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

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