Chapter 1
Elijah and Emma


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Figure 1.1: Elijah Titchener (“Old Eli”)

“Our” Titcheners in New Zealand are descendants of Elijah Titchener and Emma Baker, who, with five children, came to New Zealand from Australia in the ship “Gamecock” in 1862.

According to my father, “Old Eli”, as, in my childhood, I always heard him called, deserted from the London police to join the rush to the newly discovered Victorian goldfields. Dad’s cousin, “Blind Frank”, used to say he was a “Man of Kent” and came from yeoman farming stock, which later made Dad snort with derision. Mona Hood, my second cousin, recounted that Eli “resigned from the London police force to take up a position in the penal colony in Australia”; and that her Uncle Frank, “Blind Frank” that is to say, had Eli’s certificate of discharge from the London police. When “Blind Frank” died he left most of his things to his Deaker nephews, Percy and Arthur, sons of his sister, “Lily”, who died in the influenza epidemic of 1919 when they were small children. The discharge certificate, Mona thinks, went to Percy.

Of these two stories Mona’s is surely the more convincing. Dad was always inclined to debunk the stories of those for whom he had no great liking, and he never showed any special affection for “Blind Frank”. “Blind Frank”, likable though I always found him, had, as in due course I discovered, romantic pretensions about the Titcheners, their “class” and their “quality”. “Man of Kent” Eli never was, nor descended from “yeoman “stock”. Perhaps it should be added that there is a distinction between a “Man of Kent” and a “Kentishman”. A “Man of Kent” is one born east of the River Medway, a “Kentishman” one born west of it.

Eli was born in 1828 [T.3, T.3a, T.4] in Bishopstone, a village in the northern part of Wiltshire, not far from Swindon. Eli married Emma Baker in 1850 in the parish church of St Nicholas in Deptford, Kent, he giving his “rank or profession” as police constable, she giving hers as spinster in their marriage certificate. Emma was born in 1827 [B.1] in West Horrington, near Wells in Somerset.

I do not know how Eli got his job as a policeman, and one can only speculate how or why each came to London from their home villages. It was, of course, the heyday of the railway. London, the “great wen”, was growing apace, a magnet for country people seeking work in times that were difficult in rural areas. London, too, was the hub of the British railway system, including the Great Western Railway, which served the West Country and established Swindon as its engineering headquarters. At any rate, there they were, both of them, single, far from their childhood homes, and, somehow, somewhere, they met, and fell in love; and married.

Eli and Emma’s first child, William James (“Jim”) [T.4], was born in October 1850, barely six months after they married. Love was precipitate, then as ever.

William James’ birth certificate shows him born at 5 Prospect Place, Greenwich, which is in Kent; but on that side of the Medway to make him a “Kentishman”. There is a story told about William James that, a convivial man, returning home from gatherings of cronies and in his cups, he would shout as he came along the street, “I am William James Titchener, I come from the County of Kent, and to hell with the Pope.” Clearly his Kentish origin was important to him, and evidently also an anti-papist Anglican upbringing.

Eli and Emma had two more children in England; Elizabeth, born in 1852 [T.4] in Greenwich, and Alfred Charles, born in 1854 [T.4] in Beckenham, Kent. Alfred Charles’ birth certificate shows Eli was still a “police officer”. This certificate is interesting, too, in revealing that, at this time, Emma could not write, leaving only “her mark” as informant of the birth.

The certificate is dated March 2, 1854. It was some time after this, therefore, that Eli, Emma, and the three children left for Australia. One can deduce that it was probably in November or December 1854, and that they arrived in Australia about March 1855. It seems clear that they were accompanied by Eli’s younger sister, Mary [T.3].

Eli and Emma had, altogether, eight children [T.4]. The family that came to New Zealand, however, consisted of Eli, Emma, William James, and four sons born in Australia; Albert Alfred, George John, Hugh, and Edward William: but not Elizabeth or Alfred Charles, nor their aunt, Mary. What, then, happened to these three?


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Figure 1.2: Emma Titchener, nee Baker (“Old Grandma”).

When Eli and Emma and their three children sailed for Australia, Alfred Charles was a baby of perhaps 10 or 11 months, Elizabeth a toddler somewhat less than three. Family tradition has it that Elizabeth “died young”. Of Alfred Charles I never heard mention within the family. The re-use of the name Alfred perhaps served to obscure. The secret lies at least half-revealed between the pages of an old bible in the possession of Mona Hood. This bible originally belonged to Edward William Titchener [T.4], for it carries the inscription, “William Titchener, Lawrence, Tuapeka, 24. 6. 78. Presented to E. W. Titchener by his affectionate mother.” On a blank page separating old and new testaments, in Edward Williams’ handwriting, are listed the names of his parents and all his brothers and sisters and their dates of birth. Edward William mistakenly inverts the order of “Alfred C.” and “Albert A.”, but that is not material. What is important is that, alongside the birth date of “Elizabeth A.”, is another date, “4 Feby 1855”, and this is doubtless the date of her death. On the facing page, which is the opening of “The Gospel According to S. Matthew”, this date is repeated, and, above it, the date “2 Jany 1855”. This seems likely to be the date when Alfred Charles died.

Conditions on emigrant ships plying between Britain and the “colonies” at that time were habitually bad, especially for the poorer passengers who travelled steerage. Eli and Emma were not people of substance, and were unlikely to have travelled other than steerage. Deaths, especially of the very young, were common. There is no record of Elizabeth or Alfred Charles dying in England, or in Victoria. It seems certain that they fell ill and died on the voyage.

Not so, probably, Mary, Eli’s sister. Many years ago my grandfather, Hugh Titchener [T.4], gave me an old letter, written to Eli and Emma by Eli’s father, Charles [T.3], from Bishopstone. It is dated August 17, 1862, and reports the death of Charles’ wife, which had occurred on July 30, nine days, as Charles notes, after he had received a letter from Eli. Charles describes how, when he read Eli’s letter to his dying wife, “she was greved as you did not say a few words a bout her pore daughter Marey”. It is from this sentence and the date on Charles’ letter that we can infer that Mary had accompanied Eli and his family to Australia. Seemingly she survived the voyage, but died in Australia, probably not much before 1862. There is, however, no entry of her death in the Victorian records; nor of a marriage.

If Eli initially worked in the penal colony in Victoria, he had left it to try his luck on the goldfields by the time my grandfather, Hugh [T.4], was born, for he was, he said, “born in a tent”. The birthplace of George John [T.4], Fryers Creek, also smacks of the goldfields. Eli’s gold digging was unsuccessful, perhaps even disastrous, for we find his father, Charles, in his letter of August 1862, writing, “Dear son we was vere sorre as your Gold Deggin turned out so bad. it was vere bad luck I am vere sorre for you had beter stayed a tom.”

Presumably it was the disastrous outcome of his “gold degen” that led Eli to decide to go to New Zealand.