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My mother tells me that, when she was very young, she was told by a great-aunt who was very old that she, the great-aunt, when very young, had met her (the great-aunt’s) grandfather William Spikeman, when he was very old.

This chain from me to my mother, to her great-aunt, to her grandfather carries us back exactly two hundred years to February 1819, when two young men were convicted of ‘theft from the person’ at the Old Bailey in London. They were charged with stealing a handkerchief. The owner of the handkerchief, Henry James Lloyd Esq, stated that at midnight on February 16 he was coming from Covent Garden Theatre when he turned and saw, ‘one of the prisoners reaching his hand to a person behind him – I saw my handkerchief on the ground which the other person was picking up.’ The two young men were sentenced to be transported for life.

One of the young men was William Spikeman, 18 years old with no formal education but experience as a labourer in his home town of Devizes in Wiltshire, attracted to London by who knows what tales, or forced to leave Devizes by who knows what hardships. Later that year he was sent with another 134 men – average age between 25 and 26 – on the Canada to Sydney. Their journey took 130 days, arriving on September 1.

Spikeman was initially sent to the newly-built Carters’ Barracks. Demolished in 1901, they were located on the edge of the Old Burial Ground, where Central station now stands. Convicts housed at the Carters’ Barracks worked with a horse and cart, picking up and dropping off loads of produce at the brickfields and the wharves. In 1822 Spikeman was listed as being a bullock driver at Grose Farm, on the edge of the city. In 1823 he was assigned to Reverend Samuel Marsden, who took him to the missionary settlement at the Bay of Islands in New Zealand to work as a herdsman for James Kemp at Kerikeri. Three years later he was allowed to return to Sydney to obtain his ticket of leave. He is recorded as having had savings of 17 pounds, from a salary of 20 pounds per year.

Convicts could apply for a ticket of leave half way through their sentence – for those transported for life this generally meant after 7 years, as they could be freed after 14 years. Obtaining a ticket of leave depended on having good references from your employer, and gave you greater freedoms, such as being able to conduct your own business.

Spikeman continued to obtain stable employment, possibly as a cedar cutter on the south coast of NSW. In 1832 he was granted his certificate of freedom, and in the same year he married Mary Ann Noonan, a young woman who had come from Cork on the Red Rover in 1832, one of a group of girls from orphanages and asylums.

Together, William and Mary Ann Spikeman went to New Zealand and bought land in Kaeo Valley from the Maori owners, remaining on good terms with the chief, Ururoa. When Mary Ann died in 1842 after bearing three daughters, Spikeman and Ururoa’s daughter, Mary Tiki Mangatae, formed a relationship and had five children together.

Spikeman went on to own 1420 acres of land, employing 12 people in his timber business, and became the first postmaster at Kaeo. He died in 1881, with many of his descendants living in the area.

So it’s a big hello to my Maori cousins in this 200th anniversary year of our great-great-great grandfather’s journey to the south.