The Riley name

My name is Carole Gillian Riley. My father’s surname is also Riley, as is that of my five brothers and sisters. My Dad’s father was William (Bill) Riley, and his father was David Riley. David’s father was Mathew Riley. All of these Riley’s from Mathew down to my Dad’s generation were born in Fiji. It is Mathew’s father that is the tricky one.

The family story is that his name was George. What follows is an amalgam of the family stories that I have heard, mostly from my Dad.

He was probably Irish, and he came to Fiji from Australia. He was a Catholic lay preacher. He married a chief’s daughter of Verata, and had some land near the coast, some of which was given to the Catholic Church to build a mission. He was also given the island of Naigani and the couple lived there. Later, the family gave all but a few acres back to the Naigani people.

I have been to Naigani. The house where my great-grandfather lived is now the main bar and restaurant of a tourist resort. There is what looks like a garden bed out the front of the house that I was told is the grave of Mathew Riley.

Unfortunately the documentary evidence is fairly thin. Civil registration in Fiji began in 1874, although there are few registrations until a few years later. I have copies of the death registrations of William and David that state their parents’ names and I believe these to be reliable. David is stated as being the son of Mathew Riley and Maria Andrews.

So far the only other evidence I have of Mathew’s existence is a Land Claim Commission Report from the National Archives of Fiji (LCC 578) that states that his father was first given the land. His father is referred to as Na Bete Riley. Na Bete means ‘the teacher’ according to my Fijian-English dictionary. It also states that Mathew died in 1876, between the first and second reports on the land claim.

The given name of this first Riley is still a mystery, as is his place of origin. He may have been Irish, he may have been Catholic, he may have been an escaped convict from the Colony of New South Wales.

Here is a brief time line of the Rileys in Fiji that I can substantiate:

1860 David Riley born to Mathew Riley and Maria Andrews on Wakaya Island

1876 Mathew Riley died, buried on Naigani

1897 William Riley born on Naigani

1937 David Riley died in Levuka, buried at Naigani

1954 William Riley died in Suva.

It’s not much, is it? I’ll be working on this line and hope to be able to report some progress soon!

2 comments on “The Riley name

  1. lavenia 9 September 2009 9:14 am

    Hi Carole,
    Found the information on the Rileys very interesting. My maternal grandmother was Clara Riley, she was the daughter of Peter RILEY and Eliza BOWER.Clara or Kalara in fijian married the Tui Vagadaci or chief of Vagadaci village in Levuka and had 10 children,7 girls and 3 boys,my mum is one of them.My grandmother passed away in 1993.
    Thanks for the info very interesting. LAVENIA

  2. Terry Hulme 1 February 2010 12:12 pm

    Hi Carole, I have jusr been looking at a copy of a statement by La Lome chief of Barrata dated 12th July 1858 regarding owenership of Naigani island which states in part “I hereby acknowledge, to Matthew Riley (a half caste), son of the late George Riley, a native of Ireland….” The document was registered by the British consulate Will Pritchard on 19th December 1859 [register 12 folio 30]
    The Naigani hearings of Sep. 1878 also refer to Matthew Riley’s children
    David about 12
    Peter 7 or 8
    Willy 5 and a girl
    named Lizzie who was married to a Chinaman on Naigani
    best regards Terry

Comments are closed.