To New-Ulster, from Ulster: Part II - Sarah Mackey’s journey to NZ

For part I of this story see To New-Ulster, from Ulster: Part I – Auckland Asylum

Sibling pioneers

Finding out about Sarah’s sad existence in New Zealand led me back to some research, begun years ago by my mother, on Sarah’s early life. How and why did she sail half way around the world to a place she can have known very little about? Why did she leave her home forever, with no hope of returning?

Waitamata Harbour, Ponsonby and Freeman’s Bay. The Newdick family lived in Freemans Bay / Ponsonby in the 1840s and early 1850s. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-8486.Waitamata Harbour, Ponsonby and Freeman’s Bay. The Newdick family lived in Freemans Bay / Ponsonby in the 1840s and early 1850s. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-8486.

As a single Irish woman arriving in Auckland in 1841, Sarah was both a brave pioneer and a minority. Most European settlers were men and most women who made the journey came with their husbands. In tracing Sarah’s journey I owe much to the fact that she travelled with her brother Hugh Mackey. If it were not for him it may have been impossible to identify her arrival in the country or anything of her early life. I can find no obituary for Sarah and there was nothing in her medical files that gave information about the people or place she belonged to before she married Richard Newdick in Auckland in March 1843.

To New Zealand on the Shamrock

Hugh’s obituary published in the New Zealand Herald, 18 February 1898, records that he arrived in Auckland in 1841. The volume Roll of early settlers and descendants in the Auckland Province prior to the end of 1852 by Forbes Eadie incorrectly gives his year of arrival as 1840 but provides the important detail that he arrived on the Shamrock.

Using the National Library of Australia’s Trove website I found evidence of the regular crossing of the Tasman by the schooner Shamrock and other vessels. Captain Daldy’s Shamrock had been in port since October. From 13 November advertisements regularly appeared in the shipping column of the Sydney Herald letting prospective passengers know that the Shamrock was leaving for New Zealand once more:

FOR BAY OF ISLANDS AND AUCKLAND. A regular trader. The A1 schooner SHAMROCK, 96 tons, Captain W. C. Daldy, will positively sail for the above ports on Monday, the 22 instant. For freight or passage early application is necessary. Apply to Captain Daldy on board, at the Queen's Wharf, or to J.B. METCALFE, Lower George-street.

[George Street, Sydney - looking south], painted by Henry Curzon Allport, January 1842. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.[George Street, Sydney - looking south], painted by Henry Curzon Allport, January 1842. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales. Ref: FL861268

The Sydney Herald of 25 November 1841 records the departure “For Auckland, yesterday, the schooner Shamrock, Capt. Daldy, with sundries. Passengers - Mr. Johnson, Mr. Rich, and twenty six steerage”. The Australasian Chronicle lists “McKay” amongst the “Messrs” on board.

Captain William Crush Daldy, who later became a merchant and prominent citizen of Auckland, recalled in his 1898 memoirs, that the “little black schooner” was “loaded again for Auckland and had very fair freight and passenger list. Called in at the Bay on the way down…”.

New Ulster 02a[WC Daldy appears bottom left] Portraits of Thomas Spencer Forsaith, Hugh Francis Carleton, William Crush Daldy, and Archibald Clark, members of the House of Representatives in 1860. Photographer(s) unidentified. Ref: 1/2-012446-F

A notice in the New Zealand Herald and Auckland Gazette of 18 December 1841 records the arrival in Auckland of the Shamrock on 12 December “from Sydney, Wangaroa and the Bay of Islands”. The passengers were “Mrs Daldy and Mr Rich, 17 males, 8 females and 3 children in the steerage”.

Bounty immigrants to Australia

My next step was to find out how and when Sarah and Hugh arrived in Australia. Over the years I had checked various databases and lists of convicts, thinking they might have been among the many transported there but I found no trace of them. Now that many more immigration records have been digitised and are available online it has been possible to dig deeper into their past.

Sarah and Hugh “Mickey” sailed from Liverpool, England, to Sydney, Australia, on the United Kingdom, arriving on 7 September 1841. The passenger list can be found on both Find my Past’s New South Wales Passenger Lists and Ancestry Library Edition’s New South Wales, Australia, Assisted Immigrant Passenger Lists, 1828-1896. Sarah is recorded as being a house servant, aged 20 (perhaps her age when recruited, as she was actually 21 by the time she left England), and Hugh, a joiner, aged 24. They were Protestants from Donegal.

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser of 9 September 1841 reported that the United Kingdom had departed Liverpool on 25 May 1841, under Captain Eshelby, with 482 bounty immigrants. The journey from Liverpool to Sydney took 3 ½ months. During this time Hugh and Sarah would have endured seasickness, cramped conditions and poor food. Originally intended as a steamer, but converted into a sailing ship before her completion in Quebec in 1839, the United Kingdom rolled more than most ships. She also lacked stern port holes which inhibited ventilation, particularly during bad weather, when scuttles and hatches were closed.

The danger of epidemics on board ships was always present on the long journey from England to the colonies and the United Kingdom was no exception:

About two weeks after leaving Liverpool the measles broke out among the children on board; thirty eight infants died from it, and other diseases, but all the adults were fortunate enough to escape it. There are some cases of sickness on board at present, but none of them are of an infectious nature. This ship is the largest merchant vessel that has ever entered the harbour of Port Jackson…

Despite the high infant mortality rate, the newspaper praised the ship’s “cleanly appearance between decks” and “the healthy state in which the ship has arrived”.

Port Jackson and Sydney Cove, New South Wales by J.H. Goldfinch, 1840s. National Library of Australia, nla.obj-138573767Port Jackson and Sydney Cove, New South Wales by J.H. Goldfinch, 1840s. National Library of Australia, nla.obj-138573767

Hugh and Sarah immigrated with the help of the Australian Government’s bounty reward system. Under this scheme, colonists selected “bounty immigrants”, paid their passage and employed them when they arrived. On arrival these workers were examined and, if found to be satisfactory, the employer was then reimbursed by the government for all or part of the cost of passage. The bounty immigrants on board the United Kingdom were brought to Australia by the agents A B Smith & Co. Sarah’s bounty immigration form, found on Ancestry Library Edition, records that she was under the protection of John and Elisabeth Galbraith, a young married couple from County Tyrone, who also travelled as bounty immigrants on the United Kingdom. One of the conditions of bounty immigration was that unmarried females had to remain under the protection of a married couple during the voyage and until they were placed in a situation in the colony.

The bounty for some of the women who travelled with Sarah was rejected because, although they claimed to be in their late twenties, they appeared “40 at least”. Others were rejected because of illness. Young, fit and healthy, Sarah and Hugh, were accepted as bounty immigrants but stayed little more than two months before heading to New Zealand. Having come this far, it was easy enough to board another boat and cross the Tasman.

The immigration records tell me that, like many female immigrants, Sarah could read but not write. She could not contact her family herself but would have had to rely on her brother to communicate with their family on her behalf. When Sarah married Richard Newdick at St Paul’s Church on 20 March 1843, she signed her name with a cross.

Marriage entry from Register 130, Page 85, of St Paul’s, Symonds Street, Auckland.  Archives of the Anglican Diocese of AucklandMarriage entry from Register 130, Page 85, of St Paul’s, Symonds Street, Auckland. Archives of the Anglican Diocese of Auckland.

The bounty immigration forms brought me closer to Sarah’s origins, revealing the names of her parents and the place they lived. Hugh stated that his mother’s name was Elizabeth, while Sarah gave her pet name “Bess” and, a boon for a family historian like me, her surname “Cassity”. Their father was James, a farmer. Hugh’s birthplace was rendered on paper as “Duncan Elly, Co. Donnigal”.

Leaving Ireland

1841, the year in which Hugh and Sarah emigrated, saw Ireland’s population peak at just over eight million. Hugh and Sarah were among 1½ million who left Ireland in the early 1840s. Bad harvests and famine were not uncommon in the early 1800s and ordinary tenant farmers struggled to provide enough food for their families. The Great Famine struck in 1845, forcing another 2 ½ million to leave by 1855, and killing about one million of those who remained.

In Ireland the land was divided into townlands, parcels of land of varying sizes, often farmed by extended families. The Tithe Applotment Books, available online from the National Archives of Ireland, tell us that in 1836 James Mackey (spelt Mickey here) was a tenant farmer in the townland of Urbal (or Rubble). A map showing Urbal can be found on's free Rootsweb.

James farmed 29 acres, 3 roods and 33 perches, of which roughly 13 acres was poor arable land and pasture, 8 acres moor and 8 acres of soft moor. The Mackey land was not valued highly in this assessment and this may have been a driver for Sarah and Hugh’s emigration. They had at least one older brother who married and stayed in Ireland. Emigration was a good option for children who had no prospect of inheriting the family farm.

By 1841 steamships regularly left Irish ports for Liverpool with migrants who used England as a stepping stone to reach other countries, including Australia and New Zealand.


Dunkineely is one of two towns in the parish of Killaghtee. Sarah was baptised there on 25 May 1820, the daughter of James Mackey and Elizabeth Cassidy. Her brothers James (1814) and Hugh (1817) were also baptised in Killaghtee. DNA testing has confirmed that we have Mackey cousins still living in the area.

The small village of Dunkineely is situated at the base of St John’s Point, a narrow peninisula that reaches out into Donegal Bay. In photographs the landscape appears both dramatic and tranquil.

It is only a short walk from the village to the seaside. From the other side of the world, using Google Earth, I can now recreate the walk Sarah might have taken almost two hundred years ago, along a narrow road between hedgerows to a shore not unlike New Zealand’s coastline, and back again to Dunkineely village. Knowing that Sarah did not find peace or happiness at the end of her journey, there is a great sense of fulfilment at finding Sarah’s birthplace and family. Finally she is home.

By Helen Smith

Helen is a Research Librarian at the Alexander Turnbull Library.

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Margaret Smith September 8th at 7:16PM

Congrats Helen on your wonderful research. There are many genealogists who will be so grateful now their questions have been answered. There are many, many descendants of Sarah's in New Zealand who will be wanting to hold her memory in their hearts,and you have made that possible. Thank you so much.

Eileen Smith May 26th at 9:26PM

Well done on your research Helen. You have answered a lot of questions I had been having about Sarah MacKey/Mickey. Richard and Sarah are my 3rd great grandparents.