Topic: William John Gray (1849-1930)

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William John Gray was one of the most respected and practical pioneers of Katikati. He was a quiet and dignified man, and also a leader of people. William Gray was a country engineer and builder. He was also involved with the establishment of the Uretara Domain and the first library in Katikati. Story researched and written by Debbie McCauley.

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In 1849 William John Gray was born in Moyadam, County Antrim, Ireland. 

William John Gray (1849-1930)

William married Margaret (Maggie) Johnston Vance in 1872 in Belfast, Ireland. Margaret was born in Ireland in 1847. On 17 August 1875 William and Margaret arrived in New Zealand with their son John (aged 1) aboard the Alumbagh.


The children of William John Gray:

  1. John J. P. Gray. Born in Belfast, County Antrim in 1873. He married Mary Agnes Callary in 1908. John died in Auckland in 1962. He was buried in the Katikati Cemetery.
  2. Ellen Vance Gray. Born in Auckland in 1875. She married William McNeil in 1906. Ellen died in Pukekohe in 1971. She is buried in Pukekohe.
  3. James Andrew Gray. Born in Newcastle (Ngaruawahia) in 1877. He married Eliza Earl in 1901. James died in Auckland in 1965. He is buried in Otahuhu.
  4. Alice Frances Gray. Born in Katikati in 1879. She married Henry Graham Lever in 1901. Alice died in Rotorua in 1966. She was cremated in Rotorua.
  5. Sara Stewart Gray. Born in Katikati in 1880. She married Frank Smith in 1899. Sara died in Katikati in 1967 and was buried in the Katikati Cemetery.
  6. Mary Simms Gray. Born in Katikati in 1882. She married Charles William Shepherd in 1901. Mary died in 1975 in Auckland and was buried in Purewa Cemetery.
  7. William Robert Gray. Born in Katikati in 1883. He married Edith Dicky in Te Puke in 1913. William died in 1975 in Te Puke and was buried in the Te Puke Cemetery.

List of buildiings:

  • c1896: 'Twickenham' - a retirement home for Mary 

Katikati Historian Ellen McCormack wrote the following piece on William John Gray in 2000. It was used as the forward to second facsimile edition (printed in 2000) of An Ulster Plantation by William's grandson, Arthur James Gray:

The early history of Katikati is alive with the most interesting personalities – major-generals, ministers, a captain, doctors, engineers and even a baroness graced the district. However, the most practical and respected man, with none of these titles, was William John Gray.

From the time of his arrival with his wife and young family in 1878 he took an active interest in all public matters. He promoted the Uretara Domain and the public library – the small building just inside the domain gates.

In 1884 he built the Anglican Church and achieved something of a reputation after locking the Bishop and congregation out of the new church on dedication day because he had not been paid for his work.

The flour mill was another of Gray’s ventures. It stood at the northern end of town where the Old Mill Store is today. He also built the first Post Office, Courthouse and Police Station and the Orange Hall, which stood at the end of Macmillan Street. The hall was the scene of many community festivities until 1954 when the Memorial Hall was built.

Gray was a great debater and played an important role on the Tauranga County Council for over 40 years as both councilor and engineer.

A glowing testimony, signed by more than 40 citizens, recording Gray’s ability and achievements, hangs in the Katikati library; it also requests Mrs Gray to accept the accompanying purse of sovereigns. Another honour bestowed on Gray was the planting of a puriri tree opposite the Presbyterian Church beside which a memorial plaque records yet again Gray’s great contribution to the district.

However, it is to one of Gray’s grandsons, Arthur James Gray, to whom we should be grateful today for the legacy of this important and illuminating source of information on the early days of Katikati district.

Margaret died, aged 73, on 16 December 1921 and was buried in Katikati Cemetery. William died, aged 81, on 27 April 1930, and was buried next to Margaret at Katikati Cemetery.

The grave of William John and Margaret Johnstone Gray at Katikati Cemetery

Gray's funeral was reported in the Bay of Plenty Times on 3 May 1930: 'On Tuesday last the late Mr W. J. Gray ws buried at the Katikati Cemetery. In spite of the atrocious weather, practically the whole of the district was represented at the funeral which was one of the largest ever seen at Katikati. The cortege was headed by Orangemen in full regalia, and the service at the graveside was conducted by Rev. Mr Bishop, and the Rev. Mr G. Palmer.'


How to cite this page: McCauley, Debbie (2012). William John Gray (1849-1930). Retrieved from (Tauranga Memories, last updated: *insert date*). In-text citation: (McCauley, 2012)

This page was archived at perma cc May 2017

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William John Gray (1849-1930)

First Names:William John
Last Name:Gray
Date of Birth:1849
Place of Birth:Moyadam, County Antrim
Country of birth:Ireland
Date of death:27 April 1930
Place of death:Katikati
Place of burial:Katikati Cemetery
Date of Arrival:17 August 1875
Name of the ship:Alumbagh
Date of sailing:9 May 1875
Place of settlement in Bay of Plenty:Katikati
Spouses name:Margaret (Maggie) Johnston Vance
Spouses date of birth:1847
Spouses date of death:16 December 1921
Spouses place of death:Katikati
Spouses place of burial:Katikati Cemetery
Spouses nationality:Irish
Date of marriage:1872
Place of marriage:Belfast, Ireland
Name of the children:William Robert Gray, John J P Gray, James Andrew Gray, Alice Frances Gray, Sara Stewart Gray, and Mary Simms Gray