Smithysgenealogy New Zealand Connections Page



I have just started this page but will be adding a fair bit to it over the coming weeks.

Two of my grandparents were born in New Zealand, so I often think of myself as 'half-kiwi'.  Even though my grandparents left New Zealand in 1918 we still keep in contact with our New Zealand cousins in the South Island descended from Daniel BLACK, brother of my grandmother Lucy Agnes BLACK (1893-1980), many of whom live near Invercargill.

Pedigree of this Black family


My grandmother Lucy Agnes BLACK appears as a girl of about 3 years of age in the photo below with her parents, brothers and older sisters. Lucy Black was the second youngest child of William John and Margaret Black who emigrated to New Zealand during the 1870's. Her parents were both born in what is now Northern Ireland but were married in Glasgow Scotland in 1871, where their families had migrated. William's father Thomas Black from Donegal, was a chemist's labourer and Miles McCulloch, Margaret's father, was a Belfast master grocer who turned to aerated water manufacturing in Glasgow. William trained as a cartwright, a trade which stood him in good stead when in New Zealand.

On February 17th 1874 William and Margaret Black and their 17 month-old son, also named William John embarked on the ship "Varuna" at Glasgow and reached Lyttleton, New Zealand 14 weeks later on May 27th. The "Varuna" carried 322 passengers, among them many assisted immigrants like the Blacks. By June 1875 William and Margaret were settled at Waimate, a small township being carved out of the vast forest that then covered most of the South Island, and 180 kilometres south west of Christchurch.- William was 24 and Margaret was only 18 years of age. The first record of their presence at Waimate is the entry in the register of St Augustines Anglican Church of the burial of their first child, William. A second child, Thomas, was born in September 1875. William and Margaret were to have 13 children in all, only seven of whom (Thomas, Margaret, William George, Daniel, Robert, Alexander, Lucy and Frances) survived early childhood.

One can assume that their early life in New Zealand was difficult but William Black was a physically strong and very capable man who made his way in the world through hard work and a willingness to take risks. Margaret, who had the responsibility of raising a large family and coping with the deaths of a number of her children was undoubtedly of similar mettle to her husband. From the late 1870's the Black family were living in a four room house with attached workshop on 1 acre in the Deep Creek Riding near Waimate. William found employment as a wheelwright and carpenter and no doubt had plenty of work in what was then a rapidly expanding agricultural area. He also took on numerous contracts to build and maintain bridges for the Waimate Borough Council and became a councilor himself in 1879. Perhaps William was too busy to attend to the concerns of a local politician because he was a councillor for only 1 year. A James Robert Black, possibly William's brother was also working as a carpenter in Wiamate after 1878. William's mother Rachel Black also came to Wiamate during the early 1880's to live near her son and his family.

Apparently William did quite well from the early civil engineering contracts and by the 1880's he was ready to enter the 'big time'. In 1874 a proposal had been submitted to the New Zealand government by a Mr John McGregor of Dunedin for the building of a light railway from Waimate to the head of the Upper Waihao River, the proponent (who happened to own 15,000 acres in the valley) claimed that 'not only would extensive land sales be possible but that great tracts of country otherwise inaccessible would be made available'. Mr McGregor even offered to do the surveying himself at a cost of �30 per mile. The offer was accepted and by 1877 the railway was completed. An extension to the line to pass through the Waimate Gorge was then seen as neccesary . In 1882 William Black was the successful tenderer for building the formation, bridges and culverts for the first and third sections of the Waimate Gorge Branch railway for a total of �9040.

'The plan was to have the formation, ballasting and plate-laying all completed at once in time to secure the wool trade for the next season, and a penalty clause was included in the contract of �60 per week over the specified time. Mr Black sub-let the removal of about 80,000 cubic yards of earth, and increased his work force, establishing a camp at the Waimate end and later, on the river flat at the Forks, where he had 130 men under canvas.'

The Waimate Gorge Branch Railway was finished on time and on the 21st Decmber 1882 was officially opened by a party of dignitaries including the Railway Engineer Mr C.Y. O'Connor who was later to become famous as a civil engineer in Western Australia. The railway was subjected to a thorough testing by Mr O'Connor and the examination 'reflected great credit upon Mr Black'.

William Black's ability to manage large numbers of men and successfully complete major civil engineering works no doubt made him a valuable aquisition for the Waimate Burrough Council when he became its County Overseer and Engineer in 1885. He held this position till 1900. Although William's prospects of making large amounts of money diminished when he gave up contracting to become a local public servant, his salary as County Engineer was no doubt quite generous and had the great advantage of being a regular income. During this time the family grew from 6 members to 10, among the additions was a second daughter Lucy Agnes who was born on the 22nd April 1893. The large family was apparently quiet a happy one, and their comfortable circumstances allowed the children to obtain a good education. Music and literature, especially that of Scottish origin, had an important place in the Black household. The fourth son Robert was quite an accomplished landscape painter.

In 1902 William left his job as County Engineer and the family moved from Waimate to Kingsdown near Timaru 35 kilometres to the north where they lived at Kingsdown in a large house amongst farmland. Having given up secure employment, William at the age of fifty entered into contracting again. In May 1900 a tender for �44,943/6/7 was accepted from William Black and his partner Mr Stumbles for work on the Timaru Harbour. The prices being 180,000 tons of rubble blocks at �31,687/10/-, tramline at �3383/6/2, 1200 feet of staging at �9872/10/-. This was a very large project and William and his partner apparently over-reached themselves. They experienced difficulty in arranging for the purchase of plant, and as the matter was regarded as urgent, they were given notice in October that they must expedite the work. In November the resident engineer reported that there was no hope of the mole being completed within the specified time and he advised the Board to determine the contract. After a two-week extension the contract was formally cancelled in January 1901 and after negotiation the partnership of Black & Stumbles was paid �6120/11/- for work carried out .

The firm of W.J. Black and son also built the Opihi Protective Fence in the early 1900's, the Opihi River is just north of Timaru and the work may have been designed to reduce the hazards of erosion and landslips onto the road along the river valley. At this time the firm of W.J. Black and Son (the son was George, born 1881) had a workforce of more than 20, which included about 20 draughthorses, 10 light carts, 2 heavy carts or drays, a gravel scraper and a horse-drawn grader.

Three of the other surviving sons; Thomas, Robert (born 1885) and Alexander (Alick, born 1889) studied to became civil engineers like their father. Daniel (born 1884) worked as a shepherd on the high country stations of Canterbury before sailing to South Africa in 1903 and serving for three years with the Natal Mounted Police before returning to New Zealand. After leaving school in about 1908 Lucy trained as a nurse in Timaru.

In June 1914 William, Margaret and George left New Zealand to take up sugar-cane growing near Ayr in Queensland Australia after a "hearty send-off from Kingsdown friends" . The reason for this dramatic change at such a late stage in their lives (William was 64 and Margaret 58) is not known but the attractions of a warm Queensland climate may have had something to do with it. Unfortunately William had little time to enjoy the climate of north Queensland because he died five months after arriving there, while on a trip to Brisbane to consult a Doctor. Margaret and her son George carried on the farm. Growing sugar-cane at that time was not an easy life but the Blacks had sufficient capital to tide them over such misfortunes as the flooding of their crop by the Burdekin River and a drought in the early 1920's. Margaret and George lived in a large, north Queensland-style house given the Maori name "Te Arowhunua". After Margaret's death in 1925 the sugar farm was sold and George took up an itinerant life of gold prospecting and bridge-building in north Queensland.