The Kennedy ancestral hunt

I have recently discovered the demise of my G G Grandparents Anthony [aka John] and Mary KENNEDY nee MCCOOK.

Mary MCCOOK was born in Armoy, Co. Antrim, Ireland in 1849, to William and Lilly MCCOOK [nee MCLEAN] and was the eldest of 6 children.

Anthony John KENNEDY's trade was listed as a carpenter. He was born in Co. Antrim, Ireland and was the son of William KENNEDY, a blacksmith.

They married 20 November 1873 at the Balleymoney Registry office, Balleymoney, Co. Antrim, Ireland. Mary was 6 months pregnant and gave birth to their son Thomas Veruna Rowe KENNEDY on 20 February 1874 [he married Helen SELBIE] and within days the three of them were on board 'Varuna' via Glasgow heading to New Zealand.

They settled in Christchurch and went on to have another 10 children William, Mary, Margaret Moore, John, Anthony, James, Arthur, Hugh, John William [my g grandfather] and Lena Theresa.

Mary and Anthony had been an enigma to me for decades. From previous research on their children's entrance information to the Christchurch Receiving Home and Te Oranga Home, that in 1891 Mary had been classified as destitute and all her children had been put in to homes, this turned out to be a slight twist of the truth to make it more palatable to the older members of the family at the time I guess. All my research came to nothing. A newspaper item from 19 November 1891 , shows that most of their small children were taken off both her and Anthony due to neglect [drunkenness and squalor] which Anthony strongly denied, however neighbours disagreed.


It also appears that Mary had been in and out of gaol over the years for drunkenness and prostitution. At least I now knew that Anthony stuck with her throughout the years and did not infact desert the family as all the stories had indicated.


Her 'rap sheet' [7] is below. I found her alias of Lilly MCLEAN fascinating as this was her mothers name and maiden name. Her mother Lilly was born 1830, Culbane, Nth Antrim, Ireland and died just before Mary on 1 March 1908 at Drumdollagh, Co. Antrim. 

I have no idea where the other alias Jane came from.  Possibly a middle name I haven't located on documentation yet. She did however have a sister Catherine Jane born 1857 who settled in New South Wales, Australia (see image at end). These police gazette entries give her birthdate as 1854 contrary to what her marriage entry indicates as 1850.  This would make her 17 when she arrived in New Zealand with a newborn and new life. 

Jane KENNEDY, alias Lilly MCLEAN for vagrancy. Tried at Christchurch - 30 April 1896; received 1 month at Lyttelton Gaol. Notes: 2 P.C. (previous charges, small mouth; slight build.

Jane, alias Mary, KENNEDY, alias Lilly MCLEAN for indecent language; Tried at Christchurch - 25 October 1899; received 48 hours at Lyttelton Gaol; Released week ending 28 October 1899. Notes: 4 P.C. (previous charges, small mouth.

Jane, alias Mary, KENNEDY, alias Lilian (sic) MCLEAN for gross indecency; Tried at Christchurch - 11 July 1900; received 3 months at Lyttelton Gaol; Released week ending 30 October 1. Native of Ireland; Trade - prostitution; Born - 1854 (sic); Complexion - dark; Height - 5ft 1 1/2 in; Blue eyes; dark brown hair; large nose. Notes: Several P.C. (previous charges.

Mary KENNEDY, alias MCLEAN; tried at Christchurch 30 Oct 1906 for being a rogue and vagabond; Trade: Prostitute; born 1854; Native of Ireland; height 5ft 1 1/2 in; complexion - fresh; brown hair; blue eyes; large nose; discharged 7 April 1906; Notes: F.P. (fingerprinted);  (See Police Gazette, 1900, page 238)

Jane KENNEDY alias MCLEAN for indecency; Tried at Christchurch - 28 August 1907; received 6 months at Lyttelton Gaol; discharged 4 February 1908. Native of Ireland; Trade - prostitution; Born - 1854 (sic); Complexion - fresh; Height - 5ft 1 1/2 in; Blue eyes; brown hair; large nose. Notes: Several P.C. (previous charges) for drunkeness. F.P. (finger printed)

7 years after the children were removed from their parents Anthony is in the news again and mentioned in Court for not maintaining the children:

March 1898 [3]

September 1898 [4]

23 September 1908 [3 days after his wife's death] [5]

Mary drowned in the Avon River on 20 September 1908 aged 56. News reports at the time stated: "A woman named Mary Kennedy was found drowned in the Avon this morning. She is supposed to have been sleeping on the bank and rolled in. At the inquest a verdict of found drowned was returned." Mary at the time was living at 5 Worcester Street, Christchurch. [see transcript of coroners report below *]

Mary's entry in the death registry shows 8 of her children were still alive at the time of her death and that her service was taken by a Methodist minister. She is buried in Linwood cemetery, Christchurch. Her grave has no headstone.

Mary lies in the unmarked grave [grass] to the left of the photo

Anthony [who it appears, went by his second name of John] died on 21 July 1918 of senile decay and cardiac dilatation at Christchurch Hospital from 84 Kilmore Street, his usual residence which at that time was The Limes Private hospital. His death notice lists him as a newspaper runner aged 71 and 8 of his children were still living at the time he died. He is buried in Sydenham cemetery, Christchurch.

[Anthony] John Kennedy lies in an unmarked grave in the foreground

I contacted the Christchurch City Council regarding installation of small memorials on both of these graves and another ancestor who is of a different line but buried near Anthony. Current bylaws mean that unless i pay for all 3 plots and burial fees at todays current rates [equating to $5,172] I can't put memorials on them! However this antiquated bylaw is now under review and should know next March/April if memorials will be allowed.

Of their children:

Thomas Varuna Rowe: Born 5 February 1874, England. Named after the ship he and his parents came to New Zealand on [Varuna] and the captain - Rowe. He married c1908 to Helen SELBIE.

He was buried 5 June 1952 and she was buried 11 Jan 1965. Buried together at Timaru Cemetery, New Zealand. I have met a couple of his descendants from Christchurch years back.

William: Born 28 July 1875 - died c 7 November 1877, Christchurch

Mary: Born 21 September 1877, New Street, Christchurch - Know nothing about her.

Margaret Moore: Born 1879 - Nothing further known.

John: Born 1881 - died c 9 April 1881 aged 5 weeks [6].  "Accidentally smothered" - an inquest was held in New Street yesterday on the body of an infant named John Kennedy, son of Anthony Kennedy, carpenter.  It appeared from the evidence that the child had been accidentally overlaid by his mother during the night and the jury returned a verdict accordingly."


Anthony: Born 20 February 1884 [Twin] - Lived South Canterbury.

James: Born 20 February 1884 [Twin] - Nothing more known.

Arthur: Born c1885 - Nothing more known.

Hugh: Born 6 March 1886 - Nothing more known, but my mother [born 1937] can remember seeing him in Cathedral Square, Christchurch when she was very young.

John William: Born 17 August 1888 [Twin], Colombo Road, Christchurch [my G Grandfather] He and his sister Lena to Christchurch Receiving Home November 1891. He married Lucy Jane EVANS on 6 April 1911 at Brides home, Sewell St, Kaiapoi, Canterbury. From 1918 until his death at Ngawhatu Hospital, Nelson on 22 October 1963 he was in and out of mental institutions, fathering children with his wife when he was out on leave when the doctors considered him okay now and then. He suffered from paraphrenia, a chronic mental illness developing often in middle life. Delusions of persecution develop and may be accompanied by grandiose ideas. The person afflicted may be able to talk quite rationally about neutral topics. He was also bi polar. Cause of death, Myocardial degeneration [a condition in which there has been a deterioration of the heart muscle] and is buried in a paupers plot in Nelson, New Zealand. He and Lucy had 6 children, the last surviving child dying in June 2009.

Lena Therese: Born 17 August 1888 [Twin], Colombo Road, Christchurch. Baptised 25 May 1904 at All Saints Church, Burwood. Sponsor was Ellen BRANTING, matron of the Te Oranga Home where she was living. She married 1911 to Christopher Reynold Gow CAMPBELL. She was domestic but I have been told she was also a teacher.

Update: 2012 

1914 - Christopher noted as a light house keeper living at Mokohinau Light House, Burgess Island, Mokohinu Islands

1919 - Tiri Tiri Island off Hauraki Gulf [Christopher would have been light house keeper but he isn't noted in the electoral roll]

1928 to at least 1938 - Lena and Christopher at 15 Coyle Street, Sandringham, Auckland and Christopher noted as signalman in 1935

1946 - Roseberry Avenue, Auckland, Christopher noted as Ferry Company employee

Christopher died 21 September 1948 and was cremated at Waikumete Cemetery but i cannot as yet find Lena's death.

It is nice to think that they shared a reasonably long life together.  I have found no evidence of children.


Page 1


INFORMATIONS of WITNESSES severally taken and acknowledged on behalf of our Sovereign Lord the King touching the death of Mary Kennedy at the City morgue at Christchurch in the Provincial District of Canterbury in the Dominion above mentioned, on Sunday the 20th day of September, one thousand nine hundred and eight before HELYAR WEDDERBURN BISHOP one of the Coroners of the said Dominion on an Inquisition then and there taken on view of the body of
Mary Kennedy
Then and there lying dead, as follows, to wit:-

John Kennedy
being sworn, saith that

I am the husband of deceased. She is 56 years of age. We lived together in Worcester Street. I am a Carpenter.

Page 2

I last saw her alive at 9.a.m. on Saturday. I left her at the house and came to town. I went back at 5.p.m. she was not there. I went out again at 7.p.m. I returned again at 9.00 p.m. She was still about. I stayed there all night. The police told me this morning that she was dead. She had kept sober for some time, since she last came out of gaol. I don’t know how she got into the river. She was subject to fainting fits. She never mentioned committing suicide.

John Kennedy

Page 3

Thomas Read being sworn, saith that:-I am an employee of the Gas co. I was walking along Oxford Terrace this morning at 6.27.a.m. as I passed Hereford Street Bridge I saw what I took to be a human being in the water on the upper end of the bridge. She was partially immersed in the water. It was about 10 to 15 feet from the bank and 10 to 12 feet above the bridge. The water would be about 18 inches deep. I informed the police.

Thomas Read.

Page 4

Henry Scott being sworn, saith that:-
I am a Police Constable at ChCh. At about 6.35.a.m. today I received a message that there was a human body in the River near the Hereford Street bridge. I proceeded there at once and saw the body of deceased in the River. It was lying face downward and head down stream, fully clothed, in about 18 inches of water. I think she had been washed down. I took her out & examined the body. There are no marks of violence. She probably fell in drunk and could not get out again. There was absolutely nothing in property on her.

Henry Scott. Const.

Page 5

An Inquisition taken for our Sovereign Lord the King, at the City Morgue at CHRISTCHURCH of Canterbury, in the said Colony, on the 20th day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and eight, before HELYAR WEDDERBURN BISHOP Esquire, one of the Coroners of our Sovereign Lord the King for the said Dominion on view of the body of Mary Kennedy then and there lying dead, upon the oath of Ernest John Masterman, Charles Smith, George Englefield, Herbert Olds, George Charles Smithson, Robert Petrie good and lawful men of the neighbourhood, duly chosen, and who being duly sworn and charged to inquire for our Lord the King when, where, and by what means the said Mary Kennedy came to her death, do upon their oaths say – That the said Mary Kennedy at Christchurch on the 20th day of September 1908 was found drowned in the River Avon, but there is no evidence to show how she got into the water.

In witness whereof as well the said Coroner as the said Jurors aforesaid have hereunto set and subscribed their hands and seals the day and year first above written.

H W Bishop Coroner
Ernest John Masterman, Foreman
Charles Smith
George Englefield
Herbert Olds
George C Smithson
Robert Petrie 



I think I would have liked to have met them...see where their lives went so wrong.



This may be the closest I can imagine Mary to look like also.  Her sister and my GG Aunt:

Catherine Jane MCCOOK born 18 May 1857, Armoy, Co. Antrim, Ireland. Died 22 September 1941 'Braeside' private hospital, Stanmore, New South Wales, Australia. Buried Presbyterian cemetery, Liverpool, New South Wales.

and husband

James KIRKPATRICK born 11 Oct 1851, Armoy, Co. Antrim, Ireland. Died 23 April 1904, Hoxton Park, New South Wales, Australia.

Shown with their 2 eldest children:

Margaret born 1880, Colerane, Ireland

John born 1883


They went on to have 9 more children.

Credit: Wal Kirkpatrick of Australia for sending to me.



Newspaper clipping - accessed 18 February 2012


NZ Department Internal Affairs historic BDM indexes:

Birth registration: 1881/17258 Mother: Mary; Father: Anthony

Death registration: 1881/279 John Kennedy aged 5wks  

[] Birth Registered in Christchurch, folio 649

[7]; New Zealand Police Gazettes 1878-1945


  1. Fascinating family you have. I like characters full of flaws, dark mysteries and secrets to reveal. Makes our research more fun and satisfying somehow!

  2. Does it what!!! I love black sheep :-)
    Now all i have to get is Mary's Gaol records LOL! Had noooo idea she'd been in gaol until i received the coroners report! What a trove of information documents can be.....

  3. Hi, my name is David Selbie Kennedy, would like to make contact, my ancesstors arrived on a ship which I thought was called the Verona in the 1800's,a Selbie married a Kennedy onboard the ship, my mother has a very old Bible with original hand written names from this time, been passed down through the family.
    regards - Dave.

    1. Hi Dave :)

      I have emailed you. You'll see by the email that the information i have is rather different as the SELBIE/KENNEDY marriages [there were two], took place many years after my KENNEDY's arrived in New Zealand.

      Look forward to your reply.

  4. January 2013 at 21:30

    My name is Colin Kennedy. over the last few years I have been puttig together an index of Kennedy NZ "events" BMD together with just over 11,000 to date and have just visited your informative website, My index shows that Mary b 21 Sept 1877 parents Anthony & Mary McCook married Andrew Murray b C/- 1869 Ayreshire Scotland, at the residence of the Rev R Erwin of Fendalton, on the 10 Aug 1898, my notes indicate that I got this information some time ago from the Christchurch Library Index Cards during a visit : Also note that BDM NZ has no record on line for this marriage and to date no children seem to be registered to this couple up to 1913. The only death/burial details I Have found to date with these two names are burials at Te Henui Cemetery New Plymouth, they being 1951 for a Mary and 1961 for a Andrew, hope this all helps in a little way with your very interesting and informative website

    Kind Regards

    Hastings NZ

  5. Hi Colin!
    How kind that you left this for me :)

    I did actually come across that information recently as Bev Evans of Christchurch has put most of the Kennedy index cards online - I just hadn't got around to updating the blogpost! I really appreciate the effort you must have put in to all your information over the years! It is good to know of a possible burial for Mary and Andrew.

    A lot of my Kennedy relatives are in that lot and I have also found out more information on Lena - she moved around with her husband Christopher as he was a signalman for lighthouses in the North Island. I can find no children for them either.

    Have a fantastic new year! Keep in touch and thanks so much again :)



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