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John Charles Pelham was born in February 1841, the only son of Mr. and Mrs John Pelham of Boughton-on-Chelsea, Maidstone, Kent, England. Young John ran away from home at the age of ten and spent his early years of life  at sea; always under the spell of the wander-lust and during his teen years saw almost every country on earth. On one such occasion, while his ship was off the Gold Coast, the entire crew was stricken down with yellow fever and the only men on board who were able to work were himself and the ships Captain.

Years afterwards John used to relate with relish how he performed the combined duties of cabin-boy, cook, boatswain, first mate and the ships doctor; every job on board in fact, with the exception of that of the Captain, who he steadfastly refused to become ill.

John was in America when the first shot of the American Civil War broke was fired. He was present at the Battle of Bull Run, when the Federals were routed on July 21, 1861 and he served for some time on the Union warship “Kearsage”. Although John had practically no education, he was a tireless reader and attained a tremendous amount of general knowledge. He knew the majority of the Bible from memory and possessed a detailed knowledge of English history. It is significant to say that even with his unquenchable thirst for knowledge, and though he was always reading, he was never known to have picked up a single book of fiction. His was a thirst for factual accounts and events.

When John Pelham arrived in Australia in 1864, he joined the crew of the barque “Novelty”, bound for New Zealand. Arriving at the port of Auckland he was attracted to the new, young city and decided to remain there.

He searched for and found a job as a brickmaker and assisted in making the brick which were used to build the Pitt Street Methodist Church in Auckland. In 1866, at the age of twenty, John married Miss. Rebecca Hardwick, the eldest daughter of the late Mr. G.W. Hardwick, verger of the old St. Paul’s Church on Prince Street. He ceremony was performed in the old church which has since been demolished  by the late Reverend J.F. Lloyd.From St Paul's Baptismal Register there are these names and dates under the name John Charles Pelham; Emily Eliza born 29 October 1867.  Father a labourer of Edward Street; Louisa, born 8 January 1869, Father a carpenter of Hobson Street; Mary Ann, born 30 August 1870.  Same address but Father "Grocer" for an occupation; and John Charles, born 27 September 1872.

Father, carpenter of Hobson Street. In the street directories John Charles Pelham appears as a carpenter, grocer, barrow and ladder maker, and eventually the directory lists J.C. Pelham and sons, shop and office fitters, 150 Victoria Street West, Auckland (1913).

After a visit to Taranaki during the infamous Maori War, John and his wife left and went to Thames; during the gold rush. There John built his own cottage  whish was said to still be standing, on the hills. In 1870 John returned to Auckland and founded the firm which bore his name; J.C. Pelham and Sons. His factory was situated in Hobson Street, later being removed to Victoria Street, then to Albert Street and finally back to Victoria Street.     John continued to control the business until he was eighty years of age, when his two sons Mr. J.C. Pelham and Mr. G.F. Pelham took over the operations of the business. John was an honorary member Ponsonby Bowling Club, with which he was connected for many years as a player. He was also a member of the Thames Old Boys Association and he often played the cello, double bass and violin in the old Choral Hall with the Auckland Choral Society. He was a past master of the United Service Masonic Lodge, an ex-officer of the Grand Lodge of New Zealand and for many years a member of the Court City of Auckland of the Ancient Order of Foresters.

Mrs. Pelham had died some years before her husband, when he died at 90 years of age on September 12, 1931 at his home at 72 College Hill; his death certificate serial number being 10197. Funeral services were conducted by T. J. McIvor & Sons Ltd, 434 Karangahape Road, Auckland. He was a well known Ponsonby resident, enjoyed good health throughout his life and was said to have never had a single day of illness. He was a shining example of a self made man. John Charles Pelham was buried in the Purewa Cemetery, Block A 10 Plot 091.

His surviving children were Mr. J.C. Pelham of Royal Oak, Mr. G.F. Pelham of Sarsfield Street, Ponsonby, Mrs. Arthur Ford of Mount Albert, Mrs. C.W. White of Palmerston North, Mrs. Alex Wilkie of MArton and Mrs. H.E. Taylor of College Hill, Ponsonby.

The story of his death was later carried in the Tuesday, September 15, 1931 edition of the New Zealand Herald.

BARQUE The Novelty, of 376 tons, was built for Henderson & Macfarlane in Auckland, New Zealand by Henry Niccol in 1862. She had a keel length of 147ft and a beam of 27.6ft. The poop deck at the rear was raised 3ft above the main deck and the depth of her cargo hold was 14.9ft. A fast vessel, with thirteen crew members. She completed a record run from London to Auckland in 92 days with a full cargo hold and passengers.


Walter Dobb, Christchurch, New Zealand

Purewa Cemetery, Auckland, New Zealand

Diane Gordon, Auckland War Memorial Museum, Library, New Zealand


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