McKeague Genealogy

Ian has been researching the origins of his New Zealand, English and Scots-Irish ancestors. He has traced his branch of the McKeague family tree back to a great-great-grandfather, Daniel McKeague (b. 1802; Land Steward, Estate Overseer, Law Agent; d. 23 April 1876 in Coleraine District, Ireland; the executor of his will was Hugh Dickson, a farmer of Ballintoy, Co. Antrim). Daniel's father was possibly Andrew McKeague, who was farming at Aird in the parish of Billy in 1830. Daniel's wife is known to be Mary McKay. According to the Griffith Valuation, Daniel and Alexander (brothers?) were at Aird in about 1860.

Daniel and Mary's son William (photo), Ian's great-grandfather, was born in Portrush c1837. (Portrush is on the north coast, near the Giant's Causeway and next door to Billy.) [He may have had a brother, Andrew, who married in Aird in 1867.] William was living at 17 Carlisle Street, Belfast, in 1870. He married Ellen Whisker (b. 1848, Belfast, photo, daughter of James Whisker, b. c1800, and Jane Henry, b. 1804, m. c1832) in Belfast on Feb. 22, 1870, at The Methodist Church, Donegall Square.

At the time of her marriage to William, Ellen was living at 50 Rosemary Street, Belfast. Information from Belfast directories shows her father and possibly an uncle and her grandfather in Belfast: 1819 -- James Whisker, Butcher, 17 Bank Lane; 1839, 1841/42 -- James Whisker, Flesher, Poulterer, 50 Rosemary St. and Hercules Place; 1854 -- John Whisker, Butcher, 8 Boundary St., and James Whisker, Butcher, Victualler, 31 Hercules Place and Rosemary St. Three of William and Ellen's 8 children were born in Belfast: Mary Jane Henry McKeague (b. 1871), James Daniel McKeague (b. 1872), and Margaret McKeague (b. 1873).

William and his family emigrated to New Zealand in 1875 on the iron-hulled clipper ship Rodney (account of the voyage, arrival in Wellington, accommodations on board, larger photo). This photo of Rodney is from the Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England. The passenger list in the National Archives in Wellington shows the names and ages of everyone in the family, and indicates a "Total Cost of Passage Money to the Government" of 58 pounds. William stated his occupation as Butcher, but in 1873-5 some changes were made in the qualifications for immigration assistance and only tradesmen were receiving substantial help, so it is likely that William mis-stated his occupation to qualify.

The family settled in Feilding, on Awahuri Road. William set up an accountancy business in Manchester Street. There is a record that he placed an advertisement in the Feilding Star: "A night school is being conducted in my home for people wishing to learn English, Arithmetic and Book keeping." Prior to coming to New Zealand, Ellen had apparently been advised by her doctor after a diagnosis of TB to go and reside in a warmer climate and suggested Australia, but, as she had two sisters and three brothers living in the Feilding area, decided to move there instead. (Photo of William and Ellen in Feilding c1885.) The ages of William and Ellen's children when their mother died in 1892: Mary 21, James Daniel 19, Margaret 17, William 15, Kathleen 13, Sarah 11, Ellen 8 and Laura 5. This Whisker family in New Zealand in 1875 included: Thomas (b. 1840; m. Anna Maud Price at St. Anne's, Belfast 1871 (?), d. 26 Feb 1894, Feilding), James (b. 1835; m. Catherine Hughey, 1 Nov 1865, in Feilding; nine children), and Mary (b. 1852; m. John Hughey, 2 Nov 1875 in Feilding; d. 26 Jun 1905). See below for more details on the Whisker family.

James Daniel (Dan) McKeague, Ian's grandfather, moved to Gisborne in 1897, and was the first resident to drive a car with electric lights, according to the Gisborne Herald. He was a jockey c1897 (possibly in the Waikato before moving to Gisborne), a NZ Lightweight Wrestling Champion, owner of a grocery and a carrying/contracting company (1915-1950), and a Masonic Lodge Grand Master. He married Catherine (Kate) Sharp in 1897 in Gisborne. From the Gisborne Intention to Marry notices: "James Daniel McKeague age 24 yrs., resident 3 days to Catherine Sharp, domestic servant, 19 yrs., resident 14 days at C of E. William Sharp, father of Gisborne, consented to the marriage on 18/8/1897." Photo probably taken just before their wedding. The undated photo on the right (larger version) shows Dan and Kate (with a Maori guide) in the thermal area of Rotorua.

The photo below (larger version) was taken circa 1918 in Gisborne. Top row from the left: Dan and Kate, and their three children: William Thomas (Bill), Mary Ellen, and Daniel Wray (Tod). Kate's parents, William and Mary (nee White) Sharp, are seated in the center. This photo shows five of William and Mary's children and numerous grandchildren; see below for more details. William Sharp (who in this photo has a white beard) served for five and a half years in the Hawkes Bay Militia and Yeomanry Cavalry during the Maori Wars, and won several military medals, as we know from his 1910 letter to the Under Secretary of Defense in Wellington requesting a military pension. Mary White (b. 1846) emigrated to New Zealand from Dublin, Ireland, in 1866, on the Wild Duck (photo, sketch in Wellington harbour, passenger list). Mary apparently travelled with a brother Patrick.

Ian's father, Daniel Wray (Tod) McKeague, was born in Gisborne in 1904. We have a photo of him standing on a car's sideboard (far left) during a 1918 peace parade in Gisborne. In 1916 the Poverty Bay Herald published this report about him: "A Plucky Rescue" on the Taruheru footbridge in Gisborne. Tod was a Gisborne swimming champion in the 1920s. Through the 30s and 40s he owned and operated a number of grocery stores. He moved to Wellington in 1950, where he became head of Bellamys, the catering/restaurant service for parliament buildings, 1950-54. Ian's mother was then working in parliament as the secretary of Sir Walter Nash (shortly before he became Prime Minister of New Zealand). Tod was manager of the St. George Hotel, 1955-58, and operated several prominent wine businesses (e.g., on Vivian and Waring-Taylor Streets) during 1958-70. He was one of the first entrepreneurs to successfully promote New Zealand wines.

Pronunciation and origin of the name

The New Zealand pronounciation of McKeague rhymes with "leg," although the original Irish pronunciation rhymes with "plague." Ian's family probably altered the pronunciation some time after arriving in New Zealand in 1875. The name is often mispronounced to rhyme with "league."

The name McKeague is derived from the Irish MacThaidhg, meaning "son of Tadg" and is derived from the early Irish word Tadg, meaning poet or philosopher. The name is not that of a distinct sect, but arose as an ephemeral surname in various places. In 1397 the names Mcheyg and Mcheyge were recorded in Derry and in 1486 Makhaig was noted in Wigtownshire. Sometime later the H was dropped and resulted in spellings of McAig, McAige or McCaig, also the Irish spelling of McKaig. In Ulster, particularly, the vowel sound "ai" is frequently spelled "ea" and this has lead to the most widespread Irish spelling McKeag, a spelling that was also recorded in Scotland in 1685, in Kilcheran Parish, Kintyre. Another Ulsterism (also prevalent in Scotland) is to append "ue" to words that would otherwise end in "eag" and thus we have such spellings as McKeague. There are many variants of the McKeag name, including ones from which the prefix Mc has been dropped. We must remember that McKeag(ue)s have only become consistent about the spelling of their surname in the 20th century.

Mike McKeag kindly sent me the above notes on the origin of the name, and has been especially helpful in sending information from various Irish sources.

Notes on the Sharp Family

The above photo taken in Gisborne in 1918 shows William and Mary (nee White) Sharp along with 5 of their 6 children and numerous grandchildren. Their children were: Rebecca (Becky), 3rd on left, seated; Nellie, 2nd on left, seated; Alfred (not in photo); Catherine (Kate), 2nd on left, back row; Thomas, 5th from right, back row; William, 4th from right, back row.

Rebecca married Walter Mason, and they had 8 children: Nell, Ruth (seated on the ground), Kathleen Anne (3rd from right, back row), Maud, Edward, Alf (seated on the ground), Mary Johannah (2nd from right, back row), and two others. Kathleen Ann married Otto Edwin Jackson; they had 4 children, the first named Doris. Doris married someone named Fletcher. Mary Johannah married Mick Dorf (aka Mikhail Vlademir Dorofaeff).

Nellie married George Clifton, and they had 3 children: Maude (seated in the 1st chair on the left), William (Bill), and Mick.

Alfred married Nell O'Dwyer, and they had 2 children: Ned and Alf ("Bruiser").

Catherine (2nd on left, back row) married James Daniel McKeague (1st on left, back row), and they had 3 children: William Thomas (Bill, 3rd on left, back row), Mary Ellen (4th on left, back row), and Daniel Wray (5th on left, back row). All the McKeagues currently living in Gisborne are descended from Bill.

Thomas married Ann Kinnimont, and they had 4 children: T. Murry (the 2 year old boy with the big head of hair, sitting on his mother's lap), Gretchen, Dorothy Ellen, and Murial Anne.

William married Nellie Kinnimont (the sister of Ann Kinnimont above), and they had 2 children, Joy and Betty.

Notes on the Whisker Family

Quentin Green, a cousin in Auckland and a grandson of the youngest of William and Ellen's children (Laura), kindly provided me with these notes on the Whisker family.

Ellen Whisker (1848-1892): There is no death certificate and from research I have carried out it is apparent that a section of the Registrar's records at Feilding were destroyed in a flood in the early the 1890's before the extracts were sent to the Central Registry at Wellington. Unfortunately, her burial records are also not available either. It is from the death notice in the Feilding Star that any sort of record is known other than from what was passed down by her children. The death notice states that the burial was at the Sanson Cemetery. The family was not well off and seemed to have survived with some assistance from the Whisker Family, from whom they rented a house. Ellen was apparently more or less an invalid for some years and William also apparently suffered from ill-health (he died in 1900 of Myelitis). Thus, it is believed she was buried in one of the plots belonging to the Whisker family and the burial was not written up in the Cemetery Records. There are 6 plots at Sanson in which there are no record of whom was buried in them but I lean towards her being buried in one of the Whisker plots as a number of unattached Whisker relatives are recorded in these plots. I searched the Sanson Cemetary and no headstone was located for Ellen, which also tends to confirm that the family had little spare funds. In addition, William was buried at the Feilding Cemetery in 1900 which tends to suggest that wherever Ellen was buried there was no room for him. His daughter, Kathleen (Kitty) Mercer was buried with him in 1904.

I traced Ellen's parents James Whisker and Jane Henry through a marriage certificate of one of her siblings as the NZ marriage certificates record the mother's maiden name. The name Henry is apparent in grandchildren, Robert Henry Whisker (1866-1945), John Henry Feilding Whisker (1874-1935), John Henry Ellerm (1881-?), Mary Henry Ellerm (1882-1961) and Mary Ann Henry McKeague (1871-1921).

The parents of James Whisker (c1800 - ?), who married Jane Henry (1804-?) around 1832, were probably James Whisker and Anne Martin but I have not verified this as yet.

James and Jane Whisker's known children are as follows:

(a) James (1833-1877?) born Londonderry. Married Catherine Hughey (1842-1912) at Karori 1865. James was a farmer in the Feilding area. However, the death date of James may not be correct as I can find no death certificate reference or burial record. Only that he dropped off the electoral rolls in 1887. He may just have disappeared from Feilding, died out of the country or may have been admitted to an asylum. Catherine certainly remained in Feilding until she died but didn't state in the Electoral Rolls that she was a widow. From the 1893 Electoral Roll, the first under Universal Suffrage she described herself as Farmer until 1911, the year before she died. Her headstone says relict of James so he obviously died before 1912. Twelve Children, 8 boys & 4 girls.

(b) William Whisker (1834-1911) born Londonderry died Porirua, NZ. Butcher and Farmer. Does not appeared to have married.

(c) Thomas Frederick Whisker (1840 - 1894) born Northern Ireland died Wellington. Married Anna Maud Price (1856-1935). Grocer in Wellington. Known to have had two daughters, Anna (1886 - ?) and Mabel (1888-1947). Maybe other children. Marriage date not traced as yet.

(d) Jane Whisker (1845-1918) born Northern Ireland died Manaia, Taranaki. Married Henry William Ellerm (c1842-1923) 1880 at Feilding. Had 4 children with Ellerm. It is very probable that Jane was married previously and I will be checking this in due course.

(e) Ellen (1848-1892), see above.

(f) Mary Jane (1852-1905) born Northern Ireland married John Hughey (1833-1915) at Oroua, near Palmerston North, 2/11/1875. One known child, William James Hughey (1877-1905) born and died Feilding. John Hughey a brother of Catherine Hughey who married Mary Jane's brother James Whisker. It is from the Hughey family that there is a connection with Maori ancestors in the Whisker Family.

Jane Stewart and James W. Whisker. I have come across other Whisker research and have noticed a few mixed up things. Understandable to a degree. I have in my records Jane Stuart Whisker (1880-1923). Sometimes the Stuart spelt Stewart in some records. Born Feilding and died Auckland. She was the second wife of Percival Augustus Mercer (1880-1955) and they married in Feilding in 1905. Jane was a cousin of Kathleen (Kitty) McKeague (1879-1904), a younger sister of your grandfather, Daniel, who married Percy Mercer on 1/1/1903 at Feilding. Jane was a daughter of James Whisker and Catherine Hughey.

James and Catherine also had a daughter called Mary Ann Stewart Whisker (1884-1885).

An aside: Kathleen and Percy had one son, Ronald Mercer who didn't know until he was in his 60's that Jane was not his mother. Kathleen & Jane apparently had similar physical appearances and his father never told him about his natural mother. She died shortly after his birth.

James W. Whisker: I don't know about him but it is possible that James Whisker (c1800-?) had the second name William as this name persists in the Whisker line.

There is an Alexander Whisker (b. 22 July, 1819, Co. Armagh) who came to NZ with the 58nd Rutlandshire Regiment in 1845 (d. Nov 29, 1907, Newmarket, NZ). Possibly related to the Feilding Whiskers, but proof is lacking. A descendent of Alexander kindly sent me the following information: Alexander was born in the Parish of Mullabrack, Markethill, Co. Armagh on 22 July 1819. According to his Death Certificate his parents were James Whisker (Gentleman) and Catherine (nee Jenkins). Alexander joined the 58th Rutlandshire regiment of Foot as a labourer in Dublin on May 26, 1839. He married Flora Cook in Scotland in 1841 and my Great Grandmother Mary Jane (Jean) was born in Dublin in 1842. A brother Charles was born at Gravesend in 1844 and the family sailed with the regiment to Australia later that year. The regiment was called to NZ to fight against Hone Heke in 1845 and Alexander kept a Memorandum Book recording all his experiences from when they left England, including some from when the regiment returned to Auckland with families after the conflict was over and brief notes after he left the army. The Memorandum Book is held by the Auckland War Memorial Museum. Alexander and Flora had 9 children.