From Brittany to New Zealand via Jersey

We met Stephanie Hobbs at a “bal Breton” organized in Dunedin where we were invited. For the occasion, we had put on our traditional costumes. Hearing about our origins, Stephanie, who was part of the group of dancers, proudly said to us that she, herself, had some Breton ancestors who came from Saint Brieux (!) in Brittany.

She was born in New Zealand and her family has been living for several generations there. She had never set foot to Europe. So she told us what she knew about the story of her ancestors Julien Le Gal and Marie Louise Briends. After a brief stay in Jersey, Channel islands, the couple left Jersey to Gravesend and got on board the “Surat” bound to New Zealand with their young son, Julien Henry. It was on September 28, 1873.

The couple’s hectic arrival in New Zealand on the night of December 31 to January 1, 1874 had made headlines in the local press at the time since the ship ran aground reaching the shores of the Catlin Bay.

Plaque commemorating the shipwreck of the Surat at the mouth of the Catlin River

As Stephanie seemed really curious about everything concerning Brittany, to the point of dreaming of being able to live there one day, we suggested doing genealogical research on her Breton ancestors.

Marriage certificate of Julien Le Gal and Marie Louise Briends on January 8, 1870 in Saint Brieuc

And thanks to the Departmental Archives of Côtes d’Armor and the data from Genealogical Circle 22, we were able to verify its history and begin to trace the family tree of its Breton ancestors over a few generations.

So, many thanks to Marie-Thérèse M., Marie Thérèse D, JCLB, Georges, John and Yann from the CG22 and Genealogy 22 forums, as well as, to all the industrious ants of the “Amis du Turnegouet” for their data and their help. The lineage file of Julien Henri was very largely completed thanks to them.

Ancestry chart of Julien Henri Le Gal (° Saint Helier, Jersey, + Otago, NZ)

It now remains to know the story of the life of this founding couple whose descendants settled between New Zealand and Australia (and perhaps South Africa…). But except the graves in the cemeteries of Otago and Dunedin and a few mentions in the New Zealand census records, the evidence is meager.

Breton immigration to New Zealand ?

After this meeting, it was interesting to know more about a possible Breton emigration to New Zealand. And for good reason since the first French to reach its shores, in the wake of James Cook, were native… from Brittany. So they were Jean François Marie de Surville, of Port-Louis, in 1769, and Marc Joseph Marion Dufresne, dit Marion-Dufresne, of Saint Malo, in 1772. Both of them were navigators, explorers and captains of vessels for the French East India Company.

Then, in 1840, a group of businessmen from Nantes and Bordeaux, grouped in Compagnie Nanto-Bordelaise, received a subsidy from the French government for a colonization project in the South Island. And so, the ship “Comte de Paris” left Rochefort in May 1840 with about sixty passengers on board coming mainly from Normandy and Charente. Failing to colonize the whole island, they founded the small town of Akaroa, whose actual inhabitants are still very much attached to their French roots.

From Jersey to New Zealand
Auckland's Saint Helier Bay recalls the Anglo-Norman origins of many New Zealand families

The marriage certificate of Julien Le Gal and Marie Louise Briend in 1870 in Saint Brieuc reveals that the couple lived in Jersey. Their son Julien Henri would probably have been born there. Isolated and accidental occurrence ? This does not seem to be the case.

Mark Bolleat‘s article, “Breton emigrants in Jersey” mentions that from the second half of the 19th century and until the 1950s, many Breton cultivators went to work to Jersey, as the conditions were more favorable. The phenomenon had grown to such an extent that today, many families on the island actually have a Breton surname.

It is therefore not incongruous to think that several of them had the idea of continuing their journey to New Zealand as far as departures were then encouraged. A passionate New Zealand genealogist, Keith Vautier has listed no less than 1,200 immigrants from Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney in the 19th century on his “Channel Islands Migration Records” page.