Irish Connections

Vol. 6 No. 1 -1989

Irish Connections

by Dorothy Castles
New Zealand

It was while working in Gisborne, North Island, New Zealand in 1972 when I met a cousin, of whose existence I had not previously known, that I first became interested in trying to work out family relationships. That was the start of what has become a fascinating study, learning something of, and from where, our family originated. Visiting an elderly second cousin in New Plymouth the following year, she was able to fill me in on a vital missing link, that my great grandfather had emigrated from Ireland on board the sailing vessel 'Cicero'.

The Castles family emigrates to New Zealand

From our National Archives I found that in 1875, James and Rachel Castles, with their children William, Mary Ann, Eliza Jane, Robert, Rachel and John, made their way from Northern Ireland to Plymouth, then embarked on a one hundred and six day journey to the other side of the world. Though the trip was long it was marked by fine weather; south past Cape de Verde, across the Equator on March 6, then on into the Indian Ocean and east to New Zealand, round the Snares and up to Banks Peninsula and so to Lyttleton on May 19.

James found work just south of Christchurch, but by March 1876 when Samuel was born, he was boundary shepherd on St. Leonards, one of the big stations in North Canterbury. Soon after, this land was cut up into smaller blocks, James buying land at Rotherham where he built a three roomed cob cottage, settled and brought up his family. Here in 1880 Thomas was born, but sadly Samuel had died the year previously, after being kicked by a horse.

This research had got so far, so much known of the family in New Zealand, but nothing of their origins. Then I had the good fortune to meet a Miss Lavery, originally from Ireland. She remarked on my likeness to a former school friend in the Lurgan area. So began a correspondence with Mrs Florence Gracey (nee Cassells), also interested in the family history.

The first reference so far found in Ireland to the New Zealand branch of the family is Robert and Eliza Castles resident in Tullymore, a townland in the parish of Kilmore, diocese of Armagh, in the late eighteenth century. They had two sons James born 1809 and Verner born 1814, both of whose baptisms are recorded in the Parish Register of Kilmore Parish Church.

In the Parish Register of Tartaraghan Parish Church, "James Castles of Tullamore, Parish of Kilmore and Mary Williamson of Eglish, Parish of Tartaraghan were married in the Church by Licence with consent of Parents the Seventh Day of October 1830".

Their children's baptisms are recorded in the Parish Register of Kilmore - Robert 1831, Eliza Jane 1835, Verner 1838 and James 1841. The youngest son James married Rachael Myers of Lurgan in 1863, and settled in Derrinraw. The Griffith Valuation of 1864 shows James Castles leasing House and Land from Charles Stanley in Derrinraw. Of the six children born, those of Eliza Jane, born 1866, Robert 1869, Rachael 1872 and John 1874 are recorded in the baptismal records of Tartaraghan Parish Church.

Emigration after the famine

The tide of emigration which had begun in Ireland after the Famine years of 1845-46 reached a flood in the years 1871-91. In these two decades the Census of Ireland shows a total of forty thousand one hundred and eight people from County Armagh alone. James and Rachael Castles with their six children were part of this exodus when they availed themselves of the Government assisted passage to New Zealand in 1875. The following extract from the Littleton Times May 20, 1875 on the arrival of the Cicero, the sailing ship on which they voyaged gives an insight into conditions on board an emigrant ship of the period.

"This fine iron vessel was signalled on Tuesday evening, but owing to the strong south- west wind and ebb-tide, her number was not run up, and she did not make the Heads until yesterday morning, when she came up to an anchorage off the Pilot Station, Little Port Cooper. Yesterday morning the Health Officer, and the Immigration Officers proceeded down to the ship in the S.S. Mullough, and as information had been received from the pilot that all was well, and that no disease had occurred during the passage, the vessel was at once cleared and all proceeded on board. The vessel is a strong built iron vessel with lofty 'tween decks; has a good sheer, but looks wanting in beam, and judging from appearance, was evidently built for carrying cargo. Her cabin accommodation is very limited. The usual inspection was made after the Commissioner had passed the vessel. The single girls' compartment was very clean, the bunks being roomy, and the place well ventilated and lighted. The girls who came out under the care of Mrs Friend, matron, are well spoken of. There are only a small number - thirty six - several of whom come out to friends.

The ship carried a cow which, during the voyage, supplied the immigrants' children and the sick, with milk. In the married people's compartment, everything was found to be in excellent order. There were twenty eight married families and about sixty children. The stores were excellent and the galley and condenser had acted well. Forward was the single men's compartment, and the way it was kept reflected great credit on the seventy men, mostly agricultural labourers, who occupied it. The immigrants come out under the care of Dr W J Davison, the surgeon-superintendent, and he has earned the esteem and good will of all on board by his kind attention to those under his charge.

The following is the captain's report:

"Left Plymouth on February I, passed the Lizards on the 3rd, wind light and westerly and weather fine, consequently little sea-sickness was experienced by the passengers. Fine weather and light westerlies continued to 42 degrees north, which had excellent effects on the health of all on board, but a very bad one on the length of the passage.

Fine weather with the exception of a gale of twenty four hours' duration from the north-west, was experienced until Cape de Verde Islands were reached. Here the ship remained in calms and light winds for five days. Crossed the Equator on March 6. The meridian of Greenwich was reached after a long passage of sixty four days. After passing the Snares on May 16, a strong gale from the south sprang up; the lights of the Nuggets were sighted at 3.30am on the 17th, and Banks Peninsula came into view at day break on the 18th.

The health enjoyed by all on board throughout the passage was excellent. Four births of female infants took place during the month of April, one of whom died a short time after its birth. A marriage was also solemnised between two of the immigrants during the early part of the voyage, which was the outcome of arrangements made before leaving Plymouth.

Although the passage was a protracted one of 106 days, the weather experienced was exceptionally fine, and added greatly to the comfort and well-being of all on board. Should the weather permit, the ship will be brought up to an anchorage today, when the remainder of the immigrants will be landed.

The Passenger List for the voyage details the break down by nationality of the passengers:

English 115, Scotch 16, Irish 75, Welsh 12, German 2.

Total 220 souls.

The Minister for Immigration, Wellington, New Zealand was authorised to make the following payments to the ship's officers:

  • To the Surgeon Superintendent fifty pounds.
  • To Captain Raymond twenty five pounds.
  • To the Chief Officer ten pounds.
  • To the Officer who serves out the provisions five pounds.
  • To the Matron five pounds.
  • The Rev Mr Carlyon proceeds as Schoolmaster, and in consideration of his services, the sum of twenty pounds has been paid to the New Zealand Shipping Company towards his cabin passage.
  • To the Constables - Ordinary two pounds each.

Descendants of James and Rachael Castles are now found throughout New Zealand, and thanks to the knowledge that we have gathered, will always be proud to know of our courageous Irish ancestors.

Cob Cottage
The Cob Cottage built by James Castles at Rotherham North Canterbury, New Zealand with James standing outside. (Probably taken 1880-'89).

There is a marked similarity between this cottage and its Irish counterpart, corrugated iron taking the place of the Irish thatch as a roofing material.


  • Immigration Archives, Provincial Library, Wellington. New Zealand.
  • Griffith Valuation of Ireland. P.R.O.N.I.
  • Parish Records. P.R.O.N.I.
  • Census of Ireland 1901. P.R.O.N.I.