John Barrett 1836


John Barrett 

of “Ballinvilla”, Kirwee, Christchurch, NZ (originally of Ballinvilla, Croghan, Co Roscommon)

John Barrett (1836-1919) was undeniably the most successful and influential Barrett to come out of Ballinvilla. The amount of historical information about him on the internet is astounding.  He was the only Barrett of this parish to settle in New Zealand. There, he established the infamous “Barrett’s Hotel” in Christchurch and kept an estate farm of over 1,000 acres nearby, which he named “Ballinvilla”.  Ballinvilla remained very much in his heart, not only did he name his farm after it, he twice took the long journey home to visit. He has about 25 descendants living in NZ today.  

John Barrett (1836-1919) was the eldest son of Patrick Barrett & Brigid Moraghan of farm #6 in the east of Ballinvilla, near Croghan. His childhood bore witness to the ravages of the Great Famine. Even though all the Barretts of Ballinvilla were “tenant farmers”, their holding of 43 acres would have systematically obliged them to employ the assistance of outside labour, which qualified them as ‘gentleman farmers’ of their time. Being the the son of “a man of substance, a gentleman farmer and stock grower”, John was educated privately no doubt. Schools favoured English language fluency, as did the parents who sent their children there (even thought the majority of Co. Roscommon was Irish-speaking at the time). While both of his parents were native speakers of Irish (confirmed in his brother's 1920 US Census return) John demonstrated exceptionally high English literacy skills. 

In 1859, age 23, John Barrett (1836-1919) emigrated to Australia, to work in the goldfields near Ballarat (Victoria). When he heard that the magic metal had been discovered in New Zealand, John packed his bags for Otago.  By 1862, he was prospecting along the Shotover River - now known to be one of the richest gold bearing rivers in the world. During the 1860s, cavalcades of prospectors followed rough trails leading into Central Otago. At the peak of the Otago rush in 1863, the goldfields population was estimated at 24,000. Many perished in heavy snowfalls and floods in the freak winter conditions that year. In icy gorges, the sun never reached the floor and piles of wash froze cement-hard. A diet of flour and tea meant that many developed scurvy. Other discoveries in Otago followed, and men moved from field to field. A lucky few made a fortune.  

When John received word that his father passed away in Ballinvilla in 1863, he sent money for a fine gravestone topped with a cross to be erected for Patrick Barrett (1815-1863) in the family plot in Killapogue cemetary, near Croghan. 

BARRETT’S HOTEL – Revell Street, Hokitika

How well he did at the diggings is not known, but clearly he was able to put together a tidy sum as, by 1865, he had set himself up as a hotel keeper in Hokitika, on the West Coast. (Lyttelton Times 14th March 1876, p2). In 1866, John Barrett married Honora Touhy (1842–1884) in Hokitika. They had three children. (Sadly, only the youngest, J. Stephen Barrett (1875 - 1931) survived long enough to continue the family line). 

Hokitika Port ranked first in New Zealand at that time and was the capital of New Zealand’s Westland Province until the abolition of provinces in 1876. John Barrett was elected to the local Borough Council, in which capacity he appears to have been most active and competent. John ran “Barretts Hotel” in Hokitika for eleven years.

Barrett’s GLADSTONE HOTEL (328 Durham St., Christchurch)

By August 1876, John Barrett and family had moved to Christchurch. There, he purchased the old Devonshire Arms, a working mans’ pub, located on the outskirts of town (in those days) on the south-east corner of Durham and Peterborough Streets. The Hotel had fallen on hard times and was in a very poor state, but under John Barrett’s management it revived and prospered.

“Something had to be done to raise the tone of the Devonshire Arms, and Mr. Barrett had the energy, the experience and, most importantly, the finance to do it. He called upon the services of a leading colonial architect, William Armson, to design new and more substantial premises. The result was that the Hotel was virtually rebuilt as a sturdy timber building that set a standard for other corner hotels in Christchurch. The new two storey building was designed with a comprehensive range of rooms on the ground floor; a large bar, a tap room, a dining room, several bedrooms and two large sitting rooms for the convenience of guests. The upper floor contained numerous further bedrooms. (Lyttelton Times 14th March 1876 p2). The newspaper report was effusive; “The building is to be erected in the most substantial and commodious manner, and promises to be one of the best in Christchurch”. Substantial it was indeed. A new building meant a new beginning, and what more appropriate for a new beginning than a new name? The Devonshire Arms was rechristened “The Gladstone Hotel” after the great William Ewart Gladstone, Liberal Prime Minister of England and long-time proponent of Irish Home Rule, which made him very popular with staunch Catholic Irishmen such as John Barrett. (poddimok.)

The Gladstone Hotel is one of the city’s longest-lasting hotels. It held the dubious distinction of hosting the last post-mortem before Christchurch City Council opened a purpose-built mortuary in 1901.  The Gladstone Hotel passed, by will, to Barrett’s family who sold the freehold to Mr. Patterson in 1927 (which remained a Patterson family business until 1970). 

In the early 1970’s the Gladstone soon become one of the swinging hot-spots of Christchurch and a music venue that was the “right place at the right time” for several important chapters in New Zealand music. Its main lounge, created in a time before electricity, was perfect for amplified rock music. International acts such as Nick Cave also played there.  Save for internal improvements over the years, the building looked essentially the same and stood the test of time for almost 130 years. Sadly, in 2005, the Gladstone was demolished to make way for an office building.


BARRETT’S FAMILY HOTEL (120 Manchester St, Christchurch)

So well did John Barrett’s enterprises fare, that he was soon able to expand. His next venture has a fascinating history. He took proprietorship of the Borough Hotel (a 2-storey wooden house built 1865) which he leased from a prominent landowner, Mr. William Wilson, covering a rental of £28-2-6d per annum.

In 1878 Wilson decided to sell up a number of his properties. “The auction began at 2:00 p.m. sharp in the rooms of Messrs R Walton & Co., auctioneers, in Hereford Street, on 6th March 1878. Lot 1 was the Borough Hotel, described (Lyttelton Times 6th March 1878, p2) as “situated at the junction of six streets, and having a total frontage of 129’, by depth of 99’, 75’, and 105’. Before opening the bidding Mr. Walton made some preliminary remarks that offer a fascinating snapshot of the burgeoning property market of the 1860’s – 1880’s. He noted the near impossibility of purchasing prime freehold properties in the City, the incredible rate of the growth of permanent and imposing buildings in Christchurch, and the meteoric rise in property values. “It seems like a fairy tale, and there is no reason, as City freeholds get scarcer, why the same results (in Wellington and Melbourne) should not be shown here (in Christchurch).” The avarice of the gentlemen investors having thus been whetted, the bidding began at £4,000.” The Borough Hotel was knocked down to the current licensee, Mr. John Barrett, for £6,500. Based upon the contemporary value of 4d for a pint of beer and today’s price of about $4 NZD, he paid or roughly EUR 1,000,000 in today’s terms. The conditions of sale included an immediate deposit of 15%, a payment of 35% by 30th June following, and 50% to remain on mortgage at 8% for three to five years. 

Barrett thus became the owner and licensee of the Borough Hotel, which he promptly renamed “Barrett’s Family Hotel”. He retained ownership of the Gladstone, leasing it out to a succession of publicans of Irish origin.

The new hotel prospered and Mr. Barrett was starting to become a respected member of the business community, a social status that he much desired although, in staunchly Anglican English Christchurch, a Catholic Irishman had a hard road to travel towards a goal of respectability and public acceptance. 

John stood for the Christchurch City Council in the elections of 1878, hoping to repeat his civic success on the West Coast, but was not returned. Undeterred, he diversified his business interests, and in that same year successfully tendered for the construction of the Christchurch Tramway Company’s lines, the first stretch of which was to run from the Square to the Railway Station. Gathering a workforce of his fellow countrymen he set to work on the tram lines, and his involvement in this exercise, along with his Irishness and Catholicism, set the scene for the debacle that was to ensue a forthnight later and land him in a bit of judicial hot water. 

[See for a before and after photo of the hotel]

Murderous Assault at Barrett's Hotel - 1879

On Boxing Day 1879, Barrett’s Hotel became the flash point for a sectarian riot. The event sent shockwaves through Christchurch, and had far-reaching and severe consequences for Barrett. He was arrested and charged with aiding and abbetting with ten or more in the riot. In June 1880, he lost his publican’s licence for two years (see below for full story). Barrett was forced to vacate his family home and lease the hotel in its entirety to another. The lease was quickly taken up by a Mr. McGoverin. 

In order to restore his reputation, Barrett had the old building torn down and rebuilt in 1881. Once again, he commissioned W.B. Armson to design a new building in a magnificent and permanent style for Barrett’s hotel.  Armson based his design upon the style of an Italian palazzo, an architectural form made famous by Sir Charles Barry’s designs for two London clubs, the Travellers’ (1829) and the Reform Club (1837). 

The Hotel is a most outstanding example of his craft, and the quality and abundance of the ornamental stuccowork is a distinctive feature.   It has stood as one of the few remaining examples of Armson’s work and as a landmark in the development of Christchurch’s public life. In 1989 it was registered (Cat. 1) by the NZ Historic Places Trust.

Mr. Barrett’s exile was not to be permanent. In 1882 he regained the favour of the licensing bench and returned to the Hotel but his joy was not to last. In 1884 his wife Honora died, leaving young children age 9–12 years. The effect of her death upon him or whether he married again is not known. In 1886, John got word that his mother, Brigid Moraghan had passed away in Ballinvilla.

Not long after these events, John Barrett abandoned the Hotel trade and took to farming in Kirwee on an exensive landed estate he named “Ballinvilla”.  He continued at the Hotel until 1890 and then he leased it to another fellow countryman, Patrick Burke. This gave John the opportunity, in 1891, to take a trip home to Ireland (his first since leaving in 1859). He would have, no doubt, visited his parents’ grave in Killapogue and inspected the fine headstone he erected to his father 28 years earlier.

And so, Barrett’s Family Hotel became Burke’s Family Hotel for a decade, and then for a shorter period – the Shamrock Hotel. In 1906 it became the Excelsior Hotel and has so remained ever since. The license for the Excelsior changed hands many times over the decades, although the Irish association continued. The freehold of the Hotel remained in John Barrett’s hands until his death in 1919, when it passed to his son Stephen. Stephen sold the Hotel to James C. Lamb in July of 1924 for £40,000. Since that time, the Excelsior has operated in various forms as hotels and bars, however the Classical exterior, comissioned by John Barrett, remained intact, (protected by the Historic Places Trust of New Zealand).

Christchurch today is the second largest urban area in New Zealand. On September 4, 2010, Christchurch was hit by a 7.1 magnitude earthquake. A major aftershock on February 22, 2011, registered 6.3, did much more damage to buildings and infrastructure weakened by the September 2010 quake. As a restult, 184 people lost their lives. A number of heritage buildings along with 10,000 homes had to be condemned. Sadly John Barrett's hotel Excelsior was among them. Only the Manchester Street facade was retained (the north-facing wall and the interior will be entirely reconstructed). The building was saved from demolition by the Christchurch Heritage Trust, which has promised to spend $8m restoring the site in accordance with heritage principles. Sadly, in 2016 these plans for restoration were abolished and the facade was demolished. 



BALLINVILLA ESTATE, Kirwee, Canterbury, NZ


 In 1889, he left Christchurch in favour of living in his home-from-home in Kirwee.  John Barrett’s “Ballinvilla Estate” north-west of Christchurch, was larger than the totality of his ancestral townlands of Finnor and Ballinvilla put together; potentially comparitive to his great-grandfather Matthew Barrett (1749-1816) holding. His estate, in the township of Kirwee, comprised 1,014 acres of first class land. In 1894 he sold an additional 700 acres of “superior land” in Courtenay, which he had been leasing to Messrs George Addington and John Turner. In Jan 1904 he sold a 300 acre farm in Courtenay close to Kirwee railway station. June 1901 he advertised that he was selling a nice line of lambs topping the line at 15s

Twelve years after the untimely death of his wife, John’s eldest son, Patrick, passed away, age 25 (Feb 20, 1896).  Five years later, on 21 March 1901, his only daughter, Cissie, died age 28 from a prolongued illness. Her obituary in the New Zealand Tablet (21 March 1901) indicates she had many years of intense suffering. She was buried alongside her mother and brother in the Barbadoes Road Cemetary.



John Barrett’s extended family in North Roscommon were active in Irish politics at a critical time following the Great Famine. The Barretts were active in community service, acting as Justices of the Peace, and interested in Irish politics.  Among his father's Barrett cousins in Finnor were a: Leader of the Liberal Party; President of the Carrick Land League; Chairman of Carrick on Shannon branch of the Irish National League; a close friend of Michael Davitt; husbands of the Dillons of Ballaghdereen; a Barony Constable for Co. Leitrim, a post-master, and more. 

John Barrett, in the same way, continued to be active in the local community in Canterbury. He was on the General Committee, and a Justice of the Peace. He was also chair of the Working Mens’ Club and Vice-president of Courtenay Agricultural & Pastoral Association. He also sat on the Bishop’s committe to build the Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Barbados St. (which was unfortunately also badly damaged in the earthquake of 2011).


POLITICAL ADDRESSES Star (Issue 6556, , p.5)

5 Aug 1899: Mr J Barrett addressed the electors of Selwyn in the Kirwee Hall last night. There was a large attendance. The speaker announced himself as a firm Liberal, and most of his remarks were favourable to the present government. A vote of thanks and confidence, on being put was carried by acclamation.

2 October 1899: Mr J Barrett who is standing for the Selwyn seat in the Liberal interest addressed a meeting of electors at Kirwee on Friday night. He announced himself as a supporter of the Seddon Government and stated that whatever measure the government brought in as a Government for the benefit of the country he would support. He received a vote of thanks and confidence.

13 December 1899: John Barrett was not elected. He came third (out of 4) with 454 votes. However, he headed the poll in his own area.


 In September 1901, when John was 65 years old, his son Stephen advertised the lease for the “Ballinvilla Estate” TO LET: 1014 acres of GOOD LAND in first class order adjoining the Kirwee township.  “Ballinvilla” in Kirwee was sold in 1904. This presented John with a second opportunity to plan a trip back to Ireland. He waited for the opening of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament on 12 February 1905, and then set off for Ireland in July.



Most of John's siblings emigrated to Louisiana U.S.A. to join their brother Major Edward J. Barrett (1842-1925). His brother, Matthew Barrett (1846-1917) took up a farm in Carrickmore, starting up the Boyle line of Barretts. His youngest brother, James Barrett (1854-1907) inherited the family farm of 43 acres (+ 35 of bog) at Ballinvilla.

In August 1905, the LEITRIM OBSERVER took a great interest in John’s visit (Carrick-on Shannon, being on the border of Co. Leitrim and Roscommon, and the nearest town to Ballinvilla). They published three reports on his movements, to include 2 lengthy interviews. From this we can see how the Barretts moved in social circles:

“Mr. John Barrett, J.P., of Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand, is on a visit to Dublin, and intends proceeding to his native place, Carrick-on-Shannon, for a short holiday. He left Ireland in 1859, and has paid one visit in the meantime, in 1891. In the antipodes, Mr. Barrett has never forgotten the old land, and has followed her fortunes not only by reading the “Freeman’s Journal” regularly, but also the “Irish World” of New York. He is enthusiastic about the prosperity and freedom of New Zealand. In recent years, he testifies, the cause of Home Rule for Ireland has made great progress in New Zealand. The members of the present Parliament, which has a Liberal majority, are practically all in favour of the Irish cause. Mr Barrett met Mr J. Redmond and Mr W. Redmond, Mr Dillon, Sir Thomas Esmonde, and other Irish representatives in New Zealand, and, in common with other Irishmen in New Zealand, he has been much interested in Cardinal Moran’s scheme for joint Australian action in support of the Irish Party. He is certain that New Zealand will do its share and subscribe as liberally as it did in the old days before the split.

Mr Barrett is very proud of the New Zealand land system, under which the squatters are compulsorily expropriated and the lands divided into farms of at least 50 acres, and distributed among proper applicants by ballot. The price given for the land is fixed by arbitration. In fact, New Zealand is the land par excellence of arbitration, even strikes having been abolished by this means. He recalled that it was John Ballans, a Newry man, who initiated the radical land legislation in New Zealand. There is one grievance in New Zealand, from a Catholic point of view. Catholics have to provide their own schools, and help also maintain the State schools, where no religion is taught. The Catholics have many fine schools, and where they are not numerous enough to have a school, the priest attends the State school and gives religious education outside school hours. It is significant that the Catholic priest is the only clergyman who takes the trouble to do so. The Catholic body in New Zealand is steadily progressing, and the Catholic people there are most faithful children of the Church. Recently in Christchurch a beautiful Cathedral was erected and opened within four years, the first cost being £40,000. Mr Barrett wears on his chain one of the gold medals struck by the Melbourne Committee in commemoration of the Emmet Centenary. It has on one side a portrait of Robert Emmet.”

“Prior to leaving his native town of Carrick-on-Shannon last week for his adopted country – New Zealand – Mr John Barrett, J.P of Christchurch, Canterbury, was kind enough to afford our representative an opportunity of having a parting chat about matters in general, most of which concerned our green isle.

On his way to Ireland in the early stages of Mr Barrett’s visit this time, that gentleman sought admission to the House of Parliament (London), and in this he found not the slightest difficulty, for he carried with him an introductory letter from his life-long friend, the Right Hon. R.J. Seddon, or “King Dick” as he is better known by, the Premier of New Zealand. Our exile countryman not wishing to make his presence known just then to his many friends in the Irish party, quietly took his seat in the Distinguished Strangers Gallery, and he told me that one of his chief reasons for visiting the Parliament at all at that time was to listen to the animated discussion that was then engaging the attention of both the English and Irish members and of which the Press was full to overflowing, regarding the alleged Boyle outrage.*

Being a native of the district in which the alleged outrage was said to have occurred, Mr Barrett took a keen interest in the doings of the House, and he says that, so far as the answers of the English Ministers upon the questions put them by the Irish members were concerned, he thought them to be firm and honourable, he having a knowledge of what the New Zealand House of Parliament was like.

Since coming to Ireland Mr Barrett has had a communication from Mr John E Redmond MP, the gentleman whom he predicted in 1891 would be the leader of the Irish Party eventually. He had told them in New Zealand that John Redmond was the only man to lead the Irish Party and he was right in his prediction. He had also a letter from his friend, Mr John Dillon, MP from Ballaghderen, asking him (Mr Barrett) to meet him in Dublin on his return journey, and both engagements he intended keeping.

Speaking on the state of Irish politics, Mr Barrett said that he had read in the Freeman’s Journal speeches made a couple days before by Mr William O Brien and Mr John Dillon, and he assured me that he was extremely sorry to see that two such eloquent and eminent Parliamentarians, who had been of such great service to Ireland, should be wasting their time in such a deplorable discussion, because at the present time the one great and only question that should claim the attnetion of all Irishmen was unity. Any child, he said, who knew anything about the history of this country knew that – ‘United we stand and divided we fall” – and that should be the one great object before their minds. If he might express his inmost feelings he would say that it was a curse to have two such men as Dillon and O’Brien fighting against one another and it was to be hoped that both of them would moderate their language from what they have been using of late, and once more become united for their country’s common good. There was one thing, and that was that there must be a pledge-bound Irish party – the pledge to be of the most honourable kind – so that there would be no breaking of it.

Speaking of matters political in his adopted country, Mr Barrett said he had that very morning received a letter from his son, who by the way is an eminent lawyer in Christchurch, in which he stated that the Liberal Party under Seddon would get in hands down at the election in November next. It would be, he said a destruction or calamity to the country (New Zealand) should the Conservative Party get into power, and his opinion was fully borne out by all the commonsense men of the country. It was his wish that the Premier and his Ministers should continue in office for the good of the country, for Seddon, he said, was the greatest man living in the present day, and there was no question about it. They might talk about Roosevelt, Mr Barrett continued, and the rest of the big guns, but Seddon was the greatest statesman of them all. He had made New Zealand what she was today, and he had made the working people independent. He had actually raised them from being slaves to become men of honour.

Mr Barrett also paid high tribute to the qualities of Mr WP Reeves, who is a native of that country. Of late that gentleman had been appointed High Comissioner of New Zealand. Mr Reeves, said Mr Barrett, was too well known in the country for him to say much about him, and his efforts in behalf of the labour party were fully appreciated, and if at any time the present Premier should vacate his office, Reeves should be the man to fill it right off. When but a mere boy Reeves fought and beat Garrack, the great Conservative candidate for Christchurch, for a seat in the native Patliament and, while sitting there, he was one of the ablest and most highly appreciated in it.

During his stay in Ireland Mr Barrett was ever on the move sightseeing and visiting old acquaintances. The West, which he loves so well, claimed most of his attention, and amongst other places he visited was the far-famed Cong Abbey, where he viewed the head stone that marks the spot where lies the remains of the last reigning monarch of Ireland. He had had an invitation to visit Galway seat of Lord Ardilaun, but Mr Barrett says he thought he had already seen enough of Cromwell’s early destruction when visiting Cong without visiting any more as the ancient beauties of Lord Ardilaun’s present seat would only be disgusting to him.

The Curragh races were not omitted from Mr Barrett’s programme, for he attended there at the three days meeting. He say he always had a leaning towards the Curragh meetings, but his impression is that the courses and stands here were not up to the standard of what they were in New Zealand.

In conclusion Mr Barrett assured me that he had spent a most enjoyable holiday in his native country. “However” continued Mr Barrett, “Now that I am leaving the Bush Hotel, of Carrick on Shannon I feel bound to say that through my long and extensive experience of first-class hotels in the Colonies of Victoria and New Zealand, I have never yet met one of them to compare with your Carrick hotel for management and I assure you I am speaking the truth.

Mr Barrett left Carrick on Wednesday morning week last by the 11am train en route for New Zealand via Dublin and London, and amongst his luggage were carefully packed away a few splendid blackthorns as souvenir from the land of his birth. We wish our distinguished countryman a hearty God speed, a safe journey and many years of health and prosperity among his friends in Canterbury,”


Although it was not mentioned in the reports, John would have also visited his home farm in Ballinvilla and no doubt discussed the loss of his daughter Celia, and the question of the whereabouts of his youngest brother, James (who had left his young family at home in Ballinvilla to seek his fortunes in the US). It would seem that in 1907, when all other lines of enquiry were exhausted, John sponsored an ad in the newspaper seeking news about James Barrett. Without any further leads, the family presumed James was dead. 

In 1907 John Barrett returned to live in the city of Christchurch, and resided at 343 Bealey Avenue, where he died on 23 March, 1919 (age 83). He was interred in the old Catholic Cemetary (Barbados St) preceded by his wife, son and daughter. Sadly, these graves were also lost in the 2011 earthquake. However, his name and his hotels’ unique history endure on record worldwide (via websites such as Wikipedia). 

It’s said that to be Irish is to remember. Among the half a million New Zealanders of Irish ancestry, numerous descendants of John Barrett from Ballinvilla have endured for 6 generations so far. Thanks to them, the Barrett surname is alive and well.



Murderous Assault at Barretts Hotel - 1879

On the morning of Boxing Day, 1879, there was a bloody riot outside Barrett’s Family Hotel, when an Orange Lodge procession was attacked by the patrons with makeshift weapons including pick handles, and John Barrett was held to be implicated in the incitement to riot. This was the most spectacular event in the history of the Hotel and, as considerable information, including eye-witness accounts, has survived it is worth recounting the events of this “disgraceful outrage” (Press 27th December 1879;p2) in some detail.

Three loiterers rushed upon the holiday makers – at the same time flourishing in the air heavy pick-handles, with which they began a most atrocious and murderous attack’…in a moment, ‘blood was flowing from many wounds’…an ear was ‘dreadfully smashed’ and a scalp wound ‘divided an artery.

The Star, 26 December, 1879.

The following reconstruction is drawn from reports in the Lyttelton Times of 27th December 1879; pp2 -3, 28th December 1879; p3, 29th December 1879; p5, 14th January 1880; pp5-6, 16th June 1880; p3, and The Press of 27th December 1879; p2.

The Orange and the Green.

On the morning of December 25th, 1879, the members of the Protestant Alliance Friendly Society began their annual march through the City. Their intention was to progress down Manchester Street to the Railway Station, where they would catch the train to Prebbleton for the annual Boxing Day picnic. Wearing livery, carrying banners on high and preceded by a band, the Orangemen marched through the City. By 9 o’clock they were approaching Barrett’s Borough Hotel.

Unknown to the marchers, some of their Catholic countrymen had heard of the march and seem to have had laid plans to disrupt it. The phrase “seem to have” is important, as the question of premeditation was central to later judicial proceedings; was the attack a spontaneous act of sectarian violence by a few hotheads, or was it planned beforehand and was thus something more sinister?

Mr. Barrett came downstairs at about 9 o’clock and could hear the band playing in front of the advancing procession. Looking out of his dining room window he could see the parade coming past Cunningham’s corner. He went to the back of the Hotel, the one that opened onto the yard that in turn opened onto Manchester Street and there saw a body of men, all Irish Catholics, some of whom boarded with him. There were perhaps thirty of them, amongst them men by the names of Shea, Hanley, McEvey Cuddihy and, to Mr. Barrett’s horror, his only son Stephen. Many were armed with pick staves. Mr. Barrett immediately demanded to know what they intended to do, and they replied that they were going to stop the procession. The prospect of such violence appalled Mr. Barrett, and the hypocrisy of the Catholics’ attitude was also horrifying; they had themselves held their own march only a few days previously.

“What right have ye to stop the procession?” he demanded. “Have they not as much right as ye have? Them pick staves are my property. How dare ye interfere with them? Put them down this instant!” John Gildea, a labourer who was also staying at the Hotel, left his breakfast on the table and rushed out and, hearing the exchange, begged his friends not to do this rash act. But it was too late, and the procession was at hand. Some of the men, heeding Mr. Barrett’s words, put down their pick staves but others were already in the street, laying about them with their weapons. Men rushed from the yard while others dropped from the windows in a manner that looked very much like a preconcerted action. “Get a rope”, shouted Cuddihy. “Bring a rope and put it across the street. Don’t let them pass. Bring the colours down!”

Charles Gourley, another lodger of Barrett’s, was sitting at table eating his breakfast when Mr. Barrett rushed back into the room from the yard.

“My God,” moaned Barrett to his wife Honora. “them fellows will have me ruined, they have gone out to attack the procession!” He rushed to the bar, almost in tears.

“What is happening?” asked barman John FitzGerald.

“I don’t know,” replied Mr. Barrett. “They are going to attack the procession. I cannot stop them!” and he rushed outside.

There was carnage on the street. Some thirty or forty men were attacking the marchers, laying about them indiscriminately with their pick staves. One man was in the gutter, senseless, and many more were bleeding from severe blows to the head. The banner was thrown down and the procession halted. For some reason the melee ceased and the two sides faced each other, the assailants threatening to deliver more of the same if the Orangemen did not at once disperse and abandon their march. One lone young constable, assisted by Detective Benjamin, intervened and attempted to restore peace. He strongly urged the Orangemen to disperse and avoid further trouble. It was not to be.

“No, we claim our rights!” shouted one young Orangeman, gesticulating furiously. “We demand protection, in the name of the Queen!” The marchers were by this time retiring up High Street towards Strange’s store and even then the fighting might have come to a halt. Then all of a sudden one of the rioters cried out;

“There he is! Let’s attack him!” The rioters rushed up High Street, laying about them furiously. Three men were under a verandah outside Lake’s shop by Strange’s and were attacked by a dozen club-wielding thugs, the pick staves being used in a straight-down manner that must have caused grievous injury. One man’s head was quickly reduced to a mass of blood and someone in the crowd screamed; “There’s murder being committed!”, at which the young Constable ran up and intervened, probably saving the men’s lives but in so doing he received some very rough handling. Just then Inspector Broham and a squad of Constables arrived, and peace was quickly restored.

The Police were under a severe strain, as their numbers had only the day before been reduced by a hundred men who had been sent to Timaru to provide reinforcements for the Police of that town. Ironically, their duty was to prevent an expected confrontation between Protestant marchers and Catholic objectors. Although the few regular Police and some specials were on hand, their numbers needed reinforcing quickly. Many people, Irish and non-Irish alike, sympathised with the Orangemen and there was angry talk. Crowds began to gather in High and Manchester Streets, and the Police warily awaited the train from Prebbleton with the returning picnickers. By 2:00 p.m. the Police had arrested four of the ringleaders of the riot and feelings were running high. At 2:30, under orders from the Licensing Commissioners, the Police closed the Borough Hotel. At 3:00 p.m. the Mayor, having addressed a hastily convened public meeting of concerned citizens, swore in a further four dozen Specials, increasing their number to 250. The picnickers, meanwhile, had arrived back and, gathering numbers of sympathisers en route, made their way to the Orange Hall where they were addressed by Mr. J W Anderson of the Prebbleton Hotel. Mr. Anderson spoke in most robust terms and denounced the attack as a most dastardly action. The crowd then dispersed, muttering, many of them in the direction of the Borough Hotel.

By this time there was a mob of between three and four thousand in the streets around the Hotel and their mood, although restrained at the time, had the potential to turn ugly. There were murmurings in the crowd and stones were thrown at the Hotel; every time a window was shattered there was a burst of cheering from the crowd. The Specials set up a cordon around the Hotel and, as the crowd was pushed back so the Police expanded their cordon. Several people were arrested for disorderly behaviour, stone throwing and resisting arrest. It was well known by the Police that the ringleaders and principal players in the riot were sheltering in the Hotel, and Detectives Benjamin and Neil entered the building, arresting rioters who had taken refuge within it and bringing them outside one by one. They were Walter Teague, Thomas Magner, Patrick Shannahan, Edward Murphy, Thomas Kelly, Charles Gawley, Michael Rock and John Mahoney. As each man was brought out and handed over to the uniformed men there was cheering from the crowd. Stephen Barrett, the son and heir of John Barrett, was arrested in Lyttelton the following day.

The crowds continued to swirl about the Hotel and larrikins were about the streets. There was singing and songs such as “The Union Jack of Old England” and, curiously, “John Brown’s Body” were sung with tipsy gusto. Again it looked as if more trouble might be brewing and at 10:10 p.m. that night the Mayor stood forth and addressed the crowd. He asked them to behave like good and loyal citizens and assured them that justice would be done; the Hotel would be closed until the New Year, at which there were cheers. Despite the Mayor’s soothing words, rowdy behaviour increased, at which the Specials were brought out to form a cordon in front of the Hotel. This seemed to have a calming effect on the assembled throngs and they began to disperse. By 1:00 a.m. on the Sunday morning all was quiet and the Specials were stood down.

That was by no means the end of things however. The authorities took a very dim view of this sort of behaviour and the Resident Magistrate’s Court was busy the next day. First before the bench was a whole array of people on charges ranging from riot and assault, causing an affray, riotous conduct, to obstructing Special Constables and window breaking. Those charged with riot and assault, the ringleaders of the attack, were remanded in custody for a later appearance before a Court of higher jurisdiction, while the Resident Magistrate dealt with the lesser charges summarily. Alexander Howden, charged with riotous conduct, was seen to be throwing stones and when arrested and searched was found to have an iron bar in his pocket. The accused, in defence, said that he just happened to have his hand behind his back when someone put a stone into it, which he then threw into the pond (derisory laughter): fined 60/-. Charles Sandeman, charged with stone throwing said that he merely threw a bit of gravel at a friend to attract his attention; he did not throw anything at the Hotel nor had he any intention of doing so; fined 60/-. John Smith had the grace to plead guilty to a charge of breaking a window. John O’Donell saw the accused pick up a stone and break a window. Accused “I beg your pardon, I didn’t throw at the windows. There was a lamp outside and I picked up a stone and banged at it!” (more derisive laughter); fined 60/-.

The cases of the men accused of riot and assault were more serious. They were tried before His Honour Mr. Justice Johnston at the Christchurch Supreme Court on 13th January 1880, and “if it had not pleased Providence to prevent your blows from being fatal, you, all of you, would have been guilty of murder”. His Honour, giving due weight to the many circumstances was inclined to be lenient. Hanley, Cuddihy, McAvey and Stephen Barrett were sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment with hard labour, the balance to 12 months with hard labour.

The repercussions for John Barrett were also serious. At the Annual Licensing Court of Tuesday 16th June 1880 his application for the renewal of his license was examined at some length and in considerable detail. Despite that the depositions of witnesses showed him to be unaware of the forthcoming riot, the fact that he could not have done anything to stop it once the affray had begun, and a 1,000 signature affidavit signed by some of the City’s most prominent citizens attesting to his capability as a hotelier, the presiding Magistrates were unmoved. Messrs G L Mellish Esq (chairman), R J S Harman and G L Lee Esqs, having heard the evidence, retired for twenty five minutes to consider their verdict and on returning were inclined to ask one question only; whether or not the license should be taken away absolutely from the House. Mr. Joynt, for the appellant argued that the former would be a grossly inappropriate decision as the House was a most valuable one and succeeded in getting the Bench, most begrudgingly, to allow Mr. Barrett a month from July 1st – about six weeks – in which to lease the house absolutely to someone else.

This verdict, in hindsight, was manifestly unjust and the punishment handed down extremely harsh. It imposed a very severe financial penalty on a man who was arguably innocent, and was, perhaps, at worst prepared to turn a blind eye to certain events. But the matter is now unable to be solved and there were other matters arising from various issues, for example the fact that many of the men involved in the riot had been employees of Barrett in his contracting venture, and it was then illegal for men to be paid at an Hotel. Certainly there were irregularities and at the Supreme Court hearing of the rioters the previous January Mr Justice Johnston remarked “It is probably since the licensed publican obtained his license that he has become a contractor. It is not my business to review the acts of the Licensing bench, but with this evidence before them, I believe that these gentlemen will hesitate to give this man his license again”. Everything was stacked against the lad from Roscommon. Mr. Barrett vacated his house and leased it to another.

Additional Information
Date of Birth 20th Jan 1836  
Date of Death 23rd Mar 1919  
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