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East Cape 4: The house where Dad was a boy

In 1937 an Englishman called Frederick Grace and his wife, a half-Maori lady named Elizabeth, moved to a remote cottage in the East Cape. Here eight of their 10 children were born; Dad was bundle of joy number five. The house is still standing – just – and the weekend trip provided the perfect opportunity to see it.

In a convoy of three vehicles, my parents, cousins and I set off down the gravelly Waikura Road, generous following distances necessary in order to avoid mouthfuls of dust. Five kilometres later we reached the Oweka River.

Just beyond, set back off the road a little, is what’s left of the small two-bedroom cottage where the family of 10 lived for 14 years.

This was the first time Dad had been back inside the house since they left in 1951.

She looks a bit different these days!

She looks a bit different these days!

Dad’s Dad emigrated from England aged 17 under a scheme which ran between 1924-1937 and enabled sons of British seamen killed or disabled during World War 1 to move to New Zealand, receive farm training, and start a new life here. My great-grandfather was a Royal Marine and we traced some of his life and death during a UK trip in 2012.

Grandfather left the UK on his own and attended Flock House school. The plan was for his mother and sisters to join him in due course; unbeknownst to all at the time, that reunion would never happen. After being trained, Fred’s first placement was on Potikirua Station which I drove past earlier that morning. Somewhere along the way – while having some time off in the town of Te Araroa we think – he met my grandmother. Fred and Bessie, as she was known, married and proceeded to do their bit for the NZ population.

Baby delivery logistics were complicated not only because the nearest maternity hospital was over 90km away, but also because they didn’t have a vehicle. Eight babies in nine years gave them lots of practice at the routine but at least one child was born en route!

Dad's little sister Anne - Simon and Nicki's late mother - was the last to be born while the family lived here.

Dad’s little sister Anne – Simon and Nicki’s late mother – was the last to be born while the family lived here.

The opportunity to visit here with Dad was a weekend highlight. Given the state of the cottage, even with the regional disposition to let things crumble indefinitely, the site could potentially be demolished at any time.

From here we headed deeper into the Waikura Valley. My grandfather’s tenure as a farm worker came to an end roughly when they moved here and an occupation more conducive to having a young family found. Henceforth he worked for the council as a roadman. His last farm posting had been further down the road and we set out to find it.

22 Comments Post a comment
  1. Great post!

    2 June 2014
  2. Loved this post – what a great story and to be able to visit the house must have been amazing.

    2 June 2014
    • Hi Joy, thank you! I saw the house 15 or so years ago, but didn’t walk around it or go inside so to be able to do that this time was so rewarding, especially now that I have a greater appreciation of the family history.

      4 June 2014
      • Buk #

        Hi Haley wat a story hey we own that land now and all around that area…I wud like to know more about the history of the land ND ur family’s too

        18 January 2020
        • A belated hello and apologies for the length of time this reply has taken, I wanted to chat to my parents about it when I was able to visit them in person. I don’t have that much information but suggest if you don’t already have a copy, track down the book written by Jock Hindmarsh as that could be useful. After working at Matarau Station my grandfather became a roadman and the cottage they lived in (which got pulled down a couple of years or so ago?) was owned by the council. They moved there pre-1938 and stayed until 1951, the children schooled by correspondence until 1949. The land was cleared and turned into a sheep farm. Neighbours were the Thomases, Walkers, Wrights and Downeys. The ford to cross the river (by where the bridge is now) used to flood a few times each year and it was my grandfather’s job to clear it. One of my dad’s cousins, who used to live at Matarau Station, may have more information – I can put you in touch with him if you like.

          1 January 2021
  3. Oh the memories for your dad. Ten kiddos or was it nine with eight in nine years is creating a family fast. The house was packed to the roof, just about. Love the photos.

    3 June 2014
    • Yes it must’ve been very trippy for Dad – an assumption, as while I was there he’s not big at articulating the impact of such experiences! Nor am I really, but I know how fascinated I would be to return to my childhood home. Eight born in nine years, then a gap of seven years before the next one. Ten kids over 18 years. Poor Nana! – though I’m sure she loved it :). Thank you Yvonne.

      4 June 2014
  4. Oh my goodness! Hayley, this is a tremendous story. What an extraordinary life. Gosh what a brave Grand-father you had. Leaving England alone, moving to a foreign land on the other side of the world and having 10 kids! not least living in such an isolated area. It must have brought back so many memories for your father, visiting after all those years. How wonderful. I’m really enjoying your trip back down memory lane – please can we have the next instalment very soon?! 😀

    4 June 2014
    • I agree, it must’ve been a life of challenge and hardship – he would’ve had to grow up quickly, though I guess that wasn’t unusual for the times. It’s lovely he was able to create a family here – a big one at that – but died before most of his grandchildren were born, including me. Thanks for being so interested Lottie, if only I could whip up posts in a couple of hours instead of typically several times that :).

      4 June 2014
  5. What a fascinating living-history journey you’re sharing!

    6 June 2014
    • Thanks Cindi, it’s nice to be able to weave this info into the blog.

      6 June 2014
  6. Really enjoyed reading this post Hayley! And it looks like we’ve been on the same wavelength these days.. 😉 I guess you’ve been blessed with the genealogically-minded gene too! Thanks so much for sharing a slice of your family’s life with us!

    8 June 2014
    • Thank you Amit! Yes it’s a bit inevitable I think, given my mother’s prolific family record-keeping.

      8 June 2014
  7. So interesting to read this – great that you got to see the house before it falls down. It doesn’t look like it has been lived in for a long time.

    9 June 2014
    • No, and it’s pretty hard to visualise the house bursting with the life it once contained. I’ve been kind of kicking myself that I didn’t think ahead of time to track down a couple of old photos to include with the post.

      10 June 2014
  8. Ali #

    What a wonderful trip, and great that you could do that with your Dad. Life in our modern world is definitely different now….such a big family in such a small house; starting a new life in a foreign country; having no vehicle! It’s hard to imagine…and I often wonder what life future generations will be saying about our life now!

    23 June 2014
    • Absolutely, and looking back it seems a very hard life but I think that was just their normal. Hard to think the same could be true of our time, but who knows!

      24 June 2014
  9. william karauna #

    kia ora hayley very interesting reading Iwent to school at the old potaka school and were with the first kids to start at the new school.Lived with Papa Rere Poi and nanny Haki just below the bridge .Watched the bridge being built in 1952.Memories are flooding in of those times

    23 March 2016
    • Kia ora William, great to hear from you. I passed this on to Mum who was going to pass it onto Dad, I haven’t spoken to him yet but I know he’ll be very interested in your message. Good to get a timeframe on the bridge construction! Any information from that era is fascinating especially as photos are relatively scarce.

      24 March 2016
  10. Lynda Hamilton #

    Hi Hayley I found your trip to Waipiro bay fascinating. In the 1920s my Burnett and McElney family lived there. My gt Aunt and uncle were Hilda and Reginald John Burnett. John worked as a grocer at the Waipiro Bay Trading Co. Do you know if it still stands today> my husband and I are visiting NZ next Jan/Feb 2018 and will be going to Waipiro Bay to have a good look round.
    Would love to hear from you.
    Regards Lynda Hamilton

    5 October 2017
    • Hi Lynda, you must be getting excited about your trip! I’m 99.99% confident the trading company building is still standing – they just seem to leave these old sites as they are around the east cape. Definitely worth the detour off the main road. Best wishes and safe travels!

      9 October 2017

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