There is a common belief that our ancestors were largely stay at home, unadventurous, people with no inclination to travel far beyond their native parish. The more you undertake family research, however, it becomes frustrating obvious that while some did remain in the place their ancestors originated, others moved further afield.
We have all heard about the Industrial Revolution, where small-scale industries that were based in the home or in small community groups, were thrown aside for the more profitable factories. Before the Revolution extended families worked together at home or in small workshops. A whole village may join their skills to produce a finished product – each contributing their skills or resources. Textiles for example, were processed from the farmers with his wool to the spinner and weaver to the dyer. (Little wonder many of our surnames reflect the many trades that went into manufacture of important goods – such as Stringers who made cords and strings for bows.)
The Revolution changed all that. Gone were the artisans or cottage industries where mum and dad worked together; goods were now made in factories where just one step was completed before being moved off somewhere else.
The Revolution encouraged (or often forced) families to move from their tiny rural villages to larger towns. This was clearly illustrated when I tracked some of my families’ movements on my overseas trip earlier this year. Many of my family started in villages that now simply don’t exist or are names of roads, they moved to towns and some ended up in large cities – following work opportunities or the quest for a better life. While some were content to move from village to city, others of course looked even further to make a new life and came to New Zealand.
Although we wouldn’t be here if our ancestors hadn’t been a little bit adventurous; we sometimes imagine that for some reason once the decision was made to emigrate they came straightaway to Ashburton or Mt Somers and, once there, stayed put. A common ‘myth’ is that many of the men who enlisted in the First World War did so out of a sense of adventure that somehow was missing in the earlier migrant generations. That simply isn’t true.
While family historians would love to have a family rooted to one location, for ever, the fact is that missing relations can end up anywhere there were boats, trains or even roads to take them away.
People who settled in Mid Canterbury may have arrived from ‘foreign’ locations, I recently undertook research for someone who was sure one of his ancestors must have been Maori as he was so dark – it turned out his complexion was due to his early Ashburton businessman being born in Madras, India. They may also have been your average British stock, but tried different locations around the globe before ending up here. Its easy to forget that the British Empire was enormous and covered such exotic locations as India, Rhodesia, Ceylon and Canada. Then of course you have the people who settled in Mid Canterbury but travelled around for fun.
Even after people landed in New Zealand they often did the reverse of what happened due to the Industrial Revolution – they started in large cities, where the ports were, and moved out into the rural areas to establish farms and communities. Given that Ashburton wasn’t a place you easily stumbled across, having no port and isolated by rivers and mountains, it made sense that people wouldn’t come here direct from Kent, Melbourne or even Lyttelton.
All this musing was brought about by working with a large collection of images from the Staveley Springburn area. Many were portraits of settlers, or those who were passing through. Of the many faces and stories four stood out, to remind us that no one who settles in New Zealand – be it in the past or present – has come here without a story.
By Kathleen Stringer
1. The first image is of an average looking family called the Healey’s. William Healey worked at the lime kilns near Staveley. William apparently had fought in the Zulu Wars, which took place in 1879, and according to the photo had the spear mark scars to prove it. ©Ashburton Museum.
2. Local boy George Stephen volunteered to serve in the Boer War (1899 – 1902). He was 19 but gave his age as 21 and on the return journey from South Africa contracted scarlet fever and rheumatism which left him unable to work. (Many men who served in this war decided there was more opportunity there and never returned.) ©Ashburton Museum.
3. Another soldier was Alex Grant, an Englishman who joined the British Army aged 19. If he enlisted to see the world he certainly did, fighting in The Crimean War (1853 – 1856) and India before settling in Alford Forest. While some men were retired soldiers others came here as part of ‘fencible forces’, or Army detachments to police and protect European settlers. Some were employed to train local militia forces which were established early in New Zealand’s history. ) ©Ashburton Museum.
4. This image reminds us that travel and adventure don’t need conflict. Local man Joseph Gundry is seen here in a travel shot which appears to be from the Rotorua area. (Imagine the effort that he would have made to get to the area – boats, trains, and maybe horse drawn wagons would have made it a very long and tiring trip.) ©Ashburton Museum.