Finding Patrick Dougherty, 1981-2012



How a family tradition was (eventually) proven right

By Patrick N. O’Neill, Canberra, November 2012

Sometimes the story of how family history has been gathered is as interesting and important as the evidence that is found. The story below tells how it was over 30 years before one particular tradition was proven right, from its first telling to me in 1981, to the finding of documentary evidence confirming it in 2012.
Each hyperlink takes you to a piece of evidence or to some explanatory history, and it is worth taking your time to follow each link before continuing with the story. So once you are ready, dig in and enjoy some historical detective work!

The Doughertys of Fy-Corranagh, County Donegal

My first interest in family history arose in 1973, when at the age of eleven I attended the funeral of my great-uncle Jock Kearney (father of two All Blacks), in Ranfurly, NZ. By 1976–77, with an O’Neill reunion planned for the centenary of the arrival of my great-grandfather John O’Neill in New Zealand, I was actively putting together a family tree of that John O’Neill (1856–1945); this became The O’Neills of Greenlough, Co. Derry, from 1820 onwards—covering the descendants of John O’Neill as well as those of his siblings and his cousins—published by my cousin Bernard and me in May 1986, just before I first left NZ.

But the O’Neills were not the only ancestors I was interested in; Charlie Dougherty and his wife Sarah Carney (or Kearney) had also settled in Central Otago, NZ, not far from the O’Neills. It was a commonplace to those interested that Sarah was from a family of 17 kids from Donegal, but much less was known about the family of Sarah’s husband Charlie Dougherty, even though we knew of quite a number of his siblings. There was Barney (1836–1908), for whom Barneys Lane near Ranfurly was named; John (1844–1922), who farmed near Charles and Sarah at Gimmerburn; Barbara (1848–1912), spinster/farmer with Barney; Neil (1853–1909), who worked as a labourer in Oamaru and Dunedin; and Annie (c.1856–1906), who at the age of 44 married a widowed teacher with two kids, but died only six years later (of hydatids, as it turned out).

That may make it seem as if quite a lot was known about the Dougherty family, with seven kids. But on the one hand that seemed to pale into insignificance beside the 17 Kearney kids. And on the other hand, nothing is known of any Dougherty siblings who may have emigrated to the United States or elsewhere. These two contrasts with the Kearneys—in other words the uncertainty surrounding the Dougherty family—made (and make it) rather difficult to quantify them. For all we knew, there could have been another half dozen who emigrated to other places than New Zealand.

The family tradition

But in mid-1981 my aunt Molly, the eldest of her generation (and now 91), told me that there had indeed been another Dougherty brother, Patrick, who had come to New Zealand to fight in the Maori Wars, with a promise of land after his military service. Well, that seemed a well-founded story, though not a well-known one at the time—probably because until then no-one had been tracking down the family’s early history.

1981: first steps

So I had only two clues: the name Patrick Dougherty and his military service, which would have had to occur between 1845 and 1872, the period of the Maori Wars (now known as the New Zealand wars). It was only in February 2009 that New Zealand’s Birth, Death and Marriage Historical Records database was placed online, so in 1981, research was done the slow way. My first move was to seek a death certificate for a Patrick Dougherty, because the Registrar-General had the nation’s best index of dead people. A search of the period 1865–84 yielded nothing (17 June 1981 letter, PDF), but a further search from 1884 to 1903 gave me one possible result (22 July 1981 letter, PDF), and by August 1981 I obtained the death certificate for the only potentially relevant Patrick Dougherty who died in New Zealand (death certificate, PDF). But the details were so sparse that there was no way of knowing if this was in fact a brother of our Charlie Dougherty: this Patrick was an Irish gum digger aged 53, buried at Puhoi in the North Island.

I then turned to my other clue, Patrick Dougherty’s supposed service in the Maori Wars, and wrote to the National Archives in Wellington for help. Sure enough, Aunty Molly’s story was apparently borne out, for there was a Patrick Dougherty who received a medal for military service in the North Island, having served with the Wanganui Rangers and the 2nd Waikato regiment between 1864 and 1867 (National Archives letter and copies, PDF). Unfortunately, there was not enough detail to link this Patrick Dougherty with our Charles Dougherty, or to identify him as the same man who died at Puhoi in 1895.

In terms of research, that’s where matters rested for the next 26 years, at least for my part, and I never really expected to be able to definitively confirm or deny the family tradition. Even today, my own family-history database says of Patrick Dougherty that ‘There is no firm documentary evidence of this person….Perhaps identifiable as the brother of Charles Dougherty.’The Doughertys held a reunion at Gimmerburn in January 1986, however, and the family tree that was produced treated as fact the connection with the Patrick Dougherty who died in Puhoi (1986 family tree extract). Over the years, as well, other family members have spoken to me about the Patrick Dougherty who served in the Maori Wars and ‘died in 1895’.

With the march of time, however, and the industriousness of the New Zealand National Archives (now Archives New Zealand), research and access to historical records became a lot easier. By 2006, with my thesis completed and another Dougherty reunion planned to be held at Gimmerburn in April 2007, I was both ready and free to resume my Dougherty/Kearney research. And in August 2005 Archives New Zealand had made its Archway database available online, with over 2 million records available at its release.

Barbara Dougherty’s will

One of the first new items I obtained in 2007 was the will of Barbara Dougherty (will of Barbara Dougherty, PDF), sister of Charlie and the elusive putative Patrick. Barbara and her sister Annie used to keep house for their brother Barney on a farm on what is now Barneys Lane, outside Ranfurly [Google maps]. By the time Barbara made her will in April 1910, Barney and Annie were dead. The most important bequests made by Barbara were one farm in trust for her nephew Bernard (Ben, 1904–1982), and her other farm to her brother Charlie. There was no mention of her brother John, who also had a farm nearby, and who was by then a widower with two sons and two daughters.

But just as importantly from our point of view, Barbara initially left the sum of £40 to the parish priest, for prayers for her parents Patrick and Annie, and her ‘brothers Phillip Docherty and Bernard Docherty and my sisters Margaret and Annie’. This is a trustworthy outline of the size of the Dougherty family, and indicates that she is naming all of those whom she knows to be dead at that time. Bernard (Barney) and Annie are well known, because Barbara had lived with both of them, but for the other two, Phillip Dougherty and Margaret Dougherty, in 2007 this was the only known evidence that they were also part of the family. And even now, in 2012, not a single other piece of information is known about Margaret Dougherty. If there are any Irish or American cousins out there, though, they are probably her descendants. [I am writing her name in full for the benefit of Google…] And significantly for this story, there is no mention of a brother Patrick, which would generally mean that there was no such brother…

In October 1911, however, Barbara made a codicil to her will, cancelling the bequest of £40 to the parish priest, and another bequest of £20 to Bishop Verdon of Dunedin, and instead leaving £40 to her brother John. One can only guess at the reason for this change. Rev. William McMullan continued to be the parish priest until around 1930, and there is also a story that Bishop Verdon once walked from Ranfurly to visit the Dougherty home at Barney’s Lane, and that it was a significant occasion. A few years later, two of Barbara’s nieces, Annie and Kate Dougherty, spent a few years in the service of the seminary established by Bishop Verdon at Mosgiel [where I myself was a seminarian in the early 1980s], so the Church was a very important institution to the family. Perhaps the simple reason is that Barbara decided her brother John’s family needed the money more. (£40 in 1910 value equates to about $6400 in 2012 value.) Happily for us, at any rate, the words of the original bequest were not simply deleted, but still contain that valuable information as detailed above.

So now there are three possible siblings to find: Patrick, Phillip and Margaret Dougherty…

2012: Gimmerburn land files

During 2010, Karen Roughan and her brother Lawrence Dougherty researched the Gimmerburn land titles held at the Dunedin Regional Archives. By 2011, I was aware of the Otago Land Tenure Case files held in the same repository. These are the correspondence files relating to each land title, and most likely only became accessible to the public in very recent years, after administrative changes to land title in New Zealand caused them to fall out of use and be transferred to the Archives. The Archives database listed 14 files relating to land held by Doughertys at Gimmerburn, and promised to contain correspondence about leases and mortgages, potentially opening a window into the lives of the pioneers. Because some of the files contained recent material, however, it was necessary to first get permission to access the files, from senior executives of Land Information NZ and Landcorp.

Having cleared this hurdle, in January 2012 I went to the Dunedin Regional Archives with cousins Karen Roughan and Des Dougherty, armed with a camera. The files were all a treasure trove of documents from a myriad of related people—Kearneys, Doughertys, Spedderis—and I came home with 250 pages of records (that will one day get written up…). But here’s the most interesting item from that day, a letter purportedly written by Charlie Dougherty in 1902, requesting more land because what he has is of such poor quality: Charlie Dougherty letter 1902 (PDF). I say purportedly written by Charlie, because there is enough evidence that he could not write: for example, he signed his 1929 will with an X, as also his daughter Annie’s 1885 birth certificate, and the solicitor’s letter dated 17 June 1892 states that Charlie is ‘quite illiterate’.

Chasing Felix Dougherty

While we were in the Archives reading room, Karen asked me if I had seen a few other items in the Archives database, and blow me down if two of them didn’t seem to name another unknown brother of old Charlie Dougherty, as well as information about Phillip!

Dougherty, Felix – H. M. 5th Regt. – Coalpit, Gimmerburn, a file created by the Naval and Military Land Claims Commissions, 1896 and 1910, seemed to show there was a Felix Dougherty in the family, whereas
Dougherty, Phillip (deceased) alias Diver – [claimed] by brother C. Dougherty, Gimmerburn, Otago, a file in the same series, seemed to show why no Phillip Dougherty had shown up in the database of New Zealand deaths: had Phillip died under an alias?

These two items had actually been added to the Archives database on 26 January 2006, so it pays to check growing databases regularly! (Some background material on the Naval and Military Land Claims Commissions is available here.)

Even without having the files themselves, the information was enough to track down Felix Dougherty and obtain his death certificate, which put him at age 74 in 1904, when he died at Nelson (death certificate, PDF). Unfortunately, the record did not show his parents’ names. It also stated that he had been only 20 years in New Zealand, long after the Maori Wars, but other records showed how faulty this information was: newspapers on the PaperPast website showed a Felix Doherty making donations to the Waimate Public School in 1865, claiming the old age pension in 1899, and most importantly, trying to claim land, in 1893–94, on the basis of military service. The electoral roll showed him based at Wakamarina, near Nelson, in 1880. These articles are clearly all about the man who died in 1904, but the death certificate did not make the link with our Charlie Dougherty.

Final chapter?

Finally, there was nothing for it but to take cheque book credit card in hand and fork out to Archives New Zealand for copies of the relevant files, which I did in June 2012. And for the sum of NZ$50 I obtained at last the real story about Patrick Dougherty, in a set of beautiful colour photocopies, which I have scanned and am now making available—but note the large file sizes.

!!Spoiler alert!! If you’d like to discover the two files before reading my commentary, please click here and then here. But note that I am not transcribing any of the documents, so for the full story, you will have to read some handwriting. When you are ready to continue this commentary, click here to go to the next section on this page.




























The first file contained one letter by Charlie Dougherty:

Dougherty, Felix – H. M. 5th Regt. – Coalpit, Gimmerburn (Archives NZ, ACGT 18569, LS 69/10, record 538 (PDF, 12 MB)

Most of this file contains papers about Felix Dougherty’s attempts, from 1889 to 1898, to claim land on the basis of having served in the British Army from 1846 to 1857. He failed to obtain land, because the 1890s Acts he was claiming under applied only to military service in New Zealand.

The top four pages, though, document a 1902 attempt by Charlie Dougherty to claim land on behalf of his brother ‘filip’. This was misread as Felix by the government officials in 1902, who put Charlie’s letter on the wrong file and answered it accordingly. But luckily again, the Archives indexer in 2006 included the telltale words ‘Coalpit, Gimmerburn’ in the database entry, and the 1902 error is being corrected in 2012 by this webpage! So you only need to read pages 3 and 4 of the PDF, but bear in mind that Charlie Dougherty probably did not write the letter himself, but would have dictated it.

Felix Dougherty’s claim was officially judged as follows in the final public report on old soldiers’ land claims:

513. Dougherty, Corporal Felix. H.M. 5th Fusiliers. £40. Arrived in New Zealand five years after discharge. Discharged in Mauritius in 1857; arrived in Otago in 1862. Did not serve in the colony.—Technically barred.

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1894 Session I, H-23, Unsubstantiated claims under the Naval and Military Settlers’ and Volunteers’ Land Acts, 1889, 1891, and 1892. (Report, with schedules, on a revision of); and further claims received since 31st March, 1893, p. 39.

The second file is the real gem of all the research narrated on this page, because it documents several attempts by Charlie Dougherty to claim land on the strength of his brother’s military service in New Zealand, with some letters obviously written by educated intermediaries, while two letters (marked with an asterisk in the list below) are semi-literate and reflect much better the voice of Charlie Dougherty. Another letter written by a solicitor (marked with a †) is also very illuminating.

Dougherty, Phillip (deceased) alias Diver – [claimed] by brother C. Dougherty, Gimmerburn, Otago (Archives NZ, ACGT 18659, LS69/10, record 540) (PDF, 19 MB)

The PDF copy shows the page order of the original file, with the most recent document on top, but for ease of understanding, the list below enables you to refer to the PDF page number and read the file in chronological order, which I would recommend.

Date Page number in PDF Description
1 File cover
13 Jun 1892 20–21 †Formal claim made on behalf of Patrick Diver under Naval and Military Settlers’ and Volunteers’ Land Acts, 1889 and 1891, accompanied by letter from solicitor Inder of Naseby, dated 17 June 1892.
22 Aug 1892 19 Formal claim for land is assessed and rejected.
18 Dec 1893 17–18 ***Two-page semi-literate letter to Hon.
John McKenzie, local MP and Minister of Lands
, requesting 50 acres of land in name of Patrick Diver.
30 Jun 1894 32 To Hon. John McKenzie: ‘After we spoke in Naseby, the land ranger looked at the land I wish to claim, which has now been pegged off by H[enry] McErlane. The Land Board have told me they have no claim from me, but I was under the impression I did not need to apply to them, since the land was to be granted for military service. How should I proceed?’
[30 Jun 1894] 33 Attachment for Mr McKenzie: Letter from Land Board, Dunedin, 20 Jun 1894: We have no record of a claim by you for 50 acres on Highfield Run [Gimmerburn].
24 Jul 1894 30 Reply: Did your brother serve under his own name—we can only find record of Felix Dougherty’s claim.
4 Aug 1894 31 ‘My brother served for ten years under one name, then four years under another name.’ Annotation by public servant: This should be treated as an application under the Naval and Military Settlers’ and Volunteers’ Land Acts [rather than under the general land legislation].
24 Aug 1894 29 Reply: Held for further enquiry pending government decision and legislation.
11 Dec 1894 28 Enquiry for result of committee deliberation.
11 Nov [1897] 22–24 Detailed three-page outline of his brother’s military career and death; cannot come to Oamaru for hearing.
30 Aug 1895 25 Reply: legislation still pending.
17 Aug 1895 26 To John McKenzie, local MP and Minister of Lands, pressing for speed so that he can be granted land nearby before it is made publicly available.
7 Jan 1895 27 Reply: no further action till new legislation is passed.
15 Apr 1901 13–14 Solicitor Herdman, Naseby: ‘How much land was Patrick Devar entitled to as an old soldier? Papers were passed to Lands Minister John McKenzie, but nothing happened.’
1 May 1901 12 Reply to Mr Herdman, solicitor, Naseby: No grant of land was made to a Patrick Devar, and very few British Army soldiers did receive land for service in the British Army. Please provide further details.
10 Jun 1901 15–16 Solicitor Herdman, Naseby: ‘Was any land grant made to Phil Docherty?’
17 Jun 1901 11 Reply to Mr Herdman, solicitor, Naseby: No grant of land has been made to Patrick Divar alias Phil Dougherty—and none can be made.
9 Aug 1901 9–10 To T Mackenzie MP: I have not heard anything since I was advised on 24 Aug 1894 that the matter was still being considered by Government; please help.
23 Aug 1901 8 Reply to T Mackenzie MP, repeating conclusion of 1898 report to Parliament.
17 Sep 1903 6–7 Mr Herdman MP to Minister for Defence: Please advise how Dougherty can claim grant of land that was made to his brother.
28 Sep 1903 5 Reply from Minister for Defence to Mr Herdman MP: explanation of why Dougherty’s claim is not valid.
26 Jun 1908 4 ***Semi-literate letter to Mr Millar MP: Spoke to you at the Dunedin [Agricultural and Pastoral] Show; Mr McKenzie promised me 50 acres—hope you can help me.
1 Jul 1908 3 Office of Minister of Lands acknowledges Charles Dougherty letter forwarded by Mr Millar, a Dunedin MP.
16 Oct 1908 2 Note: ‘There were two Doughertys who were rejected by the Commission in 1887.’

For the story of Patrick Dougherty himself, probably the most illuminating document is the solicitor’s letter dated 17 June 1892 (p. 20 of the PDF), so I will change my mind and transcribe it after all!—

Naseby, NZ, 17th June 1892

The Commissioner of Crown Lands
O[tago] L[and] District

Dear Sir,

Enclosed I beg to hand you Claim under “The Naval and Military Settlers’ & Volunteers’ Land Acts 1889 and 1891”. The facts are shortly as follows.

Patrick Diver enlisted in the 12th regiment in England about the year 1863 under his mother’s name his father’s name was Dogherty, and served in the Maori Wars. On his return to England in 1877 his regiment was ordered to India but being unwell he wrote to his people in Ireland and the present claimant paid £10 for his discharge. Diver lived only two years after his discharge and died in June 1879 in Liffen Hospital County Donegal Ireland. Between 1877 & 1879 Diver told Dogherty that he was entitled to some land in New Zealand and assigned it to Dogherty but unfortunately on his leaving Ireland in 1881 Dogherty left all the papers & they have been lost; but he can produce two witnesses who will swear to the above facts. What I take to be excellent proof of the bona fides of the applicant is that he is quite an illiterate man & it was only through hearing some other men talking about soldiers claiming land that he was put in mind of the above circumstances.

I shall be glad to supply you with any further information & also to learn what further proof you require.

Yours faithfully
W. F. Inder [solicitor; died in Gore in 1919]

This claim was counted as a new (that is, late) claim in the 1894 report to Parliament:

87. Dougherty, P. (alias Devor), corps not given, Gimmerburn.—

Appendices to the Journals of the House
of Representatives, 1894 Session I, H-23, Unsubstantiated claims under the Naval and Military Settlers’ and Volunteers’ Land Acts, 1889, 1891, and 1892. (Report, with schedules, on a revision of); and further claims received since 31st March, 1893, p. 41.

It was not until 1898 that a final judgment on this land claim was reported to Parliament, in a report in which only 110 of 2095 claims were recommended for acceptance:

Dougherty, Philip, alias Diver (by brother). H.M. 12th Regiment. Did not settle in New Zealand; went Home with regiment and died there; not discharged till 1877.—Not recommended.

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1898 Session I, H-13, Naval and Military Claims (Report on, by Mr. J.C. McKerrow, Commissioner appointed in pursuance of section 3 of “The Naval and Military Claims Settlement and Extinguishment Act, 1896.”), p. 11.

Perhaps I should also transcribe the semi-literate letter from 1902, as found in the first land-claim file:

Gimmerburn, 21 July 1902

Mr Thamas McKenzie [Thomas Noble MacKenzie, MP for Waihemo electorate since 1900]

Dear Sir

I am send you full paticlurs of filip Dougherty milattary service. Filip Doughert is his Christian name he served the first 10 year. Relisted again for 10 years under the Patrick Diver. He only served 4 years the second time he listed that is 14 years he listed al to gether. I bought him of[f] the army. After I bought him of[f] he agreed his passage for the North Island, and he took ill and died in weeks sickness of before he died he gave me his papers and told me to show these papers in North Island Land Office and that I would find 50 acres of land belonging to the milatary service for him but unfortunately the paper were burned and I had nothing to show. If I hadent lost the papers I would[nt] have much trouble in getting it. I stated the words to the late Sir John Mc Kenzie. it is about 9 years ago that I Applied for it first and he told me that I would get it. So after that Mr McKerrow sent me a telegration to met him in Omaru [Oamaru]. By not having the money to pay my way I sent him a statement of it. and I was always waiting to get a grant of it. And when I got no words I Applied for it again. So thats all I have to say now. I hope you will do your best for me.
Please show this to Mr R. McKenzie.
I remain
Yours truly
Charles Dougherty

Annotation: Sir A. Douglas. Dear Sir, Can you let me have a reply to this. T. MacKenzie.

The details to be gleaned from all the correspondence in these files add up to the following story: Philip Dougherty enlisted in the British Army about 1863, and completed his enlistment about 1873. He then re-enlisted, under the name of Patrick Diver, and served another four years. One of these enlistments was in the 12th Regiment of Foot, and he served in New Zealand for about six years. He became ill about 1877, and asked his family in Ireland to buy him out six years early, so that he would not have to complete his time, and would not be posted to India. He died in June 1879 in Liffen Hospital, County Donegal.

Full marks to Charlie Dougherty for keeping on trying, but he was probably chasing a lost cause from the start, because his brother’s dying promise was based on faulty understanding of his rights (again, see the background information on the Naval and Military Land Claims).

The only place in the list of Donegal placenames that resembles Liffen is Lifford, which does indeed have a hospital, established about 1755 and currently (2012) under threat of closure. And there are only two entries in the index of Irish deaths on the FamilySearch website that closely match a death in June 1879, so in August 2012 I ordered them both, and received only one certificate, which looks an exact match to me: Philip Dougherty’s death record, PDF. This has Philip Doherty dying at Lifford Infirmary on 10 July 1879, aged 40—a good fit with the ages of the other Dougherty children.

So, to sum up:

  • the Patrick Dougherty who died in 1895 is unrelated. But as a postscript on him, in October 2012 Carol Dougherty sent me three items about him, including the report of his inquest from the Auckland Star, some notes on his military service, and his original death record, which gives better details than the typewritten one that I received in 1981. He is also probably the man recorded as having deserted on 3 August 1869 (1894 report to Parliament, p. 15). And furthermore, there are probably two separate men involved here, one who served in the 18th Regiment and died in 1895, and another who served in the Wanganui area 1864-67, subsequent fate unknown.
  • Felix Dougherty who died in 1904 is also unrelated, and the potential link arose from a 1902 misreading of semi-literate handwriting, that carried through into the Archives New Zealand database.
  • Philip Dougherty aka Patrick Diver, 1839-1879, is our man!

And it just remains to find Philip/Patrick’s enlistment and discharge records, and to locate Margaret Dougherty and any of her descendants. Volunteers, anyone? ☺

In the light of the latest research, the Dougherty family now looks like this:

Patrick and Annie Dougherty family as known in 2012

Patrick and Annie Dougherty family as known in 2012


Sincere thanks for their help over the years to Aunty Molly, Karen Roughan, Paddy Dougherty, and Carol Dougherty, as also to the Archives New Zealand indexers and reference staff, in particular Peter Miller and the staff of the Dunedin Regional Office of Archives New Zealand.


Comments are welcome, and can be sent to Patrick O’Neill. Please let me know if I may publish them here.

Carol Dougherty, 04 Nov 2012, 6:36 AM:

Oh that was so outstanding, what a great lot of detective work you have done over all these years, we all so much appreciate the time and effort you have put in.
I couldn’t stop reading for a moment Patrick. Fancy that! That’s all I can say at the moment I’m going to read it all again.

First published 3 November 2012 [at].
Last updated 5 November 2012. Moved to on 14 July 2016. Links corrected on 29 March 2017.

  One Response to “Finding Patrick Dougherty, 1981-2012”

  1. Greetings from Fy Correnagh.
    Have you ever been to visit ?.

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