Given names: 
Given address: 
Sheet No: 365

Biographical information supplied by Helen May, in consultation with Rae Witon and Michelle Baker. We are the great grand daughters of Margaret Jane Robertson.

Margaret Jane Thompson, born 8 July 1856, was an immigrant from County Tyrone, Ireland who arrived in New Zealand around 1873. According to family legend she met William Alexander Cavendish Robertson on the ship. They were married at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Auckland on 3 July 1876. It was her signature in the marriage register that confirmed she was indeed the M. Thompson of Ponsonby who signed the petition. At the time of her marriage Margaret was age 21 years and William age 26; his occupation cited as a mariner but no occupation is listed for Margaret. Very little is known about Margaret and her nine children are her main legacy.

Why Margaret left Ireland at around 18 years of age is unknown and likewise, who she travelled with and on what ship she travelled is still a mystery. There is no evidence that other family members travelled with her. Poverty does not seem to be an evident reason to leave Ireland as later images of the Thompson family suggest a well dressed and well housed rural family. Margaret’s mother Jane Gifford was born in Omagh, and married John Thompson. Jane gave a postcard photo of herself to Margaret inscribed ‘Margaret Thompson from her fond and loving mother’. Handwritten on the back is the text ‘Praise the Lord while he may be found. Call on him while he is near’ [Isaiah 55:6]. Maybe this travelled with Margaret to New Zealand.

In 1877 Margaret and William were living in Huntly where, from 1880 to 1885, William was the stationmaster and postmaster. Between 1877 and 1885 five children were born: Edith Maria (1877), Teresa (1878), Fanny (1881), Margaret Jane (1882) and Bertha (1885). By 1887 the family had relocated to Auckland, living in modest rented houses in the suburbs of Ponsonby and Mt Albert. Four more children were born: Alexander John (1887), Catherine Jubilee (1890), William Carnegie Cavendish (1892) and Elsa (1894). William appears to have continued working in various capacities, probably for railways, listed as a ’linesman’ and ‘labourer’. None of these occupations reflect the ‘well-to-do’ English life style in which previously William lived, including, according to family legend, being a pupil at Eton College.

Despite the modest circumstance of the Robertson family in New Zealand, Margaret and William instilled values of proper etiquette, dress, home decoration and decorum, that continued to be evident in the clothing and houses of her children and remembered by Rae and Michelle, her great grand daughters, who as children would sometimes visit the bevy of great aunts. Apart from a few photos, and her children, Margaret left a scant footprint. This makes her signing of the petition so special although the circumstances of signing a petition one day in Ponsonby, where the family were then living, are unknown. Interestingly, there is no evidence of Margaret or William being on the electoral roll for the following elections. One can wonder whether signing the petition was something Margaret did secretly. Margaret died at age 43 in 1899 of ‘septicaemia peritonitis’ leaving three children under nine. She is buried in Purewa cemetery, Auckland.

Surviving family remained close and connected. There was some ongoing contact with Margaret’s Irish family. There is an ‘Irish’ photo album, held in the family archives of Jon Fairless, probably compiled by Margaret’s daughter, also named Margaret, who was known to have lived in England and visited relatives. Margaret’s younger son, William, was killed in France in 1917. Catherine Jubilee Robertson, my grandmother, who was Margaret’s last surviving child, died in 1979.


Margaret Jane Robertson

Mary Jane Robertson with her daughters, Edith and Teresa, c. 1880

Margaret and William at the Huntly family home with Edith, Teresa, Fanny and Margaret as a baby, c. 1882

Images supplied with permission of Jon Fairless, great great grandson of Margaret Jane Robertson.

Click on sheet number to see the 1893 petition sheet this signature appeared on. Digital copies of the sheets supplied by Archives New Zealand.

How to cite this page

'M. Robertson', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 8-Jun-2018

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