Sunday, April 29, 2018

New Zealand Immigrants

The Swinbournes
Richard Swinbourne (1789-1866) and his wife, Ann McGrath (1790-?), my 3rd great-grandparents,were born in Ireland and died in New Zealand.
They had ten children: 7 sons and 3 daughters. Some of the children emigrated to the United States (last name changed to Swinburne), and some of the children emigrated to New Zealand.
As I wrote in my last blog, a Norwegian ancestor and his family emigrated to America due to famine conditions in Norway. Ireland, too, had famine conditions. Beginning in 1845, and lasting into the 1850s, the potato famine killed over a million men, women, and children in Ireland and caused another million to flee to the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. At the time of this mass migration, the Irish were among the poorest people in what was considered the “Western World.”
Richard and his wife left Collon, County Louth, Ireland, for Christchurch, New Zealand, aboard the Duke of Portland steamship on 20 June 1852.  The ship arrived in Lyttelton, New Zealand (just south of Christchurch), on 21 October 1852. At the time of their departure, Ireland was still suffering from the “Great Famine” which lasted from September 1845-1852. [1]

It just happens that at the time of the Swinbourne immigration, Australia and New Zealand were using financial schemes to help pay for the costs of immigration:  They wanted settlers.  However, not everyone received financial assistance. The governments used these schemes to exercise control over who got to immigrate; and, these schemes were biased against the poor. [2] It is, perhaps, the offer of financial assistance that encouraged Richard to head to New Zealand rather than to America.  It was certainly a much longer trip: 10 days to America versus 75-120 days to New Zealand. [3] 

It has been reported that Richard was “given a prize” by New Zealand for the promise of bringing sons with him from Ireland. [4] In fact, of the seven sons, two are known to have emigrated to New Zealand, and it is believed that another three sons also made that trip. 
Google Image
Richard Swinbourne

Their accommodations aboard the Duke of Portland were in the “Second Cabin.” [1] As far as I can tell, “second cabin” is the equivalent to “Second Class.”  There was little difference between traveling Second Class and First Class at that time. There was, of course, a third class commonly referred to as “Steerage.” The class of passenger determined how much luggage that individual could take. The higher the class, the more luggage. As second-class passengers, the Swinbournes were actually able to take quite a bit of luggage with them and probably many personal possessions. This would be important for Richard as he was a boot maker by profession, and when he settled in New Zealand, his occupation was one of a boot and shoemaker. 

 Once they arrived at the port of Lyttleton, the conditions were not good for the new arrivals.  In the first days and nights of arrival the New Zealand immigrants stayed in the "Immigrant Barracks." These barracks were meant for temporary shelter only - one week maximum; and, food rations were provided, but again for only one week. The barracks were
Immigrant Barracks - Google Image
were designed for 300 people; however, there were usually at least 200 cabin passengers and almost 600 steerage passengers. So, many people stayed on the ship for as long as possible.  There was no permanent housing available - so many people ended up living in tents and sod huts. [5] This was truly a pioneering situation. I wonder if the immigrants were aware of the conditions that they were to meet upon arrival.

Regardless of the long journey and the deplorable conditions found upon arrival, the Swinbournes probably felt it was better than being in Ireland. So they stayed and prospered.

NOTE: Photographs of Richard Swinbourne and his wife, were kindly provided by Angela Milnes,

[1] “Shipping News.”, 21 Oct. 1855. Lyttelton Times

[2] Richards, E. “How Did Poor People Emigrate from the British Isles to Australia in the Nineteenth Century?” Journal of British Studies, vol. 32, no. 3, July 1993, pp. 250-279, doi: 10.1086/386032.

[3] Wilson, John. “The Voyage Out – Journeys to New Zealand.” Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand,
[4] “Swinburne of Collon, Co. Louth, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia.” The SWINBURN(E) Family History Site, UK Genealogy Ring, 23 Dec 2002, um_7035/index.html
[5] "Shelter--'Home, Sweet Home'." The Bridle Path - Their Story Our Story,

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