Given names: 
Given address: 
Sheet No: 253

 Biographical information and images contributed by Wendy Crane.

Elizabeth Ayers nee Gibbs

Elizabeth Gibbs, my great great grandmother was born in 1818 in Turvey, Bedfordshire, where her father was a shepherd. She became a lace-maker, like most of her women relatives. In 1841 she married Thomas Ayers, also of Turvey, a mason of a family of stone masons and bricklayers since at least 1750. Both had many relatives in the village, and an extended family lived in each home.

From 1851 census of Turvey:

98 Carlton St

Thomas Ayers




Elizabeth Ayers




Samuel Ayers




Sarah Ayers




Rachel Markham




Sarah Gibbs




Elizabeth Gibbs




Susanna Gibbs




88 Carlton St

St James Ayers



Stone Mason

Ester Ayers




William Ayers



Stone Mason

Ann Ayers




Jane Ayers




James Gibbs



Agricultural Labourer

Ester Gibbs



Scholar from Balcombe, Sussex

Four children of Elizabeth and Thomas died in infancy. Samuel, born in 1846, was my great grandfather. Squire Higgens, a great benefactor of the village, took a special interest in Samuel, paying for his education at the Parish school, and then because of his lovely singing voice, training as a church choir boy.

Many Turvey families emigrated. Social conditions in the mid-1800s were grim for working people, and no doubt these humble folk dreamed of a better life in far-off New Zealand. Two of Elizabeth’s brothers and other relatives had gone already, and set up Gibbstown, later called Woodend, North Canterbury.

In 1858 the family sailed in the Zealandia on its first voyage; the shipping list gives the family as: Thomas 41, Elizabeth 39, Samuel 12, Sarah 7, Thomas 3, Rebecca infant, and Rachel Markham 63. Rachel was a lifelong friend and helpmate of Elizabeth. Son Samuel was very fond of her and often said she was one of the finest women he had known. They had to borrow her fare and pay it back as they saved it.

Samuel’s grandson Clifford Trebilco remembered: “Sam told me about the voyage out. They were five months on the ship and by the time they got to Tasmania the water was green and they had very little to eat, but the Captain wouldn’t call in at the port and let them off because he thought they would never get back on, and he was being paid for the number that were delivered to Lyttelton! They sailed on for two more weeks to Lyttelton, then walked over the Bridle Track to Christchurch”.

On arrival, the family was first in the Christchurch Barracks on the banks of the Avon, then to Gibbstown, living at first in a sod hut. A daughter Kezia was born there in December 1859, a year after their arrival. In 1861 Thomas bought a section where he built a brick home which is still there.

Thomas and Elizabeth’s home was a meeting place for the early Methodist families who founded and built the Woodend Wesleyan Methodist Church. Robert Atkinson had started a Wesleyan school on the Gibb’s property opposite the Methodist church, in a slab and cob barn which had a roof of heavy calico. Here some 30 children were taught in the first year. In 1860, only a year after arriving, Thomas was able to give a section of land to erect a more suitable building, which served as house, school, Sunday school, and for church services until 1864 when the new church was built. When it was moved across the road to beside the church. All the Ayers children had their education at this school.

Samuel and Thomas worked with their father, walking to jobs before they had a horse. They worked mostly as bricklayers, though also with Oamaru stone, building many of North Canterbury’s fine homesteads.

Elizabeth was 75 when she signed the Suffrage petition.

Thomas died in 1886, Elizabeth in 1900, aged 82.

Elizabeth Ayres

Click on sheet number to see the 1893 petition sheet this signature appeared on. Digital copies of the sheets supplied by Archives New Zealand.

Community contributions

1 comment has been posted about Elizabeth Ayers

What do you know?

John Warwick

Posted: 20 Jun 2018

I am Chair of the Turvey History Society here in Bedfordshire, England from where the Ayres, Gibbs, Skevingtons and Woodings emigrated. We have many visitors from New Zealand who visit the village to seek out their "roots".

We have recently been awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to create an website and archive of the village and I should love to be able to include scans of any material relating to the Turvey emigrants to New Zealand. Wendy Crane has clearly done a lot of research in this area and I should very much like to contact her or any other New Zealanders who have a connection with Turvey.