• Nicola

Long read - Lincolnshire emigrants to New Zealand

1871-1881 29,000 people migrated from Lincolnshire; some within the UK but many to North America, Australia and New Zealand.[1] Unrest amongst the agricultural workers fuelled the migration and local unions, such as the Lincolnshire Labourers League (LLL), worked with emigration agents to encourage their members to emigrate.


William Banks, a local man and emigration agent established the LLL on 27 April 1872.[2]

The union campaigned for emigration for three reasons:

  • to give people the chance of a better life

  • to give those who had been victimised for union activity a fresh start

  • to make labour in England scarcer and therefore increase wages.[3]

William Bocock, a 21-year-old farm labourer, and his wife Betsy Ann, aged 20, sailed on the Halcione which left Gravesend for New Zealand on 28 May 1875, arriving 99 days later, on 3 September.[4]


The 'Halcione' under tow. c1895. Part of A.D. Edwardes Collection. State Library of South Australia PRG 1373/22/99 https://collections.slsa.sa.gov.au/resource/PRG+1373/22/99

In 1871, William was a farm servant boarding with agricultural labourer William Borman in Irby upon Humber in Lincolnshire.[5] Betsy Ann was living with her widowed father, Thomas Smith in Binbrook.[6] On 28 June 1873, William married Betsy Ann at Binbrook parish church.[7]


Strike action in Lincolnshire in early 1874, called the ‘Revolt in the Field’, helped to fuel emigration. Betsy’s father worked for Cornelius Stovin, a farmer who had sworn not to employ any union members.[8] In his journal Stovin refers to Tom Smith several times but then on 28 January 1875 writes:


“It is several years since old Tom Smith commenced doing the work…Poor old Tom has found his mistake of joining the strike last year.”[9]


The only source available for the LLL are their newspapers. In 1874 Banks started The Labour League Examiner which in 1875 became The Labourer.[10] [11] The British Library has these on microfilm, there are no copies online.[12] [13] However, works on the Revolt and New Zealand emigration, particularly Russell’s Revolt in the Field in Lincolnshire, quote widely from these papers. Rollo Arnold, in The Farthest Promised Land, has a chapter on emigration from North Lincolnshire and he uses the union newspapers to good effect to compile a detailed description of some Lincolnshire emigrants, including some of the Halcione passengers.[14] The newspapers also reported on what happened to emigrants in New Zealand, although they obviously only reported on positive outcomes.


Advert for the Burton and White partnership[15]

Taranaki is on the west side of New Zealand’s North Island. The local newspapers, available on Papers Past, follow government discussions on their developing immigration plans in the early 1870s. One of the Immigration Agents appointed was a settler himself, William Mumford Burton, who had been farming in Taranaki for years.[16] William travelled to Lincolnshire where he linked up with John H White, an agent of the LLL.


Newspapers in Lincolnshire and Taranaki ran regular reports of the meetings that William Burton and John White held as they travelled around Lincolnshire talking about the benefits of emigrating to New Zealand, and Taranaki in particular.[17]


Extract from the Taranaki Herald, 5 June 1875 [18]

The partnership paid off and further reports described the large numbers of labourers emigrating to New Zealand under the auspices of the Labour League, the first reference to this appears on 10 April 1875, and relates to the first load of Burton’s recruits travelling on the Collingwood.[19] [20] Later there were reports that a special train had to be laid on to transport hundreds of workers from Lincolnshire to London to join the Halcione.[21]


Passenger lists are the main source for emigration events and images of Halcione’s passenger list are online in FamilySearch’s collection: New Zealand, Archives New Zealand, Passenger Lists, 1839-1973. These can be searched either by passenger name or by browsing the images to find the arrival year and vessel name.


William and Betsy Bocock on the passenger ship of the Halcione.[22]

The lists are full of information, including some interesting summaries of the data by trade and county. A limitation of the list is that it only confirms the county the passenger is from and not the village or town.


The passenger list starts with a helpful index of passengers organised alphabetically by surname. Passengers are listed in separate sections: families, single men and single women. Children aged 14 and over whose names are listed amongst the families are crossed through and re-entered as single men and women. After this section the next part looks like another passenger list but in a different format and the names of those who did not travel crossed out perhaps due to a change of heart or not passing the medical. One such family was George and Elizabeth Brown and their seven children, who eventually emigrated to Quebec in 1883.[23]


The heritage collection of the New Plymouth Museum and Archive called Puke Ariki, can be searched online and they have the following items relating to the Halcione’s journey:


Items in Puke Ariki relating to Halcione.[24]

Yesteryears New Zealand is a useful site for transcriptions of emigrant’s diaries including one written by Emily Summerhays, a cabin passenger on the Halcione.[25]

William Bocock also kept a diary which is now held by Puke Ariki and they have published some extracts online:


30 May: Got into the Bay of Biscay. Some beautiful waves as high as our ship. Saw some sea pigs. Going 9 knots an hour. Ship rolls very much. A few sick. Wife very bad. Another pig dead. Lost 3 or 4 of our pigs. The tins and raisins, butter and all sorts of things rolling all over the ship. We cannot stand by ourselves unless falling.[26]

As a private diary it is a useful source of information on the conditions on board and two months in, he was having a rough time:


26 July: Had another fight. We are tired of being prisoners. We should all like to be on land. It is a tiring job being at sea you may depend. You have no idea at all what there is to put up with. Only them knows that it has to do with. It's rough there's no mistake.[27]

Some migrants kept journals with the intention of publishing and so these are less reliable. John King produced one such during his voyage on the Chile which arrived a few weeks after the Halcione. White and Burton had his diary published and so it is much more sanitised; it can be read online.[28]


August 5th – Some people might imagine that the time would hang heavily on our hands, but this is not the case, for it is surprising how quick it passes, the more sea the merrier, for it is always cause for a laugh, when a sea comes and damps a lot of us down.[29]

There were eight deaths on board the Halcione. The Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths at Sea, 1844-1890 are available on Ancestry which usefully allows searches by vessel name, unlike on Familysearch.


Deaths on board Halcione.[30]

The birth registers, which usefully includes the mother’s maiden name, show there were three births during the voyage.


Births on Halcione[31]

Local newspapers report the arrival of immigrant ships and the Halcione’s arrival was announced in the Taranaki Herald. The report included the names, ages and home county of the immigrants as well as a brief description of the voyage.[32]


William and Betsy Bocock on the immigrant list in the Taranaki Herald 4 September 1875[33]