Sarah Ann Brand was born in London at 24 Hardington Street in Marylebone in February 1858. She as the first child of John Brand and Jane Cudlar. Not much is known about the early life of John Brand other than that he is described on Sarah’s birth certificate as “a Tarpauling” maker. We don’t know what sort of occupation he had. It is said that as a babe in arms Sarah was taken to Glasgow and lived at 3 Paisly Road. When Sarah was 4 years old they were still living in Glasgow. She related to her granddaughter years later an incident that happened while she was living there. Sarah had gone out for a walk when a kind woman took her by the hand and let her down a side street where she was quickly stripped of her good velvet dress, socks, shoes and petticoat, and left crying and ashamed, to find her way home in her underwear.
It is likely that the family continued to live in Glasgow until Sarah was in her teens. It would seem then, that the two younger children, Jenny and John were born in Scotland. Glasgow being a great sea port and centre of commerce it is likely that John Brand continued to follow a life as a sailor.
When Sarah was 13 years old her father joined an emigrant ship, the “England” bound for New Zealand with a party of Scandinavian immigrants. We don’t know in what capacity he joined. It has been suggested that he was a passenger but this seems unlikely, in view of the following “poem” said to have been written by him. It would seem that he was a sailor, a Tarpaulin maker or sail maker, a person of roving disposition:
I am a cosmopolitan, I love for to roam,
Where I’ve peace and joy and happiness,
Anywhere’s my home.”
When I was a school boy strange ideas crossed my mind,
By reading books of travels and novels of that kind.
The wonderous sights about the world, with them I’d like to be,
So I left my home and parents dear to roam beyond the sea.
Some people say a rolling stone will never gather moss,
And others say a roving life will never fill the purse;
But those that fill their purses and scheme to hoard up gold,
They get no more than I do which is just their food and clothes.
I love to live in foreign lands, their scenery I adore,
And while I get a living I crave for nothing more.
The rolling stone he roams along, is happy and content,
While the mossy stone is idling there, no use or ornament.
The Eastern climes I’ve roamed about from India to Japan,
The natives there will kindly give a service when they can.
They love to meet with kindness, above all cause to hate.
If they are robbed, abused and cheated they will retaliate.
America, that land famous for rowdies and bombast,
And blood thirsty thieves and vagabonds who have no thought or care,
With revolvers, clubs and bowie knives they will others abuse,
Yet there’s plenty more society where such things are never used.
Were e’er I’ve been and where E’er I go, I find things just the same,
That those that into trouble get, it’s themselves that are to blame.
If we live by honest industry I really have no doubt
We shall always get our food and clothes till Death doth rub us out.
I’ve roamed along the sunny shores about the torrid zone,
Amongst those that are called savages I always found a home.
There more I roam the more I love to live on foreign shores,
And to speak well of the generous bridge that carried me safe o’er.
In the empire called Celestial of wangs and chungs and hungs
Mandarins, pagodas, lanterns, typhoons and ongs and gongs,
John Chinaman is not so bad, though they’re as hard as nails.
Many happy days I’ve seen and spent in the land of tea and tails.
If e’er you roam in foreign lands the natives leave alone.
Do not anger, cheat or steal or violate their home;
Be kind and generous hearted, mind what you do and say;
Honesty, kindness and civility will always clear your way.
Now, as a son of Albion, that land of trade and fame,
Not forgetting bonnie Scotland, auld Ireland the same,
Many happy days I’ve seen in all the Union Jack, I claim.
So, with due respect and reverence for the land from whence I came,
I am a cosmopolitan, I love for to roam,
Where I’ve peach and joy and happiness, anywhere’s my home.”
Well, that is not great poetry, but it is certainly revealing regarding the nature of the man and that doesn’t sound like a good family man! A photo taken of J.Brand in middle age, shows a well built handsome man. Added to this, he was a good musician, a violinist, good enough in later life to style himself as “Music Teacher” though there were others who described him as “an itinerant musician”. This still would be greatly appreciated on board ship where a lively violinist to accompany the sea chanties, those songs the sailors sang to ease the slog and pain of hauling on the ropes or the back breaking toil on the bars of the windlass, was someone of importance to the workforce! He would also play in the evenings for the sailors to dance to break the monotony of long voyages. And ….. such a person being demand would avoid the hard slog himself! Which begins to sound rather like J.Brand himself.
However, he must have kept some contact with is family for some time as two more children were born, another girl Jenny, and a boy, John after his father. They lived for some years in Glasgow, a busy sea port where ships were coming and going all the time. A good place for a sea-farer to have for this family. But when Sarah was 13 years old John Brand tool off for New Zealand on the “England” and vanished from the scene. This was a very unhappy time for the family, as after a year or two their mother died. Their mother’s relatives, the Lees took the children in then and they remained with their relatives until they left for New Zealand in 1880. Sarah’s cousin Polly was about her own age. The two girls became close friends. It was a great joy to Sarah when many years later her youngest son, Neville, on the way to the first World War visited his relatives and finally married Polly’s daughter Muriel. Polly had married an up and coming young man by the name of Watson, who throve in business, becoming, it was said, a millionaire and inhabiting a lovely old Manor House, Chadwick Manor, near Birmingham, where they brought up their 7 children. Mr .Watson started life as a grocer. He set up one after another chain of dairies called “May Pole dairies”. These were very attractive having blue and white tiles on the shop front. Inside the blue and white tile theme was continued. They sold only a small range of goods, but everything of the best. This evidently suited the mood of the times.
Then right out of the blue their father’s letter, implying, though not actually stating any details, that he had made good in New Zealand and was sending for his children to join him.
But when they landed in New Zealand they found the actuality very different. Their father had no home, he had made no provision for their reception, he immediately presented Sarah to his friend Thomas Gilbert, a man of 45 years with a grown up family, very recently widowed whom she was expected to marry forthwith.
Sarah was 22 years old. She was shocked and distressed, not knowing what to do . She did not feel ready to marry anybody, and certainly not this stranger. She felt herself responsible for her younger sister and brother, however and this weighed heavily upon her. She spent the whole, unhappy night, praying for a way out, for guidance. The answer came that if she married Thomas she would be able to do something to help his children who had received a minimal education. Their father who had made his own way through perseverance and hard work did not believe in schooling.
So, on 9th April 1880 Sarah became the wife of Thomas Gilbert. It was a marriage of opposites, Thomas sternly practical and hard working, Sarah, young, inexperienced, well educated for a woman of her time, interested in things of the mind and spirit.