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Sheet No: 69

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Biography contributed by Graeme Siddle, great-grandson to Priscilla Palmer

Priscilla Palmer

Priscilla Palmer (nee Burton) was born on 31 October 1846 in Sutton Bridge, on the River Nene in Lincolnshire, England. Her parents were Susannah (nee Lilly or Lilley) and James Archer Burton, a master mariner.

Family tradition says that she had seven brothers most of whom were in occupations related to the sea. The 1851 Census for Great Britain lists George (23), Emma (16), Edward (12), Belinda (9), Albert (6) and Priscilla (4) as living at Customhouse Street in Sutton Bridge but there were also Charles Archer, James Archer, Ben, Mary and Alfred. Three brothers (Ben, Fred or Alfred and Charles) are mentioned in the diary of the Palmers’ voyage to New Zealand most notably Charles. He was 23 years older than Priscilla. He worked as a diver and was drowned diving at the wreck of the steamship Taranaki in Queen Charlotte Sound on 9 September 1868. Fred was possibly a sailor around New Zealand and when the pilot came on board the Waimea off the Nuggets on September 17 or 18th, Priscilla thought one of the Māori crew was ‘so like [her] brother Fred’.  

She married George Palmer, a joiner, of Ladywood, Birmingham on her 20th birthday 31st October 1866(?) in the church of St. Martin, in Kentish Town, London. They had a family of eight daughters and six sons, six of whom were born in Birmingham: Emma Linda (1867-1944), George Edred (1868-1906), Florence Lilly (1869-1953), Elizabeth Susannah (1871-1948), John Chettle (1873- 1957), Frederick Charles (1874-1947). The children born in Dunedin were: Linda Alberta (1876-1944), William Archer (1877-1880), Lillian Mary (1879-1959), Edith Maud (1880-1958), Violet Lena (1881-1928), Frank Cecil (1883-1960), Mabel Evelyn (1885-1955) and Albert Edgar (1887-1966).

In 1875 the Palmer family migrated to Dunedin on board the Waimea arriving at Port Chalmers in September. They were Colonial Nominated passengers so had friends and/or relatives prepared to nominate them. The fact that Priscilla’s brother(s) had been to New Zealand was obviously a contributing factor to their decision to migrate.  Priscilla’s sister Mary Thorp (nee Burton), her husband Thomas and eight children had migrated to Canterbury on the ship Carisbrooke Castle in 1874. George and Priscilla had intended coming earlier as George mentions in his shipboard diary that they had been going to sail on the ship James Nichol Fleming. Possibly the birth of Frederick Charles on 19 December 1874, altered their migration plans.

They settled in Marion Street (currently Thorn Street) in Caversham in a house called Linda Cottage at which they kept a large garden and bees.

She has been described by her grand-daughters as being prim and proper, but on day 22 of their voyage out (11 July), she showed her mettle, as her husband records her ‘row with a scotch woman about the wee creeping things’. The next day George writes ‘we gave the emigrants something to talk about as Lilly [Priscilla] danced with some of the crew’.

She was a spiritualist and meetings were held at the family home in Caversham at which she was said to receive messages from the dead.

Priscilla Palmer died on 10 May 1926 aged 78 and was buried in the Southern Cemetery, Dunedin, Block 13, Lot 53. Also buried in this plot is her husband George (died 19 November 1929) and her son William Archer Palmer who had pre-deceased her. Her brother-in-law Frank, who lived with the Palmers in Caversham from 1898 to 1903, is also buried there as is her daughter Violet Lena Palmer who died on 25 October 1928. The cause of Priscilla’s death was senile decay and cardiac failure.

Linda Alberta Palmer, fourth daughter of the family also signed the petition although she was aged only 17 (Sheet 69). Priscilla’s second daughter Florence Lilly Palmer had signed the earlier 1892 Women’s Suffrage Petition.



Letter from grand-daughter Ruby Siddle (nee West) dated December 1976. (L76/12?)

MS sources

Diary of a voyage to New Zealand in the ship Waimea 14 of June 1875 by George Palmer. Hocken library Misc. MS 609.

Passenger list for ship Carisbrooke Castle  1874 National Archives IM 15/135

Passenger list for ship Waimea 1875 National Archives IM 15/224

Official sources

1892 Women’s Suffrage Petition (National Archives excel file.)

Census of Great Britain 1851.

City of Dunedin. Southern Cemetery record of Palmer family burials. (L76/2/13)

New Zealand. Certified Copy of Entry in the Register Book of Deaths for Priscilla Palmer 10 May 1926.

Oral sources

Interview with grand-daughter Maud Palmer (Mrs C.R.Edwards), Sawyers Bay 14 August 1979.

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

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