being Irish. A comparison with the life of William Bowler, another Irish immigrant, whose daughter Mary married Harry O'Grady is of great interest and seems to accentuate the importance of Thomas's decision.

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