William Henry Phillips jnr

William Henry Phillips jnrIt is understood that William Henry Phillips jnr was born in Truro in 1845. Despite intensive efforts, we have been unable to find documentation of his birth, or time at school in England after his parents left for Australia in 1849.

He was known as "Harry" to distinguish him from his father bearing the same name.

His father was a Chair Maker, and his mother was Betsy Callaway. ( NOTE: There has been much misinformation about the true lineage here, as I will describe later, as his father remarried twice in his lifetime ).

William had two sisters, one elder, Betsy Jane Callaway  born in 24 November 1844, and one younger, Annie Callaway born in 1848/1849. Note that Betsey and Bessie are derivatives of the name Elizabeth. His father's second wife was also called Elizabeth, and we believe this has caused some confusion for those trying to document this family's history.

In 1849 the family, minus William jnr, left for Australia on what we believe was the sailing ship Stratheden.


They arrived in Adelaide on the 22nd February 1850, and proceeded to live and work around the mining towns of Ballarat, Bendigo and Castlemaine.

In 1858 William jnr apparently sailed for Australia to join his family in Australia after completing his education at 13 years of age. Family anecdotal stories indicate he ran away from his school and on to sea. How he achieved this is unknown. The ship he may have sailed on was called the Wellfleet.


Empress of the Seas

In 1861 the family left Australia with the huge number of others travelling to the Gold Rushes in New Zealand. They sailed aboard the ship Empress of the Seas with over 600 others in September of that year. The passenger list records them as:

PHILLIPS ---- MRS   37
PHILLIPS ANN        11
PHILLIPS W H        15

Note:  At that time they didn't see fit to document the wife's name, other than to describe them as Mrs .... darned annoying for genealogists! Also the girls ages are incorrect, but that may have been done to classify them as children.

Note 2: Also arriving in Otago that same month, on the ship "Giants Causeway" was Jack Heron, who later teamed up with William jnr in Greymouth, and went on to marry his sister Bessie in 1866.

This ship was a 2,197 ton Clipper, built in 1853 and on the 18th Dec. 1861, after it's return to Melbourne, burned to the waterline and sunk near Port Phillip in a case of suspected arson..

At the time they arrived in Otago there were thousands arriving every week in Otago, so the area will have been quite a hive of activity.

They stayed in the area and worked in the Gabriels Gully region for a year before moving north to Nelson.

George Fairweather MoonlightAt some time here, or even earlier in Australia, William had met up with George Fairweather Moonlight, one of New Zealand great prospectors. There is a story that his real name was probably Fairweather, “Moonlight” being a nickname given him by the Australian diggers because of his habit – acquired on the Californian goldfields – of traveling by night, but this has been subsequently proved to be a myth. We received this from his grt-grt niece Annie Williams:

Moonlight is George's surname and he originated in Scotland - his  parents were James and Jane Moonlight.  
He had five sisters/brother:  I descend from George's brother Alexander Moonlight.  I've seen the myth printed many times online that his
surname did not exist and was a nickname, but that isn't the case  - there is a large 'clan' of Moonlights still existing to this day! :o)  
George was born on 26th Aug 1832 at Glenbervie, Scotland and died 17th July 1884 and is buried in Nelson.


In 1862, he went to Tadmor with a Mr. Sayle, a Manx man, for the purpose of prospecting. They found gold in payable quantities in the Sherry River area near Tadmor Hill. Meanwhile William's father purchased a property at Tadmor Hill west of Nelson and established a store and pub in the area servicing the miners and prospectors.

Wakamarina Gold Rush



William, along with Moonlight, had been one of the earliest prospectors in the Wakamarina River region, east of Nelson. The Marlborough Provincial Council had offered bonuses in August 1863 for the discovery of gold and coal in the financially struggling province. The Wakamarina was proclaimed a goldfield on 11 June 1864 and the gold rush transformed Havelock into a bustling boomtown in the space of two months.



William Henry Phillips 1864



William continued his gold prospecting, and later in 1865 with Moonlight moved to the the Hokitika and Greymouth region where he helped open Moonlight Creek. They were dropped at Hokitika beach by Sam Leach on the steamboat "Nelson". ignoring the Teremakau River where there had been a recent gold rush, they struck north to the Grey River, where in April of that year they struck what was called "the richest find in New Zealand". In what became known as Moonlight Gully, they found virgon gold laying around. One prospector found a hand sized nugget while fossicking. This was recorded as the largest nugget found in the West Coast.


Around 1867 he became one of the original proprietors of the Tug "Despatch", and was a partner in a general merchant's business in Greymouth. There is a record of a fire in his Store on 31 March 1870, where all the stock was lost, and not insured.


He stayed in that region until 1869 when he sold up his claims and moved back to Sherry River where he was granted 200 acres of land.

Williams mother Betsy died in 1868. The circumstances and location of her death and burial remain a mystery, as the only reference to her demise is a mention in the marriage certificate for William Snr's second marriage in Australia.





William started to break in the land at Sherry River. It was not easy, and the land was very hard and cold in winter. Using various ingenious techniques the forest was felled and he was able to place sheep and cattle on the land, although he was only able to put about one sheep per acre initially.

Although unconfirmed at present, it is understood that Williams father returned to England and Australia for a period of four years, leaving the store in young William's hands. On the 10th February 1875 William senior remarried in Chewton, Vic, Australia to Elizabeth Phillipps ( note the 2 p's ). She was 51 years and much the same age. They returned to New Zealand on the Tararua in March that same year.

William met Mary Helen Chattock and married her at the St. John's Church in Wakefield on the 1st February 1873. She was 17 years old, and the daughter of Richard Chattock, a local school teacher. Their first child was born later that year on the 10th October. She was Eliza Alford Phillips. On the marriage certificate William's occupation was stated as "Storekeeper", so had obviously taken over his father's Store and Pub business while he was away.

One notable event that year also was the establishment of the Sherry River Post Office which opened on the 1 July 1873. This became a major part of the family's contribution to the area, and lead to a number of the family acting as Postmaster, Postmistress, and Telephonist. The Post Office finally closed in 1946, a year after Ada Hannah Phillips ( William's second wife ) died.

In 1876 a second child was born. This was William Henry Phillips jnr jnr. He was known as "Wills". from all accounts the birth was not easy, and a year later Mary died. Annecdotal accounts indicated she died in child birth, but there was a 14 month time between Wills recorded birth and Mary's death in Lower Wakefield. This location indicates that she may have been nursed away from home.

Around this time William started to take an interest in public affairs, and stood as a candidate for the Waimea South electorate. Although unsuccessful at this level he persevered, and on the 10th July 1879 was elected to the Motueka Roads Bd, Tadmor Subdivision, and later the Waimea County Council.

In 1878 he was appointed a Justice of the Peace by Sir George Grey's Government. In a letter to the paper one local resident made the comment that his occupation and appointed were not exactly compatible:

To the Editor op the " Evening Mail."
Sir -Your remarks iv last evening's issue with reference to the appointment of William Henry Phillips, Esq., as a Justice of the Peace  for the Colony of New Zealand, have taken us all by surprise, and I think the individual in question may be fairly included in the number of those who have had greatness unexpectedly thrust upon them. I agree with you as to the respect Mr Phillips  may be held in as a storekeeper and publican, but as an old bushman I cannot conceive it compatible with reason that any man who, by the sale of stimulants to a lot of thirsty diggers, does a good trade on Sunday should be asked to sit in judgment on one of the unfortunates, who by over indulgence or over persuasion is charged with "being drunk and incapable" on the Monday. I am, &c,
An Old Identity. Nelson, March 28, 1878

William was also appointed Coroner, and often took part in ventures to ascertain the cause of death of local settlers.

Sherry River Farm1880

On the 21 August 1883 William married Ada Hannah Hunt from Wakefield. Her parents William Burdett Hunt, a Bootmaker, and Sophia Warmington, had emigrated from England in 1858 on the ship Harkaway. The Hunt family are now many in the Nelson region. Hannah was just 19 years old, and it was not long before more family arrived. John (Jack) was born on the 18 May 1884, Katherine (Kate) in 1885, Helen in 1887, Harold in 1889 and May in 1892.

William took over the store and Telegraph and Post Office, and the telephone service handling telegrams.

In 1886 he joined the East Takaka School Committee /Tadmor Subdivision, and was a candidate for the Nelson City Council, but missed out. he took on more land at Wangapeka, on the 7 May 1886 was elected to Upper Motueka Roads Board.

In 1887, the Post office status was upgraded and granted it's own Date Stamp. This indicated the increased status of the Post Office and it's part in the community.

In 1889 his Step-Mother Elizabeth died after a 12 month illness aged 65 years.


William's father again returns to England and Eliza Alford is formerly appointed as the Postmistress to the Sherry River Post Office, which was then part of the home and store.

In 1891 William's father marries for the third time to Mary Blenkinsop in England. She was 49 years old, and Census of 1891 shows him living in Kenwyn (Truro) with her and an 11 year old son Julian.

In 1892 the Post Office was moved to the School nearby in Emily Street, however the Telegraph Office was kept in the home. The Postmistress was the teacher at the School.

In 1895 William's father returns from England alone, his third marriage having failed, and at 75 years age lives with his son and daughter-in-law. Apparently this was not the most harmonious arrangement.

In 1896 a major upgrade to the house was undertaken, and it was doubled in size. this was undertaken by a local carpenter called Chips Boyer.

Phillips Family 1896

On the 25th October 1899 Williams father died aged 79 years of old age and heart failure at Sherry River. it is recorded that he was buried at Motueka Valley cemetery, but to this date this cannot be confirmed. There is an empty plot beside his second wife's grave at the Marawera cemetery in Motueka Valley, and there is no record of where his first wife was buried. So either he is buried at Marawera with no headstone, or someone pinched it, or he he is buried with his first wife at some other location. Local historians note that some burials were made on private land, but there is no record or recollection amongst any of the family of this having taken place.



At the start of the new century William was reconfirmed as a Justice of the Peace.

In 1901 Eliza Alford, known as Lizzie, now became the Telephonist at the Post Office.  A year later her younger sister Kate took on the role, and a year later in 1902 Katherine (Kate) Phillips became the Telephone operator, and in 1903 the Post office merged with Telephone office.

William continued with his work in public affairs,in particular the Nelson Education Board.


In 1909 there was a major fire and part of the hosue burned down.



Harold PhillipsIn 1913 a savings bank was opened at the Sherry River Post Office.

In 1914 war broke out, and son Harold, known as Buzz, went to fight for the Allied Expeditionary Forces. Unfortunately he was wounded at Gallipoli, and died of his wounds in September 1918 right at the end of the war. He is buried at Brookwood Cemetery in England.

The family was heartbroken at the loss of their son, and William died not too long after on the 19 September 1919.

Phillips Plot at Marawera Cemetery

This is the Phillips Family plot at Marawera cemetery in the Motueka Valley at Tapawera. Note the empty space beside the left hand headstone ( Elizabeth Phillips ). It remains a mystery whether William Henry Phillips Snr is buried there or not.

William HEnry Phillips Jnr Grave

The headstone for William Henry Phillips Jnr. The writing is indented and currently without colour - we had to rub toothpaste ( the only thing on hand to do the job) to read the writing.



On all occasions William identified himself with progressive measures. He served for thirteen years as a member of the Waimea County Council, and acted for a similar period as chairman of the Upper Motueka Highway Road Board, one of the largest boards in New Zealand, which spent up to £7000 a year. He had been a member of the Nelson Education Board for about twenty-two years.

He was one of the oldest Freemasons in New Zealand, and is a member of the Royal Arch Chapter. He was an enthusiastic bowler and took an interest in musical matters. His daughter Helen has been an excellent singer giving performances in Nelson before her move to the Bay of Plenty.


William's second wife Ada Hannah lived until 1945 and died on the 13th May at Motupiko, in the Motueka Valley.


Headstone Hannah PhillipsHannah Phillips


In 1964 the last remaining part of the Phillips property was gifted to the Forest and Bird Society in Nelson by Kate Phillips ( then married to William Blowes ) as a reserve for the native flora and fauna that her mother had enjoyed and documented.

There is a display at Te Papa of her pressed flowers that was donated by Shirley Smyth ( nee Phillips, daughter of Oscar ).