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The unfortunate fate of the Mayman family


David Mayman’s last thoughts were of his wife, Ellen. Even as he lay dying, he ensured she would be informed, giving full directions to their home.


On that Monday morning in July 1872, David, 37, a stoker at Harris’ timber mill at Whangapoua observed a mill hand attempting to pull a small belt on the steam machinery free from the shaft around which it was tangled. The man tried to pull it right with the handle of a spade, but the spade was wrenched from his hand and instantly broken. David advised him that there was no need to remove the strap until the mill stopped, which was due to take place in about five minutes. The mill hand left, but suddenly loud blows were heard all through the mill.


David Mayman was discovered lying under the main shaft on the floor of the building, dreadfully injured. The engine was immediately stopped and David rescued, but he died within 20 minutes of being found. It appeared that he had attempted to replace the belt himself.


For David’s wife, Ellen, the blow was devastating. She and their three children, aged between 10 and 17, had only arrived in New Zealand four months previously to join David on a farm at Razorback, Whangapoua. The family were part of the great migration of the 1870s from Britain to New Zealand. David had arrived first to find employment and a home before sending for his family.


Immigrants were offered cheap fares or free land by the New Zealand government. They were seen as essential to the growth of the colony, and agents were used to present a positive view of the country and entice them across the sea. Generally, the immigrants were young, under 35, and arrived with the energy to make a home for their families in the New World.


To most, New Zealand was at the ends of the earth. The journey took up to 100 days and involved rough seas, illness and cramped conditions. Many were reluctant to do it, but the Mayman family were among thousands who did.


Ellen and the children’s journey to their new life had begun in October the year before when they left England on the ship Caduceus. Into early November they experienced westerly gales with heavy seas until fair weather set in. The equator was crossed on 22 November. Good southeast trade winds brought them within sight of the island of Trinidad. Moderate breezes and fine weather continued until 17 January when a gale with furious squalls was experienced.


By now they were off the coast of Australia and they passed Tasmania in thick foggy weather. Increasing winds and a very confused sea continued until the wind moderated and on 19 January they passed Cape Maria van Diemen - the westernmost point of the North Island of New Zealand. The Caduceus arrived at Auckland on 2 February.


As well as 66 passengers the Caduceus brought one shorthorn bull and cow, and four rams, all of which were in excellent condition, two pheasants, 87 small birds and two cases of plants.


The life they looked forward to, ended abruptly for David’s family. His workmates raised money for his widow and children, many of them giving their whole week’s pay. Workmen at Craig’s, the other mill at Whangapoua, also generously contributed. The balance of wages due to David was added to the fund. The money was placed in the hands of Mr JB Russell, solicitor, for whom the Maymans’ eldest daughter, Elizabeth, 17, had been working.


The money was for passage back to England for Ellen and her 10-year-old daughter, Margaret. Ten pounds was to assist Ellen on her arrival in England and just over 23 pounds were deposited into a savings bank for the use of two of the children, Elizabeth and Mathew, 14, who stayed behind in Auckland. The account was read over and explained to Ellen who, being unable to write, signed it with an X.


Ellen Mayman came to New Zealand on the Caduceus to meet her husband, with the full hope and prospect of spending many years with him in their new home. She returned to England by the same ship a widow, leaving some of her family behind.


David Mayman is probably buried in the Mercury Bay Cemetery at Ferry Landing.


Pictured: A ship transporting immigrants to New Zealand from Britain. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections NZG-18921022-1039-1.

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