Arriving in Ponta Delgada

IMG_1859So, there I am in July 2019, with my 2nd Cousin, Ann Boyer, and my 4th Cousin, Jose Bela Morais standing beside the statue of Thomas Hickling – my grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather – at Thomas Hickling’s country residence, in Furnas, Sao Miguel, Azores 274 years after his birth, and 183 years after his death.

I am reminded that almost 50 years ago I emigrated to Australia, 170 years after William Ivens set off for the Azores. Aged 21, with a friend about the same age, I arrived with a letter of introduction to a potential employer, a temporary place to stay, and £100 transferred to a bank account in Sydney ‘to get me going’.

We were wide eyed at the unfamiliar climate. It was May, and so oddly heading towards winter, but still much brighter and sunnier than the place we had left – that Christmas was going to be 90˚F and on the beach; the currency was different; the landmarks of Bridge and Opera House framing the harbour; the goods in the shops; the customary rituals. But however distracting, we needed to concentrate on finding employment and a more permanent place to live.

Eventually, we would be needing transport of our own, and to build a network of contacts and then friends, but initially we needed to start putting down some foundations. How we behaved in those early days was going to affect our reputations and possibly our fortunes. The friends we associated with were likely to determine which society we moved in. The clothes we wore would establish our taste and culture. Australia back in 1971 was a free, non-judgemental society.

Nevertheless, first impressions would count, especially if you were hoping to do business.

I was reminded of all this when musing how William, age 20, and his friend and co-worker William Burnett arrived in Ponta Delgada charged with expanding William Hadfield’s (their employer) trading business (import / export of citrus fruit). I imagine and expect that the island community of Ponta Delgada had its very own hierarchy, and it’s Dos and Don’ts.

They too might have arrived with a letter of introduction; a bankers’ draft; possibly an address for temporary accommodation, but just as in awe of the different flora and the majestic volcanoes rising up either side of the city. Then later, visiting the hot springs; the beaches, the forest of ferns, and quite possibly being astounded at the thousands of Hydrangeas which grow wild up to 10 ft tall, blue and white.

My trip took over 36 hours on a jet plane, with re-fuelling stops in Dubai, Calcutta, Hong Kong, Darwin and finally Sydney. William’s journey would have taken about 5 days – within the limit of the Red area on this isochronic map.

Roughly the time (4 days) it took Apollo to reach the moon 50 years ago.


We phoned home through a slow process of connecting with international telephone operators (now we text anyone anywhere on our own mobile telephones). In William’s day, a letter would have taken about 5 days to reach England (assuming a ship was going that way) and then time to reach the city, and then the same in return. So assume the minimum of a fortnight to get a response for instructions or more money, but more probably, a month.

For transport, I would assume William went for a sound horse (I went for a VW Campervan!) and so would need saddle, tack and somewhere to stable him. With a horse, he could pay calls on his potential business connections; could travel up into the high ground and especially the area called Furnas where the hot springs are located and where the gentry (notably one important fruit grower Thomas Hickling) had a summer residence.  That drive is now about 40 minutes on good roads rising up from sea level to 840 metres. On horseback across country and along dirt tracks or perhaps volcanic cobbled tracks, a distance of 40 km, might easily take 6-8 hours and therefore might need an overnight stop.

Ivens and Burnett clearly made some good decisions because within 4 years they had married two of the vice-consul’s daughters, and as such would have enjoyed many of the trappings that the Hicklings had created for themselves.


Visiting their very large house down in Ponta Delgada facing the southern ocean and right next door to St Pauls Catholic Church, or up amongst the hot springs in Furnas, where Thomas Hickling had created a large ‘tank’ – but really a large circular bathing pool – built in front of his house and which was fed by natural hot water at 40˚C.

2009-02-07 13.22.57Everything went swimmingly for the business they had helped establish until 1834 when the blight first hit the orange crops. It re-appeared in 1860 and finally wiped out the remaining groves by the end of the century. But William had died by 1857 aged 79, from a stroke and therefore never saw the complete annihilation of the industry he had so carefully nurtured and relied upon in his adopted island.

His Coat of Arms even had an orange tree as part of the design.

Though William’s career ended in bankruptcy, brought about partially by the blight, but also by having to bail his son William Hadfield Ivens out of financial trouble, he nevertheless has left a varied and intriguing family which now spans the UK and Portugal. Some of his descendants reached illustrious heights as Admirals, Generals and even a Prime Minister of Portugal. One, Roberto Ivens, became a noted explorer hailed with statues, street names, and images on banknotes and postage stamps. While others met different fates in accidents, wars, and unfortunate circumstances.

It is is only relatively recently that these fragmented families across oceans have once again been in close contact – though the genealogists amongst them have for years been trading information.

Thomas Hickling and William Ivens would be delighted, along with all the descendants in between. On this trip I met with Jose Bela Morais’ grandson. He’s not interested in family history yet. He’s only 4.

But one day he just might stand beside that statue of his grandfather’s grandfather’s grandmother’s grandfather.







3 responses to “Arriving in Ponta Delgada

  1. Dear David – this is fascinating! we also visited Ponta Delgada and Furnas in 2017 for our Golden Wedding anniversary treat. Margaret and I thought it was a magical place, and plan to go back to the Azores soon. It was wonderful to walk in William’s footsteps! Thank you for all your research – keep up the good work!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am so pleased you each have enjoyed this post – in your own different ways. Like you, Gerald, I was most moved to have been walking in William’s footsteps, and Ponta Delgada lends itself very comfortably to imagining how it was. There was a fiesta on while I was there. Gathering in the main square while the crowd sang along with folk songs was most entrancing. It could have been 1810. I agree with you and Margaret, it really is a most magical place. Cheers!


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