An Atcherley in Albertland – Part 1

It was the afternoon of Saturday, 11 January 1896. Mary Ann Perkins (née Atcherley) [], some of her children and a few family friends were returning from an enjoyable day-trip to an island in the harbour. Suddenly, a gust of wind turned joy into fear: the boat capsized, and everyone in it was thrown into the water. Thomas Edwards, who was in charge of the boat, was the only member of the party who could swim. He tried his best to save the others, pulling them out of the water and instructing them to hold on to the boat and its rigging, but great waves were washing over their heads. The only course of action left to Edwards was for him to swim for help. He was the only one who reached the shore of Kaipara Harbour alive.

The Mere, Ellesmere

The life of Mary Ann Perkins, which ended so tragically in the treacherous waters of Kaipara Harbour, began in 1847 on the other side of the world, in a town situated beside a smaller and far more placid body of water. The town was Ellesmere, in Shropshire, and Mary and her parents Richard Atcherley and Eliza (nee Baugh) were still living there, in Cross Street, when the census of 1851 was taken. Both Richard and Eliza were described as a draper and mercer.

Also in the Atcherley household were Mary’s brother and sisters: Elizabeth (aged 5), Richard junior (1), and Jemima (just one month old). Missing, however, were four of her older siblings, who had died before Mary was even born. Also absent was Mary’s oldest brother, William Baugh Atcherley: he was one of 16 pupils boarding with the independent minister of Ruyton Chapel. The choice made regarding William’s education is one of many pieces of evidence showing that the members of this Atcherley family did not belong to the Church of England – they were noncomformists.

Not long after the 1851 census was taken, the Atcherley family moved to Liverpool. There, Eliza bore her tenth and last child, who died within weeks of his birth. He was followed to the grave by Eliza herself less than a year later. The impact of this loss on the family, and particularly Richard, can only be imagined. The family remained in Liverpool until at least 1856, but by 1861 Richard Atcherley and those of his children who were still dependent on him – including Mary – were living in Manchester.

It was almost certainly through her family’s religious beliefs that Mary Ann Atcherley met Euler Perkins [] while she was living in Manchester. Euler, who was born in the city in 1846, also came from a nonconformist family. Although his parents, John Perkins and Mary Hargreaves, had a Church of England marriage in Manchester Cathedral, John Perkins’ birth had been registered in the General Register of Protestant Dissenters, by the Dissenting Deputies at Dr Williams’s Library in London.

Euler Perkins’ family had more in common than their nonconformist beliefs – they also shared a love of music. This is apparent from a notice in the Bury Times of 31 December 1859, at the foot of a column dedicated primarily to advertisements for tea parties and temperance meetings organised by Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist and other independent chapels:

Facsimile of advertisement in the Bury Times

Although the Atcherleys later returned to Ellesmere, the bonds that had formed between Mary and Euler could not be broken. The young couple were wed, at Ellesmere’s independent chapel, on 8 August 1868. Euler and Mary began their married life together in Manchester, where their first child, Ernest Atcherley Perkins, was born on 6 June 1869. They did not remain there for long however.

The clipper ship Chile, captained by William Culbert, departed from London Docks on 22 August 1869. Among the passengers on board were Euler and Mary Perkins, Euler’s brother Walter, a Miss Mary Perkins and presumably (though his name does not appear in the lists compiled at the end of the voyage) the infant Ernest Atcherley Perkins. The Chile crossed the equator on 25 September, and the meridian of the Cape of Good Hope on 23 October. A large iceberg, along with a quantity of drift ice, was passed on 2 November, and another iceberg was encountered two days later. Did the Perkins family look upon these sights with wonder, or with trepidation? Perhaps they felt a little of both.

The worst part of the voyage was experienced soon after the Chile passed the second iceberg, when the ship was buffeted by strong gales. The gales, no doubt accompanied by heavy seas, were endured for 12 hours. Everyone on board must have been relieved when they abated. I imagine even greater relief was felt on 8 December, first when the Three Kings Islands came into view, and then when the North Cape of New Zealand’s north island was rounded. The Chile finally arrived in Auckland harbour on the morning of 13 December 1869, after 112 days at sea.

The celebrated iron clipper ship Chile

I think it very likely that Euler and Mary’s religious convictions, which in all probability had helped to bring them together, also played a part in their decision to undertake their voyage to New Zealand. The area in which they settled – then known as Albertland – would certainly have appealed to them. Inextricably linked to the Perkins’s nonconformist Christian faith was their support for the temperance movement (Euler was said to have been “an enthusiastic prohibitionist”). This passage by James Malton Murray, published in 1930, may explain the attraction of Albertland:

In the history of the Temperance Movement in New Zealand, a place of honour may well be given to what were known as the Albertland settlers. Albertland is the name of a district in the North of Auckland, adjacent to Kaipara. It was chosen as the place of settlement by the members of what was called the English Nonconformist Association. [… This] Northern Nonconformist settlement has contributed in no small degree to some of the best elements in the moral and social development of New Zealand. Albertland was by no means the best favoured part of the country to be chosen for settlement, and the original settlers had a back-aching and heartbreaking experience that might well have driven them to despair. But among them were men and women of intelligent conviction and sturdy moral purpose in relation to social reform. Their devotion to high ideals has favourably influenced the whole Dominion even to this day.

Albertland, also known as Port Albert, was named for Queen Victoria’s late husband. It was the last organised British settlement of New Zealand. The first settlers arrived en masse in 1862 and hundreds more arrived over the next three years. But, as Murray explains above, conditions were tough. In fact, of the 3000 people who intended to settle on Kaipara’s shores, half never went there, and only half of those who did persevered. The Albertland project very quickly came to be regarded as a failure. In a letter published in the British press in 1866, a New Zealand correspondent wrote: “The Albertland settlement, to found which a number of well-conditioned English Nonconformists came out in high hope some years ago, is all but abandoned.”

Although most of the 40-acre plots of poor quality scrubland on the swampy shores of Kaipara Harbour were deserted or never settled, many of the “Congregationalists, Baptists, Wesleyans, and other more independent-minded Protestants” who had intended to set up their homes there remained in the vicinity. New lives were made in the remote country north of Auckland, and those lives were led according to the ideals and religious convictions of the original settlers. Albertland, and the Albertlanders, persisted, and the Perkins family – not just Euler and Mary Ann but also Euler’s brother Walter – became part of that community.

Euler apparently had “some knowledge of medicine”, and “at a time when doctors were scarce, he gave free aid to English and Maori settlers, and frequently travelled long distances in the course of this work.” Euler’s work as a collector of rates, to which role he was ‘gazetted’ in 1873, may have been less welcome, but he and Walter also contributed to their community in other ways – as performers.

On the Thursday after Christmas Day, 1872, “the first determined steps towards raising a fund for the erection of a Settlers’ Hall” were made in Albertland. These steps took the form of a public tea followed by entertainment: music and recitations. Mr W Perkins – Walter – played a solo, Pretty Jane, on the cornopean (a cornet), and towards the end of the entertainment he gave another solo performance on the piano, which was encored.

The fund raising efforts were successful and the opening of the hall, in what was referred to as Albertland North, took place on 13 February 1873. A cricket match was held, after which cake and tea were provided. Then came the music, recitations and other performances. Walter played two piano solos, and Euler gave, “in excellent style”, a recitation, The Quack Doctor, which was ”vociferously applauded.” Next, Messrs. Lester, Perkins, and Browne performed The Bachelor’s Wants. This was reported to have been “so well received as almost to call for an encore, except for its length. … Sandy, a Scotch character (by Mr. Browne), was very naturally given, as also was Robin, a country man (by Mr. W. Perkins); but the best part was given by Mr. E. Perkins, as Phelim O’Blunderwit, an Irish character.”

It was also in 1873 that a Band of Hope was started at Port Albert. According to James Malton Murray, one result of this was that it was impossible for anyone to establish a licensed public-house within 20 miles of the settlement. In the years that followed, the growing family of Euler and Mary Ann Perkins would be very much involved in the Band of Hope movement. As for the Band established at Port Albert, I would be very surprised if they were not ‘instrumental’ in its foundation.

Picture credits. The Mere, Ellesmere: By Liam Higginson; taken from his Flickr photostream, adapated, used and made available for re-use under a Creative Commons licence. Facsimile of advertisement in the Bury Times: By the author. The Celebrated Iron Clipper Ship Chile: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London object PAH8555; image adapted, used and made available for re-use under a Creative Commons licence.


[1] Ohinemuri Gazette, issue 214, 18 Jan 1896, page 4. Terrible Fatality.
[2] Birth of Mary Ann Atcherley registered at Ellesmere, December quarter 1847; volume 18, page 55.
[3] 1851 census of England and Wales. Piece 1994, folio 225, page 51.
[4] 1851 census of England and Wales. Piece 1993, folio 37, page 27.
[5] Birth of Robert Pembrey Atcherley registered at Liverpool, March quarter 1853; volume 8b, page 112.
[6] Death of Robert Pembrey Atcherley registered at Liverpool, March quarter 1853; volume 8b, page 118.
[7] Death of Eliza Atcherley registered at Liverpool, December quarter 1853; volume 8b, page 123.
[8] Liverpool Mercury, issue 2545, 14 Oct 1853, page 7. Deaths.
[9] Liverpool Mercury etc, issue 2913, 5 Dec 1856. Sales by Auction.
[10] 1861 census of England and Wales. Piece 2949, folio 16, page 24.
[11] Birth of Euler Perkins registered at Manchester, March quarter 1847; volume 20, page 645.
[12] 1861 census of England and Wales. Piece 2970, folio 44, page 5. Cheetwood Lane, Cheetham, Manchester, Lancashire. Head: John Perkins, 37, engineer & [draughtsman], born Manchester. Wife: Elizabeth Perkins, 40, house work, born Manchester. Son: Alfred Perkins, 16, born Manchester. Son: Arthur Perkins, 15, born Manchester. Son: Euter [= Euler] Perkins, 14, born Manchester. Son: Walter Perkins, 12, born Manchester. Son: Herbert Perkins, 11, born Manchester. Dau: Ada Perkins, 8, born Prestwich.
[13] Manchester Cathedral, Lancashire, marriage register covering 1844; entry for John Perkins and Mary Hargreaves. Copy viewed at Ancestry – Manchester, England, Marriages and Banns, 1754-1930 (Cathedral).
[14] Nonconformist Registers and Records. At Dr Williams’s Library website (accessed 22 Sep 2014). [Original page no longer online, link now directs to a copy of the page at the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.]
[15] General Register of Protestant Dissenters compiled at Dr Williams’s Library, London, covering 1824; entry for John Perkins. Copy viewed at Ancestry – England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970.
[16] Bury Times, 31 Dec 1859, page 1. (Advertisements)
[17] Marriage of Euler Perkins and Mary Ann Atcherley registered at Ellesmere, September quarter 1868; volume 6a, page 1163.
[18] The Wrexham Advertiser, 15 Aug 1868, page 4. Marriages.
[19] Birth of Ernest Atcherley Perkins registered at Chorlton, September quarter 1869; volume 8c, page 601.
[20] Brocas family tree. At Ancestry (website) – tree no longer online.
[21] Daily Southern Cross, 14 Dec 1869, page 3. Copy viewed at Papers Past.
[22] New Zealand Herald, 14 Dec 1869, page 4. Copy viewed at Papers Past.
[23] New Zealand Herald, 13 Jul 1925, page 10. Copy viewed at Papers Past.
[24] James Malton Murray (1930), Temperance and Prohibition in New Zealand. Pages 27 – 31. Electronic version viewed at New Zealand Electronic Text Collection.
[25] Albertland. At The Encyclopedia of New Zealand (website, accessed 23 Sep 2014).
[26] Rachel Barrowman (2003), Mason: The Life of R.A.K. Mason. Page 22. Previewed at Google Books.
[27] Dundee Advertiser, 17 Aug 1866, page 3.
[28] Paul Moon (2013), Encounters: The Creation of New Zealand. Previewed at Google Books.
[29] Daily Southern Cross, 18 Jun 1873, page 2. Copy viewed at Papers Past.
[30] New Zealand Herald, 10 Jan 1872, page 3. Copy viewed at Papers Past.
[31] New Zealand Herald, 21 Feb 1873, page 3. Copy viewed at Papers Past.