Monday, 23 September 2019

Unlocking Their Story - glimpses Coromandel family history- Part I

Compiled 2014 for a lecture Heritage Week Thames  - Unlocking Their Story - glimpses Coromandel family history- Part I

Many families came to the Coromandel Peninsula for many reasons. Some for gold mining, timber processing or kauri gum digging. Some for farming. Then there were other occupations born out of those industries -  to provide machinery, goods  or services. Banking, stock broking, journalism, book selling, shipping, railway and tramway construction, cement, providing of food stuffs, tools for extracting gold , timber or gum, hardware merchants.

Family members came - some for a short time; some settled in what are small towns or places around the Coromandel Peninsula. Their occupations very much a part of the community they lived in - whether it be the timber milling of  Tairua and Whitianga, the gold mining and banking at Thames, or the farming at Coromandel. Today relics of those occupations remind us of a history of our past and provide an attraction for tourists the world over. Also including our own domestic tourists. 

Typical of any family history are those members who died of illness, accident or just plain old age. Typical are the cemeteries where they were buried. The local council - Thames Coromandel District Council  has an online cemetery search which includes the cemeteries of the Coromandel Peninsula.  The Treasury ( The Coromandel Heritage Trust ) - a purpose built Archive in a former Carnegie Library - also has very extensive written photographs and stories. The blog spot  Thames NZ Genealogy and History  also provides a wealth of information and photographs of the Thames cemeteries.

All these databases are  well used by those around the world doing their family history and genealogy. Geneology tourism bring a number to the Coromandel - genealogy tourists travel to the land of their ancestors to reconnect with their past and "walk in the footsteps of their ancestors “

Two such records I searched for in cemetery records were the sons of Thomas Leitch Murray and his wife Sophia Hooper ( nee Holmden) - buried at Tararu cemetery.

Thomas Leith Murray was sent to Thames, not long after the Thames Goldfields opened in 1869, as a bank agent.  In February 1869 the Grahamstown Branch of Bank New Zealand   was opened. This branch became very busy, being near many of the lucrative goldmines - amongst them the Caledonian Goldmining Company ( Thomas Russell, a director of this goldmine was also a provisional founding trustee of the Bank New Zealand in 1861) The Grahamstown branch was involved with gold buying, assaying and arranging shipments of gold from Thames. Henry Thomson Gorrie spent a short time at the bank AKA BNZ in the early 1870s as a clerk, learning the trade of gold buying, before being sent to the Westland Goldfields on the West Coast South Island.

In 1881 a new bank building was opened on the corner of Brown and Queen Street in Grahamstown and known as the Bank of New Zealand, Thames. Typical of bank managers of the era, Murray and his family lived on the premises and were an integral part of the Thames community via church, school and the volunteer militia.  Thomas Leitch Murray was manager of this branch of the BNZ for almost twenty five years, before being transferred to Dunedin and then Auckland.

The volunteer militia was the other passion of Thomas Leitch Murray. Rising to Captain of the Thames Scottish rifles in 1872; he progressed to major and on to Lieutenant Colonel.

Sophia was a founding member of the Thames Baptist Church in 1869, putting much energy into the fund raising activities. 

Sophia and Thomas Leitch Murray saw the marriage of their daughter Jessie to 
John Stewart at the Thames Baptist Church where they had long worshipped.

The occasion of this wedding marked a connection for four families and the marriage of the eldest son of the late Andrew Stewart – John W Stewart to Jessie M Murray – daughter of Thomas Leitch Murray “ A large wedding party ” us cousins of 2011 , noted as we poured over the newspaper article which listed the six bridesmaids in all and familiar family names – the two Annies - Murray and Stewart, Effie Murray and sisters of the groom – Florence, Nellie and Beta (Agnes Beatrice ) Family name connections in the four groomsmen Messrs William F Stewart, Robert L  Stewart, William H  Didsbury and Leslie G  Murray. Yes this Thames wedding must have been an exciting and a fun family occasion. One that had Andrew Stewart still been alive would have been a definite on his list to be there.

Typical of the many marriages held in the various Thames and other Coromandel Peninsula  churches. Ones where families of the communities were linked together by the weddings held. 

Jessie Murray a former and foundation pupil of Thames Highschool, learned singing from Dr. Payne's wife and took part in many musical events which raised money for the Thames charities. Jessie continued singing throughout her life and returned to Thames from time to time to share her music skills .

Andrew Stewart, father of John W Stewart, died in 1889 - just two years before the marriage of his son to Jessie M Murray.  Although Andrew Stewart lived in Auckland and not the Coromandel, there were regular visits, amongst them a steamer trip - Rotomahana -  with his brother James to the starting of the new Mercury Bay sawmill at Whitianga in 1883. This enterprise was the project of the Mercury Bay Timber Company - one of the provisional directors being John Buchanan who had been in partnership on Queens Wharf - Buchanan and Stewart - January 1962 to September 1869. Merchants, shipping agents and brokers, all manner of goods and products were imported , exported and negotiated . 

Stewart was to continue as a merchant and broker  forming  a partnership with Richard Garlick - Messrs Stewart and Garlick -  who were negotiating brokers for the giant Kauri Timber Company Limited in 1888 - not many months before Andrew died. The Kauri Timber Company acquired the sawmills at Port Charles, Kennedy's Bay, Whangapoua , Tairua, Whitianga - Mercury Bay Sawmill Company and Schappe and Ansenne's - along with the Shortland Sawmill at Thames.

Andrew Stewart's nephew, William John Gorrie, also worked in the timber industry. Gorrie was firstly clerk of the mill from 1883, then bush manager in 1887 for the Union Steam Saw, Moulding ,Sash and Door Company, Tairua.There followed a short spell as temporary manager in 1888 just before the giant NZ Kauri Timber Company took over and William John went on to live in Australia.

It was reported by newspapers in 1887  that W J Gorrie of Tairua County, Thames, was appointed a Justice of Peace, one of the first at Tairua, The newspapers of Papers Past also recorded that a coroner’s inquiry into a death, noted that there were no Justices of the Peace in the Tairua area.

Several months before Gorrie left for Melbourne permanently, a meeting was held at the then Tairua Public Hall - the purpose to set up a football club ( in 2019  called rugby). W J Gorrie  appears amongst the elected officers as one of the Vice Presidents, the other being a C J Winder. The Auckland Star of 5th  April 1888 also reported that " some 30 members have joined".  Today in 2019, the Tairua Rugby Club is still there - one of the oldest rugby clubs in New Zealand - celebrated 125 years in 2012 

John Henry Upton also had links with the timber companies, including the Union Steam Saw Moulding Sash and Door Company. Upton was director and auditor of several companies along with partnership in the booksellers and stationers Upton and Co.  

William Brown Upton died suddenly in 1870. His brother John Henry Upton was joined in partnership with  his brother - in-law William Gorrie jnr to run the book sellers and stationers. This company also went into publishing. Tony Millett's Website Upton and Co. History and Bibliography carries a bibliography of Upton and Company's publications.

Approval was read to the Thames Borough Council in 1880, from the Board of  Education for purchase of a list of books for the Thames Free Library ( handed to Upton and Co). ( Thames Advertiser 27/08/1880 )This would have been the first official free library established in the goldfields town of Thames.

Upton, a shareholder of the Union Steam Saw Moulding Sash and Door Company, was appointed onto a company committee to inquire into the company's position" ( NZ Herald 02/02/1886) 

Courtesy Papers Past National Library NZ 

The early 1880's proved unfortunate for the Union Steam Moulding Sash and Door Company with its head office in Mechanics Bay, Auckland, sawmills at Aratapu Wairoa and Tairua. Along with bush contracts at Tairua, Whangamata,  Hikutaia and Northland. The depression of the '80's strike, fire, bush fires, flood along with  over valuing of timber and logs was impacting on the company's balance sheet.

The committee reported back, Upton and McLaughlan were nominated directors and the directorship with Chairman of directors, W.M. Ware,  continued to apply  solutions to turn the company around.

To no avail - Upton and Boardman were elected auditors at the Annual  General Meeting in February 1887.  A heavy loss was recorded at the 1888 Annual General Meeting, with lower prices for kauri exported to Australia noted ( NZ Herald 01/02/1988) Towards the end of May, saw mortgaged operations of Union Steam Moulding Sash and Door Company for sale by auction. Mid July of the same year the  giant Kauri Timber Company ( base Melbourne) was floated and some of the Union Steam Moulding Sash and Door Company mills and operations sold to this new timber giant. For those at Tairua, there were difficult times of uncertainty, the mill ceasing operations for a short time until the Kauri Timber Company commenced their operations in the Tairua area - headed by new manager Thomas J Edwards.
The former owner of the Tairua mill and bush contracts " limped on." A meeting in November 1888  proposed winding the company up, calling in debts and liquidating.

( New Zealand Herald  14/11/ 1888). It was not until well into 1890 that final steps were taken - thus ending an era of a company that had been to the fore of the business world, employer of many and a long history of operations in the Tairua area.


More of glimpses of Coromandel family history -  go to web link  Unlocking Their Story - glimpses Coromandel family history- Part II

Reference Source:

  •  Papers Past National Library NZ New Zealand Herald  2 February 1885  Page 3
  • Papers Past National Library NZ  New Zealand Herald  1February 1886  Page 4
  • Papers Past National Library NZ Auckland Star 17 March 1886 Page 4
  • Papers Past National Library NZ New Zealand Herald 17 March 1886 Page 4
  • Papers Past National Library NZ  New Zealand Herald  1 February 1887  Page 6
  • Papers Past National Library NZ New Zealand Herald  8 July 1887  Page 5
  • Paper Past National Library NZ Auckland Star 5 April 1888 Page 5
  • Papers Past National Library NZ Auckland Star 15 February 1900 Page 10
  • Papers Past National Library NZ Auckland Star 30 July 1934 Page 9