Cordt Bensemann was one of the Hanoverian grenadiers chosen to form a guard of honour in London for the Coronation of Queen Victoria in 1837. While there he heard about emigration entrepreneur Edward Gibbon Wakefield and the NZ Company which was offering land in the 'New World'.
In 1839 the company advertised in German newspapers and installed agents in Hamburg and Cologne. At the time about 20,000 Germans were leaving the country a year, but mostly for the United States.
The Bensemann family members set to join Cordt, 32, on the emigrant sailing ship St Pauli were his 31-year-old wife Elisabeth (Anna Margaretha Elizabeth Kothrade) his daughter Anna Katarina Marie, 8, Johann (John Albert), 5 and Johann Heinrich (John Henry), 3. Sadly for the family, the journey had a tragic start. They all had had to shift to Bremen Harbour, Hamburg, while waiting to sail and from there organised provisions for their new life.
On September 20, 1842 Cordt and Anna’s baby, nine-month-old Margarita Maria Magdalena died and was buried in Bremen Harbour, Hamburg. It is not known what she died of, but it was a particularly cold autumn and winter and the record tells of rough and cold lodging away from the warm stoves the farming families were used to. Also, small-pox was rife at the time.
Although a builder by trade most of his adult life had been spent as a soldier. Military service of six years was compulsory in those days. Cordt was sent to London in 1836 for the coronation of Queen Victoria in a regiment of soldiers which were a feature of the occasion – it comprised men selected for their physique – no man was less than 6’ 2" tall. He became interested in emigrating to New Zealand while in London, where he read or heard of the emigration schemes. However, for some reason, perhaps economic, he re-enlisted in 1837 in the Royal Hannoverian Body Regiment, a period of service which was supposed to end in May 1843 when he was well on the way to New Zealand.
There was a great deal of civil unrest in Germany in the years before 1842, with many people seeking a more democratic government such as France had. A German pastor who settled in Boston, United States, at around the same time wrote, 'The German emigrant… comes into a country free from… despotism… privileged orders and monopolies.. intolerable taxes, [and] constraint in matters of belief and conscience. No passport is demanded, no police mingles in his affairs or hinders his movements…' It is believed that Cordt felt the same way and was uncomfortable in an army that was propping up German princes who were closing newspapers and ordering the shooting of demonstrators.
Like several other Hanoverian soldiers who emigrated, Cordt took a great risk as it meant deserting from the army. He was court martialled in absentia and sentenced to death. After the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 Kaiser Frederick reprieved all military defaulters and Cordt’s pardon complete with blue ribbons and royal seals is somewhere within the New Zealand family. (Would the relative who has it be so kind as to allow a copy please?!)
Cordt’s military service, and those of his descendants, extended to New Zealand in the late 19th century. In 1856, during the colonial wars, he was appointed Lieutenant of Militia in command of a volunteer defence force in the Moutere. The 'Volunteers' remained active into the 1890s under command by a grandson of Cordt’s, Bill Wilkens. According to Lawrence Bensemann: 'I more than once climbed into the branches of the school macrocarpas to watch the company of about two dozen doing their drill. The bayonet drill, with the very long bayonets of that period glimmering in the dim light, was impressive, it was accompanied by a vigorous stamping of feet and slapping of thighs.'
Cordt became friendly with the Ngati Rarua and Te Atiawa people of the Motueka area and learnt to use traditional Maori weapons such as the patu (war club) and taiaha (carved staff/spear). He was especially close to the chief Huta Paaka who, (according to Hans Bensemann) fought English settlers at Te Ngutu o te Manu in Taranaki and survived a musket ball through his neck in the battle. Paaka had a cavity in his neck from the wound for the rest of his life, and Hans recalls Paaka allowing him to put his (Hans’s) finger into the wound as a child. (Another account has it that Paaka was against local Atiawa and Rarua people heading north to help their Taranaki relatives and did not join in the battles – any back-up information about this story welcomed: We may have mixed two Paaka generations!) The Paaka family are thought to have been behind the Maori names given to Edward ('EC') Bensemann’s sons: Huia, Eru, Motu, Tui and Ranginui (the web author’s father) and the Mokana (or Morgan) family lived with E C for a period at Mahana during the Depression. The friendship between the family and the Motueka Maori community continues today. Kaumatua Tamati Bailey was a great help in the web author’s late teens and 20s in respect to the district’s history and traditions, including the German side! Ranginui and the author attended a Morgan family reunion in recent years at Motueka.
Below is a translation of Cordt’s military discharge certificate with its original spelling. Many thanks to Cordt’s great, great grandson Brian Hunter of Manawatu for this.. Note that another account has the date as 22 December 1871, not ‘61. (Can whoever has the original please advise true date?):
1ST OR BODY REGIMENT
Cord Hinrich Bensemann, son of the peasant labourer Johann Albert Bensemann, was born in 1810 at Enguln in the Royal Hannoverian district of Bruchhausen. At his request it is hereby certified that he enlisted as a substitute on the 1st May 1837, for a period of 6 years in the 2nd Company of the 7th Battalion of the Line (as it was at that time) which was embodied in the 1st or Body Regiment on the 1st February 1838, and later commanded by Captain Behrens. Up to his discharge on the 30th April 1843 he constantly conducted himself well and honestly and during that time he received no punishments.
Before this, the person Bensemann had served 6 years as a private soldier in the 7th Infantry Regiment, 7th Battalion of the Line. As he was accepted again as a substitute, it is assumed that he conducted himself well during this former period of service.
Description of the person Bensemann
Hair: Light blond
Height: 6 feet 2 inches
Hannover, 22nd December 1861
A V Reck
Lt Colonel Commander of the Regime