The Friends of Highland Road Cemetery The Friends of Highland Road Cemetery



Polly Baber

Biographical Notes
research from a name and an old, torn photograph
Rosalind and Tony Mooar JP
Christchurch New Zealand
Polly Baber died in Portsea. She is buried in Highland Road Cemetery in an unmarked grave as she requested - that her husband Emly's grave is unmarked in Aden and that another husband Baber was is buried in the jungle makes her unmarked grave somehow appropriate. This is her story:
It had not worked. She closed the last trunk and this time there was one less to carry across the world. Time was passing and her ship was waiting in Port Chalmers. New Zealand would soon be a painful memory and ahead of her only the uncertain life of a military widow.
Polly Baber had left New Zealand in 1864 when she was 22. Her stepfather had been murdered, She had married four times in total to three different husbands with all but the first marriage bigamous, survived their deaths and then had come home to the country of her birth. But Otepopo, New Zealand was not London or Madras. There were no paved roads, no electricity, no cultural life to speak of, just a hundred or so people in the whole Otepopo area - let alone the township. The locals had loved the singing of Madam Bertini but while their response was appreciative - their numbers were small, their critical judgement also less than she had hoped. Before her first concert in the Otepopo area, local dignitaries had even argued among themselves and in the local papers whether the upgrade of their local hall for her concert was necessary.
Polly, born Mary Ann Hogan in 1842, was known as "Polly Flinders" or "Her Ladyship" by her brothers and sisters. She was stubborn, focused, talented and always the lady. If the others were working in the paddocks, she would watch them from under her parasol - to keep the sun off my complexion. If they were picking potatoes she would wear gloves and this from a farm girl in the late 1850s. Any special status in the family related directly to her beautiful voice. It took her to the musical evenings of the Nelson, New Zealand aristocracy, to Europe, England and the drawing rooms of the English upper classes.
Her father, James Hogan had deserted his whaling ship the 'General Williams' probably with a companion, William Deakin at Ngakuta, the Port Underwood whaling station, to marry Mary Ann Beard widow of Henry Beard. In 1839, Henry had left Kings Stanley in Gloucester with his pregnant wife Mary Ann (nee Coleman) and four children to join the Bussorah Merchant, at Bristol for Sydney. They were sponsored by their local church as the parish records show and with four children and another on the way, such a sponsorship at a time when the weaving industry - the very life blood of Gloucestershire was in decline - must have seemed like manna.
Once in Sydney Henry Beard was indentured to Messrs Unwin and company, lawyers, to work in New Zealand, then a part of New South Wales. Henry was to help build accommodation and yards at Wairau near Blenheim at the top of the South Island. Unwins has bought the land from a Captain BLENKINSOP who in turn had traded a useless cannon and other trinkets for ownership of the Valley. However before the Unwin team could make any real headway, local Maori intervened and Henry Beard together with four companions was murdered on August 14 1840 leaving Mary Ann, his widow pregnant and with four children.
On Christmas Day 1840, James Hogan, a whaler from Londonderry married Mary Ann Beard at Ngakuta Bay in Port Underwood near what is now Blenheim, New Zealand. The couple had a further five children, Polly being the eldest. (Two days before, the Rev. Samuel IRONSIDE baptised the fifth Beard child, Jane.)
Within three years the Wairau Affray occurred near where the five Unwin men had also been killed. Only this time there were 23 deaths and the population at Port Underwood, both Maori and European, fled, some Maori to the south and most Europeans to the nearby Nelson - Motueka area where Mary and James set up their home on Fearon Street in Motueka. They scratched a humble living, Mary was the midwife in the area and the Beard and Hogan children flourished.
At the age of 18 Mary Ann, or Polly as she was known to the family at that time, married Thomas Hunter KILGOUR in Nelson. KILGOUR was a 'mariner' a sailor and after two short years the couple separated, Polly to apparently go to Sydney and Kilgour to remain in Nelson where he married three years later.
As divorce was not an option, the couple told their families that Polly was to go to Australia where he later said she had died. In fact Polly had moved to Wanganui in the North Island of New Zealand where she probably stayed with her Hogan cousins. Shortly she met the British military, or more precisely, Henry Emly a major in the 57th West Middlesex Regt of Foot. Emly's regiment was in New Zealand to fight in what have become known as 'The Maori Wars' - one of the few small wars of that century that the British lost. Polly and Henry married - and as there was no civil registration at that time the only evidence of the ceremony may be found on Emly's military record.
The discovery of the Emly marriage came as a real surprise to us. We had started out our quest with only a torn photograph, family stories of an opera singer "Madam Bettini or Bertini" and the name "Colonel Baber" stenciled on a small wooden travelling box which had somehow survived into living memory. Sally Hoffman our UK researcher found the Baber record and with it evidence of the Emly marriage.
Shortly after their nuptials, Emly sold his commission and probably put up his slate as a solicitor in the town but as business was less than brisk the couple returned to the UK. ) Emly's military record is the only evidence of their marriage - there being no civil record of the BD&Ms in New Zealand until some years later. On 1st August 1868, Henry Francis EMLY became Paymaster of the 7th Royal Fusiliers until September 19th 1868 when the 7th Fusiliers transshipped to Bengal with Henry Francis EMLY. On their way they stopped at Aden where Emly died .
Following the death of Emly, Polly married Lieutenant Henry Thomas Harris Baber at Madras East India on the 16th August 1871. It appears that the newlyweds lived well, she rode, he hunted, and they spent many months in the UK on sick leave and 'attending to family business'.
Because Baber was so well connected, his mother was an 'Honourable' and the grand daughter of Lord Harris of Seringapatam, and he was the oldest son, the business which called them off to the UK for, on occasions, over twelve months or even eighteen months at a time , could have been familial. (As an aside, Baber was also descended on his father's side from Edward Baber the secretary to Warren Hastings one of the earliest secretaries in the East India Company.
On the 13 July 1878 Polly still noted as Mary Anne Emly, formerly Mary Anne Hogan married Henry Thomas Harris BABER for the second time in South Kensington. Henry and Polly moved backwards and forwards from India to the UK and it is tempting to think that this second marriage indicates that at some time they had divorced and then remarried.
Over twenty years while Baber climbed the ranks of various Madras Native Infantry Regiments to attain the rank of Colonel Polly's voice gave her her own entre into the musical world of the English Upper class.
Polly sang with various artistes, among them Miss Maria Vere, Lilian Greville, Norah Hayes, Madame Schuberth, Louise D'Ouste, Leita Dufour, Jeanne D'Ouste, Madame de Bono, Madame La Baronne D'Aedlsdorfer as well as Messrs Norman Roe, the Marquis de Leuville, Arthur Jackson, Victor Barry et al. An impressive list but alas, now, merely names. On occasions she sang with Henry privately and in public.
She performed for many "worthy causes" and over the period 1887-88 she often supported Senor Antonio Gimenez Manjon, a lefthanded blind Spanish guitarist who used an eleven string "rather large" guitar which he has had built to accommodate his technique. She was reviewed in several regional papers and she was always well reviewed.
Baber was in Burma with his regiment at least twice and on his record it is noted that: 'Colonel Henry Thomas Harris BABER died at Gungaw, (Gingaw), Upper Burma of "delerious mania" (malaria) on the 24 May 1891. He left considerable debts to firms in Calcutta, Madras, Rangoon, Cuttack, Cawnpore, Tangoo and Rochester (UK) and the estate was insolvent leaving a small sum was available to creditors. After it was all over the sum accruing from adjustment of the estate was 335 rupees the shortfall being paid , as was the custom, by his fellow officers.
Baber is recorded in various journals as having a somewhat derring-do style, charging off with his troops to do battle in. In fact he fought in Burma during the second and third wars of Burmese annexation and may have also served in China. On Baber's death Polly received a widows pension The Pension Pay Books show that she was also granted passage money to New Zealand.. (Under the rules of the Madras Pension Fund a widow is entitled to such passage money only once.) Why did she return to New Zealand? And why to Otepopo or as it is now known Herbert - a town still of under 500 souls north of Dunedin and south of Oamaru. We can only assume there were relations she wanted to see again. Her youngest sister Ellen who had married, looked after their parents in Otepopo and perhaps that is the reason, plain and simple.
Obviously,Polly had intended to settle in as before she left she sold all her silver and fine art, her gold, in Oamaru later. She kept her photograph albums and her nautilus collection which she later bequeathed to her nephew Willie Crosthwaite, son of Baber's sister by her first marriage. So why she ended in up Portsea is another mystery.
Edited by FOHRC. For a copy of the full story please contact the FOHRC via this website.