Manx Roots and Colonial Branches

This is another family history written by Frances Stewart (nee Corlett) several decades ago. Frances is my second cousin, thrice removed. It is about the New Zealand branch of my Corlett family.

As mentioned in First Generation Australians of Manx Descent page, don’t get confused with the distant cousins and removed bits …

  • First cousins share Grandparents
  • Second cousins share Great Grandparents
  • Third cousins share Great Great Grandparents
  • and so on.

The removed bit simply means that people are from different generations.

In my case: Frances Stewart and my Great Grandfather Victor Pye are second cousins. I am removed from their relationship by three generations (my Grandmother is removed by one generation, my Mother is removed by two generations, and I am therefore removed by three generations).


David Bayliss
(Brisbane, Queensland, Australia)

Manx Roots and Colonial Branches

From my youngest years, I knew, that my Father’s people came from the Isle of Man. The pride of race that was instilled in me then, remains today, as it does with many of the descendants of my great-grandparents, Stephen and Jane Corlett who came an pioneers to our Island country. As far as we know, Stephen was the son of William CORLETT and Ann COWLEY and was baptised In the Parish of Jurby, February 1803. His death certificate and marriage entry don’t give names of his parents, so with the surname like Corlett, our task of proving forebears is made more difficult. It was at Bride, on the 26th March 1825, that Stephen married Jane LAWSON the daughter of Thomas LAWSON and Elizabeth LACE. Nine of Stephen and Jane’s children were born on the Isle of Man, they were Jane, John. Mary Ann, John Stephen, two sons named William (obviously one died), James, Thomas, and a daughter named Christian Hannah but later called Eliza.

At the time of the 1841 census, Stephen was listed as an agricultural labourer and the family were living at ”Ballalhergy Farm” in the Parish of Lezayre. Sometime after Eliza’s birth in 1842, the family, like many others in the mid-nineteenth century, decided to try their luck in another country and moved to England, where Stephen worked an a farm manager for the Davenport family who owned the Capesthorne Hall Estate in Cheshire. On Christmas Day 1845 a son Benjamin was born, followed in September 1848 by my grandfather Alfred. The following year, the Corlett’s applied for an assisted passage to the far-off colony of New Zealand. They sailed from Plymouth England in September 1850. arriving in New Zealand on 16th December 1850. Their eldest daughter Jane had married Thomas Stubbs and baby Arthur was born just two weeks before their ship sailed, thus three generations of the family came out on the same ship. The “Sir George Seymour” was one of the “First Four Ships” to arrive with settlers in the newly-formed Province of Canterbury and all those who sailed in these ships were henceforth known as “Canterbury Pilgrims”.

Their first night ashore was spent in newly-constructed barracks, the menfolk guarding the women and children while they slept. At that time in our history Europeans were fearful of the Maori natives of New Zealand. Port Cooper, later known as Lyttleton. was then only a straggle of frame cottages along a mile or so of foreshore, and backed by steep hills. It was over these hills, on an unformed track, known an the Bridal Path, that the Corlett family, together with the other Pilgrims, climbed and saw the swampy plains on the other side. What was later to become the city of Christchurch, was then only inhabited by one. solitary house.

A pack horse carried the Corlett’s tent and light luggage over the track. while Stephen and Jane struggled with their children who lost their shoes in the bogs. Misfortune struck. when the small boat which was carrying their tools and heavy luggage, around by sea, was wrecked and only a few light articles were washed ashore. Living conditions were grim, they lived, for a time, in a dig-cut, roofed with weatherboards and situated on the riverbank. The rate were very bad. William, aged fifteen, died of consumption. a year after their arrival in the colony.

Stephen was employed an a farm manager for the colonist, Watts Russell, who came out on the same ship. Common to most Manxmen, great-grandfather was a thrifty man and by 1853 had purchased fifty acres of land for which he paid a pound per acre. On it he built a cob cottage, the thick walls of which were constructed of dried clay and straw, the roof being thatched with tussock grass. The Corlett’s were staunch Wesleyans and it was in their home that some of the early Sunday afternoon services were held.

By 1861. Stephen had added a further seventy acres to his farm which he called ”Capesthorne Farm”. Curlett’s Road, which bordered his land in Upper Riccarton, Christchurch, is named after him. Curiously the spelling was Corlett’s Road up until the 1940’s, then is was changed. Great-grandfather pronounced his name Curlett but signed it with an ”o”.

In 1854, another child, John Stephen died of consumption which meant that of the original eight sons, there were only three left to carry on the surname. Thomas never married, but Benjamin and Alfred who married sisters. had 26 children between them. In the 1870’s Stephen had a wooden two-storeyed home built. It was reputed to have been the first of its kind in the area. the staircase having been sent out from England by the Davenport family. Great-grandmother, however, was not to enjoy her new home for long as she died of a heart attack on 23rd December 1877. Two years previous, Stephen Corlett had sold off some of his land in Riccarton, for the sum of two thousand pounds and invested the money in large blocks of land in North Canterbury. The property was called ”Greta Peaks” and comprised an area of nearly two thousand acres. The three brothers. Thomas, Ben, and Alfred worked very hard and kept much to themselves, not taking an active part in the social life of the district. They were well-known for their bullock team, also for the fact that they introduced broom into the district, this to provide nectar for their bees.

In 1880 Stephen Corlett passed away and was laid to rest alongside his wife Jane, in the Withell’s Road Cemetery, the ground for which had been donated to the church by their son-in-law Thomas Stubbs. Only eight people were buried in the small graveyard, which today lies neglected, and surrounded by new homes which have sprung up around it. The Wesleyan Church plans to sell the ground and an Act of Parliament was recently passed giving them permission to re-inter the bodies. It’s sad to think that these early forebears will have to be removed from what was to have been their last resting place.

Shortly after her father’s death, Eliza married a widower, Charles Withell and they had two daughters. During the mid-eighties, New Zealand suffered a severe depression, prices slumped and the Corlett Brothers were forced to put their land up for auction in August 1887. It was only a year earlier that Benjamin and Alfred had brought their brides home to “Greta Peaks”. It wasn’t until 1893 that the property was finally sold to a wealthy landowner, known as “Ready Money” Robinson who purchased their land for a song, something the brothers never forgot. It is said that their sheep were sold for one shilling a head and Thomas who died in 1889 is said to have died of a broken heart at the loss of their land.

Times were hard, even into the 1890’s. Grandfather was earning only four shillings a day and the family were very poor, an by this time there were seven children to provide for. in 1895, when Maryian Jane was born, the district experienced a heavy snowstorm and grandfather had to trudge through the snow, leading a horse and gig in which he returned, the same way, with the midwife. The next child was delivered by grandfather himself!

In the early 1900’s Alfred Corlett took his family to live in the North Island. The family caused quite a sensation when they crossed on the hinterland steamer, as people were amazed at the size of the family! Two babies had died, and grandfather and his brother Benjamin had made the little coffins to place them in. Two daughters, Pauline and Greta were born on the North Island. The family settled into a dairy farm. but once again disaster struck in the form of a bush fire which went raging through the district, burning the new cowshed to the ground and at the same time killing all the fish in the nearby river. Again the Corletts moved on, this time to a small town called Takapau, where one of their sons had a boarding house, which was called the “Manx Arms”. Two years later, the First World War broke out and Alfred Junior and his brother Frank volunteered for service overseas. A Territorial camp sprung up near the town so this brought added trade to the “Manx Arms” where grandmother provided special suppers for the officers. When dances wore held in the town, Grandma would chaperone her eldest daughters. The younger children would all be bedded down when she left, but grandfather, who loved music, would get all the children out of their beds and there would be an evening of singing, while their father played the accordion.

Tragically, both sons were killed together at Gallipoli in August 1915. After the news of their deaths, the boarding house was sold and the Corletts- again took up farming but times were difficult an they had several mortgages on their property. Claude and my father Ernest who were still at home, had to find work and went out shearing and rabbiting with their father, to earn the extra money needed. while the younger girls were expected to help milk the cows, make butter and generally help in the running of the farm.

In 1932 grandfather died of a heart attack, at the age of 84 yrs. He had gone to move the cows onto fresh pastures. According to his obituary, he was never so happy as when employed on the property and performed a considerable amount of work for a man of his age. He possessed a wonderful memory, and delighted to recap his experiences of the early days. One of the stories handed down was that he had an Uncle who was on board Nelson’s ship at the Battle of Trafalgar. This could well be true, as several Manxmen were known to have been on board the “Victory” during the famous battle. Grandfather was 6′ 6” tall and one of his relations can recall being afraid of him, when she wan a child. because she was certain he was a giant! He was a quietly-spoken man, not given to swearing. loved animals, especially his dog Rover and always had great pride in his large family.

Corlett branches in the colonies have flourished with an estimated 400 descendants, three of whom, including the writer. celebrate their birthdays on the 5th July. Tynwald Day. Two greet-grandsons have received the Queen’s Honours for services to their country. Grandmother, who was the daughter of an early pioneer. was a remarkable woman who flew for the first time in her life, at the age of 99. and lived to see her 100th birthday. Benjamin Corlett also moved to the North Island, where after many setbacks, he too took up farming on his own account. The Corletts were hard-working people who preserved, no matter how the odds were against them, reminding one of the Manx motto ”It will stand wheresoever you throw it”. Their name will carry on in the colonies and it is with pride that we shall remember our Manx roots.

Frances Stewart. als Corlett