James Ford New Zealand

It is not know 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, 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 next we hear of James is when he marries Elizabeth Muir in Waikouaiti (present day Otago) in the south island of New Zealand  The marriage register 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, some 8 months later. It would appear that James was already working before he met Robert Muir and his daughter.

There is no record of James in the 1861 Scottish census which seems to indicated that he is already in New Zealand at the date.

The first record of James in New Zealand his marriage certificate where he married Elizabeth Muir, a ‘minor’ at the time at the Golden Fleece Hotel in the presence of his father, Robert Muir.  The

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.

Robert Muir in 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).

Of interest is that on this record the suffix ‘& Co’ is added indicating that Robert Muir had a partner in the contracting business.  This matter has some relevance.

It appears, from this record, that Robert Muir was living and apparently successfully working and contracting in the Waikouaiti area prior to the arrival of James Ford.  Other references make note of a Robert Muir.

A note from Northern Approaches, 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).

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


Then from the Otago Witness (10 Feb 1866) there is this;

New Insolvents  (First Hearings Fixed For 19th March)

Robert Muir, contractor Dunedin. – Debts, £1654 8s 11d; assets – debts due to the petitioner, £295; value of real and personal estate, £260; total, £555. Deficiency, £1099 8s 11d.  Causes of Insolvency: Severe losses on Government contracts, both in Otago and Canterbury; bad debts and pressures of creditors. Harris. Macassey, and Turton, Dunedin, Solicitors. Petition filed, 2nd inst.

The digitisation of the image result in the symbol for pounds (£) could not be recognised and replace with a ‘L’. The size of the debt would have been considerable for the day. Image and references provided by Waikouaiti District Museum.

But there is more.  It also appears, from the records, supplied by the Waikouaiti District Museum and the Otago Nominal Index, that Robert Muir may have been a bit of a scoundrel.

Image by Otago Nominal Index.

This disturbing report can only refer to James Ford’s father in law, Robert Muir. The report also explains the ‘& Co” mentioned in an earlier contract, that Robert Muir was in business with his brother in law, ubiquitously named Ford.  The following record clearly indicates that the felonious Mr Ford is a publican at Arthur’s Point near Queenstown, a mining settlement inland from Waikouaiti.  Although the surname Ford and Muir were extremely common I can find no evidentiary record that this person is related to James Ford.

I cannot find any further reference to this dastardly deed.

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.  However, there are some interesting facts here.  Janet Muir Ford was not born in Wellington New Zealand (as recorded on the birth certificate of Robert Muir Ford who was born in Australia) but 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.

I had thought, given that I could not find any record of the birth of Mary Ford in Australia, that she may have been born in New Zealand.  However, after being sent the records from the archives in NZ it is apparent that the ‘Mary Ford’ born in NZ is not related to James and Elizabeth Ford.

My research into James FORD’s activities in New Zealand was assisted by the goodwill of Mychael Tymons, a curator of the Presbyterian Research Centre, Dunedin for which I thank him for his endeavours.

I would also like to thank Barbara Nind of the Waikouaiti District Museum Society for her valuable contributions in tracking down the elusive Robert Muir.

Copyright John Ford 2018

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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