BAKER POLHILL (1798 – 1853)

Upon searching the claim that the Allen family had the first European birth – following the arrival of the Canterbury Association ships – which even the family were unsure about, I came across another birth that instantly took my interest. 

In the 3rd edition of the Lyttelton Times, the birth of Edward Greig Watts Polhill who had come into the world on 25th January 1851 was announced.  He was not the first European born that month but it was the fact that the family’s address was Polhill Bay that grabbed my attention.  I scrambled through the passenger lists of our First Four Ships and found nothing on this family.  So I began my digging…

Baker Polhill first arrived in New Zealand in 1841 aboard the ‘Oriental’.  Although the ship was to sail on to New Plymouth, he decided to settle in Port Nicholson (Wellington) along with a few other families who were aboard.  One of them was the Watts family and he soon wed Jane Watts.  He opened a timber shop, selling firewood, building and ship timber.  Even though he never owned the land where he sourced his timber from, these areas in Wellington still bear his name, such as Polhill Reserve and Polhill Gully.

On 2nd September 1849, after being employed as the Foreman of the Road Party No.1, by the Canterbury Association Chief Surveyor, Captain Joseph Thomas, the Polhills arrived in Lyttelton.  There were 40 men in this construction party, all but 3 being Maori.  Polhill was to be paid 7 shillings.  These men set about their work of clay and soft rock cutting, drilling and blasting along the waterfront (now Norwich Quay), Sumner Road and the Major Hornbrook track up Mt. Pleasant.  They even sunk wells.

As Christmas approached, the Maori of the party laid complaints of their treatment and Polhill ended up replacing the Superintendent as a result.  As they worked on the Sumner Road, Polhill came to live beneath it, in an area that became known as Polhill’s Bay.  Today, it has been overtaken by Cashin Quay.  It was directly under Sticky Point – which was where Sumner Road development was stopped by John Robert Godley due to the Canterbury Association being in bad debt.  Sumner Road would not be finished and opened until 1857. 

I will always be very grateful that my father took me fishing out that way during the 1980’s as it seems today that this area is very much shut off from the general public.

By the time of his death on 6th November 1853, Polhill was employed by the Lyttelton Customs Department as a tide waiter and was living on Oxford Street.  He also owned land along North Main Road. 
In December that same year, Jane packed up her 5 children and boarded a ship for Wellington.  She died in 1916 in Bulli, NSW. Australia.  

PLEASE NOTE THAT THE ATTACHED IMAGE IS NOT ROAD PARTY NO.1

*image courtesy of Paul Callister and Robert Didham, ‘Occupational structure – Defining and measuring occupations’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/photograph/22539/road-builders (accessed 16 November 2016)

One Response

  1. Renee says:

    Thank you for this research! I have been trying to find when Baker and Jane would have been married with various record searches being less than helpful. I was unable to find the connection therefore leaving me to think I had stuffed up in my research/ancestry mapping.
    Jane disappeared off to Australia with her children, she died in 1916 in Bulli, New South Wales, Australia. I am Baker and Jane’s great, great, great, great grand daughter.

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