James Ford: New Zealand

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

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

The Marriage 

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.

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, giving him a birth year of 1841.  This is obviously wrong as the Scottish Old Parochial record indicates that he was born in 1834.

The marriage record also gives us some sense of when James arrived in Waikouaiti, probably before 1862, while Elizabeth Muir, nineteen years old, arrived, presumably with her father, Robert Muir.  It would appear that James was already working before he met Robert Muir and his daughter.

The first record of James in New Zealand is his marriage certificate where he married Elizabeth Muir who is recorded as a ‘minor’ at the time.  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 John Christie while 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.

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.

Port Chalmers and Dunedin were populated by Scots predominately belonging to the Presbyterian Church who immigrated from the Glasgow, Greenock and northern Aryshire area.   Perhaps John Christie and the church had some influence on James travelling to NZ rather than following his brothers and sister to Australia.

The following extract, taken from the NZ History website, gives some idea of the dominance that the Chuch and Scots from the Firth of Clyde region had in setting up the province in 1848. https://nzhistory.govt.nz/scottish-settlers-arrive-otago

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.

Divisions within the Church of Scotland transformed Rennie’s 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, William Cargill, and John McGlashan, saw Otago as a home for a new ‘Free Church’. Two-thirds of the original Otago settlers were Free Church Presbyterians.

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 Waitouaiti which, according to the church’s records, was built in 1863.


I found this postcard of the Presbyterian Chruch at Waitouaiti 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 191, 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.

Robert Muir

Unfortunately, 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 bootmaker all with the name, Robert Muir all living in the area of Otago.  However, given the fact that Robert Muir was present at his daughter’s marriage in Waitouaiti, 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’, ‘Waitouaiti, and ‘Cherry Farm’ in books written about the Otago area.

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 pursual 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’, Waitouait’, ‘1880’, and ‘freehold’.



The article makes reference to both Otago and Canterbury.  Canterbury lies at the upper northeastern part of the South Island whereas Otago lies at the southwestern end of the island, a distance of some 360 kilometers by road today.  There is no indication from the records available that James’ father-in-law had any contracts that far removed from Waitouaiti.  Further, the Robert Muir recorded on the Otago Nominal Index as living at Waitouaiti 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 Waitouaiti was an astute businessman and reasonably wealthy.

I have not thus far been able to locate a death record of 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.

With little information apart from name and location that might assist in identification there is no way of isolating the father of Elizabeth Muir who married James Ford.

Janet Muir and Margaret Ford

Above are a copy 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.

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 his wife’s, Sarah, 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.

James could well have 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.

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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