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The Travellers

The Journey of The 'Sir William Eyre'


The Early Southland Years

What do we Know? What can we Prove?

The Bryson Family epitomise to me what family history is about: their daily lives remain an enigma, as there is no extant record in their own voice.

The family are first encountered on a list of passengers on the emigrant ship Sir William Eyre which arrived on 6 March, 1863. They were:


Two of this party, Francis and one of the Agnes’, were husband and wife. They were married at Catrine, in the Parish of Sorn, County of Ayrshire on 4 October, 1861. This records Francis Bryson Tannock, a bachelor ploughman, aged 20, who usually lived at Whiteflatt marrying Agnes Merrie, a 21 year-old spinster, usually living at Catrine.

Francis’ father was Ninian Tannock, a labourer, and his mother was Agnes Bryson. The marriage was witnessed by Mungo Bryson. Agnes’ father was James Merrie, a Web (?) Agent, and her mother was Mary Merrie, married surname Findlay. Agnes had been christened on 25 July 1840, in the Parish of Sorn in Ayrshire, Scotland.

The newly-weds’ first-born child was Mary, born on 30 July, 1862, in the parish of Stewarton, Ayrshire. And so, three of the five Brysons listed made the journey to Bluff, and survived what was a traumatic and event-filled journey, described separately.

What of the other two voyagers, James and the other Agnes? A death registered in the district of Campbelltown, on 23 December, 1889, occurring at Lewis (?) Point Station, Bluff, recorded the passing of Agnes Bryson Vale, married woman. She died of Mental Disease, Paralysis & Coma. The registration recorded her father as Mungo Bryson, farmer, and her mother as Grace Dickie.

Agnes was married at Clifton near Invercargill, aged 45 years & 9 months to Thomas Vale. Working from her death record, we discover that she was aged 69 at the time of her death in 1889, which makes her birth-date approximately 1820.

The International Genealogical Index does not list a birth record for Agnes, but it does list 5 other children born to Mungo Bryson and Grace Dickie:

  • Francis, christened 29 March 1826
  • David, christened 29 March 1826
  • Grizzel [Grace], christened 30 March 1829
  • Marion, christened 15 May 1931
  • Mungo, christened in July 1833

If one further assumes that Agnes, born about 1820, married at about age 20, that would date it about 1840 or 1841. If her first child was born shortly after her marriage, this child would have been 18 or 19 by 1861 or 1862. Francis’s marriage record lists him as aged 20; the Census Return lists a Francis as 18 in 1861. These are close enough to warrant the assumptions.

Given that, when Agnes married Thomas Vale in New Zealand in 1865, she was listed as a widow, it is reasonable to assume further that her husband, Ninian Tannock, was in fact dead.

So, to recap: Mungo Bryson and Grace Dickie had a number of children, amongst whom were Agnes and Mungo. It is likely Agnes married Ninian Tannock and had at least one child, Francis. Francis in turn was living with Agnes’s brother, Mungo, when he married Agnes Merrie in 1861. Francis and Agnes (Merrie) had a daughter Mary in 1862. These three, along with Agnes, were passengers on the Sir William Eyre on it’s eventful journey to New Zealand in 1962-3.

But that only accounts for four of the voyagers. There was a fifth member of the party: James.

James remains an enigma. It is likely that James marryied Mary Ann Hastings at Invercargill on 28 March, 1882. James was aged 29, an Engine Driver, and Bachelor, born Scotland, usually resident Otatara. Mary Ann was aged 17, Spinster, born England, usually resident Otatara. James’ father was William Bryson, Farmer and his mother was Agnes Bryson, nee Bryson. James Bryson died 1 October, 1911, aged 58; buried in Eastern Cemetery, Invercargill on 3 October, 1911.

His age at various dates(for example at his marriage and the birth of his children) is recorded. These all agree, and produce a birth-date of 1852 or 1853. His parents are known, but one can speculate about how they might fit into what is known of the ‘other’ Brysons.

First his mother. Her name is clearly given as Bryson nee Bryson, unusual in itself. Could this be Francis’s mother, and the daughter of Mungo and Grace Dickie? Possibly. We know an Agnes Bryson had married Ninian Tannock and had a son, Francis. We have already assumed Ninian had died and Agnes was a widow.

In 1852 this Agnes would have been 29 or 30 years old, still well within her child-bearing years, so re-marriage and further children was a distinct possibility. Moreover, we also know that in 1865 (when she married Thomas Vale) she was 45 and a widow. What we don’t know is if she was a widow once or twice. This awaits further research.

To return to Francis and Agnes: In addition to Mary, the couple had a further three children:

  • Agnes, born in Invercargill on 27 September 1864 (it from this Agnes I am descended)
  • Thomas, born 30 October, 1866, at New River, Invercargill
  • Mary was born 31 October, 1868 at Invercargill

So we have a family of two parents and four children. Unfortunately the picture is not that straight-forward: Mary died on 9 December, 1863, at Bluff Road, and was buried on 10 December 1863, just a few short months after arriving in the new land. She was sixteen months old. Thomas, the second NZ born child, died in 1875 and was buried in Eastern Cemetery, Invercargill, on 13 May, 1875.

And then Francis Bryson. He was buried in Eastern Cemetery on 14 December, 1868 (Block 1, Plot IX) in an area of unmarked graves for those not able to afford to buy a plot. Family legend has it that he drowned in Invercargill Estuary. His death was not reported in the Southland Times, nor was it formally registered. His death, of course, left Agnes a widow with three young children to raise.

Agnes was now a widow with three young children to raise. This was a difficult position: a young family in a raw, frontier land with no husband to provide for the family. Her problems were resolved when, on 21 March, 1871, Agnes Murray (sic) Bryson married John Bird, a 26 year old Bachelor and Labourer, at the house of John Bird in Clyde Street, Invercargill. Over the next 15 years, until Agnes was 42, John and Agnes had seven children.