James Dilworth

Male 1815 - 1894  (79 years)

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  • Name James Dilworth 
    Born 15 Aug 1815  Clonfeacle, County Tyrone, Ireland Find all individuals with events at this location  [1, 2, 3
    Gender Male 
    _UID 0391B1EBA90E47618C2B90CA138AC79A9EF2 
    Died 23 Dec 1894  Otahuhu, New Zealand Find all individuals with events at this location  [1, 2, 3
    Cause: peritonitis 
    Buried 25 Dec 1894  Auckland, New Zealand Find all individuals with events at this location  [3
    St Marks Church, Remuera 
    Person ID I10289  Treefive
    Last Modified 27 Apr 2016 

    Father John Dilworth,   b. 1785, Donaghmore, County Tyrone, Ireland Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 9 Sep 1865  (Age 80 years) 
    Mother Mary Anne Bell,   b. 1789, Donaghmore, County Tyrone, Ireland Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 3 Dec 1852  (Age 63 years) 
    Married Abt 1814  County Tyrone, Ireland Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Family ID F2949  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family Isabella Hall,   b. 1828,   d. 1910  (Age 82 years) 
    Married 12 Jul 1853  [2
    Last Modified 12 Sep 2019 
    Family ID F3671  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Notes 

    • This biography was written by R. C. J. Stone and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography Volume 2, 1993.
      Citation: R. C. J. Stone. 'Dilworth, James', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 7-Jun-2013

      James Dilworth, the son of Mary Bell and her husband, John Dilworth, a farmer, was born probably at Donaghmore, County Tyrone, Ireland, on 15 August 1815. After a sound education at the nearby Royal Dungannon School, James worked first on his father's farm and then in an Irish bank.

      Probably in 1839 James emigrated to New South Wales, then in 1841 he sailed to New Zealand on the Planter. After a brief period exploring prospects at a number of settlements, this lanky young Irishman settled in Auckland as accountant to the New Zealand Banking Company in Princes Street.
      Overdue bills ultimately forced the bank to wind up in 1845. This did not deter Dilworth. Equipped with capital (presumably from his family) he had already turned to land buying. Late in 1842 he had bought six acres of Parnell land on which he put a house, and in 1845 bought nearly 100 acres at Takapuna. In 1844 he had acquired more than 150 acres between Mt St John and Mt Hobson. Setting himself up as a farmer he continued to add to this estate, which became in time the most valuable of all the farms in this vicinity. He also acquired properties in the township and throughout the Auckland province. He was the astutest of land buyers.

      In the 1860s Dilworth prospered. With the continued growth of Auckland's population his suburban farm, three miles from town, shot up remarkably in value. He also had two strokes of luck: the outbreak of the New Zealand wars led to valuable commissariat contracts, and the government decision to run the tracks of the trunk railway through his estate put generous compensation money into his pocket. In 1882 his properties were estimated to be worth £81,044. However, this figure does not take into account the 225,000 acres of recently bought Maori land in the upper Thames (Waihou) valley, or the Whaiti–Kuranui block, which Dilworth held in partnership with another Ulsterman, the impetuous Joseph Howard.

      This speculation miscarried completely. The Whaiti–Kuranui proprietors, and a four-man syndicate which owned the adjoining Patetere block, in 1882 jointly sold their huge landed estate (just on 600,000 acres) to a London company, the New Zealand Thames Valley Land Company. The incorporation brought no ready cash to the pockets of the indebted New Zealand speculators, however, and, because of deepening rural depression, the company failed to sell its farm allotments. Ultimately the banks foreclosed. By the end of the 1880s Dilworth alone of the seven speculators was not insolvent. Even so, it is estimated that he lost £40,000 or more because of this venture. As an investor in a number of Auckland companies, such as the Auckland Fibre Manufacturing Company, the Thames Valley and Rotorua Railway Company, and the New Zealand Frozen Meat and Storage Company, he suffered losses in other directions as well.

      Little is known about Dilworth's private life. He was reserved and left few personal records. On public occasions he merged into the background Cheshire cat-like, leaving speechmaking to others. He was not fond of long explanations. For one who could be gruff and stern he could also be very kind. Loyalty he esteemed: his friends remained true for life. He favoured Irish people as friends, whether they were Catholic or Protestant.

      On 12 July 1853 at Otahuhu James Dilworth had married Isabella Hall of Otahuhu. Originally from Ulster, Ireland, she was 24 and he 38. Their marriage was a happy one, although childless. Tradition has it that around 1880 Dilworth built his third and last house on the estate for Isabella. This homestead, although lacking the external impressiveness of most homes of the well-to-do of that era, was a fine spacious house approached through an avenue of shady trees.

      Dilworth has an impressive record of public service. He was for 27 years from its opening in 1847 a trustee of the Auckland Savings Bank. As an ardent Anglican of the low church persuasion – he looked askance at 'popish surplices' and excessive ritual – he was a longstanding member of the Diocesan General Trust Board. He served on the Auckland Provincial Council for eight years. Public causes he supported included the kindergarten movement and the YMCA. Education was close to his heart, and he was a member of the Auckland University College council for the last four years of his life.

      During his latter years Dilworth suffered from a neurological complaint, perhaps Parkinson's disease. A visitor to the homestead recalled that he shook with 'palsy'. He had a pony carriage made very low and his wife took him driving every day. After giving serious thought to the disposition of his wealth on his death, Dilworth made a will in which the bulk of the estate was bequeathed to the Dilworth Ulster Institute Trust. This was instructed to set up an institute (or school) which would take in and educate boys who were living in straitened circumstances.

      James Dilworth died of peritonitis at Remuera on 23 December 1894. His estate was valued at £150,000. Isabella died on 27 February 1910. Dilworth's monument surely is Dilworth School. In less than a century it grew to be one of New Zealand's largest boarding schools.

      Additional note: according to family sources, James apparently tried to adopt 2 of his nephews so he could leave his fortune to them. James Mossman, who was the oldest son of Thomas and Eleanor, was sent to NZ several years before the rest of the family and was looked after by James and Isabella Dilworth. However they did not see eye to eye and from all accounts Dilworth was a hard foster father and James Mossman apparently lost sight from one eye due to his uncle's careless use of a stock whip - so he ran away. Dilworth also tried the same with nephew Willie Mossman who was also sent out from Canada to work for his uncle and was tasked with finding his older brother James, who Mr Dilworth had traced to a farm in Southern Hawkes Bay, This also failed and Willy returned to Auckland once again working for his uncle until the arrival of the rest of his family had arrived in NZ, Willie however refused his uncle's offer. James then altered his will to leave his youngest nephew Harry Mossman as the principal beneficiary should he assume the Dilworth name, but this too was rejected. Having failed to gain one of his nephews to leave his wealth to, he left it in trust for a school for impoverished boys and from this Dilworth School was established.

  • Sources 
    1. [S2680] BIM104 Biography Dilworth, James, BIM104.

    2. [S2879] BOK162 Stone, R. C. J. - "James Dilworth", chart opposite page 11.

    3. [S3374] OBT075 Obituary Dilworth, James, OBT075., Obituary - James Dilworth; 28 December 1894; page 9.