John and Matilda Newman

(Updated 18 April 2022)

John Litchfield Newman was born in Kinsale, Ireland, in 1815. Harriet Matilda (nee Honeyfield) was born in Gillingham, Dorset, in 1826 (see The Honeyfield siblings emigration to New Zealand). Having met and married in New Plymouth in 1850, John and Matilda were among the earliest migrants to New Zealand.

Unlike his father and brother, who were both attorney’s, John’s interests were in business as a merchant and ship owner. By the late 1830’s the energetic young man had multiple businesses as a wine importer, provisioner (coal, grain, salt, and lime), and ship’s agent on Long Quay, Kinsale. John seems to have had considerable assistance from his family, having acquired his uncle John Spiller’s corn store, yard, offices, and stables and the lime and salt dealership had been owned by his cousin Elizabeth’s father-in-law. John’s wine dealership was initially in partnership with a Lewis Gollock, but was reopened by John as his own business following Mr Gollock’s retirement in 1843. By 1846, John was a ship’s agent and owned a ship, in addition to his other enterprises.

No doubt due in part to the Great Famine of Ireland that ran from 1845 to 1852, John was forced to sell his assets to pay debt and he was made bankrupt in 1847.

Although there is no record of his passage, John is thought to have arrived in New Zealand in about 1848, spending time in Auckland, Wellington and Nelson before arriving in New Plymouth in 1849.

John may have taken some capital from Ireland with him, since he was able to buy land in the Omata district, Taranaki. Actually, the land purchased appeared to have been within or adjacent to Barrett Reserve land originally allocated to Dickie and Rāwinia Barrett. The first was built in the 1850’s and was lived in by John and Matilda and their five children. It was known as Donnybrook Farm (Source: Kete New Plymouth TDN 6/10/2018).

The white cottage at 7 Kapu Grove was the third built by the Newmans. The western part of the home standing today was probably constructed in 1861, while the remainder of the house was built later.

Street view of 7 Kapu Grove

At the start of the Taranaki Land Wars in 1860 the settlers of Omata combined to build a stockade for protection and the Newman family at first found safety there. Soon after the family fled Omata during the Maori wars in the early 1860’s, moving to Nelson for a few years where John was a publican. The family cottage was left vacant and did not survive the war. ‘The Taranaki Herald simply noting on 2 March 1861 that , “Newman’s  house (Donnybrook) was burnt yesterday”. The home was rebuilt when the family returned, only to burn down again in 1866 (Kete New Plymouth).

John and Matilda had five children:

  • George John, born 1851, died 1924

George married Annie Poad and was a businessman for many years in New Plymouth and was a founding member of the New Plymouth Bowling Club. George retired to Auckland.

  • William Litchfield, born 1853, died 1921

William married Sarah Hempson and was a shipping agent before establishing a business.

  • Martha Anne, born 1855, died 1886
  • John (Jack) Honeyfield, born 1857, died 1891

Jack was educated in Taranaki and became a shipping agent before going into business with his brother Henry as storekeepers and general merchants in Opunake. Jack did not marry.

  • Albina Elizabeth, born 1860, died 1948

Married Oliver Coombe.

  • Henry James, born 1864, died 1946.

Henry married Zoe Prosser. He went into business with his brother Jack.

After a long illness, Matilda died in March 1886, aged 62 years. John Litchfield Newman died eight months later in November 1886, aged 71 years. Both are buried at Te Henui cemetery.

John L Newman

John Litchfield Newman


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