James Durden


A solitary grave stone perched on a lonely grass and flax covered coastal terrace 1km north of the Anatori River, North West Nelson, marks the final resting place of miner James Durden.  The Epitaph reads:


Durden gravestone

James Durden's headstone. Photo Ken Wright

His headstone is wrongly named with Durdon, rather it is Durden.  James was born in Field of Mars, Parramatta, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, on 3 May 1845 and was baptised on 19 May 1845 in the Parramatta Catholic Church.1 The Field of Mars is now known as Ryde City, a suburb of Sydney.  Durden originally came to New Zealand from Sydney in 1863, to serve, as a volunteer military settler, in the Waikato Māori Wars.

On Wednesday 29 July 1858 at the Water Police Court Sydney,  Henry Smith, Ralph Greyston, James McEwen, George Miller, William White, Andrew Fenn, and James Durden, seamen belonging to the ship Stately, were convicted of continued disobedience of lawful commands on the high seas, and were sentenced to twelve weeks hard labour in goal.2  If this is our James Durden he would have been 13 years old.  As a thirteen year old he certainly could have been at sea (It is also possible that this was another person).

James Durden enlisted at Sydney on Saturday 10 October 1863, Regimental number 547 and his occupation at time of enlistment was a bushman.3  He was 5 foot 9 inches tall and was 18 yrs old.  On the same day the Kate, 341 Tons, embarked at Sydney with seventy-six volunteers, under the command of Captain James Holt (former New Zealand resident) and Lieutenant Duncan Michie Brown,4 and cleared the Heads at 2pm with light easterly winds, which lasted till midnight of the following day, when the wind veered to North. 

"Experienced moderate northerly winds and rain, with thunder and lightning the whole passage.  Sighted no vessels.  Made the Kings on Saturday 17th October, at 6 pm.  The Kate  arrived at Auckland on Tuesday 20 October 1863.  The volunteers are described as a fine body of men, and to have behaved remarkably well.  The following are the passengers of the Kate — Cabin Passengers: Captain Holt, Mrs. Holt and Son, Mr and Mrs. Wilson, Mr. and Mrs Diore, Lieut Brown Steerage.5

Durden soldiers

List of Troops Arriving on the Kate October 1863 Sailing.

Initially, recruiting for the Waikato War was carried out in the Otago Gold Fields, (which had attracted many young Australians), Auckland, Melbourne and Sydney.  In August 1863 Member of Parliament, Francis Dillon Bell and John Gorst, the Civil Commissioner for the Waikato, were sent to Australia to recruit men and purchase arms, ammunition and military stores.  Lieutenant Colonel George Dean-Pitt assisted with recruitment in Australia.6 His father was Major-General George Dean-Pitt (but he preferred just Pitt).  In 1847 when New Zealand became a separate Army command, Major-General George Dean-Pitt was appointed as commander and Lieutenant-governor of New Ulster Province (North Island).  George Junior was his father's private secretary.  In June 1863 G Dean-Pitt Jnr was appointed Lieutenant Colonel by the New Zealand government for special service in the 1st Auckland Militia.7  There is no connection with Nelson's Colonel Albert Pitt, who served at Parihaka as a Lieutenant Colonel responsible for 1,200 men.  Albert was born and educated at Hobart Tasmania.8

Each Regiment was formed with three Companies, comprising; 1 Captain, 1 Subaltern, 5 Sergeants, 5 Corporals, 100 Privates.  There were four Regiments in the Waikato 1st to 4th.9

An oath of allegiance was sworn by the troops upon arrival in Auckland.  A Nominal Roll of those present on the Kate, sailing from Sydney, was prepared and each soldier signed beside his name, agreeing to the following oath:  "We the undersigned do sincerely promise and swear that we will be faithful and bear true allegiance to her majesty the Queen and that we will serve in the Waikato Militia on the terms and conditions published in the New Zealand Government Gazette of the fifth of August 1863, until lawfully discharged in writing whereof we leave herewith affixed our names this 21st day of October 1863...27 Durden James.....".10

These conditions included those under which land in the Waikato Country in the Province of Auckland would be granted to Volunteer Militiamen willing to perform defined military services, primarily how the land would be laid out into towns.  Key conditions were that higher ranks received more land.  A private, upon completing three years of service from his enrolment and having been issued with a certificate of good service, would be allocated a town allotment of one acre and a farm section of fifty acres.  It was a requirement of his allocation of land, that he must occupy the land for three years and must not absent himself for more than one month, in any one year, without first obtaining the leave of the Governor .  They would also receive free rations for a year and be able to retain their arms and accoutrements and be supplied with ammunition.  They must also agree to be trained and serve as militiamen as required and a private would be paid two shillings and six pence per day, with rations and other allowances.

Upon boarding the ship from Australia each recruit was issued with a pair of blankets, a knife, fork and spoon, tin plate and a pannikin.  On arrival at Auckland they were marched to the Albert Barracks, a short distance out of town and issued with two pairs of blue trousers with a red stripe down the leg, two blue serge jerkins, two pairs of boots and a forage cap together with other necessaries and arms.  After a few days of elementary training they were marched nine miles to Otahuhu the main British encampment.  From here they were posted south to various redoubts.12

The Waikato Wars, began with a massive British Army invasion in July 1863 of the Māori King’s avowed home area, the Waikato.  Skirmishing at Koheroa and Meremere followed by a major engagement at Rangiriri.  With Rangiriri taken, the British Army pushed south, ultimately defeating Waikato and allies at Orakau in 1864.  The Māori King Tawhiao fled west, and took refuge amongst Ngāti Maniapoto in dense bush country, later known as the ‘King Country’.13

"On the 9 August 1867, Crown grants (Militia) in favour of the following are now ready for delivery at the office of the Registrar of Deeds, High-street, Auckland; A list of 92 men with their Regiment 1st or 2nd Waikato listed. James Durden (2)".14  So because of the conditions,  that a volunteer allocated land must remain on the land for three years, James Durden remained on his land at least until August 1870.  However New Zealand's military settlement schemes were generally a failure and by the time of the formal disbandment of the Military settlers units on 22 October 1867, social and economic depression had fallen over the sparsely settled European claim on the Waikato.  By the late 1860s many military settlers had either abandoned their lands or sold up and moved to other activities such as the Thames goldfields, while others returned to Australia.15

The making of a New Zealand War medal, covering service in the NZ Wars of 1845-47 (and for 1848) and 1860-66, was authorised in 1869.  One was allocated for issue to DURDEN James private of the 2nd Waikato Regiment.  This medal was not collected and was re-engraved and was issued to KARAWRIA Hohepa of the Native Contingent, in 1914.16

Death in the Anatori goldfields
Durden Journey 1872 map

Durden's 1872 journey from Collingwood to the West Whanganui goldfields

Early gold prospecting by James McKenzie and party in Anatori River, or the West Whanganui region of North West Nelson, initially showed promising alluvial gold in January 1863.17  In July 1869 a new rush was reported at Anatori River, where there were 300 men present on claims seeking alluvial gold, with stores being moved in by sea.18  In April 1872 it was announced that after many fluctuations in the course of these diggings, gold was found.19  In May 1872 a gold bearing quartz reef was reported in Friday Creek, about seven miles from the mouth of the Anatori River.  About 40 men were working on the reef and others were doing well in alluvial workings, two stores were located at the Anatori River mouth.20  This gold field was isolated and could be reached by sea from Collingwood, or overland some 35 miles via Whanganui Inlet, a journey which took at least two days and was tide dependent.  (See Map).

The following death notice appeared in local newspapers.  "On August 27 1872, at West Wanganui, James Durden, native of Sydney, of heart disease, aged 25 years.21 James's actual age at death, was 27 years."

There were two accounts of James's death.  The first was from the Collingwood newspaper correspondent: "On September 2 1872.  A gentleman arrived at Collingwood from Anatori on Saturday, to report to the Coroner a case of awfully sudden death at the reefs.  A man named James Durden, while sitting and chatting with his mate, suddenly fell over dead. The cause was most likely heart-disease." The body was transported, with great difficulty through dense bush, and money raised from the local miners for a headstone and railing to mark the grave - on a terrace above the river near the sea. The article also took the opportunity to complain about the lack of resources and facilities in the area - with a fast-growing population following the discovery of gold.22 

A similar account but a very different story of his death, was recounted in 1911, by Anatori store (Anatori River Mouth) proprietor Harry Louis Moffatt.  "Just before I moved to the Lake Store (Lake Otuhie) we had a funeral.  A man was working by himself in a remote and inaccessible gully where there was only one other man about half a mile higher up.  One day he went up to his neighbour to tell him that, as he had a few ounces of gold, he was going into Collingwood for a spell and would be back soon.  He evidently got on the spree, then with his money done, he started to come back and ultimately arrived at his camp one evening.  His only neighbour saw the smoke from his fire and thought he would go and see him first thing in the morning and hear the latest news.  When he reached the tent and looked in the man was lying on his stretcher, apparently asleep, but he did not move when spoken to.  Getting no answer his neighbour went in and found him dead and stiff.  He came down to the store and we sent word round and soon a big muster of men were on their way to bring the body out.  They arrived at the store after a terrible journey over rocks and through bush.  We laid him out, rolled him in his blanket and placed him in a roughly made coffin.  We concluded that an inquest was out of the question and that it was evident that the man had died from exhaustion after a drinking bout.  A written statement was made to that effect and signed.

Next morning some of us went along the beach to choose a place in which to bury him and about a mile to the northward of Anatori a grave was dug on a low terrace overlooking the sea.  Next day about sixty men followed him to the grave at which the funeral service was read by a descendant of one of the oldest Scottish baronetcies....   It was decided to put a mark on the grave, a subscription was taken up and twenty-five pounds collection.  A suitably inscribed tombstone was brought from Nelson in my next and last cargo and a fence put round the grave.  No doubt by this time it is over grown and hidden by vegetation but someday it will be found and people will wonder about its history."23

J N W Newport noted: "One finds that James Durdon (sic), Tipperary Jack and Con Driscoll, all Australian mates, worked in the Cockabully Gully."24  Today there is no Cockabully name in this area, but there is a creek named Kokopu Creek, which fits the generally described location.  Kokopu is a native galaxiid fresh water fish variety and is the adult form of whitebait.  While a Cockabully is a small native fish found in tidal rivers.  In the upper reaches of Sandhills Creek is a side creek named Soldiers Creek.  Perhaps this was named after former soldiers such as James.  These names mentioned by Newport could be significant, however he has left no reference of where he got that statement about three Australian mates.  Tipperary Jack is difficult to attach a surname to, presumably originally from Tipperary Ireland.  However you will note in the list of troops arriving on the Kate October 1863 sailing (above), there is a John Driscoll named and when he signed the Nominal Roll and service oath he was listed 26th immediately before 27th James Durden.  Certainly Driscoll and Durden may have been acquainted.  However John Driscoll on the day of his arrival at Auckland 20 October 1863, whilst the troops were stationed at the Albert Barracks, Auckland, stabbed fellow soldier John Brown.  At the trial the jury found the prisoner, John Driscoll, was guilty of intent of doing grievous bodily harm.  The prisoner was sentenced to be imprisoned and kept to hard labour for the term of three years.25 So for John Driscoll the war was over and he subsequently did not serve in the 2nd Waikato Regiment and was discharged for bad character.  In 1873 another John Driscoll and Cornelius O'Driscoll are mention in connection with a Catholic Church service at Hokitika.26  Could this be Con Driscoll?

The following advertisements appeared in the Waikato Times, in an attempt to contact the deceased:  "On 3 August 1876, James Durden late of the 2nd Waikato Regiment, if you wish to sell your Military Occupation Land in the Waikato Region, communicate with W. B. HAWKINS, Solicitor, Tauranga."27  And on 18 July: "1885 NOTICE OF ISSUE OF SUMMONSES AGAINST RATE DE-FAULTERS.  PUBLIC NOTIFICATION is hereby made, in terms of Section 34 of The Rating Act, I882, that summonses have been taken out on behalf of the chairman, members, and inhabitants of the Tuhikaramea Road District, against the under mentioned persons, or owners of the under mentioned lots in the Parish of Tuhikaramea, to attend the Resident Magistrate's Court holden at Alexandra on Friday, the 31st July, 1885, at 11 o'clock in the forenoon, to answer the demand of the said chairman, members and inhabitants for rates due to the said chairman, members, and inhabitants.  The said defendants are also required to have and produce to the court the original notices of demand.  (28 land rate defaulters were listed):  James Durden or owner of Lot 120, Tuhikaramea,  the amount of 12 shillings and 6 pence.  W. JONES, Bailiff R.M. Court. Alexandra, 15th July, 1885."28  The township of Alexandra was renamed Pirongia in 1896.

On 16 November 1887 James Durden's brother William, made a legal application through a Sydney lawyer, to claim James's deceased estate.  Part of the paper work involved having a formal death certificate issued for James Durden's death.  This was issued at Wellington on 10 September 1887.29

Durden and Mountfort grave

On 24 August 2011, Nigel Mountfort reflects on James Durden's headstone. Ken Wright

Legal probate documents were prepared on 2 December 1887:  "From Probate of James Durden miner Anatori creek in the Provincial District of Auckland (sic), deceased intestate.  William Durden (brother of James) of Field of Mars near Sydney claiming all and singular the property estate and effects of the said James Durden under the value of 100 pounds.  Power to sell the Real Estate of the said diseased.  James a bachelor without a father his only brother William (labourer), Emily Bowman wife of George Bowman shipwright of Millers Point Sydney his only sister and Mary Durden widow his mother of Field of Mars Sydney, surviving him."30  This application was submitted to the Judge's Chambers Auckland, on 20 Dec 1887, before His Honor Mr Justice Gillies: "Probate, etc. re James Durden (deceased) the letters of administration was deferred.31  On the next day the same judge granted the Letters of Administration to James Durden's estate."32

James Durden's family

James’s parents were Joseph and Mary Durden (nee Sweeny) who were married at St. Johns Church Parramatta NSW on 10 September 1838.33  James's brother William was born in 1839 at Hunters Hill NSW.34  James was born in 1845 at Parramatta NSW.35  James's sister Martha E Durdan (sic) was born in 1852 at Parramatta.36

Both of James's parents were transported convicts and, as a result, very good descriptions are recorded of them.  Joseph was transported on the Heroine to New South Wales in 1833. He was 22 years old, could read and write, a protestant, single, from Middlesex and a farm servant. The crime was house breaking, tried on 3 January 1833, sentence 7 years, no former crimes, 5'10½" high, brown hair, ruddy complexion, dark grey eyes, and he had several described tattoos.  The section listed as Particular Marks or Scars; "Scar left side of upper lip, flag, ------,-------,-------, and man with flag in hand on right arm.  JD MD SD ND WD, two pipes, bottle and grass, heart pierced with two darts, lower left arm, and MD and two flags on same."37  The tattoos may show that Joseph had undertaken service in the navy or army.  An Australian book published in 2016, entitled Convict Tattoos: Marked Men and Women of Australia, gives some explanation of Tattoos.  For example, The Crossed Pipes and glass and bottle were a symbol marking a person coming of age.38  Perhaps the initials are family members as they all end in D, for Durden? 

Mary Sweeny was transported from Ireland on the Margaret to New South Wales in 1837. She was; "20 years old, grey eyes, brown hair, height 5 foot 6½ inches, crime of stealing swine, sentence 7 years, tried at Tipperary in Spring 1836."39

James's father, Joseph was listed in the 1851-52 census as a leaseholder at Kissing Point Road Parramatta.  He died in 1854 at Parramatta,40 seven years before James left Sydney, to serve in New Zealand.

2017. Updated Sept 2020

Note - Much of this information has been gained from references principally derived from the  New Zealand newspaper site Paperspast, with some research at NZ Archives, Australian newspaper web site TROVE and at the New South Wales State Library Sydney.

Sources used in this story

  1. Australian Birth Index: 1788-1922 James Durden birth [1360] 1845 Parramatta NSW V1845 1360 Baptism 5022
  2. Water Police Court (1858, July 29) The Sydney Morning Herald
  3. Barton, L.L. (1979) Australians in the Waikato War 1863-1864. Sydney: Library of Australian History,  pp. 70, 547
  4. Hopkins-Weise, J.E. (2009) Blood Brothers; The ANZAC Genesis [Auckland] New Zealand: Penguin,  p.170 [ D M Brown killed in action Jan 1869 Armed Constabulary.]
  5. This table is compiled from four sources:  The Daily Southern Cross 31 October 1863 p. 11; Archives Wellington AD 50 13 1863/2301-2700 File 1863/2491 Passenger list troop list for Troop ship "Kate"; Barton,  pp 69-71; web site http://www.angelfire.com/az/nzgenweb/2ndregiment2.html.
  6. Barton
  7. Hopkins-Weise, p.166
  8. Wright, K. Pitt Memorial Gates Nelson, The Prow.
  9. Volunteer Militia Settlers (1863, August 5) The New Zealand Gazette, p. 305
  10. Archives Wellington AD 50 13  1863/2301-2700  File 1863/2491 Passenger list troop list Troop ship "Kate"
  11. Volunteer Militia Settlers (1863, August 5) The New Zealand Gazette, pp.303-306
  12. Barton, pp. 15-16
  13. Belich, J. (1986) The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict, Auckland: Auckland University Press, pp. 73-176.
  14. Daily Southern Cross (1867, August 9) p.2
  15. Hopkins-Weise, pp.166-167.
  16.  Archives Wellington CTC AD 37/25.1
  17. Prospecting (1863, January 30) Colonist p.2
  18. The new rush near West Wanganui (1869, August 5) Westport Times, p. 2
  19. West Wanganui (1872, April 16) West Coast Times, p.3
  20. The Anatori (1872, July 6) Nelson Evening Mail, p.2
  21. Deaths (1872, September 10) Colonist, p.2
  22. Anatori (1872, September 7) Nelson Examiner, p. 3
  23. Moffatt, H.L. (1979) Adventures by Sea and Land: an autobiography, from the age of twelve to his seventieth year. Nelson: The Nelson Historical Society, p. 85.
  24. Newport, JNW (1971) Collingwood. Christchurch [N.Z.] : Printed at the Caxton Press, chapter 17, p.219
  25. Daily Southern Cross 4 December 1863 Page 3 Supreme Court
  26. Grey River Argus (1873, February 11), p.2
  27. New Advertisements (1876, August 3) Waikato Times p. 3
  28. Notices (1885, July 18) Waikato Times, p.3
  29. James Durden Death Certificate 1872/788
  30. Archives NZ Auckland BBAE 1589 2 39 Probate record Durden, James-Anatori Creek-Miner (1872)
  31. Judges Chambers (1887, December 20) Auckland Star, p.5
  32. Supreme Court (1887, December 21) New Zealand Herald, p. 3
  33. Australian Marriage Index 1788-1950
  34. Australia Birth Index 1788-1922 V1839756 23A
  35. Australia Birth Index 1788-1922 V18451017 145
  36. Australia Birth Index 1788-1922 V18521786 145
  37. New South Wales 1833 List of Male Convicts by ship Heroine, arrived from England 19 Sept 1833,  P117-118
  38. Barnard, S. (2016) Convict Tattoos: Marked Men and Women of Australia. Melbourne: The Text Publishing Company, p.16
  39. New South Wales Australia, Convicts Indents 1788-1842 for Mary Sweeny Warrants of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland 1837 Maragret
  40. Australia Death Index 1788-1922 V1854 872 146

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