New Zealand to Holbeck -a family mystery solved

There seem to have been several families from Holbeck who went to New Zealand  & here is  another family’s tale of mystery & scandal!!

The Friends of Holbeck conduct an annual Remembrance Walk every November as we have 86 Commonwealth  War graves & many private family memorials commenerating those who fought and were killed in both World wars. On these walks we noticed one intriguing CWGC  grave which was to H(arold) K(irby) Banks of New Zealand,who died 29th September 1918 . The Commonwealth War Graves Commission informed us that he was son of the late Kirby & Margaret Ellen Banks of Beeston Hill, Leeds, husband of Edith Margaret Banks of Trinity Grove , Bridlington. So why was he in the New Zealand Employment Company ?

The 1881 census tells us that  his father, who was living at 4 Coupland Street ,Hunslet, was a Bolt & Screw Manufacturer, aged 46 years old and was employing 22 men & 32 boys .There were two other  sons in the family besides Harold , they were  Edward & Walter.We do know that Walter N Banks who  worked for his father before later setting up his own business of Banks & Moore , litho printers & we know that he died on 6th July 1916 at Newhall Camp Silkstone , where he had been an accountant for the Army Service Corp. As of yet we know no more about Edward.

But back to Harold Kirby Banks, the youngest son.Someone contacted The Friends of Holbeck Cemetery asking if we knew where Harold’s  grave was and could we possibly send a photo of it , as it was his grandfather’s grave.We asked if he had any information that we could share on our Remembrance Walk and this is his story

My father died when I was young , he never spoke of his father ( the following may explain why)so all my research has been from scratch.

Harold Kirby Banks was born in Leeds on 17th December 1876. On the 16th November 1904 he left England with his wife, Edith, and two young sons for New Zealand . Two more sons were born over there ( one of them my father) before the whole family returned to England in December 1906. In 1907 Harold Kirby returned alone to New Zealand ( leaving Edith pregnant with a daughter ) At some stage he became a New Zealand citizen

In 1913 he married again , saying he was a bachelor, and a few months later he returned to England leaving his new wife pregnant.

In 1914 Harold Kirby enlisted in the army in London as part of the New Zealand Defence Force. He served in Egypt and France and was injured during training and from 1916 was back in England before been declared unfit for service in January 1918. ( by the way in his personal army records both wives are shown)

He re-united with his first wife, Edith, at some stage . Up  to the point of his death, and even possibly after , Edith never knew about the other wife.”

Our contact then goes on to say,”This tale has  a very strange twist because in 2006, before I knew any of this, I went to New  Zealand and was based in a small town called Raglan. The person I stayed with later turned out to be a distant relative and Raglan was the same town where the NZ branch of Harold Kirby Bank’s family had lived in for two generations.” 

The Friends have other contacts in New Zealand and one of our members, Maxine,  who lives there and works as an archivist  in a library, found out even more about Harold. She discovered that Harold’s  wife was called Kathleen Margaret who had had a son called Brian Somerset Banks. She also discovered references to Harold Kirby Banks through old newspapers. The Evening Post 13th December 1910 carries the following article :-

Gisborne, This Day- Harold Kirby Banks, canvasser for the International Investment Co, Auckland was before the Police Court today charged with receiving £22 and 10 shillings & fraudulently omitting to account for same. Accused was remanded to appear at Auckland . Bail was fixed at £50 with one surety of £100.

Kathleen’s father, Major John Brown Somerset,  seems to have been a bit of a character too. Several newspapers of the time mention him concerning his charge of embezzlement whilst working at Raglan County Council .

NOTE: Maxine comments,” It wasn’t unusual for bigamist marriages to take place in New Zealand in the early days and it is often thought that well-to-do English familes sent their errant sons to the colonies to avoid scandal- these were known as remittance men – the gold rush also brought some ‘colourful’ types to the New Zealand shores and its amazing how many ‘ratbags’ ended  up as ‘Pillars of Society’.

FOHC were able to download  Harold Kirby Bank’s war records , which are free online through the National Archives  on and yes, his two  wives are there! Also interestly he was declared unfit for service in January 1918 but died IN service on 29/09/1918


About holbeckcemetery

We're a Friends group looking after a beautiful Victorian cemetery
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.