Thomas Sullivan


Seaview Cemetery, Block 24, Plot 462

Thomas born in Dublin in August 1798. He was the only son in a large Catholic family and was destined for the priesthood. The sudden death of his mother produced a change in his fortunes and, instead of the Church, he was bound as an apprentice to a slater and plasterer. In 1822 he moved to England and joined the Loyal Benevolent Lodge of Cheshire.


Monument and gravestone of Thomas Sullivan. Seaview Cemetery

Thomas, a bricklayer, was 40 years old on his application to emigrate. He arrived on the Martha Ridgeway with wife Margaret, aged 34, and six children. The children were Mary Ann aged 19, a servant, Jane aged 16, a servant, Edward aged 11, Eliza aged eight, William aged two and Phoebe aged nine months. They arrived in Nelson 7 April 1842 having sailed from Liverpool on  5 November 1841 with 219 people in steerage and 15 as cabin passengers. The Martha Ridgeway was the fifth ship to bring the main body of emigrants to Nelson.1


Monument and gravestone of Thomas Sullivan. Seaview Cemetery

During Thomas' fifteen years in England he had presided at the opening of thirteen new lodges and had also held office and represented his District at the annual Parliament of the Order. On the voyage out, Sullivan and others decided to establish a lodge on arriving at Nelson. With eight brother members, the first meeting was held the day they arrived in the fern about 200 meters below the present Saltwater bridge.2 When one of their number was killed in the Wairau Affray in June 1843 the lodge members set up a Widows and Orphans Fund.3

At one time Thomas was the host at the first Wakatu Hotel, but it is presumed he also carried on the trade of plasterer or bricklayer. The 1854 Electoral Roll of Nelson lists him as a publican and in the 1859 Nelson Directory and Almanac he is the pound keeper.


19 Shelbourne Street home of the Sullivan family. Painted by Sue Moare nee McGlashen

Thomas Sullivan, who died 4 December 1865 aged 67, was the first grand Master of the Nelson Lodge and a past Provincial Grand Master of the Nelson District of the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows. This group was very active in early Nelson. Sullivan’s remains were moved to Seaview Cemetery in 1976 from the disused Roman Catholic area of Hallowell Cemetery. The family  placed a time capsule under the headstone in 1980, when the stone was re-erected.4

His obituary in The Colonist5 newspaper reports that Thomas died at his residence in Shelbourne Street, Nelson and that he was the oldest Oddfellow in the world. Margaret Sullivan died before Thomas, on 29 December 1861, at her home in Trafalgar Square aged 54. Margaret6 and a small son aged ten months7  are buried at Hallowell Cemetery.

2017 (updated 2021)

Sources used in this story

  1. There were 21 deaths on the voyage out and 7 births.
  2. Broad, Lowther (1892). The jubilee history of Nelson : from 1842 to 1892. Nelson, N.Z.: Bond, Finney & Co, p.185, 186
  3. Nelson People & Places (S) Assorted newspaper cuttings (mainly from the Nelson Evening Mail), p. 45-6. NZSG Library (Ancestors Attic)
  4. Scrapbook 7. NZSG  Library Ancestors Attic.
  5. Died (1865, December 12) Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, p.5
  6. Index to Building Scrapbooks vol 02/page 31. NZSG  Library Ancestors Attic.
  7. Catholic Records. NZSG  Library Ancestors Attic.

Want to find out more about the Thomas Sullivan ? View Further Sources here.

Do you have a story about this subject? Find out how to add one here.

Comment on this story

Post your comment


No one has commented on this page yet.

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments