We last left William Ford in Part 2, back in England with his wife, Elizabeth, after a long voyage from New Zealand. Preparations were being made for the family to emigrate to the colony and join William’s elder brother, John, who had already emigrated with his family in 1859. They would also be reunited with William Ford junior who had been left in Auckland by his father. After baptising all three of their young boys, on May 7th 1863, Elizabeth and her boys boarded the Captain Cook, which set sail from Gravesend, loaded with passengers and cargo. In fact, there were 316 adults, 107 children, one cabin passenger and 41 crew on board. It is remarkable that nearly a third of the passengers were children: there were many large families amongst the emigrants. Elizabeth and her children were travelling as assisted emigrants but for some reason, William himself did not qualify. Was he on board too?

Each ship had to have a medical doctor on board and fortunately, the journal of J.B. Clutterbuck M.D. has survived. It is from this that we gain some insight into the voyage of the Captain Cook. From the start, the doctor was a busy man. A baby was born the day after they left England and the majority of the passengers were soon “prostrated” by seasickness. Many had also come aboard in poor health. Charlotte Saunders had consumption and the doctor records that she should be given porter daily and “nutriment such as is at my disposal”. Similarly, Jane Kerr, aged 23, had advanced consumption. The doctor notes sadly “I doubt she will see ‘terra firma‘ again.” He orders her porter and wine adding “anything the poor girl fancies”. Mary Harrop has chronic bronchitis: “I question whether she will ever recover”. William Cooper has mesenteric disease coupled with diarrhoea and the doctor describes him as “a living skeleton”. Frederick Shone, a sailor, had a case of small pox but rather than cause panic, the doctor decides that his comrades should be told that he only has “secondary symptoms”.

Although today we would not approve of some of the treatments meted out by Dr Clutterbuck, he seems to me to have been a caring and conscientious doctor, who did his best for his patients. Every day he made his rounds at 10am as well as attending the sick when needed. He was particularly conscientious towards the children and nursing mothers. Dr Clutterbuck stipulated that the children were to receive a quart of milk daily until further notice, and an unlimited supply of arrow root, sage, tapioca, and wine. Elizabeth Ford, with three young children in her care, must have been grateful for this consideration.

To ensure the smooth running of the ship and maintain good order, a constable was appointed and a special constable was put in charge of the water closets. A school master and mistress were appointed to teach the children and a matron was entrusted with chaperoning the single women, making sure they behaved themselves. In addition, a baker was appointed to bake bread daily and two other men acted as storekeepers. The doctor also needed an assistant and nurse to help him in the discharge of his duties.

On May 29th, Dr Clutterbuck recorded that they were off the coast of Maderia. On Sunday 31st May, he made the following entry:

31st Sunday Service read by Captain Cleaver, good muster. Elizabeth Ford, wife of William Ford delivered of a son:

Journal of J.B. Clutterbuck M.D. Surgeon on “Captain Cook” 1863

Amazingly, this was the second of five babies that were born onboard ship during the voyage. However, this is the only baby where the father’s name is recorded. As well as confirming that William Ford was at his wife’s side, the entry suggests that Dr Clutterbuck was acquainted with William Ford. Both were educated men so perhaps they sought out each other’s company, perhaps discussing the latest scientific theories over dinner. When it came to choosing a name for their son, William and Elizabeth decided to commemorate the place of his birth: they named him Atlantic Seaborn Ford. What an auspicious start in life, to be born on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic!

Elizabeth Ford must have been grateful for the kindness of the doctor. At the beginning of the voyage he had stipulated that “comforts” were to be supplied weekly until June 11th to seventeen breastfeeding mothers (all named): they were given two bottles of stout each plus 12 tins of preserved mutton, 8 tins of preserved broth and 3 lbs of sago to be shared between them every Wednesday.

A few weeks later, on June 12th, it was the “anniversary of Captain Cleaver’s birth”. To celebrate, a special punch was made. Dr Clutterbuck lists the ingredients: 3 bottles of rum, 6 bottles of brandy, sugar, citric acid, lemons and 8 galleons of water. Everyone received half a pint each to drink to the captain’s health and no doubt it was very welcome, as the temperature below decks was recorded as being 98F (36.7C). Perhaps privately, William and Elizabeth whilst toasting the captain, also toasted the safe arrival of their baby boy.

I wonder whether William and Elizabeth Ford ever encountered a couple named Alfred and Mary Wheeler. They definitely must have heard about them. This couple were a constant thorn in the doctor’s side. On May 25th the doctor wrote that they had “used very insulting language to Captain Cleaver and myself and swore at the constable”. On June 1st, Alfred refuses to air his bedding and uses the most vile language. The “articles” were read to him by Captain Cleaver who tells him of his determination to prosecute him on arrival in the colony. Albert’s defiant response was “I care for nobody and have friends to see justice done me there”. And it goes on. On June 12th, the doctor asks Alfred to remove a slop pail overturned by a woman who fell down the companion ladder, which he had outside his berth. His reply was “D__m your eyes, who are you who order me!” On July 4th the couple refuse to clean their berth and after using “foul epitaphs”, Martha is placed in irons by the captain and forcibly removed from the deck.

As July turned into August, more passengers were coming down with fever and at the same time, the temperature was dropping, as the ship was far south, following the Furious Forties after passing the Cape of Good Hope. Dr Clutterbuck, who had hired an additional assistant and nurse to try to cope with the number of patients who needed attention, feared for their lives, given the extreme dampness and cold. One of the problems was that icy water was leaking from the deck onto all the berths below. It must have been miserable! On August 1st he decides to write to Captain Cleaver to request that the ship be turned northwards into a warmer latitude:

Letter written by J.B. Clutterbuck M.D. to Captain H.C. Cleaver requesting that the ship be turned north to a warmer latitude

That very next day they pass an iceberg and have to lay too in a hurricane. Captain Cleaver replies to say that he is in agreement and puts his private stores of medicine at the doctor’s disposal because “there has been so much sickness”. Conditions must have been terrible. As time went on, more and more people perished and their bodies were consigned to the deep. At the mercy of the sea, the wind and disease that was spreading, William and Elizabeth must have wondered whether their family would survive.

Before the ship’s was due to arrive in New Zealand, a list of the Government Assisted Emigrants on board appeared in the newspaper on August 8th 1863, along with the emigrants’ occupations. This was to help prospective employers find the workers they needed. Elizabeth Ford appears under the heading of “Farm Labourers”, as a widow from Scilly with four children. She certainly wasn’t a widow or a farm labourer. Had an assumption been made that she must be a widow because from the list, it appeared that she was travelling on her own with small children?

Lyttelton Times, Vol. XX, Issue 1121, August 8th 1863
New Zealand Newspapers Past and Present https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers

Finally, the Captain Cook arrived at the port of Lyttelton, Christchurch on September 7th 1863. The print below of Lyttelton, published in the Illustrated London News just over a month later, gives an idea of the first glimpses of New Zealand that would have greeted the passengers:

Port Lyttelton – Illustrated London News October 17 1863

The Captain Cook was immediately put into quarantine by the authorities because of the large number of cases of fever that had occurred on board and the numerous deaths. After such a long and arduous voyage, you can imagine the frustration of the passengers as they waited impatiently to disembark, but the authorities were concerned that fever was still on board the ship and the consequent danger of this spreading to the town. In the end, 200 of the passengers were allowed off the ship but were placed in quarantine, sleeping in tents at nearby Camp Bay. A lively correspondence appears in the Lyttelton Times between Captain Cleaver and his medical officer, J.B. Clutterbuck, on the one hand, who argue that all the passengers should be allowed off the ship and the Christchurch authorities and certain residents, who defended their position, as can be seen in the following article:

Article image
The Press Monday September 7th 1863
New Zealand Newspapers Past and Present

When the period of quarantine ended, the immigrants were finally free to start their new lives. William Ford and his family settled in Christchurch, in an area of the city called Papanui. Christchurch was still a very new city: the first European settlers had arrived in 1850 and in the early days, Papanui was a heavily wooded area. A road had had been constructed to Papanui to transport timber and a settlement grew up around it that later developed into a farming community. William’s brother, John, had settled in nearby St Albans so was close by.

William Ford did not continue to work as a mathematical instrument maker in the colony. Perhaps this was not possible without a large investment in tools and machinery. He needed a job straight away. Instead he found a job that used his skills, and helped to build and extend the electric telegraph across the country. As an engineering mechanic, he worked on the first telegraph line from Christchurch to Dunedin in the south, and then on to the west coast. The system of using electricity to transmit messages, through the laying of copper wires, had been developed in the 1830s in England by the scientists, Wheatstone and Cook, and in America, by Samuel Morse. In New Zealand, the Canterbury Provincial Government opened the first telegraph line in the country, linking Christchurch to Lyttelton, in 1862, just a year prior to William Ford’s arrival. By 1866, a telegraph network had spread all over the South Island and by 1872, 2000 miles of wire had been laid and 400,000 messages sent. William Ford was involved in this pioneering work.

William Ford junior, whom William had left in Auckland in 1861 joined the rest of the family in Christchurch in 1864. William’s nephew, Alfred William Ford, the son of his brother, John, was also in New Zealand and his uncle and aunt were just in time to see him married in Lyttelton in 1864. Alfred also settled in Papanui. (It is likely that he came to New Zealand with his family, as there is no trace of them in English records after the will of John Ford senior was proved in 1858). In 1865, William and Elizabeth Ford welcomed another son, Francis, into the family.

A few years later, in 1870, William’s mother, Mary, died in Wapping. William would have at last received his inheritance from his father. He was now 50 year old. Around 1877, William decided to change jobs and began working for the Lyttelton Times as their agent in Papanui. No doubt this was a less physically demanding job, suitable for the latter years of his life. It would also not require time away from home. Elizabeth must have been happy about that. She also had the pleasure of seeing her seafaring brother, Captain Clement Hooper again, as in 1880, he emigrated with his family to New Zealand and settled in Christchurch.

Elizabeth Ford died in 1893 followed by John Ford, William’s brother, in 1895, but William lived to ‘his 79 year’ dying on June 27th 1898 in Papanui. He had worked for the newspaper for 19 years until his death. His obituary appeared in the Lyttelton Times:

Lyttelton Times June 28th 1898
New Zealand Newspapers Past and Present

I obtained a copy of his death certificate from the New Zealand archives, as New Zealand death certificates are very informative:

Death Certificate of William Ford 1898

The informant of William Ford’s death was his son, Archibald Clement Ford. He was able to provide the information that his father was the son of John Ford, a shipowner, and Mary Ford, formerly Craig. If only all death certificates provided such wonderful information! In the modern day, William’s occupation of newsagent seems far removed from that of a mathematical instrument maker, but it ties in perfectly with the information given in his obituary. New Zealand death certificates also have a column where the place of birth and how long the person had been in New Zealand is recorded. William was stated to have been born in London and had been in the country for 37 years (corresponding with his first voyage to New Zealand in 1861). Although his son knew that he had been married before, he didn’t know the name of William’s first wife or where the marriage had taken place. He did know that there had been two children from this marriage, a male and a female. For the second marriage of William, he recorded the name of his mother, Elizabeth Mumford Dixon, the place of the marriage, Shadwell, and the fact that his parents had been married for 36 years. He records the ages of himself and his brothers as 33, 36, 39 and 42 at this time. Sadly, Francis, the youngest, and the one child born in New Zealand, had already died at the age of 18 in 1883. What a gem of a document to have all this amazing genealogical information recorded!

William Ford was buried in the graveyard of St Paul’s Anglican Church on Harewood Road in Papanui, joining his wife, Elizabeth, (Betsy) and their son Francis:

Image courtesy of http://www.transcriptions.nz/Gravestone.Photos/Papanui.St.Pauls.gravestones.html
St Paul’s Anglican Church, Harewood Road, Papanui, Christchurch Image courtesy of http://www.findagrave.com

What a long way William Ford had come from his former life in maritime Wapping, to Papanui, Christchurch, on the other side of the world. From being a mathematical instrument maker to helping to lay telegraph lines and selling newspapers. Four out of the five sons from his second marriage survived him along with William junior, the son from his first marriage. No doubt their descendants are living today in New Zealand and Australia. He also had the one daughter, Mary Ann, from his first marriage who stayed behind in England.

I decided to trace the life of William Ford because of his eventful life, his adventurous character and his fascinating profession as a mathematical instrument maker. He goes to New Zealand, not once but twice, but each time he is like a ghost, with no official record of his passage. On his arrival in New Zealand he reinvents himself, becoming first an electric telegraph mechanic and then a newspaper agent. Why did he go? His life in Wapping seems to have been successful and he had a generous inheritance coming his way upon the death of his mother. Were the tales of the sea captains who visited him so compelling? Was he following in the footsteps of his brother John, emigrated to New Zealand before him?


William Ford’s obituary mentions that he was survived by one daughter. This was Mary Ann, William’s daughter from his first marriage. Mary Ann is my husband’s two times great grandmother. She was the one that got left behind and there is no knowledge in my husband’s family that the rest of the family all emigrated to New Zealand. I always feel a lot of sympathy for her. She loses her mother as a young girl and her father marries again a few months later. He then decides to up sticks with his new wife and children and create a new life in New Zealand. Her brother, William, had also left two years previously. After her father left in 1863, Mary Ann never saw him again. I can imagine her waving her handkerchief in the air, weeping, her eyes fixed on his receding figure as the ship pulled out into the river and gradually became a tiny dot in the distance.

© Judith Batchelor 2020

12 thoughts on “The Tale of the Mathematical Instrument Maker Part 3

    1. Thank you very much! You wonder whether Atlantic Seaborn was proud of his name or whether he got fed up having to explain its provenance. The family does seem to have prospered and been happy in New Zealand. It was worth making that voyage!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. When you think of the massive challenges with relocating across the other side of the world around 200 years ago, there bravery must be commended. Maybe Atlantic was able to make light of it over the years or maybe he hated it?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think there was some pride in being one of the first emigrants, hence the year of their arrival, 1863, was recorded on William and Elizabeth’s memorial. Perhaps Atlantic Seaborn viewed his name as a badge of honour.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I loved the story and have to note how timely their quarantine efforts were, considering we are in the midst of our own pandemic.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jude, I have enjoyed this unfolding story immensely. How wonderful to have the journal of the ship’s doctor for a window into the journey. I agree that he sounds like a very caring man. It’s really eye opening to hear how passengers were ‘managed‘ on board. The poor health of many travellers is also revealing. I wonder if some of them hoped for a healthier environment in NZ? The outbreak of infection on board and the quarantine is really timely! I raised an eyebrow reading that this was just a usual form of ship fever and ‘not so deadly’, in spite of so many deaths. It was sad to hear that the children from his first marriage were so disconnected and that his son didn’t even know his father’s first wife and children’s names. Just two questionS – the mention of Elizabeth’s birth does say she is William’s wife but does that mean he was on board? It seems highly likely but it’s also common for women to be named as the wife of X. Also, hearing about the difficult passenger who was cuffed made me wonder again about my ancestor who was ‘confined’, as another possibilty I had considered is that she was locked up during the journey! I am not sure if ‘confined’ would have been used in that way.
    Thank you, Jude – I really learned a lot from this!


  3. Thanks so much for your comment. It is difficult not to have some sympathy for the doctor. It was a huge responsibility but he was trying to downplay the seriousness of the disease when he described the cases as the usual form of “Ship’s fever”. I think there was also a need not to cause panic amongst the other passengers. He also did not want to incur their wrath on arrival by supporting the quarantine. In fact, elsewhere in his journal, he mentions that he talked about quarantine as a threat to encourage the passengers to be more hygienic and air their bedding. At the same time, he makes it clear that he thought quarantine was an outdated practice!
    The children from William Ford’s second marriage would have little recollection, if any of England, so it is perhaps not surprising that his son was vague about the first family. The form was also very small!
    You are right that in theory, the mention of William’s name does not necessarily mean that he was on board. However, I feel confident that he was, as he definitely arrived in New Zealand around this time. His son, Francis, was born in 1865. His gravestone also gives his year of arrival as 1863, as does his death certificate. I think the doctor would have made some comment if Elizabeth was on her own. Instead, it is the only birth where the husband is recorded. It is just strange that William’s wife and children were assisted passengers but he was not.
    I guess the word “confined” can mean different things depending on the context. It is perhaps not impossible, though maybe unlikely, that your ancestor had been locked up during her voyage. Something to think about!


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