He literally “killed himself by excessive drunkenness and his wife is very much addicted to the same vice” – The fate of William Puckey (1776-1827)

In November 2022, I wrote an article for the German Historical Institute London, where I summarized one specific archive finding during my research fellowship, which I kindly received from them between September and November 2021. The interaction between Missionaries and Whalers at the Bay of Islands is considerably well recorded at the Bay of Islands’ history throughout the 1820s and 1830s – thanks to the CMS records but also local newspapers such as those in Sydney talking about local developments and incidences in Aotearoa New Zealand.

On the example of William Puckey Senior (1776-1827), I would like to demonstrate how fruitful, promising and eye-opening the consideration and inclusion of different types of sources and “layers” can turn out in historical research. As I have shown in the mentioned GHIL blogpost, it was a very common practice for Missionaries to visit anchoring whaling ships occasionally in order to communicate with them, exchange goods, knowledge and newspapers but also to give Divine Service to the seamen.

Probably for similar reasons, CMS member William Puckey visited the whaling ship “EMILY” under Captain William Brind, who remained at the Bay of Islands on Christmas evening in December 1825. I do not know what exactly happened onboard of the ship during these days, but it surely shaped the first CMS quarterly meeting only some days later in January 1826.

Henry Williams and the rest of the missionaries on land, however, seem not to have been happy at all with Puckey’s behaviour and his amusement with the whalers. On the 2nd of January 1826, it was recorded in the minutes that:

H. Williams begged to call the attention of the Committee to the late conduct of W. Puckey, who on Christmas Eve [1825] took his family onboard the ship Emily, and remained until Tuesday following, when he and his wife come [back] in a most disgusting state of intoxication. On Thursday, he returned by himself to the ship to renew his shocking conduct and remained until Saturday morning last, when his son obliged him to return home.

W. Williams suspended him from further work […] until the opinion of the committee should be given.

The committee is of opinion that from the repeated disgusting conduct of W. Puckey, he should not be permitted to work longer for the Society and that his suspension should remain in force.

CMS Quarterly Local Meeting Minute, 2nd Jan. 1826, in: Series C N 4/ (a), p. 138, AJCP: https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-2668474019/view, [12.01.2023].

Therefore, in January 1826, the Quarterly Meeting decided then to sent William Puckey (1776-1827), his wife Susanne Puckey, and daughter Elizabeth Puckey to Sydney. The son William Puckey (1805-1878) however, seem to have remained at the Bay of Islands.

In the following months and years in Sydney, while waiting to be sent back to London, the Puckey parents however did not show any remorse. In contrast, they continued consuming even higher amounts of alcohol, which eventually culminated in the father’s death in 1827. Samuel Marsden, witnessing Puckeys’ behaviour in Sydney, did not show any mercy too and would later simply tell the CMS-Secretary that William Puckey literally “killed himself by excessive drunkenness and his wife is very much addicted to the same vice”, yet Marsden adds at the same time, that “the children were notably different from their parents.”1.

The fate of the Puckey parents is recorded in detail in an article of the Sydney Newspaper “The Monitor” of 12th November 1827.

Mr. Puckey has a daughter who some six weeks back was married; at which period the scene of intoxication commenced which eventually put a period to his existence.

Deaf to the calls of prudence and religion, he indulged in the debasing propensity, his wife being a willing partner in his excesses, – pledging and selling all that she could come at to uphold his debauchery until a few days ago when they became so exhausted as to be compelled to seek that relief from their neighbours, which with proper management they had been well able to have afforded themselves.

On Sunday the old man ventured to walk out; he was then much emaciated from a want of proper nutriment, and his wife had also so far recovered her strength as to be enabled to comply with the advice of a friend, to go home and look after her husband.

This she did until Monday afternoon, when the deceased, in attempting to lie down on the bed, fell on the floor, having complained of giddiness in the head. She ran out to obtain assistance to lift him, and to her dismay found upon her return that the vital spark had become extinct.

The man had been placed in the coffin before it occurred to those acquainted with the circumstances of his case, that it was necessary to summons an inquest, which was convened on Wednesday morning, when the Jury found that “the deceased died by the visitation of God.”

Domestic Intelligence, in: The Monitor, 12.11.1827, p. 7, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/ 31759112/4230039, [12.01.2023].

At the end of the text, the newspaper editor justified the length of the text: “We have entered thus at length into the details of this case, in order to point out to others, the ill consequences directly proceeding from an intemperate use of ardent liquors.”2 During the time in Port Jackson, daughter Elizabeth Puckey married Captain Gilbert Mair, and together with her new husband, she moved back to her Brother William Puckey to the CMS station at the Bay of Islands, where Gilbert Mair opened a local store in order to trade with Māori, Missionaries, Settlers and Whalers.

How ironic!

  1. Gunson, Niel (1966): On the incidence of alcoholism and intemperance in early pacific missions, in: The Journal of Pacific History, Vol. 1, 1, pp. 43-62, p. 50, DOI: 10.1080/00223346608572078 []
  2. Domestic Intelligence, in: The Monitor, 12.11.1827, p. 7, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/ 31759112/4230039, [12.01.2023]. []

GHI London Blogpost

 

Thanks to a scholarship of the German Historical Institute London, I have spent several months of last year (September 2021 to November 2021) in several english cities (Birmingham, London) and welsh cities (Aberystwyth, Pembrokeshire, Milford Haven) in order to undertake archival research in a number of Archives, Museums and Libraries.

In the Cadbury Research Library of the University of Birmingham I was able to read (and to copy) extensive amounts of manuscripts of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) Stations and its actors at the Bay of Islands (roughly from the period between 1814 until 1840). Adopting on one particular meeting minute of the CMS in London, I summarized my PhD research project for the blog of the German Historical Institute. I remain very grateful for this wonderful opportunity of the GHIL and thank Dr. Marcus Meer for the lectoring process.

You can read the blogpost on the GHIL Blog here.1

  1. Hussein, Haureh: Māori Iwi, Quaker Whalers, and Missionaries at the Bay of Islands in Aotearoa/New Zealand (1790–1840), in: GHIL Blog, https://ghil.hypotheses.org/1227 [Last Access: 24.11.2022]. []
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