Schoolboy, Shepherd and Seaman
"O my island of dreams you are
with me it seems
And I care not for fame or renown
Like the black sheep of old I'll return to the fold
Little town in the old County Down"
J. did not fit the stereotypical profile of immigrants passing through the
tumultuous and noisy reception centre of Ellis Island.
He was older than
most new arrivals at 37 years.
some years when being interviewed
stating his age as 32.
This was probably to avoid suspicion or awkward questions, as he was a man
who was always wary of authority. He
necessity of portraying oneself as just another ill-educated,
physically fit young worker on his way to a life of industrious toil.
In reality Henry J had been an immigrant to New Zealand at age 14. He
went, in place of his
James, on a
£15 ticket provided by some maternal uncles Quinn. The substitution came
about in circumstances peculiar to the age. It was the habit and custom at
that time in Ireland to arrange an “Immigrant Wake” before departure. This
involved a get-together by friends and relations at ones home, culminating
in tearful cries of farewell, as it was unlikely those present would ever
see you again, at least in this world. That was a fine concept but to
heighten the drama it was the practise for the prospective passenger to be
laid out in a coffin before communal prayers. Henry’ brother at that point
in the proceeding took to his heels and ran off. It was then that instead
of wasting the ticket that the bold 14-year old Henry J.
It must have seemed a
wonderful opportunity to Henry J. who was only at home due to his dislike
of life as a lodger in Belfast where his parents, who were of moderate
means, had dispatched him to be educated by the Christian Brothers. The
Brother’s philosophy and religious beliefs did not agree with Henry J. in
spite of his abilities as a prize winning pupil. So after a voyage of some
months in a sailing ship from Greenore, a nearby port, he arrived in New
the Canterbury plains of the South Island, he found his new life was as a
shepherd in the company of only some dogs and a horse placed in sole
charge of one thousand acres and one thousand woolly backs. This was
certainly not what Henry J. had expected or desired. As a result,
in 1906, when
Henry J's. father
back in Ireland died,
leaving him a half share in a small coaster, he was only too pleased to get
back to County Down and try
his hand as a Seaman.
|| A painting of "The White Haired Lass"
by Capt. James Doyle.
little coaster, that Henry
J. inherited a half-share,
was a class of
sailing vessel known as a schooner, which traded around the coasts of the
British Isles. Despite nine
years of effort,
Henry J failed to
make it “big time” in the sea freight business unlike his brother James,
the one who had decided New Zealand was not for him.
now the wheel of life had moved again and it was on that fine July morning
that Henry J.
set out on a new phase of life as a mine employee.
Henry J's. neighbors back in
Mourne, supplemented their meager
farm income, especially
in the winter,
by cutting granite pieces from the sides of the mountains. Their miniature
quarries can still be seen
today. It is
hard to realise the fortitude of someone who might labour for freezing
cold days on end in the solitude of the mountains hewing out pieces of
granite kerbstone. They were highly-skilled and could split the rock with
simple hand-tools. It was not unknown for the day to end with the loss of
the stone, and any income,
when in the course of manually dragging it down the mountainside on a
homemade sled it tumbled and broke before it was safely stacked.
After stacking the
collected by horse and cart and subsequently shipped
to Belfast or more often
abroad. Some of the made it’s way to the City of Liverpool,
where the entire street network was lined by Mourne granite. This
background experience, determination and skill guaranteed Mourne men
a warm welcome in the mines of Butte.
J. of course, hadn’t the experience of manual labour or the
quarrying/mining skills of his compatriots.
Refusing to be deterred by this,
J. calculated that he could
profit by utilising
carpentry skills, acquired during his seafaring days,
gain employment as a 'Bulkheader'.
the men who were employed in the continuous job of inserting
timber supports into the mine tunnels. The face miners put in temporary
shoring as they dug out the copper ore. In this job away from the face,
Henry J. will have had some escape from the dust that filled the miners’
lungs. It is somewhat
ironic that Henry J.'s lack of experience kept him away from the more
dangerous jobs on the face that cost so many men their lives.