Monday, August 18, 2014

JAMES, Kenneth Richard (Ken) 1895-1918

Gunner Kenneth Richard James, 22nd Reinforcements,
NZ Field Artillery, NZEF. WWI service no 35278.

The pool of European settlers in colonial New Zealand was a relatively small one. In an alien land, these pioneers depended a great deal upon each other for support. Networking was the name of the game, with much reliance placed on the oldest network of all - family. 

Ken James was born on 20 October, 1895, at Ashhurst, a small social and supply centre in the Manawatū, founded in 1877 as part of the intensive Manchester Block settlement. [1] His father Richard was running a business as a canvas goods maker in Ashhurst at the time of his son's birth, selling miscellaneous items like horse and hayrick covers, oilskin coats and marquees.[2] His mother was Mary Ellen Ruth (nee Funnell) (born c.1863), [3] whose extended family was based at Lower Moutere, a rural area just outside Motueka. Richard James was born c.1859 in Middlesex, England at Poplar, London, and was third of four sons in a family of eight. His father, William Jenkins James, was a sailor from Pembrokeshire, Wales. Richard became a rigger like his father, and clearly also picked up sailmaking skills as part of the job. He emigrated to New Zealand sometime in the 1880s. He was Ruth’s first cousin through his mother, Caroline James (nee Stepney), sister of Ruth's mother, Charlotte. [4] Ken was their third child - he had a brother, John Howard Leigh (b. 15 April, 1892) and a sister, Phoebe Ruth (b. 1894).

Richard and Ruth had married at the Palmerston North registry office on 13 June 1887. At the time of their wedding Richard gave his usual address as Feilding. Ruth may have been staying with her older brother, Francis Walter (Frank) Funnell (b.1858), who was engaged in breaking in sections 33 & 44 for farm land on the outskirts of Ashhurst, in the vicinity of the Otangaki trig station. He had himself married on 21 February, 1887, to Mary Agnes Schonbohm of Wanganui. [5] Frank died of complications resulting from influenza in November, 1891, leaving no children, and his widow married again a year later to Charles Joseph Wycherley, owner of a saddlery establishment in Ashhurst. However, the Jameses remained in the area, apparently living at section 333 in town. 

Before long they were joined by another of Ruth's brothers, Henry Richard Funnell, a brickmaker like his father and grandfather before him, who by 1892 was living in Ashhurst with his family and had set up in business. "Mr H. Funnell, our local brickmaker is about to start a capacious residence on his Ashurst property", reported the "Woodville Examiner" on 24 September 1892 in its "Ashurst News" section."The later gentleman has increased his shed accommodation, very largely for brick making purposes in order to keep up with the increased demand in the district". Ashhurt was booming. The word went out, and other settlers from the Motueka area soon made their way north, one being Riwaka pioneer David Drummond Jnr with his wife Elizabeth Hawken.

Richard James opened his "Sail and Tent Factory" at the start of 1892, amd may have been working from home. Like most settlers, he was versatile. He grazed stock, did work for the Manchester Road Board and some plate-laying for the Wellington & Manawatu Railway Co. He also invested in land, and in August 1898 sold eight properties around Ashhurst, including section 333. He appears to have acquired two other suburban sections around this time; section 11 on Ashhurst's Main Street (now Cambridge Ave) and section 45 on the corner of Mulgrave and Salisbury Streets

Main street, Ashhurt, c. 1895

Ken might well have already been going to the Ashhurst Public School with his older brother Howard when the Jameses moved at the end of 1903 from Ashhurst, to Lower Moutere. He then attended the Motueka and Lower Motutere Schools. Richard James sold his sections 11 and 45 in Ashhurst to a Mr J. Masters late in 1900, after which the family lived at "the cemetery house" (presumably the caretaker's home) at the Ashhurst Domain, off Napier Road. Richard James acted without fee as sexton and caretaker at the Ashhurst Cemetery in exchange for grazing rights. In September 1903 he held a clearing sale after deciding to devote his resources to patenting and promoting an invention he'd been working on. The Manawatu Standard notes on August 25, 1903, that "the application of Mr Richard James of Ashhurst for letters patent for an improved cooking appliance has been accepted". What became of it is unclear. It appears he didn't make his fortune from it - before long he was working in the Motueka area as a builder, a trade he then followed in Nelson until his eventual retirement. 

Ruth’s parents, Walter and Charlotte (nee Stepney) Funnell, were early Lower Moutere settlers. They arrived in Nelson on the Larkins in November, 1849, after taking ship from London in company with eloping newly-weds, Walter and Leah (nee Gregory) Guy, who also settled in Lower Moutere. The Funnell and Guy families were of long standing in the same area of the East Sussex Wealdan District and had intermarried over time. The two Walters were related - Walter Funnell's mother Hannah (nee Guy) was Walter Guy's older sister, making Walter Funnell Walter Guy's nephew. 

Walter Guy had a property with a homestead known as Moutere House on Central Road, in Lower Moutere,  not far from the current Jubilee Bridge. He later made a substantial investment in land at Ngatimoti, which was farmed by his only son, John Arliss Guy. Walter Funnell, who came from a long line of brickmakers, set up brick kilns on his farm, which was in the area where the Lower Moutere Hall stands today. He was helped in this enterprise by his father, Richard - his parents had followed their only child to New Zealand on the Cornwall in 1853. Hannah Funnell (nee Guy) died in 1866 and Richard remarried in 1867 to Charlotte Alcock before dying himself 10 years later in 1877. Walter and Charlotte Funnell had a family of eight, four daughters and four sons, all born in Motueka. Ruth was their youngest daughter.

Lower Moutere School, class of 1907
Ken James at end of back row (far right). HIs brother Howard is at the other end of the back row (far left) .

The Funnells had close connections too with the Wills family, who also lived in the Lower Moutere area today marked by the street name Wills Road, and in 1885 Ada Rickard Wills, daughter of James Williams Wills II and Emily Patience (nee Scott), had married Ruth’s brother, Henry Richard Funnell, becoming Ruth James’ sister-in-law. Henry and Ada had four children - Gordon Henri Ralph,  Allan Cuthbert, and Eva Madeline, all  born in Lower Moutere, and Redvers Noel Keith, born in 1901 after his family moved to the Manawatū.

In 1908 Ken's parents shifted from Lower Moutere to Gloucester Street in Tahunanui, Nelson. His grandfather, Walter Funnell, died at his home in 1910. 
[6] At some point after Ken finished his schooling around the age of thirteen or fourteen, he started work with his aunt Ada’s brother, James Williams Wills III, known as Jim, who owned a 36 acre property called Willow Brook at Ngatimoti, near the bottom of Church Hill. Ken boarded with the Wills' family during this time. The Willses' two sons were of a similar age to Ken; Rowland, the oldest, was born in 1895, and Allan was two years younger. [7] 

Born at Lower Moutere in 1866 to James Williams Wills II and his wife Emily Patience (nee Scott), Jim Wills was the only son in a family of eight, and grew up on the family farm in the area now marked by Wills Road. Jim's grandfather, fhe first James Williams Wills, emigrated from Devonshire, England, with his wife, Betsy (nee Rickard) and family to New Zealand on the Timandra in 1842. They had settled in New Plymouth, but were driven out by the Taranaki Land Wars and removed to Lower Moutere late in 1863, along with two of their sons, Albert and James William Wills II. They set up on adjoining blocks of land and James W. Wills II had a flour-mill operating beside the Moutere River near the current Jubliee Bridge. Both Albert and his brother James were fluent speakers of the Maori language and often acted as interpreters with local Maori. Life was not easy for Jim Wills and his sisters after their father was declared bankrupt in 1874, and died two years later of a heart attack at the early age of 42. [8]

James W. (Jim) Wills III (centre, holding baby) with wife Ellen (nee Starnes) on his right,
 and family at Ngatimoti.
They had 4 children; Jean, Rowland, Allan and Meta.

Jim Wills married Ellen Emma Clara Starnes, youngest daughter of Stephen and Fanny Jane (formerly Forfar, nee Briggs) Starnes. Stephen Starnes was another early Lower Moutere settler from the Chiddingly area of East Sussex and and through his mother, Elizabeth (nee Guy), was related to Walter Guy of Moutere House. Emma's nephew, Fred Starnes, son of her brother Thomas, served with distinction during WWI as an officer with the 12th (Nelson) Company of the Canterbury Infantry Brigade. The Wills-Starnes wedding took place at the bride's family home, Mount Pleasant, on 19 April, 1893 [9] and the newly-weds moved into an old two-storeyed home at Willow Brook not far from Sunny Brae, the Waiwhero Road home of Walter Guy's son, John Arliss Guy. The land, with the orchards and old house on it, had previously belonged to George Remnant, who was Jim Wills' step-father, having married his widowed mother, Emily, in 1888. It appears that when George died this farm was sold to another Ngatimoti settler, James Delaney, and a piece carved off for Jim Wills, whose now twice-widowed mother Emily stayed on with her son and his new wife.

A steam-powered sawmill operated on Jim Wills' property, milling timber for apple cases, and he built a new home with timber he chose and milled himself. For many years derelict and used as a hay barn, this house has been restored in more recent times to its original state. The Wills’ apple orchard was considered one of the best in the district and Ken no doubt spent much of his time cultivating, pruning, harvesting and packing the fruit. [10] Other fruit grown at Willow Brook included pears, plums, cherries and raspberries, which were sold to the Motueka jam factory at 3d per lb. Ken would also have helped with general crop and stock work on the Wills' farm and perhaps with the sawmilling operation and making up packing cases.

 Sept.1912 - the Wills family express ready to transport Rowland Wills to Motueka 
as he returns to Wellington after annual leave. 
Uncle George Starnes from Auckland next to James Wills (at the reins). 
Meta Wills holds the horse and Grandpa (Stephen Starnes) with crutch stands by. 
Rowland Wills, Ken James and Allan Wills in the back.

Jim Wells and his family were members of the Plymouth Brethren movement founded at Ngatimoti by James George Deck in the 1850s. Land for the modest Brethren Meeting Hall, which once stood on the side of the hill across the road from the Wills’ home, was donated by Jim Wills, along with a paddock with a trap shed and hitching rails for the convenience of those attending meetings. He also donated a paddock on the flat below his house for the Ngatimoti's first tennis courts.[11] Two of his sons, Rowland and Alan, served during the war on the NZ Hospital Ship Marama. Alan Wills trained as a teacher and from 1921-1926 was schoolmaster at the Ngatimoti School. He was remembered as an enthusiatic teacher and keen cricketer. His pupils were put to work helping to create a cricket pitch at the school and both boys and girls enjoyed many lunchtime games of cricket there over the summer months. [12]

While working at the Willses', Ken had relatives not too far distant in Lower Moutere and would have made friends his own age in the Ngatimoti area. In a photograph taken at the opening of the Peninsula Bridge at Ngatimoti in 1913, Ken can be seen drilling with local Senior Cadets including Herbert (Bert) Thomason, Harry Ham and Frank Strachan, all of whom would later serve during the war.[13] He went on to train with the 12th (Nelson-Marlborough) Regiment of the Territorial Force.

Senior Cadets drill at the opening of the Peninsula Bridge, Ngatimoti, 1913
L-R: H.H. (Bert) Thomason, Harry Ham, Ken James, Frank Strachan.

 By the time he enlisted as a Gunner with the 22nd Reinforcements, NZ Field Artillery, on 29 August, 1916,  Ken had returned to his family home and was working as a labourer for poultry farmer Henry Leach at Wakatu, Nelson. This job may have been arranged for him by his uncle Jim Wills - Joseph Henry Leach was another Ngatimoti connection and part of the Brethren network - the Leach brothers, Henry and Percy, both married daughters of Orinoco pioneer George Lines, a member of the Plymouth Brethren, whose home once stood on the small hill where the boutique B&B "Edenhouse" stands today. Ken trained at the Featherston Military Training Camp, and is recorded on his NZEF attestation form as being single, an Anglican and aged 21.[14] He was still in New Zealand when his mother, Ruth, died at the family's Tahunanui home on the 2nd of November, 1916, at the age of 53.[15] Ken embarked for the Western Front on the Aparima,  February 16, 1917. He was killed in action at Baupaume, France, on the 29th of August, 1918. 

Ken's older brother Howard was a clerk with the Civil Service in Wellington when war broke out. He enlisted on 1 December, 1915 with the NZ Medical Corps and served as a Staff-Sergeant on NZ Hospital Ship No 1, Maheno. Howard James had been a member of the Regimental Band, 5th Wellington Territorials Regiment, before the war, and as well as practising standard drill, members of regimental bands were instructed in first aid. By military tradition, band members also doubled as stretcher bearers and medical orderlies. After returning home he married Gladys Ethel Bethwaite from Nelson in 1919. They had no living children. Howard James took a job as a postal clerk in Wellington, where he and his wife remained for the rest of their lives. He died in Levin in 1959 at the age of 67.

Five of Ken James’ Funnell cousins also went off to war, but survived: Gordon Henri Ralph, oldest son of Henry Richard and Ada (nee Wills) Funnell, who had joined Ruth and Richard James in Ashhurst in the 1890s; Ivan Clifton, Stepney William and Carol Walter, all sons of Ruth’s brother William James Funnell and his wife, Elizabeth (nee Manning); and Edward Walter (Tommy), son of Ruth James’ brother Edward Archibald (Arch) Funnell and his wife Eleanor (nee Edwards). 

After the war Gordon Funnell returned to Kimbolton in the Manawatu and his work as a carpenter. His parents had sometime earlier retired to Auckland. Ivan and Carol Walter Funnell moved from Lower Moutere to the Ashhurst area, where Ken had grown up and their uncle Henry had settled with his family. Their parents William and Elizabeth went with them. Their brother Stepney (Step) Funnell stayed in Lower Moutere and continued to farm there.  Tommy Funnell went back to Lower Moutere, where he set up as a carrier under the name E. Funnell & Co. His carrying business was later incorporated in the conglomerate, Transport Nelson. He also donated part of the family land as a site for the Lower Moutere Hall.

Richard James remained at his Tahunanui home. It appears that Ken's sister Phoebe never married, but lived with her father and cared for him until his death in 1942. She moved tfrom Nelson to Hamilton in the Waikato in the 1950s and died there on 27 Seotember 1968.  She was buried at the Hamilton Park Cemetery,  The note "cousin of Mollie" added to her burial record indicates that she perhaps made the move to be near relatives.


Ken James lies beneath a headstone at the Grevillers British Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France. He is listed on the Nelson-Tasman Roll of Honour and commemorated at the Ngatimoti War Memorial in Tasman, New Zealand.

Ken is also commemorated in this inscription on the headstone of his parents' joint grave in the Wakapuaka Cemetery, Nelson (Wesleyan Block, Plots 17 &18).

"In loving memory of RUTH, wife of R.James, who departed this life, Nov 2nd, 1916, aged 53 years. And of RICHARD, husband of above, who died Oct. 17th, 1942, aged 84 years. Gnr K.R. JAMES killed in France Aug. 29th, 1918. Aged 20 years".
 (Note: Ken James was in fact 23 at the time of his death)


1) BDM Historical. Birth certificate, Ref:  1896/4046
Dept of Internal Affairs

Note: Ken's birth certificate has his name as “Richard Kenneth”, though it is written as "Kenneth Richard" on his enlistment papers. On his NZ Expeditionary Force attestation form he signed himself "K. R. James." Although he was born on October 20, 1895, his birth was not registered until February, 1896.

A registration date for the birth of Ken's mother, Ruth, has not yet been traced, however her age is given as 32 on Ken's birth certificate and on her wedding certificate (BDM Ref: 1887/3105) she is clearly identified as Mary Ellen Ruth, daughter of Walter and Charlotte (nee Stepney) Funnell of Lower Moutere.

 2) Fielding Star, 26 March, 1892
Advertisment: Notification of establishment of Richard James’ business in Ashhurst.

3) BDM Historical: Marriage certificate,  Richard James to Mary Ellen Ruth Funnell. Ref: 1887/3105


5) The Family of Dorothea Mae James Wycherley
Journal at Family Tree Circles.

6) Death of an Early Settler. Walter Funnell (1826-1910) Obituary.
Nelson Evening Mail, 9 August, 1910.

7) Whelan, Helen, Ngatimoti is in the News (Unpublished collection).

8) In bankruptcy, In the matter of James Williams Wills, Miller, of the Lower Moutere.
Colonist 30 June, 1874.

9) Marriage of James Wills and Ellen Starnes, 19 April, 1893.
    Colonist, 24 April. 1893.

10) Cyclopedia NZ (1906) Ngatimoti: J W Wills

11) Beatson, Kath and Whelan,Helen, The River Flows On: Ngatimoti Through Flood and Fortune, 2003 ed. Pub. Buddens   Bookshop, Motueka, See pg. 175.

12) Beatson, C.B. (Pat). The River, Stump and Raspberry Garden: Ngatimoti As I Remember. 1992. Nelson, NZ, Nikau Press pg 42

13) Our Boy: Francis Alexander Cochrane Strachan. His Letters and Diaries, with a short record of his life.
Published privately by the family of Frank Strachan, in 1920, and printed by L.T. Wtkins, Wellington.

14) Archives NZ. Military personnel record: Kenneth Richard James

    Colonist, 15 November, 1916.


1) The Guy and Funnell families were yeoman farmers who were both involved in the local trade of brickmaking. From the mid-18th century they not only intermarried but also tussled over the ownership of several  key brickyards at Chiddingly. See: Sussex Industrial Industry

Walter Funnell's father was described in the 1851 Census of  Laughton, Sussex, as "Richard Funnell, occupation: brickmaker and farmer, with 26 acres, employing 8 labourers". Walter Funnell and his sons also combined bricklaying with farming in New Zealand, but would have been among the last to do so - the time of the artisan brickmaker was over by the 1920s. Richard and Hannah  Funnell emigrated to New Zealand on the "Cornwall"  in 1853, and joined their only child, Walter, at Lower Moutere. Richard became a partner in the brick-making business Hannah (Anna) died at Lower Moutere in 1863,  Richard remarried, and died in 1877 at the age of 85.

2) Another Funnell family was already established in the Manawatū by 1874. Charles Funnell (1829-1920) a sawyer from Maresfield, East Sussex, his second wife Mary (nee Bashford) and their family arrived on the Manchester Block Settlement charter ship the Douglas, in 1873 (names wrongly transcibed as "Fennell" on passenger list), and settled around Palmerston North. Sawyers were in great demand as the heavily wooded Manawatū was cleared for farming. 

Given the closeness of Maresfield to Chiddingly, it seems likely that Charles Funnell was related by some degree to Walter Funnell of Lower Moutere, though any kinship does not appear to be have been a close one.  It's not clear if the presence of Charles Funnell's family had any influence on the decision of Ruth James' brother, Frank Funnell, to settle in the Ashhurst area.

3) The Wills family. James W. Wills III and Ellen (nee Starnes) had 4 children. Jean was a teacher and taught at Ngatimoti and Pokororo Schools. Allan (b. 1897) also taught at Ngatimoti School. Rowland (b. 1895) entered the Public Service and for some decades was an accountant for the Lands & Survey Department in Napier. Meta stayed at home to look after her father (her mother Ellen died  in April 1918 at the age of 51) until her marriage in the 1930s. James Wills lived on at Ngatimoti until his death in 1950 aged 83. Ellen Wills' father Stephen Starnes lived with the Willses after the death of his wife Fanny in 1905, and died at the age of 82 at their Ngatimoti home on 11 August, 1913.

Further Sources

Manawatū and Horowhenua Region. Colonisation begins Rapid change: 1870s-1880s.
Te Ara, The Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

Cyclopedia of New Zealand (1897) [Wellington Provincial District] 

Eliott, J.S., New Zealand's War Effort. Pub.Whitcombe and Tombs Limited, 1923,Auckland, NZ

 Second Battle of Baupaume, 21 August- 3 September, 1918

Tasman Roll of Honour. Kete Tasman: Kenneth Richard James

Photo credits

Portrait of Gunner Kenneth Richard James

Nelson Provincial Museum. Tyree Studio Collection: 95122

Main street Ashhurst c. 1895
Cyclopedia NZ (1897) [Wellington Provincial District]: Ashurst.

Our School's History 1857-1982: Wills Rd 1897-1918, Harekeke 1919-1974, Lower Moutere. 1857-1982
 (1982)  Nelson, NZ..
Pg. 24 Lower Moutere School, class of 1907

James W. Wills III with his wife Ellen (nee Starnes) and family at Ngatimoti
Guy Collection/Nelson Provincial Museum Permanent Collection, ref. 315237

"2 H.P.Motor, 1912"  The Wills family express courtesy Louise Darroch (Rowland Wills' family photo collection.)

Cadet drill at the opening of the Ngatimoti Peninsula Bridge, 5 July, 1913
From Our Boy: Francis Alexander Cochrane Strachan, published privately by the Strachan family.


The assistance of Heather Smith from the Ashhurst Genealogical Society has been much appreciated.

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