Page 1: Biography
Larkin, William John
Priest, Irish nationalist, newspaper proprietor
This biography, written by Neil Vaney, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.
William John Larkin (frequently called Larkins in newspaper accounts) is said have been born in Galway, Ireland; the date of his birth and his parents' names are unknown. A supposed relationship to Michael Larkin, one of the three Fenians hanged at the New Bailey prison, Salford, Manchester, England, on 23 November 1867, has never been established. He was trained at Maynooth seminary, near Dublin, and matriculated in theology in August 1856. In 1860 he was ordained a priest for the diocese of Clonfert and worked as a curate in Eyrecourt in 1860 and 1861. He departed for Australia on the Prince Consort in 1862, as chaplain for the Queensland Immigration Society.
In 1866 Larkin arrived in Wellington in response to Bishop P. J. Viard's request for priests to work among the Irish goldminers of Otago and the West Coast. He was appointed to Hokitika in February 1867, but his strongly voiced support for Irish political grievances soon drew him into disputes with other local Irish clergy. In an effort to resolve this feuding, Viard appointed him to the sole curacy of Waimea in June 1867 and gave him oversight of an outpost church at Staffordtown.
Two incidents brought him to national notice. From October 1867 until August 1868 he and another Irish immigrant, John Manning, were proprietors of a partisan weekly newspaper entitled the New Zealand Celt. As part of its fervid espousal of Irish nationalism, it supported the funeral processions and prayer services in memory of the Manchester Martyrs, held at the strongly Irish settlements of Charleston, Hokitika and Addisons Flat in early 1868. Not long after these demonstrations, news arrived in the colony of the attempted murder of Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, in Sydney. The would-be assassin was an Irishman, named Henry James O'Farrell, who was suspected of having Fenian sympathies. A bitter war of words between the New Zealand Celt and the Hokitika West Coast Times led to the arrest on 27 March of Larkin, Manning and five other organisers of the nationalist processions.
Both Larkin and Manning were found guilty on charges of seditious libel on 20 May in a state trial presided over by Judge C. W. Richmond in Hokitika. As they had pleaded guilty, they were given lenient sentences of a month's gaol each. The defence was conducted by R. D. Ireland. Irish miners had raised almost £1,500 in just five weeks in order to bring him over from Australia for the trial.
Larkin had been suspended from his priestly duties by Bishop Viard. After his release from gaol, he stayed on in Greymouth until the end of the year before moving to Dunedin. In 1870 he was appointed to Oamaru, and then moved to Tuapeka, where he was parish priest from 1871 until 1877. He returned to Dunedin and was given an honourable discharge from the diocese in 1879.
By 1885 he was working in the diocese of Chicago in the United States. He was then a chaplain in Fort Lewis, Colorado; this is the last heard of him. Larkin was always a colourful and popular priest. The trouble which arose during his ministry in New Zealand highlighted the intensity of nationalism among small groups of Irish colonists. It also revealed the persistence of prejudice against the Irish among some English migrants.