The Reverend Benjamin Drake

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More than a century and a half has passed since Benjamin Drake left Tasmania, his association here being only for 10 years, 1853 to 1863, yet his name is still remembered in many Tasmanian households. Although serving in ministry at Forth and Cullenswood in Tasmania he is particularly remembered for bringing over 850 immigrants to the State and improving the lives of many.

Two of my family lines were among those selected by Benjamin, Goss from Tottington, Norfolk and Page from Attleborough, Norfolk. Robert and Susannah Goss and four children left on the Whirlwind, with three of the children dying from scarlet fever. They left the Whirlwind at Plymouth and switched to the Blanche Moore to complete the trip. The Page family travelled on the Southern Eagle

In 1862 Benjamin accepted an invitation to take up a position as minister at the Congregational Invercargill, New Zealand church, moving there in January 1863 with his wife and family moving there later in the year. They would remain in New Zealand for the rest of their lives.

Early Years

Benjamin was born in 1811, (baptised 14 April 1811) and lived at Rockland St. Peter, a small village several miles west of Attleborough, Norfolk, England. His father was Thomas Drake (1765-1855), a shoemaker and his mother Mary (1775-1861). For both it was their second marriage their first partners having died. The marriage took place at Rockland St. Peter on 12 February 1806 with Mary being recorded as a widow and previous married name of Lincoln. They had a number of children, twins Thomas and Cockell, BAP 11 March 1809, both dying young, Thomas the day after birth, on 12 March and Cockell on 25 June 1809. Other children followed – Benjamin – 1811, Susanna – 1812, Rebecca – 1814, Sarah – 1816, Thomas – 1819, Isaac – 1821 and Charles – 1824.

Social Conditions

Farming was the chief activity in the area with the land being held in large holdings with the squire employing villagers as labourers. Wages were low, from six shillings to 10 shillings for a six day week and 12 hour day. Should a worker attend the same church as the squire, he was sometimes permitted the privilege of having land for a garden for his family use.

With low incomes and poor working conditions poverty was a constant companion, with little hope of escaping its grip. As Benjamin had grown up in Norfolk experiencing these conditions and as a church minister constantly being faced with people struggling to survive, he was probably looking for ways to assist. Emigration was an option.

It is recorded that Benjamin, when minister at Terling, Essex, had taken an active part securing for the colony of Tasmania a large number of immigrants from the industrial classes of Norfolk and other rural districts in England, so that his name was favourably known to the authorities in Hobart.

Church Ministry

In 1834 Benjamin is recorded as a Primitive Methodist minister in the North Walsham Circuit. Probably previously had been operating as a local preacher. Later appointments were- 

  • 1836 Aylshan (Norfolk)
  • 1838 Snettisham (north of Norwich)
  • 1839 Wangford (East Suffolk)
  • 1841 Ipswich, (Suffolk)
  • 1842 Yarmouth (near Norwich)

The Primitive Methodist minister stationing records place Benjamin at Old Newton, near Stowmarket in Suffolk in 1842-43. His name appears in a poem featuring previous ministers at the Church, “Introduction of Primitive Methodism into Old Newton”. The verse about Benjamin’s ministry says-

“Benjamin Drake, with words of power,

Cried, “Turn to God, this very hour:

Accept Salvation full and free,

Through Christ who died on Calvary”.

His style of preaching seems to have been fiery and evangelistic.

In 1843 Benjamin completed a ministry training course at the Hackney College, Essex which was followed by ordination on 7 March 1844 as a Congregational minister. His first appointment was at Terling in Exeter, which was located between Braintree to the north and Chelmsford a main local centre to the south. Some three kilometres to the west was Great Leighs where his future wife, Eliza Brown (1820-1894) had grown up. He would serve as a minister at Terling for 10 years.

Eliza grew up in a farming family, (a farm of 800 acres) at Great Leighs, her father John Brown (1788-1872) and mother Mary (nee Fordham) (1797-1879). Their children – Mary Ann b.1818, Eliza b.23 March 1820 (married Benjamin Drake), Phoebe b.1822, William Fordham b.1826, James b.1827 Joseph Grainger b.1831, Alfred b.1833, Lydia b.1835 and Emma b.1837.

By faith the Brown family were dissenters and living not far from Terling were probably part of Benjamin’s congregation.

By 1853 the Tasmanian Forth Mission Station had become vacant and difficulties were being experienced in finding a replacement. With the London Missionary Society probably being aware of Benjamin actively recruiting emigrants for Tasmania, they made a special request to him to take up the post, which Benjamin accepted.

The family, Benjamin, Eliza and young son Benjamin, sailed aboard the CHOWRINGHEE leaving London on 16 April 1853 and arriving in Melbourne in mid-August. It carried 253 passengers. With Eliza due to deliver a baby within weeks of arrival, it would appear they chose to remain in Melbourne till after the birth. Their daughter, Eliza Mary Drake, was born on 5 September 1853. Life for her would be short and sadly she died in Launceston the next year on 19 August 1854, with cause being inflammation of the lungs. They moved to Launceston in October 1853.

An Emigration Agent

His arrival in Launceston soon became known by the Government in Hobart and being aware of him taking an active part in forwarding a large number of emigrants to the Colony, quickly made contact inviting him to return to England and select emigrants. 

Benjamin accepted the invitation and left Launceston in March 1854 to act as an immigration agent and chaplain on the return journey. The terms of his engagement were, a salary of £250 exclusive of travelling expenses with his family to be supported in Launceston while away. His instruction from the Launceston Immigration Society was to send out eighty families, besides single adults.

The ship WHIRLWIND was engaged with several trying events occurring during the voyage. The ship sailed from London in December 1854, but had to put into Plymouth to repair a defective rudder. Further, scarlet fever broke out amongst the passengers just after departure resulting in 44 deaths while 7 births were recorded during the voyage. The Whirlwind sailed from Plymouth on 4th January 1855 and landed 391 bounty emigrants at Launceston on 31st of March 1855. Some families who were still suffering the effects of fever remained at Plymouth while recovering, with these continuing their journey on the Blanche Moore leaving in April. During the Whirlwind voyage Benjamin acted as chaplain to those on board.

All 391 bounty emigrants arriving gained work positions inside a month. It was the time of the Victorian gold rush with a large exodus from the colony having occurred, in 1852 – 21,920 people; 1853 – 12,081; 1854 – 11,280 or a total in three years of 45,881 people. Due to the shortage of labour, wages were high with trades people particularly in demand.

On Benjamin’s return he took up his intended ministry position at Forth which had been held open for him.  After some twenty months at Forth he received a further invitation from Mr. T.D. Chapman, Colonial Treasurer of Tasmania, to return to England and select another batch of immigrants, one lot for Northern Tasmania with the other going to Hobart.

Benjamin accepted and with his wife and family returned to England and selected emigrants, the northern Tasmanian group being transported on the SOUTHERN EAGLE which arrived in Launceston on 27th August 1857 with the second boat, the TRADE WIND, reaching Hobart on 21st February 1858. The Southern Eagle carried 279 bounty immigrants and the Trade Wind 256 immigrants, with Benjamin and family travelling on the Trade Wind as passengers. During the voyage typhoid broke out resulting in a number of deaths. On arrival the boat was put into quarantine.

While in England the family was increased by the birth of another son, Thomas Fordham Drake, born at East Dearham, Norfolk on 1 July 1857. Their eldest son, Benjamin, stayed behind in England and was raised by Eliza’s parents, remaining there all his life.

James Fenton in his 1891 book “Bush Life in Tasmania” had the following to say about Benjamin and the emigrants he selected …….. “he (Drake) sent out ship loads of the finest families that could be possibly selected for a young colony. They consisted chiefly of young married couples without much encumbrance.

The country between Don and Forth, in the parish of Northam, was cleared and cultivated by those noble pioneers ……… and have done more in the way of substantial colonisation than any other section of the community. Mr. Drake is worthy of all honour for introducing so many good men and true into Devon.

His plan of campaign in the Old Country was unique. He would go straight into the heart of an agricultural district, taking say Norfolk for headquarters. He would preach in the villages: and weather being favourable, he would arrange to hold mass evening meetings in the fields, to tell the cottagers and the workmen all about Tasmania – its beautiful climate, fine agricultural land, scarcity of labour, high wages, the large prices then ruling for produce, the facilities for procuring land and so on. Mr. Drake excelled in the art of word-painting, so far as to carry his hearers, as it were, by storm, so that he succeeded in culling the place of its best farming men.”

Not only did the immigrants bring skills, strength and energy but also religious faith and standards. Many of those coming were active in establishing and supporting churches in the areas where they settled and became leading citizens.

Cullenswood Ministry – 1858-1862

Soon after Benjamin’s return to Tasmania in 1858, he received a deputation from people in the Cullenswood area requesting he take up ministry there. They guaranteed an income of £220 p.a., a residence and a paddock for a horse. Preaching places to be at the Cullenswood school and at Falmouth in a barn on the Glencoe Estate. Cullenswood was located at the head of the Fingal Valley around three kilometres west of present day St. Marys. Falmouth was around 15 kilometres further east on the coast. 

In the area at the time of Benjamin’s ministry crime was rampant, due to the presence of bushrangers. On one occasion when milking his cow he was startled by the arrival of a bushranger who came and stood beside him, although the result of the encounter is not recorded.

He had a four-year long ministry at Cullenswood with newspaper reports indicating he was greatly appreciated. He was farewelled in May 1862 and in appreciation was presented with a purse totalling £71-7s-6d. accompanied by a letter of appreciation and good wishes signed by 53 people.

While at Cullenswood another two sons joined the family

Arthur James Drake, born 8 November 1858 and

Charles John Cackle Drake, born 26 March 1861

Their births were registered in the nearby Avoca Districts register.

Their last child – Francis Henry Dowling Drake was born on 11 April 1863 at Launceston, address given Windmill Hill. The names Henry Dowling appear to relate to a prominent businessman and leading Congregationalist at Launceston at the time, and probably his family provided care for Benjamin’s family till leaving for New Zealand.

New Zealand Ministry

Early in January 1863 Benjamin left for Invercargill, New Zealand, where he took up the position of Congregational Minister. In June 1863, Eliza, Thomas, Arthur, John and baby Francis followed. Francis died the following January and was buried at Invercargill.

After three years as a relieving Minister at Hokitika and Dunedin he joined the Presbyterian Church in the year 1866 and spent two years in the Kaikora, Queenstown, and West Coast districts as relieving minister. In 1868 he moved to the Cromwell district serving there for five years until formerly ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1875. He ministered there until retiring in 1878. He was a much loved minister and a familiar figure on his white horse. His parish covered an area of 3,200 square miles.

 Benjamin and Eliza continued to live at Cromwell for the rest of their lives. Benjamin died 3rd. July 1890 aged 80 years and Eliza on 3rd September 1894 aged 74 years and were buried in the Old Cromwell cemetery.

Benjamin’s obituary published in the New Zealand Cromwell Argus was reprinted in the Launceston Examiner on the 4th August 1890.

Ivan Badcock
Ivan Badcock

A family historian, author and father of 10 children. Ivan was part of the committee who wrote and published the French and Badcock family history book “Go… Be fruitful and multiply.”

3 thoughts on “The Reverend Benjamin Drake

  1. Lisa Hutton

    Thanks so much for this article on the Rev Drake. I am also a descendant of a number of Drake ‘recruits’ (Barker and Fielding families) and so have much to thank him for. Certainly a man of great energy and commitment.
    Keep up the good work with the blog – which I have just discovered.

  2. Robyn Willocks

    Thank you for this background. I am the daughter of Jessie Emma Drake, . My mother was the daughter of Arthur James Drake , son of Rev Benjamin Drake. My mother was born in Cromwell
    Feb 20 1919 & passed away in 2003. She married William Willocks in Dunedin then in 1949 they moved to Melbourne and remained there the rest of their married life . Their son William (Bill) passed away in 2020.
    I am still in touch with my cousins in NZ .
    If you’d like more information I am happy for you to make contact.
    Kind regards,
    Robyn Willocks

  3. Raymond Ison

    My gg grandparents Joseph Coleman and Isabella Mercer were married by Drake in his house in 1860. As far as I know the following pertains:
    Joseph Coleman (son of Edward) (b. 1838?, Clifden, Galway, Ireland d. 9 May 1902 ) m.1 1862 (Tasmania) Isabella Mercer (daughter of Robert and ??) (b. 1831-5? Scotland; d. 28 Oct 1890)
    I do not know if Drake sponsored either Joseph or Isabella. Isabella Mercer arrived in Launceston, Tasmania from Glasgow on 24 April 1860. She came as a 27 – year old single woman on board the Indiana which had left Glasgow on 24 December 1859. From this source it is known that she was Presbyterian, could read and write, was a native of’ Kelso and that she had come out as a cook (attracting a bounty of £16 – she was on a single bounty ticket). On her death certificate Isabella’s mother’s name is given as Mackie. Joseph was married to Isabella Mercer at Cullenswood on the East
    coast of Tasmania on the 30th October 1860 by Drake.


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