I feel that, before proceeding, since the Gilberts were to play such a large role in the Howell saga, their story should be given briefly, at this stage.
James Gilbert, 22 years of age, a tailor of Glasgow, Scotland, with his wife Jane, 24 years, and daughters 5, 3 and 1 year were among the very first settlers to emigrate under the newly- formed N.Z. Company scheme.
They secured a berth on “Bengal Merchant”, fourth emigrant ship to leave Britain and the first to leave Scotland, leaving Glasgow on 31st October 1839. This ship, of 503 tons, was commanded by Capt. J. Hemery and, with 122 souls on board, reached Port Nicholson on 20th February 1840. It is interesting to note that when the Gilberts left Scotland, they did not know whether they were coming to a British colony or not, as the Treaty of Waitangi was signed only shortly before their arrival.
Ward says of the voyage of the ship in his book “Early Wellington” :-
The departure of the Bengal Merchant is regarded as an historical event in Scotland. Shortly before she left, the Lord Provost of Glasgow, with a large party, went on board and addressed the passengers. The Rev. John Macfarlane, the minister to the colonists, began his duties on board, and every Sabbath day the passengers and crew assembled for worship. There were 30 married couples, 23 single men, 16 children under 9, 4 between 9 and 15, and 13 under one year. One birth and one death occurred on the voyage.
Ward continues . . . . ..
The first four ships, Aurora, Oriental, Duke of Roxburgh and Bengal Merchant, with their weary but expectant passengers, arrived at Pit one (Petone) shortly after one another. For those on the “Bengal Merchant”, it had been a tedious voyage of 113 days before they touched at D’Urville Island, on 10th February 1840 after a four- month diet without fresh meat or vegetables.
The arrival of “Bengal Merchant“ increased the population of Pito-one to 600. Most immigrants were housed in hastily- constructed huts, the Company’s barracks or with friends, until housing became available.
The Gilberts later moved to Cloudy Bay, Blenheim, where they had a small farm. A further daughter, Mary Ann, was born to them on 1st July 1844.