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[for Richard’s parents and siblings see page ‘ORMSBY’ at top of screen]

[this post last edited, new information and / or images added 18 March 2013]

Richard Steele ORMSBY was born on 19 March 1853 in St. Quivox, (probably at Brickrow Farm), Ayrshire, Scotland, to tenant farmers James ORMSBY and his wife Helen STEEL. As the 5th child and 4th son of James and Helen, Richard would be expected to find work other than at Brickrow Farm, as that tenancy would likely be handed to the eldest son Andrew [Andrew ORMSBY].

Which may have suited Richard fine as it appears he never wanted to be a farmer. By age 17 in 1871 he was a ‘banker accountant’ and lived as a boarder with a family at Waterside Place in Cumnock, Ayrshire. Not content with the life of a bank clerk in Scotland, Richard dreamt of adventure and wanted to join in the gold rush to New Zealand where gold had been discovered in the Otago region on the South Island in the 1860s.

The death of his father James on 12 October 1871 provided the means of accomplishing this plan. According to the inventory conducted at the time of his father’s death, Richard was the beneficiary of a £100 Endowment Policy with the St. Patricke Assurance Company of Ireland when he reached the age of 21 on 19 March 1874.

By 1875 Richard, 22, lived and worked in Clinton, Otago, as a shop assistant for Scobie Brothers, storekeepers. One of his first memorable experiences, in 1876 in his adopted country, occurred when he acted as witness for his employer against a man accused of stealing “one dozen Crimean shirts valued at £7 10s”. The stolen shirts were “a large check, and heavy twilled shirt, of which there were six ordered black and white pattern and six red and white Rob Roy pattern”.[1]

Sometime between 1875 and 1880 Richard, who sought advancement, moved to Milton, an important and bustling town in early Otago. The town, located on the route to the goldfields, was also home to several large factories and industries. Since Milton was a major staging post for prospectors on their way to the gold fields of Central Otago it grew rapidly during the gold rush years. As an example, the congregation of the Tokomairiro Presbyterian Church had reached 4000 by the late 1870s.

Richard’s employment in Milton is not known however he enjoyed a social life. On 25 August 1880 Richard married Alison SCOTT at the home of James SCOTT, likely Alison’s father.

Immigrants arrived every day from around the world to take part in the gold rush and Dunedin, on the Otago Harbour, served as the entrance point for this influx. To live in Dunedin, the largest city in the country, was Richard’s goal.

Richard and Alison had three children: Leslie James ORMSBY (born 1882), and twins Rupert Seggie ORMSBY and Lily ORMSBY (born 1886). Lily died at birth. At this point I don’t know whether the children were born in Milton, or after the family moved to Mornington, a suburb of Dunedin.

Electoral Roll records for New Zealand provide a picture of the family. In 1890 Richard and Alison lived in Mornington. Richard, trained as a “banker accountant” had advanced to “confidential clerk to Sargood, Son and Ewen”, a large importing and warehousing business in Dunedin. Alison is not mentioned in the Electoral Roll for that year since women did not get the vote in New Zealand until 1893.

Sargood, Son and Ewen was a large importing firm of a type common in New Zealand at the time. Due to the country’s distance from major supply centres importing merchants purchased or ‘indented’ a range of items from their agents and suppliers overseas, paid for and then sold locally with an increase in price to ensure a profit. Salesman or ‘travellers’ would visit local stores to sell the range of imported stock. The harbour city of Dunedin was the shipping and importing centre for this lucrative trade.

One of the oldest and most prominent Australasian firms of this type was Sargood, Son and Ewen was, with branches in most major cities on both sides of the Tasman Sea and a London purchasing house. The company’s Dunedin branch, established in 1862, served as the head office for New Zealand. Richard’s position as confidential clerk in this prestigious firm was one of responsibility and he was entrusted to speak on behalf of the company.

This he did in December 1890 when he gave evidence on behalf of his employer in the matter of a bankrupt customer who defaulted on payment. Tobacco, biscuits, glassware, boots, shoes, reels of cotton, saddles, straw hats, drapery stock, silks, satins and expensive dress pieces were some of the goods that had not been paid for. [2] The accused man, Bernard Ginsberg, protested that he had had the money to pay, but that it “had been stolen from him in a brothel in Dunedin” and he had been too ashamed to tell the company the reason for his non-payment.

By 1896 Richard achieved his ambition and lived in Dunedin, where he remained for the rest of his life. Between 1896 and 1906 the family moved three times in Dunedin. Was this to larger or smaller homes? While it’s not known whether Richard’s fortunes were going up or down something happened to the family.

In 1911 Richard (58), an accountant, lived by himself at a fourth address in Dunedin. Alison (56) lived in Avon, a suburb of Christchurch with her sons Leslie (29) a mechanic, and Rupert (25) a shop assistant. During the WWI period 1914 to 1918 both Leslie and Rupert enlisted in the army. Leslie may have served overseas. Rupert was in the Reserves and did not leave New Zealand.

From 1911 Alison lived in Avon, with both her sons until WWI, and then with Rupert after Leslie joined the army. She died, aged 65, in 1920 in Avon. Alison left a will registered in the Christchurch High Court, Christchurch which has not been checked at this time.

Richard remained in Dunedin where he died, aged 69, in February 1922. He was buried in Anderson’s Bay Cemetery in Dunedin on February 11, 1922. He did not leave a will and is not mentioned in the family cemetery inscription in St. Quivox, Ayrshire, Scotland, even as an ‘in memoriam’ mention. Perhaps Richard had lost touch with his Scottish family?

Newspaper sources: The National Library of New Zealand has scanned copies of archived newspapers. The newspaper accounts with reference to Richard can be found at http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast, by searching the ‘exact phrase’ option’ using the phrase ‘Richard Steele Ormsby’.

[1] Newspaper: Clutha Leader, Rorahi II, Putanga 83, 10 Huitanguru (February) 1876, Resident Magistrate’s Court, page 5

[2] Newspaper: Otago Witness, 23 Hakihea (December) 1890, Page 29, ‘Alleged Breach of the Bankruptcy Act’



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