Sunday, July 27, 2014

McRae Letters Part 4



Opua December 14th  1887

Dear Welsh,
I received your letter last week but had not time to answer it for I did not get it out of the Office until Thursday morning. I hope I have not troubled you too  much in asking you to get the calico. If I have, do not get it. I was going to trouble you further in getting a little fruit , for we can not get any down here and I should like to get some for the children at Christmas.
They are all talking about hanging their stockings up. Amy sends her love and she hopes you are enjoying yourself in town.
She also wishes you would come down, but I suppose it is no use to ask you to come to such a dull place as this. Roddy wishes to be remembered to you. I have not sent him to Kawakawa. Mrs Harris says it is too near Christmas for him to go now, but I shall see about him going after.  But I must come to a close for I do not feel inclined to write much and I have two other letters to write, and I am sure they will be short. Things are very dull here but we must live in hope if we die in dispare. (sic)
If things are not better, I shall have to leave Mother in charge and see if I cannot get a situation as a Housekeeper or somethign else to do. Trusting you are well, I remain
Yours sincerely,

P.S. The Norvel and Saxon will be going to town this week - and both of them will be down before Christmas


From Jane to Welsh, 14 December 1887

This letter from Jane to Welsh ( and the first one we have from Jane) could be in reply to his letter of 21st November but I suspec t it is a later letter that we do not have a copy of . Once more though there is much talk of the desire of both Jane and Welsh to be together.
It is clear in this letter that Jane is not in a great financial situation . We assume she is running a boarding house as this seems to have been her main form of income through most of her life. It sounds as if there isn’t much business just prior to Christmas

“Roddy” refers to John Roderick McRae , Jane’s eldest son. Born in 1871 he was 16 years old at the time of this letter and one would assume Jane was keen for him to be out working to help support the family


Dear Welsh,
We received your letter last week and all the goods all in good order and we are much obliged. I also let Amy read your letter and what she could not make out , I read for her. I told her to write today but she did not, but she is such a poor writer that makes her not like to write. But I am not a very good scholar myself so I should not say much about any one, eh!  Amy and I are very glad you are so comfortable. It is a nice part of town that you live in, not too thickly built on.
I must now thank you for the things you sent. The calico is very good. It was for Amy and she is much pleased with it and all the other good things. I do not think they would have got much if you had not sent them for I had the misfortune of braking(sic) the clock and had to get a new one for we could not do without the time in a place like this. I am glad that you have the prospect of such a merry Christmas.  The town will be quite lively, but we shall be quieter than usual, for the people are all going to town ( that can afford it); but it is getting very late. I had some work to finish and send home first thing in the morning so I had to finish it tonight, but I will add a few more lines in the morning. I have had a very bad head ache all day, in fact I am hardly ever free from it.
Thursday morning, and a beautiful morning . The Bay is so pretty.. there are a lot of boats about with their white sails set. I trust we shall have Hector over for Christmas Day. We are all going out the day after to a picnic party ad a place called Wapau, a very pretty place.
You say in your letter that you wish we were with you, so I can say in return that I wish you were with us. I wish we could do anything for you to help to pay for your kindness. Amy sends her love and wishes you a merry Christmas. She says you promised to come back, but she will write next week. With the complements of the season, I must now close, I remain
Yours Truly
Jane McRae

From Jane to Welsh, 20 Dec 1887

It is clear from this letter from Jane to Welsh ( replying to a letter we unfortunately dont have a copy of) that he has sent the “fixings for Christmas” he referred to in a previous letter. . Again we get a clear impression that financially things are not great for Jane. Replacing a broken clock ( which could be a considerable expense in the 19th century) used up much of the money she would have spent on the family Christmas .
Jane’s mention of having Hector over is another indication of that relationship growing but it was to be another 3 years until she married him.

I have not been able to find out where “Wapau” might be. We could assume it is relatively close to Opua, a day trip or less by boat or by road as they were headed there for a picnic

20 Ancestors in 20 Weeks–Number One–Benjamin Middlebrook


I decided to challenge myself to a layout a week – an ancestor a week – and this would in turn help me complete my book for my upcoming family reunion. ( Hence all my 20 will most probably be from my Middlebrook branch)

For the first week I started with Benjamin Middlebrook who is the eldest son of John and Ellen Middlebrook, and the one I have no immediate contacts for – in fact I havent yet traced a single living descendant of Benjamin’s which I find quite sad.




The eldest son of John and Ellen Middlebrook, Named after his maternal Grandfather, Benjamin was born on March 21st 1850 in Millbridge Yorkshire, where his father  was an Innkeeper. He was, however baptiised in the home town of his mother Ellen, Pontefract Yorkshire, in the church of St Giles . on April 28.
Little is known of his childhood, but by age 12, along with the rest of his family, he boarded the ship “Shalimar” in Liverpool to make the long journey to a new land and a new life in New Zealand. 

It appears this voyage was most formative in his life, perhaps developing a love for the sea, as Benjamin became a ships engineer, spending the bulk of his life on the sea .
His name does not appear on the NZ electoral rolls at any time, so one would assume he left home at an early age. We find him first in 1873 departing from Manukau for Sydney on board the vessel Phoebe, aged 23, 3rd Engineer. Benjamin appears to be involved in the route between Australia and New Zealand for several years, and on one of these voyages perhaps he met his future wife Alice Lane.  He returned to New Zealand in 1875 to marry her, but they made their home in Sydney, living in Balmain by 1880 and later in Lakemba NSW.  He gained his 2nd engineers certificate ( number 36) in Sydney in 1876 . In 1878 he joined the crew of the “City of Newcastle” in early September 1878 and was unfortunate to be on board and on duty  when the ship  ran aground.
He remained a man of the sea though, joining the crew of the “Esk” which plied the waters  between Sydney and Tasmania .

Ben and Alice had 3 children, Sarah, Mary Ellen and John Farrer . Mary Ellen was known to have visited her New Zealand relatives on more than one occasion and was fond of her uncle John Middlebrook
Son, John, followed his father into Engineering, serving as an apprentice at Cockatoo Island, but didnt continue in the trade, instead he followed his artistic side, like many members of the Middlebrook family he had a love for music and he earned a living as a pianist.
Throughout his life, Benjamin, like some of his brothers, was an active member of Masonic Lodge.
Benjamin died on 11 August 1928 aged 78, of a stroke and is buried  at the Field of Mars Cemetery, North Ryde,New South Wales,
Plot: Portion: Ang Section: Sec K Plot: 200

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The McRae letters–continued



This is the third letter in the batch of letters between Jane and Welsh McRae.



Auckland 21st Nov1887

Dear Jane
Yours of the 17th to hand, also one each from Amy and Nellie. Contents of all three individually noted, Will answer collectively only question perpounded. (Viz.”” When will you return to Opua”). Cannot tell..future.. in that direction: a dead wall of uncertainty... without a break to hang a hope on. Inclination directs me that way.. Prudence cries “Keep back” Let Prudence be obeyed!
Sorry you misconstrued my meaning re moral training of girls. Please read sentence considerately again. You will doubtless discover the true interpretation of it. No reflection indented, I do assure you. It would be criminal to insinuate , in the way you put it, on so limited an acquaintance. Moreover, I esteem you too highly for that.
Would be happy to advise you re lease of land to Jim. But knowledge of your business and domestic relations too circumscribed to draw upon. Would counsel guidance of your own judgment in the matter. No one can be better posted than yourself.
I note your remarks on the young lady.. she is altogether too youthful for me. I am in dead earnest on this matter of matrimony and would like if you could name a suitable person, equally in earnest, willing to open a correspondence right away and exchange photos. She must not be under thirty or over forty, moderately good looking, tolerably plump, to make amends for my “leanness”. Education not so much an object as disposition..’country’ rather than ‘city’ birth preferred. That’s my  style!  There are hundreds around qualified to fill this bill. I pass them on the streets every day. If they, dear creatures, were aware of the existence of the bait, the rest would be easy of accomplishment. They would take hold as leeches to a blood vessel. My bachelorhood would be a busted bubble and my matrimonial existence a stern reality.
But enough! I trust you received the goods in the same order as sent. The wicker casing of the tea would have made you a pretty lunch basket if it reached you safely. Two letters to hand to date. I thought you said there were three, Hectors address is Hokaikau, Bay of Islands. Forgot to enclose it last mail, though I had written it out.
Remember me to Amy and Nellie, I was a little disappointed in their letters, but happy to receive them, nevertheless, especially Amy’s . Will always be pleased to hear from them. I would reply separately but as this is a triple combination for you and them please let them read , if they are so minded. And oblige.

Yours very sincerely

P.S.  I will send along some grocery fixings for your Christmas, if you will let me know your needs in that respect. They will go by the “Norval” (if convenient). I lost track of her last trip.
I witnessed the funeral of Colonel Lyons yesterday, conducted in military style. A very imposing affair, Streets crammed with struggling humanity, eager to observe and be observed. He expired very suddenly in his bath from disease of the heart.


Unfortunately we don't have a copy of the letter from Jane that Welsh  refers to. If we did it may answer some of the more pressing questions we have regarding Jane and her relationship with the father of her children.
It would also be interesting to see what inference Jane too regarding the  upbringing of her daughters. Clearly she took some offence to Welsh’s comments in the previous letter regarding their moral “downgrading” .

One of the most interesting points in this letter from Welsh is the reference to Jane enquiring about his opinion of her “leasing land to Jim”.  One would assume  she is referring to James John McRae, her estranged “husband” , however it could mean her brother James Thompson  Middlebrook.
Either way, it would be wonderful to know what land she thought about leasing him and where it was, and moreover  how she had come into this land as she appears not to be particularly wealthy at this time in her life.

It seems Welsh had quite a high opinion of himself as a marriage suitor, and this was quite likely a relatively legitimate view. He clearly was a man of quite independent means, and was kind and generous ( at least toward his sister in law and his nieces.  He was 58 years old at the time of this letter, and as far as we know had never married.  In fact he never did find himself a wife, dying a bachelor only 5 years after these letters were written

The Colonel Lyons, that Welsh refers to in his postscript was actually Colonel William Lyon, an Imperial veteran, who commanded the Constabulary and Volunteer forces in the Waikato, with headquarters at Cambridge,in the 1870’s , and was in charge of the Auckland Volunteer District, 1884until his death in 1887. He began his soldiering career as an officer of the Coldstream Guards, and exchanged into the 92nd Highlanders, serving with that regiment for ten months in the Crimea. He lost an arm through a shooting accident in England, and left the Army to settle in New Zealand. When the Waikato War began he was appointed to the New Zealand forces, and served throughout that campaign and afterwards in the wars on the West and East Coasts. He was second in command under Colonel Whitmore in the final campaign against Titokowaru in 1869.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The McRae Letters continued..


This is the second letter in the series – Unfortunately we dont have Janes reply to Welsh’s last letter . The next letter we have is a couple of weeks later in November


Auckland 14 November 1887

Dear Jane,
Yours of the 9th to hand, and contents noted.  In reply, will say yes, am pleased that you received the beef in good condition. Sorry bacon proved fraud. Will forward some 'Canterbury' this trip..tested and proven good. Also chest tea of undoubted quality from a Mongolian importers in Quay Street  Will send along ( at some future time) fixings for Christmas. Information of needs in this respect acquired beforehand. Will make enquiries re “Norval” and be guided by your suggestions( as far as may be) re future shipment of goods.  My letters are still being illegally detained at Opua. Am sending along stamps and a preemptor order to the bungling official for their immediate release and dispatch to Auckland.  Failing in this, I will report his conduct at headquarters and see if such culpable neglect is  not punishable by the Department.
Sorry you did not act more advisedly in the matter. Much worry and bother might have been avoided all round and I would be in possession of my own long ago.   I look forward with extreme pleasure to the receipt of Amy's and Nellie's letters and can appreciate the love they send along, especially Amy's. As I know , it is genuine. It has the true metallic ring,, its existence is a reality.. an established fact.. a bygone conclusion,, returnable in time. But I grieve that you see fit to foreshadow your disgrace in the dear girl's future. And I despise the most remote thought of its realisation and cannot entertain it even for a moment. Though I am willing to admit that her moral bias has received a slight shock from evil example and improper tuition ( and this is equally applicable to Nellie). But time will certainly overcome this difficulty. And my pet will come out all right in the end..'top side up'. And don't you forget it. I may  not hazard an opinion, for good or evil, regarding Nellie, as my knowledge is altogether too limited. But from what little I know, I have learned to esteem her highly, and this is as far as I desire to extend.
Your complaint of feeling lonely in the bosom of your 'cheerful family' doth considerably surprise and grieve me. And if I might hazard the remark that my presence would aid in mitigating it, I would be most happy to give you a prolonged trial of it. And notwithstanding my taciturn and uncommunicative disposition, the result might justify experiment.  But unfortunately, I cannot even promise that Christmas will bring us nearer to each other, ,as city pastimes (at this season) are too attractive to be exchanged for the country.  Notwithstanding the coveted companionship of you and your worthy family, and the unremitting and unmerited kindness that ( I am certain) would be awarded me. But as I am sending along my good brother Hector's address, I am hopeful that you may secure his presence during the holidays. He is better qualified, by nature and art ( than I am) to impart tone and zest to social gatherings, no matter for what purpose assembled.. eating, drinking, dancing, singing..  What you please...  in the house or out of it. Tis all one to him. I am proud of the opinion you entertain concerning him as I know it is merited, and would as who is the young lady( to whom you refer)  as having a like opinion of him? If she is a good looker, amiable, unmarried and not too young, I might endevour to supplant him in her esteem, though not so worthy of her, by a long way. I have been instituting enquries at Hannaford's on the subject of a wife. There are numbers offering.. mostly too young.. and not quite up to my standard in other aspects.
I had a very pleasant time of it Fathers Day, with an excursion party to Governor Grey's Island home 'Kawau'. Started out per steamer 'Belling' at 8 a.m. And returned to town 9 p.m. All well.
Sorry to learn of your  mother's illness.. trust it will be of short duration.. remember me to all.
Yours very sincerely ,
PS “Norval” schooner not reported in. Will ship goods per “Clansman: viz 1 chest 5 ½ pound. Tea 12/6...16lb bacon@ 6 ½ d. 8.8
                                        1.1.2 freight not paid
Hector McRae, Hokaihau, Bay of Islands
( oh this is actually Okaihau)

Unfortunately we dont have the letter from Jane that Welsh refers to in this reply, however this letter does give some great insights into life in 19th Century New Zealand.
You will note that Welsh had sent Jane some bacon but it was clearly not of great quality.  Articles in NZ newspapers in the late 1880s elude to the fact that Canterbury bacon was consistently  of great quality, however bacon from other areas of the country, (especially Auckland) often was of dubious quality.

The “Norval” and the “Clansman” mentioned in this letter,  were two of the coastal steamers whic plied the waters and carried goods and passengers between Auckland and the Northern Regions. Travel by Steamer was the main form of transport between Auckland and the North.

It is of great interest to read that Jane felt  lonely. It is not surprising- Its clearly apparent that her husband is not living with her and she has several children to bring up alone. Her brother James Thompson Middlebrook did move to Opua around this time, he was newly married in 1887, however this marriage too was fraught with difficulties, so perhaps he was not much company for his elder sister either. It seems both Jane and Welsh at this point are toying with the idea of developing a relationship beyond that of brother and sister in law but the city life seems to have a greater pull for Welsh at this time. You will notice that Welsh is instrumental in this letter, in the introduction of Jane to his younger brother Hector, and we know that this introduction had great consequences in Jane’s live, as she went on to marry Hector 3 years later.

Welsh mentions that he has enquired at “Hannahords” re suitable women. Hannafords was a “Matrimonial Agency” in downtown Auckland.  A precursor to todays match making website,s Hannafords claimed to “ not only obtain ”life Partners” for gentlemen in town and country, but those who have suited themselves can have all the preliminaries  taken off their hands by addressing themselves to Hannafords Agency. They can then be married any day or hour that they like, without the least trouble on their part,everything being done for them”

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The McRae Letters–Part one


We are lucky enough to have transcripts of 6 letters between Jane Thompson McRae ( nee Middlebrook) and her brother in law Welsh McRa.

This is the first of a series of layouts featuring the letters which appear on one side, with the facing page having notes and explanations (where possible) . Unfortunately there is no information contained within the 6 letters to help us with the “marriage” of Jane and James John McRa, but he is clearly not living with them at this time despite Robert Irwin, their youngest child being only 2 years of age when the first letter is written.


Kaeo 5th October 1887
Dear Jane
I address you this time on the subject of your daughter, Amy, and as her moral and physical welfare deeply concerns both of us, I feel compelled by a sense of duty, to strike a note of warning in reference to her present position and surroundings. And while, unbiased by malice, and unprejudiced by selfish conceit, I strongly advise ( in the interest of all concerned) that you remove her into your own keeping for a season.
As from long absence from home associations and your moral tuition she is losing track of those influences that should serve as “guide marks” to her proper course through life; moreover, I am not aware that she reaps any substantial remunerations from the performance of her arduous duties here. Harriet is to mean and Jack too poor to contribute any material assistance in this respect. And I am certain that her “employment” is a lamentable failure in reference to mental and moral culture and cannot be regarded as commendable, from a physical standpoint, Fact is, Harriet was never designed by God as a trainer for the young, otherwise she would have had children of her own running round. She is altogether too versatile and volatile for the business, and her relations to Amy are simply of a mercenary nature. A mere matter of pounds, shillings and pence, and only a mockery of interest in her general welfare.
I am far from being a 'moral' man myself, but I claim to be nearer to heave than nine tenths of those who wear the cloak of religion to hide their moral deformaties, and my esteem for Amy is so sincere that I would grieve beyond measure if it were ever hinted to me that she was running on a 'down grade'. But I have no fear that this can ever be stated truthfully of her... I entertain too high an opinion of her merits to even dream of such a calamity. Nevertheless (for obvious reasons, subject to her removal from her, and as I have the consent of all interested parties, saving your own. I will say in order to gain yours, that I intend to leave this section by steamer on the 12th inst( if all goes well) and I am prepared to take Amy along with me, and convey her to your door in safety, and defray all the expenses of the trip, provided that you forward your answer by return mail and I receive it in time.
Trusting that this may merit your approval and that our greeting will take place on Opua wharf as desired,
I remain,
Yours very sincerely
P.S. Whether you sanction this proceeding otherwise, I am duty bound to go through with it anyhow. And will shoulder all the responsibility attached to it. So that if we are not at Opua by the next trip of the steamer, we will certainly be there, trip following.
With kind regards from Amy and Jack
Welsh McRa was Jane’s brother -in-law. Born in 1829, he is 20 years older than Jane, but two years younger than Jane’s “husband” James John McRa. Unfortunately nothing in these letters gives us any more indication of the nature of Jane’s relationship with the father of her 7 children, though it is clear that she is not living with James at the time of these letters.
Amy is Jane and James’ eldest daughter, born around 1869, she would have been 18 at the time of these letters and it appears she is “working” for another McRa brother, John ( Jack) and his wife Harriet, who were living in Kaeo. ( In electoral rolls from several years later John is listed as a surveyor, and also as a bushman)
It is clear that Welsh doesn’t think very highly of his sister in law Harriet. At this time she and Jack had no children but later apparently was to have a son Ian Malcolm who died in infancy, but neither the birth nor death appear to be registered. Later she and John apparently adopted 2 other children, Malcolm Innes, and Lucy Selina. Malcolm died in Palestine in World War I but Lucy lived till her late 80s.
We dont know what Jane was doing in Opua during the late 1880s. A timeline of her life sees her moving frequently, and often between Auckland and areas of Northland, from Whangaroa to Matakohe, but her brother James was also living in Opua during this period. He built a house on the top of the hill overlooking the wharf. We are unsure of where exactly Jane was living in the small settlement, however she had at least 5 children at home with her, if Amy and Nellie( who is mentioned in later letters) were away, that would leave 16 year old John Roderick ( known as Roddy), 9 year old Thomas, Jane Elizabeth aged 7, Mary aged 5 and Robert Irwin aged just 2 years. Quite a handful for a woman on her own ( which we know from future letters that Jane was at this time) .
Family legend has it hat James John McRae was somewhat of a drinker- perhaps Welsh felt some responsibility to his sister-in-law because of this fact.
A note on the surname McRa. : Welsh, in his letters always signs his name McRa. The eldest of Jane and James’ children are registered with the surname McRa, but the younger children are registered as McRae, and Jane signs her name as McRae in these letters. It seems that the spellings are fairly interchangeable

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Grandsons


Here is the Grandson version of the post I did yesterday – We are missing a few photos here and I made an educated guess on Robert Farrer Middlebrook- so please do correct me if I have the wrong person in his spot. If anyone has better quality photos of anyone in this layout, or any at all for any one missing, please do send them to me as I would love to include them.



Once again I see remarkable resemblances here – especially between Walter and Russell in the bottom line, and Robert Farrar and several of the sons of John and Mary Ann Middlebrook.

This has been a most interesting project Im sure you will agree.

The Granddaughters

After doing the layout showing the similarities between Ellen Hardy and Jane Thompson Middlebrook, I decided it might be a great idea to display the photos of all  of this generation – As there are 43 1st cousins I decided to split it into 2 layouts – One for the Granddaughters and one for the Grandsons

Here is the page for Granddaughters.


As you can see we are only missing a few photos – those of the daughters of Benjamin and the first two of Jane’s daughters, along with the three girls who died in childhood, of whom conceivably no photos may ever have been taken.  There are similarities amongst many of the girls – the square chin, that seems to have passed down several generations, is evident on many of the girls, along with dark hair in most .

If anyone has better photos of Eleanor, Mary Ann Harriet and Olive I would love to include them in this layout, but all in all I think we are quite lucky to have photos of so many of this generation.

Look out for the Men’s photos tomorrow!