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Volume 2 (2009)

JAMES AND CATHERINE LANNING OF CORNWALL AND THAMES

by Ron Lanning

James and Catherine Lanning (Lannin) arrived in Thames (from Cornwall) in 1874 and spent the rest of their lives in the town, raising a family of 11 children, with two more (twins) having died at birth. James worked initially as a gold miner, then as manager of the Kuranui stamper battery. This article briefly outlines the family's origins in Ireland and Cornwall, then gives an insight into their lives in Thames.

Irish and English Origins

Undoubtedly the Lannins at least from the late 1600's to the early 1700s were tenant farmers from the Schull and Skibbereen areas of South West County Cork. There are two major spelling variants of our surname in those areas that is: Lannin in the Schull area and Lannan in the Skibbereen area. It appears that the Lannins were Roman Catholic and the Lannans were Church of Ireland (Protestant).

The tenant farmer's lot was not an easy one: they lived at the mercy of the resident landlord. Home would have been a one-roomed house, a chimney of wicker work plastered over with mud or just a hole in the roof. The walls might consist of mud, or sods of grass. If there were any windows they were rarely glazed and would be open to the elements all year round. A pig was a most valuable possession; if there was one, and was kept in the house to be sold for cash at the local market. The main items in the house were a potato pot and water bucket. As well as mother, father and children, there could well be grandparents all living in the same cramped conditions. The family would sleep on rushes or straw lain on the floor.

Most tenants were tenants 'at will', which meant they could be evicted at the 'will' of the landlord. Some had a lease for the life of the father and the eldest son, and this meant they were relatively safe from eviction as long as they could pay their rent. Though the potato formed the main part of their diet, herrings, oatmeal, and maybe milk (if they had a cow) might also be taken. There was a tradition of passing on a portion of each family's land from the father to each of his sons; they in time would build a small dwelling, and in turn pass a portion on to their own sons.

This cycle of subdivision meant that many families were surviving on a tiny plot of land from which they had to derive a crop of potatoes for the year. Women worked hard in this environment, rearing children, cooking, cleaning, tending to any animals such a pigs or chickens and when needed, helping in the potato field. Life was dictated by the annual rent due to the landlord.

The early years of the nineteenth century saw a struggle throughout Ireland against ignorance, poverty and hunger; a struggle that was reflected in microcosm in the Mizen Peninsula, the southernmost tip of the country. The failure of the potato crop caused a minor famine in 1821, and this presaged the dark catastrophe, which began when potato blight struck in 1845. In the years that followed Schull and Skibbereen earned lasting notoriety as the 'famine-slain sisters of the south'.

Nathaniel Lannin and his pregnant wife Margaret Mahoney (parents of James Lanning/Lannin) migrated to Britain in mid 1846, and no doubt the trip was nightmarish. The average length of the Dublin to Liverpool passage was 12 to 14 hours, but bad weather could double that. The crossing was often horrendous. The steamers were organised to carry corn and animals as food for Britain's growing industrial cities, not people. Most passengers travelled on the open deck. This was cold and dangerous, there was no cover, no shelter from bad weather or rough seas and virtually no sanitation. There was chronic overcrowding. The migrants themselves were poorly clothed, often malnourished, and sometimes already ill.

Irish immigrants were heavily concentrated in and around Southwark and, as in other English cities, it was the poor who attracted most attention from social commentators. The English economy was struggling and to make matters worse (looking at it from the English point of view!) here were non English people escaping there own country in there thousands coming to England in a destitute state to take jobs, money etc from them. All this meant that some of the English were very hostile towards the Irish and I believe this explains what (at least in England) caused a name change, by way of an extra “g” on the end of Lannin appearing in England from James' (James Lannin who emigrated to New Zealand) generation to the present day, as we have Lannings living in Cornwall today who are directly related to us.

It's a tribute to Nathaniel and Margaret Lannin that they indeed did survive what must have been a nightmare of a journey. Nathaniel and Margaret's first child, a son, William, was born in Whitechapel London on the 6th October 1846. As they were only married in April 1846 one can see that they could not have been in England for very long before the birth of William. He died at an early age. James, the author's great grandfather was Nathaniel and Margaret's second child, born in Surrey in 1848. Mary Ann, their third child and first daughter, was baptised in the Parish of Ayot, St Lawrence, Hertfordshire on 8th September 1850.

James Lanning in later life
(probably taken at his home in Kuranui Bay)
Click to enlarge the photo.

Not surprisingly, Nathaniel's occupation in the early years in England was that of an agricultural labourer; a farm hand as such. We find that the Lannin family worked their way steadily from London to Cornwall following the harvests of various crops as they went. Proof of this is found both in a notation on the entry for the birth of their first daughter Mary Ann, where Nathaniel's occupation is shown as a labourer. On the entry for Nathaniel in the 1851 Census n Bridport Dorset, where he was boarding (along with fourteen others) with a Mrs Mary Mac Cullum (also from Ireland) and her family, his occupation was listed as Jobbing Labourer (which is a casual labourer: whatever job came along you took it). Nathaniel and Margaret's fourth child was a daughter Margaret born at Exeter, Devon in 1854.

The family eventually reached Cornwall, living initially in Gwennap, and later in Redruth. Several more children were born, many of whom died at birth or as young children. Nathaniel and Margaret's sixth child was a son, William John, born in Busveal, Gwennap in 1860. Along with his elder brother, James, William provides the impetus as far as the survival of the Lannin(g) family is concerned. In fact, William's progeny, as in his grandson (James born 1914) and subsequent generations of progeny are living today in Falmouth, Cornwall. James and his children and grandchildren make up the other major branch of the Lannin(g) family as it is today.

As soon as he was old enough to work, James became a miner in the Redruth area. He became aware of his future wife Catherine Gould around the early 1870s; ironically the two families were basically living across the paddock from each other. James married Catherine Gould in the beautiful Parish Church of St Euny in Cornwall on the 24th May 1873. Neither James nor Catherine could read nor write as they signed their marriage entries with an “X”. James and Catherine lived for a time in a house in Trefusis Terrace, Redruth until their departure for New Zealand in January 1874. By this time the town of Redruth was in the grip of a depression, as tin and copper mining, the economic heart of the town of Redruth had started to decline from the late 1860s. For further information see The Treasury Journal article: TIN AND COPPER MINING IN CORNWALL


Arrival in New Zealand

James and Catherine Lannin left London on the 20th January 1874 on a new sailing ship the Dorette. Catherine was already two months pregnant with their first child Margaret Jane when the Dorette arrived in Auckland on the 14th April 1874 after following the route around the Cape of Good Hope. It was a rapid passage of 83 days (port to port) and it was more than likely that they shared cramped married quarters with a number of other migrants from Cornwall.

They would be known as Vogel settlers by historians as they were part of a scheme implemented by the NZ treasurer of the time, Julius Vogel, who wanted to populate the country with hard-working English settlers. When the ship arrived in Auckland they were kept on board for possibly 7 days as a quarantine measure as there had been eight outbreaks of scarlet fever on the ship amongst the children.

On the passenger list they were listed as James (25 years) and Catherine (18years) Langing. Mis-spelling of surnames was common at the time when those named were unable to read or write. Lanning became the surname of the family in New Zealand to this day. It's interesting to note that in Cornwall in the early 1880s the surname of Lannin somehow also changed to Lanning. It may be purely coincidental that the patriarch of the Lannin family (Nathaniel Lannin) died in 1881.

Apparently even though the name change was kept from the family, some of James and Catherine's children found out anyway as a family named Kneebone had arrived in Thames in the early 1860s and they knew the Lannin family back in Redruth, Cornwall. A member of that family, Frank Kneebone, can be seen in the group photo taken at James Lanning's funeral in 1919. The Kneebones were obviously close family friends at the time.

Life in Thames

James Lanning had an involvement in mining in Redruth, Cornwall and because of this, became a miner in Thames. However when he first arrived in New Zealand he joined the Hauraki Engineers. On May 12th 1876, he was registered as Sapper James Lanning in the Hauraki Engineer Volunteers. The Hauraki Engineers were a local militia group who were supposed to quell any uprisings by the local Maori. He may not have been with them for long, as he did not qualify for a grant of land, which was confiscated from 'rebel' Maori in the Waikato wars of the 1860s. He applied for a parcel of land in the Waikato but was turned down because it was considered he did not have sufficient qualifications to become a farmer.

The first abode lived in by James and Catherine in Thames was a tent. Because James and his family weren't wealthy and there was a shortage of builders in Thames at that time, they lived up the Karaka valley (an area behind the present day Thames Hospital). This is where their first three daughters (Margaret, Catherine and Mary) and their first two sons (Thomas Henry and James) were born.

Catherine Lanning (nee Gould) in later life
Click to enlarge the photo.

They shifted to an area known as the Shellback in the middle of 1883. The Shellback was the European name for the Pukehinau Stream, which flows into Kuranui Bay, about 400 metres north of the northern end of the Moanataiari subdivision. It is basically an area above Tararu Road roughly between 412 Tararu Road (where the author's father Leonard Keith Lanning lived and his first daughter, Carole was born) and the current Coastal Motor Lodge. There was a major mining operation up the Shellback where James was working at that time. Mining in those days paid more or less a living wage of around two pounds ten shillings a week (more on night shift).

James worked in the Shellback until 1894, then changed to the Kuranui mine. Cornish miners were generally held in high esteem by mine management because of their knowledge of mining techniques gained in Cornwall. This, coupled with his apparent leadership qualities, contributed to James being put in charge of the Kuranui mine stamper battery. As battery manager, James was responsible for the efficient and smooth running of that part of the mine operation. It was there that the gold was extracted from the rock (quartz etc) by crushing it into a fine slurry for further refinement into gold and silver bullion. Anyone who has heard the sound of even a single stamp crushing rock will attest to the fact that James' hearing would have been seriously impaired by the extremely loud noise of a working stamper battery.

An opportunity arose to rent a house at 312 Tararu Road in 1894, left vacant after the Crown Victoria Mine closed down in 1885. The house used to belong to one of the owners of that mine and was no longer occupied, so the Lanning family shifted there from the Shellback. Upon his retirement in 1915, James became the owner of this double-gabled house, which still stands today, although it has had some alterations and various owners since. Here, James Lannin(g), the patriarch of the family, died in 1919.

James Lanning had red hair and a freckled face. Given the arduous nature of the work that he did, he is best described as thickset rather than fat. He was short; about 5 feet 6 inches in height, had a weak left eye and a thick beard, which turned from red to white as he aged. James was drawn into mining (as were some of his siblings and some of their children back in Cornwall). He would have worked long hours underground in various gold mines in the Thames area.

James would often in his later years sit on his chair beside the plum tree in front of their house and when he saw some of his grandchildren coming he would say " here come Keet's ( Catherine Lomas ,nee Lanning) children", no doubt upon which biscuits or sweets would be brought out.

Catherine had many different facets to her character. She was known on occasion to offer some of her grandchildren the choice of either a 'thruppence' (a coin worth three pennies) or an apple; of course the grandchildren would often take the thruppence and purchase other things such as chocolate! She was undoubtedly very stern with her children (as no doubt in the circumstances she found herself in she had to be), however, she was also a very kind lady; albeit with a stern countenance.

Catherine developed an aversion for white camellias, because a bunch of them was brought to her one day and later that day her son James died. This dislike of white flowers was carried on through to at least one of her daughters, Catherine Lomas (nee Lanning) although Catherine reputedly never refused a bunch of “Lilies of the Valley”.

A view of Kuranui Bay (1871 or 1872).
The Lanning house is the one with twin
gables to the top left of the long shed
near the centre of the picture.
Click to enlarge the photo.

James would have seen New Zealand change from a frontier society to one that was becoming more sophisticated, and he would have experienced the arguments and heavy drinking which characterizes mining towns. James died in Thames on the 26th December 1919 at the age of 72 years and was buried in Shortland Cemetery on the 27th December 1919. James is described as a Wesleyan, a branch of the Methodist religion which was quite prevalent in Cornwall for many centuries. James died of heart failure after being diagnosed with emphysema of the lungs two years earlier. The inhalation of dust in the mines (as happened to some of James's siblings and their children living in Cornwall) and smoking would almost certainly have contributed to this condition.

Catherine Lanning (nee Gould) died on the 28th July 1928, from heart failure, in her 71st year. Catherine was also buried in Shortland Cemetery, on the 30th July 1928, in the same plot as her husband, her son James and a daughter Mary (Poll) Dare. Catherine was also a Methodist. She had outlived her husband James by nine years. There weren't many years between 1875 and 1896 that she was not pregnant. She gave birth to thirteen children in those years including twins who died at birth. Of those that lived seven were girls and four were boys.

She has been described as rather a stern person though this comes from her grandchildren who only knew her as an old woman .We must also not forget that after giving birth to 13 children and raising 11 of them in the conditions and circumstances that would have prevailed at that time (including living in a tent!) plus the fact that after over 50 years of a hard life in New Zealand I'd think Catherine would be entitled to show a bit of wear and tear! She had given birth to her last child, Jessie, when she was 39 years old.

Some Snippets of Family Life

James and Catherine's daughters would often attend concerts not far away from their Tararu Rd Home where they would indulge in their favourite pastimes of singing and french knitting. The family dog (James Snr had a black labrador simply named "Mutt") liked to destroy the girls' knitting amidst a lot of laughter, so it was not all doom and gloom for the Lanning family of that time! Catherine, as did probably James, spoke with a heavy Cornish accent; for instance when talking to one of her daughters (Catherine) she would pronounce her name as "Keet". The Lanning sisters apparently spoke very quickly in a staccato sort of fashion, so listening to family conversations would have been entertaining!

At the time of the coronation of King Edward the Seventh and his consort Queen Alexandra there was a celebration in Thames to mark the occasion; 9th August 1902. Catherine Lanning (senior) wanted to attend but the old Lanning homestead on the hill overlooking Tararu Bay had a few peach trees at the back of the house and a plum tree at the front, and there was a huge crop of peaches awaiting conversion to jam. Catherine was determined not to waste them so she had set on a fire a huge boiler containing the fruit that was to be made into jam. However eventually she decided she would go and left two of her daughters Lizzie (who was eleven at the time) and one other, to finish making the jam. They were given instructions and told they could be free to go to the celebration too but they must finish making the jam first.

And so it was that the two girls found themselves alone at home, and of course, they were anxious to get out and join in the fun. They were rather a lively pair and devised a plan to get there quicker. They scampered up the hill behind their home and gathered tea-tree, a very fast-burning wood, and piled it under the boiler. Very soon that jam was boiling really well and fast! With the boiler being so big, and the girls, not so big they found they could not stir the jam, but they soon bottled it.

The jam set so hard, that a person could stick a knife into a jar, twirl it around and not even budge it! When their mother returned home, she declared they'd spoiled the jam, but she was not going to waste it and they could jolly well eat it! And so eat it they did, in time, although some of it was used for baking.

Not long after the coronation, James Lanning was resting after finishing a night shift in the mine and was trying to sleep when a family friend, Mrs Lena Jenkins (Lena is in the group photo taken at James Lanning's Funeral in 1919), came to the house and was talking most animatedly to Catherine for some time. Lena had a very distinctive voice, and, unable to sleep, James finally said to his wife Catherine “please give her some of that Coronation jam!” (to keep her quiet).

Lanning family photo, taken about 1919, after James Lanning's death
Click to enlarge the photo and to identify the people.

Final Thoughts

Five of James's and Catherine's eleven children lived all their lives in Thames and are buried there. The children produced 36 grandchildren. Their longest surviving child was Elizabeth Butland (nee Lanning) who died in 1977. James and Catherine Lanning had certainly done their bit for Mr Vogel, who wanted to populate and develop New Zealand.

A large reunion of the Lanning family in NZ (and related families and friends) was held in Thames in early 2007. A reunion booklet and a journal have been produced, copies of which are held at The Treasury in Thames.



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