31 August 2010

The Tuckers of Calstock

Stitched Panorama [St Andrews, Calstock]

Last year I visited Cornwall and did a little family history research on the Tucker clan, focusing on Plymouth because that was the port of departure for Edward and Jane Tucker and their numerous children when they embarked on the William Bryan in 1840 bound for the just-founded colony of New Plymouth.  I had planned to visit the nearby town of Calstock to dig a little deeper into the details, because some important life events of the main characters had occurred there, but unfortunately in the limited time available it wasn’t possible to get to Calstock and back on public transport – it’s an isolated place even today – so I had to shelve the idea for a future trip. 

As luck would have it last recently I was staying with friends in Exton near Exeter in neighbouring Devon, and on Saturday a road trip took us near to Calstock, so we were able to stop to investigate and spend an hour or two looking around. 

It appears that the Tuckers of Cornwall were quite a mobile lot, living in a range of locations across the county during the decades before Edward and Jane left for New Zealand in 1840.  For the details I’ve relied on the tireless research of amateur genealogists published on the internet, so naturally one cannot be 100% certain of its accuracy, but a fairly detailed picture can be pieced together from the available information. 

Edward Tucker was born c.1790 – sources disagree on the location: either North Hill in Cornwall or somewhere in neighbouring Devon.  I suspect the former is most likely.  His wife Jane Kittow was born c.1793 in Calstock, and baptised in St Andrews Church.  (Another reference suggests Jane was born further west in Breage, Cornwall, on 14 February 1792.  As ever, the details are hazy).  They married at St Andrews in Calstock on 19 December 1818, and had numerous children over the next two decades, the eldest being Edward Jr, born 16 February 1823 in Calstock.  While the shipping roster in 1840 shows seven children travelling with Edward and Jane to New Zealand – five boys and two girls – it is unclear if there were more Tucker children that did not survive childhood.  Certainly four years between the date of marriage and the birth of Edward Jr is a long time for a 19th century rural couple to go without having children, as is the six years between the birth of Edward Jr and John.  High rates of child mortality would have been commonplace at the time.

If we assume that the list of children that tallies with the 1840 shipping register is accurate, then the Tuckers had seven children who survived between 1823 and 1839, and the places of their birth show that the family moved from Calstock to Edward’s place of birth, North Hill, sometime between 1823 and 1829, where they worked as itinerant farm labourers.    

Name Born At Died At
Edward 16.02.1823 Calstock 08.07.1877 Clive, NZ
John 08.11.1829 North Hill 09.12.1903 Akld, NZ
Eliza 26.02.1832 North Hill 24.09.1854 Akld, NZ
Richard 02.03.1834 North Hill 04.03.1891 Akld, NZ



23.07.1900 Araparera, NZ
Jane Kitto 02.10.1832 North Hill 26.12.1909 Thames, NZ
William Henry 16.04.1839 North Hill






The current St Andrews Church at Calstock has stood since the 15th century atop a hill in the curve of the river Tamar, on the site of earlier medieval churches.  The site has long been inhabited, with recent archaeological digs revealing that the churchyard is adjacent to the site of a Roman fort.

On the day we visited the church was wreathed with a thick, rolling mist that enveloped the moors, despite it being late summer.  The church was shut so we didn’t get a look inside, but the surrounding churchyard and the adjoining and unusually large graveyard were suitably atmospheric.  Nor did we spot any Tucker or Kittow graves in our quick exploration.


I tried to picture Edward and Jane emerging from the church, newly married in their winter ceremony in 1818, dressed in simple Sunday best and wrapped up against the chill.  Hopefully they had been transported up the steep hill from Calstock on a dray, because otherwise they would have been exhausted!  The ceremony may well have been carried out by the 54-year-old rector Edward Morshead, who took up the post in 1796 and was still listed as rector of the church at the age of 87 in the census of 1851.     

We strolled down the steep incline to the village to investigate.  The town grew up on the banks of the curving river Tamar, which would have provided the main access route to the outside world for generations until the railway arrived in 1908.  The railway also provided the town’s prominent landmark: the splendid Calstock Viaduct, which soars over the Tamar at a height of 37 metres, enabling the line to snake northwards to its current terminus at nearby Gunnislake. 


Much of the modern town was built in the 1880s during a mining boom.  The riverfront was prettily set out, with the road looping around the old Tamar Inn, a 17th century free house.  I like to think Edward Tucker supped his cider there once or twice.  At the riverside the town was abuzz with its annual regatta weekend, which has been held since 1873.  Lively rowing races were running from the river pier, which hosts a summertime ferry upriver to nearby Cotehele, for centuries the family home of the Edgecumbes.

Emigrating to New Zealand was a remarkably brave step for Edward and Jane, given that at the time of their departure they were far older than most emigrants.  Neither would see their homeland again, but their long journey on the William Bryan to a young country gave their seven children the opportunity to start their adult lives in a new land with plenty of opportunities.

And yet it’s hard not to wonder what might have happened if the Tuckers hadn’t left England when they did.  For in the ensuing years they might have witnessed some major events in Calstock’s history, both good and ill.  Six years after their departure Calstock would have been in a tumult of excitement, because in 1846 the young Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert visited by steamer from Plymouth.  (Some online sources claim 1856 instead).  While the town benefited from the growth of a local copper mining industry after fortunate discoveries, in 1849 the town suffered an outbreak of cholera as the growth polluted the town’s water supplies. 

Perhaps Edward and Jane heard of these occurrences in their far-off New Zealand life, in letters from relatives.  But for them, in an age before instant communication and up-to-date news, the Calstock of their memory must have seemed unchangeable – the place of their marriage and the start of their long life together.

Helpful sources:

ThePeerage.comEdward Tucker

Tracey’s Family HistoryTucker genealogy & family history

12 August 2010

Return to Azeroth


[Above: The rogue Leinarac takes a griffon flight over the snowfields of Dun Morogh, bound for the Dwarven capital, Ironforge]

I’ve been down this road before. 

In 2006 not long before I left Wellington for the big city, I stumped up for a broadband connection at my Karori flat and started playing World of Warcraft with friends.  I’d played plenty of fantasy games before, but the attraction of WoW and its highly-developed world of Azeroth was that aside from the intricately designed game world and the entertaining aspects of gameplay aside from the usual killing monsters and looting treasure, it also benefitted from the ‘massively multiplayer’ aspect.  Each game server has hundreds or even thousands of players participating, which makes the human interaction a very real part of the game’s success.  Even if you’re just soloing a mission, there’s usually a glimpse of other players going about their business, such as tackling monsters, collecting raw materials like herbs or metals, or just journeying from place to place.  This gives Azeroth a real sense of being inhabited and thriving as a community. 

On a few highly enjoyable occasions friends arranged joint gaming sessions in which a bunch of us banded together for joint quests in the Orc lands of Mulgore, and these proved to be very successful.  I even joined an online guild after I ran into one of its recruiters in the Badlands south of Loch Modan.  Its mainly Australian members were a pleasant bunch, with none of the occasional childishness seen in younger players who can be fond of acting out in the anonymous online world.  One evening I found myself playing with and chatting to a gamer living halfway round the world in the Western Australian town of Albany – that’s a separation of nearly 5000km, and yet the distance was meaningless.  

When I left Wellington I ended my WoW subscription, and in the intervening three years in the UK I returned to playing conventional offline games such as Civilisation 4 and Oblivion.  But recently I noticed the local game shop in Putney had a special on a WoW game pack – only £10 for the game and an expansion – and I reasoned that it was time to delve back into WoW to see if it was as much fun as the first time around.

Certainly, one limitation of playing WoW on European game servers is that none of my New Zealand friends are online, but in any case they’ve all stopped playing since 2007, and even if they were playing, the US/Oceania servers are separate from the European ones that I’m now playing on.  But the gameplay is definitely as addictive as ever – from the low-level Alliance grinds through Goldshire and Westfall, to the early instanced dungeon trawls through the Deadmines, the process of building up a character never palls.  It’s ideal for people who like to tinker, forever fiddling with skills, equipment and spells to achieve the best results in combat, or even questing for raw materials to fabricate elaborate craftwork to use or sell on to other players.  It’s also a pleasure to just watch the beautifully realised game world go by as you travel through Azeroth, particularly on the fun griffon rides that speed characters from point to point like a feathery airline service (pictured above). 

Not much has changed since I last played.  Sure, the extra expansion packs mean characters can now reach level 80 as opposed to level 60 when I was playing, but it’s not as if I managed to reach the level cap the first time around.  It is pleasing to note that the arbitrarily high level requirement for purchasing mounts (level 40 or above) has now been reduced to a much more sensible level 20, so now considerably less time is spent running across the huge open spaces of wilderness that separate Azeroth’s towns and cities.  And while there’s always the chance that you might end up playing with a obnoxious random nob-end in a cobbled-together dungeon party, more often than not the players you come across tend to be fairly well-adjusted and reasonable.  A bit like real life actually. 

If only the game wasn’t so bloody addictive perhaps it would be easier to endorse it wholeheartedly.  It’s not easy to pause the gameplay if you’re in the middle of a quest, and it has that slightly scary ‘just ten more minutes’ feeling that can can easily turn into ‘just one more hour’ or more.  So if you lack a reasonable amount of spare time or are particularly weak-willed it’s definitely not for you.  But in the end that’s just a hallmark of the success of the game designers.  In WoW they’ve created a living, breathing gaming environment that truly deserves the popularity it’s accumulated.  

05 August 2010

A wooden cathedral of light

SONY DSCOne weekend recently, suffused with my typically egg-headed interest in things historic and nautical, I boarded a high-speed train at St Pancras and whisked down to the Kentish Medway town of Chatham to pay a visit to the Chatham Historic Dockyards.  Having enjoyed my trip to the Portsmouth Dockyard in 2007, I was keen to investigate the collections at Chatham and see if they measured up. 

I was glad I visited, because Chatham has some quality exhibits.  Chief among these are its three historic vessels parked in the dockyard slips: HMS Cavalier, a WW2 destroyer that served on Arctic convoys; HMS Ocelot, a diesel-electric submarine that served from 1964 to 1991; and HMS Gannet, a steam-and-sail sloop that served from 1879 until 1903 and then acted as a training ship until as late as 1968.  Each can be clambered through and explored, and several of the other visitors were ex-Navy personnel showing around their children to give them an idea of what life at sea used to be like. 

But the highlight for me was the initially unassuming sight of a really large storage shed.  Arrayed in the shadow of 3 Slip Cover’s massive timber-beamed roof was a huge collection of old military vehicles, including heavy tractors, bridging gear, wartime lorries, lifeboats and even a WW2 midget submarine, the XE8 – the last of its type remaining.  Ascending spiral stairways dotted around the floor space takes visitors up into the huge mezzanine floor, and it was here that I began to appreciate the design of the massive structure, which is a Grade 1 Listed Building. 

The covered slip was constructed in 1838 to enable ship construction to occur under shelter, reducing the delays introduced by bad weather or winter chill.  At the time it was one of Europe’s largest wide span structures, and it added to Chatham’s reputation as a major naval shipyard.  Most famously, Chatham was the home of the legendary HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, which was built in 2 Slip, where HMS Cavalier is now moored.  But in the 1830s Chatham was still cranking out a multitude of ships for the Royal Navy.  The huge list that appears on a magnificent painted honours board in one of the dockyard’s museum buildings notes that in 1838 the yard built only the 818-ton wooden steam paddle sloop HMS Hydra, which served mostly as a survey ship until it was paid off in 1868, but a few years later in 1840 the yard built both the 92-gun 2nd-rater HMS London and the 46-gun 5th-rater HMS Meander, either of which could have benefited from 3 Slip’s new cover.

In 1904 the slipway was filled in and the area underneath the cover was used for storage.  A mezzanine level was installed to provide extra floor space for ships’ boats.  The mezzanine, now a broad expanse of uncluttered bare timber floors, takes full advantage of the brilliant sunshine peeping through the many sunlights in the cover, which produces some great contrasts and beautiful shadows.  

 Stitched Panorama SONY DSC

SONY DSC My visit to Chatham was interesting and I may well return as it’s an annual ticket, good for 12 months.  I had timed my visit to coincide with the opening of a new section of the museum, which included some appealing maritime art collections and some industrial heritage sections that I admit weren’t all that interesting to me.  The dockyard website had promised a carnival atmosphere – there were stilt-walkers and fire-breathers – so I was anticipating large crowds when I got there.  However, the dockyard was barely populated for the three and a half hours I was there on a fine summer Saturday afternoon, which seemed quite a shame given the opportunity to attract families and new visitors to the site.  Considering Chatham’s proximity to London (40-45 minutes by train) and the popularity of historic attractions in general, I would’ve thought Chatham would be far better patronised that it turned out to be. 

Perhaps this is explained by the dockyard’s low public profile.  I must’ve heard about it when I visited Portsmouth in 2007, as the two sites are sister organisations, but since then I’d heard nothing about the dockyards in the media and seen no tourist brochures.  The site’s accessibility might be an issue for visitors too – for those like me who arrive by train it’s a steady walk of perhaps 20 minutes through the unremarkable town of Chatham to get to the dockyard, and even then the entrance is on the far side from the town, so you have to walk further than necessary.  (I admit there is a bus but I prefer to walk in towns I’ve not been to before).  It’s really best suited to visitors with cars.  And the ticket prices are another issue that may be deterring visitors: my adult ticket was a fairly hefty £15.  While this is certainly cheaper than the £19.50 charged at Portsmouth, I’m guessing that if visitors are planning a trip to a historic dockyard they tend to choose the more famous Portsmouth with its iconic Victory and Mary Rose exhibits over Chatham’s worthy but slightly less glamorous collections.