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The Diary of James Brogden, August 1871 – December 1872



The diary of James Brogden (1832-1907) runs from August 19th 1871 to December 19th 1872. During the period of this diary James travelled from Liverpool in England to Auckland in New Zealand, travelled around New Zealand and then began his return to England. The text often suggests that he is writing drafts for letters to the UK. The return is less fully described than the outward journey. Perhaps at this point he was only writing a record for himself because letters home would be likely to arrive later than the writer. The original manuscript is held in the National Library of Wales (see references).

James Brogden was the fourth of five sons of John Brogden (1798 -1869) who joined their father in his businesses of: Railway Contractor, Ironmaster and Coalmaster. The three eldest sons John (1823-1855), Alexander (1825-1892), and Henry (1827-1913) were also partners. The youngest son George (1842-1892) was a very successful mining engineer but never a partner. There were two daughters: Sarah (1834-1905) who married Samuel Budgett in 1858 and Mary who married William Billing in 1867. I am a greatgrandson of Samuel and Sarah.

At the time of the diary, both Johns had died and the Head was Alexander. In 1871 Julius Vogel, Colonial Treasurer and soon to be Prime Minister of New Zealand, arrived in London to negotiate loans for his project to develop the infrastructure of New Zealand. He made an arrangement or contract with Brogdens that they would build railways in New Zealand. James was sent out to review the nature of the work and continue negotiations. The diary shows that many New Zealanders did not support the idea of the contract and James had difficulty getting a contract on the terms originally expected.

Prior to the diary, James’s role in the firm had been to develop coal mines and an ironworks in South Glamorgan, based in Tondu in the Ogmore valley near Bridgend. He had taken on this task in 1853 at the age of only 22. In September 1859 James married Helen Dunbar Milne. They had one child: Duncan Dunbar Milne (1861-1898). This is the “Dunny” in the Diary. Clearly he was exposed to some fairly rough travelling and camping conditions at the age of 10 or 11. Sadly the marriage was dissolved in 1865 following Helen’s adultery.

The reference to “Llewellyn” in the diary is almost certainly Robert William Llewellyn (1848-1910) of Court Colman, Pen-Y-Fal, Bridgend and later of Baglan Hall, Port Talbot. Court Colman was near to Brogden’s home at Tondu House, Aberkenfig.

On the death of their father in 1869, Alexander took personal charge of the South Wales work and later sent James to New Zealand. In 1874, shortly after his return, James married as his second wife Mary Caroline Beete, daughter of John Picton Beete, a nephew of Gen. Sir Thomas Picton who died at Waterloo. As he was no longer required at Tondu, James and his new wife made their home in Porthcawl which they started to develop as a seaside resort. They had one son: Hubert Picton Brogden but he died at the age of four months. They had a daughter Lucy Eleanor Brogden. She died February 1954 at Rose Cottage, Porthcawl. Mary, the second Mrs. Brogden, died in November 1927.

Duncan Dunbar Brogden became an officer in the Royal Sussex Regiment and served with them in India from January 1886 till February 1887 when he was invalided home. He died in Brighton in 1898 at the early age of 37. According to his death certificate his mother-in-law Martha Annie Patrick reported the death. Other marriage details are unknown.

The book by Rollo Arnold (see references) describes how Brogdens did indeed build a number of railways in New Zealand, bringing over many British men and their families to do the work. Many of their descendents are still in New Zealand. In 1883 Brogdens went bankrupt and James became financially dependent on his wife.

The diary then is written by an optimistic and vigorous man who has worked hard and successfully on the industrial development of his part of South Wales and hopes to do something similar in New Zealand. His story after that was less happy.

The diary includes many contemporary accounts of people and places in New Zealand, which may be of interest to social and industrial historians. The journey to New Zealand involves crossing the Atlantic, the United States and the Pacific and is described in considerable detail. There are many adventures.