John Morgan 1829-1916


John and his brother William Morgan emigrated from North Dorset to Taranaki in January, 1850, with their first cousins, (Harriet) Matilda and William Honeyfield.

I was contacted by my fifth cousin Andrew Morgan in March 2022 offering a sample of John Morgan’s diary for this website. Andrew and I share the same great-great-great-great grandparent, Hannah Morgan. Andrew and I had not known each other: it was only after Andrew recognised the Honeyfield name in this website while doing some Morgan ancestry research that he got in touch with me. I was so pleased to hear from Andrew! Incredibly, Andrew then revealed that he knew my first cousin from the other side of my family, Brian Roberts, very well. Small world!

I had already been given some of John’s recollections for inclusion in the posting on the Honeyfield siblings emigration from North Dorset. However, on receipt of Andrew’s material, I decided to more fully record selected extracts from John’s diary notes here because John’s record of his life is so interesting.

John’s notes date from his early days as a school child in the 1830’s in a small rural village in North Dorset, through to his initial working years as a tenant farmer/farm worker. The circumstances in which the Morgan & Honeyfield cousins decided to emigrate to New Plymouth and their first experiences in Taranaki, including establishing the farm at Tataraimaka are described in fascinating detail.

The Morgan brothers were leaders and pioneers. It was John Morgan who made the decision to emigrate to the new colony of New Zealand. His brother William and his Honeyfield cousins Matilda and William, being in similar circumstances with limited choices for jobs and career advancement, decided to join him. Not having travelled far before – even to Salisbury some 45 miles from Gillingham – the prospect of travelling to the other side of the world must have been a mind-boggling situation for them. It was John and William Morgan who were the first to purchase land at Tataraimaka and establish a farm. As will be noted below, John went on the become a leading politician in the colonial Government.

The notes as represented here as recorded by John’s great-grandson in the first decade of the 20th century.

My observations as editor are in square brackets.

Extracts from John Morgan’s diary

Source: John Morgan 1829-1916: a history of his life and times, taken from his notes and recorded by the great grandson of his brother William Morgan:- Robert R Morgan in 2002


I was born on a farm in Dorsetshire called Gutch-pool in the parishes of Gillingham and Motcombe, situated in the extreme north of the County bordering on Wiltshire. In fact the boundary of the farm is the boundary between the Counties. My Father, who was a well to do farmer, had another farm adjacent, called Longmoor, in the parish of Gillingham [Ed. Tenant farmers paid a fixed rent for the land. They often owned their own stock and kept the profits from their agricultural and horticultural farming, except for a 1/10 tithe on gross value of the farms annual produce paid to the Church or tithe owner]. Both these farms belonged to the Crown, and were under the Commission of Her Majesty’s “Woods and Forest”, supervised by a Steward – of which I have to speak more further on.

When I was about three years old, we shifted from Gutch-pool to Longmoor, and here I spent the early days of my childhood, much in the same way in which County children are brought up, suffice to say, that previous to my attaining the age of 7 years I had gone to a Dame School [Ed. Dame schools were often run by women with little or no qualification who charged a small fee for teaching reading, writing and other skills … often serving as a child-care service than a school] where I had learned my alphabet and to sew. Shortly before reaching my 7th year, I was placed at a school in Gillingham – under Daniel Cave, where I boarded, going home on about an average of once a quarter [Ed: amazing that John only went home once a quarter even thought the distance from home to school was not that great]. At this school I remained for six years – but I find I made little progress in my learning – being always regarded as a dull scholar – in those years.

During these school days, I well remember hearing the church bell toll, at the death of King William the IV [Ed.1837]. Also the merry peels that rang at the accession of Queen Victoria to the throne. I also have a very distinct recollection, of being in the procession of children that marched through the village, with a rosette of blue and white ribbon on my breast, preceded by the band, celebrating her late Majesty’s Coronation. These and subsequent events are impressed on my memory. There was the children’s Fete with the attendant ringing of bells, and village merrymaking, at Her Late Majesty’s Marriage. It was also during my school days, that the century of Wesleyanism was celebrated, in this I also participated. I also remember the introduction of gas into our village, the gas works being in the vicinity of our school; this was in the years 1837-8 …

[Ed. John finished his education by attending a day school in Mere in the years 1842/43 after which, from the age of 14, he worked on the family farm]

I had to attend to a flock of 300 ewes. At this I was engaged until I left England in 1849. Not withstanding my engagement with sheep, I had to do much other work, such as milking in the mornings, and at every opportunity, when the sheep did not require my constant attention – that is, if they were in an enclosed field, with good fences – then I had to assist at harvesting or any other work that was going on. At harvesting and haymaking my chief engagement was in loading, that is when that operation was in progress. But in a general way I may sum it up that I had engaged in nearly every work that is done on a farm, and before I had attained the age of nineteen, could take my place in whatever situation I was required.

After I had attained my nineteenth year, I began to get dissatisfied with my position, I could not reconcile myself to the daily round and as a consequence turned my attention to what I had better do …

[Ed. Through his father, John tried to get the lease for a small farm whose tenant was in arrears. The Crown Steward mislead the Morgan’s and assigned the lease to another farmer.]

I must say this treacherous action on the part of the Crown Steward and in the general way in which my father as a Crown Tenant was treated, assisted greatly to influence me in seeking a home in a distant colony. The question now was to what Colony should I emigrate?

Just at this time I had been reading in the Chamber’s Journal [Ed. at that time published as Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal] a description of New Zealand and in that description was shown that the land was good and the climate excellent, in fact it appeared that there was no winter to provide for, to me this was a great inducement from home experience. I contrasted a country where we would keep our stock on the fields all winter, with our way of keeping stock housed so many months of the year, considering also that with us in England the summer must be devoted to preparing for winter as well as providing for Rent, taxes and Tythes [sic]. I thought of a Colony where we should be free of taxes and that obnoxious impost Tythes. To me in my then position it certainly did appear a perfect Haven of Rest, to be a New Zealand Colonist.

To add to my decision, just at that time an old friend of my father’s visited us, he had been to New Zealand and had just returned. He confirmed all that I had read and more, his personal experiences and that of many he could mention, that had gone to the Colony previously under the N.Z. Company. Again another account came to my hand, this was a book by Mr C. Hursthouse, “Hursthouse’s Account of New Plymouth” [Ed. hyperlink inserted. There is no reference to the Barrett whānau in Hursthouse’s book other than a brief mention of two whaling stations at Moturoa in ‘friendly competition’ with one another. There is extensive information in the book about the colonial economy and conditions at New Plymouth, including trade between Māori and settlers]. This book, explained by the experiences of my father’s friend (Mr J.B. White) duly decided me to make New Plymouth my choice. I told my father that I had fully made up my mind to go to New Zealand as I could not see a chance of ever getting a farm in England. My father agreed that was right but added that he would not agree for me to go alone – that if I went he should propose that my brother William should go also. Of course for a long time previous to this we had many discussions on the matter and my brother William was as anxious as I was to go to New Zealand, although he was some fourteen months younger than I was.

It soon became noised abroad amongst our family circle that J. and W. Morgan were going to New Zealand. At “Park Farm” in Gillingham my uncle John Honeyfield lived – renting under the Marquis of Westminster. They had a large family and similar circumstances to ourselves – that is could not see room for all to attain farms in England. Cousin William and his sister Matilda [Ed. Harriet Matilda] quickly made up their minds to emigrate with us … In the course of time my father and uncle Honeyfield went to London and secured passages for us on the Barque Berkshire … My father, in visiting the ship was persuaded to take for us boys a steerage passage, arguing we could merit in thrift as well as others and the few pounds extra that would be needed in an intermediate passage thus saved would be better in our pockets on landing in the Colony … Uncle Honeyfield secured an intermediate berth for cousin Matilda thinking that she may find it too uncomfortable in the steerage.

… As “Time and Tide wait for no man” so time passed in getting ready and the say arrived when we were to say “Good Bye” to our dear Parents, Brothers and Sister and to all relations and friends and to the old place of our Birth! We all bore up as well as young people full of hope and enterprise can do. On the Saturday the 29th day of September 1849, I, together with my Brother William, left dear old Longmoor where we left poor dear Mother and my aged Grandmother in tears, as well as the servants engaged on the farm – both within and without. By all if was thought that we were going out amongst savages and that our doom was sealed!

Migration to New Zealand

[Ed. The Morgan’s and Honeyfield’s first stage in their migration to New Zealand was to travel by horse and cart to Salisbury, some 45 miles from Gillingham, where they boarded a train to London.]

[Salisbury] was the first Railway Station I had seen, all seemed new and curious to me, in fact to us all as we had not travelled far before taking this journey. Salisbury I had not visited, being green from the country.

We took our seats in a second class carriage [of the train] which was entirely a new mode of travelling to me … I cannot attempt a description of the journey to London, it was all so different to what I had been accustomed to, that I could scarcely realise my position …

I confess that London at the time had no attraction for me. I cared little about what I saw and was anxious to get away … [Ed. two days later they boarded the Berkshire bound for New Zealand, eventually departing two days later and soon after they began …] I felt the movement of the vessel, and quickly I went to lay down to it! I never can forget the feelings of my first sea sickups! Oh, that I could get ashore! … I did not think at this time that I should live to see N.Z. and little did I care, for sometimes I felt that I should be glad if the whole lot of us went to the bottom … after the sea sickups passed away I really thoroughly enjoyed the sea … Although we in steerage lived far better than many did in the intermediate, we, the four of us (Matilda having arranged with the Captain to allow her a whole cabin in the steerage that was vacant and draw on her Intermediate rations and mess with us) messed together, having provided ourselves with many little things which became luxuries on board …

The first view we saw of New Zealand was on the eve of the 13th Jan 1850. Just before sunset we saw Mt Egmont, standing in all its glory, the setting sun giving to it’s snow-capped top, a beautiful appearance. I shall never forget with what feelings of joy I looked at that snow-capped mountain, associated as it was with hope of our voyage being ended in a few hours … we arrived at the roadstead of New Plymouth, after a passage of 101 days, on 16 Jan 1850 … Cousin Matilda and I went on shore to secure a house, if possible, to live in and store our belongings until such time as we could turn ourselves about and get something to do or somewhere to go.

First days in New Plymouth

The landing at that time (and for years afterwards) was effected by boats – large surf boats of about 5 tons each … To my surprise there was a large crowd of people on the beach to welcome us and I can truthfully say that the hospitality that I and my companions received was bountiful in the extreme …

Cousin Matilda and myself took up temporary quarters at the Masonic Hotel [Ed. Soon after the cousin’s rented a house at Devonport along with the Gudgeon family from the Berkshire] …

We were now quite settled at New Plymouth, and expenses had begun, in rent and living, so that I, my brother and cousins were not going to hang about doing nothing. Money must be earned, and I felt anxious to commence making my fortune, which I was foolish enough to think, I should soon do, as labour at harvest work was paid 3 schillings 6 pence per day and found. To one who had just left a country where labour was paid 1schilling per day and not found! I thought I should soon be independent. This I know now was “counting the chickens before they were hatched”.

As I mentioned, harvest was in full swing. I went to assist Messrs Clare and Bassett for two days to get in their wheat, which was near the town, after which I thatched the stack with toi-toi, all quite new to me, and I didn’t cut my hands!, and there was the supplejack (karewa) to fasten it on with. I managed it after great exertion, and particularly as it was very warm weather. To me, it seemed warmer than I had ever felt, in the Old Country, however I soon got used to it.

My next adventure was fern cutting at Peachtree Farm, across the Waiwhakaiho river … it was at this time … I was offered the farm to rent. This was in Jan 1850, and we were to take possession in March … We fairly knew there was little to be made on the farm, if anything, after paying the rent etc, still we could live at less cost in the country, than in the town, at the same time it was giving us opportunity of gaining knowledge of agriculture and colonial life …

Before proceeding further, I should mention this farm was on the boundary of the district that settlement was then allowed by the natives … before we arrived, but during 1849, the Maoris had met and determined that the settlement in New Plymouth should not extend beyond (what is known as Smart Road) the road leading to Peachtree Farm. They had erected a very large staff on the Waiwhakaiho flat, the the junction of this road! This was erected as a protest against further settlement!, and as a Tapu!, so that all settlers beyond this boundary (with the exception of two families) were to vacate their land!, and come inside the prescribed Block.

Consequently, all those that had previously occupied land in the Mongareka [sic] District had to leave; it was just at this period that Messers Flight and Devendish removed their flock from the district, to the Mangorei, where they had felled a quantity of bush, and prepared a place for their stock. I think I may state that this was quite the first attempt made at subduing the forest for settlement, at any rate to any appreciable extent. I am very pleased to acknowledge that these attempts proved successful, and good results were obtained. But it must be admitted that it was the action of the Natives that forced the settlers into the bush at this early period of settlement. The Pioneers in bush settlements had hard times to encounter! there were no roads! no bridges! And speaking of bridges, reminds me, that at my advent into New Plymouth the only bridge east of the town was the Te Henui bridge and that bridge was unsafe for traffic! Carts and heavy traffic had to go through the river, and many a time have I driven through the river, before the bridge was repaired, as as to be safe to drive over!

First land purchase

During this time (1 year) we were on this farm we were on the lookout for a piece of land of our own; our means were very limited so that were obliged to restrict our ventures to within narrow bounds … It so happened that there was a section, (50 acres) in the Omata Block open for sale, forced by foreclosure, and this section we succeeded in purchasing for the sum of 80 [pounds].

It was whilst we were a Peachtree Farm, we had about 20 acres of our section at Omata cleared of fern and ploughed, so as to prepare for a wheat crop. This section was adjoining the section owned and occupied by J.L. Newman, (Matilda Honeyfield’s husband) a relative, he having married by cousin … We took possession of our land [Ed in March 1851] and lived with Mr and Mrs Newman, working the two sections together, suffice to say, that the wheat crop was a failure! not producing more than 5 bushels to the acre. This to young beginners was a great blow! It so happened that compensating circumstances came to our aid.

Purchase of land at Tataraimaka

At this period in the history of New Plymouth, there was a large influx of immigrants arriving, and as land was scarce, on account of the course taken by the natives. In fact there was no open farmland in the market. Consequently the price of land rose rapidly …

It was now that demand for land had become so urgent, that the authorities determined to put the Tataraimaka Block on the market. This Block was 15 miles from town and at that time in the occupation of Messrs King and Cutfield as a cattle run … our cousin was willing to buy our two shares [Ed. in the Omata section] at 200 pounds … and [we] purchased 212 acres … bounded by the sea, and the Timaru river; this was all fern and flax land. We soon commenced operations; there was no timber or bush of any kind on the land, we had to go about 3 miles up the Block to get a few poles to frame a small ‘whare’. We got the frame work and dragged it down through the fern on a hand cart, to our land, and soon had the frame work up … Our first ‘whare’ was about 12 feet by 8; divided into two, a sleeping room, and a general living room; cooking was done outside. To this Block at the time was no road! and very little prospect of being able to get a road through the Native land! It was all Native land the whole distance from the Omata Block to the Tataraimaka, occupied by Maoris that were determinedly opposed to settlement by the Pakeha!

The only path (by land) was, after leaving the Omata Block, to go by the nearest cut we could to the Taupuae river, passing by Poatoko Pah, whose chief (if I remember rightly) was ‘Tamati Wiremu’, he was more friendly than the others, and did not oppose us. [Ed. I confirm this was Tamati Wiremu of Te Atiawa. He lived for a time at Te Aro, Wellington and died in 1860 and is buried at Corbett Park, Oakura. His gravestone reads ‘He whakama harataroa Enei mo to tatou Hoa Mo Wiremu Tamati Rangitewhaiha haepaia, I mate i te 2 onga ra i hema 1860 (in memory of our friend called William Thomas … died 2 Nov 1860.]

When at the Taupuae river, we had to cross and keep to the beach, then crossing the Oakura river, if the tide was out, at the mouth. If the tide was in we had to wait, or go a short distance up the river where an Indian (called Black Davis) had a boat, and he would sometimes put us over for a trifle. Having got over the Oakura, we had to travel on the beach, which at high tides was an arduous task as it was chiefly shingle, then we had to cross the Timaru river at the mouth at all times, and to do so in safety, had to await the tide. Once across the Timaru we were at home.

It was by this route I attempted to describe that we got our bullocks and plough down to Tataraimaka, the bullocks dragging it all the way, except at one particularly rocky place on the beach just after crossing the Taupuae; here we had to carry the plough and drive the bullocks as best we could. In this way we got our bullocks and plough to Tataraimaka.

Now our troubles commenced! There were no fences, as I have stated before, and the difficulty was to keep our bullocks. No grass! and the only feed was rough native grass growing among the fern and toi-toi. As our bullocks had been fairly well fed at Omata, they had a natural inclination to return there, whenever the opportunity presented itself. This often occurred after being unyoked from the plough, we had to watch them until dark.

I was always about early in the mornings, and my first care was to look for the bullocks! My brother employed himself in preparing breakfast, such as it was. Should it be that I could not see the bullocks, I had to go to the beach and look for tracks! Ofttimes I could see that they had crossed the river! There was nothing for it but to get across and follow as fast as I could, on foot (we had no horse). Our real fear at all times was that they would turn into the Maori land, and perhaps break into a garden which was not securely fenced, in such case we did not know what would be the result! The Maoris had no idea of conscience; the most exorbitant demand might be made! and be paid! as there was no protection to be obtained by an appeal to the Court!

However, this did not occur, as when the bullocks found themselves on the track, they generally went ahead. I have many times had to go as far as Taupuae, before I could get up with them. From the description I previously gave you of the path, it will be seen that I had to cross 2 rivers … in the cold early morning; and walk say a distance of 4 or 5 miles to catch the cattle, and then drive them home. On such occasions I would walk and run from 8 to 10 miles, crossing these icy rivers than run direct from Mt Egmont, and all this before breakfast! after partaking of breakfast, we had to yoke up and go to the plough all day.


In 1853 John Morgan moved to Wanganui, where he leased land from Imlays at Balgownie. In 1861, after visiting Gabriel’s Gully he bought Newtonlees, a property of 700 acres near Wiritoa Lake, which he worked till 1907. He represented Wangaehu in the Wellington Provincial Council, 1868-1875. He was a member of the first Wanganui Harbour Board, and a member of the first Wanganui County Council. Morgan was a founder of the Wanganui A & P Association and the Okoia Dairy Company. He was also something of an artist with pen and ink (Dictionary of NZ biography / Scholefield). See obituary – Wanganui chronicle, 2 May 1916, p 6.

More details of John Morgan’s life can be found here, including that ‘Morgan was involved in local and national politics, serving as the Whangaehu Member of the Wellington Provincial Council from 1868-76. He also served on the first Agricultural Association, the first Wanganui Harbour Board, and helped to have the tolls on the Town Bridge abolished in 1882, which was beneficial to the region’.


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