Sunday, 16 August 2015

The Brothers of Robert Ormsby

Robert's Brothers George and Arthur
By David Bell

George Owen Ormsby 1814 ~ 1861

Whilst Robert, our New Zealand Ormsby ancestor, is familiar to us, not many know he had two remarkable brothers; George Owen and Arthur Sydney. In fact, it is quite possibly because of his older brother George that Robert came to these shores. Let's discuss George first then look at Arthur Sydney.

George Owen Ormsby was born to Reverend Owen Ormsby (1782-1834) and Ann Phibbs (1800-1852) of County Louth, Ireland. Some New Zealand records give his father the title of Bishop, but this appears to be an error. There is no official record of him being a Bishop, rather, he was known as Reverend Owen Ormsby, Rector of Balymascanlon, County Louth. In the later obituary of his youngest son, Arthur, he is also referred to as Reverend Owen Ormsby, this time of Kilmore and Grange, County Roscommon.

George Owen had five siblings: Anne, Harry, Isabel, Robert and Arthur. 

George trained as a surveyor and as a young man left Ireland on board HMS Buffalo as an assistant surveyor to one Colonel Light, the Surveyor-General bound for South Australia with the commission to survey land for a settlement town which is today's Adelaide.

Colonel Light, George, and two or three other assistants set to work and surveyed a site carefully chosen by Colonel Light on account of its nearby mountains which he reasoned would encourage greater chances of rainfall than some of the other sites that were recommended. It also had a substantial river (the Torrens) running through it. He was not without his detractors but he persevered with his choice and set George and the other assistants to work.

George might possibly have set roots in Adelaide if not for a dispute between Colonel Light and his superiors back in the Old Country on account of the bosses deciding to implement some new surveying methods. What these methods involved I can't say but they were so unpopular with the Colonel and his crew that Light resigned his post as Surveyor-General. George, in turn, refused to work under Colonel Light's replacement and also resigned. With the whole project thrown into array the replacement Surveyor-General was compelled to resign and the new methods were dropped. George was asked to take charge until the arrival of  Charles Sturt, the new Surveyor-General. One month later George resigned a second time and in May, 1839, went back to Ireland.

Nevertheless, George left his mark in South Australia. In the South Australian Gazette he was complemented as: an active and efficient officer, one of the best, if not the very best, on the staff of Colonel Light. In addition, one of the rivulets that feed into the Torrens bears his name, presumably compliments of Colonel Light as George did much of his surveying in that area.

 About 1842-43 George Left Ireland for Auckland New Zealand where he married Selina Hepenstal in 1843. In Auckland he did contract work surveying Crown land and a big job with the Church Mission Society in relation to its claims before the Land Claims Commission. The land he surveyed later became today's Tauranga. He also held the government post of Marine Supervisor at 200 pounds a year and surveyed and charted the Manukau Harbor. He was later promoted to Assistant Surveyor-General at 300 pounds a year. Other appointments included Commissioner of both the Provincial Wastelands and the Board of Works. he was also appointed the Provincial Road Surveyor. I don't know what these fine-sounding responsibilities involved, but it certainly demonstrates his surveying skills and community spirit.

In 1944, soon after arriving in Auckland, George took advantage of the Government's relaxing of the monopoly it held on purchasing Maori land and obtained some of his own. Up until then only the Crown was allowed to purchase land from the Maoris, a situation that became increasingly annoying to the immigrants and settlers. By 1844 the pressure on the government had become strong enough to force Governor Robert Fitzroy to pass two land acts relinquishing its stranglehold.  The following is the document deeding George the land he purchased.


Deeds—No. 98.
Te Onepi Block, Onehunga, Manukau District.
1844. 26 September.Manukau District.TE ONEPI. Know all men by these presents, that we the undersigned agree to make over, barter, alienate and sell to George Owen Ormsby, his executors and assigns for ever that spot of land G. O. Ormsby.named Onehunga situated on the North side of the Manukau River. 

We also PAGE 503 agree that all tapued places, Woods, Water, Minerals, Mines, &c. &c., shall be at the disposal of the said George Owen Ormsby his heirs, executors and assigns, now, henceforth, and for ever. 

The said land Onehunga is bounded as follows. On the North by Boundaries. [20 acres.]Crown land, on the East by land belonging to Forbes and the road from Epsom to Manukau, on the South the Manukau River, and on the West by land lately purchased by Mr. Beveridge from the undersigned. We agree to accept the undermentioned Articles as payment for the said land Onehunga, namely Two double-barreled Guns, Two Pounds sterling cash, Seven Blankets, One Cloak and One Gown piece. We collectively and individually agree to settle said land Onehunga upon said George Owen Ormsby his heirs, executors and assigns for ever. The above considerations in token whereof we affix our hands and seals this 26th day of September in the year of our Lord One thousand Eight hundred and forty-four.

Thos. Walker his x mark l.s.
Reweti his x mark. l.s.
Keene x. l.s.
C. Davis. J. Dilworth.
[Sketch of the land inserted here.]
Signed by the undermentioned parties in the presence of James Dilworth of Auckland and Charles Davis of same place this deed having been first read over and explained to the said parties by the said Charles Davis—
James Dilworth, Aut., Auckland.
C. Davis, Interpreter, Auckland.
Received the articles and money mentioned in this deed, namely Two double barreled guns, two pounds sterling cash seven blankets, one gown piece, and one cloak.
Moana x.
Reweti his x mark.
A True Copy of Original Deed.No. 60.P.C.
H. Hanson Turton
Wellington, 17th July, 1880.

However, not long after, the Fitzroy government did an about-turn and restored its monopoly and George's ownership was immediately subjected to an investigation by the Land Claims Commission who seized it for a Royal Fencibles Military settlement. By then he had built his Onehunga Lodge on the land. He was offered compensation but he believed it was inadequate and refused to accept. He felt he was being treated unjustly and unfairly by the government and ended up in a long and protracted dispute. His case was by no means unique; many others had lands and properties seized unjustly with poor compensation offers. it appears that the colonial government's land grabbing tendencies were not restricted to Maori only.

Unfortunately, George died in 1861 after succumbing to illness at the relatively young age of forty seven. His battle with the government had lasted until his passing
; a struggle of seventeen years. It's not clear what happened to his land but it appears that upon his death the government got it.

Sources used:

1. Pioneer Land Surveyors of New Zealand, part iv, page 444.
2. From Sextants to Satellites: A Cartographic  Timeline for New Zealand by Brian Marshall, 2005.
3. New Zealand - Auckland - L Archives.
4. Information given by Debbie Lee Robinson, an Ormsby relative , Adelaide, Australia.

Arthur Sydney Ormsby 1825 ~ 1887 

Born in Ireland in February of 1825, Arthur Sydney was another of Reverend Owen Ormsby's sons, He was also the uncle after whom our own Arthur Sydney Ormsby of Puketotara was named.

He trained as a civil engineer specializing in railroads where he did a lot of work throughout Ireland and England. In 1849 he set his sights further abroad and went to America where he worked on various jobs including the Hoosac tunnel which was the longest tunnel in the U.S. at the time.

In 1852 he sailed to Australia in Melbourne for a brief period as Assistant Colonial Engineer before heading for New Zealand where he worked as a civil engineer and surveyor around the Auckland region. He obviously came to New Zealand because of his family connections here, it being the country his brothers Robert and George had chosen to call home. Of course, older brother George had long ago died but his family remained, and Robert, by now, had begun to set himself up permanently in the colony. However, Arthur seemed to possess a more restless spirit and around 1857 he went to Mauritius and India where he rose to the position of executive engineer of the Public Works department for the Indian Government. He held that post from 1858 to 1861 when he was suddenly made redundant. He believed he had been badly treated and disgruntled and bitter, returned to England and worked on other projects including the promotion of a tunnel between Scotland and the North of Ireland. 

He never finished that project because he died on the 24th of February, 1887 aged sixty-two.


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  3. George and Arthur (and my g-grandfather Robert) were sons of the Reverend Owen Ormsby, Rector of Ballymascanlon, County Louth. As far as I am aware he was never a Bishop. Not even in the Fuller Family Tree published in 1886 nor in the Irish Landed Gentry. Just a Rev.

  4. George and Selina married 12 Jan 1844 in the Church of Ireland Christ Church in Delgany, co Wicklow. Please amend your blog for this and the previous error.

    1. Thanks again Sue for the information..noted and added to posts.