Sunday, 6 February 2011

Waitangi Day - Thomas Bluett, Wellington, 1841

February 6th is Waitangi Day, New Zealand's national day, which commemorates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi on 6 February 1840. To mark the day, the Auckland Research Centre have issued an invitation to blog about New Zealand ancestors.


New Zealand flag


My 3x great grandfather, Thomas Bluett, was born around 1819. On 4 December 1836 he married Mary Langley at St Mary, Lambeth, Surrey. Mary had been born in Ireland around 1813, the daughter of Thomas Langley. Thomas and Mary had two known children. Their first child was a son, Thomas, whose birth has not yet been traced. Their second was a daughter, Mary Ann, who was born at 34 Little Pulteney Street, Westminster, on 3 March 1839. It is through her that I am descended. Mary Ann's birth certificate states that Thomas was a printer and we know from other sources that, at this time, he was employed as a lithographic printer by Day and Haghe of London, the country's leading lithographic printing firm.


Lithographic press 1855


On 17 September 1840, Thomas Bluett's name was entered in the New Zealand Company's register of emigrant labourers applying for free passage to New Zealand. He gave his age as 21 and his occupation as smith and bellhanger. Thomas was said to be married, with a wife aged 25, boy aged three and a girl aged eleven months, and the family were living at 50 St Clement's Lane, Strand, London.

On 27 September 1840, there was another Bluett application. Adam Bluett was registered as a smith, living at 18 Union Place, Sloane Square, Chelsea. He was aged 30, with a wife aged 29, boy aged 12 and girl aged 10. On 20 October 1840, there were two further applications. Another Adam Bluett, differentiated from the first by the designation senior, was a locksmith and bell hanger, resident at 50 St Clement's Lane, Strand. He was married, aged 40, with a wife aged 38. Immediately after him in the register came an application from Peter Langley, an unmarried labourer, aged 21 and also resident at 50 St Clement's Lane.


St Clements Lane cropped


After seven years' research, the relationship between these various groups of people is still unclear but, from the coincidence of names, occupations and addresses, it can hardly be doubted that there is one. Some of the information given in the applications is false - Thomas' occupation and Mary Ann's age were probably altered in order to qualify for free passage - but much has been proved accurate from other sources.

Thomas Bluett and his family were originally booked to sail on the Lady Nugent, which left England on 21 October 1840, but they delayed their departure, presumably in order to travel on the same ship as the others. At some point Adam Bluett junior and his family decided not to travel. He and his wife, Catherine (nee Sweeney), plus Adam's two children from a previous marriage, William and Betsy, can be found in the 1841 census living in Henrietta Street, Marylebone. So it was a party of seven which finally set sail on the barque Olympus from Gravesend on 9 December 1840, as steerage passengers bound for New Zealand. The passenger list notes that Thomas Bluett acted as cook for the voyage.

The Olympus arrived at Port Nicholson (the harbour of Wellington) on 20 April 1841. Thomas Bluett lost no time in getting to work but not as a smith and bellhanger. For he had brought with him in the hold of the Olympus the first lithographic printing press to reach New Zealand. Moreover, one of the cabin passengers on the Olympus was a lithographic artist, Jacob William Jones. It seems highly improbable that this was a coincidence. On 1 May 1841, the New Zealand Gazette announced:


1 May 1841 cropped


On 29 May, Jones and Bluett produced a chart of Port Nicholson, the first printed map in New Zealand:


Port Nicholson chart


By 12 June they had added a plan of Wadestown and a view of Lambton Harbour & Mount Victoria from Tinakore:


Lambton Harbour


By 17 July the Gazette was selling their plans of the town:


Wellington plan


But then it all began to go wrong. 16 September 1841 saw the publication in Wellington of the first, and only surviving, edition of an extraordinary newspaper, the Victoria Times. It was a lithographic print of a handwritten original and the publisher was Thomas Bluett, whose address was given as the Lithographic Printing Office, Wellington Terrace.


Litho office cropped


As was the custom, the first page consisted of advertisements, including one promoting Thomas Bluett's lithographic services on "very moderate" terms and another seeking "a steady and respectable lad as an apprentice to the lithographic business". The second and third pages were devoted to an editorial in the form of an extended diatribe against the Gazette. The fourth page reprinted the Jones and Bluett plan of Wellington:


Wellington map


From the plan, it can be seen that the Lithographic Printing Office was situated on land owned by Jacob William Jones. But, having alienated the Gazette, which had previously sold - and praised - his lithographic prints, Thomas now went on to alienate his collaborator and patron. The last mention of Thomas in New Zealand is an advertisement which appeared in the Gazette on 10 and 13 November 1841:




By the end of the year, Thomas Bluett and his family had left New Zealand for Australia. Their many adventures thereafter, culminating in Thomas' headline-making death back in London in 1846, must be the subject of future blog posts.

As for their travelling companions on the Olympus, I can find no reference at all to them in New Zealand following their arrival. Peter Langley simply vanishes without trace but Adam Bluett senior and his wife, another Catherine, reappear in England. On 16 August 1849 they were convicted at the Wiltshire County Assizes of uttering counterfeit coin and each sentenced to one year's imprisonment. Adam died in the Workhouse in the parish of St Giles, London, and was buried in Victoria Park Cemetery, Hackney, on 27 December 1858, aged 59.


  1. An interssting tale, thanks for sharing.

    I wonder if Albert Robert Bluett after whom the A R Bluett Award is named is a relation of Thomas" ?

  2. Looking forward to reading about the headline-making death back in London.

  3. Thanks so much for your contribution Caroline. As a former typographer printer, I was chuffed to read about the first lithographer in Wellington. I also can't wait to read about the headline making death . . . bit of a cliffhanger that one! Thanks again.

  4. Fascinating! Victoria Park Cemetery is now Meath Gardens, the park we directly overlook. You may be able to find more details here. I don't think they are digitised though. Mind you I've never researched anything on line before so I may be doing something wrong.

  5. Terrific stuff, Caroline, thanks. Do you know Paul Barton from NZ who is also a descendant of Thomas Bluett?
    I am a descendant of Peter Langley, who was Mary's brother. they came from County Mayo in Ireland. Peter had deserted from the army in 1840. I cannot find how/when he got to Melbourne, Victoria, Australia yet,but it seems that he married there in 1848to either a Mary Ford or a Mary Murphy. Peter died in 1875 at Buckland, Victoria, Australia. If you would like more information about the Langleys, I have quite a bit. Denise Langley