Descendants pay tribute with restored headstone
First European woman buried in Bay cemetery honoured
Margaret Merton, 86, never met her great-great-grandmother Georgiana Tatham, but she did enough research on her to feel great love for the woman everyone fondly referred to as “Georgy”.
This Labour weekend between 60 and 70 descendants of Georgina will pay a tribute to her, 150 years after her death, at the Te Aute Cemetery – sometimes called Pukehou Church Cemetery. The cemetery is located in a private field on Boundary Rd in Central Hawke’s Bay.
The tribute will be special celebration of the life of Georgiana, buried in 1859  aged 48, as the first European woman buried in the primarily Maori cemetery.
A restored headstone will also be unveiled.
“I believe Pukehou is an ancient Maori burial ground and 27 Maori generations were buried there. A 4-year-old boy belonging to the Williams family is also buried there, but Georgiana was the first white adult to be buried there,” Merton said.
But if you walk along the headstones and try and find her under “Georgiana Tatham” it would not be possible.
“To my great horror her tombstone says Georgina. We tried changing the name on the restored headstone, which will be blessed over the weekend, but the stonemason couldn’t. Because it was quite literally set in stone.”
Georgiana was the youngest of 13 children and was fondly called Georgy.
The nickname stuck even after she had children with Reverend Wheeler, and it was assumed the name was short for Georgina.
“When she was buried the name Georgina was on her headstone. When she died her husband had left her so he couldn’t correct her name, and she couldn’t correct her name.”
Georgiana was married to Wheeler at the Parish of Greenwich in the County of Kent. They moved to New Zealand circa 1850, and had 12 children together, only 10 of whom survived. Six of the 12 were born in England, and six in New Zealand.
The family lived first in Nelson, then Wellington, then Hawke’s Bay where, according to Merton, the family was “beset with difficulties” and Wheeler left Georgiana and she changed her surname back to her maiden name Tatham.
To this day his whereabouts or his reason for leaving are unknown but theories abound among some of her descendants.
“He disappeared in disgrace when their youngest child was three years old. Some. believe he left her for a Maori woman, some believe he committed suicide, some believe he might have been murdered.
“All I know is that he simply vanished. From my research I know that they were faced with challenges after challenges when they moved to NZ. If they could have googled the situation back then, they would not have come to New Zealand,” Mrs Merton said. “There was little employment for him, the Land Wars. They became poorer and poorer, they despaired. Maybe that’s why he left, he just could not face more challenges.”
Merton said Wheeler will also form part of the tribute paid to the life of Georgiana.
Photo captions –
Georgina Tatham’s old headstone at the Te Aute Cemetery sometimes called Pukehou Church Cemetery.
LEFT: The restored headstone of Georgina Tatham, which was lovingly restored by her descendants. Georgina’s birthname was Georgiana.