Henry John Honeyfield, 1830 – 1898

Updated 16 January 2020

Henry John Honeyfield was born at Langmore Farm, Gillingham, the fifth child of John and Hannah Honeyfield.

One of the Honeyfield children to move away from tenant farming, Henry took up an apprenticeship as a tailor for Style and Lowry in Salisbury and by 1851 had found work in London. The work was hard and so the prospect of being his own master by joining his siblings in New Plymouth and setting up his own business in New Plymouth had appeal.

At the age of 22 along with his younger brother, James Charles, aged 13, Henry departed London, England on 24 May 1852 on the Joseph Fletcher.  They arrived in New Plymouth almost five months later 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.

The following is an edited extract from The Honeyfields of Taranaki, published in 2014 by Andrew Honeyfield, complied from research by various members of the extended Honeyfield family.

Henry took with him a stock of drapery and haberdashery goods and in 1853 he purchased an established drapery and general store from Mr G W Woon.

After having got established in New Plymouth, Henry returned to England in 1854 to marry his sweetheart Eliza Read (referred to by Henry as Ellen). Henry returned to New Plymouth with his wife and with another of his younger brothers, Edmond Charles, departing from Gravesend on 26 October 1855 on the Ashmore and arriving at New Plymouth five months later on 27 March 1856.

Henry acted as a guardian and mentor to his younger brother until Edmund came of age, when Henry assisted Edmund into a leased farm at Wanganui.

Henry’s business acumen in the new settlement of New Plymouth continued to play out well for him. In June 1859 he purchased a general store selling groceries, haberdashery and fancy goods, from Mrs Mary Hoskin. He imported silk and other fine cloth from Dorset, as well as wheat, flour, ryegrass seed, oats and farm implements.

Henry went on to engage in many other commercial interests. He was a director of the Taranaki Land Company, the New Plymouth Gas Company, the Steam Navigation Company, the Trustee Savings Bank, the Taranaki Land, Building and Investment Company and he was a partner in the Union Flour Mill with his brother-in-law Reed.

Farming was another of Henry’s interests. Like his siblings, he acquired land very quickly and somehow, by 1857, he was offering a 57 acre farm for lease on Barrett Reserve A [acting, presumably, as an agent for Caroline & Sarah]. Henry brought a farm in Devon Street, near its junction with Hobson Street and later owned nearly 1,000 acres near Bell Block. He took a great interest in well-breed stock and is understood to have been the first to introduce the Hampshire Down sheep breed to New Zealand.

Henry somehow found the time to be active in sporting and social activities, including the New Plymouth Cricket and Jockey Clubs. He was a Councillor on the Omata Riding of the local council, served on the Omata Roads Board and was a Justice of the Peace.

In July 1882, Ellen became ill with breast cancer. Although an operation was thought to have been successful, she died two years later at the age of 48 after a relapse.

Six months later Henry married Alice Brown Cotterell. Alice had recently arrived from Dorset and had lived with her aunt in New Plymouth.

During the 1890’s the New Zealand economy was depressed. To add to the problem, farmers were turning away from grain farming in Taranaki due to the regions unsuitably damp climate, and Henry’s flour mill was declared insolvent.

Regrettably, Henry took his own life in March 1898, aged 68. Henry is buried with his first wife in the Te Henui Cemetery.

A coronial inquiry commenced the day after Henry’s death. Henry had been suffering from chronic dyspepsia, and that would have the effect of affecting his mind. Henry’s physical ailments would be quite sufficient to produce and extreme state of mental depression. The jury returned a verdict of suicide while temporarily insane.

A letter was found in Henry’s pocket, addressed to his wife, stating:

Dear Alice, Forgive me for the bad deed I am about to do as I am too weak to undertake our journey, and I have not done my duty to my brother Robert’s children and cannot go to meet them, but make their share of my will to 2000 pounds so that they lose nothing by me; and may the Lord and Saviour have mercy on my soul. I feel too weak and mad about neglect.

At the time of his death Henry owned 911 acres of rural and commercial land in New Plymouth, Waitara, Urenui, Bell Block, Opunake, Kakaramea (near Patea) and as far away as Riverton in the South Island. The Merchantile Gazette estimated his Estate’s disposable assets at 17,464 pounds, a very sizable legacy in those times. In his will he left 167 acres to his niece Margaret Salway and her children and legacies to Kate Petty and to his nephew and executor of his estate, William Litchfield Newman. Small legacies were also left to the children of his brothers, Robert Honeyfield (in England), Edmund (Patea), William (New Plymouth), James (Tataraimaka) and to his sister Harriet Matilda Newman.

Alice Honeyfield moved to Sydney, Australia, but returned to New Plymouth for visits. She used Henry’s legacy to make many gifts to the citizens of New Plymouth, including the Honeyfield Fountain, Regina Place, new gates for the Te Henui Cemetery, the Kawaroa Park paddling pool. Alice, known as Aunt Alice to the Honeyfield family, died in Sydney in 1927.

Alice Honeyfield
Honeyfield Fountain, New Plymouth

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