Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

March 2008

This months News



Village History

A Miller’s Tale from New Zealand

In the mid and latter half of the nineteenth century, there was a wave of emigration to the colonies, particularly by those whose work depended on agriculture.  Farming went through very hard times; wages were low, cottages cramped, and families often large.  Children were commonly set to such work as bird-scaring from crops from the age of nine, to help eke out the family income. 

It has always been intriguing to me to know the next chapter in the lives of these emigrants, and how they fared.  In the summer of last year, I was fortunate to meet Barbara Hann from New Zealand, a Summerton descendant visiting Oxhill, and she has kindly since sent me details of the outward voyage made by her ancestor Thomas Summerton, 1827 -1903, and his subsequent history.

Thomas was born in Southam, but by the time of the 1841 census it seems he was living with his parents in Oxhill where his father William was a carpenter.  By 1851 he was married, and working as a miller in Birmingham, then a much smaller place.  In March 1859 he emigrated with his family to New Zealand, settling in the South Island. 

Summerton was once a common name in Oxhill, and by the nineteenth century there were (at least) two distinct Summerton families here, who did not consider themselves related.  The family with more ancient roots (the name goes back for centuries in the church registers) were by the end of the century, working as clockmakers and repairers.  The other family worked mainly as millers and bakers, and an oral memory has it that they had arrived here - comparatively speaking - “later on”.  In 1841 the miller at the Oxhill Windmill was a John Summerton, and while family research by Barbara’s family does not indicate any relationship with Thomas, it is interesting to note that Thomas later took up this occupation himself.  (Maybe he had had some work experience as a lad here?)

The Lyttleton Times of 13th July 1859 gives a detailed account of the voyage that took Thomas to New Zealand.  Together with his wife and five children, aged from 13 to 1 he sailed on the ship Cameo, 785 tons, which left London on 1st March and arrived at Lyttleton, the port for Christchurch on 11th July.  The “government immigrants” listed among the passengers included over 70 various farm workers, and over 40 tradesmen and craftsmen.  Among the 28 single women, 21 were domestic servants.

The voyage had a slow start, as after leaving port the ship could not get clear away from land for two days.  After this they had a tedious voyage to the Equator, where the ship was becalmed for nearly three weeks.  However when they finally reached New Zealand, it was reported that there had been no illness on board, and that “the passengers affirm that it has been comparatively agreeable throughout”, and were said to be “in excellent spirits”.  The voyage had not been entirely uneventful however.  During its 112 days, there had been three births, and two deaths, one of a newborn baby, and the other a man of consumption, (TB).

Thomas and his family settled in the Christchurch area, and after hard work, he was able in time to build and run his own Steam Flour Mill.  He then suffered an unlucky period when he became bankrupt, whereupon he tried his hand in the Thames gold field for two years, before returning to work near Christchurch.  Fortune was kinder this time, and he went on to build and run a series of Flour Mills, remaining in business until his death in 1903, aged 76.  By this time he had 40 grandchildren, and 5 great grandchildren.

Ann Hale

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Last modified: February 28, 2008