Monday, April 7, 2014



“A while back I posted  here  about Russell Middlebrook who was quite a famous clown in New Zealand and Australia.

I’ve recently discovered there was so much more to Russell than his performances as a clown. He was in fact a master at sculpture and modelling. Like others in his branch of the family, he was a great artist ( his sister Eva was a commercial artist and his brother Farrer was also involved in architecture and modelling, apparently being responsible for much of the Roman lettering on the Auckland Museum.

Russell’s sculptures graced such places as the Civic Theatre and the Tea Rooms at the Farmers Trading Company . With subjects as diverse as church alters, gothic gargoyles, fountains, and bunnies he was a master at creating them all.

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Charles “Russell” Middlebrook was born in 1908, youngest child of James and Julia Middlebrook, Russell is best known as a clown. His talents went way beyond this though. As a child he learned acrobatics, and when his deafness meant he could not serve during WW2 he joined the Arcadian Troupe who entertained the troops in Auckland Camp Shows. After the war he went to Australia and joined circuses such as Whirling Brothers and Robinson Brothers. A great crowd pleaser in his many clown persona, he was best known for his feats of balance. He would balance on his hands on a stack of chairs, with the chairs balancing on beer bottles.
By trade though Russell was talented in other art forms. He had as a teenager attended Elam Art School where he excelled in the art of sculpture and modelling. He worked on parts of the Civic Theatre and the Auckland War Memorial Museum. His sculptures were seen in the Farmers Trading Company and in churches around Auckland. He also dabbled in photography, a collection of his photographs of the Piha region is now held in Auckland Library Heritage Images Collection. Russell spent his lifetime entertaining and was still performing and riding a bicycle at eighty-seven, and was still performing with Robinson's Family Circus well into his eighties. He was presented with a Benny Award ( the highest honour that can be awarded to a New Zealand variety performer) in 1983, and passed away in 1999 aged 91.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Middlebrook Brothers





Journalling on this layout reads

These 4 brothers, from a family clearly steeped in family values, each having been named after an ancestor,from a family who obviously valued family ties,  and yet a family far far away from their birth country,and spread far and wide within their new homeland (and in the case of Benjamin even further afield in Australia).
Despite their geographic separation it has been obvious they stayed close as a family, with regular visits  (as evidenced by photos of their children together, stories of visits  of their children to uncles, visits with each other over the years). Its immediately obvious these men are brothers - they are so alike in their looks.
Each of these 4 sons forged a successful and adventurous life, Benjamin, as a Ships Engineer eventually moving to New South Wales, John,as a successful butcher and prominent businessman and town councillor in Te Awamutu, Samuel being responsible for guiding George Vesey Stewart to Katikati where he would play a big part in the setting up of the worlds first planned Irish Settlement, and James as a successful carpenter and builder.
We should not forget there were originally 5 brothers, their youngest sibling Henry Cockroft Middlebrook having died aged just 15.


Though I’ve had the photo of Samuel for some time , its only in very recent weeks Ive seen photos of James John and Benjamin as young men. I first was shown the photo of John and thought while there were definite similarities to Samuel ( the nose and mouth area in particular), they didn’t strike me as all that alike – however on seeing the photo of Benjamin I was struck by how very alike he and John were – The hair type and hair line, the eyes and nose are so similar to me I may easily have thought I was looking 2 photos of the same man.

Similarly when I saw the photo of James I was struck by how alike he was to Samuel – even in their latter years the two men look so very alike .

When you start researching your ancestors and only know details of one sibling its easy to think of them in isolation, but Ive discovered through stories, letters and photos that these brothers were often together ( despite often  being geographically separated from each other .

There are photos of John and Samuels sons together as young children despite Samuel living in Katikati and John in Ponsonby at the time. There are stories that Benjamin’s daughter spoke to her children of visiting her “Uncle John”  in New Zealand, and there are photos of Samuel and John ( and John and sister Jane)  together in their latter years


John Stewart Middlebrook ( son of Samuel Middlebrook) and John Thompson Middlebrook ( son of John Middlebrook)

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John  Middlebrook and Jane McRae ( nee Middlebrook)


John Middlebrook and Samuel Middlebrook

Monday, March 17, 2014

James Middlebrook–A House in Opua


Journalling on this layout reads  :

The photo above shows Julia Middlebrook on the balcony of the “Opua House” which appears to be a fairly newly built home . It would seem that James Middlebrook owned several properties in the Bay of Islands and this was likely to have been the last house he owned there before moving his family to Auckland .
The house can clearly be seen standing proud at the top of the hill above the Opua Wharf in the photo below taken in 1912. James advertised to sell the property in December 1908 The notice stating“FOR SALE House of-9 rooms, at Opua, Bay o,f Islands; "large allotment; good view of harbour; "close to wharf,- railway terminus, and public school. Would exchange for town property.—For particulars apply to J. T. Middlebrook, Opua, Bay of Islands”, however its not obvious the property was sold as later, in 1912 he is noted as advertising“RESIDENCE, seaside, Opua. Bay of Islands, for Sale; would exchange for town property.-J Middlebrook. Mamie-St.. Remuera”


I was lucky to get  copies of the two top photos in this layout from a relative in Sydney. Previously I had only had one poor quality photocopy of a photo of James Middlebrook and I wasn’t even 100% certain it was him. ( Im pleased to confirm it was)



I really like the look of this house of James’ standing proud on the hill above the bay in Opua. – Imagine its worth now if it were still standing.

I dont believe, however that it is still standing

Its just visible on the top right before the hill goes up, in this photo taken in 1915 from


This photograph taken in 1960 on  it could be there tucked into the trees at the top of the hill but Im not sure its the same house at all, and the angle of the photgraph and the geography of the hillside has changed somewhat making it more difficult

Car ferry, Opua - Alexander Turnbull Library


Currently I havent found a photograph that would confirm its existence between these two photos.

Ill keep searching though and post any future photos I might find here.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Samuel Middlebrook 1784-1846





Samuel Middlebrook was born in Morley Yorkshire on 16 October 1784-the same year the Methodist Church was chartered in England, and the year that the last person in England was burned at the stake, and the Industrial Revolution was in its infancy. Times were changing and Samuel was to be part of that change.
He  married Hannah Nicholson on 19th December 1893 and had 5 children.
At the time of the birth of his first daughter Mary Ann in 1809 Samuel is listed as a clothier - a profession that runs deep in the Middlebrook history.
By the birth of his second child Elizabeth, he was a butcher, like his father Thomas before him, and a trade that was to become extremely important to the Middlebrook family for the next hundred years or more.
At the baptism at Batley All Saints, of each of his other children, Fanny, John and Thomas he is listed as a Butcher, however by 1828 he is listed in the Pigots Commercial Directory as a Publican- residing at the Black Bull Inn Liversedge Yorkshire.
Clearly a man of conviction, Samuel  was a “Chartist” and was a founding member of the Liversedge “Radical Association”
As noted in the Leeds Times August 4 1838 “ At a meeting held at the house of Samuel Middlebrook, Black Bull Inn Liversedge, a Radical Association was formed for the purpose of securing the political rights of Englishmen, and to promote the adoption by Parliament of the 5 great Radical principals, namely, Universal Suffrage, Vote by ballot, Annual Parliaments, no property qualifications for Members of Parliament, and equal representation.
The 1841 census has Samuel living at the Black Bull Inn with his son John and daughter Fanny.
He died in 1846 and it appears that at some point after that  John took over running the Black Bull until he and his family of 7 children emigrated to New Zealand to begin a new life. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Middlebrook Family Reunion


We have, for the last year or so been hoping to hold some kind of family reunion of descendants of John and Ellen Middlebrook and their family, who arrived in New Zealand aboard the Shalimar in December 1862.
Things have been a little slow on the Reunion organising front over the Christmas period but we are ready now to start with the initial organisation .
We have a possible venue in Auckland and we are hoping for a Sunday in mid to late January ( 2015).
What we really need is an indication, however vague, of numbers . We are thinking that we could be looking at as many as 200 as we’ve recently made quite a few contacts who are interested in attending.
We are aware of several in Australia who are interested in attending as well as from all over the North Island
So in order to keep everyone in the loop, we need to start some kind of database of people who are interested.
This wont be by any means a commitment  but we would like to know some  names and numbers of people who  might attend.
So if you are descended from John and Ellen  ( nee Farrer) Middlebrook or connected to the family and  you are interested in even a small way in attending the reunion or being kept up to date with our progress in organising please drop me a line at to be added to the database.
You can sign up receive updates by newsletter of the Reunion organisation progress at the top left of this blog.
If you are willing to help in the organisation of the reunion please email us at

Just as a reminder here are the names of the original family and their spouses

John Middlebrook ( late of Millbridge Yorkshire) and his wife Ellen ( nee Farrer – originally from Pontefract Yorkshire)
Jane Thompson Middlebrook – married JamesJohn Mcra and then Hector McRae
Benjamin Middlebrook- ( Moved to Australia)  - married Alice Lane
Elizabeth Middlebrook – Married George Douglas Hardy- family lived in Avondale
John Middlebrook  - married Mary Ann Tucker – They lived in Western Springs, Ponsonby and then were well known residents of Te Awamutu
Samuel Middlebrook – married Mary Jane Rea – resident of Katikati and Waihi
James Thompson Middlebrook – Married Elizabeth Edgar and then Julia Bartle Sullivan- resided Opua and Auckland.
( there were 2 other children – Ellen who died before the family emigrated to NZ and Henry who died aged 17 in Auckland)
This photo shows Jane Thompson McRae with her  mother Ellen Middlebrook and Sister Elizabeth Hardy . The child is unidentified at this time but is possibly Ellen Hardy.
John and Samuel Middlebrook at Korakanui approximately 1933
John Middlebrook and Jane McRae


I have a separate blog devoted just to Middlebrook Family and Reunion posts – You can find this blog at

You can sign up for email newsletter updates regarding the reunion at the top left corner of this blog and the Middlebrook Reunion Blog

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Middlebrook-Frost Wedding


John Thompson Middlebrook was a son of John Middlebrook ( jr). ( Very good looking chap I think!)
It was great to receive a copy of this photo from John McBain, JT Middlebrook’s grandson, to go along with the article I had saved from Papers Past which described the wedding.


A pretty wedding was celebrated at St Johns Church, Te Awamutu, on Boxing Day, when John Thompson Middlebrook, eldest son, of Mr J. Middlebrook, of Te Awamutu, and late of Ponsonby, was married to Miss Susie Frost, of Te Rahu, late of Manchester, England. The bride, who was given away by her father, looked charming in a white silk dress trimmed with lace insertion, pleated ribbon, chiffon, and a panel front. She also wore the orthodox veil and orange blossoms,
and carried a lovely shower bouquet. The bridesmaids were Miss Adelaide Frost and Miss Edith Middlebrook, sisters of the bride and bridegroom respectively, both attired in white silk trimmed with Valenciennes lace and insertion, with panel fronts. They carried gold brooches, the gift of the bridegroom. The bride also was presented with a beautiful gold brooch.
The bridegroom was attended by Mr Sam Middlebrook, as best man and Mr Robert Frost as groomsman- brothers of the bride and bridegroom. The ceremony was performed by the Rev. J.W.Clark, and Mrs Aheir presided at the organ and played the Wedding March. After the ceremony, the guests drove to the residence of the bride’s parents, where the wedding breakfast was served. Mr and Mrs Middlebrook left by mid-day express on their honeymoon. The bride’s travelling dress was a pretty navy blue costume and hat to correspond.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Trouble at the Mill





This is my GG Grandfather  Samuel Middlebrook  who very nearly perished in an industrial accident.
(Own Correspondent)
Bay Of Plenty Times
8 July 1903 Page 2
Messrs Bond Bros, started their saw-mill on Wednesday last, and I regret to state that Mr Samuel Middlebrook met with a most dangerous and painful accident on Thursday. He was engaged as stoker to the engine, and one of the journals having become heated he knelt down to feel it, when a key on a short shaft caught his shirt and carried him round 5 he was discovered, apparently dead, on the floor, covered with blood, and all his clothes stripped off, even to his socks. Though life was believed to be extinct, an urgent message was sent to Dr Slater, of Waihi, who arrived at the mill two hours after receipt of the message. He put in seven stitches in the side of his leg and had him removed on a stretcher to his own home, carried by ten men in relays. He did not recover consciousness for some hours, and has no recollection whatever of anything that occurred after examining the journal of the shaft. The patient is I am happy to state, progressing most favourably, and sleeps soundly all night and through the greater portion of the day. This painful accident only bears out the anticipations I have persistently expressed in your valuable columns, that such must inevitably occur when our local saw mill and other industrial works get into full swing, and we have this example on the second day after the start it is hard to know whose turn will be the next, and yet our settlers appear callous and listless in starting their Medical Club, not following the example of Te Puke, Whakatane and Opotiki, though the idea first originated in Katikati. Mr Middlebrook is much respected here, he is married to a daughter of Mr Stewart Rea, a member of the No 1 Party, and has a large grown up family. He had been for some years engaged in gold mining, in the pursuit of which occupation he met with considerable success.