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
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
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,
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
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.
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.