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2. The Immigrant

 

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"
ANON.

Henry 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.  In fact he clipped-off 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 will have realised the 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 older brother, 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. volunteered. 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 Zealand.

On 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.

The 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.

So 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. Many of 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 stone was 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.

Mourne Granite

Henry J. of course, hadn’t the experience of manual labour or the quarrying/mining skills of his compatriots. Refusing to be deterred by this, Henry J. calculated that he could profit by utilising carpentry skills, acquired during his seafaring days, to gain employment as a 'Bulkheader'. Bulkheader's were the men who were employed in the continuous job of inserting 'permanent' 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.
 

Up Contents 1. The Arrival 2. The Immigrant 3. Life in Butte 4. Bucket of Blood 5. Life in the Mines 6. 1916 7. Speculator Mine 8. WOBBLIES 9. St. Patrick's Day 10. The Wedding Sources Reader's Comments

 

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