PC 152 The Fosbery Connection

During 2007 I became curious as to where my family roots were. My mother had been very vague and disinterested, whereas her mother had corresponded with relatives in Brazil, for her father had been born in Recife in 1850. A couple of telephone calls and I found a cousin of my mother still alive, and invited myself for tea. Trevor rummaged in an old box and produced a very sketchy MS family tree. It was a start.

Somehow I also came upon a little blue envelope ……. inside was a creased yellowing page from The Nelson Evening Mail of Saturday 11th  August 1877 ……… and I wondered why someone had kept it.

PC 152 1 Fosbery envelope

My imagination runs ….

It was the end of 1876 and in Curraghbridge House to the west of the Irish town of Adare, Eva sat with her youngest sister Emma and devoured the latest letter from sister Philippa, who had followed the eldest, Eleanor, and emigrated to New Zealand a few years previously. In March she had married a fine chap, Richard Nancarrow, in Hokitika on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island. The remaining seven girls were still trying to adapt to their father Francis’s marriage to Anna, their step-mother. Their own dearest Mama, Eleanor, had died exhausted a year after the arrival of her ninth daughter – she was only 39! Together Francis and Anna produced four children and their third, George, being a male, would inherit the family estates. The girls couldn’t delay their own urgent search for a husband.

PC 152 2 The Fosbery Sisters

Five of the Fosbery sisters in 1877. Left to right Emma (18), Florence (26), Sarah (21), Eva (19), Ethyl (12) and Mary Maunsell née Fosbery (25)

“She says it’s very peaceful now, Emma. I quote: ‘The fighting between us,” I think she means us British, “and the natives, they’re called Maori, which had blighted the islands, finished four years ago. We’re now getting on with building a real community, safe from conflict. Hokitika’s been booming as they have discovered a small quantity of gold inland and all the boarding houses are full with a wide variety of men; most are hard-working miners but there are some  con-merchants waiting to take the dust off them. I get the occasional letter from sister Eleanor in Auckland; amazing to think she’s been here 10 years.

The mountains and glaciers, particularly the Franz Joseph, are something to behold. Last month we took a stagecoach north and went right up to its edge. In the distance on a clear day you can see a snow-capped peak; I think it is Mount Cook.”

“And then she asks why aren’t we coming too; going to New Zealand?”

“Oh! Emma, wouldn’t that be an adventure!” Eva shrieked. “Away from the incessant rain by the Shannon …… and Anna! Father wouldn’t miss us and there’s nothing for us here! Why aren’t we going too?”

“I spoke with Mary this afternoon. She and Henry are trying for another child and they too are thinking of emigrating. Why don’t we all go together?”

(The NZ Government ran an Assisted Immigration Scheme between 1871 and 1888 to encourage European settlers.)

And so it was that in early April 1877 they loaded their luggage onto the Dublin carriage and thence the packet boat to Liverpool. After an overnight stay in the Grand Hotel they caught the steam train to London and made their way to Tilbury Docks.

PC 152 3 The Queen Bee

The Queen Bee.

Their passage to New Zealand had been booked on The Queen Bee, a wooden, comfortable barque of some 725 tons that had made several voyages to The Antipodes. With the hold full to the brim of cargo, 30 passengers and 24 crew embarked, Captain Davies slipped the mooring lines and may his way down the River Thames on 20th April. He cleared the Dover Straits by the 24th and set course for Cape Town.

Months later, a letter from Eva to her father Francis arrived in Curraghbridge House; it had been posted in Nelson on 18th August 1877 and enclosed a much folded front page of the Nelson Evening Times.

PC 152 4 Nelson Evening Times Queen Bee photo

“Dear Papa

You will have heard by now that Mary gave birth to another girl in the last week of July; they’ve called her Eily and she is well, although the first few days of her life were extremely eventful. Let me tell you …..

I’d never been on a large sailing ship before so it really was quite an adventure. We had light winds all the way south to the Cape of Good Hope and we stopped at Cape Town. Well! What a sight! The docks; the bustle; the heat; the humidity. The Queen Bee got re-provisioned so all us passengers stayed in a hotel for two days. Our heavy clothes made it insufferable and we were glad to leave the city behind and make course for Australia and beyond to New Zealand. I know we sailed south of the continent of Australia where our English countrymen are making such a success of a tough and unforgiving land. The wind blew very strongly and everyone was seasick; the Captain told me when we reached Tasmania we met northerly winds so our progress towards New Zealand was slow but steady. Captain Davies was gracious enough to regularly show us on the chart where we were and where we were headed. Our destination was the port of Nelson tucked inside a great hooked peninsula which protected the Marlborough Sounds from the South Atlantic.

On the night of 2nd August we sighted New Zealand, being then a little to the north of Milford Sound. We sailed towards Cape Farewell all Monday afternoon but just before we sat down to dinner the ship altered course towards Nelson and, no sooner had we started thinking about getting ashore, the ship hit something and shuddered to a halt. I had noticed on the chart a long piece of land that jutted out eastwards – a split of sand that was constantly shifting and growing. We must have hit this!”

Captain Davies later told the inquiry: “We rounded Spit Light and sailed along until it bore West by South, distance about seven miles. I then shaped the course and told them to steer SSE to ½ E for a certain distance. Almost immediately afterwards, at about 11 o’clock, we struck the inside edge of the bank. The ship at once commenced to bump heavily and although I backed the yards and used every effort to get her off it was to no avail. There was not the slightest confusion on board, all behaving admirably and after firing guns and rockets and getting no answer from anywhere, I ordered all the boats to be got out.”

PC 152 5 Farewell Spit

New Zealand’s South Island on the left, the south of its North Island on the right. Farewell Spit lies on the top left hand corner of South Island and Nelson at the bottom of the V-shaped bay (Tasman Bay)

With the hold filling with water, and the ship lying in 5 feet of water, it didn’t look good for either passengers or crew. To read what happened next, stay in touch with postcardscribbles!

Richard 24th May 2019

PS And all this because someone kept a piece of an old newspaper!

PPS Eva Fosbery became my great grandmother.

PC 151 A Human Circus

A couple of years ago a circus came to town; the ‘big top’ was erected, the caravans and trailers were a hive of activity and the sales booth almost cried ‘Roll Up! Roll Up!’ I dropped in to see what a modern circus had as its acts but the booth didn’t have a little free flier, only a big glossy brochure for which they wanted £10! Someone lent me theirs: we didn’t go! In the western world the circus had been a huge entertainment venue …….. when we didn’t think too much about the damage we did to the performers, when we humans didn’t care too much.


In ‘Illusions – The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah’ Richard Bach recounts the activities of two pilots known as barnstormers who brought entertainment to rural communities across America; a sort of cheap circus! Here in the UK the annual visit of Billy Smart’s travelling circus was a memorable part of my childhood. Today it’s different, thank God, and it’s rare for a circus to have anything other than human acts. We have become more civilised in our treatment of animals. But the whole idea of an entertainment venue where some audience participation is essential prompted the following observations of real life events, if only in a parallel universe; an analogous tale if you like.

Once upon a time there was a chap who was extremely confident about doing anything, had enormous self-belief, a super ego. He thought he could create a circus of some sort, that would put on the most popular and challenging acts and that everyone would want to come and marvel at his skill and business acumen. In a nod to the times, no animals were to be involved. He found the perfect site in a run-down part of town, where most people wouldn’t dream of going and set about it. Despite having no knowledge of the basics of building, he decided to have a central support and pillars around its side; he saw himself metaphorically as that central support, the only one that really mattered. He thought he could wing the other supporting structures and was deaf to advice. He didn’t listen and went ahead and built his theatre.

Circus 1

Initially it was successful and people flocked, as he had hoped, to participate in his productions, either as actors, acrobats or as members of the audience, as no ‘play’ was performed without audience participation. He acted as Ringmaster, exerting maximum control over every aspect of the performances; now and again he cracked his whip to show who was boss and bullied his staff! Sometimes he even played his part as an actor, for he was good! The audience, a mixture of the normal and the abnormal, the cranks, the introverts, the extroverts, the young and the old, all got involved in their own way. Then a female actor refused to perform, siting the extra requirements of the job that hadn’t been apparent when they’d signed up. The owner shrugged; there were plenty more who would die to work for him, or so he thought. When interviewed by the Performers Guild, the actor said she had been asked, for instance, to clean the loos, something the Academy of Circus Performers had not trained her to do. The audience sighed …… and missed her; social media started buzzing at what was going on, someone started a Facebook page to collate the stories. A reputation was developing; a Twitter account was created.

As the area became less run-down, another venue opened within a mile, offering cheaper and more attractive packages for those who wanted to attend regularly, rewarding their loyalty. The actors they hired were looked after, valued, developed, consulted and included in the management decisions. Still the circus owner believed their personality and reputation would continue to be a big draw, becoming deaf to the obvious criticism levelled at them by those who dared.

Circus 2

Then one day a support pillar cracked, causing the canvas roof to sag and let rain in. It was repaired as cheaply as possible but it was clear to the actors and audience that maintenance spend was a minimum; paint peeled, water stains weren’t fixed, wood rotted.

A month later a rumour started that the Performers Guild was investigating the way one actor had been treated. It was all hush-hush and whispered conversations but eventually the Facebook entry suggested that attendance at a life changing family event had not been allowed. Other actors and even members of the audience began to search their souls as to whether they could continue, especially as other peoples’ theatres had better offers. A week later, one of the star actors was dismissed. Again the rumour mill swung into action; Facebook couldn’t decide whether it was because they had been such a star performer, that their music-accompanied performance was always a sell-out, and that the owner was jealous, or that the actor had had to start going to the local Soup Kitchen to survive. The owner haughtily ignored the clamour for a change of style and substance.

The final straw seemed to be the booking of plays that few members of the regular audience wanted to watch and be involved in. Bit part actors performed in the empty, round space. Another pillar showed cracks, which were hastily papered over. And then a pillar collapsed, weighed down by the pressure of responsibility without adequate recognition; it had simply had enough. Fortunately no one was hurt but the damage was irreparable and within two months the theatre closed. For those who drove past a week later, there was a sorry sight on the steps outside. The owner, still wondering why no one came, still not getting what had happened, wondering whose fault it was, because it certainly wasn’t theirs, sat with their head in their hands.

Every story that has a ‘Once upon a time ……’ beginning should have ‘…… and the moral of this story is …….’ ending. Well, the moral of this one is that if you run a business and treat individuals with respect, are interested in them, their lives and their welfare, develop their potential without being selfish, and reward them appropriately, they will go the extra mile for you. If you don’t, you will end up lonely.


Richard 9th May 2019