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Dueling administrators

Oh, the tales the court records tell…

OHanlonAnd it doesn’t really matters whose court records or where or why… there is always a story to be told.

For some reason, The Legal Genealogist ended up poking around in records of the New Plymouth Court last night.

No, not Plymouth. As in Massachusetts or Ohio.

New Plymouth.

As in New Zealand.

Yes, I am going back there — I’ll be speaking at the 50th anniversary celebration of the New Zealand Society of Genealogists in Auckland 2-5 June.

And that made me take a look, again, at those records.1

Because, in those court records, just as in court records everywhere, there is always a story to be told.

Case in point: the story of the O’Hanlon family, where the mama wasn’t happy — and it ended in a family feud.

Rose Anna O’Hanlon, resident at Hawera in the Provincial District of Taranaki, a hotelkeeper, died at New Plymouth on the 24th of May 1884. Her widower, Charles Patrick O’Hanlon, reported the death2 and — since Rose didn’t leave a will — asked to be given letters of administration on her estate.3

Pretty straight-forward, right? Married woman dies, husband takes over.

Um… not so fast.

On the same day that Charles went in to take over his wife’s estate, in came Mary Elizabeth O’Hanlon, Rose’s oldest daughter and next of kin, who was, she said, the only one of Rose’s children who was over age 21. She made her own request to be given the right to administer her mother’s estate.4

In particular, she didn’t want Charles Patrick O’Hanlon to touch a thing. He didn’t have a right to it, she said, because, in January 1882, her mother had gone to court and obtained an order protecting her property and earnings from her husband:

previous to the twenty second day of April one thousand eight hundred and eighty one she the said Rose Anna O’Hanlon had been subject to cruelty by her said husband without adultery, and that her said husband had habitually failed to provide a maintenance for his said wife and children without such failure being covered by sickness of other unavoidable cause.5

As a result, the court had entered the relief she wanted:

It is hereby by virtue of the provisions of the Married Womans Property protection Act 1880 Adjudged and ordered that the earnings and property of the said Rose Anna O’Hanlon acquired since the twenty second day of April one thousand eight hundred and eighty one shall be protected against her husband the said Charles Patrick O’Hanlon and all Creditors and persons claiming under him.6

Mary Elizabeth said everything Rose had when she died, she’d acquired after getting the court order and living separately from Charles — so nothing, no power of administration, and not one penny, should go to Charles.7

The probate court went along with Mary Elizabeth. Letters of administration “limited to such personal property as the deceased had acquired or become possessed of since the 22nd April 1881 (being the date from which a Protection Order granted to Deceased took effect) (were) granted to Mary Elizabeth O’Hanlon, Eldest daughter & next of kin of deceased.”8

Now… that’s a pretty good story all by itself. But the story of the law itself that Rose used to protect herself is a good one too.

New Zealand was among the first areas of the British Empire to give married women some protection over their own property. The first act, passed in 1860, focused on protection of women who had been deserted by their husbands and allowed the local courts to “make and give to the wife an order protecting her earnings and property acquired since the commencement of such desertion from her husband, and all creditors and persons claiming under him.”9

Its provisions were continued in 1870 and 1880,10 but the 1880 act — the one that Rose acted under — expanded protection to women in any of the following cases:

(1) Where she is deserted by her husband without reasonable cause (2) When she is subjected by her husband to cruelty without adultery (3) Where her husband is guilty of living in open adultery (4) Where her husband is guilty of habitual drunkenness (5) Where her husband habitually fails to provide a maintenance for his wife and children without such failure being caused by sickness or other unavoidable cause.11

Then by the act of 1884, effective 1 January 1885, married women in New Zealand were given the same right to own and acquire property — real and personal — as single women were given.12

I will add, for the record, that New Zealand was a bit behind parts of the United States in protecting women’s property — the first married women’s property act here was in the Territory of Arkansas in 183513, even though it was a bit ahead of the U.S. in granting women the right to vote — in 1893 in NZ14 compared to 1920 generally in the U.S.15

Oh, and there’s one more tidbit to the O’Hanlon story… Mary Elizabeth wasn’t Charles and Rose’s only child. She was just the only child who was of age by 1884. It sure looks like they also had at least one son… another Charles O’Hanlon… who emigrated to the United States.16

Yes indeed… the tales the court records tell…


  1. This post is a reprise of an earlier look at the O’Hanlon story. See Judy G. Russell, “The case of the family feud,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 5 Nov 2015 ( : accessed 23 May 2017).
  2. District Court of Taranaki, New Plymouth, In re Rose Anna O’Hanlon, No. 146 (1884); Affidavit of Death, Charles Patrick O’Hanlon, 2 June 1884; digital images, “New Zealand, Archives New Zealand, Probate Records, 1843-1998,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 23 May 2017).
  3. Ibid., application for letters of administration, 2 June 1884.
  4. Ibid., Charles Patrick O’Hanlon, application of Mary Elizabeth O’Hanlon, 2 June 1884.
  5. Ibid., application of Mary Elizabeth O’Hanlon, 2 June 1884; attachment A, Resident Magistrates Court of Upper Wanganui, New Zealand; Order, In re Married Womans Property protection Act 1880, Rose Anna O’Hanlon (12 Jan 1882).
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid., application of Mary Elizabeth O’Hanlon, 2 June 1884.
  8. Ibid., Motion paper, 4 June 1884.
  9. §2, “Married Women’s Property Protection Act, 1860,” Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, 30 March 1861, p.4; digital image, National Library of New Zealand, Papers Past ( : accessed 24 May 2017).
  10. See Bettina Bradbury, “Colonial Comparisons: Rethinking Marriage, Civilization and Nation in Nineteenth-Century White Settler Societies,” in Phillip Buckner & R. Douglas Francis, eds., Rediscovering the British World (Calgary, Alberta : University of Calgary Press, 2005), 151.
  11. §3, “Married Women’s Property Protection Act, 1880,” in William Badger, ed., Statutes of New Zealand … 1842-1892, 4 vols. (Christchurch, NZ : p.p., 1892), I:427; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 23 May 2017).
  12. Ibid., “Married Women’s Property Act, 1884,” in Badger, ed., Statutes of New Zealand, I:423.
  13. “An Act to secure the property of Females,” 2 November 1835, in Acts … of the Ninth Session of the General Assembly of the Territory of Arkansas … 1835 (Little Rock : Smith & Reed, Territorial Printers, 1835), 34-35; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 23 May 2017).
  14. See “Women and the vote: Suffrage and beyond,” New Zealand History ( : accessed 23 May 2017).
  15. Most U.S. women only got the right to vote in 1920 when the 19th amendment took effect. See generally “19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Women’s Right to Vote (1920),” Our Documents, U.S. National Archives, ( : accessed 23 May 2017).
  16. See “U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007,” entry for Charles Patrick (Charles James) O’Hanlon, ( : accessed 23 May 2017).
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