Albert "Bert" Edward Burwell was born on Sunday, 15 October 1865 at Sea, on the American Sailing Ship Autocrat, delivered by his father Albert Henry Burwell who was Captain of the ship. His mother's name was Elizabeth Rea. His birth was registered in Massachusetts, United States.
His two older siblings Henry Augustus Burwell and Sarah Christina Burwell had both sadly died from Scarlet Fever in 1863, and were buried at St James's Cemetery, Liverpool, Lancashire, England. It was after their death that his parents had put to sea, where Bert was born. He spent the first six months of his life at sea, and his first photograph was taken in Valencia, Spain with his mother Elizabeth when he was about five months of age. They visited places such a Cape Spartel (a promontory in Morocco); the Rock of Gibraltar; Tràpani on the west coast of Sicily in Italy and then finally made their way home to Boston, Massachusetts. They encountered some fierce storms along the way where his mother felt safest staying in bed all day with baby Bert. At other times they were becalmed and praying for some wind.
The Autocrat was later wrecked on another voyage in 1868, in San Francisco Bay, with Bert and his parents on board the ship. Thankfully they were rescued and there was no loss of life:
"On 6 April 1868 the Autocrat, travelling from Baltimore to San Francisco with coal, was wrecked on Arch Rock while in charge of the Pilot. There were no casualties. The wreck was sold the next day for 10.500$. Later Autocrat was pulled to shore but filled with water and was a total loss."
The shipless family boarded a Steamer for Panama and bade goodbye to many of their kind friends and rescuers in San Francisco. After the short swift sail passage of the Isthmus, they entered on a wintry and unpleasant run for New York from Aspinwall in the Atlantic. From there to Boston where they all arrived safely.
His father Albert was soon off on his next voyage to Calcutta, India with missionaries. Bert returned to Liverpool, England with his mother, where his brother Frederick Burwell was born on 2 December 1869 at 10 Crosby Terrace, Waterloo, Liverpool, England.
England and Wales Census, 1871: Recorded in the household of his widowed grandmother Sarah Rea at 7 Stanley Road, Waterloo, Litherland, Lancashire, England, along with his mother Elizabeth and younger brother Frederick. Aged 5 and a Scholar. Also in the household was his spinster aunt Hannah Rea and one servant.
On 19 June 1873 his sister Caroline Elizabeth Burwell was born at 7 Stanley Road, Waterloo, Liverpool.
He was educated at Waterloo High School, near Liverpool, England, and at St. John's College, Grimsargh, near Preston, Lancashire. Sadly his father died at sea in 1882 while Albert was at St John's College. At about the same time Bert suffered from a bout of Rheumatic Fever.
In 1883, 19 year old Bert travelled to the United States on his own, on the Steamship Iowa in the Purser's room. His occupation was recorded as Student and he was bound for Boston, Massachusetts where he planned to settle.
His uncle in America Isaac Rich Burwell apprenticed him to the Boot and Shoe trade in Boston, but Bert soon found an indoor life was not for him. Being completely unsure of what he wanted to do, after three years in America, he travelled back to England, but then he decided to emigrate to New Zealand with two of his cousins Robert Mitchell and Edward Mitchell to "seek his fortune". They departed London on 16 March 1886 on the barque the Akaroa and were on the boat heading for New Zealand when Mt Tarawera erupted killing many people and burying the Pink and White Terraces. They arrived shortly afterwards in Auckland on 25 June 1886. Also on the ship was Alfred Roebuck and they appear to have struck up a friendship. (Sadly Alfred died the following year in 1887 from tuberculosis at the age of 29.)
On his arrival in Auckland, New Zealand he wrote home to his mother "I think New Zealand is a very pretty place, roses, geraniums, those big lilies you see in drawing room windows at home and lots of the flowers are in full bloom and this is the middle of winter, canaries live out in big cages on the piazzas all the year round, day and night, so it isn't very cold her is it? It must be fairly hot in summer - that is Christmas when you are having to so cold".
Bert had a dark complexion and was not a big, robust man - he was more of an athletic type being only 5 feet 7 inches in height and 9 stone in weight, possibly still recovering from the bout of Rheumatic Fever. He knew absolutely nothing about bushland and farming but was very fond of animals, didn't mind roughing it and had a quick mind and thrived on hard work. Through a contact of Bert's, a Mr Thomson, it was arranged that Bert would travel to New Plymouth where he was employed by Walter Bewley, who Bert realised could teach him alot. The work was physically demanding, alot of shovel work, and thanks to Mrs Bewley's cooking, Bert left the employ of Walter Bewley two years later over 11 stone in weight and physically fit. He loved the farm life and wrote to his mother that he had dreamed for many years of just such a life - he was in his element.
Bert wrote many letters home to his mother in England which were a very detailed account of his early years in New Zealand. His mother dutifully wrote back, but unfortunately those letters were not kept by Bert. His mother was obviously full of angst with her son being so far away from home at such a young age. Bert often got frustrated with her questions in her letters which went something like this:
Question "Are you living in a dry hill, or in a valley, or river bottom". Answer "we are 800 feet above the sea, as I think I've told you somewhere. When the bush is all felled, we shall see the country is a rolling one, gradually rising towards the mountain and on the inland side falling away into open plains, all well watered.
Q. "What have you to live on?" A. "Such a question as this causes me to break out in a more profuse perspiration than I am already! We've everything, more than we have at home, one bit we used up the last of our potatoes and substituted rice instead, til the early ones were ready. Kill a sheep or a lamb now and then, and buy beef in Inglewood 4d/pound. I hope you understand that Mrs Bewley has a servant girl - everything is as I've been used to. I hope you understand it all now and I trust I won't get any question such as this "Have you a stove, a good one, to cook by" next question is another sweat - "Have you a lot of dry fern and pine needs to lay your mattress on?" I have a proper iron bedstead like those at school with a home made mattress. I sleep under blankets, at least I did but now it's so warm sometimes I kick everything to bits and sleep in my flannel night shirt and I haven't anyone to come and tuck me in and give me a camphor or armed pill and "have we mosquitoes?" - well that's a sensible one. "Yes we have", but one well fed Maine or N Hampshire skeeter, would slaughter a score of these up here. We haven't been troubled with them lately the bush fires have drive them into New Plymouth and other towns.
Q. "Have You a Gun"? A. Of course I haven't and don't want one yet. Mr Bewley has one but the cartridges have got jammed in the barrel and Mrs Bewley won't hear of him attempting to get them out.
Q. "Would You like some vegetable seeds?" A. No thanks and I hope in the name of the person before mentioned you haven't sent any, wait till I've got some land and a share on it and then you can sent anything that will go inside the house.
Q. "How do You like your cord pants?" A. I have only used them for riding into town, they aren't riding breeches but they do me very well. Now please dear mother don't go and order a pair of riding breeches straight away because you haven't got my measure for such, and when I want a pair and you are willing to get them I will send full instructions!
After two years in the employ of Mr Bewley, Bert had had enough of working his guts out, feeling underpaid and overworked he wrote home to his mother that "I'm not a bit in awe of him, not the slightest, for I've lost any respect I once may have had for him for he'd broken his promises to me and I know him better now - I used to think it was very wrong of people to speak of him in the way I used to hear, but now I know there wasn't much colouring to their statements. You see, Mother, he's not a "man" and I've been used to Men. Father, for instance would look you straight in the eye and if necessary give you a regular blowing up, but this mean, sneaking, shifty-eyed joker isn't man enough. The more I think of it, the more I wonder however I've stayed on here, as I have - I remember now how many a time meeting men on the road that I hadn't seen for some time, and seeing me on one of Bewley's horses, they'd remark 'Why, you at Bewley's, yet you're staying on?'"
After Bert left Bewley's employ he headed back to Auckland for nearly two weeks. He had caught a boat from New Plymouth breakwater at about midnight, arriving in Onehunga, Auckland about 3 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon. He then took the tram for Auckland and stayed with his Aunt Sarah and cousins who had earlier emigrated to New Zealand. After the 2 weeks were up he headed back to Taranaki sailing from Onehunga on the boat Gareloch, of which he wrote "full of passengers, the day was beautiful and calm as glass. Had a good dinner, but when we got outside Manukau Heads, there was a very heavy swell rolling in from the westward. It soon made the ladies descend and I was very doubtful I would be able to hold out, but I did and went down to tea at 6, but not with a good appetite"
On his return to Taranaki he took up employment with a Mr Alec Thompson, breaking in land, milking cows and general farm work.
When he had enough money saved, Bert bought 100 acres of land on Kaimata South Road in Taranaki which was covered in bush except for 1/4 acre by the road, which had been felled by the previous owner - here he pitched his tent. He lived there for a while mostly working for the neighbours, fencing etc, until a section of 109 acres alongside his came on the market. This section was mostly felled and grassed and had a small four roomed house on it. When the bush was felled on his original property, Bert had the house moved to a much more advantageous site, with views to Mt Egmont visible from the back of the house and Mts Ngaruhoe, Ruapehu and Tongariro from the front - hence the name "Te Kiteroa" which in Maori means "The Long Lookout".
This was the beginning of Bert's long and very successful career as a first class dairy farmer. He had an excellent eye for a dairy cow:
"BURWELL, ALBERT EDWARD, Farmer, Kaimata. Mr. Burwell's farm consists of 207 acres of freehold land, on which he conducts dairy farming. Mr. Burwell was born at sea, on the American ship “Autocrat,” between San Francisco and Callao, in October, 1865, and is the son of a sea captain. He was educated at the Waterloo High School, near Liverpool, England, and at St. John's College, Grimsargh, near Preston, Lancashire, and was afterwards for about three years in the wholesale trade in America. In 1886, he came to New Zealand, settled in the Kaimata district, and took up eighty-eight acres of land, which, with the exception of ten acres, was covered with bush. He subsequently increased this area to 207 acres. Mr. Burwell is a member of the Kaimata school committee. In 1897, he married a daughter of Mr. John Minchin, of Inglewood, and has two sons and two daughters."
His spinster aunt Hannah Rea emigrated from England to New Zealand, arriving in December 1891, travelling on the ship Tarawera. She lived for many years with Bert on his farm at Kaimata. In the early days when Albert was getting established on the farm, she would lend him money to buy grass seed for sowing on land that had been cleared for new pasture. Later she lent him money to add a room on to the homestead, this room was thereafter known as "Aunties Room".
Bert was 31 years of age when he married 22 year old Gertrude Leonora Minchin (the daughter of local farmer John Mincin and Louisa Watkins) on 30 August 1897 at St Phillip's Anglican Church in Tariki, Inglewood. They worked hard on the land and raised their six children to do the same.
In 1902 his sister Caroline Elizabeth Burwell emigrated from England to New Zealand where she married fellow countryman Henry Francis Drewe on 2 December. They raised their five children in Invercargill.
During the first World War Bert gave generously and anonymously towards the Red Cross and to raise money for extras and comforts for the soldiers overseas.
His mother Elizabeth died on 5 August 1911 at Ivy Cottage, Kirkby, Lancashire, England. She was 79 years of age and had been a widow for 29 years. After his mother's death his brother Frederick and his wife Katie, along with their two daughters Enid and Muriel, emigrated to New Zealand. They settled in Invercargill where Frederick was Town Clerk for many years.
During the influenza epidemic in 1918 his wife Gertrude nursed many victims and unfortunately also succumbed to the disease on the 12th of November 1918 at the age of 43. As a memorial to his wife, and a thanks-giving to the end of World War I, Albert gifted a church to the community - St John's Anglican Church, Kaimata, Inglewood.
"This Anglican church was built on land donated by George Mackie, a local store-keeper. According to Ian Pritchard, the church was designed by Percival and Messenger. He also reports that it was built by Thomas Julian of Auckland. (Note also that this could be J.T. Julian, a builder in New Plymouth). Another source states that the builder was a Mr Kentwell. In any case, Harry Burwell, the 15 year old son of Albert, was an apprentice assisting with the construction. The church was constructed of concrete with Marseilles tiles for the roof. It is 38ft-6in long x 17ft wide. Apparently the cost of the project has remained confidential, at the wish of Albert Burwell. It was opened on ANZAC Day 1921 by the Rev. R.J. Stanton of Inglewood, assisted by the St Andrew's Choir. For more information see Ian Pritchard's book about Frank Messenger in the Taranaki Research Centre. (TRCGC720.92 MES)."
Bert was devastated by the loss of his beloved wife and eventually sought out his sister-in-law, Gertrude's spinster sister Louisa Tempest Minchin. She was running an orphanage at the time. Bert approached her with the notion of her keeping house for him and his children. She agreed, but on the condition that he married her first. So three years after Gertrude's death, on 26 April 1921, they were married, much to the consternation of Bert's children who did not get on particularly well with their new stepmother (who was also their aunt). Bert and Louisa had a stillborn child in 1922, and then their daughter, Constance Enid Burwell arrived on 21 April 1924.
His aunt Hannah died in 1928 at the age of 85, having never married.
There is record of Bert travelling to Rarotonga, supposedly to stay with his cousin Ernest Hamilton Rea Mitchell, on the "Makura", departing Wellington on 23 April 1929. He stayed for about 3 months, returning home on the "Tahiti" on 19 August 1929. He was 63 years old at the time.
Bert died two years later on Thursday, 9 July 1931 at age 65.
The Plaque inside St John's Anglican Church reads:
11 July 1931 - Inglewood Cemetery, Inglewood, Taranaki, New Zealand. Location in Cemetery: Memorial Area, Row 5 Plot 38N
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