Henry Tucker, the first colonial storekeeper

On joining the RNZAOC in the early 1980’s, significant time was spent on learning about Mr Henry Tucker (1793 – 26 August 1850) who was a Royal Navy officer and the first colonial storekeeper for the newly established Colony of New Zealand[1]. At the time there were really few details about this gentleman apart from the fact he was the Colonial Storekeeper in the 1840’s.

Early life

Tucker entered Royal Navy service at the Plymouth Yard on 29 November 1802, initially as a Shipwright apprentice under the Master Measurer. Tucker completed his apprenticeship on 14 December 1811, when he then became the Clerk to the Master Measurer, remaining in this role until 1822[2]. This was a role of some responsibility requiring above average literacy and numeracy skills and would have provided Tucker with intimate knowledge of the behind the scenes logistic workings of the Royal Navy.

On 16 Nov 1817 Tucker Married Elizabeth Howell (1795-1844) at South Wraxall, Wiltshire, England[3]. It is known that their union produced a daughter Emma Mary who was born in 1829[4] and a son, William, who was born on 5 January 1843[5]. His wife Elizabeth died on 16 December 1844, and Tucker remarried on 20 December 1845 to Emily Shell. Tuckers Son William would become a farmer, soldier, politician and mayor of Gisborne.

With a wife to support, Tucker must have decided that a career as a would be a profitable and logical path of advancement. At that time Pursers were warranted by the Admiralty[6] but did not require professional qualifications. However, some financial surety was needed, 20 years as Clerk to a Master Measurer provided that. The duties of a Purser were to oversee supply and issue of victuals, slops and other consumables. The Purser was one of the five standing officers of the ship. (A standing officer was permanently assigned to a vessel.) The Purser’s position presented many opportunities to the canny to enrich himself, often at the expense of the crew. William Bligh of HMS Bounty Fame, served as his own Purser, with the actual work falling to his clerk[7]. The regulations of the Royal Navy demanded that individuals aspiring to become pursers serve at least one year as a captain’s clerk[8], which Tucker competed on HMS Calliope, and in 1825 he obtained his promotion to the rank of Purser and Paymaster[9].

In 1828 Tucker was the Purser aboard HMS Icarus, an 18-gun brig-sloop which was then part of the Royal Navy Barbados Station in the Caribbean, undertaking anti-piracy and anti-slavery patrols.

In 1840 Tucker was the Purser, and Paymaster on HMS Buffalo, which while anchored in Mercury Bay off Whitianga, loaded with Kauri spars was wrecked in a storm on 28 July 1840[10][11][12]. Given the remoteness on New Zealand at that time, Tucker was, along with the rest of the crew of HMS Buffalo stranded in New Zealand, with the choice to either settle or find passage on the next available ship out.

Career in New Zealand

In 1840 New Zealand became a Crown Colony separate from New South Wales. William Hobson the incoming governor[13], having met Tucker on the outwards journey from England to Australia, requested that Tucker remain in the colony and to undertake the office of the colonial storekeeper. To this Tucker consented, occupying that position from 19 Dec 1840[14] to 1844 when the post of Colonial Storekeeper was cancelled.

Tuckers House

Auckland in 1844, Tucker’s house is on the extreme centre right of the Picture. ‘Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1-W465’

In the new colony, the role of colonial storekeeper was a critical position within the quickly expanding colonial administration. The colonial storekeeper’s responsibility was to support the colonial administration with its logistical needs. Imperial troops in New Zealand were the responsibility of the Board of Ordnance, with who no doubt Tucker had a close working relationship.

Records show that Tucker as colonial storekeeper was purchasing all manner of goods including tents, blankets, stationery, printing supplies, building product, animals and feed. A primary duty of the colonial storekeeper was to store and issue arms to settler’s militia should the need arise. By December 1842 Tucker had the following in store[15]:

  • 46 Bayonets,
  • 53 Muskets,
  • 2 Cannonades 18pr, and
  • 3 Camp Ovens.

In late 1843 Willoughby Shortland, the Colonial Secretary of New Zealand deemed the position of Colonial Storekeeper as unnecessary, cancelling the position.[16][17] This was an unpopular move and caused some controversy in the new Colony and was questioned by the newspapers of the day as a very apparent case of nepotism. Tucker was a popular individual in the community and especially in the light that as soon as he was made redundant, a Mr Leach was appointed, under a different job title to the office of Colonial Storekeeper[18]. The duties of the Colonial Storekeeper were in time assumed by the Superintendent of Public Works. No longer Colonial Storekeeper Tucker remained in Government service first as the Chief Clerk Audit from 17 Feb 1844[19], and on 24 July 1844, Tucker was appointed as the Chief Clerk, Governor’s private affairs[20][21].

On 8 August 1846, it was announced in the nation’s newspapers that Tucker was to be released from Government service[22]. The newspaper articles of the time assessed that Tucker was a well-respected public servant, and there was some disappointment that he was released from public service.

Final years

Late in 1846, Tucker returned to England, where he was shortly afterwards appointed Paymaster and Purser of HMS Acheron, a Hermes-class wooden paddle sloop of the Royal Navy. While HMS Acheron was undertaking a coastal survey of New Zealand, ill-health compelled Tucker to relinquish his post aboard this vessel. Years of service had significantly impaired Tucker’s constitution, which rapidly gave way, and for the last, three or four months suffered with fortitude and resignation despite being in great pain and died on 26 August 1850 in Auckland, New Zealand.

Having been so recently on active service and a much respected public figure in the Colony, Tucker’s funeral was a marital affair. The coffin, covered with the Union Jack, and surmounted with his hat and sword, carried to the grave by a party of Royal Navy Blue Jackets, landed for that purpose from HMS Fly. The funeral party included his son, the Governor of the New Zealand Colony, senior military officials and a long and highly respectable train of civilians and former shipmates from HMS Buffalo. Tucker is buried at the Symonds Street Cemetery in central Auckland[23][24].

The Daily Southern Cross newspaper eulogy of Henry Tucker read[25]:

“The late Mr Tucker may, without the smallest approach to monument or eulogy, be affirmed to have been a worthy, upright man. Sailors are accurate judges of character, and the soubriquet – “Honest” Ben Tucker” – which, according to Captain Edward Stanley was the appellation given him by his messmates, proved the high estimation in which he was held.”

Sadly, although buried in the Symonds Street Cemetery, Tucker’s tombstone can no longer be found in its original position and has not been seen for some years.



As the first colonial storekeeper of New Zealand, Henry Tucker has been adopted as the godfather of the New Zealand Army’s Supply Trades[26]. The former Royal New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps named its unofficial Senior NCO, Warrant Officer and Officer social and professional development club “The Henry Tucker Club” a tradition which has carried over to the Royal New Zealand Army Logistic Regiment. Today his name adorns lecture rooms at the Supply Wing of the NZ Army Trade Training School and is also used as the name of a combined exercise and field phase of the Supply Technician RNZALR, Intermediate and Senior Supply courses[27].

Copyright © Robert McKie 2017




[1] Joseph S. Bolton, A History of the Royal New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps (Wellington: RNZAOC, 1992), 43.

[2] “Plymouth Yard, Entry Books of Certificates. 1817–1845,”  (The National Archives, 1803).

[3] South Wraxall Parish, “Marriage Records. 16 November 1817.,” (1817).

[4] Patricia Hargreaves, “Henry Tucker,”  https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/157192826.

[5] Sheila Robinson, “William Henry Terry Tucker,” in Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand (1993).

[6] National Museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy, “History of the Warrant Officer Rank,”  http://navymuseum.co.nz/history-of-the-warrant-officer-rank/.

[7] historical Naval Fiction, “Ranks & Duties in Royal Navy,”  https://www.historicnavalfiction.com/general-hnf-info/naval-facts/ranks-duties.

[8] Brian Lavery, Nelson’s Navy: The Ships, Men and Organization (Annapolis, Md: aval Institute Press, 1989).

[9] National Museum of the Royal Navy, “Naval Ranks,”  http://www.nmrn-portsmouth.org.uk/sites/default/files/Naval%20Ranks_0.pdf.

[10] P. Owen Wheatley Chas Ingram, Shipwrecks New Zealand Disasters 1795 to 1950. , 2 ed. (Wellington: AH & AW Reed., 1936).

[11] Wayne Timmo, “Whitianga’s Hms Buffalo Shipwreck Week Ready for Launch,” Waikato Times, 11 July 2015.

[12] Coromandel Life, “The Voyage of the Buffalo,”  http://www.coromandellife.co.nz/flipview/winter_2015_V2/files/assets/common/downloads/page0010.pdf.

[13] K. A. Simpson, “William Hobson,” in Dictionary of New Zealand Biography (Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, 1990).

[14] “Tucker Appointed as Colonial Storekeeper,” New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator, Issue 36,, 19 December 1840.

[15] Bolton, 43.

[16] “Symptoms of Reform,” Daily Southern Cross, Volume 1, Issue 29, 4 November 1843.

[17] “Editorial,” Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle Volume 3, Issue 138, 26 October 1844.

[18] “Domestic Intelligence,” Daily Southern Cross Volume 1, Issue 36, 23 December 1843.

[19] “Tucker Appointed as Colonial Storekeeper.”

[20] “Government Gazette,” New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator, Volume V, Issue 354, 24 July 1844.

[21] “New Appointments,” New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator, Volume IV, Issue 325, 17 Feb 1844.

[22] “Auckland,” Wellington Independent Volume II, Issue 86, 8 August 1946

[23] Brian G. van Wyk, “Grave Information Henry Tucker,”  https://billiongraves.com/grave/Henry-Tucker/12884193.

[24] Hargreaves.

[25] “Henry Tucker,” Daily Southern Cross, Volume VI, Issue331, 30 August 1850.

[26] Bolton, 44.

[27] “Exercise Henry Tucker,” NZ Army News, Issue 452, May 2015 2014.














2 thoughts on “Henry Tucker, the first colonial storekeeper

  1. John

    I have photos of the Henry Tucker Club being opened at 1BSB by T.D. McBeth
    Also the original opening of the Billy Beck Club at NZAOD.
    Also RNZAOC School course photos from late 70’s
    regards Buzzard


    • rneilmckie

      Cheers Buzzard,

      I was at both the last meeting of the Henry Tucker in Trentham before the RNZAOC was disbanded, and the last meeting of the Billy Beck Club just before NZAOD was closed down, So copies the opening photos and the school ones would be welcomed as they will give me some great material to work with.

      Regards Rob


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