Julia Cassidy

An Irish brogue, she had, developed in the south, county Kerry. My great grandmother was petite,

with blonde curls, blue-eyed. Julia had a strong will that offset her diminutive beauty and her 


She'd turned her face south sailing hundreds of miles from her marital base: County 

Cork. A 'slip of a girl', beside her a short broth of a man, husband John Cassidy. He had several 

strings to his bow; literally, as he was a farmer, a breeder of strong horses, a cabinetmaker and 

stonemason. All his artisan and practical skills would effectively establish their family in the 

colony, New Zealand. 

Julia was a seamstress, a player of the piano accordion, accompanied by (on fiddle), John,. 

Both had a spirit of adventure and faith. John had a good eye for a lovely woman and a good 

mare. He expected cousin Hugh Cassidy to follow him south, as others of their family

had taken ship for America.

John and Julia had left behind a 'sea of troubles' and had saved and been gifted from their 

family, to sail cabin class after 1848. 

They intended having a plot of land to make their home.

The Wakefield scheme netted many immigrants and the Cassidy’s had cannily bought 

in South Canterbury through contacts. They landed in Dunedin. Undeterred, they bought a cart and 

quickly set forth to Kerrrytown close to Ngai Tahu Pah Arowhenua, near Temuka, it was a

settlement that included catholic and protestant emigres from Ireland. Notable were the Connolly’s, 

Scannell’s, O'Driscolls and now Cassidy’s. John, after settling his family, was often absent from his 

hearth, travelling as a stonemason erecting churches irrespective of faith. He didn't

discriminate on doctrine anymore than his chisels did. He sculpted stone with mind 

hands and sinews, using grewacke, or limestone or quartz for the graceful St 

Mary's or the baroqu Basilica in Timaru. He travelled further afield to purchase 

breeding mares.

Another chapter in their lives opened in the 1860s with cousin Hugh. Tall, bearded 

and canny, he had an interest in farriers. He bought into Cobb and Company 

(owning those essential postal and people services from 

the early 1880s to his death in 1925). John provided the sturdy steeds. 

My grandmother Julia Anne filled in some gaps. She graphically 

retold stories of travelling with her mother on those very coach runs, watching horses'tails flicking. 

Coaches and horses doughtily persevered over untamed, rutted tracks, forging forward, up and over, 

above the ghastly gorges, stopping at wayside taverns to refresh selves and steeds, before going on

to the goldfields of the really wild West Coast. 

There she described spying men of all races, in leather aprons and big hats, with 

shovels and pans, wading rivers, tossing up gravel and sluicing. Immigrant communities 

included Chinese miners, strange languages, foul curses; men punching each other and her mother 

and uncle hushing her and quickly moving on. 

She related also, a secret journey south, to farewell 'Uncle' Peter, who 

was a stock man in Otago managing cattle beasts for a beef 'rancher'... but who was 

departing for Melbourne, Australia. 

Peter, it was told quietly to me, was justified in his 'rustling' for he was not satisfied with the 

wages of a poor, unappreciated stock man. He went with his beasts - embarking with them, 

setting up in Australia on his own account with his new herd... around Melbourne, 'over the ditch.' 

I learned, Julia was a woman of strong abilities and passions. 

Julia read and wrote, cultivated a garden, sewed and played music; was wife, mother, helpmeet and 

community counsellor. People came to her for hurts to be healed, teacups to be read; the latter 

a tradition my grandmother continued. Finding one's way depended on heart, a knowledge of your 

roots, your heritage, feeling connected, really deep in your soul, I think.

What really is surprising here, is that so many of our families intersected. We know 

about this complexity now, (by sophisticated research tools) but initially only through originally 

listening at grandmother's knees, or reading notes in immense, leather-bound, gold-clasped, 

family bibles, or through journals, old photographs...if we are lucky.

Julia Anne filled in the tapestry of Julia's brave, extraordinary life. I heard it related when 

she (my nana) was doing something as everyday and mundane as darning socks, on a wooden 

mushroom-shaped spool; painted on top with flowers. 

She would wear a silver thimble with thistledown patterns; an heirloom 

brought over with the Albert China teacups: rose-patterned, gilt-edged. 

She taught me how to turn collars on shirts. Obsolescence seems to have been built in, in our 

twenty-first century world, as throw away as political policies.

And that's where things got especially interesting. 

New immigrants from Ireland were revolutionary in thought. They were Celts. Not for them to 

anymore be 'slave' to a feudal system, or to remain under British rule ...yes the colony 

was 'British' but they were distinctively, determinedly, Irish. 

There's a great, yawning gulf there. 

They made friends of neighbours, with sing songs, went riding to hunt, but no foxes were 


There's an 'apocryphal' tale of a captain bringing six hapless gold foxes from Britain. But

before they could be disembarked at Timaru, friends of great grandfather got wind 

of it, sometime in the 1860s. Going aboard they shot the feral creatures,as bunnies were already 

proving a problem, alongside weasels, stoats, deer and goats. 

Native species, formerly an abundant food source - mahinga kai,for Maori and Pakeha, were 


I wear a foxtail on a coat: that tail's over 150 years old, certainly it was a gift from my grandmother 

born in the 1880s. 

What I know of my great grandmother, is through my grandmother, who was in awe of her mother 

Politics. Beliefs.

An important belief was self sufficiency for Julia, who was definitely resourceful. The farmstead 

and stables at Kerrytown had almost all they required for self-sufficiency and was growing apace 

with the animals and expanding family. It was early 1880s and 

my grandmother was a toddler, named, Julia Anne.

What she remembers one day is hearing her father ride off fast after a very tense discussion with 

neighbours at the farm table the night before. Lamps burning into the wee hours.

The farm's artesian well was daily familiar to my grandmother. An essential on a well-stocked 

farm. Yet a forbidden area, situated near to the barn and stables. 

Its top was covered with wooden slats firmly fixed and a heavy surround of stones too high for a 

small person to ascend. She, as a toddler, was forbidden to go beyond the hedge that was a barrier 

by the swaying macrocarpas, early filled with carolling magpies, near the hen house. 

On the morning after her parents' and neighbours' discussions she heard the familiar tones of a 

Maori waiata. Singing so soulfully, she saw, was an Arowhenua wahine from whom they bought 

smoked eels. 

The kuia was driving a horse and cart with what looked like potato bags, lumpy, set on the back. 

Grandmother peeked out, saw her mother greet the woman nose to nose, a hongi, breath to breath 

and usher her in for tea. 

Julia Anne was bidden to go fetch her pillow. She did and settled for a sleep on the couch by the 

hearth, the breath of Bane the Collie sheepdog, panting in her ears. She snuggled into the hassock, 

listening to the women's voices. More singing came filtering through and she nodded off. When she 

woke the sound was of her mother humming in the kitchen area, the smell of griddle scones fresh 

baking drew her in. Julia Anne went through. There was something different. What?

Scones were indeed being made, griddle scones as her mother termed them; honey was being taken 

down from the shelf above the iron stove, by her mother, for drizzling over them as they browned 

in the pan on the iron griddle. The waft of food made her tummy rumble and she went and hugged 

her mother's knees, noticing how bright everything looked. Then, she realised... the lovely linen 

curtains, her mother's pride were gone. The windows were bare. Her mother saw her look of 

amazement then her trembling lip. 

"It's all right my lovely" she said, "when Da gets back we'll put up new ones." In the meantime think how

you'll see the stars when having tea and we can tell tales of the moon as she blesses us with her light."

Irish settlers spread throughout the islands and knew of the land and Maori 'troubles' to which they 

related as driven from their land by the English. 

There had been news about the Parihaka peace movement, which began as a dignified resistance 

led by Te Ati Awa chiefs. The Irish celebrated what they'd read of the resistance to British rule, then 

were horrified by the killing, the arrests, the news the prisoners were to be transported south. 

It was that news that had seen the Irish gathering (differences of religion irrelevant, drawn 

together in resistance to tyranny) at the Cassidy home. 

One Maori being transported from Parihaka, had escaped. A chain of Maori and Irish helped, 

people drawn together in common cause. The warrior was safely down, hidden inside the Cassidy 

well, helped there, away from pursuit, by Julia and her linen curtains. 

There a safe haven on an Irish part of a new country's soil, he was to find refuge and make his way 

safely back to his whānau. An Irish catholic woman had saved a man whom she did not know, a 

man of peace, her brother in resistance to the English.

I was eleven when I learned of my heritage - which was that of women who acted as 

their spirit moved them. My heroines, my fore mothers.

Since at school we had been taught from English textbooks my perspective was altered somewhat. 

After school I'd cycle home via my grandmother Julia Anne's home, refuge, a place of 

peace, where I sat at my grandmother's side, read, discussed. A place of security where there were 

griddle scones for afternoon tea, a reward after I'd chopped kindling and set the fires. We would talk 

about wide-ranging topics. I spoke of the Parihaka peace movement, which the teachers had 

explained as men pulling up stakes and ploughing fields to prove it was their land. My grandmother 

told me then, softly and proudly of my great grandmother's courage. 

I felt it was a taonga entrusted to me by her proud daughter, Julia Anne. My heritage became acting,

an integral part of that movement, one of women of every age, trying to change the world, to effect 

peaceful outcomes by passive resistance. I am glad of my Irish heritage from Julia Cassidy.

Her Korowai taonga (gifted by Te Ati Awa) linen-enfolded, was treasured by her daughter.