In Print

The N.Z. Connection

[The NZ Connection was written by Vicky Aitken to fill in the gaps and correct errors in Leonard Corsie’s text about her grandmother Ann Corsie’s family – written at the behest of Janet Cameron.]  

As a far-off living in isolation from most of the Corsies I must begin by saying how thrilled I was to receive a copy of the family history from Janet Cameron and written by Leonard Corsie (Canada). When I visited Britain in 1948 & 49 I enjoyed Janet’s hospitality many times and from her learnt much of my family’s background. It still holds a certain mystique for me as so many are unknown to me. In fact, when I left N.Z. I did not even know she existed. When the ship I travelled in – “Mataroa” – left here it stopped at Melbourne to load on cargo (of rabbits) – food for the still rationed Britons, The 360 passengers disembarked to fill in the scheduled three weeks break, but fortunately for me (though unfortunately for many of the others who ran out of the very-hard-to-get-out-of New Zealand money) the stay was extended to 6 weeks. I was able to spend most of this time with my mother’s Aunty Bella, the youngest of my grandmother’s family. (Sister.) My aunt in Orkney had sent us her address when it was known that I would be calling there and so I got to know our previously unknown Australian cousins. (I still keep contact with them and have made two visits there since.) Just before my arrival they had had an unexpected visit of a Peter Corsie from Canada who was a sailor on a boat. It was Aunt Bella who gave me Janet’s address in London, and that was the first of several stepping stones.

It intrigued me greatly to read that my mother had 65 cousins on the maternal side – I’m sure she could not have seen many of them. In contrast, today, my sister’s children have only one cousin – my daughter! One of my nieces tells me that people think there must be something wrong with them when they say that. In reference to Leonard’s document where he mentions that Jack and Charlie Patton (Bella’s sons) were in Donaldson’s Hospital – a school for orphan boys, I would like to say that my grandmother kept Charlie and looked after him at Woo, Howe, Evie, when he was small for quite some time. I have photographs of him there in his knickerbockers and he also remembers it. Referring again to Leonard’s document and the statement that the origin of the name Corsie is not known, I have read that it means “fighter”, and that is where the Corsaire fighter planes used in the last war derived their name from. I understood it to be of Norse origin, and also that our line was descended from pirates. It has always been a joke in our family that the reason we wear out the sides of the heels of our shoes first is because our ancestors had to “hang on” while walking the slippery decks! I have a paternal cousin who is married to a Corse and I think he may be of Rousay extraction. He also has been a policeman in Kirkwall for many years and is now the only undertaker in Orkney. I think I counted eleven through the pages who have been – or are – policemen, including Willie and Dave Robertson, sons of Margaret Mainland Corsie (1854-1943). These 2 came to N.Z. and spent their lives here in the Police Force. I can remember Dave being involved in some famous murder cases in the North Island, and before that when he lived down south. I last saw him when he lived at Otorohanga and was visiting a son in Auckland. He died not all that long ago. He was married three times – all his wives predeceasing him. Willie lived latterly in Wanganui and retired there but died at Palmerston Nth. 11/11/61. I recall visiting their brother Hugh at Swannay when I was in Orkney. (He and his wife were living with their daughter there then. They had a son at that time in Australia – something to do with Cow & Gates products there.)

It is interesting how often the name Leonard crops up – and likewise Ann – through the family. There is a Leonard family living in Balclutha today (where I was brought up) whose grandparents came from Rousay and I knew there was some sort of distant relationship. I can see now where the tie-up is through my great grandmother being a Leonard. I remember being told this too when I was in Orkney. Anyway when I went overseas this family gave me addresses of their connections to contact and I can remember while going round the Corsies in Rousay with my cousin Betty visiting a Miss Leonard and her son. I think it was about Digro or Sourin – I can still picture them.

After all these menfolk mentioned being in the Police Force maybe we here can claim to have the first female member. My eldest niece has been computer girl in the Oamaru Police Station since she left school. Perhaps I had better explain where we come into the family. I seem to belong to a great line of females so we have long lost the Corsie name. My daughter’s last baby was the 12th girl in a row descended from my grandmother Ann Corsie (1855-1936) and through my mother. (I have just read somewhere that this phenomenon is caused by the wife sleeping on the left side of her husband – I must remember to tell my daughter about this.) Ann Corsie married William Mowat. (1847-1926) and lived at Woo, Evie, and I think spent some later time at Harbour Cottage, Evie, too. In her last years she lived with her eldest daughter Mary Ann (Mrs. Peter Johnston) on their farm at Dale, Evie. To my knowledge the Mowats were never out of Orkney. They had four daughters – Mary Ann (Nannie), Victoria (Vicky), Eliza Jane – my mother, and Jemima Jessie Corsie (Minnie).

William Beattie (Bill) Mowat (1846-1926), his wife Ann Corsie/Mowat (Annie) (1855-1936), and their daughters, on the left: Jemima Jessie Corsie Mowat/Shaw (Minnie) (1890-1977) Huddersfield, Yorkshirt; centre standing, Eliza Jane Mowat/Kirkness (known as Jean in NZ) (1883-1957) Otago, New Zealand; standing right, Victoria Williamina Beattie Mowat/Groat (Vicky) (1887-1921) Evie,;and seated centre is Mary Ann Mowat/Johnston (Nannie) (1881-1970) Evie.

MARY ANN MOWAT 1881-1970

Married Peter Hunter Johnston of Birsay. They came out to New Zealand after their marriage at the beginning of this century. They lived in Dunedin for some time. He must have had some engineering experience as he had something to do with laying the tram lines in this city (now all removed) and also with the building of the graving dock at Port Chalmers – the Port of Otago – living there meanwhile. They also worked at Kurow and Totara in North Otago. Returned to Orkney and were actually in London on their way back to N.Z. when they got word to say her sister Vicky had died so they went back and stayed though their luggage came on to N.Z. After selling the farm of Dale in 1937 they again came to N.Z. intending to stay but Orkney pulled them back to farm at Nigley in Evie until retiring in the cottage of Smithfield nearby. At this stage she told me that they had made a mistake by not staying in N.Z. from the beginning. They had no family. She also kept the post office at Evie for some years.

VICTORIA 1881 – 1921

Vicky was known as the lively one of the family – always full of fun and playing tricks on people. After two broken engagements the third time proved lucky and she married David Groat from Westray and a blacksmith at Rendall. She had a daughter ELIZABETH (BETTY) and then died in childbirth when her son DAVID was born said to be through infection being carried by the Dr from another woman in the district. Vicky – as she was called – was named after Queen Victoria. My father’s youngest sister was named Victoria after my aunt. They thought it such a nice name, and as I was born after her early death was given the name too. The next generation saw Betty name her daughter Vicky after her mother too. Betty married David Miller and they succeeded the Johnstons farming at Nigley where they are today. They both visited Canada not long back and also Norway more recently. They have six of a family – four sons (one in Norway, another in Melbourne) and two daughters.

Vicky’s son DAVID GROAT (born 1921) died of a heart attack in 1971. He married Margaret Louttit and farmed firstly in partnership at Nigley and then at Cloke, Dounby. He had three of a family – two sons and one daughter.

ELIZA JANE – 1881 – 1957

Married William Stephen Kirkness from Sandwick while he was working at Howe, Evie, in 1903 and they emigrated to N.Z. shortly after and lived in the province of Otago all their lives. Visited Orkney in 1913 for 6 months after a lot of homesickness at a time when it was not so easy to travel as today, but found then that they were happy to return to N.Z. getting back just before the Great War of 1914-18 broke out. They took up a farm near Balclutha and retired in 1953 to Oamaru in North Otago. On this voyage out they were accompanied by her cousin Maggie Jean (daughter of John Corsie 1866-1943) and her husband John Nicolson who after some time at Dunback took up residence in Dunedin for the rest of their lives. For many years they operated a grocer’s shop and were well known in the community. They had no family but evidently suffered from the RH factor of which nothing was known in those days as she had several miscarriages and I think one maybe did live a few days. When neighbours were cleaning out the house after her death a few years back they found tucked away in the bottom of a drawer an old small baby’s blanket – the only memento left of many sad years. Her love of children was very noticeable – she had many young callers and she always stopped to admire any baby – friends’ or strangers’ alike. Both were cremated and their ashes were scattered over the sea at St Clair nearby where they lived for so long.

Maggie Jean Corsie [christened Margaret Jane], and her husband John Nicolson. Born in 1886, she was the daughter of John Corsie 1866-1943, and Margaret Jane Skethaway 1868-1906. Maggie Jean and John were both 23 years of age when they married in Kirkwall on October 28th 1909, the ceremony being conducted by the Rev. William Pitcairn Craig. On September 26th 1913 they sailed from London aboard the ‘Osterley’ bound for a new life in New Zealand. The photograph was taken in the Zenith Studio, Dunedin.

Back to Eliza Jane, or Jean as she preferred to be called. She had a family of 2 girls. Before that she was keen on horse and show riding.

VICTORIA RILEY (Vicky) – named after her Aunt Victoria and the Doctor attending the birth – the first daughter – arrived in 1923. (Me.) Must have been quite a shock to the system after about 20 years of marriage. She is pictured on the left, the photo being taken during her visit to the U.K. in 1948 – 50. She has lived in the Balclutha district (Sth. Otago) and Oamaru (Nth. Otago) and since 1970 in Dunedin where she works as Asst. Warden at Studholme Hall – a University Hall of Residence for students, Was married to Earle Aitken and later divorced. Family – one daughter.

ANNIE JOYCE EVIE (Joyce). Born 1927. Named firstly after her grandmother, then for the joy she brought as a sister and latterly after her mother’s birthplace in Orkney. Lived at Balclutha and Oamaru and then went to Benmore Hydro as one of the pioneer residents and started the first tearooms and shop there. Married Stan Orr there and after a few years returned to Oamaru where they live today operating an auto-electrical business. Had 3 daughters.


Minnie or Mima, as she was known, was the fourth and youngest daughter of Ann and William Mowat.

Went south and married a widower – Edgar Shaw (1883-1936) with one daughter Monica. He was a partner with his brother in the business of John Shaw & Sons manufacturing printing machines. (They are used here in N.Z.) The family lived in Huddersfield, Yorks, but she later spent some time in Edinburgh and Harrogate. See p17 reference to Peter Leonard Corsie living at Slateford House in Edinburgh. Peter and his wife had no children and in their later years Mima, who was by this time a widow, went with her youngest child Angela and lived there and looked after them until they died. He was affectionately referred to as “Peter the Apostle.” The Shaws had five of a family, and all but the youngest was brought up in boarding school.

JOHN – He was brought up by his father’s brother who had no family and so inherited their wealth and business. Married Doreen – divorced and remarried. Had 2 girls plus ?

WILLIAM – Rather the “black sheep” of the family and was sent out to N.Z. in 1939. War broke out shortly after his arrival and he volunteered for the N.Z. Expeditionary Force. Did service in the Middle East and was wounded three times. Returned to England but was promptly sent back again! Whereabouts unknown today but last heard of in the Auckland area here.

GRENVILLE – Accountant. Joined RAF – trained in Canada and shortly after returning to England crashed on night flying near York and was killed.

MARGARET – Died about 1966. Joined Wrens (Women’s Naval Forces.) Married Major Wm. D. Johnston, nephew of her aunt Mary Ann’s husband, a chartered accountant, and lived in Elgin, Morayshire, Scotland. They had twins – boy and girl – born about 1946.

ANGELA – Was first engaged to an Edinburgh lawyer but then married Michael ——– in Huddersfield and emigrated to Canada. Contracted polio there. Divorced and remarried to an Army Officer. Had 2 daughters of the first marriage.

Written in August 1980 by:-

Mrs Vicky Aitken,
Studholme Hall,
127 Clyde St.,