The New Zealand Fowells

Last update 5 Jul 2011



George John Fowell, who was born in 1842 and became the founder of Fowell and Co., in St Ives, Hunts, the story of which is told here, married Elizabeth Broadbent and had three children, Ada, Joseph (known as Joe) and Alfred. George John contracted tuberculosis (consumption - a slow killer in those days) and took to the bottle at the Lamb public house, close to his home, to help himself cope with his problems.

But the rest of the family were strict Methodists and teetotallers, and increasingly George John and his father Joseph (my great great grandfather) became alienated. Their partnership in Fowell and Co was dissolved in 1898, and the firm sold. George John went to Huntingdon where he worked for another agricultural engineer until he died at 58 years old on 30th November 1900. Joe, his son, an engineer of 27, emigrated to New Zealand, travelling on the vessel Ionic (3002 tons, 147 passengers, of Shaw, Saville and Albion Co Ltd shipping line) left London for Wellington on 16 October 1898.



The Ionic (later called "Sophocles")

Built in Belfast in 1884 by Harland and Wolff for the White Star Line, she was chartered to the New Zealand Shipping Co at first, then to Shaw Saville and Albion. In 1900 she was sold to the Aberdeen line and used as a transport ship during the Boer War years. She was scrapped in Morecombe in 1908

George John's wife Elizabeth and other children had thus no real inheritance or family links to keep them in the area. Elizabeth travelled out to Wellington, leaving London on the "Corinthic" on 12 Nov 1909. A record of her voyage was difficult to find because she used her maiden name of Broadbent.



The Corinthic

Built by Harland and Wolff in 1902, Corinthic was the sister ship to Athenic and Ionic (above). She worked the New Zealand trade and was used as a troop transport during WWI. Corinthic had an uneventful career and was scrapped in 1931.

Although the date is not certain it is certain that his sister Ada followed her mother around the same time, only Alfred remaining in Britain. Alfred had married Dora Bunting and had two girls prior to his father's death: the line of Fowells in the UK thus disappeared with them.

In 1901, 30 year old Joseph, who was living in Dunedin (South Island, New Zealand) at 43 Stuart Street was issued with a certificate of competency to drive stationary engines by the House of Representatives. This was a skill which he had undoubtedly learned from his father or grandfather whilst Fowell and Co were still operating. He worked on the construction of the SS Earnslaw, still operating at Queenstown and at some stage was a gold dredge master in Central Otago, later a shareholder in another large dredge.



The Himalaya

In 1907 Joseph returned from a visit to England on the SS Himalaya, pictured above. Why and when he returned to Britain is not known, but perhaps it was to do with settling the family business. At all events we know that he travelled from London to Dunedin leaving England on 6th Jun 1907, and that his occupation was "gentleman"! That he had an eye to business is clear from this extract from the Otago Witness newspaper of 28 February 1906 about the local cricket arrangements

By 1909, then aged 38 he had met and married 23 year old Mabel Osborne Broad, the daughter of Alfred Carter Broad (a brush manufacturer in Diss, Suffolk before he went to Dunedin and established the Broad's Brush Factory, which later became the Otago Brush Company) and Martha Osborne. above which offices the Broad family lived for a while until they built "Willard", where they lived for some years. In later years Joe went north, pig and dairy farming at Whitford near Howick. You can see "Willard" here.

Joe's grandfather Joseph Fowell had married Sarah Osborn, and his new wife was the granddaughter of James Osborn, Sarah's brother, so the Osborn(e) family were twice connected with Fowell. Joes occupation seems to have been varied. He had been a gold dredge master in central Otago, and a shareholder in another dredge before he bacame a manager at the Otago Brush Company Eliza and Ada are recorded as living in the same town at 9 St Anne's Road, Mornington in 1911 and at 144 Forbury Road Caversham, Dunedin in 1919. (Michael Broad writes in 2006 "144 Forbury Road is a huge historical uninteresting cube of two and a half stories. In the old books it was imposing, set in gardens with a long drive. Now in 6 flats surrounded by later houses and generally shielded from view."

By 1911 he had become an "Indent Agent" and was living at Gordon St, Mornington, Dunedin and had one child, Winifred Waiata, born in 1910. Waiata is a Maori word meaning "song". A daughter followed in each of the next two years; Margaret Osborne, who later married a Mr Davis and Betty Osborne who married a McNeil. During this time Joe worked on the making of the steamship Earnslaw which still operates at Queenstown.

The record shows that the next child was a son, Joseph George and that he was born on January 15th 1914 in Leeton, in the Narrandara district of New South Wales, Australia. Land was purchased there forJoseph's ambition of farming, and the family moved there. However it was not really very long before Alfred Carter Broad travelled to see Joseph and persuaded him to return and become manager of the brush factory in Dunedin. At that time A.C. was wanting to retire, and believed Joseph was the man for the job. In a way it would keep control within the family to some extent. So later in the same year, they are back in Dunedin, for the Supplementary Electoral roll shows them all at 36 Allendale Road, St Clair, Dunedin, Joe being then a warehouseman. Perhaps Mabel was homesick or needing some help with the children from either mother or mother-in-law.

Winifred started school at Ravensbourne School on 1st February 1915 and in 1919 moved to St Clair School in Dunedin - both schools are still operating. Two years later, Betty started at St Clair School moving to Ravensbourne in April 1919 and Joseph George started at St Clair from 3rd February 1919 to 11th April 1919, moving to Ravensbourne at that time.

By 1922 the whole family, Joe, Mabel, Ada, Eliza and the children were living together at De Lacey Street, Ravensbourne, Dunedin and Joe's occupation was given as "secretary". Presumably this was a company secretary because in 1925 he was described as a "director" and in 1935 when he was living at 1 Valpy Street he was a "managing director". Michael Broad tells me "I knew the 1 Valpy St location, I had stayed with the family there when 5 years old or so. The original stone wall and wrought iron fence is still there but the home long gone and replaced."At some point between 1922 and 1925, Ada and Eliza had moved to 22 Cliffs Road, Caversham, Dunedin.

In 1932, mother Elizabeth died, was cremated on 18 Aug. 1932, aged 88, and her ashes placed in the Niche Wall in Chapel of Anderson Bay Cemetery, Dunedin.

The family moved again - this time to North Island, New Zealand; to Otahuhu, Auckland where Joe was again an "Indent Agent" in 1938. He died at Whitford, near Howick, Aukland on 22nd January 1943 at the age of 72, leaving 700 to his sister Ada and the rest of his estate to his wife Mabel Osborn Fowell.

At some stage Ada moved to Howick as well, though whether she lived with Joe and Mabel is not clear. She died a spinster at 35 Mellons Bay Road, Howick, Auckland aged 90 on 10 Aug 1959, but after Joe's death it seems likely that she and Mabel lived together and were very close. Certainly they shared a motor car (Ada's share in it was left to Mabel who had the other share) and she left the contents of her house to Mabel as well in a codicil which reads:

This in addition to my will....As a small recognition of all her kindness to me during the years we have lived together I wish to bequeath to my sister-in-law Mabel Osborne Fowell the furniture and personal belongings in my house at 35 Mellons Road, Howick for her to dispose of as she wishes.

Ada also left 700 in English currency to her cousins Nellie Dayson Crosland and Ethel Dayson Crosland, of the Riviera Hotel, Harlow Moor Drive, Harrogate, the residue of her estate to go to the children of her late brother. A codicil dated 11 Sept 1959 said that Nellie was now deceased - so cancel 700 and give 500 to Ethel Dayson Crosland. Just how these two were related is the subject of further research, but is probably through the marriage of 69 Ellen to Thomas Lax who lived in Leeds.

Mabel Osborne Fowell died on 21st July 1960 aged 74 in London, UK., outliving Ada by only a few months. An affidavit from her friend stated that she had known Mabel in Whitford, Auckland, and that she had attended her funeral in London: it seems likely that the two had been visiting on a trip together when Mabel died. Mabel's estate was left to her children Joseph George, Robert Alfred, Winifred Waiata Davis, Margaret Ada Price, Mary Leonard Drumm and Betty Osborne McNeil. Joseph and Robert were named as trustees.

Joseph George married Margery Yeats in 1939 in New Zealand and they had four children born between 1941 and 1950: Janet, Margaret and Susan and Elizabeth. One of the daughters, Margaret Osborne, married Allan Drinkrow and has been in touch with both Brian Hutchings and Ken Ballard who have been researching the Fowell Agricultural Engineers firms and I had the pleasure of meeting her, Betty McNeill and Margaret Price when I visited New Zealand in 2004. And Susan, now Susan Cook has been in touch in July 2011 to update me on some details.

Robert Alfred married Mhairi MacRae in 1944 and had five children, one of whom, David Robert, exists to carry on the family name. Another son, John Stephen died in 1950 at the age of 17 months and daughters Caroline, Diana and Barbara all married and had children.

So the Fowells are still in New Zealand and seem set fair to remain there, even though the line has died out in the UK. If any of them read this I would be most grateful if they would contact me

My grateful thanks to Bev Crabb in New Zealand who researched most of this information for me out of the goodness of her heart, and to Michael Osborne Broad of Dunedin who has provided detail of Joe's occupation.

You can contact Bev here