Thomas was born 1799 in Horsington, Somerset in the West Country of England. His parents had married in the prior January and he was baptised on the 19th January 1800. So he was born sometime between October and January. Given the way christenings were done at the time I expect he was born somewhere between end of December 1799 and early January 1800.
In the year that Thomas was born the first president of the United States, George Washington died, Napoleon Bonaparte became the dictator of France and William Pitt the Younger the Prime Minister of England had put increasing taxes forward to raise funds for the Napoleonic wars, the Rosetta Stone was found in Egypt and mad King George III was on the throne in England.
Thomas was the son of William Sharley (which would become Shirley when he got to New Zealand) and Anna Crouch. His parents were married in the same parish by banns on the 22 January 1799 in St John the Baptist Anglican church in Horsington. He was was their their eldest child.
It would appear that his siblings were Elizabeth b. 1801, Melinda b. 1805, John Crouch Shirley b.1807, James Shirley b. 1814, all in Somerset, England. Horsington was and is as I understand it a small and ancient village which translates loosely to keeper of the horses, and is about 4 kilometres south of the larger town of Wincanton.
Ann Hallet was born in 1795 and christened on the 24th May 1795. She was the daughter of James and Love Hallet also of Horsington.
For many generations the residents in Horsington had leased or owned parcels of land and used the land on Horsington Marsh for agriculture including dairying. Around the time that Thomas and Ann had made the decision to leave Horsington the land was being enclosed which was predominantly benefiting the landowners such as the Bailwards and Dodington’s. No poor decision on their behalf, these landowners were aware that greater profits could be secured with larger farms rather than tenancy. Europe and certainly England had begun the inevitability of industrialisation. Cottage based industries that had long co-existed in and around the area and indeed the county were in decline.
On the 14th Feb 1825 in Templecombe, Horsington, Somerset, England Thomas aged 26 married Ann Hallet. Given that both Thomas and Ann signed their names with an X we can assume that at this time neither of them could read nor write. Not uncommon in these times with rural families engaged in agricultural labour not generally being schooled in literacy.
On the 15th June 1841 Thomas and Ann and their family boarded the Arab at Dartmouth bound for New Zealand with his family. Their voyage had been held over a few weeks as the foremast on the ship had been damaged and required repair and refit at Gravesend before commencing her across the world journey under Captain John Sumner. On the manifest with Thomas were his wife Ann b. 1795, daughter Selina aged 13, son Henry aged 10, daughter Ann aged 8, daughter Sophia aged 6, son Thomas Andrew aged 4, and daughter Elizabeth aged six months. Thomas is recorded on the ships manifest as an Agricultural Labourer. Given Thomas’ recorded occupation it is highly likely that with the enclosures happening in Horsington it is reasonable that Thomas used the opportunity to emigrate to New Zealand as an opportunity to increase his and his families changes for a better life. The Sharley family as they were recorded on shipping records landed in Wellington, New Zealand almost four months to the day on the 16th October 1841.As the first European settlers had only arrived the year before the Sharley/Shirley family were among the very first of these British settlement groups. The New Zealand Company had been charged by the British Government with finding suitable colonists (such as the Sharley’s and providing them with assistance to travel and re-settle in the new colony.
Also settling in New Zealand around the same time as Thomas and Ann is Thomas’ brother James Shirley. James and his family had followed out Thomas and Ann in 1852. James was considerably younger than his older brother Thomas.
Thomas and Ann had seven children. Matthew Shirley b. 1825, Selina Shirley b. 1827, Henry Shirley b. 1829, Ann Shirley b. 1833, Sophia Shirley b. 1835, Thomas Andrew Shirley b. 1837 and Elizabeth Shirley b. 1840.
When we are considering what kind of ‘world’ the Sharley/Shirley’s had arrived into the following should give some kind of first-hand account. From: Our Pioneer Settlers, Evening Post 20 May 1901. ‘It is worthwhilte to recall the fact that at the beginning of 1840, nearly all of the pioneer settlers were landed on Petone Beach. The Hutt Valley, including Petone was then a dense forest of very heavy bush, wth the exception of small clearings arouond the native pahs and whares. There were not habitations for settlers to go to take shelter in, so they had to work to make whares out of saplings and toi-toi; and sleep on the ground with fern for a bed. After a few months it was decided that Wellington should be the site for the town. At that time the south-western side of the harbour was covered with bush and scrub, down to the water’s edge. The tide used to flow in a line with the present footpath along Lambton Quay and Lower Willis Street.’
Upon arrival in New Zealand and through the early 50’s, Thomas and Ann leased some land at Lower Hutt where they carried on farming. In different records Thomas is recorded with the occupation of Sawyer (which was a tree-feller). Their sons also joined their father in farming in the Lower Hutt. During their time in the Lower Hutt hostilities broke out between the settlers and the indigenous Maoris. The Maoris had and rightfully so become frustrated by the white settlers encroaching on their land and engaging in what were questionable land deals.
Setting up as farmers along the Hutt River where Thomas and Ann had set down had its own share of environmental risks. In early July 1849 the family were flooded out by what was considered one of the worst floods that could have hit. An entire paddock under seed was said to be washed bare and not a dwelling that was not flooded nor an animal that wasn’t washed aside or scattered in panic.
During these attacks in the Hutt Valley settlers were often called into the barracks for protection from hostile Maoris. News reports say how Thomas was frequently averse to taking into the barracks and there were often narrow escapes from violence. Eventually Maori war broke out and martial law was declared. At one time Thomas had heard his son was at personal risk in a skirmish near where he was farming. Thomas with little regard for his own safety – went off to retrieve his son. When he entered the area of the skirmish there were eleven soldiers who had been killed and one who was wounded and would certainly have perished except that Thomas went to his assistance and carried him to safety. Thankfully his son was also not injured in the affray. The newspaper continued on, ‘after the war was over the hero of this incident continued farming at the Hutt until 1856, when he purchased land at Puketapu, near Napier, and resided there until his death in 1887, at the advanced age of eighty-six, being followed a year later by his wife, who was also eighty-six at the time of her death. Both are buried at Napier, in the family grave, which already contains four generations.
There appear to have been incidences of trespass that made it to court including accusations on Thomas’ behalf that cattle of his had been stolen and not returned. He made accusations publicly as to whom he held responsible. There are several correspondences in the Papers Past archives documenting these arguments.
Open Column. To the Editor of the Hawke’s Bay Herald. Sir, Through the medium of your paper I wish to let the public and settlers of this Province, know that since my cattle were seized I have been using every means in my power to induce the Natives to give them up, but as yet without success. I have offered to sell part and give them the money at the sale; this has been refused. Some of the chiefs have agreed to take my note of hand for the amount this was objected to by the parties who took the cattle away. Every other proposition I have made to them has been equally unsuccessful nothing but the hard cash will do for them, which in the present state of my finances I am unable to pay and I am placed in that position I do not know what to do. The present inconvenience arising from the loss of my dairy is considerable, but all my future arrangements for the summer have been completely upset. Apart from these extortionate demands made by the Natives, can you, Mr. Editor, point out either the law or justice of my being compelled to pay whatever they choose to ask for cattle running on common or unenclosed lands. Many people have paid their demands to suit their own purposes, or from fear might being right with these savages. Much misapprehension existing on the subject, perhaps you can throw some light on it. Yours, &c., THOMAS SHIRLEY. Tutaekuri, Nov. 6, 1861.
A VETERAN SETTLER – Napior Evening News, 17th November.1866 Mr. Thomas Shirley, an old and much respected settler, who slipped peacefully out of life on tho 13th November at Puketapu, and who would have reached his 87th year on the 21st of this month, passed through the most stirring times in New Zealand’s history. With seven children, the late Mr. Shirley arrived at Wellington in October, 1841, and remained in that province till 1855. During his stay there he passed through the first Maori war (Rangi-a-ita’s) and witnessed, as one of the militia, many of the most terrible scenes. On one occasion, when told that his son was in danger, he made his way to “The Camp” at tho risk of his life, perfoming on his way a very brave deed. When approaching “Tho Camp “he came across two or three wounded soldiers, and these he determined on assisting to the camp. While intent on this work of mercy the Maoris fired upon him, and amidst a perfect hail of bullets the brave Mr. Shirley managed to get the wounded men along. It was indeed a trying time, but he was successful in succouring the poor soldiers. One thing worthy of mention is tho fact, that for many years Mr. Shirley scarcely ever saw a current coin of the realm in Wellington. It was all green back currency then a threepenny bit being quite a valuable coin. In 1855 Mr. Shirley determined on coming to Hawke’s Bay. and from that year until the day he died, he shared in the ups and downs of life in this province. Though not actively engaged, he again witnessed the struggle of the natives against their white foemen, and saw more than one bloody engagement, Omaranui amongst the number. He leaves behind him about 70 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren, and went down to the grave full of years, and with a name that his descendants are proud to bear.
Died 13th November 1866 in Puketapu, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand Shirley – At Puketapu, on November 13th, Thomas Shirley, aged 87 years. The funeral will leave his late residence for the Napier cemetery at 2 p.m. to-morrow. (Tuesday 16th November.)Daily Telegraph 15 November 1886.
From the Evening Post 20 November, 1886. In 1855 Mr Shirley determined on coming to Hawke’s Bay (Napier) and from that year until the day he died, he shared the ups and downs of life in this province. Though not actively engaged he witnessed the struggles of the natives against their white foremen and saw more than one bloody engagement, Omaranui amongst the number.
Napier this day Thomas Shirley, aged 87, died on Saturday. He was a settler of 45 years’ standing, having arrived in Wellington in1843. He leaves over 100 children and great grand children in Hawkes Bay, and numerous descendants in the Wellington province. Thames Star, Volume XVIII, Issue 5555, 15 November 1886, Page 2.
A year later Ann would die. Taradale, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand SHIRLEY.—On the 23rd December at the residence of her son, Mr T. A. Shirley, Mount Wensley, Ann Shirley, widow of the late Mr Thomas Shirley, aged 87 years. Hawke’s Bay Herald, Volume XXII, Issue 7935, 27 December 1887, Page 2