The Three Legs of Man




I feel this part of the site should be dedicated to Mary Ann Corlett, nee Cowley. I feel she set the standard for all the Corlett's in later generations to take care of all children, no matter who the orginal mother or father was. All children were part of the family.

When you look back into history to record the way your ancestors lived, you have to take into account the current economic situation they lived in, and not prejudge on any moral issues that may arise.

Mary Ann Cowley and William Corlett were cousins. The fell in love and the families were totally against them marrying. But as it was Mary and William, got themselves in the family way, so the family could no longer refuse and they were married on the 30th May 1872, Jurby in the Isle of Man.

They quickly had two sons, William and John, but life on the Isle of Man would have been tough, and they were both looking for a new life for themselves as well as their growing family. When the opportunity came to go to New Zealand, it appears that they jumped at it, and they took that chance.

It would not have been an easy voyage to New Zealand, as Mary Ann was pregnant with her third child, Thomas, who was born on board the "Duke of Edinburgh" just about a month out of New Zealand. She would also have had to attend to a very sick child, John, who was suffering from Tuberculosis.

Unfortunately just after they landed in Lyttelton, and had boarded the boat to take them to Timaru, little John died on that voyage, and was buried in the Timaru Cemetery as soon as they landed.

William obtained work just outside of Timaru at Pleasant Point, and the family seemed to prosper and grow. As first daughter Ann Jane was born in 1875 and then another son John was born in 1878.

William must have done well for himself and family initially as by late 1877 he applied for the Licence on the "Cave Arms" Hotel and this was granted in Dec of 1877. By 1st Jan 1878 he was operating the hotel under his licence.


Unfortunately within a few weeks, William falls into strife with a cheque that was given to him for only £2.05s by a young lad. The cheque had been altered and was cashed at the local bank by William for £22.05s. A lengthy trial in Timaru took place, and with William being the colourful character he was and protesting his innocence, and who spoke out on his own defence, thus irritating the judge and the jurors.  William was then found guilty of the crime.


Appears William was granted bail, as in the next few months before the Trial in the Supreme Court took place, William was in the newspapers again, but this time in relation to being a witness regarding the selling of Sly Grog and the killing of a pig by some boys.

William ended up going to Jail, and was sent to Lyttleton Jail for 4yrs penal servitude, on the 13 June 1878.

William was discharged from prison on the 16 July 1881, meaning he served only 3yrs and 1 month instead of the 4 years.

It is during this time that William was in jail that Mary Ann would have needed to fend for herself and her children. Her youngest child John was born 6 June 1878, just days before William was sent to Jail.

William had an acquaintance at that time. Francis Jennings Parham, who was a carrier living in Tinwald, Ashburton. Whether William had made arrangements with Francis to look after his family while he was in jail or if this was the only person Mary Ann could turn to in her hours of need, we will never know. But Mary Ann is known to been living with Francis during the time that William was in jail.

I suspect that Mary Ann would have been his housekeeper / come wife during that time, as two children were born. Sidney in Sept or Oct of 1880, his birth has not been registered and then little Henry who was born premature in 1881. Little Henry died 9 days later and both Francis and Mary Ann signed his birth and death certificates and he is buried in the Ashburton Cemetery.

This would have been the only way for Mary Ann to survive while William was in jail, she had 4 very young children to care for, the youngest only being born days before William was sentenced to jail.

When William was released from jail he would have then needed to amend his ways with Mary Ann, this it seems that they did do, as by Oct 1882 they had moved to Wainuiomata in the Wellington region.

William had taken up new profession of being a plasterer and they celebrated the birth of another daughter Eleanor. Appears that they would have started afresh. Later they moved to the Wairarapa area, and children, grandchildren and great grandchildren have settled there.

This seems to have started the trend for Corlett's to bring up children born to their partner and accept them as part of their own family, as this is very true of Leonard Corlett who married Lily Cain, nee Pauling.

Lily already had two children to her husband Thomas Cain, when he died in 1918.

My father in law Thomas Edward Corlett and his sister Evelyn, were well accepted by Len as his own children, and they grew up using the Corlett surname throughout life.