A Kiwi in search of her ancestral tribes

Thomas Gaffney ~ where’s the body buried?

One of my father’s great quests is to find the grave of his 2 x great grandfather, Thomas Gaffney. The family story is that Thomas’s son Michael travelled from New Zealand back to England to place a headstone on his father’s grave. (Another family story is that Thomas’s wife Susan had died in the workhouse.) While I was living in England, I was determined to find that headstone.

Thomas was born in Ireland, according to census returns (well, the 18411 and the 18612 returns say “Ireland”, and the 18513 states “Birkenhead, Cheshire”.) He married Dubliner Susan(na) Foley in Duffield, Derbyshire on 29 September 1836 at St Alkmund’s church4.  Their son Michael was born a month later, and they subsequently had two more children, Ann in 1839 and Francis in 1841.

Family tree chart showing Thomas and Susan and their three children Michael, Ann and Francis

The 1841 census return showed an older child living with them, a ten year old Thomas Gaffney. Who was he? Another story, another day (when I’ve figured out the answer).

Thomas’s son Michael, my great great grandfather, emigrated to New Zealand in 1859 aboard the Cresswell5. He paid a tenner to seek fame and fortune at the other end of the world.

Thomas’s wife Susan died two years later in 1861 6, and Thomas travelled to New Zealand with their daughter Ann aboard the Lincoln in 18677. The two were separated for the duration of the journey, as Ann was classified as a single woman, and her father was with the single men.

The Commissioners have pleasure in recommending Richard Olway, single immigrant, who is reported as having taken entire charge of an old and very infirm man, named Gaffany, who comes out to join his family at Timaru, for a gratuity of, say 4 pounds.

Lyttleton Times ~ 4 July 18678


It didn’t sound like Thomas was in a fit state for a return journey, but we couldn’t find a death registered for him in New Zealand. So I started looking in England. Searching on passengers lists, we could find no record of Thomas returning to England, but we did find his son Michael travelling there in May 1907 aboard the Corinthic9, and returning in September the same year on the Ruapehu10.  While in London, Michael paid a visit to the New Zealand Government’s London office with his son-in-law, Francis Buckland (Frank) Early.

Notes from London, article from Evening Post, 23 September 1907, detailing visit by Michael Gaffaney to NZ Government office

“ABOUT PEOPLE, Notes from London”, Evening Post, 23 Sep 190711

This seems to corroborate the family story of Michael going back to England to place the headstone, so where was his father Thomas buried?  His mother Susan died on 12 December 1861, and was buried three days later in Belper cemetery in an unmarked grave, number 1168.12

Area of Belper cemetery where Susan Gaffaney was buried

Area where Susan Gaffaney is allegedly buried, Belper Cemetery ~ August 2016

There is no record of Thomas being buried there. So if Thomas wasn’t buried with Susan, where was he buried?

I found a likely candidate in Manchester, a Thomas Gaffney who died on 18 January 1872 in the workhouse at New Bridge Street13. Maybe it was Thomas who died in a workhouse, and not his wife Susan?

Two Thomas Gaffneys were buried in Philips Park cemetery in January 1872. One was an infant buried in the Church of England section, and the other was 64 year old Thomas from the workhouse, who was interred with seven other people in the Roman Catholic section F grave number 459.14

Philips Park Cemetery, Manchester

Plan of Philips Park Cemetery, Manchester, England

In the summer of 1872 there was a flood that washed away some of the bodies in the Roman Catholic section of the cemetery. Yikes! Was Thomas one of those?

A kind soul on a genealogy forum  who lived locally offered to visit Philips Park cemetery for me to see if there was a headstone in section F for Thomas. There was none visible. And any grave markers, lying flat, had sunk into the grass.

Map showing approximate location of grave number 459 in the RC section of Philps Park cemetery, Manchester

Approximate location of grave number 459 in the Roman Catholic section of Philips Park cemetery, Manchester

The council offered to help identify the exact plot where Thomas Gaffney was buried, and a cousin and I planned to go with a spike and a spade to try and find a grave marker or stone of some kind.

What happened next felt like a miracle. Before my cousin and I could psych ourselves up for a spot of gravedigging, I found an article (through Findmypast’s British newspaper collection) in the Belper News, reporting on Michael’s visit to England and his fortunes since leaving Belper. Apparently, he was “the patriarch of New Zealand and its wealthiest inhabitant.” This was certainly news to us, as it probably would be to everyone else in the country.

An Antipodean Patriarch - article in Belper News, 14 August 1907

Belper News and Derbyshire Telephone ~ 14 August 190715


(Special to the “Belper News”)

Fifty years ago Michael Gaffaney left Belper. He sailed from St Katherine’s docks for New Zealand. He was then 22 years of age. Now bowed by the weight of years he has made a rapid visit to the “ Homeland”.

Fortune has smiled on Mr Gaffaney. He is the patriach of New Zealand and its wealthiest inhabitant. On his estate at Timuku [sic], South Island near to Timaru a mighty flock of 35,000 sheep bear his brand. He numbers his land, not by acres but by square miles. “Bit by bit – in 20 acre lots, I bought my land, paying for it as I went on,” said Mr Gaffaney to a “Belper News” representative.

“ Now I kill 9000 head of sheep, best Canterbury mutton, every week.”

Six stalwart sons and five daughters have arisen around the “Grand Old Man” of New Zealand. His life practically embodies New Zealand’s progress. “Money was scarce in the old days.” But they struggled on. “Mr Kennaway, of the Agent Generaral’s office,” continued Mr Gaffaney, “and I first lived side by side in sod huts.”

“What do you think of the new labour laws of New Zealand, Mr Gaffaney?” queried our correspondent.

“Well, though I am greatly in favour of improved conditions for the workers, I am afraid the recent enactments are prohibitive in the price it places on labour.”

“The Maoris are dying out, I believe?”

“Yes” said he. “Principally drink and intermarriage with down-grade Europeans are wiping them out fast!”

“Dick the Digger” was a great man in New Zealand. He never forgot a digger’s son. Many an official now holding a good Government post owes his advancement to “Dick the Digger”- (the Hon. Richard Seddon.)

The old man’s interests were all centered in his flocks, herds and grain.

He called upon the Christchurch Farmers’ Co-Operative Meat Association in Fenchurch Street. He visited Smithfield, and the New Zealand Meat Co’s offices, of which company he is the largest shareholder.

Then he paid a visit to the New Zealand Bank, where he expressed a wish “he would like to be back in Timaru.”

He paid a hurried visit to the Houses of Parliament, Westminister Abbey; attended service at the Westminister Cathedral (for Michael Gaffaney is, though broadminded in matters religious, a follower of the old faith).

The National Gallery impressed him much, but he wanted to get home to the “guid wife” and the broad acres of his beautiful New Zealand home.

He paid a filial visit to Belper and had erected a costly monumental stone to the memory of his dear mother that will attract many a wondering tourist’s attention.

He regretted that a call at 10, Hanover Square, elicited the fact that Mr Aurelius Purnell and sister were away from home visiting in Yorkshire. It was with this gentleman’s family Michael Gaffaney first took service when he touched New Zealand ground.

On Friday morning the quaint dressed figure of the venerable old man was lost to London for ever. He left by the “Ruapehu” a fine New Zealand boat, lying down the river at Tilbury, bound for home, and the duties of our correspondent who had acted as guide, philosopher and friend for the ancient antiquarian ended.

The article was full of delicious details and riddled with hyperbole, but there’s one paragraph that stood out:

He paid a filial visit to Belper and had erected a costly monumental stone to the memory of his dear mother that will attract many a wondering tourist’s attention.

Wait, what? So the headstone was for his mother??

I have been a tourist in Belper and my attention has not been attracted by any such monument – costly or otherwise. Where could it be? Once again, the Belper News provided an answer a few years later:

Belper Millionaire in New Zealand - article from the Belper News, 3 March 1911

Belper News and Derbyshire Telephone ~ 3 March 191116

And Its Environments.

Historical and Reminiscent

Belper Millionaire in New Zealand

Some sixty years ago a family of Irish origin named Gaffaney were living a simple life in Belper. Being quiet and industrious they attracted but little attention, though it was known to friends that they had ambitions for which Belper did not furnish sufficient scope.

After various inquiries as to a likely field in which to develop their energies, they decided on New Zealand and about fifty-two years ago they landed in that far off colony. The family consisted of a father, two sons (Michael and Frank), and a daughter, the latter a very fine type of the dark-eyed Irishwoman.

They all prospered, and Michael and Frank are still there, and are counted among the most important of the British settlers, Michael indeed being one of New Zealand’s millionaires.

A few years ago Michael revisited his old home in Belper, his object being to place a monument to his mother in the Congregational Churchyard, to see the old town once more, and to look up as many old friends as he could find. Alas! There were but few – Walter Spencer and Daniel Morrell, both of whom have since passed away, were almost the only ones of his old neighbours left.

Mr Gaffaney states that on landing in New Zealand the country was almost entirely undeveloped, and he put his hand to any work that came along – rail splitting and fencing at so much a mile; shepherding at so much a hundred, and so on, his savings being invested in land, with the result that he is now one of the largest landowners in New Zealand, his locality being in South Canterbury.

His sheep and cattle are numbered by thousands, and he is also a leading proprietor in companies supplying the British and other markets with New Zealand dairy and other farm produce of every kind, his companies’ shipmeats of frozen meat amounting to some 9,000 carcasses per week; and he is also connected with the banking and other companies trading with England in various ways. But with all his wealth and business, Mr Gaffaney has never forgotten Belper, and his old life and friends in it.

Mr Gaffaney’s home at Temuka, South Canterbury has been christened ‘Belper House’. He is always pleased with any news from the old place, and especially to be reminded of any of his old friends of the days of long ago.

[Our contribution is from a particular friend of Mr Gaffaney’s, and we should be delighted, with many other Belper folk, to hear something more about our millionaire citizen of New Zealand.]

Again, an article chock-full of details, some of which may even bear some passing resemblance to the truth. In my quest for the headstone, this was gold:

A few years ago Michael revisited his old home in Belper, his object being to place a monument to his mother in the Congregational Churchyard.

So Susan wasn’t Catholic?  And why did a Church of England curate preside over her burial if she was Congregationalist?

I was now itching to visit Belper again and find this wonderful memorial.

Former Congregational Church, Belper

The old Congregational Church, Belper ~ August 2016

The Congregational Church in Belper was established in 1789, with a chapel built in 1799.  This building was demolished in 1869, with a new church opening on the same site in 1872.  Eventually the building became unsafe and in the 1980s a replacement church was built behind the older one.  It was at this time that most of the gravestones were removed from the churchyard and placed either around the walls or laid flat. (The older building was restored and is now a private dwelling.)

New Congregational church, Belper

The current Congregational church in Belper, situated behind the old church building ~ August 2016

The memorials inside the church and from the churchyard were transcribed by the Derbyshire Family History Society, and can be found on the Belper Historical and Genealogical website, along with other useful resources.  Sadly, Susan’s memorial is not found amongst those transcriptions.

On a visit in 2016, I stopped in at the Congregational churchyard, and guess what I found…?

Headstones, Belper Congregational church

Headstones, Congregational church, Belper ~ August 2016


If a monument to Michael’s mother Susan was there, it’s not visible now.

Given that so much of the articles contain half-truths and outright lies, perhaps the Congregational bit is wrong? Perhaps the monument was removed or demolished when the new church was built?  Or is it somewhere else entirely?

If anyone trips over a costly monumental stone for Susan Gaffaney in Belper, let me know. Chocolate fish (New Zealand’s highest accolade) for the first person to find it.

Chocolate fish, on plate

Chocolate Fish Award

Of course, I wouldn’t have known about the headstone at all without the help of those articles – it’s incredible what you can find when you go looking!

Recently there’s been exciting news for us newspaper fan(atic)s. New Zealand’s National Library plans to digitise every edition of The Press up to 1995 (currently available up to 1945) and provide it through their site Papers Past. Also, Findmypast and the British Library have announced they’ve extended their partnership and aim to digitise another 14 million pages of publications over the next three years.

Friends of Findmypast

Disclosure: I’m a Global Ambassador for Findmypast, helping to highlight records you can find, plus news and upcoming events. As part of the Friends of Findmypast program, I receive a free Australian Pro subscription.

Quote FOFMPMG21 to receive 20% discount on a 12 month Pro subscription to Findmypast

  1. 1841 England and Wales Census, Derbyshire, registration district Belper, Duffield parish, enumeration district 11, folio 40, page 39, Thomas Gaffney (age 35); Database and images, Findmypast (www.findmypast.co.uk : accessed 18 Nov 2010); citing PRO HO107/180, The National Archives, Kew, Surrey.
  2. 1861 England and Wales Census, Derbyshire, registration district Belper, Belper parish, folio 81, page 26, household 123, Thomas Gaffney (age 50); Database and images, Ancestry (ancestry.co.uk : accessed 28 Mar 2015); citing PRO RG9/2509, The National Archives, Kew, Surrey.
  3. 1851 England and Wales Census, Derbyshire, registration district Belper, St Peters parish, folio 717, page 10, household 33, Thomas Gaffney (age 46); Database and images, Findmypast (www.findmypast.co.uk : accessed 18 Nov 2010); citing PRO HO107/2144, The National Archives, Kew, Surrey.
  4. St Alkmunds (Duffield), marriage register entry for Thomas Gaffenny and Susanna Foley, 29 Sep 1836; digitised image; Derbyshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1932, Ancestry (ancestry.co.uk : accessed May 2021); citing Derbyshire Record Office, Matlock; Diocese of Derby; Reference Number: D 2402 A/PI 3/10.
  5. “New Zealand, Archives New Zealand, Passenger Lists, 1839-1973,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-D4S3-R3X?cc=1609792&wc=MP7N-L2S%3A119115301%2C119119602%2C119150201 : 21 Jul 2014), Lyttelton > 1859 > Cresswell > image 56 of 66; Archives New Zealand, Wellington.
  6. England, death certificate for Susan Gaffaney, died 12 Dec 1861; citing Dec qtr 1861 vol 07b p254, Belper registration district; General Register Office, Stockport.
  7. “New Zealand, Archives New Zealand, Passenger Lists, 1839-1973,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FST6-8M4 : accessed 29 Mar 2015), Ann Gaffany and Thomas Gaffany, 19 Jun 1867; citing ship Lincoln, Archives New Zealand, Wellington; FHL microfilm 004411845.
  8. “Town and Country”, Lyttleton Times, 4 Jul 1867, p2; digitised image; Papers Past (https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/LT18670704.2.11), National Library of New Zealand, Wellington.
  9. “New Zealand, Archives New Zealand, Passenger Lists, 1839-1973,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QJDJ-1DJH : accessed 3 Aug 2011), M Gaffaney, 1907; citing ship Corinthic, Archives New Zealand, Wellington; FHL microfilm 004479981.
  10. “New Zealand, Archives New Zealand, Passenger Lists, 1839-1973,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QJDJ-CZXF : accessed Agu 2011), M Gaffaney, 28 Sep 1907; citing ship Ruapehu, Archives New Zealand, Wellington; FHL microfilm 004459897.
  11. “About People. Notes from London”, Evening Post, 23 Sep 1907, p3; Papers Past (https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/EP19070923.2.21 : accessed 6 Feb 2012), National Library of New Zealand, Wellington.
  12. Belper Cemetery Burial Register, 1861 entry No. 483, Susan Gaffaney, buried 15 Dec 1861 (Grave No. 1168); Derbyshire Record Office, Matlock.
  13. England, death certificate for Thomas Gaffney, died 18 Jan 1872; citing Mar qtr 1872 vol 08d p181, Manchester registration district; General Register Office, Stockport.
  14. Register of Burials in the Roman Catholic Part, Philips’ Park Cemetery, entry no. 11479 folio 71, Thomas Gaffney, buried 22 Jan 1872 (Section F No.459 Position 5); digitised image; Burial Records, Manchester City Council (www.burialrecords.manchester.gov.uk : accessed 2 Aug 2013).
  15. “An Antipodean Patriarch”, Belper News and Derbyshire Telephone, 14 Aug 1907, p4; digitised image; British Newspaper Collection, Findmypast (https://search.findmypast.co.uk/bna/viewarticle?id=bl%2f0001537%2f19070816%2f078 : accessed 28 Mar 2016).
  16. “Belper Millionaire in New Zealand”, Belper News and Derbyshire Telephone, 3 Mar 1911, p5; digitised image; British Newspaper Collection, Findmypast (https://search.findmypast.co.uk/bna/viewarticle?id=bl%2f0001537%2f19110303%2f076 : accessed 28 Mar 2016).


Wellington war memorials ~ Anzac Day


Family History Month 2021


  1. Pauleen

    I loved this story! Did Belper only recruit journalists with a tendency to hyperbole?! It seems unlikely that he didn’t erect the gravestone so what happened to it? And btw are you a millionaire? LOL

    • Maggie

      Thanks Pauleen, and yes it does seem unlikely, doesn’t it? Surely a story in the local paper would have to be fairly reliable..? Unfortunately, I am not a millionaire! 😀

  2. Great research Maggie, and I really enjoyed reading it. The newspaper articles were great, even if there was slight exaggeration. Sounds like Thomas was a colourful character with a good imagination.

    • Maggie

      Thanks Jennifer! Always nice to come across the colourful ones 😉



    • Maggie

      Be great if he was, Shaneen! Let me know if you take a DNA test, and I can look out for you in my list of matches.

  4. Amy Denby

    I’m hooked; I want to know the next instalment! If I lived a nearer Belper I’d go look myself, & win the the Chocolate Fish. I wish old Gravestones had more love shown them; living in a city, my ancestor’s memorials got smashed up to widen roads, or sometimes just to save cash, or made into ‘paths’ to get worn away, which all drives me nuts, but you’d think country ones would fair better. If I lived near 1 I’d adopt it The old Church is beautiful, esp. compared to the ’80s effort, I wonder if the congregation ever feel envious.. Good luck locating the Grave, please keep us up-dated if it ‘turns’ up! x

  5. Maree

    Great Research Maggie. I have so enjoyed reading and following the Gaffaney’s and as I believe we have a connection to this family and a story attached to it that you may or may not know of I hope that we can be in touch to discover more.

    Kind Regards,

    • Maggie

      Thanks Maree – will be in touch! Be great to share our stories. 🙂
      – Maggie

  6. Kate Gillmore

    Loved reading re my ancestors.. Thank you …my grand parents: Francis Buckland Early and Kate Early (née Gaffaney), whose name was given to me Mary Kate Early ( now Gillmore)

    • Maggie

      Hey cuz! Thanks for your comments 🙂 Would love to hear about your grandparents’ time in England – Maggie

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