GERKEN, Johann :
Sugar Baker in London and Farmer in New Zealand

 

Johann Gerken was born on 2nd March 1839 in the village of Bruttendorf, near Bremen, Germany. His parents were Claus Hinrich Gerken and Metta Christina Baden. Claus is described as "Neubauer" in the birth register, which means he was a very small farmer; often a Neubauer could not make a living from his small farm alone and took to other work for some additional income. This may explain why Claus is listed as a "shoemaker" on Johann's marriage certificate. At least 2 previous generations of the family lived in Bruttendorf.
On Claus and Metta's marriage record, Metta's father is listed as Johann Christopher Baden, deceased, farmer of Ruespel. Metta died on 19th October 1851 and Claus remarried on 23 April 1852 to Anna Gesche Eckhof, daughter of Nicolaus Eckhof, deceased, a small farmer in Ruspel, parish of Elsdorf and Metta Hastedt, deceased. Johann was the eldest of 4 children appearing in the records for Bruttendorf. He had a brother and two sisters; Claus Hinrich born 23 October 1840, Anna Margaretha born 30 April 1948 and Catharina, born 21 January 1847 who died 2 Jan 1848. His surviving siblings have not yet been traced further.
"The Book of the Pioneers" by Elizabeth Wilson, page 18 (published 1936 in New Zealand) states that Johann went to London in 1856, finding employment in a sugar refinery. Little is known of his life in London as a sugarbaker, but he met Louisa Welbrock, the daughter of Herman Welbrock and Hannah Morris, and married her on 28 May 1860 in the District church of St Jude, parish of Whitechapel. Herman Welbrock (born 1799 in Heudamm, Parish of Scharmbeck, District of Osterholz, Hanover - not very far from Bruttendorf) was a man of some substance, the proprietor of the pub "The Black Horse" at 4 Well Street, Whitechapel, from 1836-1851. Herman's brother, Cort Welbrock, as well as a half brother, Johan Heinrich Welbrock, also emigrated to London and they both found employment as sugar bakers.
Louisa was one of seven children born to Herman and Hannah between 1830 and 1848. Two brothers and a sister died in infancy. Louisa handed down a cameo of her father Herman to her eldest daughter and it still exists in the family.
Both Hannah and Herman died in 1851, Hannah just after the census and Herman later in the year. Herman's will shows that his estate was valued at over 1600 pounds, quite a lot for the time. One of the executors of the will, Diederick Schwinge, was listed as a sugar refiner, and he was also a witness to Herman's daughter Hannah's marriage in 1854 to Claus Henry Clay, a sugar baker (interestingly, daughter Hannah is not mentioned in Herman's will). In the 1861 census, the youngest of Herman and Hannah's children, Emma Harriet Welbrock, is living with Deiderick Schwinge as his ward.
"The Book of the Pioneers" also stated that Johann and Louisa went to Havre in 1862 and returned to London in 1864. However, their first three children were all born in London (3 Apr 1861, 25 Jan 1863 and 23 Mar 1865) so there is some doubt over how long they were in Havre, and it may have been just Johann seeking work there. They did move around - Johann was living at 15 Leman Street in 1860 (in 1994, the building labeled 15 Leman Street was a cafe, but had large baker's ovens in the basement).
Their eldest child (Johann Hinrich Hermann Gerken) was born at 1 Elizabeth Street, St George in the East, the next child (Hannah Martha Louisa Gerken) was born at 29 Lower Cornwall Street, St George in the East and the third, my ancestor, Emma Caroline Gerken, was born at 14 St Georges Place, St George in the East, London.

Johann and Louisa (pictured) decided to emigrate to New Zealand and they sailed from London in the "Blue Jacket", landing at Lyttleton, New Zealand, in 1866. They lived for 11 years at Pleasant Point, South Canterbury, then Johann, now called John, bought a farm in the Chatton district in Southland, and they lived on that farm until 1911, when they retired to Gore. They had 13 children in total - all survived infancy, and 12 of the children married and had families of their own. In 1925 they celebrated the 65th anniversary of their wedding, and John died on 14 September, 1925, and Louisa died the same year, on December 16, 1925.

Kaye Maree Batchelor
September 2006
Wellington, New Zealand

( I am grateful to Kaye Batchelor for this case study. )

 

 
HOME/DATABASE
SITE MAP
CONTACT