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About Brent Fernandez

Including information on his Famous Ancestor - Actor James Fernandez

 

Brent Fernandez is an Instrument Engineer in New Zealand and Great Great Grandson of Thomas Fernandez (18321914). Thomas found his way to New Zealand in his late teens while working on boats. He arrived in 1850, stayed, then setup life and family there. He became a ship's Captain, a Master Mariner and was involved in shipping produce and people (the early settlers) around the eastern coast of the country, especially Auckland to Gisborne. He married Ihipera Kereama of the Wharehinga family, Ngati Porou tribe, from the East Coast of New Zealand. His family of descendants in New Zealand today is extensive, having three main family lines; Fernandez, Webb and Rangiuia.

Thomas left his family back in London; Father Thomas, mother Elizabeth, brothers James, Julian (b1842) and Frederick (b1845) and sister Elizabeth (183845). Although Thomas in NZ kept up contact with his family, he never personally returned to the motherland. Their father Thomas was born in Spain in 1803 and mother Elizabeth, nee Harris, was born in 1805 at Frome, St Quintin, Dorset.

James Fernandez in a photograph taken in 1883.James Fernandez (18351915), younger brother of Thomas, was one of the eminent actors of the late Victorian era. He was born at St. Petersburg, Russia, on 16 May 1835 and christened by the British Chaplaincy in the Chapel of the British Factory there on 2 June 1835. The family had gone to Russia as part of the house staff of Lord Durham who had been appointed British Ambassador to Russia in 1835. Thomas Fernandez is reported to have been his house steward. They returned to London and their residence in Stafford Place, Buckingham Gate in 1837.

Left - James Fernandez in a photograph taken in 1883.

Over the next few years Elizabeth and Thomas were to have their other three children; Elizabeth, and Julian; who married and was still living in 1901, and Frederick, who worked in the civil service and then as a Stage Manager in the 1880’s and died in 1894.

It is James, the actor, who created Brent’s connection with Matthew Lloyd (The creator of this Website). James’s exploits in the theatre are the subject of Brent’s ongoing research.

James Fernandez began his acting career in Oct 1853 at the Queens Theatre, Hull. He honed his skills both there and touring in the provinces; as was the accepted practice in those times. It wasn’t until October 1855 however that he made his first appearance in-front of a London audience; his debut being at the Queen’s Theatre, Charlotte Street, off Tottenham Court Road, in the borough of Camden. In 1865 this became the Prince of Wales’s Theatre under those two famous actors, Marie Wilton & Squire Bancroft (Mr & Mrs Bancroft).

He worked alongside or was friends with almost all the eminent actors of the era. He was with Henry Irving and Ellen Terry at the Lyceum in a number of plays between 1878 and 1883. He performed with Mr T.C. King, Arthur Lloyd's father in law, at the Adelphi in 1871; alongside Ben Webster at the Princess’s Theatre in 1872. With Creswick and Shepherd at the Surrey during the years 1857 to 1865. It was here, in 1861, that he had the opportunity to work alongside Mr & Mrs Charles Mathews. Charles had been remarried to the American Actress Lizzie Davenport. Notable also was his lead male roll alongside Mrs Lillie Langtry, in ‘The Enemies’ at the Prince’s Theatre in 1886.

His real turning point came in 1878 when he had his first opportunity to work alongside Henry Irving at the Lyceum. He played Coitier in Louis XI, the old Pilot, Nils in Vanderdecken and Bob Leavitt in Mary Warner; his engagement here having been arranged by the Lessee Mrs S.F. Bateman. These opportunities gave James the chance to shine and did a lot for his career; his friendship with Irving enduring from that time.

Georgina Fernandez in 1874.James Fernandez, in 1871, married Georgina Robertson Bignell. She and her girlfriend, Fanny Cornforth, were the subjects of sittings for famous British Pre-Raphaelite painter, Dante Gabriel Rossetti; Fanny becoming Rossetti’s lover after the death of his wife Elizabeth Siddal. Georgina’s painting c1874 has been sold, by Sotheby’s, a number of times since her death in 1930.

Right - Georgina Fernandez in 1874.

James regularly appeared in Mr G.W. Moore’s Benefits at the St. James’s Hall and especially in the Mar 1879 one where Mr Arthur Lloyd and his wife were in attendance. On the census of 1881, James and Georgina Fernandez are shown as visitors staying at Burgess Hall with Frederick Burgess and his wife. Both of the above are of The Moore and Burgess Minstrels fame. He was a very good friend of Charles Dickens Jnr and did attend his funeral on 23 Jul 1896. His performance in ‘Woman in White’ brought a personal congratulation by Wilkie Collins; writer of the book and who worked for and was close personal friend of Charles Dickens. This played at the Surrey Theatre in Nov 1860; it having been the ‘pirated’ version, with James doing the part of Walter Hartwright.

On 17 Feb 1881 James was involved in the Benefit for Mr. F.B. Chatterton at the Lyceum Theatre. Present and also in the cast were Edwin Booth, Henry Irving, Mr J. L. Toole, Edward Terry, Mr Royce, Charles Wyndham, John Ryder, Ellen Terry, Nellie Farren, Mrs Alfred Mellon, Kate Vaughan, H. J. Byron, F. C. Burnand, David James, Thomas Thorne and Robert Reece. Edwin Booth was the famous American Shakespearean Actor and brother of Wilkes Booth, who shot President Abraham Lincoln. The Forbes-Robertson painting of Irving’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ hangs in the New York Players Club today. James is depicted in that painting. Edwin Booth was founder of the Club for the acting community and had his living quarters upstairs.

 

The Garrick Club House - Mr. Marrable, Architect - From 'Building Illustrations Private Houses, Public Buildings and Warehouses'

Above - The Garrick Club House - Mr. Marrable, Architect - From 'Building Illustrations Private Houses, Public Buildings and Warehouses' A collection of illustrations assembled chiefly from the Architect, the Buildings news and the Builder, published in various issues between ca. 1862-1872.

His friendships in London were extensive; memberships of many clubs such as the Green Room Club, the Urban Club, the Savage Club, the Junior Garrick and subsequently the Garrick Club (shown above) allowed him to forge relationships that eventually reached as high as H.R.H. Prince of Wales. On 20 March 1883 The Prince of Wales enquired of Irving, in a letter, if James could be released to go to Sandringham on 29 March to recite for H.R.H. Queen Victoria. At the time, this would have been a difficult ask of Irving, because the famous play ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ was on at the Lyceum, and Fernandez, who was playing Leonato, would have been hard to replace. All were however let off the hook by the death of John Brown on 27 Mar 1883. The Queen didn’t return from Windsor Castle to Sandringham, as intended, but stayed for the funeral arrangements.

James was a member of the Drury Lane Lodge of Freemasons, joining that lodge No.2127 a month after it was founded by Augustus Harris & Co in Jan 1886. The Prince of Wales was the Grand Master of Freemasons at the time and personally signed the Warrant for the formation of this Lodge.

A Drury Lane Royal General Theatrical Fund Benefit Programme for the 17 Mar 1890.James was also a Director of the Drury Lane Theatrical Fund becoming Master of the Fund on the death of Ben Webster in 1883, then, took over as Secretary of the Fund after Mr William Terriss was killed in 1897 at the hands of a disgruntled actor outside the Adelphi Theatre. While Master of the Fund it was his responsibility to cut the Baddeley Cake. Present at one such event, 6 Jan 1885, was Mr W.S. Gilbert of Gilbert and Sullivan fame, whose bios do make reference to having seen James cut the cake. The Drury Lane Fund and Baddeley Twelfth night ceremonies still function today.

Left - A Drury Lane Royal General Theatrical Fund Benefit Programme for the 17 Mar 1890.

In writing this story, one should not forget the family in New Zealand. They’ve been a focus of Brent’s research since 1977. Thomas arrived in New Zealand not as a passenger or official emigrant from England, but just seems to have appeared here in 1850, and stayed. He worked initially on small coastal traders but his skills as a sailor and navigator soon evolved and by 1854 was listed as Captain in charge of the vessel Mary. He did the shipping runs around Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf; firewood being a big trading commodity in those days. The fledgling Auckland Township was still very much a pioneer village; wood for cooking the food and heating the small homes being an essential requirement. Auckland grew very quickly as a town, and by 1863, photos show an already well developed port of call. It’s obvious that the skills brought out from the motherland, were put to very good use in creating a permanent new place to live.

 

A Drury Lane Royal General Theatrical Fund Benefit Programme for the 17 Mar 1890.

Above - A Drury Lane Royal General Theatrical Fund Benefit Programme for the 17 Mar 1890.

Thomas didn’t take to long either to don his Captains hat and sail off down the coast. By September 1854 he was sailing to the East Coast villages and further to another developing port, Gisborne. It’s around this time, 1854 – 56 that he met Ihipera (Isabella); she obviously took his eye and they married. No record exists of the actual dates, those were either lost in the 1931 Napier earthquake, or were never officially recorded, other than in church or court documents at the time. Marriage registration was not a particularly important requirement for NZ in that period, especially where the Native population were involved. The East Coast and Port Awanui were remote enough as to make all sorts of issues difficult to control.

His exploits as a ships Captain were well reported in the newspapers of the period. He was even Master of the Gunboat Pioneer during the Maori Wars of 1863-66, The NZ Land Wars. The job being to transport colonial troops and early settlers up the Waikato River to the newly established towns such as Ngaruawahia and Hamilton, Brent’s current home. In October 1867 Capt Fernandez even paid a visit to the Chatham Islands as a passenger onboard the Govt Steamer, St Kilda. During his visit he saw first hand how Te Kooti and other Native prisoners were being held there. He would remark much later that it was this situation that caused Te Kooti to escape and become so troublesome to the cause of European settlement of New Zealand. His killing exploits and war parties harassed the Settlers and Government across the North Island of New Zealand for many years after that. After the Wars Capt Fernandez then worked on the Ferries from Auckland to the Thames goldfields in 1868.

Capt Thomas and Isabella had seven children, the first born was Mary (b1857d1898), followed by Thomas (b1862) who was Brent’s Great Grandfather, Jane (b1864d1880), Charlotte (b1866), Miriam (b1869 – d1869), Julian (b1871d1898) and lastly Maude (b1873). Only three of these children grew to have families of their own; Thomas, Maude and Charlotte.

Maude, who was working as a maid at Government house in Mt Eden, Auckland, met and married Mark Webb. Mark was an Englishman, born in Seizincote, who had came over, from England, with the house-staff of Lord Onslow, during his term of office as Governor of New Zealand, 18881892. On his return to England, Maude followed and they married in London around Sept 1894. They set up home there, having five children in all. Their first baby died in infancy; however Doris, Reg, Bernard and Julian all lived to have family of their own. The family moved back to New Zealand about 1914. Descendants of the Webb Family are still in contact with Brent today.

Thomas and Charlotte Fernandez in about 1913.Charlotte was a different kettle of fish. It’s probable that she also was working at Govt House, Mt Eden, but she met and married Edward Rangiuia, a descendant of the Ngati One One tribe from Poho Rawiri Marae in Gisborne. Capt Thomas was dead against the marriage but it went ahead regardless and subsequently, seven children were born. The Maori ties were very strong in the Rangiuia family and all the children were given both European and Maori names. Eunice Katarina (Takapuna) b1890, Vivian Mary Ngahina (b1891), Julian Fernandez (Turiana) b1893 – the Fernandez being retained as a Christian Name. Then there was Hatawira Tutekohi (b1894), Maritana Amiria (b1896), Mary Fernandez (b1898) and lastly Tuketenui (Basil) b1899. Many descendants of some of these children are alive today.

Left - Thomas and Charlotte Fernandez in about 1913.

Edward (Tuahina) Rangiuia, while growing up, attended Te Aute College, a boarding school near Napier, for teenage Maori boys. It was here that his music and entertainer skills began. His life evolved around entertainment; at one time he taught music, he definitely performed at concerts, was an accomplished player of the pianoforte and harp, and his singing skills became legendary. His singing, as a Tenor, was so well regarded that in June 1901, he was invited to travel with the visiting Duke and Duchess of York and sing for them on their train trip from Christchurch to Dunedin. He had a regular Concert Circuit after that, gradually building on his entertainment and singing skills.

By 1903 there was strong encouragement for him to come to England. His time with the Duke and Duchess had paid off and a British tour was arranged. He opened his first London Concert in May 1903. The New Zealand Band joined the popular Union Jack Club movement of the time, and did their concerts throughout the Kingdom on behalf of that Club. Rangiuia (the Tenor) and Princess Te Rangi Pai (the Contralto) accompanied this Band on that tour. Edward never returned home after that. He found a ready audience in England for his talents, was very popular among the Ladies set and created a very good business from his singing. He died in Portsmouth in 1918. However his family in New Zealand didn’t suffer, they kept up regular contact with him, and in fact his Daughter Takapuna went to live there with him in 1913. A forebear of the Rangiuia family, Chief Rangiuia, was a signatory to the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840; a family proud of their heritage, in New Zealand, today.

Miss Mary Fernandez, oldest daughter of Capt. Thomas, was born between 1857 & 1860. She was there to help her mother care for each of the other brothers and sisters as babies and also help with the household duties too. She learned her skills of taking care of people at an early age and so took up work at the Auckland Hospital when she was probably in her late teens; that place being adjacent to their home in Grafton Rd. Her aspirations to improve were strong in her upbringing and so she applied for and secured a position as assistant nurse at New Plymouth Hospital in March 1890 (now called the Barrett St Hospital). Then in February 1892 she was promoted to senior nurse. This brought added responsibility and experience, so when it came time to replace the Matron, who’d resigned because of marriage, Mary was the natural choice for the Board. She was also a bridesmaid at the wedding. Her promotion to Matron was in Feb 1894. This position she held, with high regard, until she fell sick in March 1898 when she had to take sick leave for six months. After stays in Wellington and Napier, she went home to her family in Auckland and its there on 8 Aug 1898 that she died. She is buried at the Symonds St Cemetery, Auckland.

Thomas Jnr, Brent’s Great Grandfather, was involved in the timber industry. As a young tradesman in 1880 he went to Te Kopuru, Northland, New Zealand. He worked there in the Sawmills as a fitter and turner. Marine engineering was in his blood and he was never too far from the water either. Te Kopuru lies on the banks of the Northern Wairoa River. He did work on river vessels and, like his two Sisters; he also had a big family. Seems the Fernandez clan were destined to ensure their genes were never lost in New Zealand. Thomas Jnr married Elizabeth Davern; her forebears were from County Tipperary, Ireland. They had ten children in all. Isabel Jane (b1886) who married Bernard Emerre, James Leonard (b1889) who married Thelma Blackman Rowland, Gertrude Leonard (b1891) who married Henry Máka, William Thomas (b1894) who married Nellie Elliott, Mark Graham (b1898) who married Ida Cochrane. The other children who didn’t live to have family were Thomas (d1902), Julia, Mary Elizabeth (b1893d1894), Mary Elizabeth (b1896d1901) and Maud Victoria (b1900d1901).

Brent’s grandparents were William Thomas (Coffee) and Nellie.

Another fact that should be pointed out is that Great Grandfather, Thomas Fernandez, was the first Club Captain of the first ever rugby team in Northland, NZ, in 1884 and signalled the beginnings of the Southern Rugby Club that still exists today and a long association with rugby by family members ever since. No All Blacks unfortunately.

The work in documenting the Fernandez family history is ongoing and Brent would like to thank all those who’ve helped so far. His work is dedicated to the memory of his Dad, Rex, and also to Uncle Mick and Doreen Fernandez, senior Elder of the family and the most ardent supporters of his lifetime's work. Special mention also, of Jennie Bisset for her support and friendship from London.

See also John Culme's Footlight Notes for more details on James Fernandez's life. The research on him, Capt. Thomas and the family in England is the subject of ongoing work and if anyone can offer information to assist with this work, please contact Brent here.

This page was first compiled and written by Brent Fernandez in September 2009. Images are courtesy B.F.

Brent Fernandez has been a regular and enthusiastic contributor to this site since he first discovered it in 2009. His tireless research into both his and my own ancestors and the Theatres and Music Halls around the UK and Ireland which they performed in has been an invaluable addition to the site.

Postscript: Georgina Fernandez' Will mentions the following: 'I give to Mrs Herbert, of 68 Kingsley Park Terrace, Northhampton, mentioned in my said Will, the Art Union Engravings now in my bedroom, provided she will take care of the portraits of the father and mother of my late husband James Fernandez..... I wish the said portraits... on Mrs Herberts death to become the property of her daughter Ethel Mary Herbert also mentioned in my said Will" - If you know the whereabouts of these portraits please Contact me.

 

You may find the following pages from this site of interest: