Life as settlers in New Zealand's remote South Island

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Hard times in New Zealand for Amelia Gaudin


Amelia Gaudin, William and their two surviving daughters after they left Martins Bay

In 1874, or thereabouts, Philippe Gaudin, then aged 54, took his wife Elizabeth, nee Wright, and their five children, Eliza Sophie, Jane, Philip John, Amelia and John to New Zealand

Emigration was not unusual for the Gaudin family. Their family tree shows other emigrants to New Zealand and Canada.

Life could be very hard for those who are now recognised as the pioneer settlers of Britain's dominions – Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.

In the 19th century, many families left their homes and relations behind in search of a better life thousands of miles away, and among them were numerous families from Jersey.

The property the family left behind

Amelia Margret, born in St Helier in 1855, was to live to 80, but there were hard times ahead when she married William Whitney Webb (1838-1917), an immigrant from Bedfordshire, on 4 February 1878.

Remote settlement

The couple lost no time in starting a family and their first child, Elizabeth Sylvia, arrived in November of that year. They had settled at Martins Bay, in the Otago region in the inhospitable far south-west of South Island. Even today this is an isolated settlement, and when the Webb family arrived it was more or less in the middle of nowhere, often described as New Zealand's most remote settlement.

The family grew steadily, with the addition of Nella Amelia in 1880, William Philip in 1882, and Ernest Frederick in 1884. But illness hit the family in 1884, and although Elizabeth and William recovered, Nella and Ernest Frederick died, and were buried in nearby Jamestown Cemetery. Amelia soon had another baby, which was premature and died soon after birth.

The final blow came in 1896 when the Webbs' 14-year-old son William succumbed to an influenza infection. The distressed parents decided to pack up and leave the isolated community. Sir Thomas Mackenzie MP, who was visiting Martins Bay at the time, told the story:

'Mr Webb and his family are to come with us. They have been camped on the beach for weeks waiting the arrival of the Hinemoa. After jumping ashore I meet Webb and ask about his wife. He has a sad tale to tell. Just a fortnight before he lost his only son, a fine young fellow of fourteen. The food is nearly done, only potatoes left. His wife was in a very low state. I go into a hut (the hut was fordumping settlers' stores at Boat Harbour)
'She is almost too weak to speak. During the time the boat is coming and going I walk along to see Dan McKenzie, who greatly deplores the lack of communication (with Martins Bay). Soon Mr Webb's little all is put on board, then he carries his wife in his arms to the boat. What a change from when I last saw the Webbs, now 15 years ago, when I first crossed the mountains to the west coast. We received great kindness then. Mr Webb had spent 24 yearsof his life exploring, prospecting, farming and is now glad to get away'.

The Webbs' property had been purchased prior to their departure by John Hunter Campbell, whose daughter ane was to meet Captain Daniel Alabaster on his return to visit to Martins Bay. As well as the house and 50-acre section on the lower Holyford, the purchase included Webbs' quarter acre section at Jamestown, 'an old rowing boat, 18 head of tame cattle and an interest in 40 head of wild ones'.

The Webbs sailed sadly away from their isolated outpost to begin life anew in the midst of a bustling city, Otahuhu, where William died on 4 November 1917 and Amelia on 20 February 1935.

When the Webbs departed from Martins Bay in 1896 it was their next neighbour up the river, John George, who carted their gear down to the beach on his horse and sledge and who brought the Campbells back to their new home.

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