John William Whitehead 1856-1940 and Louisa Jane Hancock 1864 – 1937 The Kiwis

Early life:

John William Whitehead was born in 1856 in Pigeon Bay near Christchurch, Canterbury in New Zealand. He was third child of James William Whitehead from Lyminge, Kent in England and Sophia Shirley of Horsington, Somerset in England.

John’s siblings were, twins – James Thomas and Matthew Whitehead b. 1855. Alfred b. 1858, Stephen b. 1860, Mary Ann Elizabeth b. 1861, Emily b.1863, Sophia b. 1866, Richard b.1868, Edward b.1871, Amelia b. 1873 and Sarah b. 1874.

John William Whitehead (2)


When John was 25 years old and had been living in Waipawa for 18 months he and  a very young, Louisa Jane Hancock made their intentions known to marry.  John gave his occupation as a labourer. Louisa was working as a Domestic in the house of Sophia Whitehead at Waipawa (who happened to be John’s mother.).  At the times she was aged 17.  She had lived in the area for sixteen years.   Because of her minor status she needed her guardian to give consent for her to marry. In Louisa’s case this was Louisa Callan listed as her mother. The Minister at their wedding was Rev J.W. Worboys a Wesleyan minister.  Intention to Marry Notice. Archives NZ Ref: BDM 20/26 1881 Waipawa p.477/270.  Louisa and John married on the 24th December 1881.

Louisa early life:

Louisa was born on the 16th October 1864 in Auckland, New Zealand to Walter Hancock from Clapham, London, England and Louisa Hall also from Clapham in London.  Louisa had four known siblings. Emma Sarah b.1860, Port Elizabeth, South Africa,  Elizabeth b. 1867 Motuotaraia, New Zealand, Harriet (Annie) b. 1869 Waipawa, Hawkes Bay, William Thomas b.1870 Waipawa, Hawkes Bay.  In 1867, three year old Louisa was living with her parents and sisters Emma and Elizabeth in Waipawa.  Louisa’s father’s occupation was as a Labourer.

Family life:

John and Louisa went on to have a large family together. Emily b.1883, Agnes Elizabeth b.1884, Ernest William b. 1886, Stephen James b.1887, twins, John William and Mary Ann b. 1890, Effie Doris b.1891, Louisa Jane b.1891 (and died 1891). Katie b. 1894 (and died 1894) and Olive Anne b. 1897. Ten children in all with two dying in infancy.

I believe from stories that my grandfather (Ernest) told that one of his grandfathers brothers (and I think it was Stephen) went onto be a bit of a well known sportsman with bikes in NZ.

The 1900 electoral rolls showed John as an Overseer and Louisa as a married woman living in the Waipawa district.  In the same year newspapers reported the marriage of John and Louisa’s daughter, Emily who went from her father’s home in Mangatera, near Dannevirke, New Zealand. At the time John was 44.  This marriage did not last long and its demise could have been impacted by the birth and death of an infant child. On the 7th March 1908, Emily remarried, again from her father’s home.  This time in Wanganui, to Edward Davies at Manawatu-Wanganui, New Zealand. Tragically this husband would die a few years later at the age of 25.

In 1904 their daughter Agnes Elizabeth Whitehead married Christoffer (the spelling varies) Kristoffer or Christopher William Henry Hegh. They would live in Dannevirke.

In the 1905-1906 electoral rolls Louisa is listed as the wife of John Whitehead, living at Trafalgar Street, Dannevirke.

In 1914 their son Stephen James Whitehead married Myrtle Gladys Wynyard in Auckland.

In 1914 their daughter Effie Doris also married. She married John Arthur Saunders who she would later divorce before marrying James Gibson in 1929.

In 1917 their son John William (who went by Jack) married Mary Ellen Pierce. They lived around Gisborne.

Prior to the turn of the century from around 1801 through the next fifteen years  were very hard years for John and Louisa. John declared bankrupt in 1895. (New Zealand Bankruptcy notices 1895).  The reason for this may be better explained below or maybe  he spiralled out of control because of the deaths of his daughters Louisa and Katie between 1891 and 1894?   Either way life was unhappy and unpredictable for the Whiteheads at this time and John would eventually abandon them. The family had been living in Waipawa, Dannevirke.

Whether the bankruptcy preceded the drinking or the drinking preceded the bankruptcy I’m not sure but John’s out of control behaviour would damage his relationships irrevocably with his family and end his marriage.  It would all end up in  an acrimonious divorce in 1915 in the Supreme Court.

Hastings Standard, 11th March 1915.

Harry Richard Haycock (should have been Hancock) storekeeper of Elsthorpe. gave evidence as to the respondent leaving his sister, the petitioner. His Honour: It does not seem to be any use trying to keep the two people together after what we have with John William Whitehead on the ground of desertion. L. J. Whitehead v. J. W. Whitehead. Louisa Jane Whitehead petitioned for a dissolution of her marriage with her marriage with John William Whitehead on the ground of desertion. Mr. Dolan appeared for the petitioner.

The petitioner said she was married to the respondent on December 21th, 1881, and there were 10 children by the marriage. They lived at Tourere and Dannevirke. At Dannevirke the respondent started to drink, and used to knock her about. He also threatened their lives. For five or six years he was like that. Petitioner had to go into hospital, and when she came out respondent got notice to leave. Petitioner threatened to get a separation order, and the respondent then took out a prohibition order against himself. A little later petitioner left the respondent because she was afraid to live with him, and started a boarding-house at Gisborne. Respondent had brought in a gun, and fired it off in the yard to frighten her. He ‘had also sharpened knives over the bed’. Anabella Bell, who nursed some of the children, said the respondent never came home sober. He was a bad man — a cad. He was no fit husband for anybody. Effie Doris Saunders, daughter of the petitioner, said she had to go to work at thirteen. One Saturday night the respondent threatened to shoot the lot of them. and then fired the gun off in the yard to make out he had shot himself. When witness was in the hospital at Gisborne her mother wrote for money and the respondent replied “let the —— earn their own living.” About six years ago witness met her father, and asked him if he would not like to be back with her mother. Her father said:

“No I was never so well off in all my life.”  A decree nisi was granted, to. be made absolute in three months, with cost against respondent on the lowest scale.


The 1911 electoral rolls show Louisa as a married woman living at 60 Peel Street Gisborne. It would have been here that she had her boarding-house.  In the same year at the age of  55 John was recorded on the electoral rolls along with Louisa as living at Woodstock, West Clive, Hawkes Bay. John was recorded as a labourer. It was around this time that they parted ways for the final time.

In 1914 John was listed as living in  the rural small township Waerenga -O-Kuri, East Cape, Gisborne.  His occupation was given as a shepherd. This area was known for its farming of sheep. At this time John was considered to be quite older himself at 63 years.

The same year that Louisa’s divorce came through from John she re-married at the age of 51. She was likely still sour on John as when she remarried she gave her surname as  Hancock.  She married Richard Henry Edward Stilwell known as Ted at Waipawa, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand.  In 1919 Louisa and Richard  Stillwell, a ganger, were living in Ormondville.  Louisa would outlive Ted.

Louisa married for the third and final time in 1932 at the age of 68.  She married Richard Edward Alexander Lean, known as Dick.  This time Louisa gave her name as Stillwell when she remarried. Louisa and Richard (Dick) Lean lived at 42 Barbour Street, Christchurch East in 1935.

undefined This house is no longer here and has been replaced by units. (photo Google 2012)

 Dick’s occupation was listed as a Chef. Louisa had married into a well-respected family and the Lean’s had through their progenitor (Alexander Lean) had much to do with establishing Christchurch. In 1935,  John and Louisa’s son Ernest was killed by a falling tree accident in Australia.  Dick outlived Louisa who died at the age of 73 in on the 1st November, 1936.

Press Newspaper, 2 November 1936 , Lean- On November 1st, at her residence, 45 Bury Street, Sumner, Louisa Jane, dearly beloved wife of Richard Lean. Aged 72 years.

19 August, 1940 at the age of 88 John died at Gisborne Memorial Home having lived his entire life in New Zealand. .  From looking at the Gisborne District Council records; I think  John was buried on the 19th August 1940 at Taruheru Cemetery, block 13, plot 82. No headstone. His last known address is listed as unknown. He had an obituary recorded in the Gisborne Herald that read,

Mr. J. W. Whitehead, The death of Mr. John William Whitehead at the Memorial Home today at the age of 88 years removes one who was born in New Zealand in the early pioneering days. Born in Lower Hutt in 1852, a time when the country was in a very unsettled state, Mr. Whitehead saw the rapid expansions of settlement, and came to Gisborne 30 years ago, living here ever since. He is survived by three sons, Mr. John Whitehead, Gisborne, Mr. Stephen Whitehead, Wairoa, and Mr. Ernest Whitehead, Hobart (this was not correct as Ernest had been killed in a tree felling incident in 1935 in Nowra, NSW, Australia. Ernest’s wife had been from Tasmania originally. It would appear that there was little contact with the Australian contingency of Whitehead’s otherwise the reporter would have known this important fact). There is also a brother, Mr. Stephen Whitehead, Gisborne. The interment will take place at the Taruheru cemetery on Monday, leaving Cochrane’s private chapel, Williams Street at 11am.

As an afterthought. I did find it unusual that none of John’s daughters were mentioned in the obituary notices.

There is another John William Whitehead floating around NZ at the same time as our John (a baker) so periodically it is easy to get them mixed but I’ve endeavoured to steer away from this.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s