Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The Absolum-Bell Connection

                           William Absolum
                            Written by David Bell

                                                                1822 ~ 1900

The Absolum name is an integral part of the Pirongia Bells' genealogy through the marriage of William Absolum and Catherine Leslie. Their eldest daughter, Sarah Anne, later married Henry James Bell of Pirongia and their son, Walter, married Adele Aubin, also of Pirongia.

William was the first Absolum to settle in New Zealand. The late Reginald Ivan Bell of Pirongia, recognised as the Bell family historian when he was alive, recorded that William ran away from home when he was fourteen and became a seaman and worked on whaling boats. Whaling in those old times was a rigorous and dangerous profession that went all over the world chasing whales. During his years as a whaler he visited New Zealand on several expeditions. He eventually qualified as a First Mate and left the whaling profession to work on other ships. He was First Mate on the ship that carried the first organised cargo of cattle to New Zealand. They were from the Boyd Station in Queensland, Australia, and were delivered to the Port of Nelson on New Zealand's South Island. In 1844 he hung up his sailing kit to settle in New Zealand. These, it must be remembered, were the very early years of European settlement where the white man was the minority. This meant he had to learn how to live among a people whose laws, traditions and customs were vastly different to his own. He was one of the original pioneers and on occasions had to do battle with the locals during times of trouble. He was born on December 12th, 1819 in Berkshire, England to Robert and Rebekah (Robertson) Absolum. He settled at Otahuhu, Auckland, and married Catherine Leslie on April 1st, 1850. Their marriage certificate gives the following information: William Absolum of this parish, bachelor, and Catherine Leslie, spinster, were married in the presence of Andrew Scott and Lucy McAulty by Arthur C. Purchase, official Minister.

William and Catherine produced a large family of thirteen children:

1.   Sarah Ann
2.   Robert - died during infancy.
3.   Annie
4.   Abraham
5.   William - died during infancy.
6.   William
7.   Kate
8.   Robert Leslie
9.   George Latimer
10. Fanny Gertrude - died during infancy
11. Walter Ernest
12. Nellie Christina
13. Hubert Graham

At Otahuhu, William acquired some land and established himself as a farmer. At his death his last will and testament showed that he owned three blocks of land on the 'Fairburn's Claim' amounting to 7 acres, 6 roods, and 34 perches for the total value of 689 pounds. It wasn't a huge farm but in those days 689 quid was still a good sum of money. In addition, he and Catherine had savings, chattels, and grazing rents adding up to a further ninety four pounds seventeen shillings and 10 pence for the grand total of 783 pounds, seventeen shillings and 10 pence. Also, on the 7th of March, 1863, an advertisement in the Southern Daily Cross reads:  To Carpenters and Builders: Tenders will be received on Saturday next and until Wednesday, the 11th inst., for the erection of a dwelling-house at Otahuhu  for Mr W. Absolum. Plans and specifications can be seen at Mr W. Mc Caul's, High Street. R.S. Anderson, Architect. N.B. Not bound to receive the lowest tender. Adding all these properties and possessions together it indicates that while not super wealthy they were comfortably well off.

There are several other items in the Southern Daily Cross that give us some insights into William's life as a farmer at Otahuhu. They are as follows in the order of the dates they were published:

8th February, 1859: Impounded at the public pound, Otahuhu, by W. Absolum, for trespassing his grass paddock at Otahuhu; one yellow Poley cow, grey face, white belly. Branded EL off ribs, R (in diamond) near rump, x near ribs. Owner unknown. No damages claimed. If not claimed within 11 days after the date of this notice, application will be made to a Justice of the Peace for an order for the sale of the above mentioned cow, agreeably the provisions of the Impounding Act, 1856.
J. Hall, Pound Keeper.

27th August, 1862: 10 shillings reward. Strayed from Flat Bush and last seen at Scotch Church, four ewes and three lambs. Apply to Mr Absolum, Otahuhu.

7th March, 1863: the advertisement for tenders to build the Absolum house as mentioned earlier.

1st September, 1863: Lost, a chestnut pony about 14 hands high - marked on the near shoulder black, like an N - on the 21st August at Papakura, the property of Sergeant Maxwell, C.T.C., one pound reward will be given to anyone who will leave same with Mr Wm. Absolum, Otahuhu.

From these notices we learn that William definitely kept some sheep and a horse or two on his farm. Also, it appears that stock tended to wander away from time-to-time.

Other notices are as follows:

15th September, 1863: A few accepted tenders were published in this issue, one being to William Absolum to cart scoria ash to Otahuhu at 3 shillings and eight pence per cubic yard. From this we get the hint that William was also a bit of a businessman. There is also a record of him being granted a Publican's licence in 1882 to run the Commercial Hotel in Otahuhu. Whether he owned the hotel or managed it is not known; probably the latter.

January 9th 1863: Another evidence that he was indeed a publican comes from an advert in the Auckland Star dated  offering a reward for some lost property. The advert reads: Two Pounds Reward. Lost from a dray, near Mount Smart, Onehunga Road, coming to Otahuhu, on the 6th instant, a new saddle and bridle, and a sack of maize. Whoever will bring the same to Mr walker, Grocer, or Mr Absolum, Commercial Hotel, Otahuhu, shall receive the above. He was also named in a court case involving a horse with bridle and saddle stolen from outside the Commercial Hotel by one Thomas Glynn. The victim of the theft, a Mr Bassett, had booked a room at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night and tied his horse outside the Commercial. In the fifteen minutes it took him to transact his business the horse had gone. Through witnesses and Mr Glynn's own loose tongue, he was soon tracked down and the property taken into custody by the local law and returned to its owner. In the court case the thief defended himself and it was during this case William Absolum's name in association with the Commercial Hotel was mentioned a few times. The Commercial was one of three hotels built the 1840's to serve the Fencibles, the other two being the Criterion and Star. Unfortunately, the Commercial was destroyed by fire in 1866.

15th November, 1866: The following are the names of rate payers with the assessed value of property and amount of rate: W. Absolum, land value at 810 pounds with annual rates of one pound thirteen shillings and nine pence. (In November 2009 this amounted to a property value of $76,784 with annual rates at $107).

11th January, 1868: A public meeting of country settlers in the electoral districts of Raglan and Franklin will be held at 4 o'clock on Tuesday the 4th instant at the Criterion Hotel, Otahuhu, for the purpose of taking into consideration the working of provincial government so far as regards the country interests of the province. William Absolum was one of the 14 signatories, suggesting that William took an active part in community issues and politics.

28th November, 1868: For sale on Tuesday, December, at two o'clock, unless previously disposed of 20 acres of mowing grass in one or more lots ( a heavy crop), now growing on Mr J. W. Hall's farm at Mangere. Apply to Mr W. Absolum or Alfred Buckland.

29th December, 1869: Boxing Day. In common with other country villages, Otahuhu laid out a day of sport and entertainments of no mean order on Monday to all who willed to visit the charming village of the south (meaning South Auckland). The various events were duly announced and successfully carried out under the able and energetic management of Messrs. C. Goodwill, W. Absolum, H. Scurrah and T. Rogers, in the ground known as the Village Green, situated between the Star and Criterion Hotels. Seldom has Otahuhu been graced with so much beauty and fashion as on this occasion.

William lost his wife, Catherine, in 1899. A notice of her passing was published in the Auckland Star, volume 30, issue 112, 13th May, 1899. It reads: An old Otahuhu identity has passed away in the person of Mrs William Absolum in her 67th year. She arrived with her parents in the ship Ann in 1848 and has lived in Otahuhu ever since. She has left behind her a husband, six grown up sons, four daughters, besides grandchildren. Mrs Absolum for a great many years was a member of the Holy Trinity Choir. Her remains were interred in the Anglican Cemetery, Otahuhu. Cannon Gould was the officiating clergyman.

Catherine was the only child of Corporal William Leslie and Ann, nee Kerrigan (also written Corrigan) from Sligo, Ireland. The family emigrated to Auckland on the ship Ann, leaving Gravesend 5th October, 1847. For some reason they sailed to Belfast and remained there until setting sail on Christmas day, of all days. They finally arrived in Auckland on the 18th of May, 1848, eight months from when they first set out.

From what little information available on our ancestor, William Absolum, we get the impression he was an energetic and good man with a keen sense of community. He was a farmer and businessman as well as an experienced seaman and whaler. If only he had written a few more things about himself and his incredible life; what stories he could have told us - especially about his days as a whaler and early New Zealand pioneer.

William passed from this life on August 21st, 1900, barely a year after Catherine's death. His death certificate states he died of 'rheumatoid arthritis many years actual suffering 2 years'.

He is buried near Catherine in the Otahuhu Cemetery.

Sources used:

1. Internet, Papers William Absolum Papers Past.
2. The Bells of Pirongia; A Family History. Researched, compiled, and published by Robin Woods (nee Bell).
3. Family documents: Probates, Death Certificates, Last Wills and Testaments.


  1. Walter Raymond Absolum has had his DNA done and has matched with his second cousin in England. He has visited Berkshire, the village and met another cousin.