Robert John TAYLOR 1837-1925 South Canterbury, NZ Pioneer

"A Man of Many Parts"
 Reminiscences of His Life

Robert John TAYLOR
1837 - 1925

Robert Taylor arrived at Lyttelton November 12th 1859 on the "Zealandia."  Interestingly enough his wife-to-be, Susan Harriet Barwell, travelled on the same ship. Passenger list. He is not mentioned in the passenger list as he jumped ship. The article below is courtesy of Sonya, his great granddaughter, who is researching the Taylor family. Mr Taylor settled in Geraldine shortly after his marriage in Christchurch on 18th February 1861 and built its first hotel. He also bought a team of bullocks at the first show held in Timaru – he used his bullock team to freight supplies to the Mackenzie Country. He established successful sawmilling and storekeeping businesses at Woodbury and Peel Forest. He acquired property after the Waihi Bush was cut out and farmed on the NW slope of the Geraldine Downs. He lived in retirement at Raukapuka. They had six or seven children.

Timaru Herald Tuesday 5 February 1889 Death -
TAYLOR - On the 2nd February, at the Geraldine Hotel, Susan, the beloved wife of Robert Taylor, aged 49 years. Deeply regretted.

Robert John Taylor
Born: Westminster, London 16th December 1837
Died: In Geraldine, South Canterbury 5th October 1925, aged 88 years.

Taken from a series of articles in the local newspaper, “A Man of Many Parts” Reminiscences of His Life : dated October 1925.


The late Mr Taylor, who passed away early last week, at the good old age of 88 years, was one of South Canterbury’s early pioneers. He was a man of many parts, and one who has left the impress of his virile personality on the district in which he spent so many years, and on the many old friends who came in contact with him both in his prime, and in his declining years. We are indebted to Mr Robert Morrison, who was one of his intimate acquaintances, for the following interesting narrative of his adventurous and interesting life.

His mother died when he was nine years old. In those days there were not available to a young lad the advantages of modern education, so he started his career in a grocery business, and remained in this business for three years.

He then obtained a billet at Colonel Colt’s revolver works, and he stayed there until war was declared against Russia at which time he was twelve years of age. He left Colts and went down to Sheerness with the object of joining the Navy and getting drafted to the Crimea. He could not pass the doctor, however, so he returned to London determined to go to sea, and spent his time lodging at the East End for about four months, endeavouring to get to sea by daily applying at the shipping offices. At last he was rewarded by obtaining a berth on the “Lord Elgin” bound for Callio, in South America at the extremely high wage of 10s per month. Having no money he was in consequence very poorly clad. He went to sea as a general deck hand.

The boat went down channel to take on coal at Cardiff. He could well remember the snow falling as they went down channel. His chief mate was a black boy, who used to get very sleepy, and was often hard to find, as he used to stow away in odd corners. When the mate looked for him to trim binnacles he was missing, but at last he was found stowed away in a tank, in which place Taylor fed him. After getting to Cardiff, the crew all left the ship in a body, and he naturally thought something was wrong, and so left also. His money was reduced to 2s 6d of which he paid 1s 6d to get to Bristol on a packet. He put up at a public house with but one shilling left and asked them to take him in until his dad sent him some money to get home with. They refused to take him in, for he looked such a miserable specimen with a pair of duck trousers with the front almost burned out through sitting near the stove. While awaiting a reply from his father, he went to a bird shop, and asked the price of beds. He was offered one for four pence alone, or one for twopence if shared with another. Needless to say he took the four pence worth. Later he found that this place was in reality a den of thieves, and he often saw the place strewn with goods that had been ‘lifted’. With his stomach crying out, he went forth to get a cup of coffee, and then back to the public house and told them where he had slept. The landlady, on hearing where he had been, burst into tears and took him in. He stayed there for three days and at last the money arrived to take him home again. The public house people treated him well, and drove him to the station to see him off. He arrived home on a Sunday night, and found his father sitting by the fire.


Last week our narrative recorded Mr Taylor’s early boyhood days, and his first attempt to join the British Navy, which ended after a severe experience in the Mercantile Marine in his return home ‘broke’ but with his mind still set on a sea life.

He stayed home only a few days, and then made for Woolwich to try again to join the Navy. This time he passed the doctor, and they gave him a certificate form to get signed by one of his parents (his father in his case, as his mother died when he was a child), and two clergymen. On going back home to obtain his father’s signature, he met with a refusal for his father would not sign the certificate. Not to be deterred in his determination, young Taylor had the document filled in with a bogus parent’s name and two ‘parsons’ and returned to Woolwich with his papers apparently all in order, and was at once drafted on board the old training ship “Pisguard”. His dad, in the meantime was wondering if he was lost, so he got leave and went home, much to his father’s surprise. In those days authorities only found the material for uniforms; one had to have the making up done by yourself, or if you had money enough, by your tailor, and in consequence there were some funny cuts. Young Taylor’s object in joining the Navy was because he wished to get to the Crimea, for it was the year 1855 when England and Russia were at war. In this he was destined to be disappointed for after three months’ training the naval authorities drafted about forty boys as supernumaries to supply the ships off the coast of Africa which were engaged in the suppression of the slave trade. He was placed on board the “Electo” a big paddle box steamer bound for Africa, and was on her for three years. He found life aboard congenial, yet very strict discipline was maintained, and they were continuously on the look out for the slave traders and after catching Spaniards and Portuguese at their fearful work, one of their dodges was to rig up their pinnaces with half white and half black crows, and each mounted with a gun. These boats could easily go close inshore, and to the places up-river where the traders concealed the slaves. They often found numbers of niggers caged up, awaiting the chance of the traders getting them off. A good specimen nigger was worth seventeen to eighteen hundred dollars. The life was a very exciting one, and full of incident. The first boat they captured was a Spanish barque. She was lying in a bight, and she soon saw that they were after her, and made off with all sail set, but they cut her off, and she finally ran ashore. The whole crew got away in safety but one. “They opened fire on us, but we got our six pounder to work, and with one shot from her ‘their name was Walker’,” Mr Taylor remarked with a smile, as the memory of the incident came back to his mind. They waited till full tide, and managed to get the barque refloated, and after having overhauled her, found about 3000 doubloons. ( A gold dubloon coin is worth fifteen dollars and sixty cents, or a little over L3. 5s in English money). They were picked up by their ship, and the ship carpenters went aboard to see if she was seaworthy, and finding her sound, they decided to take her to Sierra Leone, on the west coast of Africa.


Our narrative last week brought Mr Taylor’s story up to the capture of the slave ship and the determination which was come to take her to Sierra Leone.

Mr Taylor was chosen as one of the prize crew and as navigating officers were short they had to sail by dead reckoning. Their own ship towed them out into the path of the trade winds, and gave them their course for a fun of four days. They made land in that time, but it turned out to be a different place. They ran the ship into an inlet and seeing some breakers ahead, let go the anchor. They stayed the night there, and in the morning made out to sea again, where they spoke to a fishing boat and found that they were fifty miles south of their destination. On their way up the coast, a tornado sprang up, and they had to run before it, and when the storm abated found themselves five hundred miles from Sierra Leone. They had to beat back, and having only nine hands, half black, they fouled the anchor. They went for the mate, and found him pumping water out of a cask, and he there and then expired. They made off again, and seeing a vessel they made for her to seek information of their whereabouts, but her captain taking them for pirates, they had a deal of trouble to get in touch with the ship. They found that they were just a day’s sail off the island of De Los. They heard that they had been reported as lost, and that two steamers had been sent out in search of them two months ago. A dead calm set in, so they had to bury the mate, and no one of the crew had a prayer book. They made the island all right, and found the search vessels and very glad they were to see them, for they were on rations of bacon and rice. A pilot came on board, and took them safely to Sierra Leone after three months’ wandering. The old barque was full of leaks, and they had a job to keep the pumps going to stop her from sinking. On the trip their skipper had got hold of the rum and got the D.T’s. He was found trying to blow up the magazine. To their surprise they found that five other slavers had been captured during their wanderings.

They lived ashore for about a month waiting for a man-o’-war. The custom was to destroy all slave traders, not to save them. Eight were captured in seven weeks, and they captured a square rigged brigantine full of slaves – six hundred and fifty of them. They were waiting and as the mud was formidable they almost gave up the chase, but a calm came on and they got within shot, and gave her a “bang” which shot away her foretop sail. A remarkable coincidence was that a big German who was on the lookout on the slaver sang out to his skipper that the big paddle ship had caught him seven times now. They boarded the slaver, and found the slaves packed like sardines, rows of them of both sexes being huddled up together. A prize crew sent on board found fearful conditions existing. They took about a dozen at a time and scrubbed them clean with soap and water. The muck was fearful. When they arrived in port, a big mail boat called in, and officers and their wives were invited to go along and se the slaver, and the slaves, but they were satisfied to keep well of, for the stench was dreadful. About two hundred and fifty of these poor wretches perished on the trip. They got orders to return to England after a trip of three years. Word was given that anyone could buy their discharge. When they arrived at Portsmouth, Mr Taylor said he could well remember the crowd of Jews who were busy trying to get them to take jewellery and trinkets for part of their prize money. He himself got about L30 worth according to their valuation, but they were only worth a few shillings. After all, only three of them bought their discharges, and as he was not old enough, the authorities would not recognise him as an A.B. The captain commented on the attitude of the authorities, and said that he was one of the smartest men on board. As he had put his age back two years in order to get into the Navy, this now told against him.

“My old dad came down and drove me home” said Mr Taylor, and then went on to describe how after flying round for a few weeks, he got a job at the Enfield Rifle Works. He was there for four months, and then set out for his home again, and took on the attention of his dad’s cabs. He had to go to Scotland Yard to get a driver’s license and to his dismay they put a placard up for him to read aloud, but unfortunately he could not read, so could get no license. On his arrival back home his dad was cut up by the occurrence. After putting in a few weeks, he made up his mind to go the Colonies.


Last week our story arrived at the stage where Mr Taylor decided to go out to the Colonies.

He accordingly went to a shipping office and took ship for New Zealand in the full-rigged ship “Zealandia” in command of Captain Foster, in August 1859. They reached Lyttelton on November 12th and he and five others quietly slipped away in the middle of the night and made for Christchurch. One of the party had been in New Zealand before. Mr Taylor recalled the climb over the Port Hills, and the descent to Heathcote, where they cooed for the ferry man, who made much noise and used very strong language at their getting him out in the small hours of the morning He could see they were runaways, and commented on it. However, they got safely over and reached Christchurch at daybreak where there were from 1200 to 1500 inhabitants at that time. They made for Kaiapoi via Papanui. They had a tarpaulin muster, and found they had 13s between them, so they went to the “pub” at Papanui and had a “blow-out” which left them on the rocks. They started off for Kaiapoi, and someone met them and remarked that they had run away from the ship. “I’ll give you a tip”, he said, and advised them to stick together and ask for Revell, going to meet him in pairs. The first two were to go straight away, while he and the others made for the Orea Bush where they struck a cock’s and were treated well, but found no place to sleep in and burrowed into a heap of straw and spent the night there. Next morning they had a good feed and were given some food to take with them. They got to the bush and met some bushmen, who treated them very hospitably, and they stayed with them for three weeks. They had only one blanket between three and slept on the clay floor. After their tucker was gone they set out for Port Levy, and went to a farm house there. They sent them a huge jug of milk and some cheese, but to their disgust they found it was buttermilk. They next made for Pigeon Bay and from the hills they could see their old boat lying in the harbour. They joined a camp as bushmen, and Mr Taylor got a mate and started hand sawing. He stayed at the Bays, sawing for two years. They never had any cash at this time, all business being done on the barter system and he changed mates several times. All bushmen were runaway sailors. The last mate he had was a Norwegian named Jack Christie. He quite unexpectedly went and took unto himself a wife, bringing her along to their shack, which had only one room and one bunk. “Things were considerably mixed and most perplexing” stated Mr Taylor so after about a fortnight of this state of things, they set to work to build a decent looking hut of two rooms, making things much more comfortable. This experience, Mr Taylor said, was one of the most awkward he ever encountered. Later on he left, and went on to Akaroa and took a Dutchman as mate. He remembered taking an order from Ebenezer Hay to cut out timber for a church at Lyttelton. Their total cash in sight for the whole job was L12 each! After receiving this big sum, Mr Taylor decided to get married and he did so, marrying Miss Barwell at Christchurch after which he returned to the Bays, but found he could make no headway, so decided to again return to Christchurch where he got a job on the road at 3s 6d per day. Some of his old shipmates seeing him on the road immediately called out their recognition and his overseer, who was a midget with the voice of a lion, yelled out that no straight-backs were allowed there. He promptly stuck his pick in the ground and walked off. His wife was surprised at his return so early and asked him what they were to do. He replied, “Oh, trust in Providence”.


Mr Taylor was but twenty-seven years of age when he settled at Geraldine and built its first hotel, and at that time the residents of the incipient township were but few in number, and consisted of Yankee Taylor, Reuben Johnston, Kirby the blacksmith, J. Brown (bricky), Parson Brown, John Huffey, James Kalaugher and the Maslin family. He took in boarders at his hotel until he obtained his license. He met Mr W. Woolcombe and Mr Cox in regard to his application for license and he experienced a lot of trouble over getting it, but eventually, after a wait of nine months obtained his license and commenced hotel keeping. Mr Mendelson, who had a store at Pleasant Valley, was a great help to him financially giving him assistance so that he was able to venture out and speculate in a team of bullocks, which he purchased at the first show held at Timaru, where he obtained a team of six bullocks for L120. In those early days business in the hotel was very slack, sometimes a week passing without his selling a ‘nip’. After running the “pub” as it was called for two years, he sold out to Reuben Johnson, who had conceived the idea of building another hotel, and had the plans all drawn up. Knowing that there was no room for two hotels, he let his to Mr Johnston for L120 a year. Later Reuben sold his interest to Marshall, of Temuka, for L4 goodwill, but Marshall never took possession and subsequently let it to W. Dawson, a runaway sailor known as “Prince”. The Geraldine Road Board about this time spent some L20,00 in road and bridge making, and after some years Mr Taylor took the hotel back from Dawson and held it for twelve years. He next let the hotel to Mr P…? and family, who held it for a few years, subsequently letting it in turn to Messrs T. Ressigh, J. Dooley Stone, H. Rothwell, Mrs McLean and after a few years to Jack Mullins, who held it until no license came along.

During part of the time after Mr Taylor built the hotel, he utilised his bullock team in freighting supplies to the Mackenzie Country, and on his return trips brought out some of the wool clips from the mountain country. He also entered into partnership with the late Mr F.R. Flatman, and established successful sawmilling and storekeeping businesses at Woodbury and Peel Forest. He was able to acquire considerable amount of property and after the Waihi Bush was cut out, he engaged in farming on his holding on the north-west slope of the Geraldine Downs. He was one of the members of the first Town Board formed at Geraldine and was subsequently a member of the Borough Council.

After the decease of his first wife Mr Taylor married again, his second wife being a widow, Mrs Newson and she predeceased him some years ago.

For many years Mrs Taylor lived in retirement at Raukapuka after his long and strenuous work as pioneer, and almost up to the last his familiar figure was daily to be seen in his pony trap in the streets of the borough. In his latter days he suffered from a painful illness which he bore with great fortitude. He died on October 5th, in his 88th year, leaving a grown-up family from his first wife.

South Canterbury NZGenWeb Project

Other Taylor's

Timaru Herald,
20 July 1910, Page 3
On Friday last there died at Temuka, Mrs J.E. Ackroyd, aged 60, a daughter of one of Timaru's old identities, Mr Robert Taylor, whom the older people of the town and district will well remember. The deceased's husband survives her, and she leaves a family of ten, eight daughters and two sons. [In 1862 Maria Taylor married John Edmond Ackroyd]

Star 5 February 1889, Page 3 Obituary
On Sunday afternoon last the remains of Mr Robert Taylor, late of the Geraldine Hotel, in that township, were consigned to their resting-place in the cemetery. Notwithstanding the shortness of the notice given (the deceased only expiring at an early hour on the previous morning), a large number of residents and others took part in the melancholy cortege. Mr R. Taylor being an honorary member, of the Victoria Lodge of Oddfellows, the brethren assembled in their hall in the afternoon, and afterwards marched to the hotel, the coffin being borne to the hearse by six Past Grands, the brethren heading the procession to the Anglican church of St Mary, opening out at the entrance-gates on either side. A portion of the burial service having been read in the church, the procession re-formed, wending its way to the cemetery, where the last rites were concluded.  

Robert "Bobby" TAYLOR came to Timaru in 1859 and commenced business as a builder, contractor and undertaker. At one time he had a hotel in Beswick Street which he called the Square and Compass. He died on 3 March at the age of 85.

Robert William TAYLOR, 1837-1925 Born in Westminster, London, he entered the Navy and is recorded as jumping ship when his ship was in Akaroa Harbour in 1859. He helped to clear and develop farms in the Geraldine District and later owned two hotels, one in Geraldine and the other in Woodbury. He also operated a sawmill and thrashing plant.

John TAYLOR, came to Timaru on the "Victory" in October in 1863 and lived in the Geraldine district.

Mrs J E Taylor came to Timaru on the "Ivanhoe" in 1864.

P. H. TAYLOR, came to Lyttelton on the "Grasmere" in 1855 and went to live in the Orari district. Son born 19 Feb 1868.