The Dalys of New Caledonia

Published in Issue 1 (January/February 2019), News, Volume 27

By Helen Litton

The Daly family of Limerick is noted in Irish history for having produced the Fenian John Daly, his nephew Edward, commandant of the Four Courts during the Easter Rising, and his niece Kathleen, who married Tom Clarke and went into politics after the execution of her husband and brother. However, two other members of this family link Ireland with New Caledonia, the Pacific archipelago, which has just voted in a referendum to maintain its position as a French colony.

James Daly, born in Limerick in 1832, left in 1850 for the gold-fields of Australia. He married Honora MacMahon from County Clare in 1857, and in 1862 the couple moved to New Caledonia with friends who had obtained land grants from the French government. These land grants were made at the expense of the indigenous population, referred to as ‘Kanaks’, who had been moved to the interior of the main island and to other smaller islands.

The immigrants started farming but did not prosper, being unfamiliar with the land and the climate. In 1864 James began to produce butter on lands at Nianouni, and the reputation of ‘la beurre Daly’ spread through the colony, which now consisted of just over 1,000 Europeans. James and Honora had eight children between 1858 and 1865, and it is mainly their descendants who represent the French-speaking Daly family in New Caledonia today. James seems to have been restless, and left Nianouni to take over a ship journeying between Fiji, Australia and New Zealand. Honora strongly opposed the sale of Nianouni, and they attacked one another in a series of newspaper advertisements.

In 1878 James leased 1,000 hectares near Cap Goulvain, but a revolt by the indigenous population caused the family to move to the capital, Nouméa, where James managed a popular bar at the Hotel du Quai. He had a liaison with a bar employee, Mary Nevin from Australia; she bore him a son, who was christened Denis Bradlaught Daly. Honora died on 26 February 1893, aged 65. James sold up everything for 12,000 francs and left for Australia. Hearing in 1894 that his younger brother Edward had died in Limerick, leaving a pregnant widow, Catherine, and eight daughters, James returned to Ireland and provided a home and financial support for the whole family, including his sister Laura and his mother Margaret (Hayes).

Above: Michael Daly with his fourth wife, Louise Stauffer, holding the first of their nine children, Louise, born in 1906; Eileen, his only child from his previous marriage; and a ‘Kanaka’ tribesman. Daly had sixteen children in all, the last in 1918, when he was 76. (Daly family)

Another brother, John, who spent twelve years in prison for Fenian activities, was released in 1896. James took him to Paris, staying with some of James’s family, so that John could recover his strength before returning triumphantly to Limerick. James, however, was a constitutional nationalist, strongly opposed to John’s Fenianism, and after many quarrels James went back to Nouméa in 1898, dying in 1900 at the age of 68.

A fourth Daly brother, Michael, arrived in Sydney in 1862. In 1865 he also moved to New Caledonia and joined a mining concession at Mont Dore. He became a ship’s captain, navigating around the islands and importing fresh fruit and vegetables from Australia. In 1878, during the indigenous revolt, he evacuated colonists who were in danger. His real passion was horses, and he was a pioneer in developing horse-breeding in New Caledonia. In 1913 he was made Chevalier de Mérite Agricole for having introduced pure-blooded horses to the islands. He is reputed to have run through three fortunes.

Michael married four times and ultimately had sixteen children, the last born in 1918 when he was 76. His first wife (1878), Maryanne Hayes from Australia, with whom he had two children, died in 1882, and in 1885 he married Marie Gustin. They had four children, but Marie died in 1903. His next wife was Louise Tao, born in 1879 in Vanuatu, who had one child and lived until 1924. The couple must have divorced, however, as in 1905 Michael married Louise Stauffer from Switzerland. They had nine children. Michael died in Sydney on 9 August 1921, aged 79, and his descendants now live mainly in Australia.

Both lines of descent from these two brothers remember their Irish links proudly, and Dalys from New Caledonia still visit Limerick from time to time, keeping the contacts alive.

Helen Litton is the author of Sixteen Lives: Edward Daly and Thomas Clarke (O’Brien Press, 2013 & 2014).

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