Book traces ancestor's journey

18:58, Jan 22 2013
St Peters Church
LITERARY UNDERTAKING: Author Sandra Nagy, right, outside St Peters Church in Onehunga where her relative William Smith is buried. She is pictured with Reverend Anne Priestly.

After investing seven years and tens of thousands of dollars, first-time author Sandra-Faye Nagy has finally finished what she calls "a labour of love".

This month, the expat released Brompton: The Smith Legacy, a 600-page tome that traces the path of her great-great-grandfather William Smith on his journey from famine-ravished Ireland to life as a Fencible in Onehunga.

The Royal New Zealand Fencibles Corps consisted of retired soldiers who were recruited from the British Isles to protect the fledging settlement of Auckland from a feared invasion by Maori tribes in the mid-1800s.

St Peters Church
DEARLY DEPARTED: The plot where Smith was buried was recently discovered to be under church extensions – so the family chipped in for a plaque to mark the spot.

There were Fencible settlements in Onehunga, Howick, Panmure and Otahuhu.

In return for seven years service around 720 Fencibles were provided with free fare from Europe, an acre of land, a cottage and a wage.

Smith was accepted into the Fencibles in 1847, at which point he had 10 days to pack up his family and head to the departure point in Kent, England.


After around 124 days sailing on the Oriental Queen, they were welcomed to a country where they were no longer subjected to crippling poverty affecting parts of the motherland.

"For a lot of these people, their pensions in Ireland or England were meagre. A shilling didn't go very far," Mrs Nagy says.

"Here they were out of the class system, they were free agents to make their way in life. So it was an enormous advantage for hundreds of people to be given this opportunity."

Mrs Nagy was born in Matamata but has resided in Canada for the last 40 years and says it was tricky researching from across the other side of the world.

Luckily, she had the aide of New Zealand-based relatives Isabella Brown, Beth Hall and Diana Freeman, who are descendants of William Smith.

Mrs Nagy also used the internet to conduct research into the family history, as well as undertaking a fair amount of globe-trotting.

"I went to Ireland and did a lot of research around there, I went to England and did more research around there and then the rest was from my seat in my office."

Mrs Nagy has been interested in genealogy since she was 16 but says the project of writing Brompton: A Smith Legacy kind of fell into her lap.

It began with her second cousin Wendy Pond, who was trying to locate Smith's plot in the grounds of St Peter's Church in Onehunga.

Ms Pond turned to Mrs Nagy after hitting a wall in her research.

"So we started writing the book and it just kind of grew. The more you researched the more there was interesting information to gather," Mrs Nagy says.

The researchers traced 2546 descendants from four of Smith's children.

Central Leader