Palmerston North Cemetery Records:
Obituary - Cecilia Eliza Rush, An extract from "A Humble Beginning".
This page documents the life of Cecilia Eliza Herbert, and her three husbands, Charles Rodgers, Richard Rush and John George Rush.
Born Cecilia Eliza Herbert, in 1819, and of Spanish descent, Cecilia was the daughter of Henry Herbert, whitesmith, and Anne (nee Pegram). She was just twenty years old when she sailed from England with her twenty-nine year old husband, Charles Rodgers. They had been married the previous year, on 26th August 1838, at the Chapel of St Paul, Waltham Abbey, in the county of Essex, the birthplace of both Cecilia and Charles. Their residence at the time of their marriage was Mott Street, High Beech, Waltham Abbey.
Charles Rodgers was a thatcher, but according to L Ward's "Early Wellington" the New Zealand Company's list of assisted emigrants states that he came to New Zealand as an agricultural labourer. Their number, 694, in the application register, gives the information that they applied for free passage on 21st August 1839.
Charles Rodgers soon found work surveying for the New Zealand Company, and until a permanent home could be built he and Cecilia moved into a raupo and manuka shack at the edge of the bush.
On February 29th, Cecilia gave birth to her first baby, Thomas, in this shack. Thomas Rodgers was the first white child born in Wellington. To mark this fact, he was awarded a Crown grant of fifty acres of Hutt Valley land by the fledgling Government. Cecilia's poor diet during the long sea voyage, (which from all accounts consisted of a great deal of "hard-tack", or ship's biscuit), left her with a very poor milk supply, so a Maori woman was hired to suckle baby Thomas. This presumably had more than a little to do with his tremendous rapport with the Maoris in later years.
On 25th August, 1840, just one day before Cecilia's second wedding anniversary, disaster struck the new settlement. A boat overturned within a hundred yards of Petone beach, and nine settlers were drowned. Among them was Charles Rodgers. The New Zealand Gazette and Britannia Spectator of Saturday August 29th carried the story.
Cecilia suddenly found herself a young widow, struggling to bring up her new child in a strange land far from her homeland, and becoming increasingly aware of growing hostilities with the Maoris. This trouble started early, when the sale of Hutt Valley lands was denied by a section of the local Maoris, and Cecilia became very frightened.
According to Miriam McGregor's Petticoat Pioneers, Cecilia often hid baby Thomas up the chimney of their shack, where he sat for hours on a cross beam. At other times, they would crouch together behind the large pile of stones that formed the chimney, while the shack was riddled with bullets as military settlers tried to repel parties of aggressive natives. According to Mrs Cecilia Bodell, a granddaughter, Cecilia became known for writing beautiful poetry during these troubled times. She was one of the very few original settlers who could read and write.
In late 1841, Cecilia remarried. Her second husband was Richard Rush, a carrier, born in England in 1799. Richard was twenty years older than Cecilia. His first wife Maria had died many years before, and he had left four children in England. He had recently arrived from Sydney, after being released from his conviction for which he had served seven years in the penal colony. We don't know which ship Richard arrived in Wellington on, as his name is not recorded in any documents. We believe he may have been a crewman on a ship from Sydney working his passage as he would not have had any money.
Cecilia and Richard produced four daughters, Sara, Cecilia, Isabella and Anne. It would appear that, for a few years at least, life for Cecilia and her family became more or less secure, but, alas, this too was to prove short lived.
In 1846 tragedy struck again for poor Cecilia. On June 15th, Richard Rush was murdered by the Maoris, approximately on the site where Lower Hutt railway station stands today. The event is well documented in local newspapers at the time, and was the subject of outrage in the community.
Just two months later, daughter Isabella died at the age of one. National Archives records show that Isabella died on 10th August. The cause of death is listed as "teething". (It was apparently not unusual for toddlers to develop a fever and die while cutting teeth.)
Yet again Cecilia found herself a widow, with few prospects and little means of support, struggling to raise her family. Soon after Richard's death, however, Cecilia took up with her stepson, John George Rush, 8 years younger than she was.
John and Cecilia were married in the Church of St Peter and St Paul, in the Hutt Valley, on 3rd July 1852. Happily for Cecilia, this marriage was destined to survive the rest of her life. John and Cecilia's first child, John Henry, was born in 1847, and this was followed by three daughters and another son.
John and Cecilia farmed in Taita for the next thirty years, and life for Cecilia at last became a more secure and peaceful existence. The trials and hardships of those early years in the new colony would never be forgotten by hardy Cecilia.
It would appear that John and Cecilia became interested in the new settlement of Palmerston in about 1871. Their son John Henry is listed amongst the first inhabitants of Palmerston North in that year, but it was to be another ten years before John George and Cecilia moved there.
Cecilia Eliza Rush finally succumbed to a cerebral haemorrhage on July 26th, 1886, shortly after settling in Palmerston. During her turbulent life, she had borne ten children to three husbands. She is buried in the family plot (block 79, plot 34) at Terrace End Cemetery, Palmerston North, beside her last husband, John George Rush.
You can view her obituary and cemetery record from the links on the right.