Newspaper Article 1994 – Drowned boatman’s descendants gather

Drowned boatman’s descendants gather

Drunken William Davis fell out of his rowboat at Port Ahuriri on July 1, 1859, and drowned.

Seven generations later the descendants of Davis and his wife Ann O’Brien will gather in Napier over Anzac weekend, April 23, 24 and 25, to meet and learn more about the lives of their remarkable forebears.

On July 1, 1859, Davis was a boatman or pilot working at Port Ahuriri. After a drinking spree at Munn’s Hotel at the bottom of what is now Carlyle St, he disappeared after trying to row to his home at Onepoto Gully. His body was found 17 days later washed up on a mudbank.

An account of the coroner’s inquiry into the drowning, recorded then by the Herald-Tribune, apportions some blame for the death on four men who heard Davis fall from his dinghy.

Coroner T. Hitchings “animadverted (this archaic word translates as centured) strongly upon the culpable indifference and neglect of four able-bodied men in not making an attempt to save a man whom they thought had fallen overboard, although there was a boat at hand”.

It is thought that William Davis was born in 1822 at Farnham, England, and that he joined the Army in 1839, drafted into the 65th Regiment. He was sent to Dublin, Ireland, as a recruiting officer. There he met Ann, who was born in County Mayo about 1829.

In 1945 [1845] the regiment was ordered to New South Wales, Australia. William and Ann assembled at Brompton Barracks, Chatham, England, in 1845, ready to ship out to Australia. Eventually the couple reached Auckland in January, 1847 and Wellington in July that same year.

After several years in Wellington, the couple moved to Pakowhai and bought land. In 1859 Davis bought two hectares at Onepoto Gully on the hill, at the top of Napier’s Main St.

The couple had four children.

A quote from the time describes Napier as “Everlasting swamp, the small amount of dry land all sand and flies, the water all salt and stinking bog water.”

An 1858 census reveals: “Settlers secluded by poor communications, no amenities; for men the hazard of accidents; for women the trials and sorrows of a high rate of infant mortality; for all little chance of timely medical or other aid.”

The drowning left Ann with four children. She took a job as housekeeper to Octavius Bousfield and within a short time the two married.

Reunion convener Pam Davis, Lower Hutt, said the gathering of about 160 descendants would be timely during the International Year of the Family. It would be something for older family members to look forward to. The eldest descendants being former Napier city councillor Len Davis and Hastings genealogist Phil Evans, both in their mid-80s.

The reunion will be based at Kennedy Park Motor Camp, with registration starting on Friday evening. Photographs, a golf tournament, reunion dinner and a mystery car rally are planned.

Family friends are invited to join Davis descendants at a 10am Sunday church service at St John’s Cathedral, on April 24.

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Newspaper article

Date published

16 April 1994


Published with permission of Hawke's Bay Today


  • Octavius Bousfield
  • Len Davis
  • Pam Davis
  • Phil Evans
  • William Davis
  • T Hitchings
  • Ann O'Brien

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