25 February 2011


I thought I would relate the stories behind the seven faces in the picture at the top of this blog. So, they are:

An old Khmer woman
I can’t help but wonder what sights this woman’s eyes have seen. She must have lived through the atrocities of Pol Pot’s regime yet I can still see a twinkle in her eyes. She reminds me of the incredible resilience of the Khmer people and their inherent happiness in spite of Cambodia's recent horrific past. This photo was taken at the ancient splendour of Angkor Wat. The woman gave me her blessing and tied a traditional band of red wool on my wrist after I donated to the upkeep of the Buddha statue she was tending.

A Turkish man at Harran
Harran is a little village in eastern Turkey where some believe the biblical prophet Abraham was born. The village is famous also for having had the first university in Turkey, though today it is little more than a ruin, and is better known for the dome-roofed beehive-shaped mud-brick houses the people still live in. Our small tour group of travellers visited one of these houses, which the family is paid by the government to open as a cultural and historical attraction. Actually, the family now lives in the more modern brick building in the corner of their walled compound – the building with the satellite dish and large, flat screen television!

Still, our visit was a fascinating glimpse into how life used to be for these people, and how it still is for the poorer people in the surrounding area, who live next to their fields in very primitive mud dwellings. Our host family was very welcoming. There was the 55-year-old husband, shown here, his 45-year-old wife – who looked about 60, after having borne and raised 5 sons and 5 daughters – three of their daughters, one school-age son and one very cute grandson, of a daughter who had been married but didn’t like her husband so had divorced him and returned to her parents’ house.

A young Khmer boy
V is one of the children at Anjali House in Siem Reap, where I did two stints as a volunteer teacher, over Christmas 2009 and 2010. V was in my intermediate class, as was his older sister S. V was 9 when this photo was taken but looked much younger. Although he enjoys a filling lunch at Anjai each day and his family is supplied with a monthly sack of rice, the lack of nourishment earlier in his life has hindered his physical development. This is typical of many of the Anjali children.

He doesn’t lack energy, however, and during the breaks, races round the playground at breakneck speed just like all the other children. Here, his doe-like eyes, shaded by long thick lashes, are focused on a banner he was adding glitter to. The football season was about to start in Siem Reap and Anjali was fielding teams in the Globalteer Siem Reap Junior Soccer League, so the kids were making banners to support their schoolmates at the following Sunday’s game.

An old Chinese woman
For me, facial lines are a sign of a life well lived, so I imagine this old Chinese woman has lived a long and eventful life. This photo was taken in September 2008 in the magnificent Forbidden City in Beijing, China. As Air New Zealand runs direct flights to Beijing, I stopped over there for three nights on my way to Turkey. The Olympic Games had just finished, so the city was still festooned with celebratory bunting and flags, and in Tiananmen Square a colourful flower display was still being dismantled.

I signed up for a one-day tour of the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall – by walking along the Wall I crossed off one of the long list of things on my Bucket List! The Forbidden City had been closed to Chinese nationals while the Games had been on, so our tour started early to try to avoid the large numbers of Chinese visitors who later thronged the famous tourist attraction. It was wonderful to see how they appreciated, valued and admired this national treasure as much as I did. The old woman was one of these, wandering around the City buildings with another old woman.

A young Khmer girl
L is another of the children at Anjali House, in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Here, she was playing during the lunch hour with her schoolmates. Most days she sported a huge smile and loved having her photo taken. But there were a few days when she was sullen and sad and withdrawn, a sure sign that all was not well at home.

The children of Anjali come from poverty-stricken, underprivileged backgrounds. If they weren’t at Anjali, they would almost certainly be out on the streets trying to sell souvenirs, or begging, or collecting rubbish to sell to help support their families. Some have only one parent, others have parents who are HIV-positive, still others have been psychologically mistreated by the people around them. I don’t know L’s exact background but I do know she is a beautiful child who deserves a better future.

A Turkish woman in a head scarf
Iyi Bayramlar! That’s ‘Happy-end-of-Ramadam-day’ in Turkish and this photo was taken on that day, 30 September 2008. I was touring Turkey with a group of a dozen Australians and our wonderful tour guide, Recep. We were in Cappadocia, the land of deep underground cities, and houses and churches built in strange geological formations.

On this day we had climbed up the rock fortress above the town of Üçhisar to enjoy the incredible views. And, as this was the first of a three day holiday for the locals, they were also out in force enjoying the scenery. This woman had climbed the rock with her family. Like many Muslim Turkish women, she wore a long shapeless beige coat, which contrasted sharply with her bright, colourful headscarf.

A monk at Wat Bo
Wat means pagoda in Khmer and Wat Bo is the pagoda just down the road from the Globalteer guesthouse in Siem Reap. Marianne and I were walking into town one afternoon and stopped to explore the wat and its grounds, which are filled with the tombs of deceased monks and the houses of the living. Leaving our shoes at the door, we entered the gloomy interior of the pagoda to view the very old paintings on the interior walls and ceiling. These show scenes of various events in the life of Buddha and, despite their great age, are still bright and vibrant.

This young monk was chatting to another visitor when we arrived, then came to talk to us when the other visitor left. Keen to improve his English, he was happy to answer our questions about the pagoda and his life as a monk. He was also happy to pose for my photo before we left. I love his beautiful smile.

24 February 2011

My Nana Johno

Marie (pronounced MAree) Gordon Welsh was born on 28 August 1905 in Christchurch, New Zealand. Her father Matthew Welsh and her mother Jane Allen Gunn had married on 17 January 1899, in the house of Jane's parents, Daniel and Jane Grey Gunn. The marriage record shows Jane's occupation as tailoress and Matthew is listed as a plumber. Matthew's parents are shown as Matthew Welsh and Catherine Thompson, and his father's occupation is listed as Carpenter. Marie was named after her father's sister, Maria, who had married George Gordon. Both families were living in the same house in Christchurch when Marie was born.

Marie (second from right) with her siblings, c.1965
The occupation of her father is listed on Marie's birth certificate as plumber, though by the time she married in 1927 he had become a farmer. At some stage, perhaps around 1920 and possibly as part of a government land settlement scheme, the whole Welsh family moved north to the small settlement of Te Hoe in the Waikato. Marie remembered the family living in very primitive conditions, with her father having to build a small cottage to house the family and the children helping to clear the land for farming. She recalled that her mother used to buy cloth by the bolt, making dresses, shirts and short trousers for all the children from the same material. And as well as helping out on the farm, the girls helped with domestic chores, like milking the house cow, churning the butter and baking the bread.

Their land was leased, not freehold, and around July 1928, according to school records for the two youngest children, the family moved from Te Hoe to live in a large old villa in Ngaruawahia. The villa has since been demolished, but daughter Shona remembered that it was on the opposite side of the road to an old Maori grave site and had at least 6 bedrooms. Shona also remembered a family story of a royal visit to the Welsh family: sometime before her birth in 1933, one of King George's brothers, a Duke and his wife, were touring New Zealand and in the course of a river journey, they stopped to picnic on the bank of the Waikato river, at a small sand beach near the Welsh homestead. Some members of the Welsh family made themselves known to the royal party, and Shona recalled seeing a photo which recorded this meeting. Unfortunately, this photo has not been located, and neither the date of the royal tour, nor its members have yet been confirmed. It could all be a family folk tale!

In Ngaruawahia Matthew Welsh started a well-boring venture, and as the workload grew, his sons joined him in the business. One son, George, later branched out on his own, and another son, Matt, joined the army at the beginning of World War II. In later life Matthew and his wife Jane moved to Auckland to live with their daughter Agnes and her husband Charlie Watt. Jane suffered badly from diabetes mellitus for the last 20 years of her life and had several toes amputated because of the disease. She passed away on 9 October 1943 in Auckland Hospital, having suffered from acute heart failure and toxaemia for one week. Matthew died six years later on 5 September 1949 of broncho-pneumonia. They were buried together in the O'Neill's Point Cemetery, in Bayswater, Auckland.'

To return to Marie's story ... sometime before the family's move from Te Hoe to Ngaruawahia, perhaps in the late 1920s, Marie moved back to the South Island. And it was when she was working as a domestic servant at the Mt Peel homestead, in South Canterbury, that she met her future husband, Colin Martin (Dick) Johnstone, a shepherd. They were married on 5 October 1927 at the Registrar's Office in Geraldine. The bride was 22, two years older than her husband. Their marriage was the reason Dick and Marie moved from Mt Peel to Alfred Howes' property, Mt Nimrod, near Cave, as a reference from their employer, Mr Pringle, indicates that there was no married accommodation available at Mt Peel at that time.

Dick Johnstone, aged about 21
Marie Welsh, also aged about 21

Two references exist for the time Dick & Marie spent working as a married couple for Alfred Howes. One refers solely to Dick's employable qualities, but the other is a reference for them both, though Mr Howes admits to not having much opportunity to judge Marie's skills, due to the recent birth of her first child (son Stuart, born in 1928):

This is to state that C M Johnstone and his wife have worked for me for some time as married couple. I have found Johnstone a first class hand with sheep a good musterer and has good dogs. Although he has not done a great deal of general farm work he has done everything he has been asked to do well. He is straightforward and trustworthy and a willing worker. Owing to Mrs Johnstone being laid up with a small baby for some time I have not had the same chance of forming an opinion of her work but can say that she has done all that has been asked of her and done it well.
     Yours etc., Alfred H Howes, Mt Nimrod, Cave, 24/5/28.

From Cave the young family moved to Happy Valley, near Christchurch, though they only stayed there 15 months. Their second child, Colin, was born there, in 1929. Then, probably early in 1930, Dick and Marie and their two young sons moved north to Hamilton, in the North Island, possibly in search of work. They found it initially with the Holmes family, at a farm just north of Hamilton, and lived in a small worker's cottage on the Holmes's property. It was there in 1933 that their third child and only daughter, Shona, was born.

Dick, holding son Don, and son Colin
with Marie's brother Matt, c.1940
Late in 1933, when Shona was around 6 months old, they moved to a house on the Great South Road, on the northern side of the Waikato river at Ngaruawahia, and a couple of months later, in February 1934, Stuart started at Ngaruawahia School. His brother Colin joined him there in February 1935.

These were the difficult days of the Depression and work was hard to come by. In November and December 1936 Dick was working for Sampson Brothers in Ngaruawahia as a labourer. In February 1937 he may have applied for a new job somewhere, as two letters exist which appear to support an employment application.

In May 1938 Shona joined her brothers at Ngaruawahia School, and later that year her brother Donald was born. In August Dick made a successful application to NZ Railways for a job as a railway worker / shunter at Horotiu freezing works. At the end of 1941 Colin finished his primary school days and started training to be an electrician at Hamilton Technical College. His brother Stuart left school in December 1942 when his father found him work on a local farm. Shona left Ngaruawahia School in December 1946, and she also went to the Hamilton Technical College to train in business and secretarial skills.

Then, suddenly, on 2 February 1950, the lives of the Johnstone family were tragically disrupted. Dick came home early from work suffering from a severe headache, which gradually worsened as the day went on. The family doctor was called and Dick was rushed to Hamilton Hospital, but it was too late. Dick Johnstone died that night of a cerebral haemorrhage aged just 42 years old.

Shona left College and got a job to help support the now-fatherless family of five, who moved about this time to a state house. Once her youngest son Don had grown, Marie also worked. For many years she was an accounting machine operator, alongside her sister Hellen, at the NZ Co-op Dairy Company office in Hamilton, then after retiring from that job, did the office work at the Caltex Garage in Ngaruawahia. Around 1961, Marie moved from 35 Thomas Street to number 37, though number 35 stayed in the family, with her daughter Shona and son-in-law Ron Collins and their two children moving in there. 

Marie, 1953

Marie never drove, as far as I am aware, so to get from home to her job in Hamilton she used the bus. But when she worked at the Caltex Garage, she bicycled to work each day, a journey of about two miles, but along State Highway 1, through the busy township and over the perilously narrow Waikato River bridge. The ride never phased her, however, and indeed she once ran foul of the local traffic cop when she failed to stop for a young child at a pedestrian crossing in the centre of town. The traffic cop apparently told her she had been going too fast, but she told him that was rubbish, and that the child had just been mucking around at the edge of the road, and that kids often did that. Luckily the cop just gave her a warning, but from then on she could be teased with the nick-name 'Speedy Gonzales'.

Due to their close proximity, Marie spent a lot of time with her daughter and family. She would usually join them for any outings to visit relatives, or for a day at the beach, where she loved a long walk and a swim with her grandkids. I spent a lot of time with my 'Nana Johno', learning to knit, crotchet, tat and sew, as well as how to play euchre and poker! Marie would also join her sons and their families during their holidays at various beach baches around the Coromandel peninsula. The bays of the Thames coast attracted Stuart and Don and their families, and Marie also visited her son Colin and family at their bach at Whangamata. She even ventured abroad to visit Don and his family, when they lived in Fiji for a few years.

Marie (standing centre back) and her sisters on her 80th birthday
Marie was a fiercely independent woman, in part, no doubt, the result of having been widowed at a relatively young age. She was a long-time member of the New Zealand Labour Party, and the family received a letter of condolence when Marie died from then president Mike Moore. She used to attend race meetings with her sister, Hellen, and later in life operated a telephone account with the TAB for the odd bet on the horses. And she enjoyed her regular weeknights with friends at Housie and cards. She didn't particularly like cats or dogs, but for as long as I can remember, Nana Johno always had a pet budgie. They were usually called Johnny and always taught to say ‘Pretty boy, and usually a swear word or two!

In the late 1970s Marie moved from her Thomas Street home to a new one-bedroom unit in a small pensioner enclave in Ngaruawahia. But when all of her children moved away from Ngaruawahia in the late 1980s, there was no one to keep an eye on Marie, who was then nearly 86, so she moved into a retirement home in Hamilton. She died there some months later.

My Nana Johno was an amazing woman. This one's for you, Nana!

21 February 2011

Bust on the stump

Fred Bust, c.1898
My paternal great-great-grandfather Frederick Robert Bust (yes, Bust!) was born on 16 July 1846 in Hull, in the English country of Yorkshire, the third child and first son born to Robert Day Bust and Mary Mason. Fred’s older sisters were both born 12,000 miles away in Auckland, New Zealand, Eliza in 1842 and Mary Jane in 1843. Although he may not have known until much later in his life, Fred also had several step-brothers and sisters living just across the Humber estuary in Lincolnshire.

Fred’s father, Robert Day Bust, had been born in 1812 in Lincolnshire, in the small town of Winterton. The Bust family ancestors had farmed in various parts of Lincolnshire since the 16th century but little is known of Robert Bust’s life until, in June 1833 at St Peter’s in Barton on Humber, he married Harriett Woodall. In the following eleven years he and Harriett had seven children together.

It appears that Robert then abandoned Harriett and their children, and took up with Fred’s mother, Mary Mason. Whether this happened in England or whether Robert escaped his marital responsibilities by fleeing to the South Pacific and met Mary along the way, is unknown. It is also not known whether Robert Bust and Mary Mason ever officially married, though Mary is listed as Robert’s wife on the New Zealand birth records of their daughters Eliza and Mary.

Robert Bust arrived in Auckland in the early 1840s and set about earning his living as a farmer and a butcher. His name appears on the 1844 Auckland list of jurors and the Southern Cross newspaper of 12 August 1843 reports the arrival of the ship the Sisters from Hobart with cargo including ‘Leicester Ewes selected by Mr Bust’. The 11 March 1844 edition of the newspaper carries the following notice:

R. D. Bust, having commenced business as Butcher, in Queen-street, where he will keep a good supply of the best Beef, Mutton, and Pork, and pay great attention to cleanliness, respectfully solicits a share of public patronage. Shipping promptly supplied. A good supply of excellent Vegetables, fresh from the Garden; Butter, Eggs and Poultry, supplied on the shortest notice. 

For Robert and Mary Bust, and daughters Eliza and Mary Jane, life in Auckland was good, business was booming and prospects looked positive. Then, early in 1845, an attack by anti-government Maori on the Bay of Island's town of Kororareka (now Russell) led to unsettled times. Like many early settlers, Robert Bust believed there was a genuine threat to the safety of his family and his future business in Auckland, so he decided to return home. The Southern Cross of 8 March 1845 lists the Bust family among the passengers departing for Wellington on the barque Caledonia, and all four remained aboard when that ship departed for London, according to a report in the New Zealand Gazette dated 10 May 1845.

Unfortunately the good times did not last long for Robert Bust and Mary Mason following their return to England. First, the auctioneering partnership he’d set up was dissolved, then Mary died on 24 March 1849 at Reading in Berkshire, and the following year Robert’s auctioneering business in Reading went bankrupt. As Robert had three young children to care for, it seems hardly surprising that he very soon took up with partner number three, Harriett Dreweatt. Just over a year after Mary’s death, on 29 June 1850, they were married in the Holy Trinity Church at Ryde on the Isle of Wight. Almost immediately after their wedding, Robert, Harriett and his three children emigrated, aboard the James Gibb, this time to Australia, arriving in Melbourne late in 1850.

So, by the time he was just four years old, Fred Bust had lost his birth mother, gained a stepmother and moved half way round the world to Australia. There his father was involved in sheep farming and auctioneering, and Fred very soon had six more brothers and sisters to play with. During 1861–62 Fred’s father served as the first Town Clerk of the Melbourne suburb of Brighton, but he was not a success in the position, and this was probably the reason the family emigrated again, in 1863, this time settling in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Fred was then seventeen, and he assisted his father Robert in business as a butcher and auctioneer. Robert obviously had extensive knowledge of farming and animal husbandry as, in December 1863, he published a small book entitled New Zealand versus the World as a Long Wool Producing Country. The book contains ‘calculations, explanatory remarks and data’ by ‘a practical sheepbreeder of English and Colonial Experience’, and expressed Robert’s opinions of the most suitable grasses and sheep for New Zealand conditions. Local authorities were certainly impressed by his farming knowledge as, in 1864, they appointed him Market Inspector for the province of Otago, according to the Otago Provincial Government Gazette of 31 August.

Unfortunately the Bust auctioneering partnership went bankrupt in September 1866, so Fred tried his hand mining on the North Otago goldfields. That venture was also short-lived, and by the time he was 20 years of age Fred was back living in Oamaru. There he joined the Oamaru Rifles, and when he went to live in Auckland briefly around 1867–8, he was a member of the North Shore Volunteer Cavalry. He served in the militia at Tauranga in 1869, and apparently ‘had some lively experiences hunting Te Kooti and his head’. Fred later reported that he had been awarded the New Zealand War medal for his service during the Mohaki Massacre but, in fact, the Defence department had rejected his 1904 application, as too much had time had elapsed since the war to prove he had actually ‘served under fire’.

By the end of 1869 Fred had been discharged from the militia and returned to Dunedin, where in January the following year he married Jessie Naismith Hastie, daughter of Alexander Hastie and Margaret Hanna, settlers from Scotland. Fred remained in Dunedin until late 1874, then moved to Oamaru where he opened a butcher shop. He rejoined his old volunteer corps, the Oamaru Rifles, and was at this time a keen athlete and fine rifle shot. With his wife, he was also an active worker in the Baptist church of Otago Province during these years.

Caricatures of Fred from local newspapers

In 1883 Fred was declared bankrupt, but he must have secured other employment as the family remained in Oamaru until the beginning of 1886, when he and Jessie and their seven children moved to Whangarei. There Fred started another butchery business with Mr Harrison, one of his sister Eliza’s in-laws. Fred joined the local Rifle Volunteers, and again took an active part in the social and political events of the district.

By April 1887 though the Busts had moved again, this time to Auckland. Fred joined the local City Guards, and became a member of the Masonic fraternity, and it was during these years in Auckland that Fred came into public prominence. Like many New Zealanders who suffered during the depression of the 1880s, Fred recognised that workers needed to be united in their demands for better wages and conditions, so he joined the local Butchers’ Union. He rose quickly through the ranks, serving as secretary of the Auckland Journeyman Butchers’ Society during 1890–91 and as secretary of the Auckland Trades and Labour Council during the 1890 Maritime Strike. During these years he was frequently lampooned by the cartoonist in a local newspaper, the New Zealand Observer and Free Lance, as the illustrations here show.

Riding the tide of his public prominence, Fred sought nomination as a Labour Member of the House of Representatives in the 1890 general election, but he failed to secure enough votes. Soon afterwards, because of his knowledge of butchery, Fred worked with government minister William Rees on drafting legislation for the Slaughterhouse Act Amendment Act of 1891. However, when Rees subsequently recommended Fred for the newly created slaughterhouse inspector position, the deal was exposed by the Observer newspaper and Fred suffered much negative publicity. This public humiliation was probably the reason why he suddenly changed careers in 1892 and moved to the West Coast of the South Island to take up a position as prison warder at the Hokitika gaol.

Wellington Conciliation Board. At left: Fred Bust,
president of the Operatives Butchers' Union
By 1899 though Fred had returned from this self-imposed exile and was living in Wellington, where he was again involved in the meat industry. He served on the Wellington Trades Council and as secretary of the Wellington Butchers’ Union, though resigned from both positions in January 1901 on starting his own business. In 1904 he joined the New Zealand Veterans’ Association, and in 1906 unsuccessfully petitioned the Defence department for the award of a long service medal for his membership in the various provincial volunteer units; his service was not contiguous and amounted to less than the required number of years.

In 1907 the Bust family returned to Auckland, and Fred again became involved in the union movement. He served as secretary of the Auckland Slaughtermen’s Union until 1910, and was a fervent supporter of the move towards compulsory arbitration. As he wrote in an article in the Auckland Star in March 1907: ‘What we want as workers is industrial peace and finality, not peace at any price, but peace brought about by moral suasion, by fair, legal conciliation.’ He was an active member of the pro-arbitration Auckland and Suburban Local Bodies’ Labourers' Union, representing the union at the Court of Conciliation, helping to organise events like a fund-raising concert for the victims of 1914 Huntly Mine disaster, and serving as the Union’s vice president during 1913–14.

Ellerslie Municipal Band. Fred Bust is the elderly gent,
pictured at the extreme right
In 1912 at the age of 66 Fred gave up his career in the butchery business and became weighbridge master at Auckland City Council’s garbage destructor. He was elected to the Ellerslie Town Board for the 1915–17 term, and his last public effort was the establishment of the brass band for that district.

He died at his home in Ellerslie, on 7 March 1919, after a short illness. He had been a prominent leader of the Labour movement and a man of great energy and enthusiasm. As one of his granddaughters wrote soon after his death, ‘whatever he put his hand to, he did with all his might.’ Fred joined his wife and 2 children in the family plot at Purewa Cemetery, and left behind 3 sons, 5 daughters, 37 grandchildren, and 8 great-grandchildren.

19 February 2011

Horror on the high seas

Shielswood Farm
In December 2010 it was 147 years since my maternal great-great-grandparents arrived in New Zealand. James Johnstone was a shepherd at Shielswood Farm in the Scottish borders when he signed a contract with W.C. and A.P. Walker, the owners of a sheep station at remote Lake Heron in South Canterbury, New Zealand. James, his wife Mary and their four children, ranging in age from 9 years to 11 months, departed London on 25 July 1863 on the Brother’s Pride, a Canadian-built sailing ship just 180 feet long. The ship carried 371 people and, by all accounts, the four-and-a-half-month voyage was horrendous.

According to evidence presented at the provincial government enquiry in Christchurch in January 1864, sickness raged through the cramped and squalid conditions of the steerage deck, where most of the immigrants were housed, almost from the start of the voyage. When the immigrants were inspected at Gravesend, before leaving England, one child was found to be dangerously ill with scarlet fever and, though he was sent ashore, eight members of the family almost immediately fell sick with the disease, which then spread to the other passengers.

A few weeks later a large number of children developed typhoid, which many did not survive. The limited supply of rudimentary medical supplies was rapidly diminishing, so the ship’s captain decided to call in at Cape Town, South Africa, in mid-October for replenishment. Less than a week later, an even more virulent form of scarlet fever broke out on board, causing further deaths and misery. By the time the ship arrived in Lyttelton, New Zealand, 44 people had died, including the Johnstone’s youngest child John. It was the greatest number of fatalities of any immigrant ship to New Zealand and, to make matters worse, the passengers were quarantined in very primitive conditions until all signs of illness had abated.

At the enquiry passengers complained of filthy and overcrowded living spaces, of damp bedding due to leaking decks, of inadequate cooking facilities and a stagnant water supply, and of a drunken doctor, who apparently ignored some requests for treatment. Others complained of the stench of the pigs and sheep, allowed to roam the deck when their pens were being cleaned, and of at least seven dogs. Five of those dogs actually belonged to James Johnstone and had been smuggled aboard, but one passenger reported that his dogs were washed every morning – and what is a shepherd without his dogs?

Mary Miller Johnstone (nee Little)

James Johnstone

Though their relief at finally arriving in New Zealand must have been palpable, the Johnstone’s journey didn’t end with the ship’s arrival in Lyttelton. In his 1930s history of South Canterbury, author John Brown tells of correspondence from Margaret Hood, one of the Johnstone daughters. ‘She cannot remember coming off the ship at Lyttelton [she would have been five] but ... she remembers quite well the trip from Christchurch to Lake Heron in the bullock wagon driven by ‘Yankee Tom’, an old hand at the job. They got along all right over the Selwyn and the Rakaia [rivers – no bridges in those days], and stayed a night at Anthony Thompson’s boarding house ... [then] went straight on – camping out when they had to – till they reached the lake.’

Clent Hills Station

The Johnstone family didn’t stay long with Walker Brothers at Lake Heron, as the property was sold in 1866. James was offered the position of head shepherd and overseer at nearby Clent Hills Station, their home for the next thirteen years. The family lived a tough life in a one-room sod hut deep in the mountainous South Canterbury high country, where James and Mary went on to have another nine children. After leaving Clent Hills, the Johnstones bought their own farm, which James and his sons broke in. Mary passed away in 1901 and James finally died in 1915 at the age of 79. All of their children grew up to be successful citizens of their new country.

I can only admire the strength and tenacity of my pioneer ancestors!

12 February 2011

Getting knotted

I've always quite liked doing craftwork. When I was young, my nana Johno taught me to knit and crochet and tat, and I later taught myself to do macramé and embroidery and canvas work. I’m not one to sit around doing nothing so, for example, I prefer doing something with my hands while I'm watching television.

I don't do much craftwork these days, though in the winter, when my hands don't get too hot, I do still like to knit. I don't like simple patterns, preferring instead to knit complicated Fairisle-type patterns that I’ve put together myself from ideas gleaned from books, magazines and, these days, from the internet. I see a jumper I like, plot it out onto graph paper and go from there.

Last winter I finally finished a jumper I'd started the previous year (see picture), and started another that I’ll finish this year when the cooler weather comes again.

In the meantime, I've been enjoying making friendship bracelets. Those who regularly read these scribblings will recall that I taught myself how to make these in preparation for my last trip to Cambodia, thinking it would be something I could teach the children. In fact, the bracelet idea didn't go down as well with them as I'd hoped. They liked the bright colours of the embroidery cottons I took and did make their own simpler versions but only one or two had the patience to spend the hour or so it takes to make even the simplest friendship bracelets.

Many colour variations, plus a wider bookmark at the left
and two bracelets in progress at right
However, I found knotting the bright colours into complicated patterns very relaxing, and Marianne and a couple of other volunteers also enjoyed knotting away an hour here and there, so we left behind many friends wearing our bracelets. And I’m still wearing the one Marianne made for me.

I brought some cottons home with me and have continued my knotting some evenings. I haven’t ventured away from the more simple patterns as I find I can still make lovely creations just from varying the colours. I’m not sure what I’ll do with these bracelets but I figure they can also be used as bookmarks, so it may be that I'll gift them to the students in my morning class when we finish our FCE exam course in a few weeks’ time. They’re a lovely group and are all working hard so I think the bracelets/bookmarks will be a good reward for them and a nice reminder of our time together.

09 February 2011

Feeding my addiction

My name is Annie and I’m addicted to genealogy!

There’s no other way to describe it. Although I have tried to cure my addiction and I’ve been clean for as long as six months at a time, I just keep falling off the wagon. At times in the past, I have been a driven woman!

If someone sent me a new snippet of information, I had to follow up on it. If I learnt of a new website, I had to search it. If I came across a long lost relation, I had to contact them to find out everything they knew.

I’m sure this sounds like some kind of obsessive, compulsive behaviour and, no doubt, a shrink could attach a fancy label to it. But my addiction has produced many positive results. Spending all my spare time on genealogical research for two years, back in 2004 – 2005, resulted in two books, A Good Man with Dogs and A Good Scotch Shepherd, the second co-written with two cousins. I also now have a database containing over 12,000 names and more than 2gb of information, as well as 12 folders bulging with certificates, wills and other documents, and photos. I can state with almost absolute certainty that I am half English, 7/16ths Scottish and 1/16th Irish, and I can trace one branch of my father’s family back to great great great great great great great great great grandfather Thomas Bust who was farming in Lincolnshire, in England, at the turn of the 17th century.

For the last five years I’ve been too busy doing other things to spend much time on genealogy but, from time to time, I still need to feed my addiction. Like last weekend. When the distant cousin who bought my last copy of A Good Scotch Shepherd sent me some additional details about her branch of my maternal grandfather’s family, I had to update my database. In the process of doing that I noticed I didn’t have the death details for her grandparents, so then I had to check to see whether the town where they had lived had digitised its cemetery records. And then, when I located the cemetery database online, I had to check it for all my other relations who had lived in that town.

Two hours later, I had a sore back and scratchy eyes … ah, but I also had the delicious buzz of satisfaction that came from having added about 60 new pieces of information to my database. I almost … almost started searching for more cemetery databases, but I managed to stop myself … just. It was difficult but over the years I have managed to get some control over my addiction.

But, right now, I just have one small thing I absolutely must check …