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Josiah Keys of Donemana; Philadelphia; Cuba; New Zealand

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Josiah Keys of Donemana; Philadelphia; Cuba; New Zealand
Extract from “The Evening Post” New Zealand

Transcribed & Submitted by Len Swindley

Monday July 29 1929



It does not fall to the lot of many districts to join in the celebration of the hundredth birthday of one of their most esteemed residents, but tomorrow (Tuesday) residents of Toiro and district, and many from Balclutha, will join in celebrating the reaching of a century by MR JOSIAH KEYS, who now resides with his daughter-in-law MRS WM. KEYS, of Toiro. At night a big social is to be held in honour of the occasion and during the day Mr Keys will receive many visitors who will extend congratulations to him. He will also be the recipient of a presentation from the members of the Clutha County Council, of which body he was at one time a member.

Although the lengthened years have had their effect on Mr Keys he is still in full possession of all his faculties, and it is not very long ago he was in Balclutha looking into some of his business affairs. He has a most retentive memory and friends spend many a pleasant hour listening to his stories of the “days gone by”.

The subject of this sketch has had a most varied career. The son of a farmer, he was born July 30th 1829, in an ancient little postal town called Donemana, Co. Tyrone, Ireland, about nine miles from Londonderry. He received his education in the church school, and a great deal of it at home, his father being a well read man. From the time he was able to read, one of Josiah’s early tasks was to read ten chapters from “The Good Book”; on Sundays it was doubled. It is interesting to note here that MR KEYS, SENIOR, and a man named McFARLANE were the founders of the Presbyterian Church in Donemana.

On reaching his 17th year, Josiah left school, and on April 19, 1847 – 82 years ago, he took passage on the Clipper “Montezuma” for America. His passage was an eventful one, the chief features being particularly rough weather and an outbreak of Typhoid Fever. However, New York was finally reached, and Mr Keys went to an uncle in Philadelphia, and was apprenticed to the engineering trade. At 21 he was made a gang boss for P. MORRIS & CO., Port Richmond. Later he was promoted to foreman and remained in his employ until 1862 when he went to Cuba and remained there for some years. His native land called him, and he paid a visit to his relatives in Ireland. Three months sufficed him and he returned to Cuba. He found that many changes has taken place in his absence and the country was in a state of civil war, and many and varied are the stories he has to tell of the happenings during that period. He stayed two years on this occasion, being in charge of the Guantanamo railway workshops. His next place of residence was Santa Rosa, and it was here that he commenced a new system of rum-making, which proved very successful. He finally left Cuba in 1870.

After idling about for a couple of years he returned to Londonderry and commenced working for the Irish North Western Railway. It was at this period that Gladstone dis-established the Irish Church, and the rector at Donemana, being unable to find a curate, Mr Keys leased the manse property, which belonged to the Duke of Abercorn. Later he purchased 30 acres adjoining, and lived there for some eight years with success.

A son of MR KEYS (WILLIAM), now deceased, had come to New Zealand in 1877 and being pleased with the prospects he wrote asking his father to come out to the colony. Mr Keys decided to make the change and selling out for 500, he took passage on the ship “Nelson” and arrived in New Zealand on Christmas Day, 1880 – 49 years ago. He took up a selection of 500 acres in the Southland district, but ill-health in the family forced him to give up and he finally settled at Toiro. The railway station there is right in the centre of his old farm. When the Carterhouse Estate was broken up he secured 221 acres, and leased the original farm to his son. He built a new house on his new selection, but owing to the death of his wife (3.10.1899), he gave the place up and shifted the building into Balclutha. Here he lived till a few years ago, when owing to declining years he went to live with his daughter-in-law in Toiro.

For a man of his years Mr Keys has a really wonderful memory, His stories of the great potato famine in Ireland and the American Civil War are most vivid. He has a clear recollection of Abraham Lincoln being elected President of America, and can speak of many things which he has actually seen and which the present day generation know about only through the history books. It is interesting to record that Mr Keys has lived through the reign of six monarchs. Born 1829 in the last year of George IV’s reign, he has survived through the reign of William IV, Queen Victoria (the longest reign in British History) Edward VII, and 19 years of the reign of George V. Truly he is a remarkable old man, and the heartiest congratulations of all will be extended to him on attaining his century.



It being the custom of the King to congratulate any of his Majesty’s representatives who attain the age of 100 years, the Governor-General (Sir Charles Ferguson), as his Majesty’s representative, has written a letter to Mr Keys congratulating him on his achievement. Letters of congratulation have also been sent by the Prime Minister (Sir Joseph Ward) and the Rt. Hon. J.G. Coates. Tomorrow afternoon representatives of the Clutha Presbytery, Balclutha Presbyterian Church and Clutha County Council will visit Mr Keys and congratulate him. The Mayor of Balclutha (Mr S.V. White) also intends to visit him.




Mr Josiah Keys’ Achievement


To emulate the achievement of his grandfather and himself reach his hundredth year, and to have a countable ancestor who was in the Seige of Derry in 1689, is something to be really proud of. This honour has fallen to MR JOSIAH KEYS of Toiro. Even his father reached the goodly age of 86 years. But it is a remarkable achievement when it is known that for the past fifty years Mr Keys has had the use of only one eye, having lost the sight of the other as a result of sugar refining operations in Cuba. Yet with the aid of an eyeglass Mr Keys can still read a library book of the average size print. Though his voice is getting feebler and his legs have weakened a good deal during the past twelve months, causing him to use two sticks to walk with now, he is still able to get about. His digestion is, however still good, though he has not had a tooth since he was eighty. Nevertheless, he enjoys his meals, and quite recently at a social in his honour, partook of a hearty supper of saveloys (a highly seasoned dried sausage), green peas and potatoes. Yesterday was his day of achievement, and all day long he was the recipient of hearty congratulations from his numerous friends far and near. Altogether he received forty-two telegrams.


Information from death certificate and elsewhere:

JOSIAH KEYS, born 1829 Donemana, Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland. Parents: JOSEPH KEYS, farmer, and unknown CRAIG. Married ISABELLA ALEXANDER at Philadelphia, 1852, parents: JAMES ALEXANDER and MARY (nee MITCHELL). Died March 2 1933, aged 103 years at Toiro, New Zealand

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