Samuel Woolley and The Plough Inn, Dunedin, New Zealand

The Highs and Lows of Local History

or: when the story seems to be everything that you could wish for but you end up with more questions than answers and a hint of disappointment …

Hocken Collection Dunedin 1851
Hocken Collection Dunedin 1851

Sometimes an enquiry comes through to the local history group and it is immediately exciting; so when I opened up an email from a lady in New Zealand explaining that her ancestor had once owned The Plough but had sold it in 1848 to buy passage to New Zealand for himself and his family I was immediately  interested. Then she wrote that when Sam Woolley (a good, familiar local name) arrived in New Zealand he built a new hotel near Dunedin in NZ which he also called The Plough Inn and that he wrote a journal of his emigration—well, now I am positively excited.

We don’t know very much about the early years of the Plough (although we do have the Hives family listed there at this time), we know the Woolley family are local in those years, we know that many from this area did emigrate to the New World at this time, too. Can we find the Deeds to The Plough? Can we trace this part of the Woolley family? What does his Journal say about his life in England? Is the Plough in Dunedin still open—could we twin our Ploughs?!

Hocken Collection Dunedin 1869
Hocken Collection Dunedin 1869

These are the highs!

Then come the lows …

We have no trace of a Sam Woolley in Hickling at the time but there is mention of one witnessing a Will in Stathern and Stathern also has a Plough Inn. Then a copy of the journal is found in the Hocken Library in New Zealand and there is no mention of any village (in fact nothing from before the voyage at all), just mention of the general area of Melton Mowbray. There’s no Plough Inn in Melton now and after some extensive research by a kind gentleman at the Leicestershire Archive Office, it seems that there wasn’t at the time that we are looking at, either.

It’s a really great story but sadly, unless we can positively link the family (Woolley and/or de Lacey) to Hickling before 1848, it looks as if the links are local but not Hickling-local. We are still working with this lovely lady and, at the moment, we are waiting for more names and dates from New Zealand or new finds at this end.

Even if the links don’t turn out for us, it is fascinating to be involved in a family’s search and it all helps in a broader sense, after all.

I’m including some bits taken from Sam Woolley’s story—just because it is interesting and just in case it jogs someone’s memory of an old family story!!

(JF September 2020)

Sam Woolley's emigration (Ref. to follow)
Sam Woolley’s emigration (Ref. to follow)
Sam Woolley's emigration (ref. to follow)
Sam Woolley’s emigration (ref. to follow)
Hocken Collection Dunedin 1851
Hocken Collection Dunedin 1851
Sam Woolley's emigration (ref. to follow)
Sam Woolley’s emigration (ref. to follow)
Sam Woolley's emigration (ref. to follow)
Sam Woolley’s emigration (ref. to follow)
Sam Woolley's emigration (ref. to follow)
Sam Woolley’s emigration (ref. to follow)
Hocken Collection Dunedin 1862
Hocken Collection Dunedin 1862

Click here to access the Hocken Collection.

Sam Woolley's emigration (ref. to follow)
Sam Woolley’s emigration (ref. to follow)
Sam Woolley's emigration (ref. to follow)
Sam Woolley’s emigration (ref. to follow)
Hocken Collection Dunedin 1869
Hocken Collection Dunedin 1869

The Ajax 1848:

Ngaio Press; passenger lists –

AJAX, 767 tons, sailed from London, 8/9/1848; arrived at Otago on 8/1/1849. Captain John Young; Dr Robert Stewart, surgeon, who remained two years in the settlement, then returned to India. The Ajax was wrecked at Anjer on her voyage from Manila to London, 12/3/1850.

Woolley, Samuel [ag., innkeeper; Waikouaiti; d. 21/7/1890]; Maria née DeLacy, wife (30) [d. 13/10/1886]; Samuel (11) [unm. d. 4/5/1909]; Clarissa (8) [m. Charles Richard Nelmes; Waikouaiti; d. 9/1935]; Eliza (6) [m. Thomas Alcock, Waikouaiti; d. 13/2/1922]; Maria (3) [d. Hampden 13/11/1928]; Sarah Lucy (2 months) [m. Charles Haynes; d. 16/10/1928].

(the website link, above, gives detailed notes about how these lists were compiled and possible errors)

Further Research as it emerges:

At present, we are searching for any evidence of Samuel Woolley in the Melton Mowbray/Vale of Belvoir area and we are also trying to track any evidence of Inns named The Plough in 1848. We are particularly looking for evidence that link the two.

Possible Plough Inns (Melton area):

1841 Census; Woolley family entry.
Samuel Woolley census record 1841 image
Samuel Woolley census record 1841
  • Melton Mowbray: this is the area that Samuel Woolley quotes in his journal. However (so far), there is no trace of a Plough Inn in Melton Mowbray town in 1848.
  • Hickling: this is the location that the family in New Zealand fixed on in their first internet searches. Hickling has a Melton Mowbray address and had a Plough Inn in 1848. However, current records show Abigail Hives at The Plough although she is also referenced at the Wheel Inn, Hickling in the same period and the records that we do have are very vague. We haven’t been able to trace the Deeds for The Plough in Hickling, either. There is a strong history of the Woolley family in Hickling but no Samuel Woolley has been identified that fits what we know, so far. (there is a highly speculative link in New Zealand between the Woolleys and Mark Starbuck who was born in Hickling – see, below.)
  • Scalford: a recent suggestion. There was a Plough Inn in the 1840s and information goes back to 1849 when John Hourd was running the Inn. This may indicate a recent sale that coincides with Samuel Woolley’s emigration in 1848?
  • Stathern: as with Hickling – there is a Plough Inn with a Melton Mowbray address. We have made an initial enquiry but nothing has come back yet. We do have a Will from 1817 which mentions a Samuel Woolley in Stathern but the dates point to a previous generation (perhaps this is Samuel Woolley’s father? Samuel Woolley was a surveyor and architect in the Melton area at the right time and it is quite possible that he would have been asked to witness a Will as a local professional. Might the child Samuel Woolley have travelled around the Vale with his father when he was working?).
  • Leicester/Hinckley: The Woolley family that emigrated to New Zealand on the Ajax are recorded on Watts Causeway (St. Mary’s Parish), Hinckley Rd, Leicester in the 1841 census (see attachments in the gallery and above). Samuel Woolley is recorded as a bookkeeper – how did he go from bookkeeper to innkeeper? There is a New Plough Inn in Hinckley (perhaps there used to be a Plough or Old Plough Inn nearby, too). At the moment, this location seems unlikely because of the references to Melton Mowbray which don’t fit geographically with Leicester or Hinckley; however, we would like to find out where the Woolley family were between 1841 and their emigration in 1849. (Although, Hickling and Hinckley are frequently confused with each other, this doesn’t seem to be an issue in this situation.)
  • Is it possible that the bookkeeper travelled to New Zealand with fond memories of a/his local Plough Inn and aspirations to reinvent himself and to build and become a hotelier himself (there are strong Inn/Hotel ties on his mother’s side of the family and from his sister Lucy’s marriage)?
  • Nottingham: There are references in the brewery & newspaper records for Nottingham that seem to answer lots of what we are looking for; John and Samuel Woolley are placed at The Old Plough Inn on Beck Lane (now Heathcote Street) in Nottingham – the Old Plough stood on the corner of Heathcote Street & Lower Parliament St. [sources: Nottingham Review and General Advertiser for the Midland Counties, 9 Mar 1832 and Nottingham Journal, 10 Mar 1832] Death notice; “On Saturday last, at his father’s house, the Old Plough, Beck lane, Mr. Samuel Woolley, after a long and severe affliction which he bore with Christian patience, aged 29.” Also, from the Nottinghamshire 1834 Dearden Tavern directory; “Old Plough, John Woolley, Beck Lane”. John is likely to be the father mentioned, above. This has all the right names mentioned in the same context but this Samuel’s dates don’t tie in with what we know of Samuel Woolley’s family (to date) and the New Zealand journal specifically references Melton Mowbray, not Nottingham. (more investigation needed on this option …)

What we know about Samuel Woolley before his emigration.

Lucy Woolley baptism 1811 - mother maiden name Oldham
Lucy Woolley baptism 1811 – including detail of
family background
  • Samuel Woolley’s parents were Samuel Woolley (born 1774, St. Margaret’s, Westminster, Middlesex – his parents Josiah (Gent.) and Susannah) and Lucy Oldham (born 1786, Melton Mowbray – her parents; Joseph Oldham, Innkeeper of Melton Mowbray and Dorothy (nee Swift); they seem to have been married 24yrs before Lucy’s birth so there may be a generation missing …).
  • Samuel Woolley was born in 1808; he was baptised – St George, Hanover Square, Middlesex. His parents are given as Samuel and Lucy.
  • His two younger siblings were born in Melton Mowbray which is mother, Lucy’s, home town; so that it would seem that soon after marrying, the family moved from London to Melton Mowbray and Samuel settled in the area as a surveyor/architect.
  • However, when Lucy Woolley is married to William Mason (1839); the Leicester Herald records that her father, Samuel Woolley is ‘of London’. It would seem that Samuel (and his wife, Lucy?) returned to London but that Samuel (junior) emigrated to New Zealand in 1848 and that Josiah and Lucy stayed in the Melton Mowbray area.
  • Images of the original baptismal records for Samuel’s siblings, Lucy (born 1811) and Josiah (born 1813), in Melton Mowbray Parish have survived and they give useful background family information: when Josiah is baptised in 1813 his father’s occupation is given as ‘painter’; however, all other references describe him as a surveyor and/or architect. Lucy’s baptismal record contains a great deal of detail; Lucy is the couple’s eldest daughter (it is possible that there was a child Clarissa born in London who didn’t survive). Samuel is ‘of Melton Mowbray’ and he is an architect. Lucy’s grandfather is given as Josiah Woolley (Gent.) of St. Margaret’s Westminster, Middlesex.
  • What does seem clear is that the Woolley family has an educated and prosperous background; Samuel’s grandfather is a ‘gentleman’ and his father has a reputable profession as a surveyor/architect.
  • Lucy’s baptismal record also gives detail of the Oldham family; her grandfather is Joseph Oldham, of Melton Mowbray, Innkeeper. A later notice of Auction in 1841 places Joseph Oldham at the Black Swan in the cattle market in Melton Mowbray – ‘… many years occupied by …’
  • Lucy Woolley married William Mason in 1839 – he was an hotelier; The Harborough Hotel, Melton Mowbray.
  • Samuel Woolley married Maria Lacey in 1838; both are resident at Sanvy Gate which is in Leicester.
  • In the 1841 census the family can be found on Watts Causeway, St. Mary Parish, Leicester. They have two children; Samuel (b. 1838 d. 1909) and Clarissa (b.1841 d. 1935; marries Nelmes). It states that Samuel is aged 32 and Maria is aged 25. At this point, Samuel is listed as a bookkeeper; this fits in with his family’s educational/professional background but doesn’t link to his journal record where he seems to describe himself as a hotelier/innkeeper
  • Two more children are born before the family leaves for New Zealand; Eliza (1842 – 1922; marries Allcock) and Sarah Lucy (1848 – 1928; marries Haynes).
  • However, according to Samuel’s journal, there was also a third child, Jane, born in c.1844. Samuel’s journal records that their daughter Jane (aged 4) becomes ill with croup during the journey and ‘after much suffering’ dies on November 14th and is buried at sea. He writes that had he known this was going to happen ‘he would never have left his native land’. Jane isn’t mentioned on the passenger list for the Ajax but these are often based on arrivals rather than departures …
  • So far, we are missing information that directly links Samuel & Maria Woolley to an Inn or a Hotel in Melton Mowbray or its immediate vicinity (although his sister and mother have clear links to the hotel/pub industry in Melton itself); how does he go from bookkeeper to innkeeper and what is behind The Plough Inn reference in his journal?

What we know about Samuel Woolley in New Zealand.

Samuel Woolley - jubilee document 1898
Samuel Woolley – jubilee document 1898
  • The main source of information from New Zealand has come from Papers Past, a New Zealand government newspaper archive.
  • Samuel Woolley’s journal is kept in the Hocken Collection but, so far, we haven’t seen the full text. We have copies of two separate book and newspaper articles describing the Woolley family’s story (see gallery, above) but, for the moment, we don’t have references for these.
  • Samuel Woolley’s journal tells us that he sold The Plough Inn, Melton Mowbray in 1848 to fund the family’s emigration (although, the book account of the family refers more generally to, “… the hotel which the Woolley family previously owned in Melton Mowbray”).
  • The family set out for Canada in 1848 but a chance conversation on the docks brought a change of mind and they boarded The Ajax bound for New Zealand, arriving in January 1849.
  • Samuel and Maria had 4 more children after arriving in New Zealand; Josiah (1851 – 1866), Mary Jane (1853 – 1881; marries Crawford), Phillip James (1855 – 1866), Louisa Ann de Lacey (1860 – 1938; marries Bartholomew). In the Dunedin Jubilee document in 1898 there is a comment that Samuel can be viewed as a founding father as he contributed so many children and grandchildren to the settlement!
  • Samuel Woolley is counted as one of the ‘fathers’ of Dunedin reflecting the family’s early arrival in what was a very small settlement when they arrived in 1849 – a population of only about 450 people. These were the early days when areas for settlement were being agreed with the Maori indigenous population but, as the goldrush built in momentum and the different religious affiliations of the settlers conflicted with arrangements, these settlement boundaries quickly dissipated.
  • It seems that in their early years, the family worked where they could – there is reference to Maria making cheese (successfully enough for it be exported back to England) and Samuel ‘splitting shingles’. It certainly wouldn’t have been an easy life (see the newspaper and book descriptions of floods and bridge building in the gallery, below).
  • By the 1860s the family are in the Waikouaiti area, north of Dunedin and Samuel begins to build his three hotels; The Railway Hotel, The Beach Hotel, The Plough Inn.
  • We are told that he moved just after their arrival because Samuel disliked the lawless and irreligious behaviour of the whalers and seamen that they found themselves living amongst in early Waikouaiti and later, when his hotels are in business, we are told that he insisted that the family and everyone who worked in his hotels stopped for prayers at 10am each morning.
  • There are a number of newspaper references to Samuel Woolley over these years – not all of which can be firmly linked to the Samuel Woolley that is our subject (see list, below). Later references are also confused by his son also being named Samuel and following in the family building/hotel business.
  • (Samuel Woolley may have had problems with debts in 1863 and is then recorded as being discharged from bankruptcy in 1884. (assuming this is the same Samuel Woolley))
  • In 1866, Samuel and Maria’s sons, Josiah and Phillip die in an epidemic of scarlet fever.
  • Maria Woolley died on the 13th October 1886, aged 70 and Samuel Woolley died on July 21st 1890, aged 82. They are buried in the same grave in St. John’s Anglican Cemetery, Waikouaiti, Dunedin City, Otago, New Zealand.
  • Interestingly, Samuel’s birthplace is recorded as Melton Mowbray on records of his death although we now know that he was born in London before his family moved up to Melton Mowbray in the early 1800s. However, we also know that he was aware that he wasn’t born in Melton Mowbray because the 1841 census shows him born outside Leicestershire.
  • Otago Daily Times – Otago Settlement Jubilee number: in March 1898 the Jubilee (50 years) of the settlement is celebrated – the document published includes full listings for the original settlers, photographs and some fascinating statistics; for example, the population of Dunedin was just 445 when the Woolley family disembarked. However, there are warnings about the accuracy of some of the family histories which were largely put together anecdotally. This document includes a photograph of Samuel Woolley (above).

(thank you to the ‘Friends of Memories of Melton Mowbray’ for help and suggestions on these sections)

Locating the Plough Inn, Dunedin:

We appear to have the same problem in New Zealand as we do in England; there is more than one Plough Inn which complicates linking people to places and people to people. There are clear records of at least one Plough Inn in the town of Dunedin itself and of a second Plough Inn further out and west of Dunedin in the Waipori/West Taieri/Maungatua area.

  • Samuel Woolley is not directly recorded in association with either of these.
  • The newspaper account of the Woolley family’s story gives an account of the Plough Inn being on the Dunstan Rd – Dunstan is west of Waikouaiti and north west of Dunedin; is it possible that this is the West Taieri Plough Inn associated with Mark Starbuck (see below)?
  • There are newspaper records linking Samuel Woolley to the ownership of The Railway Hotel and the Beach Hotel (both in Waikouaiti) but nothing to confirm his building of a hotel called the Plough Inn – the only reference to this is from a book and then a news article; both based on his journal.
  • (There is an extensive trail of newspaper reports of Plough Inns in the area; none of which refer directly to Samuel Woolley. These are explored in more detail separately.)
  • His activities/timeline make it possible for him to be linked with each/any of these.
  • Names of places in Dunedin town make the locations difficult to pin down (see maps).

Newspaper References to Samuel Woolley:

  • 1852: An S Woolley is recorded doing jury service – occupation, labourer.
  • 1862: multiple job adverts to hire staff – Plough Inn, Stafford Street, Dunedin (is this too early to be the Samuel Woolley Plough? Or could this be the first opening up?)
  • (Samuel Woolley’s Beach Hotel built by 1863)
  • 1863: S Woolley reported to be chairing a meeting to arrange an international cricket tour.
  • Samuel Woolley seems to have had problems with debts in 1863 and is recorded as being discharged from bankruptcy in 1884 (assuming this is the same Samuel Woolley).
  • 5th Feb 1868; “for sale – Country Hotel; Plough Inn plus farm, West Taieri – apply Thomas Gordon”. This Plough Inn is described as being ’25 miles from town’ which indicates that there were at least two Plough Inns in the area at the relevant time. Note: Samuel Woolley refers to his Plough Inn as a hotel.
  • (see attachments, below) – a number of newspaper reports relating to the electoral roll and electoral petitions.
  • S Woolley (?) discharged from bankruptcy, 3rd March 1884.
  • 1890: in an advert for the sale of The Railway Station Hotel, Samuel Woolley (son) referred to as a ‘builder’.

Did the Otago Gold Rush bring two Melton/Hickling families (back?) together?!

This is another area which takes us in to the very dangerous waters of speculation. However, there is a significant coincidence which we have been looking into.

  • In 1848/9 the Woolley family emigrated from the Melton area and are said to have built The Plough Inn in the Dunedin/Otago area of New Zealand (because of memories of a Plough Inn from home).
  • In 1848 Mark Starbuck (born in Hickling) emigrates with his cousin’s family to Port Phillip in Australia. In 1863, Mark Starbuck moves to Dunedin and, in 1870, he takes over as licensee of The Plough Inn, West Waipori in the Dunedin/Otago area.
  • The newspaper account of the Woolley family’s story gives an account of the Plough Inn being on the Dunstan Rd – Dunstan is west of Waikouaiti and north west of Dunedin; is it possible that this is the West Taieri Plough Inn associated with Mark Starbuck?

Central Otago Gold Rush (1860s):

  • Gold Fields – manual of the Otago gold fields 10th March 1863 (attachment).
  • Gold wasn’t particularly prized by the Maori communities but European settlers prized it highly.
  • When gold was discovered in the Otago/Dunedin area the small colony expanded hugely; the economy, transport and townships grew quickly.
  • In 1862 the gold rush expanded inland, replacing the sheep farms and bringing hotels and an influx of people. New finds were made in the Taieri River area in 1863 and the gold rush peaked with an influx of 22,000 people and bringing revenue of about £10 million in the 1860s.
  • Water sluicing extended the life of the diggings but brought soil erosion and had a destructive effect on the landscape.

Gallery and Attachments: