James DilworthJames Dilworth

James Dilworth's Gravestone

If you wish to see James Dilworth's gravestone head over to St Mark's Church at 95 Remuera Rd, Remuera, Auckland 1050. Head down the right hand side of the Church, on the grass, right to the back where you will find a small graveyard at the back right hand corner. Near the rear of that graveyard on the ground you will find James Dilworth.

This is not in fact where James Dilworth was originally buried - he was buried on the eastern side of the church in a graveyard given by himself to the church in 1878. In 1968 the St Mark's parish vestry, in defiance of a wave of controversy and dissension, arranged for the gravestones to be removed. Only a few of historical significance, including those of James and Isabella Dilworth were relocated to where they are now.

On 23 December 1994, the one hundredth anniversary of the Founder’s death, a pilgrimage was made to his gravestone and a wreath laid there in dutiful and thankful remembrance of James and Isabella Dilworth.

The Will

Some clauses in the will are interesting from the view point of Old Boys - especially those that have recently left School.

  1. Boys are to be instructed in areas of learning and industry to prepare them to become good and useful members of society. The Trustees are required to determine the curriculum and provide awards for proficiency and diligence. 

It was quite clear what the James Dilworth wanted here. Successive Trustees and school administrations have emphasised this as a kind of mission statement underpinning the entire philosophy and aims of Dilworth.

  1. Boys are to leave the School after attaining the age of fifteen years where they are to be apprenticed to any trade, business, calling or profession.
  2. Boys of special academic promise may ramain at the School while continuing their education and are to be supported in studies at any university in New Zealand or Dublin or any college in or near Belfast.

And clearly here James Dilworth realised that the School's responsibility did not end with Schooling. He wanted to see the boys placed and supported in the early stages of their careers, especially if they showed academic promise.

Ulster Beginnings

James Dilworth was born 15 August  1815, at Dunseark, near the market town of Dungannon, County Tyrone, in the province of Ulster, Ireland. He was the first born child of John and Mary Dilworth.  At the age of eight James moved to live with his father’s well to do cousin Anne Dilworth at her property at Mullaghcreevy, also not far from Dungannon. James was to become her heir.

James Dilworth began his education at the Donaghmore Village School.  In later years James spoke of his memories of walking past the Donaghmore Cross on his way to school.  It is fitting that the Dilworth Old Boys Association gifted to the Dilworth Trust Board on its centenary in 1994, the magnificent replication of the Donaghmore Cross which now stands in a prominent position by the side of the Dilworth School drive.

James’ education was to continue at the prestigious Royal School, Dungannon, an institution already over 200 years old by the time he started. His education, true to the time, would have been strongly classical.  It was an education that would stand him in good stead in future years, not the least of which was to be a member of the Council of the Auckland University College.

Ireland in the 1830’s was not a happy place. The country was in deep depression as a result of the collapse of rural industry following the conclusion of the Napoleonic wars in 1815, the year of James’ birth. The linen industry was struggling against the competition from the mills in England.  The future of Ireland was bleak at the time, and all this before the potato famines of the 1840’s.  It was in this context that James Dilworth, with the blessing of Anne Dilworth, left the country at the age of 23 to seek his fortunes in the Antipodes.

Australia Bound

In 1839 James Dilworth arrived in Sydney and took up a position as a clerk in the Post Office at Windsor not far from the main settlement of Botany Bay. He found life in Australia not to his liking and was attracted to the possibilities of life and fortune in the new colony of New Zealand.

Early Days in Auckland

James arrived in Auckland early in 1841 on the ship “Planter”.  Auckland was a mere fledgling settlement with only the beginnings of permanent housing.  Having spent some time exploring the northern parts of the colony, he returned to Auckland to take up a position as clerk to the Governor, Captain William Hobson.  Within a couple of months he had taken up a position with the recently formed New Zealand Banking Company as a clerk.  His past banking experience led him to soon become a trusted staff member being sent up to Russell to sort out some problems the Company was facing there.  He also became a familiar figure in Auckland circles.  By 1845 his career as a bank clerk ended and his life as a farmer and gentleman of property began.

Land Purchases Begin

Auckland in the early 1840’s was in a state of depression. The colony was struggling to make financial headway.  As a consequence land was cheap.  James Dilworth made his first land purchase in Parnell in 1842 at the age of 27.  From the very first day of his arrival in the colony he saw a future in land purchase. Dilworth continued to purchase land around the settlement of Auckland and beyond for the remainder of his life. 

Between 1844 and 1849 Dilworth bought land in Remuera which was to become his farm, which, with little change, he kept intact for the rest of his life. He also bought land around the settlement of Auckland as it became available.  In later years he was to be involved in land speculation beyond Auckland.

Not all Dilworth’s land speculation turned out to be lucrative. Dilworth with others formed the Thames Valley Land Corporation purchasing for development a large tract of land south of Matamata to Putururu and Tokoroa, centred on Lichfield.   Recession, ‘bush sickness’ on the pumice lands and a number of other factors conspired to make the speculation a financial disaster for all concerned. Dilworth was the only investor to emerge without bankruptcy. One can only speculate on the value of his estate had this venture not turned sour.

Wedding Bells

On 12 July 1853 James Dilworth, a bachelor of 38, married Isabella Hall, a spinster aged 24.  The wedding was conducted in the Otahuhu home of the bride’s brother John hall. (See the separate link to Isabella Dilworth).

Isabella was to be a major influence in James Dilworth’s life.  She accompanied him on his various overseas trips.  She was clearly a confidante in his plan for the school.  She played a very important part in the planning and opening of the Dilworth Ulster Institute, as the school was then known, in 1906, and was much involved in the oversight of the new school until her death in 1910.

Man of Society

Dilworth began his involvement in community activity by being one of a group of Auckland businessmen who saw the need for a savings bank for the ordinary working man.  The Auckland Savings Bank  opened its doors for operation in June 1847.  It was James Dilworth who signed in the first ten pound deposit.

As a farmer Dilworth supported the various agricultural societies from the short-lived Agricultural Society in the early 1840’s, from which evolved the Agricultural and Pastoral Association.

From 1853 for a period of eight years Dilworth was a member of the Auckland Provincial Council.  They were particularly turbulent years to be on the Council, with two bitterly divided factions.  Dilworth is said to have been sickened by the bitter factionalism of the parties and eventually gave up attending Council meetings.

Perhaps one of the more unlikely roles that Dilworth took on was that of member of the Auckland University College Council.  His classical based education at the Royal School Dungannon meant that he was well educated and well read even if not to university level.  Clearly his proven and respected business and farming record stood him in good stead in the academic world.

George MacMurray

No summary of James Dilworth’s life can finish without mentioning the influence that George MacMurray had on James and Isabella Dilworth.  It is not unreasonable to conjecture that without George MacMurray, the Dilworth Trust and Dilworth School would not exist today.

In 1885 James and Isabella Dilworth made the long journey to London to try to resolve some of the issues of the Thames Valley land Corporation.  On his return later in 1885 on board the Arawa, James and Isabella met and befriended a young Ulster clergyman, the Reverend George MacMurray who was heading off to an appointment in Ararat, Australia. The friendship and bond between the two was to become very significant. On the voyage Dilworth even tried to persuade MacMurray to give up his position in Australia and take up the vacant position at St Mark’s in Remuera.

In 1888 the Dilworth’s made a visit to Ballarat, Australia, where MacMurray now held a curacy. Though it appears that little was said of the future, Dilworth seemed to be summing up his gut feeling formed on the earlier voyage.

In 1889 MacMurray and his wife made the journey to Auckland to visit the Dilworths.  It was on this visit that Dilworth shared his vision for a school for the benefit of sons of good character to be trained and educated as good and useful citizens.

Dilworth began to plan the terms of the will. But for Dilworth it would not be achieved until one task had been completed.  Dilworth with his strong connections with the Anglican church persuaded the Bishop to invite MacMurray to be the Vicar of St Mary’s, Parnell.  Such was Dilworth’s persuasion that MacMurray was left in no  doubt that if he did not accept the position, then the plan for a school would not take place. It was important to Dilworth to have younger person to share his vision into the future.

The Hall Family Connection

We cannot discount the influence the Hall family had on the planning of the trust and its earlier years of operation.  Isabella’s family, the Halls of Otahuhu migrated from a farming background in Aghalee, near Belfast and settled in Otahuhu in the second half of the 1840’s.  Isabella’s brother John ran the general store at Otahuhu at what is now know as Hall’s Corner.  Her brother Robert took up farming and became farm manager to Logan Campbell and later years farm manager on the Dilworth farm.

We know that Dilworth confided in George MacMurray, but he would also have confided with, naturally enough wife his wife Isabella, but also with his brother-in-law Robert, whom he entrusted the responsibility of being first chair of the Trust after his death. It can be assumed that Robert Hall’s son-in-law, the Rev’d William Beatty, Vicar of St Mark’s church, Remuera, who also became on of the initial trustees, was party to the early deliberations.

After Isabella’s death, James Hall, one of Robert Hall’s sons, took over her seat on the Trust Board and remained there until 1918.

James Dilworth’s Death

James Dilworth died on 24 December  !894 and was buried at St Mark’s churchyard, Remuera on Christmas Day.

The Dilworth Legacy

It is interesting to conjecture what factors influenced James and Isabella to establish such a trust.  Clearly their lack on children and lack of a definitive heir provided the focus. It was not uncommon for the Victorian wealthy to be benefactors to the poor and needy.  Dilworth would have been well aware of the need in Auckland and he would have seen it as part of his Christian duty.

The Dilworths would be amazed if they were to visit the school as it is now, covering three campuses and heading towards 600 students. A far cry from the eight who started on 12 march 1906 in the old homestead. They would be proud of the achievements of successive Trust Boards, staff, Old Boys and current students.  It is a unique foundation and a tribute to those who have worked so hard to maintain the vision of a small group of Ulster settlers.