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NEWSHAM PAGE INDEXMary Louisa Lethbridge

Mary Louisa Lethbridge was the eldest daughter of Richard and Louisa and her Baptism took place on 14 Sep 1828 at UGBOROUGH, DEVON, ENGLAND. At age 13, she would have assisted her mother with the younger sisters on the long voyage to NZ in 1841.

During those first difficult years, the Lethbridge family worked hard to establish itself -the axe reigned supreme to carve a farm from bush and Taranaki Maori were employed in the building of settler's homes using local materials to gain shelter from the elements. The walls and roof were thatched with raupo.

Today, our modern kitchen is basically for food preparation - it is equipped with a stove, a sink and bench surface for cleaning food, meal preparation and for washing dishes and we may be aided by a dishmaster and possibly a wastemaster. It's layout includes a convenient and adequate supply of food storage and equipment cupboards and drawers with refrigerator and freezing capability.

Immigrants for Taranaki were advised to bring a camp oven, a set of three legged iron pots along with other essential utensils, strong earthenware and a medicine chest and with only very primitive kitchen facilities pioneer women worked from daylight till dark preparing meals and ensuring the comfort of their families.

The chimney was often built as a lean-to against the side or the back wall of the building because of the danger of fire. The most important room in the house was the kitchen serving as the only social centre for entertaining family and friends around a large table and the open fire in the hearth was the main source of heating and cooking. It was sometimes was set in an inglenook that shielded the family from the draughts as they sat by the fire at night in the room lit by it's flickering flames and candlelight and lamp.

The housewife would knit, spin or sew while keeping an eye on her cooking and small children.  The iron colonial oven, pots and kettles were heavy and a strong iron bracket with an arm that projected from the side of the fireplace was called a swey. An arrangement of hooks allowed it to support the cooking vessels at different levels, including the iron girdle (griddle) on which scones and oatcakes were baked over a banked open fire. The local blacksmith would make a swey and also the long iron cooking spoons and forks that made it possible for the cook to stir a stew or turn a roast hand operated roasting spit without burning herself. Saucepan handles were hollow  but still hot to hold and protection of hands was needed. Few homes before 1870 had the luxury of a caste iron stove fueled by wood or coal and the capacity to supply a few gallons of hot water. Water might be brought from a creek, winched from a well or from a water butt - a barrel that collected rainwater from the roof, and shortage meant that the whole family would conserve by sharing the bath water .

Washing for a house full of people was an endless chore, filling basins with hot water and men coming in from work would wash up in the lean-to or verandah in a basin kept for the purpose.

Older family members in the nineteenth century washed themselves in the privacy of their bedroom using a large jug and basin but children would bath in front of the fire in a large galvanised tub which served duel use as it was also used outside for laundering clothes. Outside an iron boiler filled with water sat on large stones and was heated by a fire lit beneath and a tub was used with a washboard. Sometimes women would take clothing to a river to save carrying the water needed. If the home had a washhouse, it was usually a separate building at the back of the house where heavily soiled clothes were soaked on Sunday. Early Monday morning sorting into sheets and linen, muslins and fine things together and cotton and woollens was done while the water heated and were boiled in soapy water agitated with a stick or a ‘dolly’ before being rinsed in the tub then wrung out by hand or mangle and pegged outside to dry. The water was not wasted but tipped onto the garden. Bad weather saw garments draped on a wooden clothes horse and pulled by roped pulleys close to the ceiling out of the way to dry above in the kitchen .

Store bought soap was expensive so most women made their own soap out of washing soda, quick lime and animal fat. Six pounds of soda was boiled with three pounds of lime in three gallons of water for two hours. The sediment was poured off, the fat was added and the mixture boiled for another one and a half hours. This mixture was tipped into long wooden moulds to make bar soap which was shaved (flaked) The left over ends were kept in a wire basket on the end of a handle which could be swished round in the basin  water to provide a lather in hot water from the kettle to wash dishes.

Tuesday, ironing day! There were 3 types of irons in the nineteenth century - one had a hollow box with a lift up door in which a slug of hot caste iron was heated in the fire grate and slipped into the iron with tongs, the second also had a hollow box which hot coals from the fire were inserted and bellow pumped air in to raise the temperature and the third, the most commonly used, sad-irons (sad means heavy) made of solid caste iron which came in different sizes and were heated on a stove or iron plate on the fire (it was not till 1871 that Mrs Pots invented a removable clip-on wooden handle so the handle did not get hot to handle and this could be clipped to another while the first was  put back to reheat - a trivet was needed to stand the hot iron. If the iron had been in contact with fire it was cleaned first on paper to avoid marking the clothes and elaborate frills and tucks starched and ironed with care.

The fire in the hearth was banked overnight and in morning reset, the spent ashes removed and the kettle put on for tea and morning wash -  this made for warmth in winter but was stiffling in summer.  The homemade candles were lit with the aid of a tinderbox which was made up of a piece of steel, a flint, and some very dry shredded cotton cloth. The steel was struck sharply on the flint, and with luck a spark fell on the dry cloth, which set it smoldering, and you blew on it. When the tinder was alight, a match made out of a sliver of wood with one end dipped in sulphur was set alight, and you lit your candle or lamp or fire from this match. Candles were made of a combination of mutton fat, pig fat and beeswax using a candle mould, or by the hand dipping method. Candlewick could be bought by the ball, or made from thin strips of plaited cotton cloth. The hand dipping method of candle making was slow and laborious - the fat had to be allowed to set on the wick between each dipping. Candles were stored away from rats and mice, who liked their taste and often gave off a foul smell.  Slush lamps were used - made from a tin filled with melted fat, fish oil, or shark oil. As the fat hardened, a hole was made for a wick, which was usually a piece of rag. These gave limited light and gave off a fair amount of smoke and an offensive smell, particularly if fish or shark oil was used.

Food preparation to feed the expanding family and stream of house guests meant constant chopping, weighing, mixing, blending and beating (the egg beater was not patented until 1873) and food was flavoured with home grown herbs. Meat and fish was smoked, dried or salted to preserve it and fruit made into jams and chutneys. Meat would keep fresh for a week and was hung in a safe  hoisted often in a tree with a rope and pulley to keep cool and away from insects  and rodents.

The housewife would knit, spin, mend or sew in the kitchen while keeping an eye on her cooking and small children.  important was the iron colonial oven - a long narrow iron box that was set in a fireplace. It was raised off the hearth and fire could be lit on top and under it. Pots and kettles were heavy and a strong iron bracket with an arm that projected from the side of the fireplace was called a swey allowed an arrangement of hooks to support the cooking vessels at different levels, including the a scotch girdle or griddle, which was a heavy flat piece of cast iron, circular in shape, and with a handle curving over the top on which scones and oatcakes were baked. The swey could be made easily by the local blacksmith and long iron cooking spoons and forks made it possible for the cook not to burn herself as she stirred a stew or turned a roast on a hand operated roasting spit with it's pan set below to catch the juices to be used for gravy. Saucepan handles if made hollow were cooler to handle. Few homes before 1870  had the luxury of a caste iron stove fueled by wood or coal with the capacity to supply a few gallans of hot water. However, with water having to be brought from a creek, winched from a well or brought from a barrel capturing water from the roof, a shortage meant that the whole family would share the bath water and bad weather meant wet clothes were dried in the kitchen as well.

There was the cow to be milked and milk was put settling pans for skimming the cream to churn to make butter which was kept in an earthenware pot placed in water to keep it cool. The fresh butter had salt added to suit taste - about half-an-ounce of salt to one pound of butter; but for keeping any length of time one pound of fine salt was well mixed into twelve or fourteen pounds of butter,and after being left for left a few hours for the salt to dissolve, thoroughly worked again and stored in a canvas lined wooded keg. It provided additional income for pioneers selling for 4 to 6d a lb. A ready supply of wood was needed daily and home-made bread was baked twice a week in the camp oven.

Fresh meat came off the farm and if a pig was killed, it meant more work for the women when brawn had to be made. The bacon was cured by dry-salting, then the meat was hung in a smokehouse and fruit made into jams or chutneys. When there was poultry for the meal, the feathers were carefully saved in bags until there was enough to make a pillow.
Dust from the hooves and carts that passed by and ash blown from bush firings, settled everywhere and the wooden floors needed sweeping with brooms, scrubbing brushes, and cleaning rags using Borax and caustic soda.

The toilet was placed away from the house - a long-drop hole and a chamber pot was  placed under the bed for night time need - children shared beds.

Clothes to mend, lessons supervise - schools had only one teacher where the children would vary in age from 4 to 14 years

 This busy life of Mary Newsham was threatened in March 1860 when Omata became the centre of the outbreak of war. Homes were lost and families were sent to New Plymouth for safety.  News spread of the outbreak and on the 21st of the month, at a crowded public meeting at Nelson it was resolved to offer asylum to the Taranaki women and children and a huge evacuation began when the government had grave concerns that the overcrowded town would be attacked.   For months, the refugees continued to arrive and were received into private families among then Mary with her nine children aged from eleven years to 6 month Alfred, a babe in arms It became eveident there were too many to be kept in the town, the country people came forward and the Newshams were accommodated at Richmond where the children attended the school. In Nelson the Oddfellows gave up their large hall and buildings without charge and cottages were built for the refugees and a school for their children. The funds were found partly by subscription in Nelson but mainly by money voted by the Provincial Council. Contributions were also received from other parts of New Zealand and from Australia. At the close of 1860, it was estimated that there were between 1100 or 1200 Taranaki settlers in Nelson. (Source Lucas Almanac Nelson 1902)

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