Friday, October 10, 2008

The first settler on Rosebank?

Image from NZ Observer, 1 October 1881.

According to research for a history of the Kelly family in 2003 by Warwick Clay, and from what I’ve found as well in LINZ records, John Kelly (c1806-1883) purchased four allotments by Crown Grant in the Parish of Titirangi (2 at Rosebank, 2 on the Mt Albert side of Oakley Creek) from 1843-1845. There was at least a fifth purchase from a crown grant holder in 1847, Allotment 3 on Rosebank, which completed his landholdings there just alongside the government reserve at the tip. Up until 1849, he lived at Mt Eden, but then, in September 1849, his wife gave birth to a son “at the Wahu.” That son was John Stewart Kelly who advised reporters on the occasion of his 87th birthday at his home in Mt Eden that he had been born at Avondale.
“There was not a house within miles of their Avondale home, and he remembers how the furniture was carried out across the countryside on horse-drawn drays. There was no bridge across Oakley’s Creek in those days, and the drays had to be hauled across one at a time with a full team of horses. There was no school within reasonable distance, and so a teacher lived at the house and gave the children their daily lessons.” (Auckland Star, 26 September 1936, p. 10)
In describing coming across the Oakley Creek, it seems that Mr. Kelly was indeed describing a home to the west of that waterway – and from what is known of John Kelly’s land dealings (of which there were many, all over Auckland, North Shore, East Tamaki, Howick and West Auckland), Rosebank may have fitted that description. In 1855, all three Rosebank allotments were sold by Kelly to Daniel Pollen (a former partner of Kelly’s from days at Kororeka, according to Warwick Clay), and the Kelly family moved west to Waitakere. Perhaps Pollen’s home at the Whau had once been Kelly’s home? Hard to say, this far away from the 1850s.

John Kelly was born in County Tyrone, Ireland, entering the Royal Engineers as a young man, learning the trade of surveying. He journeyed to Australia to oversee government works in Tasmania, New South Wales and other colonies, before retiring in 1836 from the service and coming to New Zealand, in the days before we were even a colony. He witnessed the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, and acted as guide on one occasion for a British regiment during the threat of a Ngapuhi attack on Kororareka. With Hobson transferring the capital to Auckland, Kelly arrived in the young township and began buying land almost immediately. He built a house at Mt Eden, where he lived, off and on, for over 46 years until he died. Another influential partnership of his was with Frederick Whitaker, who was to become Premier of New Zealand (as was Pollen for a time). Even his Rosebank land had a story of its own. Part of John Kelly's Rosebank farm was become, from c.1860, West Auckland's first brickyard.

He certainly led a colourful life, did this early settler in Avondale. At Kororareka, he was involved in not just one duel, but two, and with the same opponent, William Brewer. At the first event, Kelly’s wig was shot away. At the second, the ball from Brewer’s pistol passed through Kelly’s left whisker.

(More information on duelling in New Zealand, including the Kelly-Brewer duels, at Te Ara, and The Smell of Gunpowder, A History of Duelling in New Zealand by Donald Kerr (2006).)


  1. You have been busy Ice. This is cool!!!!

  2. Many thanks, Storm. Been doing some prep for the talk I have to do tomorrow at Avondale College. Bits and bobs about Rosebank is part of it.

  3. Would love to hear from anyone with more info on our 3rd great grandfather, John Kelly.

  4. JOHN kelly is my great great-grandfather Neil Ross589@gmail . Com

    1. Hi. Do you have any Kelly information or know who in the family stores it. Photos , the family Bible from Ireland, we would love to know whereabouts in County Tyrone he's from as planning on going Ireland soon. Thanks!

    2. Zoe Kelly married Douglas Ross ,Her sisterms married into the Boscawen Family John Boscawen may have information for you .He is well known and has keen interest in Family History.

  5. Hi we come from his Granddaughter Zoe Beryl Kelly married Douglas Ross .John Boscawen may have some information as Zoe sister married into Boscawen Family .John is well known and may be interested.Hope it is of some help.

  6. Thank-you very much.
    I'll try and find him online.