The Honeyfield emigration from North Dorset, England to New Zealand

(Revised 18 April, 2022)

Five of the 11 children of tenant farmers John and Hannah Honeyfield – (Harriet) Matilda, William, Henry, James and Edmund – emigrated from North Dorset, England to Taranaki, New Zealand between 1849 – 1856.

The young Honeyfield’s left Dorset in search of a better life, one where the climate was more suited to dairy farming, and they could acquire land and be their own masters free of tithes to pay. An agricultural depression in England around 1847 – 1852 no doubt was another big influence on their decision.

The first British settlers had arrived to establish the town of New Plymouth only nine years before, in 1841. While new to the settlers, Māori first arrived in Taranaki hundreds of years previously, with the area of British settlement previously being known as Ngā Motu (The Islands).

Matilda and William, 1850

Matilda Honeyfield, aged 23, and her younger brother, William Henry Honeyfield, aged 17, departed from London on the Berkshire on 4 October 1849 and arrived just off New Plymouth on the 8 January 1850. Matilda and William were accompanied by their cousins John and William Morgan. In total the Berkshire carried 100 passengers and had a crew of 30.

Matilda was the first ashore, spending her first night in fledging town of New Plymouth at the Masonic Hotel on the corner of Devon and Brougham Streets.

In a good example of the hazards in the lack of a natural harbour, William had to wait a bit longer as an approaching storm meant the ship had to sail out to sea for a few days before all the remaining cargo and passengers could disembark. William claimed the storm was worse than they had on the whole voyage. Apparently, the poor cow on-board could not stand for days afterwards.

Along with his two cousins, the Morgan brothers, William readily found short-term work harvesting wheat and clearing fern. After three weeks of arriving in Taranaki, they entered into a 12 month lease of the Peachtree farm, just across the Waiwhakaiho river … and of course, there were no bridges over the Waiwhakaiho in those days.

About three years before the Honeyfield siblings arrival in New Zealand, Governor George Grey, in response to settler demand for land, purchased several blocks of land from Maori, including land at Omata and Tataraimaka.

About eight months into the Peachtree farm lease, William and his two cousins purchased 50 acres at Omata. Incredibly, they paid in cash, putting 80 gold sovereigns on the table. Apparently, the agent said it had been a long time since he had seen so much gold! Actually, the farm had been foreclosed and by paying cash simply meant that the mortgagee and mortgagors split the sovereigns to an acceptable level and, after scooping up the gold coins, went on their merry way. Cash was king and made for simple business.

The Omata block was next door to where Matilda had settled, now married to John Litchfield Newman. When the Peachtree farm lease expired, William and the Morgan cousins lived with John and Matilda, working the two Omata farms together. It must have been confusing at times with four men living in the house and working the land, two named John and two named William.

They attempted a wheat crop but compared to the well developed farms in England, the crop was poor. In John Morgan’s papers he wrote:

This to young beginners was a great blow, but it so happened that compensating circumstances came to our aid.

The aid came by way of the following (source: If walls could talk … Succession):

In earlier years the natives had imposed a restriction on settling north of the Fitzroy Pole. More immigrants were arriving and with little to no open farmland for sale the price of land rose rapidly. The 50 acres at Omata had risen to be worth 300 pounds in one year … a 375 percent increase in 12 months.

Also, the settlers who had been ordered off what they thought was to be their land north east of the Fitzroy pole, had been given script, which was a promissory note, to take a certain amount of land when new blocks from the New Zealand company or the Crown became available. This script was tradable and the Tataraimaka block was to be made available for script holders.

First presence at Tataraimaka

The following is an extract from, If walls could talk … Succession.

The Morgan brothers sold their 2/3rd share of the 50 acre Omata block to William Henry for 200 pounds, assumably funded from debt, and purchased enough script for 212 acres at 1 pound an acre. They moved to Tataraimaka, the land immediately across the Timaru Steam from the high tide mark following the river upstream. 

A year later, William sold his 50 acres at Omata to John Newman, and followed his cousins, buying adjoining land to them at Tataraimaka.

John & William Morgan had built a second house on their Tataraimaka farm. The first was simply a dirt floor shelter with trees felled from Cutfield’s Bush property three miles up Timaru Road. It was only flax and fern growing on the Morgan land by the river mouth. The second house had three rooms and a veranda with proper window joinery that had been rowed in by boat to the Timaru Steam river mouth from New Plymouth. The Morgan brothers had bought the first plough to Tataraimaka, traversing Maori land with no roads connecting Tataraimaka to Omata. They had succeeded in getting some imported grass growing so that at the very least their bullocks would be happy to graze instead of continually trying to run back to Omata for better pasture.

On the 4th March 1853, John left for an expedition to Kai-Iwi just north of the little known town of Wanganui. They were to drive 799 ewes and 222 lambs to New Plymouth.

On returning to his farm at Tataraimaka in early June 1853, John Morgan wrote:

On arrival home I found that strange events had taken place. My brother and I had been batchelorising, and I left my brother to batchelorise alone. On my return I found a married couple had sought a home for a time with us. My cousin had sold his section in Omata to his brother-in-law and had purchased land at Tataraimaka. He had commenced building a house on the land, and in the meantime to facilitate matters, had got married [to Sarah Barrett] and for the time being until the house was finished, had taken up his quarters in our establishment.

It certainly had a civilising effect in our quarters; the cooking and household affairs were handed over to the lady of the house, so that my brother and I were at liberty to get on with our work. Up until the advent of this lady, there was but one lady on the Block, and to us this was convincing proof that the settlement was advancing in our district. At this period there was no European house between Tataraimaka and Kai-Iwi, except 2 mission stations. On my return, I found in addition to the occupancy of the house, that the grass we had sown was growing quite luxuriantly, in fact my brother had been able to cut some of it and made a little hay, so that should we be able to get a horse, we could keep him in a stable. In fact our holding was beginning to look like an Oasis in the desert.

As a consequence of their younger cousin William now married, the Morgan brothers agreed:

It was time they also engaged in the folly of marriage and in the not so distant a future.

They agreed that if they both took wives it would not be fair to have two women in the same house so the agreement was made that John would sell his 1/2 of their 212 acres to their adjoining neighbour Robert Greenwood and move to New Plymouth.

The split between the Morgan brothers happened in October 1853 even though it appears there were no apparent suitors for wives, John was a married man two months later.

Henry John and James Charles, 1852

Henry John Honeyfield, aged 22 and his younger brother, James Charles, aged 13, departed London, England on 24 May 1852 on the Joseph Fletcher and arrived in New Plymouth on the on 8 October 1852. Henry recorded a diary during the voyage, noting the incidence of smallpox onboard, catching flying fish and porpoise to supplement their diet, and that young James suffered a good deal from sea sickness.

Henry started a drapery business. James joined his brother William farming at Barrett Road [on land acquired by Dicky Barrett, then transferred to Sarah and her sister, Caroline].

Edmund Charles, 1855

Henry went back to England In 1854 but returned to New Plymouth with his first wife Elisa and his younger brother Edmond Charles, departing from Gravesend on 26 October 1855 on the Ashmore and arriving at New Plymouth on 27 March 1856.

Edmond married Catherine Gane in 1877. They went on to farm at Patea in South Taranaki.

Other Honeyfield migrations

The remaining children of John and Hannah remained in England. Two descendants from England attended the 2015 Honeyfield Reunion in New Plymouth.

Two of John and Hannah’s grandchildren emigrated to New Zealand. Ambrose (son of Robert and Rhoda) sailed to New Zealand in 1876 on the Rangitiki and set up farming in the Stratford area. He married May Piggott in 1878 and they had nine children:

  1. Alberta Selina, born 1882; married Fred McDonald
  2. Alice, born 1886; married Christopher Topless
  3. Laura Eileen, born 1887; married Ivan Walters in 1903
  4. Grace, born 1888; married Stan Riley, 1928
  5. Rhoda May, born 1889
  6. Margaret Ellen, born 1893
  7. Henry Robert, born 1895; married Lydia Amy (Fisher) Axten in 1927
  8. William Newman, born 1901
  9. Charles Rufus, born 1906; married Christine Lepper in 1932

Kate, John and Hannah’s granddaughter, emigrated to New Plymouth in 1875 along with her husband, Edward Pretty.

Three of Robert and Rhoda’s grandchildren (children of James and Mary) emigrated to New Zealand in 1910:

  1. William Henry, born 1882. William worked on orchards in the Te Puke area. He died from asthma in 1926.
  2. Walter Augustus, born 1885. Walter worked on a sheep and cattle station at Kaipikeri, inland from Urenui. During World War 1 Walther served in France and Germany. After the war he purchased a two acre property at Moturoa where he cleared the land and ran a small farmlet, including one dairy cow. Walter married Dorothy Tylee. Walter and Dorothy later moved to a 100 acre dairy farm at Inglewood.
  3. Herbert Sidney, born 1893, married Mary Crompton in 1917. Walter died in 1954 at Te Puke.

John and Ellen Honeyfield, grandchildren of John and Hannah, left Park Farm in 1908 and settled in Manitoba, Canada.

Other Honeyfield relations also migrated to Canada and the USA. James and Mary’s granddaughter, Miriam, emigrated to the USA in 1875, followed by her nephew James in 1880.



2 thoughts on “The Honeyfield emigration from North Dorset, England to New Zealand

  1. Pingback: John and Harriet Newman – Barrett Honeyfield Ancestry

  2. Pingback: William and Sarah Honeyfield – Barrett Honeyfield Tupuna / Ancestry

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