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HEATH OF COLLINGBOURNE KINGSTON, WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND
TO HOWICK, AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND

Thomas HEATH was born in 1814 at Collingbourne Kingston, Wiltshire, base-born son of Elizabeth HEATH. In later records he gives his father as Thomas STONE but this has not been proven.

Sometime before 1840 Thomas enlisted as a Private in the Royal Marines, Reg. No 1656. He was described as 5'6'', brown hair, Grey eyes, fair complexion, age 37, and of good character. His ship, “the Hastings (72 guns) being with Admiral the Hon Sir Robert Stopford in the operations on the coast of Syria against Mehemet Ali, Pasha of Egypt in 1840. One of the first fights of this campaign was on the 12th of July when a frigate and two sloops attacked the strong tower of Gebail. After bombarding the place for an hour, they landed a storming party of 370 Marines and mountaineers under the command of Captain Austin. The party, after scrambling over dykes and through cactus fences arrived under the castle. Here they discovered that the strength of the enemy had been greatly underrated. When within a short distance of the castle, the party became exposed to a heavy discharge of musketry from loopholes nearly level with the ground. The assailants were now brought to a standstill, and as they could only fire on the loopholes, it was judged necessary to retire to the boats. The British loss upon this occasion was five killed and eighteen wounded. The bombardment was continued for four hours. In the night the garrison, from want of provisions evacuated the place. It was now found that the castle of Gebail was sufficiently strong to have withstood the whole of the Mediterranean Fleet (see Allen's "Battles of the British Navy'). Thomas was amongst the wounded. He was afterwards retired from active service, receiving a pension and a silver medal for Syria. He served 5 years and 5 months and was discharged with a ruptured wound in the right foot.

In 1847 he married Jane BARTLETT from the nearby village of Enford in Wiltshire. They left London for New Zealand with Major Gray and a party of 77 Fencibles (pensioned soldiers) with 58 women and 109 children on the SIR GEORGE SEYMOUR an 867-ton barque in the command of Captain MILLMAN. Thomas and Jane were posted to Howick, near Auckland. Here he served seven years with the Royal New Zealand Fencibles, and was for some time a vestryman of All Saints Church. He was often mentioned in the diaries of Rev Vicesimus LUSH, which have been published.

By 1897 Thomas was the last surviving of the Fencibles. He died in 1902 and Jane died in 1913. They are buried at All Saints Church in Howick but unfortunately there is no headstone.

Thomas and Jane had seven children;

Some Old Howick Characters: Miss Sarah Heath
Auckland-Waikato Historical Journal No 45 (September 1984)

This is the first in a series of short articles, dealing with Howick characters, written by Rev HATTAWAY who was fortunate to have met all the people he writes about and is able to convey an impression of them that otherwise would have been unrecorded.

Until after the Second World War, the village of Howick, possessed a distinctive charm and character of its own, and among its inhabitants there were some interesting characters also - strong individualists, survivors from another age. Among these was Miss Sarah HEATH, the last surviving child of an original Howick Fencible settler, Mr. Thomas HEATH, who had arrived in November 1847, with his wife and family, on the immigrant ship Sir George Seymour, the third ship bringing Fencibles for Howick. In old age Miss HEATH lived in an old Fencible cottage with her hens and cats down by the village green. The hens and cats wandered at will through the house. The Vicar, Rev W E Connolly (1939-51), used to say that he enjoyed visiting Miss HEATH. It reminded him of a cottage in Ireland. Until her removal towards the end of her life to the old peoples' ward at Green Lane Hospital, she lived all her life in Howick. My earliest recollections of Miss HEATH date from the nineteen-thirties. Wearing a long black dress with leg-o-mutton sleeves, and a wide brimmed black hat trimmed with purple ribbons, she walked up the aisle of the Selwyn Church (All Saints), straight as a ram-rod, to her seat. She undoubtedly possessed an aura of disciplined austerity. She also cleaned the church for which the vestry paid her thirty shillings a quarter, and although she was only receiving the old age pension, she handed the cleaning money back at the end of each year as a donation to the church. In addition she washed and ironed the vicar's surplus, using an old fashioned iron, with a curved funnel, which was kept hot by placing live coals from the kitchen fire in it. When, owing to infirmity, she was unable to walk up the hill to the church on Sunday mornings, the vicar, Rev W E CONNOLLY, would celebrate Holy Communion for her once a month in her house, using the front sitting room table, Miss HEATH being seated nearby in an armchair. After the service, the vicar usually remained for a chat, and Miss HEATH, leaning back in her chair with an expression of contentment, would regale him with village gossip - not the latest gossip, but rather spicy scandal dating from her girlhood days over sixty years earlier. Although it was never repeated, Rev CONNOLLY, who possessed a rather subtle sense of humor, told me that as it seemed to give her pleasure to relate it, he didn't see any harm in it. She was devoid of telephone and radio, and of course television - but it always seemed to amuse him. One can imagine the scene - Miss HEATH with her hawk-like features draped in a shawl, seated in her front sitting room, enjoying a good gossip with the vicar. Each day a kind neighbor sent over a cooked meal, but the day arrived when the only course was for her to go into the hospital where the nurses made quite a pet of her. The younger nurses had never seen anyone like her. When studying at St Johns College from 1953 to 1957, I called one afternoon on Miss HEATH at Green Lane Hospital. Sitting up in bed, draped in a shawl, she made a swipe with her walking stick at a sparrow that flew in the room causing it to beat a hasty retreat through the open window. “People feed it"..she said..."They put bread crumbs on their bed cover and it comes in to eat them; but that bird knows better than to put a foot on My Bed"...and an expression of grim satisfaction diffuses Miss HEATH's hawk like features. How do you like it here? I asked.  "Oh its all right, I suppose" she said, but I’d sooner be in my own house. And these young girls ask such silly questions. They keep asking me if I remember the Maori War, but even though I tell them. "How could I possibly remember the Maori War? - I wasn't born then" they still keep asking me if I remember it. In any case, what business is it of theirs whether I remember it or not!'. The possessor of a keen intellect, even in extreme old age, Sarah HEATH was an astute judge of character, and her assessments of other villagers was invariably very penetrating. Together with others of her era, she undoubtedly contributed to the character of Howick village society in her day.

In 1968 Thomas and Jane’s Fencible Cottage was demolished. A large Camelia Tree on the property was saved and was still in the grounds of the Howick Playcentre when Barry and Christine Clement visited there in the late 1980s. The playcentre had erected a plaque with the history of the tree on it.


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