Puckey was born in Penryn, Cornwall, and christened there on 5 June 1805. His parents were William Puckey and his wife, Margery (née Gilbert). He left England in 1815 with his parents, who had become lay missionaries with the Church Missionary Society (CMS). William ( William Gilbert's father) had been in the original party, with his brother, James Puckey that attempted to establish a CMS mission in Tahiti, but when that mission failed, went on to Paramatta, Australia. William returned to England about 1802, and married, had children, and the family re-embarked for Australia in 1815. William Gilbert and his sister Elizabeth, (later to marry Gilbert Mair) came with their parents to Kerikeri, New Zealand in November, 1819 on one of Samuel Marsden's Missions. His father had been a boatbuilder, mariner and carpenter in Cornwall, and probably made a significant contribution to the establishment of these skills in New Zealand, as a sawyer, carpenter, and boat builder, being involved in the sawing of planks, and making of joinery for the Kemp House, and the building of the 55 foot schooner, the 'Herald' for the CMS mission. Unfortunately William, and especially his wife Margery succumbed to alcoholism under he conditions of life in early New Zealand, and both died after an extended bout of drinking following the marriage of their daughter, after they had returned to Sydney, in 1827. William Gilbert Puckey joined the CMS mission in his own right in 1821, and after accompanying his father back to Sydney in 1826, returned to New Zealand in 1827, and stayed for the rest of his life. This background, of growing up in his formative years in close contact with Maori communities, and witnessing the vicissitudes of the early Mission settlements, was highly significant to his later development of strong and effective bonds with Māori around the mission stations he worked in, at Kerikeri, Paihia, Waimate, and the station he helped found and then stayed at, Kaitaia .
At Waimate North on 11 October 1831 Puckey married Matilda Davis (who was then aged 17), second daughter of Rev. Richard Davis, thus becoming the first European couple recorded to be married in New Zealand. Their first child was born in early January 1833, but only survived for seven weeks.
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