Le Breton emigrants to New Zealand

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Francis and Mary Le Breton

This family history by Charles Le Breton was first published in the Journal of the Channel Island Family History Society

The voyage

The ship Ivanhoe, Capt E Dunn, left Plymouth, Devon on 24 February 1864, arriving at Timaru in the South Island of New Zealand on 5 June 1864. Because of sickness on board, the Ivanhoe was ordered on to Lyttleton for quarantine, arriving on 24 June. Of more than 250 passengers there had been 25 deaths on the voyage and four births. In terms of sea conditions the trip was to be one of the more pleasant ones with moderate weather being experienced for the majority of the trip. Recently, however, I have come across an account written by one of the more affluent passengers on board.

She gave a different perspective to what happened during the voyage. Captain Dunn was apparently a drunkard and even before leaving port had to be forced to honour a contract to take a cow on board. This cow was to later save many lives.

Shortly after leaving Plymouth he had a dog thrown overboard even though the owner had paid a pound for its passage. A number of prize Spanish fowls later had their necks wrung because they woke him in the morning.

During the voyage pigs were allowed in the saloon at night which led to typhoid fever. Worst still the captain would sometimes have allegedly good food thrown overboard. Many of the deaths were reportedly caused by near starvation conditions on board. For one meal it was shown that 28 passengers were expected to dine off one sheep’s head.

The passenger’s account further gave the opinion that, because of the state of the captain early in the voyage the ship was nearly wrecked on the Crozets, and on arrival off the New Zealand coast there was aother close shave with some rocks when Timaru was declared to be Lyttleton.

Because of his intoxicated state, the captain (this time together with the first mate who was little better than his superior) was put in irons and the ship berthed at Timaru under the command of the second mate. Adfter the ship arrived one of the passengers who was also a barrister presented the authorities with 14 pages of complaints.

The captain was duly summoned and fined 20 pounds for the death of the dog. Before he could be brought to trial for the rest of the complaints it is believed that he fell off a pier in a drunken stupor and drowned.

However, the new settlers’ trials were not over; they still had to carry all their belongings over the Port Hills via the Summit Track to the settlement of Christchurch on the other side.

Le Breton family history

The Le Breton family has lived on Jersey, in the Channel Islands, since at least the 13th century. Margaret Le Breton, wife of the late Ronald Helier (Peter) Le Breton, has documented the family history back to 1450 to date. They lived mainly in the parish of Trinity and like many other Channel Island families the Le Bretons have featured in almost every part of the political, religious and military life of the island at some point in time; roles in the religious and military fields being particularly prominent.

They have also featured in the shipping, building and tailoring industries, not to mention the arts. No Le Breton history would, of course, be complete without mentioning Lillie Langtry, nee Le Breton, of acting fame; daughter of the then Dean of Jersey, William Corbet Le Breton.

As for the subjects of this article, Francis Le Breton was the youngest son of Pierre and Anne Le Breton, nee Hamon, born in Trinity on 30 June 1822. He trained as a tailor and on 9 November 1843 married Marie Luce, the oldest daughter of Francis and Marie Luce, nee Renaut. Their first two children, Mary and Francis Philip, were born in St Helier on 15 October 1844 and 18 April 1847 respectively. Shortly after this time, however, the family moved to the island of Alderney and opened a tailor/draper shop probably to take advantage of the military presence and breakwater construction, which was occurring at this time.

The family continued to grow with Elizabeth Anne being born on 26 November 1848 (died on 15 December 1848); Amelia Luce, 7 December 1851; Anne Elizabeth, 28 October 1849; Louisa Jane, 8 January 1853; Alice Mary, 16 January 1855 (died 31 August 1855); Adolphus John (24 November 1856, and finally Alfred John on 24 May 1860.

'Granny' Le Breton

In 1851 Francis was shown in the Alderney Commercial Derectory as having a tailoring business in Grosnez Street, Alderney. The street’s name was changed to Victoria Street following Queen Victoria’s visit to the island in 1854.

The 1861 census showed Francis employed three men and three boys. In 1864 the family decided to emigrate to Christchurch, New Zealand, but to date I have been unable to find out what brought about this decision.

Also unknown is why the youngest surviving daughter was left behind to live with an Aunt Ann (Mary’s younger sister) while her family sailed half way around the world. This was apparently not an unusual occurrence. Louisa Jane continued to live and work in her aunt Ann Luce’s stationery shop in Guernsey for the next 40 years. I can only assume she finally came to New Zealand on the ship Rwimutaka after her aunt died in 1902.

Unfortunately she was only to live for aother four years and died in New Zealand on 4 April 1906. One of my late cousin’s wives has an autograph book that she brought out with her complete with numerous autographs from island folk and visitors.

Francis and Mary Le Breton

Francis had trained as a tailor in the Channel Islands and had his own shop in Alderney for at least 14 years. There was probably also a tailor shop on Jersey before this but to date I have been unable to find any trace of this.

While he came to New Zealand as a farm labour54er (that is what was required by the New Zealand Company who established many of the New Zealand settlements) he soon resumed working at his trade and in 1872/73 had a tailor shop on the corner of Cashel and High Streets, Christchurch.

Several other members of the family also worked in the business. With his son-in-law William Woolley and several others, Francis was instrumental in getting a new Methodist church built at Waltham, Christchurch, although it only appears to have survived for about 24 years before being replaced by a larger structure.

He was also a lay preacher but family stories indicate that instead of standing at the pulpit he would pace to and fro as he spoke. The whole family appears to have been very religious and went to church several times on Sunday.

From tales my father told me they were all very musical and apparently performed at Fuller’s Opera House playing a number of brass and woodwind instruments.

I remember my father at age of 60 plus still being able to recite a long poem ‘’The Old Iron Kettle’’. At the time it seemed to go for hours. Fuller’s, I gather, was a sort of variety theatre which were apparently quite popular at the time.

Francis died on 15 August 1891 at the age of 69 and Mary on 15 August 1905 at the age of 86.

Edwin and Mary Piper

Mary Le Breton married Edwin Piper at Waltham, Christchurch, on 31 May 1865, about a year after arriving in New Zeasland. Edwin Francis Piper was born on 6 December 1840 at Hawkhurst, Kent, England and was the oldest of seven children. He and his parents left England when he was still a baby to come to New Zealand. They arrived on the Lord William Bentinck on 24 May 1841.

The family originally lived in Wellington but shifted to Christchurch in 1849. Edwin’s brothers and sisters all being born in Christchurch, New Zealand. Edwin, his father Thomas and oldest brother George were all brick makers. The two brothers had a brickyard at Pipers Lane, Sydenham, Christchurch. Father Thomas helped and another brother Thomas worked at the kiln.

The business flourished for about 15 years but then appears to have failed shortly after converting to machine operation although the pressure of residential development may have also contributed. In January 1883 Edwin and George were adjudged bankrupt. At the time, however, the business was reported as being the largest in Christchurch, having about 11 acres of clay.

Today only two buildings built from Piper bricks are known to still be standing. A house at Cashmere and the Colombo Street malthouse, which is now used as a children’s theatre.

Edwin later worked at the local gas works, first as a stoker, then in the machine room until he retired. He was also a keen gardener and always provided plenty of vegetables for his growing family. Mary in the meantime was busy bringing up a large family of five boys and eight girls, although sadly seven of the children died in infancy or by their second birthday. Edwin died on 3 April 1898 at the age of 57 ahd Mary died 18 months later on 23 September 1899 at age 54.

Mary Le Breton

Francis and Susan Le Breton

Francis Philip Le Breton married Susan Amelia Everitt at Waltham, Christchurch on 5 May 1886. He was the last of the children to marry, although he was the second oldest child. Susan was known as Polly Thomas and before she married lived with Francis’s sister’s family. Her father was an ex-Australian convict who was sentenced to ten years servitude for stealing a cow in 1844.

He was transported to Tasmania at the age of 23 in 1845. He married Caroline Adams on 13 January 1856 and they had a large family. Susan was born on 19 April 1866. She came to New Zealand with her family in about 1876 but her mother died shortly after arrival.

Francis had also trained as a tailor in the Channel Islands and worked in his father’s shop in Alderney. While he also came to New Zealand as a farm labourer, he followed in his father’s footsteps and resumed working as a tailor.

The family appears to have shifted around latter however as when the oldest child was born Francis was a farmer at Seafield. The following year when the second child was born they were farming at Ashburton. Yet again when the third child’s birth was registered he was a coal dealer in Ashburton. By the time my father was born on 6 August 1891, however, he had returned to work in Christchurch as a tailor possibly because of his father’s ill health.

Francis and Susan had a family of six children in all and spent the rest of their days at their home in 136 King Street, Christchurch. Two of the children failed to reach adulthood with their first child Philip being born on 23 April 1887 only to die later the same year. The fifth child Wilhelmina, born in 1893, died at age 15 on 1 March 1908. Francis died on 21 Agust 1926 at the age of 79 and Susan the next year on 10 July 1927 at the age of 61.

William and Ann Thomas

Ann Elizabeth Le Breton married William Thomas at Waltham, Christchurch on 1 July 1869. William Thomas was born in Adelaide, South Australia, in 1847. His occupation in 1877 was listed as brick maker. William and Ann had a large family of 11 children and also raised two foster children (William and Ebenezer Charles Brown) at their home in King Street, Christchurch.

William owned a coal yard and was also a lay preacher at the Primitive Methodist Church. He helped to quarry stone from the Halswell Quarry for the Christchurch Cathedral in the 1870s and carried it to the building site in his own bullock cart. Ann did her bit as well be baking scones and buns for the workmen.

One of William and Mary’s sons later took over the coal yard. I can remember going there with my father to buy coal as a youngster. Ann Elizabeth died on 1 December 1915 at the age of 66 and William died just one month after his wife on 3 January 1916.

Louisa Le Breton

As stated in the introduction, Louisa stayed in the Channel Islands when her family emigrated to New Zealand and came out after her aunt died.

Once again little is known except that she sailed from England, no doubt after travelling from Guernsey, on the Rimutaka, and arrived in Wellington, New Zealand in 1902. She appears to have been an avid autograph hunter; mainly people with whom she was associated through the church.

The autograph book includes a number of sketches that I assume were her work. She also appears to have been an accomplished pianist. Unfortunately she was to die, only four years after her arrival, on 4 April 1906 at the age of 53.

Alfred John and Josephine Le Breton

Alfred John was the youngest of the children who came to New Zealand. He was not content to stay in New Zealand, however, and in about 1880 left for Australia where he married Josephine Agnes Collins on 24 February 1882 in Sydney. Alfred’s brother Adolphus appears to have travelled to Sydney for the wedding.

Josephine was born about 1865 in Sydney but little else is known of her at this stage. Her parents were James and Margaret Collins (nee McHugh). Because Josephine was under age the mother of the bride, Margaret Fearns, consented to the wedding. As she was also a witness at the wedding and signed as Margaret Fearns it is possible that the father had remarried.

They had a family of five children. The first died before her first birthday but all the others survived to adulthood and went on to establish a large Le Breton branch of the family in Australia. Alfred, like his father and brothers, continued to work as a tailor in Australia and passed his trade down to his oldest son and first grandson, Lee Le Breton.

William and Amelia Woolley

Amelia Luce Le Breton married William Woolley at Waltham, Christchurch on 25 August 1869 a few weeks after her sister Ann. William and Ann had a family of eight children that I have located to date. All survived to adulthood.

William died on 11 July 1914 at the age of 68 but Amelia lived for another 24 years and died on 11 March 1938 at the age of 86. She was the last of her generation to die and hence the last of the family that had come to New Zealand over 76 years before. She also outlived four of her eight children.

Adolphus John and Wilhelmina Le Breton

Little is known of Adolphus except that he was married at the family home at Waltham, Christchurch on 24 May 1875 at the young age of seventeen and a half to an older woman, Wilhelmina Carolina Bennett, aged 25. At the time Adolphus was employed as a draper, probably in his father’s shop and Wilhelmina was a music teacher.

Wilhelmina was the daughter of William and Sarah Bennett (nee Williams) and was born in about 1845 in County Cork, Ireland. The couple were not blessed with any children and Adolphus died at a comparatively young age of 37 on 2 August 1895.

Wilhelmina remarried a widower James Castles and lived at Amuri, Canterbury, until she died on 1 August 1915 at age 70

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