Topic: Essex Street (TDN 14/11/2020)

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Essex Street

Essex Street in Vogeltown was named in 1958 after one of the first six ships to bring British settlers to Taranaki.

Under the command of Captain Henry Oakley, the Essex sailed from Plymouth on 3 September 1842, carrying 115 passengers. Most were agricultural labourers and miners but there were also wheelwrights, shoemakers, seamstresses and domestic servants plus two Aubrey brothers who gave their occupation as “gentleman”. The majority had their fares paid by the Plymouth Company, after completing the requisite application papers and providing character references.

Some secured jobs for themselves aboard ship. Philbert Roberts was paid £25 for acting as Surgeon’s Mate and schoolmaster, while his wife Selina was matron, looking after the single women on board. As Constable, Charles Rowe was in charge of distributing food and maintaining discipline amongst the single men. In this way order and morality were preserved on the long journey.

British class distinctions would also have been maintained, with cabin passengers enjoying better accommodation and food than those in steerage, who cooked for themselves with the rations provided: preserved meat, flour, oatmeal and potatoes.

It was Plymouth Company policy to recruit immigrants from the same villages, so the majority of people on board would have known each other. Siblings often made the decision to immigrate together: brothers Nicholas and Richard Knuckey married sisters Zenobia and Jane Odgers and all four sailed with their children on the Essex.

The ship finally anchored off New Plymouth on the night of 19 January 1843. The Company’s Resident Agent, John Wicksteed, reported that “This vessel came to us in remarkably good condition. The Captain and Surgeon must have done their duty well. Nearly all the children took the scarlet fever, and all recovered… I believe there was no drunkenness or disorders on board the Essex.”

The town at that time was home to fewer than 1000 Europeans and little more than a collection of raupō huts. The changes seen by the last surviving passenger of the Essex, Oliver Knuckey, who sailed with his family at the age of four and died in 1927 aged 89, must have been immense.

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Essex Street (TDN 14/11/2020)

City:New Plymouth