Topic: John Cairncross (1876-1917)

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Scottish couple John and Agnes Cairncross (nee Thomson) arrived in New Zealand on 18 July 1904 and later made their way to Tauranga. On 28 February 1917 John was killed in action at Messines in Belgium whilst serving during World War I. Story by Debbie McCauley.

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John Cairncross was born in Langholm, Dumfriesshire, Scotland on 25 November 1876. He was the eldest son of James and Grace Cairncross (nee Irving) who married at Gretna in Scotland on 6 January 1872. James was an aerated water manufacturer of Hawick.

On 12 July 1901 John married Agnes Beck Thomson at Wilton in Roxburghshire, Scotland. Agnes was the daughter of Adam and Agnes Thomson. John was employed in the furnishing department of Hawick Co-operative Society.

John and Agnes arrived in Wellington, New Zealand, on board the 'Ionic' on 18 July 1904. The 1905-1906 New Zealand Electoral Roll lists Agnes living in Sheehan Street in Auckland.

John and Agnes are both listed on the District Electors' Roll for the Borough of Tauranga in 1913. John worked as a motorman and carpenter, rowed in his spare time, and was also part of the Tauranga Chamber of Commerce.

In 1914 John underwent a 'serious' operation in Auckland Hospital as reported in the Bay of Plenty Times. His 1916 war enlistment record mentions an appendix scar so this is likely the operation that took place in Auckland.

By 1916 John seems to have been working for Geraghty & Williams at their Te Kopua Flax Mill at Broad’s Bend on the western bank of the lower Kaituna River near Te Puke [Richard Henry Williams was killed at the Somme in 1918 whilst fighting during World War I and James Geraghty and family moved to Australia].

On 3 April 1916 John enlisted at Trentham to serve during World War I (Service No. 15871). He served as a rifleman with the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, 3rd Battalion.

Rifleman John Cairncross was killed in action at Messines in Belgium on 28 February 1917, aged 41. He was buried in the Berks Cemetery Extension at Comines-Warneton, Hainaut, Belgium (Grave Reference: I. L. 12.).

John Cairncross (1877-1917)

It is uncertain as to when Agnes returned to Scotland, but she died at Portobello in Edinburgh on 26 September 1922. The Scotland National Probate Index records:

CAIRNCROSS, Agnes Beck Thomson or, 6 Wilton Hill, Hawick, died 26 September 1922 at Portobello, testate. Confirmation Jedburgh, 2 November to Margaret Wilson Thomson, 1 Teviot Crescent, Hawick, Executrix. Will dates 27 March recorded Jedburgh 2 November 1922. Value of Estate, £113:10:2.

John's medals were sent to his maternal aunt, Agnes's Margaret Wilson Thomson (c1864-?), at Hawick in Roxburghshire, Scotland.


References: 1905-1906 New Zealand Electoral Roll. Scotland, National Probate Index (Calendar of Confirmations and Inventories), 1876-1936.

Archives New Zealand: Military Personnel File.

Auckland War Memorial Museum: Cenotaph Record.

Bay of Plenty Times (1914, September 3, p. 2): Local and General.

Births, Deaths and Marriages Online (New Zealand).

Robertson, Derek (editor) (2014). Hawick and the War 1914-1918: A Pictorial Record (p. 143) via Hawick & the Great War.

Tauranga City Libraries, Research Collections: District Electors' Roll, Borough of Tauranga, 1913.


A version of this article was archived in August 2016 at Perma CC

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John Cairncross (1876-1917)

Note:Service Number: 15871
First Names:John
Last Name:Cairncross
Date of Birth:25 November 1876
Place of Birth:Langholm, Dumfriesshire
Country of birth:Scotland
Date of death:28 February 1917
Place of death:Messines, Belgium
Place of burial:Berks Cemetery Extension, Comines-Warneton, Hainaut, Belgium
Occupation:motorman and carpenter
Date of Arrival:18 July 1904
Name of the ship:Ionic
Port of arrival:Wellington
Spouses name:Agnes Beck Thomson
Spouses date of birth:4 March 1861
Spouses place of birth:Hawick, Roxburghshire, Scotland
Spouses date of death:26 September 1922
Spouses place of death:Portobello, Edinburgh, Scotland
Spouses place of burial:Scotland
Date of marriage:12 July 1901
Place of marriage:Wilton, Roxburghshire, Scotland
Fathers name:James Cairncross
Fathers date of birth:1849
Fathers place of birth:Selkirk, Selkirkshire, Scotland
Fathers date of death:4 April 1927
Fathers place of death:Hawick, Roxburghshire, Scotland
Mothers name:Grace Irving
Mothers date of birth:c1848
Mothers place of birth:Yorkshire, England
Mothers date of death:8 October 1922
Mothers place of death:Hawick, Roxburghshire, Scotland
Military Service:World War I (1914-1918)