Octavia Lavinia Johns (nee Honeyfield)

The following was written by Julie Adele Johns (Octavia’s great granddaughter) as a contribution to the, ‘If walls could talk … the Stories’ document prepared for the Honeyfield 150 celebrations.

Octavia Lavinia Johns (nee Honeyfield)

‘Octavia Lavinia Honeyfield, the eldest child of James Charles Honeyfield and Caroline ‘Kararaina’ Honeyfield (nee Barrett), was born on the 17th December 1865 at Moturoa, New Plymouth and baptised on Boxing Day that same year by the Reverend John Whitely who had also married her parents earlier that year on 2 January, 1865. James and Caroline later moved to Tataraimaka where Octavia grew up with her younger sister Sarah and brothers Barrett, William and Charles.

On the 19th January 1884 Octavia, aged 18 years, married Thomas Edward Johns aged 21 years at her parents’ homestead on their Tataraimaka farm. Thomas was born in Liverpool, England and had been living in New Zealand for about 18 months before their marriage. Their first child Edgar was born later that year.

That same year on the 19th June 1884 Thomas filed for bankruptcy and on the 16th June 1884 a meeting of his creditors was called. Prior to Thomas’s bankruptcy he had been farming on a large scale without any previous experience and had suffered many losses, also having had the misfortune of a house fire on 22 June, 1883. According to a court hearing on 22 January 1885 Thomas was at that time living with his father-in-law James Honeyfield and no doubt along with Octavia and baby Edgar too. As reported in the newspaper his father-in-law had offered to pay Tomas’s creditors 10 shillings in the pound, but they declined this. Later that year on 22 October, 1885 an order was made for Thomas to be discharged from bankruptcy.

On the 29th July 1886, as reported in the newspaper, Thomas was farming at Moturoa. He and some natives had exchanged a pair of working bullocks and the Maori had returned to revoke the transaction – all ended peacefully.

Octavia gave birth to twelve children, six of who survived into adulthood and six who sadly did not which unfortunately wasn’t uncommon in those times.

Besides Octavia suffering the heartbreak of the loss of five of their children during her lifetime she also had grief and strife in her marriage too. On the 27th November 1894 her husband Thomas appeared in the New Plymouth District Court for drunkenness and as reported in The Taranaki Herald with the likelihood of another charge being laid, that of inflicting grievous bodily harm on his wife. On the 3rd December 1894 Thomas once again appeared in court no doubt as a consequence of what had taken place earlier. This time a prohibition order was issued against him, to which it is reported Thomas himself had no objection. It was suggested that the order should take effect throughout the provincial district, to which James Honeyfield, father-in-law of the defendant, also expressed that this was his wish also. The court granted the order accordingly for twelve months.

A year later Octavia gave birth to their tenth child, a son who was named Thomas Edward James after this father and grandfather James Honeyfield. Octavia then went on to give birth to Ronald who sadly passed away two weeks later. A month after Ronald’s death Thomas was again adjudged bankrupt on the 28 October 1897. His occupation was given as butcher and that he was residing in Blagdon at the time. Lastly the twelfth child of Octavia and Thomas was born who they named Bernard. Sometime after this Octavia’s husband Thomas Johns was paid by James Honeyfield to leave New Zealand so I was told by my grandmother Daisy Johns who had married Edgar Johns (the eldest child of Octavia and Thomas) and that Thomas was what they called a Remittance man. Thomas went to Australia where he remained for the rest of his life.

Sadly approximately 18 months after James’s wife Caroline Honeyfield died on the 12th November 1899 he was again having to write an obituary this time for their beloved daughter which read:

“Death of Mrs Thomas Edward Johns. Octavia Lavinia died in New Plymouth Hospital Tuesday, 14th May 1901 aged 35 years. Mrs Johns had been suffering from typhoid and the complications that followed the dread disease for some considerable time and her death was therefore not unexpected”.

Octavia’s death certificate stated she had been ill for eleven weeks. The surviving children’s ages were listed as five males aged 16, 13, 9, 5 and 2 years, two females aged 11 and 8 years at the time of her passing. From the newspaper at the time it reports that:

“… the deceased was well known and esteemed by a large circle of friends and that her relations will have much sympathy in their sad bereavement. The internment will be private.”

This now left the Johns children without their dear mother, it is unknown whether Thomas had already left for Australia or not.

Tragically Octavia’s last-born child Bernard died at the age of seven years at Moturoa four and a half years after this mother had passed away and it is known Thomas had left for Australia by then.

Octavia’s only sister Miss Sarah Honeyfield (who never married) helped bring up her nieces and nephews. It was history repeating itself as Caroline and James Honeyfield had also helped Sarah Mary Honeyfield (nee Barrett) raise her children when their father William Henry Honeyfield had died also of typhoid fever thirty-seven years earlier. ‘Aunt Sarah’ as she was called remained living on the Bell Block farm with the Johns’ whanau until shortly before she passed away having been taken prior to her death on 3rd March 1932, aged 64 years, to the Tataraimaka farm where she had grown up. Octavia’s children loved their Aunt Sarah very much and even Octavia’s grandchildren remembered her and spoke of her with deep affection which is how she is still remembered to this day.

According to New Plymouth District Council (NPDC) burial records permission was granted for Bernard to be buried in the same large James Honeyfield plot at Te Henui cemetery where his grandmother Caroline had been interred earlier. Although Bernard has no headstone to mark his grave neither can a headstone be found for his mother Octavia or any of her young deceased children. The NPDC has a receipt for 10 pounds having been paid for Octavia’s grave to be dug at Te Henui cemetery. Octavia and her young children are all listed as having been buried there but unfortunately other records have been destroyed by mould (such as plot numbers) plus the undertaker’s records have long since ceased to exist. Along with the NPDC burial staff we can only presume, since they are nowhere else to be found in Te Henui cemetery, that they are all buried together in the James Honeyfield plot as the NPDC believed it was purchased around the same time as William Henry Honeyfield’s plot was bought when he died in 1864. The reason for Octavia and her six young children having no headstones remains a question and any answer is conjecture. Unfortunately, my grandfather Edgar Jules Barrett Johns, Octavia’s eldest son, would have known the answers to many of our questions, but he died when my father Montague Honeyfield Johns (known as Monte) was only eight years old so any information concerning their graves was not passed down. It is my heartfelt desire being one of Octavia’s great grandchildren that it only be fitting that a small plaque be placed in their memory at the James Honeyfield site, so Octavia and her young children are not forgotten through time.

On the 19th July 1933 a letter was sent by Thomas Edward Johns senior to solicitors in New Plymouth, copies of which were handed to the Johns children. Thomas expressed his sadness at having recently received a letter from the Public Trustee informing him of his son Bernard’s death which had taken place 28 years earlier and the recent death of Miss Sarah Honeyfield. Thomas expressed his desire to hear from his children and wanted to see them again since he was now nearing 73 years of age, and in his own words, “But like Johnny Walker am still going strong”. He especially wanted to know how Bernard had died, asking after Effie, Vera, and Edgar although he supposed he would never see or hear from them again. Thomas finished his letter with a postscript, asking the solicitors to oblige him by letting him know how the children were, saying “… you will do me a great kindness”. When this letter was written unbeknown to Thomas his eldest child Edgar had passed away two years earlier aged 47 years. Two of Thomas’s other sons known as ‘Charlie and Tommy’ had gone to live in Australia as adults but to our knowledge never contacted their father. According to Thomas Edward Johns senior’s death certificate which lists his first marriage to Octavia and names their five surviving children it also says that Thomas went on to marry a second time to Anne Fanny Williams who already had a daughter but there were no children from their union. Thomas senior lived out the rest of his life in Australia dying in Murrurundi, NSW on 9th June 1943, aged 80 years. To this day no photo survives of Thomas senior that has been passed down through the Johns whanau which speaks volumes!

James Charles Honeyfield died on 21 February 1911 aged 71 years. In his will he remembered the children of his late daughter Octavia Lavinia especially making provision for his grandsons Edgar, Charles, Oscar and Thomas Johns.

This has been a sad story to write and reflect on, not only because it is true, but Octavia and Thomas are also my ancestors/tupuna, so it is very personal to me along with the rest of the Johns whanau. We exist today because of these people who are our direct heritage line/whakapapa. I have been both factual and fair in giving this account.

Should you wish to find out more information regarding the court cases, Google search ‘Papers Past’ using the dates I’ve given for reference.’

Children of Octavia Lavinia Johns (nee Honeyfield) and Thomas Edward Johns

  • Edgar Jules Barrett Johns
    • Born: 30.09.1884 /30.11.1884
    • Married: Daisy Amy Fuller 09.11.1916
    • Farmed at Bell Block
    • Died: 19.12.1931, aged 47 years
    • Buried: St Lukes cemetery, Bell Block 21.12.1931
  • William Charles Johns
    • Born: 08.12.1885
    • Died: 29.01.1886, aged 7 weeks
    • Buried: Te Henui cemetery 30.01.1886
  • Lina Hannah Johns
    • Born: 08.01.1887
    • Died: 21.03.1887, aged 9 weeks (at Blagdon farm)
    • Buried: Te Henui cemetery 22.03.1887
  • Charles Barrett Johns (known as Charlie)
    • Born: 08.12.1888/28.04.1888?
    • Migrated to Australia
    • Married: Cecilia (known as Sis)
    • Died: 21.03.1951, aged 64 years? Queensland, Australia
  • Victor Barrett Johns
    • Born: 04.02.1889
    • Died 06.09.1892, aged 3 years 7 months
    • Buried: Te Henui Cemetery 07.09.1892
  • Effie Hilda Johns
    • Born: 03.02.1890/ 24.05.1890?
    • Married: John Ambrose Heskett
    • Died: 17.12.1963, aged 72 years Headstone inscription reads 1890- 1963
  • Oscar Harold Johns
    • Born: 02.09.1891
    • Married: Kathleen Doris Mace 02.05.1921
    • Farmer, furnace man, businessman, soldier – Private in Wellington Infantry Regiment. WW1 Service no.69491 NZ Expeditionary Force
    • Died: 19.12.1960, Huntly, NZ
  • Vera Sarah Johns
    • Born: 20.01.1893
    • Married: George Victor Weir 26.03.1913
    • Died: 1952? 12.1957?
  • Doris Octavia Johns
    • Born: 26.03.1894
    • Died: 21.06.1894, aged 3 months
    • Buried: Te Henui Cemetery 22.06.1894
  • Thomas Edward James Johns Junior (known as Tommy)
    • Born: 30.11.1895
    • Migrated to Australia
    • Married:
      • Ist wife, Ruby Elizabeth Fitzgerald
      • 2nd wife, Olive Edna Ellan Archer
    • Labourer and clerk
    • Died: 19.08.1964, aged 68 years, Queensland, Australia
  • Ronald Edward Johns
    • Born: 13.09.1897
    • Died: 28.09.1897, aged 2 weeks
    • Buried: Te Henui Cemetery 30.09.1897
  • Bernard Edgerley Johns
    • Born: 04.01.1899
    • Died: 15.11.1905 at Moturoa, aged 7 years
    • Buried: Te Henui Cemetery 17.11.1905. Funeral left from Mrs Ellen Caroline McLean’s (nee Honeyfield) residence at Moturoa. Recorded permission given for Bernard to be buried in the James Charles Honeyfield plot.


1 thought on “Octavia Lavinia Johns (nee Honeyfield)

  1. Pingback: James and Caroline Honeyfield – Barrett Honeyfield Ancestry

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