James Ford: New Zealand

James was the youngest of ten children born in Millport, Cumbrae, Scotland to Samuel and Margaret Ford.  The five youngest, William, Susannah, John, Samuel and James all left Scotland all immigrated to Australia as fare paying passengers. (It would appear that John Ford worked his passage as a purser.)   However, James did something different and first went to New Zealand before eventually ending up in Australia.

It is not known when James Ford arrived in New Zealand.  The last record of James in Scotland is contained in the 1851 Scottish Census where we find him living and working in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland.  He was 16 years old at the time and living with a family while working as a wright/carpenter, perhaps as an apprentice.

There is no record of James in the 1861 Scottish census which seems to indicate that he is already on his way, or in New Zealand at the date.  I have search the lists of passengers arriving by ships in New Zealand in vain.

1851 census record . James Ford 16 years of age living with a family and working as a wright in Kilmarnock.

The Marriage 

The next we hear of James is when he marries Elizabeth Muir in Waikouaiti (present-day Otago area) in the South Island of New Zealand.  The Presbyterian Marriage Certificate record for 1864 indicates that James is 23 years of age.  This is obviously wrong as the Scottish Old Parochial record indicates that he was born in 1834 and on the 1851 Scottish Census he is recorded as aged 16 which means he would have been 29/30 years of age when he married in 1864.

The marriage record also gives us some sense of when James arrived in Waikouaiti, probably before 1862, while Elizabeth Muir, 19 years old, arrived, presumably with her father, Robert Muir.  I can find no record or reference to a Mrs Robert Ford which indicates that Robert was a widower.  Nor is there any record of the Muir’s arrival in New Zealand which raises the tantalising aspect that James, Robert and Elizabeth may have met on their passage to New Zealand.

The marriage took place at the Golden Fleece Hotel in the presence of his father, Robert Muir and one Alex(ander) Crawford.  The ‘Officiating Minister’ was the Reverend John Christie and the marriage certificate of James and Elizabeth is an official Presbyterian Marriage Certificate.

Marriage Certificate, James Ford and Elizabeth Muir

Marriage Register 1864 no 60

James Ford, bachelor, carpenter, aged 23, dwelling place Waikouaiti, living in the region 2 years to Elizabeth Muir , spinster aged 20, dwelling place Waikouaiti, living in the region 16 months. With the consent of  Robert Muir of Waikouaiti, father. To be married in Golden Fleece Hotel, Waikouaiti. Notice dated 10 May 1864. (Correspondence Waikouaiti District Museum)


Golden Fleece Hotel, Waikouaiti. Photo unknown source.

Why New Zealand

Of James’ siblings who immigrated, John, Susannah, who had married James Purdie, and Samuel all immigrated to South Australia while William went to Ballarat Victoria.  We also know from the 1851 census that William, who had married Sarah Clark, worked in Kilmarnock as a joiner (‘joiner’ and ‘wright’ being 19th Century terms for carpenter).  It was probably the case that William and James met each other on social occasions in Kilmarnock.

Given the above one is left wondering why it was that James took off for New Zealand rather than following his brother, William, to Australia.  Both were ‘wrights’ or carpenters, and would have been in contact with each other and James was surely aware that his brother had left for Australia.

The answer may lie with another powerful social moment that originated in Scotland in the 1840s.

In 1843 there was a schism within the Church of Scotland led by evangelicals who thought that the state was unnecessarily intruding into matters of religion, a movement which subsequently became known as the Free Church.  One of the main aims of this church was colonisation and to that end the Otago Association was formed with the aim of sending immigrants to the southern parts of what was to become New Zealand.

The divisions within the Church of Scotland transformed the original plan. Unhappy with patronage and state control, 400 clergy and about one-third of lay people quit the established church. Some of these dissenters, including Thomas Burns (related to the poet Robbie Burns), William Cargill, and John McGlashan, saw Otago as a home for a new ‘Free Church’.

Scottish immigrants had already arrived in the Otago area and named their town, Dunedin, Gaelic for Edinburgh.  Then in 1847 two passenger ships, the John Wickliffe, which departed from Gravesend, and the Philip Lang which left Greenock, set sail for Port Chalmers (Dunedin) carrying mainly Scottish immigrants.

Emigration as a Remedy. (John Leech, punch. photoshelter.com 1848).

I think it significant that the Free Church was actively campaigning for passengers to emigrate from Scotland to New Zealand.  Given the social conditions at the time that generally allowed workers one day off a week, Sunday, and then only for the purposes of attending church, it is likely that the Free Church likely influenced many Scots in considering leaving the grinding poverty and crowded cites that had resulted from the Industrial Revolution, opting for the open space and clear air of another country far away.

The following extract, taken from the NZ History website, gives some idea of the dominance that the Church and Scots from the Firth of Clyde region had in setting up the province in 1848.

The immigrant ship John Wickliffe and 97 passengers sailed from Gravesend, England, on 24 November 1847. Three days later, the Philip Laing left Greenock, Scotland, with a further 247 people. Both ships were carrying Scottish settlers bound for New Zealand.

Plans for a New Zealand settlement for Scotland had begun in 1842. Scottish architect and politician George Rennie, concerned at English dominance over the first New Zealand Company settlements, hoped to establish ‘a new Edinburgh’ in the southern hemisphere. Dunedin – the Gaelic form of Edinburgh – became feasible once the New Zealand Company purchased the large Otago block from NgāI Tahu in 1844. (https://nzhistory.govt.nz/scottish-settlers-arrive-otago).

But in 1847 James would have been 13 years of age so he would not have been part of this migration.  However, the sentiment and enthusiasm raised by posters and newspaper articles about the life in the Antipodes would have had an influence on young minds a few years later.

We should also be mindful that unlike his siblings, William, Susanna and Samuel, both James and his elder brother John were single.  John probably worked his passage to Australia as a purser and married in Australia.  James was younger and single and I am incline to think that he was influenced by the fact that in immigrating to Dunedin he would be among his own countrymen in a new environment.  Further, it is not beyond the possibility that a young James Ford was familiar or even friends with one John Christie who would later, some 12,000 miles away from Scotland, carry out his marriage ceremony in Waikouaiti.

Rev. John Christie

John Christie was born in East Kilbride, Ayr, Scotland in 1830 and therefore a contemporary of James Ford.  East Kilbride is on the Scottish mainland a short distance from the island of Cumbrae where James Ford was born.  It is also not far from the industrial town of Kilmarnock where James lived working as a wright/carpenter.  It is possible that James Ford and John Christie may have known each other back in Scotland.

Christie was educated at the Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities and received his minister’s license from the Presbyterian Church in Glasgow in 1860.  He arrived in Port Chalmers on board the Cheviot in 1862 and apparently promptly began construction of the Presbyterian Church at Waikouaiti which, according to the church’s records, was built in 1863.


I found this postcard of the Presbyterian Church at Waikouaiti which is interesting because it demonstrates how common the name Muir was in the area, this time he is apparently a photographer.  The reverse side of the postcard gives an idea of the date of the photograph, sometime before 1911, which shows a modest structure that is much the same today.

So, given that the church was built in 1863 and James Ford married Elizabeth Muir in 1864, I wonder about the circumstances that led the Reverend John Christie to officiate at a marriage that was held in the local hotel, particularly given the Presbyterian well-known view regarding the consumption of alcohol.  Perhaps the church had not actually been completed.  Regardless, this was probably the first marriage Rev. John Christie performed.  I have contacted the Presbyterian Church in Dunedin who advise that unfortunately, apart from of record James and Elizabeth marriage, the records of that period have been destroyed.

Robert Muir

The New Zealand record is replete with any number of references to Robert Muir which makes the researches job that much harder. (Back in Scotland there are simply hundreds of Robert Muir’s all apparently with daughters named Elizabeth.)  My initial thoughts were that Robert Muir met with financial difficulties but recent studies suggest that Robert Muir may have been reasonably well off.  What follows is a summary of the research.

The Otago Nominal Index records at least two farmers, two miners, two construction contractors, and a boot maker all with the name Robert Muir and all living in the area of Otago.  However, given the fact that Robert Muir was present at his daughter’s marriage in Waikouaiti, we might safely assume that he and James worked and lived in the area, a view that is further supported with references to ‘Robert Muir,’ ‘Waikouaiti, and ‘Cherry Farm’ in books written about the Otago area which have kindly been forwarded to me by the Waikouaiti District Museum.

A note from Northern Approaches, by C. W. S.  Moore, 1958 contains the following reference;

The road was opened to Hawksbury (now Waikouaiti) in 1863 but the Waikouaiti River Bridge , though commenced by the contractor R. Muir in 1862 was not completed till 1864 (p48).

From Roadway to the Rushes, Eileen Foote (2012) makes the following observations concerning Robert Muir;

In early 1862 the sections of Main Road near Blueskin, Kilmog Bush, Waikouaiti and Pleasant River were formed, and Robert Muir began road construction through Cherry Farm in June for £1900, but still there was concern that this “bridle track” was too narrow for carriage traffic (p57).

A few weeks later [1862] another suspicious fire destroyed a large shed, grain and machinery at Cherry Farm despite the fire fighting efforts of farm workers and Robert Muir and his road makers who were working nearby (p50).

It appears, from the above record that Robert Muir was living and apparently successfully working and contracting in the Waikouaiti area prior to 1862 perhaps before the arrival of James Ford and two years before James’ marriage in 1864.

It is also apparent that Robert Muir, James’ future father-in-law, was probably the principal of Robert Muir and Co recorded as a contractor in the Cherry Farm area near Waikouaiti.

Otago Nominal Index image.

The Otago Provincial Government Gazette, Vol IV (4), issue 177, page 380 dated 12 April 1862 records that a tender was accepted from Robert Muir and Co for work to be carried out between 20 February to 31 March 1862 along the Cherry Farm Road amounting to 1899 pounds 18 shillings [£1899/18/0] (Otago Nominal Index).

There is also an Electoral Roll which records Robert Muir living at Cherry Farm, Waikouaiti, from The Oamaru Times and Waitaki Reporter dated 14 April 1864.

An extended perusal of the Otago Nominal Index makes numerous references to a number of people named Robert Muir, at least two or more being involved in government road contracts.  There is also this reference to insolvency bought to my attention by Barbara Nind of the Waikouaiti District Museum Society which appeared in the Otago Witness 10 February 1866 page 7 with respect to one Robert Muir.

However, I now think that although the date of 1866 is consistent with the probable time James Ford left the Otago area that this person is not James’ father-in-law.

Otago Nominal Index with reference to ‘Ford,’ Waikouaiti,’ ‘1880,’ and ‘freehold’.



The article makes reference to both Otago and Canterbury.  The South Island of New Zealand was initially dived into three administrative regions, Nelson in the North, Canterbury in the middle and Otago in the South.  It is possible that Robert Muir and Co. contractors where working in the area bordering these two districts.  But the newspaper article does not specifically refer to Robert Ford and Company.  This may simply be an oversight but it also may have some significance in that it may not refer to James’ father in law.

Further, the Robert Muir recorded on the Otago Nominal Index as living at Waikouaiti in 1880 may well have owned freehold property on Great King Street which happens to be the main street running through the central business district of Dunedin.  It would appear that the Robert Muir domiciled at Waikouaiti was an astute businessman and reasonably wealthy.

I have not thus far been able to locate a death record of James’ father in law, Robert Muir, there are simply far too many to shift through.  Without actually knowing anything other than what I have gleaned thus far about James’ father-in-law the record of his death remains silent.

James Ford family in NZ

Above are copies of the birth certificates for Janet Muir Ford and Margaret Ford.  Unfortunately, the images are faint and blurry.  I have enhanced the images the best I can.  Janet Muir Ford was born in Dunedin, New Zealand, so it appears James Ford was still in the southern part of New Zealand in 1865 and thereafter moved to Wellington, where Margaret Ford was born in 1867.

Robert Muir Ford’s birth certificate has James/Elizabeth’s marriage recorded as 1854, an obvious mistake but supports the place of birth of the children.

Somewhere between the birth of Margaret Ford (1867) and the birth of Robert Muir Ford (1869), the family moved to Ballarat, Victoria.

From New Zealand to Ballarat

Why James left Otago and travelled to Wellington is not recorded.  There may have been some family tensions that led to his departure.  On the other hand, James, given his education and skill may have found road building and bridge construction simply limited.  Maybe the thought of building yet another culvert too much to consider and that the newly established capital at Wellington offered better prospects.

We know that James’ brother, William, married Sarah Clark in Ardrossan, Ayrshire on 30 September 1848.  William was also working in Kilmarnock at the time of the 1851 Scottish census where James is also recorded as residing and working.  I have no record of William and Sarah’s arrival in Australia but we do have a record of Sarah’s death on 19 October 1866 at Ascot Street North, Ballarat.  She is buried in the Ballarat Old Cemetery.

Thanks to Trove archives. I am unable to explain the initial ‘C’ in William’s name. Perhaps it stands for Sarah’s maiden name, Clark.

Sarah’s death (1866)  coincides with James’s time in New Zealand.   It may well be that James moved from Wellington following the death of Sarah, perhaps at the invitation of William knowing that his brother was now a widower living in a city rapidly expanding and growing and therefore in need of carpenters and joiners.  William may have offered James and his family accommodation.

Special Thanks

I appreciate the help offered by Mychael Tymons and Barbara Nind in my New Zealand research.

Mychael Tymons is the curator of the Presbyterian Research Centre, Dunedin and Barbara Nind is a researcher associated with the Waikouaiti District Museum Society.

Copyright John Ford 2019

3 thoughts on “James Ford: New Zealand

  1. Great story and wonderful to see the original documents or transcripts and the photos sourced … even if it’s unknown 🙂
    Love the Golden Fleece photo. Makes the story come to life. Great work.


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