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An Old Kiwi Reminiscence
Though I have read and enjoyed many books of memoirs, the thought of writing one myself never occurred to me, but lately my grandsonís wife persuaded me that it was my duty to record what I could remember of the history of the Grierson family of Auckland, (of whom I am the oldest member) for the sake of the interest it would hold for the younger generation. So now as I am nearing the age of 90 and time is running short, I am going to make an attempt to set down any points in our family history that I feel are worth recalling.
My father John Cresswell Grierson was born in Cheshire north England, and lived there until early manhood, and was educated at a school called "Queenswood" in the South of England, as my grandfather did not like the northern dialect and wished his sons to lose it as soon as possible. The school must have been a good one as my father had a very sound all-round education and spoke English with no dialect. Evidently he had an adventurous spirit, for he decided to come to a new country, to try his luck at farming. He sailed to New Zealand in the ship "Sam Mendel", the voyage taking the usual months. Soon after his arrival he bought land at Rangiahia which he farmed for a few years, part of the time with an older brother James who had followed him out to New Zealand. He sold out the first farm after he met my mother and they decided to marry in 1883.
Mother was one of the seven daughters of Mr Tom Finch and his wife Jane who was proprietor of the hotel in Alexandra, later called Pirongia. After their marriage father bought another farm which he called "Queenswood" after his old school, and there I was born in 1884 and later two other members of our family Hugh and Charles. We lived on and enjoyed a happy life there till father injured a knee by knocking it repeatedly with a gun when he was breaking it open. This led to a splintered bone and very serious swelling and trouble. He went to Auckland to a surgeon who said the only procedure was to amputate the leg. This was something my father, who had been an athlete and valued his mobility, could not face. So his family in England gave him some financial help and he went to his old home and consulted the best surgeon in Manchester, who operated and saved the leg. But it remained stiff for the rest of his life, and made the active life of farming too strenuous even for a strong man like my father and his health suffered so badly that he had to make what to him was a heartbreaking decision; to abandon country life and try for lighter employment in a town.
During his absence in England my mother had managed the farm with the help of a well meaning but rather helpless Irishman, but they contrived to keep things going. This was due to the fact that mother was a remarkably able woman, of the true pioneering type. She was born in Howick and lived in New Zealand all her ninety four years. Though I think she would like to have travelled I never heard her complain that she had not done so. Indeed she lived such a full and busy life that I donít think she had time to think about missing travel.
Our family numbered nine; three daughters and six sons, I being the eldest Ė now alas there are only three left, my sister May and I and my brother Max. After leaving their farm "Queenwood" my parents with their three children came to Auckland to live, and there my father in his search for a worth-while job had to take numerous stop-gap jobs to keep the pot boiling. He at last obtained a position in MacArthurís warehouse where he held a position for some years until a slump hit Auckland and MacArthurís warehouse had to close and the whole staff lost their jobs. Then began another hunt for work and my father after many changes at last became Secretary for the A.C.T. Building Society, which position he held till near the end of this life.
During all these years of struggle my fatherís optimistic spirit might have faded him somewhat, had it not been for my motherís unfailing and cheerful help. Besides caring for her growing family she undertook every kind of housekeeping work, making bread and butter, soap and candles and even wine! As one American friend once said of her, "Mrs Grierson can do most anything". Even after settling for a town life my father still kept his love of the land and bought a small farm at Rewiti where he ran cattle and later sold this and bought 2,000 acres at Glorit beyond Helensville. This he proceeded to reclaim with stop-banks and employed a Dalmatian who was skilled at the work. Here he was ahead of his time in his thinking, and the work would have been successful, but he had a mortgage on the property and the owners foreclosed so that father lost everything. This was a severe blow and really caused his health to suffer and led to the stroke which ended his life in 1933 at the age of 76.
I think the two great interests of his life besides his love of his family, were love of the land and of the game of chess. This was fatherís relaxation and he played regular games with different friends, besides belonging to the Auckland Chess Club for years where he was many times champion, he once won the championship of New Zealand. A happy picture still comes to me of father with his small chess board on his knee studying openings late in the evening after a hard and a long dayís work. During the years we lived in Auckland we moved from house to house until father bought three acres of land in Epsom Ave, Longmead, and there built a house of 14 rooms to comfortably house his large family. For this my brother Hugh was the architect working at that time in the firm of Mitchell & Watt. Here we had a spacious vegetable and fruit garden and a tennis court where large parties of family and their friends played at most weekends.
Longmead too had a varied number of uses since it was sold, and is now part of the Auckland Training College, but it will eventually be replaced by a more modern and larger building. I did not live long at this home as I was lucky enough to be sent by my father on a yearís holiday in England in 1908, soon after Longmead in Epsom Ave was built, and on my return in 1909 I was married to Alan Gray and left home. But this did not mean that the parting was for long as my parents included us, and later us with our two daughters in all their doings and as a matter of course in every holiday wherever taken! As one grows older what was almost taken for granted in ones young days begins to be seen in true perspective, and I now thank heaven for our wonderful parents, who so unselfishly helped us on our way in life.
My sister May married Frank Whittome a great friend of my husband, and they lived in Auckland too within easy reach of our old home at Longmead, so we have always kept in close touch with each other and her three daughters and my two have been very close cousins. My youngest sister Beatrice did not marry, but was beloved by every member of the family and was interested in the doings of all. She died at the age of 70 mourned by us all as well as by a host of friends. She could ill be spared. All our family lived in Auckland for most of their lives and the men were very successful in their different careers. After leaving his farm in 1890 my father brought us all to Auckland, and my schooling was a very unorthodox one, as I went first to a school run by two ladies the Misses McKay, for several years, going on later to Mt Eden public school into standard 2 and staying there till standard 5, when at the age of eleven I won a John Williamson scholarship which took me to the old Grammar School in Symonds Street, and there I remained from 1895 Ė 1902. At that time there were boys as well as girls in the school and I was extremely lucky in being taught by a wonderful staff, mostly men under the famous Head J.W.Tibbs.
After leaving school I of course lived at home with my parents, as was the usual custom at that time. It was before the day of careers for girls, and mothers with large families felt that a daughter should be helping with the younger children. But after I met Alan Gray and became engaged my father thought he would like me to pay a visit to his family in England, because he knew that it would probably be many years before a young couple could afford such a trip themselves. So in 1908 I set out in some trepidation on what at that time was rather an unusual thing for a girl to do alone. Then there was no main trunk railway and most of the New Zealand Shipping Companyís ships left from Wellington for England. So I left Auckland on a coastal vessel calling at Napier on the trip to Wellington. I remember that it was very rough in Cook Strait and I felt very sick, but I was met there by an old friend of my motherís with whom I stayed until the old "Rimutaka" sailed. At the time I did not feel any surprise at learning that her tonnage was three thousand odd Ė today I should prefer something a bit bigger. But she was a steady ship, and of course carried a large cargo of frozen meat. The voyage was interesting to me who had never before been far from Auckland. Today the fact that we did not call at a port for three weeks until Monte Video, would horrify most people. But in that time we went far enough South to be in the ice area and we actually passed one huge iceberg at fairly close quarters and a magnificent sight it was! During the time we were in this dangerous zone our Captain the famous Captain Greenstreet, never left the bridge. He was most popular with passengers as he always tried to show them anything of interest. This was before the Panama Canal existed so that our ship rounded Cape Horn, and strangely enough instead of the huge seas we had been told of, we were treated to water as calm as a millpond! But most passengers got up to see the tip of South America although it was at four in the morning. After all there had not been much to watch except flying fish and seagulls for the last two weeks before this.
As we lay in the harbour at Monte Video we experienced the most terrific thunderstorm I have ever known in my life. This was disappointing as we were going ashore here for a few hours and it was our first port of call. Some of the more nervous passengers were reduced to tears and some to praying for help. But it passed over and we went ashore in tropical rain and had a look at a not very interesting place at all. Most of it I have forgotten but I do remember one rather tawdry Catholic church we visited. Monte Video is at the mouth of the Rio de la Plata and is the port for Buenos Aires, but this city of course we did not see as it lies further up the river. On this voyage we were lucky enough to visit Rio de Janeiro as our next port, this being called at by New Zealand Company boats only once in so many voyages. This was a most beautiful sight then, before there were any of the huge skyscraper buildings that now crowd its shores. Then there were pretty little houses painted in pastel shades all along the bay, and the flowering tropical trees lined the streets and made Rio a joy to behold. When our ship berthed a fleet of small boats crowded round her, filled with chattering natives trying to sell their wares and to take the passengers ashore. Of course everybody went ashore and did any arranged sightseeing possible. But the trip up Corcooado Mountain which should have been the most rewarding was a failure and our party missed entirely as the man we had paid our money to proved a thief and decamped with all our money. But the memory of that day in Rio will always be a vivid one.
At that time the voyage to England occupied six weeks, and the only other port we visited was Teneriffe in the Canary Islands. This island when seen from a distance looks like Mount Egmont rising out of the sea, as the island is mostly the snow capped mountain with a very little level ground at its base, and masses of cultivated terraces up the sides of the mountain. We spent a few hours here, but there was not much of interest. I remember flocks of goats from which the people got their milk and butter. On the terraces they grew vegetables and some vines for wine making. After leaving Teneriffe we had no more calls till we reached Southampton.
It was a great thrill to get my first sight of the coasts of old England, and I was met by an aunt and uncle who took me for my first night to the Hotel Metropole near Trafalgar Square, and next day for a drive round the parks of London looking very lovely with all the spring flowers in bloom. From there we left by train for their home in Preston in Lancashire, where I spent the first weeks of my time in England. My next visit was to another uncle who lived in Bolton; both uncles being mill-owners and so obliged to live in the industrial part of North England. But both homes I stayed in were very beautiful places with acres of garden and orchard round them, so that life was very pleasant. But at that time most people in England did not indulge in much travel so that they did not understand that a girl who had come all those thousands of miles to see the old world, was not content to stay playing croquet or tennis day after day instead of moving round all the wonderful spots of interest within easy reach. As I had crossed the world alone I should have gone on arranging trips for myself, but it was not considered at all right in those days for a girl to travel round England alone, and nobody suggested going with me. So my fatherís hopes were rather disappointed, and I did not do nearly enough sightseeing in the year I spent in England. However, I did not miss out altogether as I spent a few very pleasant days at Windermere in the Lake District, and a very rewarding week near York, and loved my visit to York Minster and the splendid old walls. I spent a very happy spell too with my fatherís sister and her husband who lived at "Lytham by the Sea" a seaside place near Blackpool, but a much quieter pleasanter little town.
My aunt was a very interesting woman who was gifted in many ways, and had been a very good soprano in her young days and had actually sung solos with a big Manchester choir in the "Messiah". When we met she had suffered a slight stroke and was terribly limited in her activities. Her husband worked in a bank but was a very clever artist, and so spent all his spare time painting. During my time with this aunt I had a quiet time, but we went regularly to hear the performers on the Pier, and a wonderfully clever lot of artists they were, for during the off season in London many first class artists spent their time entertaining in the different sea-side towns, and drew quite big crowds, so that I suppose it paid them well. I can still remember some of the songs I heard there, sixty odd years ago! After my spell in Lytham I moved to an aunt and uncle in Southampton and from there went to the Isle of Wight for one day.
I forgot to mention that while at Lytham my uncle took me to see Blackpool on the Whit Monday holiday, and this was a strange sight to a New Zealander. Crowded trains pouring out families bent on a visit to the beach, and then the beach so packed with people that they could scarcely move. Then too the cold wind blew so hard that many poor souls dug holes in the sand and sat at the bottom of them to keep warm! This was a sad sight to one who had been used to our gorgeous beaches here on both East and West Coasts, and at that time 1908 one could often find a whole beach to oneself. Had I gone to Cornwall I suppose I would have seen some beautiful quiet spots at the seaside there, but I did not have that luck; although I did stay for a short time with relatives of my husband, at Plymouth, and with others at Oakhill a little place near Bath. From there I visited Wells Cathedral, a very lovely one surrounded by a moat in which swans swam. I was told that the swans rang a bell on the waterís edge but I did not see this happen. The clock outside the Cathedral is a very famous one, with figures which rotate and kick to sound the hour. One of my pleasantest memories of England is a day I spent in Bath where I was shown everything of interest by a cousin of Alanís who loved the place. It is a very lovely old city with masses of fine old trees, and the terraces of old houses are very striking and in a wonderful state of preservation though hundreds of years old. I went to a lunch time concert in the old Pump Room hall in the old Roman bathhouse, which was interesting and enjoyable. The day I spent in the lovely city of Bath is still one of my most cherished memories of England after more than sixty years.
When I returned to New Zealand I came by the same ship the Rimutaka, the voyage being via Cape Town, Tasmania, the first call was Teneriffe again. I had left with a nasty dose of influenza, but by the time we reached Teneriffe the trouble had completely disappeared with the sea air and warmth. So in neither voyage did we touch on Australia and it was many years later that I at 78 years of age I went on a world tour and had a look at the Australian ports spending five days in Sydney and a day each in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. When our ship reached Wellington in early 1909, the Main Trunk line was completed and I had the experience of travelling back by rail to Auckland.
My return was in April 1909, having been away for thirteen months, and in August of that year I was married. We rented a house in Owensí Rd for a few months while our new home was being built in Kingsview Rd, Mount Eden. Here we spent forty years of happy life, until Alan was taken ill and had a stroke in 1952 Ė when we had the move to a flat in St Andrews Rd where I still live. This is attached to my daughter Helenís home and Alan and I shared this until his death in 1954, and where from then on I have lived, so that I have not had the lonely time that falls to so many widows. I have been extremely lucky. Looking back I feel too that my lot has been a happy one.
The Grays and Griersons shared one thing in common in that they both firmly believed in the necessity of taking a good annual holiday, and never a year went by without the family going away somewhere for a real break in the daily routine. The Grays, before we knew each other, had their regular spell at a lovely beach across the harbour. The Griersons chose Waiwera, where as children we had many lovely times staying in one of the cottages near the old Waiwera Hotel and having special treatment from the hotel staff, in the way of having our roasts cooked in the hotel kitchen, a great help to my busy mother with her big family and the many extra cousins and friends she always gathered round her on holiday. Anyway we had wonderful times at Waiwera where the thermal pool was an added attraction, and my father made the holiday more interesting by having a launch and taking us for trips to Puhoi and up the river to Upper Waiwera and one day to Mahurangi Heads. Of course there was daily sea bathing and my brothers had fishing any time they wished.
One year there was a sad undertone to our holiday as it was just after the wreck of the "Wairarapa" and people were searching the coast line for possible drowned, and when anything, even a log was seen, the launch was put about to investigate. Even this did not depress us too much as we were too young at the time for anything to mar our enjoyment. Later on my father built a small house at Kohimarama Beach, a very different place at that time, with no public water front drive. The house was right near the edge of the beach itself, and there were not many other houses there. We had stayed there in tents one year before the house was built. We drove down in our pony trap, and took a whole menagerie with us, the boys driving our cow and we taking fowls in the trap, so that we were pretty well fixed for catering for the monthís duration. There was a paddock behind the beach where we were able to graze our animals.
On one occasion our cow wandered from the paddock and helped herself to a sack of peas at the door of the one store there. My father paid for the peas but when it happened a second time he disputed over the cost as he said the owner should not have put the peas in the same place again! I donít remember the outcome. Later when Kohimarama became too populated we went further afield, but the old beach house still stands firm and sound near the busy highway Ė Tamaki Drive on the water front. It was designed by my brother Hugh and built of good solid timber, probably Kauri, in the days when such materials were taken for granted. After my father bought farms in the Helensville district, we all had wonderful holidays in that district, some at Rewiti and more at Glorit. After my marriage we sometimes took the children on holidays of our own at spots round the Waitemata Harbour and had good restful spells at Onetangi on Waiheke Island and one or two at the quaint little bay at Howick.
On looking back over forty years of my life so much time was spent on holiday that I feel some people might well ask "was there any time for mere work?" Yet I assure you there was plenty of hard work too. Very much later I was lucky enough to go for an unforgettable tour of the South Island with a happy little party of six, my husband and I, my sister May and her husband Frank and my sister Beatrice and a friend of the family a Mrs Lamb. We went in March the best month for a South Island trip, and travelled everywhere by service car, our bookings at hotels and in the cars made ahead by my husband. Everything worked perfectly and the weather for the whole three weeks was unbelievably good. The scenery was eye opener to me who had never been south of Wellington before, in spite of my trip to England in 1908. Since then I had a monthís glorious experience of camping with my daughters, their husbands and children, again in perfect weather in the spectacular South Island of New Zealand. This time being at a fairly advanced age, I had been rather nervous about how I would adjust to camping but found I was wonderfully comfortable and disturbed in my rest for a moment of the glorious month.
Many people who have made several visits to Mount Cook bemoan the fact that the mountain has never appeared from the cloud during their stay. But I was lucky enough to have a splendid view on both occasions when I happened to be there. My second visit to the South Island was during the annual Christmas holidays and of course we took cars and luggage on the Interisland Ferry. Before the days of driving cars on board, they still had to be stowed on the ferry. We stayed at various public camping grounds; the first at Lake Tekapo where the blue colour of the icy water was the most vivid I ever remember. We saw the most glorious picture of Russell Lupins in huge masses under the trees around the lake, a site never to be forgotten in its magnificence of colour. The only booking we had made for the whole holiday was for lunch at the Mount Cook Hotel on Christmas Day. This was a wonderful meal that served well for our Christmas dinner and was a highlight of the trip.
Writer - Barbara Gray (nee Grierson)
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