Thomas Poynton was born at Carranstown Ballivor in 1802. Having worded as a thresher/reaper he and fourteen others were caught up in some local unrest possibly Whiteboy activity. They were tried, convicted, and transported from Cork to New South Wales for seven years. convicted in 1822 and sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia. A seven year sentence was handed out for relatively minor crimes such as stealing two pigs or assault. Aged twenty he arrived in Sydney aboard the ship “The Countess of Harcourt”.
Other Meath convicts travelled with him. Poyntyon received a Ticket of Leave which allowed convicts to work for themselves provided that they remained in a specified area, reported regularly to local authorities and attended divine worship every Sunday, if possible. They could not leave the colony. If they were of good behavior they got their certificate of freedom usually after their sentence was served. A certificate of freedom was issued at the completion of a convict’s sentence, as proof he/she was a free person. They were free to travel anywhere, and could return to the United Kingdom (if they could afford it!).
After receiving his ticket-of-freedom 17 July 1829, he married Mary Kennedy, of Irish born parents in Sydney. Thomas Poynton left in 1828 for Hokianga, New Zealand, to begin trading in timber. Mary was horrified when the first thing she saw when she landed was a woman’s head on a pole. Their first daughter, known by her married name – Mrs McDonald – was the first European child born in New Zealand and died in 1902.
The Poyntons bred cattle and milled timber on the Mangamuka River. They got on well with the Methodist missionaries who worked locally. The Poyntons farmed 4,450 acres and regularly travelled back and forth to Sydney, Australia where they had their children baptized in the Catholic faith. Poynton’s wife took her first two children on a journey of over two thousand miles of ocean to be baptized at Sydney. There would have been two or three vessels going to Australia every week but it was still a major journey. Hearing in 1835 of the arrival of Bishop Polding in Sydney, Poynton went to see if the services of a priest could be obtained for the Catholics, about 20 in number, in the Hokianga district. A friend of Poynton’s, Thomas Cassidy, also a native of Meath wished to marry the daughter of a Maori chief but would not do so unless they she had been baptised into the Catholic faith. In 1835, Thomas Cassidy of Waima took his partner, Maraea Kuri, to Sydney so that they could be married and have their first baby baptised. Poynton went to Australia to witness the marriage. Years later Cassidy was killed by his wife for his continual drinking and womanising.
Bishop Polding sent Poynton’s request to Rome. The Pope dispatched Bishop Pompallier to this new territory.
When Bishop Pompallier arrived at Totara Point in the Hokianga in January 1838, he celebrated the first Mass in the living-room of the four-roomed cottage belonging to the Poyntons. Hearing that the Bishop along with a priest and a brother had arrived in the Bay of Islands three days earlier, as many Hokianga Catholics as possible squeezed into the small room for Mass. Others, outside, joined in prayer through the open windows. Following the Mass, the Poynton’s baby daughter, Catherine, became the first baby in New Zealand to be baptised by a Catholic priest. A week later when the Poynton’s son, Edward, suddenly died, he became the first Catholic in the country to receive a Church burial.
The Methodist missionaries operating among the Maoiri people considered the Bishop’s arrival as an intrusion into their territory and organised a group of thirty native warriors to appear before Poynton’s house on the morning of January 22nd, while the bishop was preparing to say Mass. The Maori chief made a speech saying the bishops and his companions had been sent by a foreign chief (the Pope) to deprive the Maoris of their land and make them change their old customs. Bishop Pompallier replied that he had come as a friend and did not wish to deprive them of their country or anything belonging to them. One old story has Poynton calling up natives loyal to him to repulse the other tribe and also repulse the Methodists!
The Poynton family lived through a period of unrest by the native Maoiri but seem to have got on well with their native neighbours. They lived in the area where the Treaty of Waitaingi was signed between the Maoiri and the British. One Maoiri chieftain Heke said the treaty was not being abided to and cut down the Brtish flag and this led to a short war. Poynton used to boast that he drove cattle through Heke’s fortress to the troops on the other side so that they would have food. The Maoiris allowed this as they did not think it was correct for their enemies to be without food.
The Poynton family moved to Auckland, becoming pillars of society. Poynton was a great supporter of Home Rule for Ireland and he followed the story closely. In 1889 the leader of the Irish Home Rule party, John Dillon, visited Australia and New Zealand and he was given a great welcome by Thomas Poynton who great appreciated the visit.
Mary Poynton died in October 1890 at the age of 79. Poynton lived on until 1890 when he was ninety and ended his days at Takapuna, near Auckland. They are buried side by side in this cemetery.
In 1954 Archbishop Liston of Auckland unveiled a plaque marking the site where the family home once stood in Carranstown. At the time the Poynton family were still in the area living at Ballyhealy, Delvin and Cloneycavan. In 2008 the bishop of Meath, Dr. Michael Smith, visited Poynton’s grave in New Zealand.