Saturday, May 4, 2019

Searching for Thomas Ward (1815-1882) of "Langridge", Crediton, Devon, England.

The joys and frustrations of historical research:
Persistence, serendipity, collaboration, 
 and outright obsession.

The end of the line.
A broken headstone at Nelson's Wakapuaka Cemetery.

Some years ago I wrote a post about Captain Edward Fearon, a former master mariner who was, along with his friends Dr Danforth Greenwood and Charles Thorp, one of Motueka’s earliest European settlers.  Edward Fearon and his wife Elizabeth nee Ward, emigrated to New Zealand on the ship Thomas Sparks, leaving Gravesend, England, on 27 July 1842 and arriving in Nelson on 26 February 1843 after a lengthy, difficult and accident-prone voyage - see Captain Fearon's story for details.

A mystery associated with Captain Fearon’s story soon showed up. This was the consistent mention in well-regarded local histories of Captain Fearon working his Motueka section with his brother, Thomas Fearon. From what I had seen, this did not seem likely. A  search on the Ancestry website, which was confirmed by access to a 19th century genealogy of the Fearon family belonging to a descendant, made it clear that as I suspected, Edward Fearon had never had a brother called Thomas. I kept worrying away at this problem. As sometimes fortuitously happens, the answer popped up quite randomly. I happened to be checking the Thomas Sparks’ passenger list and spotted the names John & Thomas Ward. A bit of detective work and sure enough, these two turned out to be younger brothers of Captain Fearon’s wife, Elizabeth nee Ward. The Thomas associated with Captain Fearon was not his brother, but his brother-in-law. Cue happy dance!

Thomas and his brother John appeared with some regularity in the story of the Fearon family.  

John was relatively easy to track. Born in 1818 at the family farm, Langridge, near Crediton, Mid Devon, England, after arriving in Nelson he farmed around Suburban South (Stoke) and also had property at Waimea East (Richmond). He served for 2 terms on the Nelson Provincial Council, firstly for Suburban South and then for Waimea East. John Ward returned to England for a visit in 1848 and came back on the ship "Bernicia” with a bride, Caroline (nee Micklem), and his unmarried sister Mary Ward, born in 1817. Mary stayed with the Fearons in Motueka. and in 1850 married their good friend Charles Thorp, who lived nearby. John Ward returned permanently to England with his family around 1860 and became a prosperous wine merchant, with a business based in London which he transferred on his retirement to his oldest son and business partner, John Micklem Ward, born in Nelson, New Zealand, in 1849.

What of Thomas Ward? He was always a problematic subject. I could find no record of his birth, for a start, and the Thomas Sparks' passenger list didn’t give any clues because passengers’ ages weren’t recorded, as they sometimes are.

On an off-chance, I posted a query on a RootsChat forum - RootsChat being a free-for-use  offshoot of the Ancestry genealogical website - and had a great response from local researchers in Devon, England, who had access to information I couldn’t tap. In fact, not only did I find Thomas' dates of birth and baptism, but information relating to the rest of  his family as well - grandparents, parents, aunts. uncles and siblings, the whole kit and caboodle. In fact, if anyone wants to know more about the Ward family of Langridge, Crediton, I can now help with that!

One of 9 children born to Thomas Ward Snr (ca 1783-1838) and Elizabeth nee Huggins (1785-1831), who married at Crediton, Devon, on 24 November 1808, Thomas Ward Jnr and his twin sister Mary were born at their home near the market town of Crediton and baptised  together on 21 March 1815, most likely at Crediton's Holy Cross Church. His twin died the following year and the name Mary, as was a custom of the time, was given in her memory by her parents to their next daughter, born in 1817. This second Mary Ward was the one who emigrated to Nelson, NZ, in 1848.

The Wards were gentlemen farmers associated with “Langridge”, a farm situated in the rolling hills of Mid Devon, 3½ miles (ca. 5.6 km) outside the market town of Crediton. "Langridge" farm is still in existence today, though it has not been owned by the Ward family for many years.

On 27 July 1842, Thomas and his younger brother John emigrated to New Zealand with their oldest sister Elizabeth nee Ward and her husband Captain Edward Fearon on the New Zealand Company's ship “Thomas Sparks". It was a fraught voyage, and it wasn’t until 26 February 1843 that the 30 hapless passengers for Nelson finally reached their destination.

When their brother-in-law Captain Fearon bought Section 155 at Motueka from the NZ Company's Nelson agent, Captain Arthur Wakefield, on 2 June 1843, Thomas and John Ward jointly purchased at the same time Section 48 of 50 acres at Suburban South (Stoke) which they named Langridge after their family home in England.. They were among the first to farm there. William Fox recorded in his December 1843 report that ”on entering the plain from Nelson, the first cultivations met with are those of Messrs Thorp, Ward and Songer, each of whom has enclosed about five acres. The Mr Thorp mentioned was the Charles Thorp who later moved to Motueka to live and married the Ward brothers' sister Mary.

After his brother John brought back a wife with him from England in November 1848, Tom Ward moved to Motueka, where be probably stayed with the Fearons at their Northwood home - maybe this is where the story of Edward Fearon farming with his brother Thomas had its origins?  Early in 1849 Thomas Ward went over to the Awatere in Marlborough to manage on his brother-in-law's behalf the 13,000 acre pastoral run just acquired by Captain Fearon and named by him Marathon. In 1853 Tom Ward was offered the pastoral leasehold rights to his own run, a hilly 34,000-acre station in the Upper Awatere between Cattle Creek and Molesworth Creek, which he took up and named Langridge after the Ward family home in Devon, just as he and his brother had done with their property in Stoke. However, he continued to manage Marathon, and use the homestead there as his headquarters while he worked on building up his own run, possibly preferring it to his own very basic cottage at "Langridge". In March 1855 Dr (later Sir) David Monro wrote about a trip made from Nelson to Christchurch on horseback, taking the Awatere track, and commented, "Joined the Awatere River at Castle Brook where we saw Tom Ward's cottage in Fairfield Downs (Langridge Station), "the most desolute [sic] miserable looking place I ever set eyes upon"!

Around May 1860 Tom Ward sold the leasehold to the Langridge run to brothers Alexander and George Monro, nephews of the aforementioned pastoralist and politician, Dr David Monro. The young Munros, who already had the Valleyfield run near Renwick, were keen to add Langridge to their holdings, so their uncle David Monro arranged the deal through Ward’s brother-in-law, Captain Fearon, a political ally whom he knew well. Alexander and George Monro's connection with Langridge, although shaky at times, would continue for forty years. 

Another roadblock - what happened to Thomas Ward then? Did he stay in New Zealand or return to England like his brother John? "Thomas Ward" being such a common name, I was unable to ascertain which one of the many mentioned in various sources might be the right one. I wished that Bert Kennington, that knowledgeable historian of the Awatere, was still with us - he would have known the answer for sure!  That option not being a possibilty, I put the frustrating search aside for a while while I did other things.

The fate of Thomas Ward continued to haunt me on and off - somehow I had the feeling that his was a sad and lonely story. Many months later, I decided to have another go. Spotting a mention of a Thomas Ward taking over the "Royal Hotel" in Blenheim during earlier searches had previously given me a bit of a premonitory tingle. I decided to revisit this possibility by calling on the resources of the research team at the Marlborough Museum, and they came up trumps.

After selling his Langridge Station in the Awatere to the Monro brothers, Tom Ward stayed on in the area, possibly continuing to manage the run for them. In 1870 the Monros freeholded around 8000 acres on the low downs at Langridge, which may have pushed their resources over the limit. They got into financial difficulties and went into bankruptcy. Among those affected was Thomas Ward. The Monros had bought a large number of his cattle but found themselves unable to pay for them.They arranged instead to use part of their Valleyfield run as security, making Ward a mortgagee. Valleyfield was likely Ward’s base when he was recorded as a stockholder in the Wairau Valley in 1870. By 1872 Tom  was operating a transport service between Blenheim and Renwick using a coach & horses. The “Royal Hotel”  served as his Blenheim depot, and in 1877 Tom Ward took over as its licensee. This detail hadn't been previously known by the Marlbrough historians, so as often happens in these situations, we were able to have a useful exchange of information. It appears that he may have developed an unfortunate taste for his own wares, as after the date of sale a Thomas Ward started making regular appearances in the Blenheim Court, charged with being drunk and incapable in the town. 

The trail went cold again and once more I put the hunt on "park" .

An idle search some time later through Papers Past (that amazing online repository of historical New Zealand newspapers and journals) threw up a death notice in Nelson paper, the Colonist, for a Thomas Ward who had died at Nelson Hospital on 10 January 1882.  Given that the stated age of the deceased would match up with Thomas' known birth date, a hunch told me this just might be "my" man. A death certificate ordered online from NZ Births, Deaths and Narriages confirmed that this Thomas Ward was indeed the right one, being the son of Thomas Ward and Elizabeth nee Huggins of Crediton, Devon. Yes!  It also confirmed my suspicion that he had never married. 

At some point between 1877 and 1882 Thomas had obviously moved to Golden Bay, where he was recorded as a resident farmer at the time of his death at Nelson Hospital from a heart attack. A "Deceased Estates" notice published on 3 May 1882 gave the further detail that Thomas Ward had been living at Collingwood. He was buried with little ceremony at Wakapuaka Cemetery, Nelson, on 11 January 1882, the day following his death, with the Rev. James Leighton, Vicar of Christ Church, Nelson, conducting the committal. Did he have any mourners at his graveside? Oddly, the notice of his death in the “Colonist” of 11 January 1882, makes no reference to Thomas' link to the Fearon and Thorp families of Motueka, despite the fact that his sisters Elizabeth Fearon (nee Ward) and Mary Thorp (nee Ward) were both living at nearby Motueka when he died and presumably arranged his funeral. Someone related to Thomas Ward must have provided the details of his parents' names and his place of birth when his death was registered. Had Tom become a bit of an embarrassment to his family by this stage?

Thomas Ward,  registration of death 1882.

Thomas Ward's headstone originally had an inscription engraved upon it, but a photo from the Find A Grave website was too unclear to reveal more than Thomas Ward's name. 

A record of burial and headstone inscriptions from a New Zealand Cemeteries Database accessed through the Ancestry website provided the information that the inscription on Thomas Ward's headstone was already pretty much unreadable when checked in 2002. However, from the bits that were detected  we can assume that the inscription would have begun "Sacred to the memory of Thomas Ward died 10th Jan 1882  Aged 66 years." A possible Biblical text or family reference beneath has become lost.

I'm left pondering the vagaries of life which could see two brothers who grew up with the same advantages, end up taking such different paths in life - one to comfortable success and prosperity, with a family; the other seemingly a perennial loner and loser.

Brian McIntyre from Nelson, associated with the popular Top of the South Island History Facebook page and founder of the Friends of Wakapuaka Cemetery, kindly visited Thomas' grave on my behalf and confirmed that, sadly, the engraving was so weathered by this time as to be undescipherable. 

And so, with the aid of all those lovely people who took an interest in my quest along the way, my long-running Thomas Ward mystery has finally been solved, the hunt ending at a tumbledown grave in the beautiful old Wakapuaka Cemetery in Nelson, New Zealand. 

Rest in peace, Tom Ward. Gone but not forgotten.


Captain Edward Fearon: The King of Motueka.

Voyage of the ship "Thomas Sparks" and passenger list
Early Settlers Database - Nelson Provincial Museum
 See also: 
Neale, June E.(1989 reprint of 1982 ed.) "Pioneer Pssengers". Thomas Sparks Ch XIV, pp 111-118 & Departure/ Arrival dates plus Passenger list, p 171 Intermediate Class: Fearon/Ward.

Seeking Thomas Ward of "Langridge", Crediton, Devon
RootsChat collaborative discussion thread.

Kennington, A.L (Bert) (1978) The Awatere: A District and its People. The Awatere sheep runs: Marathon, pp 45-46,  Langridge pp 92-93.

Supreme Court Sitting Bankruptcy - Monro bothers
Thomas Ward recoeded as mortgagee  at "Valleyfield"
Colonist, 9 August, 1870, pg 3

Deaths: Thomas Ward, aged 67, at Nelson Hospital on 10 January 1882.
"Colonist', 11 January 1882, pg 2.

Details of Thomas Ward's interment at Wakapuaka Cemetery per
Nelson City Council Cemeteries Database
Area: Old General, Block 06, Plot number 045. Funeral director: A. Shone & Co, Nelson.


  1. What a wonderful record you have now made for any future genealogists to do with those families for which I am sure they will be eternally grateful.

  2. I agree with the sentiments above - great work!