B 26 December 1830 Cam Gloucestershire England
d 17 January 1917 Alexandra New Zealand

William Thayer and Harriet Tiley married in Cam in 1830 and had six children including William (who was baptised at Cam on Boxing Day 1830), Henry (baptised at Cam in March 1833), George (also baptised at Cam in September 1835) and Edward - who was born about 1838. The family moved to Dursley in early 1841, and the census taken in June that year shows them living at the "Back of Boulton Lane" in the town. William was an Agricultural Labourer, and he either met with an accident or fell seriously ill as he died in 1845 at the age of 34, leaving Harriet alone to bring up the children, whose ages then ranged from 15 years to 18 months.

The census of 1851 shows the family at Snooks Hill in Dursley, with Harriet as Head of the Household working as a Charwoman. William, the eldest at 21, cannot be found although that census has been indexed for the whole of Gloucestershire. Henry is an agricultural labourer aged 18, living at home (in fact he had just been released from Gloucester Penitentiary after serving three months hard labour for stealing two pecks of apples) George is aged 15, also at home and an agricultural labourer, Edward is 13 and an Errand Boy at a local school; Harriet 10 & Charles 7 are both Scholars.

By 1861, Harriet had re-married to John Ridley and was still living at Snooks Hill but now with only Charles, an 18-year old Agricultural Labourer, left at home from her six children by William. Her daughter, Harriet, now 20, is living-in as a Housemaid with Henry Moor and his daughters who ran a Grocers and Tallow Chandlers shop in Parsonage Street, Dursley.

This time, not only William but also Henry, George and Edward are missing from the area. We know now that Henry remained in England, but the other three brothers emigrated.

Where William was in 1851 we don't know, but his later life is so well documented that we have a very good picture of him. He left Liverpool on the Symonds on 29th May 1858 as one of 105 passengers sailing under William Henry Leavitt, the Master, and landed in Melbourne that September - a voyage of over three months duration, although as the ship's provisions allowed for 140 days, it could have been much worse.

George and Edward also sailed to Australia (although we don't know when or on which ship). All three brothers paid for their passage, and they worked together on the Ballarat gold-fields until according to Edward, after a disagreement, he came back to camp to find the tent burned out and his brothers gone.

Edward stayed in Australia, but the next we hear of William and George comes from New Zealand. When William died it was said he'd been in New Zealand for 55 years, making his arrival there about 1861; and George had probably been there for some time before his son Charles was born at Maori Creek, on the West coast of South Island in 1877.

William settled in Alexandra, close to the Dunstan Mountains in Otago Province, South Island, where he set up the Dunstan Store catering for all the varied needs of another gold prospecting community. His invoices, "Wine & Spirit Merchant and General Storekeeper, Highest price given for gold. Agent for the Alliance Assurance Company (Fire and Marine)". He became well known and respected there.

A passage from the chapter headed `Typical Pioneers' from the book `Early Days in Central Otago' is best quoted in full here:

"The storekeeper always required to be keen, and in the early days had to do his own debt collecting. William Theyers, of Manuherikia, was a generous, kindly man, always prepared to allow long credit in a deserving case, but with a horror of the man who sneaks away and tries to avoid payment of a just debt. He had a very original way of treating such.

About 1865 a great exodus of diggers took place from Otago to the West Coast, and Theyers found that quite a number of men who owed him money had slipped away without saying good-bye. They all took money with them for expenses, and, no doubt, intended to send the storekeeper his money by and by if they got a good claim, but if not ----. This way of doing business did not appeal to Theyers. Being at that time a very powerful and active young man, he made it a practice to ride after every departing digger who owed him money and thrash the man until he paid up, and in time this practice made him a terror to defaulters. One morning he heard that a big Irishman from the Old Man Range was removing himself, and, getting on his horse, picked up Charlie Nieper, who had a hotel and butcher's shop at Butcher's Gully, and with him pushed on towards the Fourteen Mile Beach. When they got near the river they came up on their man, and the following dialogue took place:

Theyers (speaking as usual in a slow, deliberate voice, nodding his head with each phrase): "Hey! Are you going to pay me?"

Digger: "You can go to hell! You will get no money from me."

Theyers: "We'll see about that. Hold my horse, Charlie."

Then followed a rough and tumble encounter with heavy blows and an occasional remark from Theyers, "When you have had enough and are going to pay me, I'll stop." At last the digger said, "But you can't give me a receipt." "Yes, I can", said Theyers, and produced pen, ink, stamp and paper, when the hard-earned money was at last paid over.

Then said Theyers, "I'll hold the horses, Charlie, and you get your account"

The big man again refused to pay, and Nieper threw off his coat and tried a round, but, being a small, light man, found he had no hope of success.

Theyers: "Come and hold the horses again, Charlie, and I'll quieten him for you."

Digger: "Oh! If I have to fight you again, I may as well pay him too."

The moral effect of an event of this sort must have been great, and very few debtors would run the risk of such an encounter. Theyers was a highly successful storekeeper and became one of the chief pillars of Alexandra and its institutions."

The author of this book adds a footnote here, saying :-

"Charles Nieper, one of the participants, vouched for the truth of this anecdote."

`Memories of the Golden Road' gives us a further insight:-

"Another case of real grit and dogged perseverance is recorded relating to William Theyers of Alexandra. Diggers were hard put to it to get timber for mining purposes. A newspaper report for February 1866 says:-

"Now that a road, by means of a new bridge, is opened to Cromwell, some effort should be made to complete it to Wanaka, so that by bullock drays or waggons we could get props and slabs at reasonable cost.

Mr Theyers was in a quandary in the matter; he wanted material for a sluice-box, but there was none to be had locally, so he tramped down the road to Tuapeka, some 60 miles, and returned with a load on his back."

William also took a positive role in local affairs, presenting accounts for payments totalling £48 to the Alexandra Church Committee (where he appears to be Treasurer) in February 1867. In July that year he won a seat on the Council (representing the Clutha Ward) in the first elections following the proclamation of Alexandra as a Municipality. The Council held it's first meeting on August 8th, and in a burst of enthusiasm decided to meet weekly; and the next week it appointed a Town Clerk at an annual salary of £52. It continued to be a keen and progressive body, pressing for new roads, arranging for the through coach to Clyde to stop at Alexandra, establishing a coal mine in the borough, and obtaining a water supply for the town by 1873. William was the Mayor of Alexandra 1870-71.

In November 1879, authority was given for the election of four elders of the Church at Alexandra, one at Black and one at Matakanui. In the event, it was found that only William Theyers and George McNeill were willing to be ordained, and both were installed as the first elders of the congregation in May 1880.

He continued with his active participation in town and church life - being one of a delegation to go to the sister parish of Clyde to discuss finance, committee member (possibly Chairman) in 1887 and undertaking a second term as Mayor 1889-92.

William could carry a sack of flour on his back and was active enough to ride a bicycle home well into his old age. He only gave up his interest in church affairs when he could no longer attend meetings at over 75 years of age. When he retired from his store, he had bought a small area of ground in the borough on which he planted an orchard and the cultivation and management of this gave him `pleasant occupation during his latter years'.

William Theyers died in January 1917. His obituary in the Otago Daily Times reads:

There passed away at Alexandra on Thursday last, one of our very earliest pioneers in the person of Mr Wm Theyers. The revered gentleman, who reached the age of 87 years was a very strong and remarkably energetic man, and many stories are told of the pluck and enterprise he displayed in his business. For many years the late Mr Theyers took a leading part in the political life of Alexandra being an enthusiastic member of all local institutions, and was for some time mayor of that place. He was very loyal to the district and was a strong advocate of its possibilities and was ever ready to interview visiting celebrities to urge its claims and to press for state aid. Mr Theyers might well have been called the G.O.M. of Alexandra. He was indeed a splendid type of man and we are sure that the demise of one who had done so much for his town and district will be generally regretted.

The funeral took place at Alexandra on Friday afternoon.

The above is based upon information received from:

David Theyers, (great grandson of William Theyers b.1830) of Christchurch, New Zealand which includes extracts from the following:-

Parish Registers of Cam
Passenger Lists and Certificate of Lading of the Symonds
Family tree from Hazel McElroy, grandaughter of George Theyers (b.1835)
Letter from Eileen Bruce, descendant of Edward/Edmund Theyers (b.1838)
"Early Days in Central Otago" by Robert Wilkinson pub.1930 by Whitcombe & Tombs
"The Dunstan" by C.W.S.Moore pub.1953 by Whitcombe & Tombs
"Memories of the Golden Road (A History of the Presbyterian Church in Central Otago)" by Alexander Don pub.1936 by A.H. & A.W.Read
Invoice from the Dunstan Store dated 3rd March 1894
Death Certificate dated 20.1.1917 from Manuherikia, New Zealand
Obituary from the Otago Daily Times January 1917

And supplementary research carried out locally in Gloucestershire (census returns for 1841, 1851 and 1861 of Cam and Dursley etc) by ourselves.