Saturday, November 15, 2008

Samuel Hayward Ford: NZ’s first resident surgeon

 Photo of Samuel Hayward Ford, courtesy Cally Whitham

When Samuel Hayward Ford died on the 19th of July, 1876, shipping in the harbour at Russell in the Bay of Islands had their flags at half-mast. He had established a hospital in the area in 1858 “for destitute seamen and others”, and it is said that at least two “whaling babies” were born in the Ford household, American “whaling wives” having accompanied their husbands on their round the world voyages. He was well-respected in his community, and his son Ernest Ford would be elected one of the first councillors on the Bay of Islands County Council in 1877.

Born c. 1811, Samuel H. Ford qualified as a Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries in 1832, and Member of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1833, after studying at St Thomas’ in London. He proposed to Martha Wilcox when he was 17 years old, and was rejected, but three years later succeeded with a second proposal in Belgrave Square. They married in December 1834, and the couple initially took up residence in Hampstead.

In 1836, Ford volunteered for service as a medical missionary with the Anglican Church Missionary Society, and arrived at the Paihia Mission Station in 1837. The Fords left Paihia for Te Wahapu in 1842, officially due to Ford’s poor health at the time, but unofficially there may have been problems between himself and Archdeacon Henry Williams. Even so, the two men got along amicably enough, as long as they worked independently of each other. Ford attended the Archdeacon during the latter’s last illness at Pakaraka.

Hone Heke’s war in 1845 meant the Fords had to leave Te Wahapu, although reluctantly, to live in Auckland for a time. From the obituary for Martha Ford in 1894 (NZ Herald), this remembrance of those turbulent times:
“On the day succeeding the sack of Kororareka (of which event and its surrounding circumstances, even when four score, Mrs. Ford had a clear recollection) she received a letter from Hone Heke desiring that she would come to his camp at Uruti, as he desired to see her. A chief named Paumuku had been killed in the previous day’s fight, and one of Heke’s requests was that Mrs. Ford would get the body across to Paihia, so that the deceased chief might be buried at the Paihia Mission station. Mrs. Ford agreed to do so, and got the seamen from the American warship to tow the body over to Paihia, she and some of her children going ahead with a flag.

“While this was going on Dr. Ford was away on board HMS Hazard, attending to Capt. Robertson, who had been wounded in the action. Archdeacon Williams got uneasy at the isolated position of the Fords at Wahapu and sent a boat across to bring them to Paihia. From thence they went on board the North Star, Sir Everard House, commander. Capt. McKeever, of the U.S. St Louis, kindly sent some of his men to bring off as much of their effects as could be saved, and they came to Auckland.

“Mrs. Ford had a kindly feeling towards the memory of Hone Heke. She stated that he was averse to the evacuation and sack of Kororareka, and exclaimed, “Why do you go away? We have no quarrel with you. The settlers should stand aside and let the Maoris and the Queen’s soldiers fight it out.”
In 1849, they returned to the Bay of Islands, and there Ford spent the rest of his life at Russell. Out of 10 children, only Ernest survived into adulthood; four of the others had perished during a scarlet fever outbreak in Auckland in 1848.

His widow Martha outlived him until January 1894, and died at the age of 83.

There are two reasons why Dr. Ford (although, according to A Most Noble Anchorage, A Story of Russell and the Bay of Islands by Marie King, he preferred being addressed as Mister, because he was not a doctor but a surgeon) is of interest to me in terms of Avondale history here in Auckland. His ownership of Crown Grant titles for Allotments 66, 67, 70, 71 and 72 from May 1845 meant that, while John Shedden Adam owned the part of today’s New Windsor that lies south and west of New Windsor Road, Ford owned most of the remainder to the east, as well as Allotment 81 where today’s Miranda and Ruahine Streets wind their way through Housing New Zealand subdivisions between Taylor Street, Wolverton Street, and Blockhouse Bay Road. So Samuel Hayward Ford was an early owner of a considerable amount of Avondale and Blockhouse Bay areas.

The second reason comes from his wife Martha’s family.

Martha’s sister Helena married Lt. Joseph Henry Wright in 1845. He was serving with the First Madras Native Infantry, the son of a chaplain of the East India Company. He later rose to the rank of Major. Helena and Joseph’s son, Martha’s nephew, was Ernest Edward Hamilton Wright (1847-c.1895) who lived in the Bay of Islands and married Sarah Atkinson there in 1873. After a failed attempt to manage a plantation in Fiji, Ernest’s wife and children left him. He was killed by tribesmen in the Solomons.

His eldest son was Reginald Hayward Wright, known last century simply as Hayward Wright in most sources, the horticultural experimenter and businessman who developed the kiwifruit cultivar named after him and a range of other plant types at his nursery on Avondale Road, in Avondale from c.1901 until he retired in the 1940s.

Hayward Wright was therefore the grandnephew-in-law to New Zealand’s first resident surgeon, and one of Avondale’s early landowners.

Margaret Edgcumbe, who was the first to tell me about the Ford and Wright connection, and provided me with information on the Wilcox, Ford and Wright families.
Obituaries in the NZ Herald
R E Wright-St Clair, Medical Practitioners in New Zealand From 1840-1930, 2003
Marie King, A Most Noble Anchorage, A Story of Russell and the Bay of Islands, 1992


  1. That chat over the coffee has resulted in one very cool post. Wasn't Bejamin Gittos on the HMS Hazard as well with his family. As I recall I think they were. What a great article. I'm going to have to read this again. Loved the one on the bus company too - what a spat!

  2. Just checking Murray Gittos' history of the Gittos family -- no, they were evacuated in January 1846, according to him, on the brig "Victoria".

    I'm still working on completing the Gittos stuff. It will be too big to post completely on Blogger, so that'll be another Scribd publication with link.

  3. And the photo you've added is fantastic

  4. I am a descendant of Samuel Hayward Ford on my mother's side.Her name is Lorraine Coulter nee Ford, daughter of George Robert Ford,son of Ernest Broderick Ford, son of Ernest George Robert Ford, son of Samuel Hayward Ford.Thank you for the post and especially the photo.

    1. So am I ! Lovely to e-connect with you long lost relative !

  5. Me too! I'm Ernest Ian Ford, son of Andrew Wilcox Ford, son of Ernest Wilcox Ford, son of Rangi Wilcox Ford, son of Ernest George Ford, Son of Samuel Hayward Ford

  6. Do you know any information about a ford that went to tonga and had children with a tongan woman, he returned to auckland with the 3 children and a woman by the name of louisa schmidt. I have been told that he was adopted by martha and samuel ford.

  7. Replies
    1. I believe his name was Frank, his children were named, Martha, Minnie and Sam

  8. Susan Jean Graham /WrightDecember 3, 2013 at 4:12 PM

    I am a descendant of Ernest Edward Hamilton Wright on my fathers side Desmond William Wright son of Frederick Henry Wright son Ernest Hamilton Wright

  9. To Hannah Wright, who tried commenting here accusing me of stealing the image used with this article ...

    No, I did not, it came from Cally Witham's very old photograph album, and also yes: this is of Samuel Ford, as confirmed by William Wright. The story that it is Hammond VC has been disproved, as the Auckland photographer (G Renton) died 9 years before Hammond visited Auckland in 1910. So -- Hannah, you'll need to correct your page. Cheers.

    1. I am also a descendant of Dr Ford. My cousin has the walking stick the Samuel is holding in the photo. I have one his other walking sticks plus a few other bits of Ford memorabilia, including the trunk that Samuel had built for Ernest prior to heading back to England for school plus most of the Samuel and Martha letters.

  10. I am a descendant of Sam - (Samuel Ford), he was my great grandfather. My great grandmothers name was Louisa. They had 2 children - Myrtle Evelyn Ford (my nana), and Trevor Ford. My Great grandad Sam was a boat builder.

  11. I'm down through Rev. John and Charlotte Wilcox. My ggg grandmother was Caroline Haig, who also died in India a few years after her sister Helena. Caroline's and William Haig's son was also in NZ, a surveyor, mainly on the East Coast between Tauranga and Gisborne. Sid Haig and Ernest Wright were cousins. They were both Sam's and Martha's nephews, which is likely the reason they came to NZ.