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This is the account of John Ward McKain (1816-1863) who lived at The Halfway, now Glenside, and managed The Halfway House premises from 1849-1853.

The following article was sourced with permission of Ann McKain, Porirua, New Zealand, from the book McKane Volume One Early Days written by Henry J. Angelini, descendent. John and Isabel Sarre nee McKane lived in Geurnsey at the time the McKane family history was written in 1987 and undertook detailed research for the family.

The name McKain is recorded with several different types of spelling.


The McKain family originate from Geurnsey and migrated to New Zealand in 1841 from Staffordshire.

The homeland in Geurnsey

The Geurnsey Mesquene's (McKain's) from which the New Zealand branch is descended are descendants of Daniel Mesquene who married Judith Cohu on 10 May 1777 in the Castel Parish.

Daniel and Judith had four sons before Judith died. They are:

Eliazee b1777
Daniel b1780
Nicholas b1782-1793
Pierre b1784.

After his wife's death in 1786, Daniel married Rachel Lihou (1768-1842) on 31 May 1786 at St Andrew's Parish Church. Rachel had given birth to a son out of wedlock, on 9 October 1785 when she was 17 years old. He was named William and brought up by the couple. When William married in 1808, he was listed on the register as the son of Daniel. William is important to the McKain family history as he fathered the New Zealand branch of the family.

The children of Daniel and Rachel are:

William 1785-1837
Catherine 1786-1855
Rachel 1788 -unknown
James 1790-1850
Judith 1792-1837
Marie unknown-1862
Isaac 1793-unknown
Nicholas 1795-unknown

Daniel and Rachel bought a house and land on 12 February 1787 at Le Grand Moulins, now called King's Mills. The house was named Coutances and the land beside it was called Le Mont which translates as The Hill.

In those days there were three water-driven mills for milling grain. One was owned by the King. This mill was let to tenant-millers. There is a record that on 29 July 1802 Daniel McKane took over the lease in time for that years harvest. The Mill was only about 100 yards from Daniel's home.

Daniel and Rachel were married St Andrew's Parish Church which is one of the two nearest to King's Mills and it would appear that they lived in the locality all their life.

A Daniel McKaine, presumed to be Rachel's husband, was buried in the Castel on 13 April 1808. Rachel died on 24 January 1842 at Grand Moulins (now called King's Mills) aged 74.

William McKaine and Douglas Mary Dunsmore - The New Zealand connection

William was the first born child of Rachel Lihou of Geurnsey born on 9 October 1785.

It is presumed he grew up in Guernsey as he was recorded as being baptised in Church of Ste. Marie du Castel in the Island of Guernsey in 1785 and was a new communicant at the Castel church in 1804. He learned the trade of tailoring.

According to family tradition he eventually came to practice his trade in the Tower of London and it is likely that it was here that he met Douglas Mary Dunsmore.

Douglas Mary Dunsmore was the youngest of six children of John Dunsmore and Mary Patterson of Scotland. She was born in 1789 at Glasgow and when her birth was registered, her father was listed as a change-keeper.

A change-keeper is one who keeps an ale house, or small Inn. The word "change" probably stems from the fact that coaches changed horses at these inns.

Mary's father died in 1801. In 1803 her mother met and married a soldier, George Donaldson, in Glasgow. From the age of 13 Douglas Mary grew up with her mother and step-father in military surroundings. It is likely she lived in the Officer's quarters at the Tower of London, where it is possible that she met William McKaine.

Douglas Mary had been brought up in the Protestant faith. She would have been 18 years old and William 23 when they knelt before the alter of the Church of Ste. Marie du Castel in the Island of Guernsey and exchanged marriage vows in the Catholic faith.

The register, in French records "William, son of Daniel of this parish and Douglas-Marie Dunsmore, daughter of John in Glasgow in Scotland were married together under licence at this church on 26 April 1808."

After their marriage they lived at Cheadle, Staffordshire, a village of coal pits and metal manufacturing. Here they raised a family of seven sons and five daughters. Their family is:

Mary Ann McKaine 1809-unknown
Daniel McKaine 1811-1832
Julia Catherine McKaine 1812-1883
William Henry McKaine 1814-unknown
John Ward McKaine 1816-1863
Douglas Maria McKaine 1817-unknown
Nicholas McKaine 1819-1819
Elizabeth McKaine 1820-unknown
Robina Agnes McKaine 1821-1874
James Buchanan McKaine 1823-1873
Frederick Dunsmore McKaine 1825-1884
Isaac Septimus McKaine 1829-unknown
Wallace Octavious McKaine 1831-1832

It is thought that three of the sons died of tuberculosis.

Nicholas only survived a few months and his brother Wallace one year. William Henry died at the age of 19 and Daniel at 21. Then at the age of 51 in 1837 William McKaine, the father, was killed in a hunting accident.

New Zealand in 1840 – First impressions

Following the death of her husband, Douglas-Mary made the decision to emigrate from Glasgow to New Zealand. The four married daughters stayed behind. Those who sailed were:

Mrs Douglas Mary McKaine, age 62 and her children:
John, age 25
Robina age 20
James age18
Fredrick age 16
Isaac age 12

The Olympus departed Gravesend on 8 December 1840 and entered Cook Strait in New Zealand at 8:00 pm on the evening of 17th April.

Douglas Mary wrote about her first impressions on the morning of the 19 April in a letter home to her family.

"When I went on deck I saw no appearance of vegetation on the land, but a bold, barren rocky or clay coast on every side. All the emigrants were very low spirited."

The next morning they entered Port Nicholson.

"... a very different prospect met our view. The mountains are completely covered with timber, reaching within a quarter of a mile to the water's edge. Here are the most beautiful shrubs in full bloom, although I am told this is reckoned one of the worst months in the year and it is a season for storms."

They anchored on the 20th and the next day it began to blow a gale. The wind abated sufficiently for the emigrants to come ashore on the 23rd April.

"The fine weather continued for a few days and then it began to blow and rain, and the rain came pouring down through the roofs of the Depot houses until everything was wet and miserable. And what makes it more wretched there are no fireplaces in the houses. We make fires out of doors to cook by."

In the same letter she writes:

"I have taken a piece of land as level as your house floor. The lease cost 4 pds, the rent 12pds a year for seven years, John and James are busy building a cottage on it. It is a delightful situation. We have a full view of the harbour."

Two months after arriving in the colony Douglas Mary McKaine was writing:

"Your brothers never regret having come out here. Frederick and Isaac are delighted. John and James seem very happy but Robina and myself sigh after England. At least, I sigh for the loved ones I left there."

Two of her daughters and their families later travelled out to New Zealand. These were Julia who had married Joseph Torr and Mary who married John McCarthy.

Douglas Mary McKaine had other houses built at Wellington, which she rented out to migrants.

In the year 1850, several of her children were to manage Accommodation Houses, also known as Inns, or Halfway Houses (John McKain managed The Halfway House from 1849-1853 and in 1855). It's worth remembering that Douglas Mary's father had been a change-keeper and had kept an ale house, or small Inn.

McKain & Villers Accommodation House, Ahuriri, Napier

In 1850, Douglas Mary McKaine's daughter, Robina McKaine, who had married, and her brother James who had also married went to live at The Spit in Ahuriri (Napier, New Zealand) with their respective families. It is believed they were the first white settlers in the area since the arrival of Reverend William Colenso and his wife. The families jointly opened the first accommodation house and licensed premises for settlers arriving in the locality and named it McKain & Villers Accommodation House. (Today the Westshore Beach Inn operates at the bridge crossing to Westshore and links its licence back to McKain & Villers Accommodation House).

By 1855 other members of the McKain family had joined them and taken up sections of land at Petane in the Esk Valley.

In 1860 Douglas Mary left Wellington and retired to the Esk Valley, spending time with the various relatives there. She died in 1873 at the age of 84 and was the first person buried in the Eskdale Cemetery.

John Ward McKain and The Halfway

John Ward McKain (1816-1863) was born in Cheadle, Staffordshire on 14 March 1816 and was the 5th child of Douglas Mary and Daniel McKaine. In April 1841 at the age of 25 he arrived in Wellington with his mother, sister and three brothers on the ship Olympus. John and his brother James built a cottage for their mother "with a full harbour view", then several more on the Te Aro flats which she rented to new immigrants. The same year John married 19 year old Harriett Maynard b1822 in Wellington. Their family is:

Mary, b1842
William b1845
Twins James and John b1847
Elizabeth Barbara (Lizzie) b1850
Twins Daniel and Harriett b1851
Thomas b1853
Henry (Harry) b1856
Julia b1858
Selina Marie b1860

On 14 February 1844 in an issue of the New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator we find his name on the jury list as: "McKain John Ward, Kaiwara Sawmill, Tailor" and again on the 1845, 1847 and 1849 jury lists.

It seems likely therefore that he had learned his trade of tailoring from his father William McKain. It is also likely that he had lived five or six years with or near his brother-in-law Joseph Torr at Kaiwharawhara.

8 March 1849

John Ward McKain submits an application for a Bush Licence to sell spirituous liquor and ale "...having purchased the house and premises of Anthony Wall situated in the Porirua Road [unreadible] known as the 'Half Way House' is desirous of carrying in the business of the said Anthony Wall and whose Bush License expires on the twenty first day of March instant." Source: National Archives

23 May 1849

The New Zealand Spectator and Cook's Strait Guardian advertised that a Publican's Special License for J.W.McKain, of Porirua Road, was lying at Treasury ready for issue.

9 February 1850

The jury list shows John Ward McKain as a publican with a hotel on the Porirua Road. This hotel was known as Halfway House as it stood halfway between Wellington and Porirua. 

29 August 1850

The Wellington Independent advertised on 11 September, that a Pound had been erected near the Half-Way House on the Porirua Road and it was to be a Public Pound. This was a Pound for detaining wandering stock, usually cattle. Owners paid a fee for release of their animal.

The Halfway House was a popular place for meetings.

22 October 1850

The Wellington Independent advertised that "A public meeting will be held at Mr John McKains Halfway House, Porirua Road on Monday 28 October at seven o'clock in the evening for the purpose of entering into preliminary arrangements for forming a committee to raise subscriptions and solicit aid from the Colonial Government to construct a branch line of road from Ngahauranga on the Hutt Road to a certain point at, or near Johnsonville on the Porirua Road."

The Wellington Independent later reported "A numerous and respectable meeting was held at the house of Mr John McKain on Monday evening. "

A further meeting was set down for 11 November.

4 September 1851
The Government Gazette of appointed J W McKain of Halfway House as Poundkeeper.

31 August 1853
John Ward McKain left Wellington for Melbourne in the schooner Australian.

2 December 1853
A meeting was reported held at Halfway House . "Mr Taunton in chair., Mr McNamara moved and Mr London seconded "That the Country Roads Ordinance be brought into operation and cause absentees to contribute to the road, Mr Bee moved and Mr Drake second that a committee of Messrs McKain, McNamara, Londosn Ashmore and Potherick be appointed."

In the general elections, John Ward McKain supported John Johnston of Karori.

17 January 1855
Notice of land sales by Public Competition, at Mr. McKain's, Half-way House, Porirua Road. Plans will be desposited at the House for viewing.

In the general elections, the request for Dr Curl to stand was signed by 15 men including J W McKain. Dr Curl lived on the Porirua Road, about 1.5 miles from The Halfway House.

15 May 1860 
The Wellington Independent newspaper advertises John McKain's removal from the Electoral District list of vosters. "McKain, John. Halfway- house. Household. Has left the house".  

16 April 1861 
The Wellington Independent newspaper advertises John McKain seeking to return his name to the Electoral District list of voters. "McKain, John Ward. Porirua Road. Leasehold. House and land on Native Reserve part of section 4, Porirua Road.

There is a map in Alexander Turnbull Library, dated 1881, showing the location of Section 4. Reference MapColl-832.4799gbbd/Ng/1881/Acc.6349 Cadastral, part surveyed map showing the subdivision of the Trelissick Estate, Ngaio, Wellington, highlighting Sections 4, 5 and 9 and identifying Sections 6, 7, 8 and 10, and a Native (Maori) Reserve. Shows Old Porirua Road, part of the Wellington to Wairarapa Railway, and part of the Kaiwharawhara Stream.

Off to Australia and back to New Zealand?

"1853 August 31st John Ward McKain left Wellington for Melbourne in the schooner Australian. God prosper him." Entry by Douglas Mary McKain in her Diary and Commonplace book, held in Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.

Family history suggest that John McKain and family left for Australia in the schooner Australia for the gold diggings.

There is a record in the Inward Overseas Passenger Lists (Foreign Ports). Public Record Office Victoria, North Melbourne, Victoria, of John McKain arriving by the ship Australian, at Melbourne, Australia, having departed from Wellington.

Family say he returned on 27 August 1855 in the Marchioness. This doesn't marry up with shipping records, or with the newspaper reports of the time, which place him at the Halfway House in  December 1853, 1854 and January 1855.

Death in 1863

John Ward McKain's death was something of a mystery to the family until 3 September 2018 when the Coroner's Inquest file of 14 July 1864 was accessed at National Archives, New Zealand. It was found that John Ward McKain had died in the stables at the Waterloo Hotel, Kaiwharawhara, on Monday, 17 August 1863.

In his statement, witness Henry A White said he had known the deceased for seven years thereabouts, during which time the deceased had been intemperate, and in the last eighteen months "even more so". 

White described how he had been called to McKain's house the previous Thursday, as the police had broken into the house supposing him to be dead. At the request of the Constable, White took the semi-conscious McKain into town (Kaiwharawhara).

The next day, White spoke McKain about his concern for him. McKain replied "I had just gone to sleep for I had taken a bottle about the length of my forefinger of laudanum."

White had responded "Why you have taken enough to kill two or three persons" and McKain answered that he did not care for he was broken hearted.

White spoke with him again on Saturday. On Sunday morning White had seen him "partially insensible." 

White was called to the stables of the Waterloo Hotel on Monday. The Waterloo Hotel was situated at the junction of the Porirua Road and Hutt Road at the Kaiwharawhara river mouth.

"I went and saw him lying in the hay in the position the Jury has just seen him." (The Jury was brought together quickly so that a post-mortem could be carried out).

White described how he touched him, called him by his name and took his pulse and said "He is dead." He thought he would have died within the quarter of the hour.

John Dimble of the Waterloo Hotel said he had known the deceased for "two or three and twenty years". 

He said McKain had been "intemperate for the last four or five years and had been in the habit of "sleeping in my stables at times....He was lying in my stable all last Sunday. I could not persuade him to come out."

John Dimble had last seen him alive at half past ten that Monday morning. "He was groaning at the time, saying he was wanting to see his wife for he was very ill."

He was "perfectly sober but very weak". Dimble said "I was away about an hour and on my return I found he was dead."

 The third witness was Annie Richmond, who knew him as a man who was "in the habit of drinking a great deal." She had checked on him regularly and given him a jug of water on Sunday evening. She had last seen him at ten o'clock in the stables on Monday morning, "very weak but able to stand".

She left him for about an hour and a half and when she returned, he was dead. She said that he had told her he had taken laudanum on Friday and Saturday.

Alexander Johnston, who carried out the post-mortem, said he did not trace any laudanum. He gave a detailed description of the condition of the heart. The Coroner determined that death was caused by "denial of the heart".

26 August 1863.

John Ward McKain is buried in the Mount Street Cemetery, the first Roman Catholic Cemetery of Wellington.
Source: Mount Street Cemetery Copy of Burial List, 2013. 

When he died, John Ward McKain's mother, Douglas Mary, was now 74 and living in the Esk Valley. She wrote:

"In sorrow and in solitude he departed this life, John Ward McKain my beloved son, in the 47th year of his age that is in the year of the Lord 1863."

"My son, my son, would to God I had died for thee.
Oh my beloved, to think no kind heart was nigh thy deathbed.
No one to wipe the death dew from thy dying brow
My son – my son."