From Kirkcaldy to New Zealand and the sound of wedding bells.
Updated: May 20, 2021
Our story on Law’s Close published earlier this month brought some interesting information from the other side of the world. In fact, it came from Tasmania!
It is a fascinating account of a Kirkcaldy lad’s journey from the “Lang Toun” to Auckland. It is the story of James Seath Jnr and we are grateful to his grandson, Alan J. Seath, who has provided much of the detail and the photographs used in this feature.
Our original story made mention of James Seath Snr, a master baker, who resided at 343 High Street Kirkcaldy. The article covered both his death in 1909, and sadly, also the death of his youngest son, Robert, aged only two.
William Balderston, who hailed from Falkirk, had moved to 343 High Street, Kirkcaldy, in 1838, opening a bakery there. The year 1838 was prior to the railway arriving in the town and Michael Nairn was still to open his first floorcloth factory. These two 1847 events signalled Kirkcaldy’s industrial boom. By 1851 the bakery employed 7 men with 3 being apprentices. It is believed that Balderston lived in the rear part of 343, with his shop housed in the front area facing onto the High Street. The bakery itself was contained in the outbuildings in the yard, probably those on the western side, where an oven can still be seen to this day.
James Seath Snr was born in 1851 and spent at least part of his childhood living at 375 High Street. By 1871 he is recorded as a baker. Possibly he trained under William Balderston at Law’s Close, which would have been only a few steps away along the High Street. When Balderston died in 1875 the property passed to his nephews, the sons of his sister. They were named Walker and in 1879 sold the whole property to James Seath.
The 1881 Census shows James and his wife Grace living at 343 High Street with four children. James is recorded as a master baker employing 2 men and 3 boys. By the time of the 1891 census there were eight children. They are listed as:
Alexander 16 years
Ritchie 14 years
Susan 13 years
Grace 11 years
James 8 years
Isabella 6 years
John 4 years
Robert 2 years
The 1901 Census shows the couple still living at Law’s Close with six of their children – Robert had sadly died shortly after the 1891 census and by 1901 Ritchie had moved out. Grace Seath died later that year.
Our story centres on James Jnr, who was born in 1883. James Jnr followed his father into the bakery trade, but by 1907 had departed these shores. Alan Seath recounts stories handed down from his grandfather through the generations. It would appear that young James was certainly mischievous – if not worse! It would seem that once his parents had put James to bed and the light was out it was not long before he would be out of bed and climbing out the window. Making use of the branch pipes he would make his way across to the downpipe which he would use to reach the ground. It appears he spent the whole night making a nuisance of himself, or causing trouble all around the town.
As morning approached he would head home, clamber up the drainpipe, back through the window and into bed - clearly his brothers and sisters must have been sworn to secrecy. It seems to have gone on for years without his parents ever finding out!
However, in 1907 James left Kirkcaldy and Scotland. Again, Alan recounts the reasons which have been handed down through the family. It seems that very good records have been maintained / researched as Alan can trace the family back to Kemback in Fife in 1595.
As we have seen young James was the source of much trouble, and as he grew older he became part of a gang. He was however not considered a “clean fighter” as he would use his feet to kick opponents in the groin area. It seems that this caused a number of individuals to decide to teach him a lesson by “beating the living daylights out of him”. James got wind of this, packed his bags and headed for Liverpool.
From there he caught a ship to New Zealand. Given that from Liverpool he could have travelled to Canada, the USA, or South Africa, what made him choose New Zealand? Could it have been the fact that the ship was named “Fifeshire” – a good omen? There is however another possible motive and we will look at that later.
James did not pay for his journey, being a baker he worked his passage. He landed in Wellington on the 27th May 1907 (New Zealand National Archives Arrival Records). He took the train 400 miles north and settled in Auckland. As Alan says – “he did not migrate – more he was chased out of Kirkcaldy.”
Let us now look at the other possibility as to why James made his way to Auckland.
The 1901 Census also discloses Andrew and Jean Lornie living at 1 Lady Helen Street Kirkcaldy. The couple have eight children ranging from aged 19 down to 1. The important figure in this family is the only daughter, Mary Murray Lornie, who was aged 15 at the time. Andrew and his two eldest boys are listed as house painters. Mary is employed as a shop assistant.
In 1908 the Lornie family emigrated to Auckland in New Zealand. We have not attempted to verify which of the children accompanied their parents, but most certainly Mary did. It is impossible to be categorical as to whether the families knew each other in Kirkcaldy. However, given that James had the pick of destinations when he left Liverpool, the fact that he chose Auckland does point to him having prior knowledge of the Lornie’s intentions.
On the 18th October 1910, James Seath married Mary Murray Lornie in Auckland. They went on to have 8 children which included Alan’s father, who also carried the same name.
In 1919 they had a major change of direction, selling the bakery and purchasing a large farm near Hamilton which they renamed “Raith Park”. Alan believes that this change was motivated by Mary’s parents having made a similar decision some years previously. “Raith Park” was indeed adjacent to that of the Lornies.
From the information given, we tend to favour James being aware of the Lornie’s intentions. It is difficult to think why else he would choose Auckland.
Alan also tells us that a New Zealand cousin built a yacht which he named “Raith Rover”.
We did a little research on James Seath’s elder brothers. The eldest, Alexander Seath, inherited the bakery from his father. He sold it to a David Penman in 1923 and Penman in turn sold it on in 1930. Alexander died in Thornton in 1934 - his occupation was given as a hotelier. Ritchie Seath also remained in Fife and lived in Aberdour. He died in Edinburgh at the ripe old age of 82.
We are delighted to be able to enhance our story with these interesting and informative details and attach photographs of the parents – James and Grace Seath, together with one of young James. The photo of James Jnr dates from 1902. The other photographs show the remaining oven and the portion of the property where the Seaths are thought to have lived.
Our sincere thanks to Alan J. Seath, and The Scottish Historic Buildings Trust for alerting us to a marriage possibly born in Kirkcaldy but which flowered in New Zealand.