Headifen, Peter John Interview

It’s 19th May 2017. I’m interviewing this afternoon Peter Headifen, ex-lawyer of Hastings; Welcome Peter, nice to have you here. Peter, if we could discuss your background; your grandparents when they first came to New Zealand and Hawke’s Bay; and also your life in Hawke’s Bay; so if I just leave it over to you?

All right, Jim. My grandparents on the Headifen side – my grandfather, James Headifen, was the son of James Headifen who travelled from Scotland – Glasgow – to New Zealand early in the 1840s and resided in Wellington, where he lived, my grandfather lived and my father lived for his schooling days; he was at Wellington College. James Headifen married Eliza … I might think of her name later on … who was from Christchurch, and they had two children – my aunt Beat, or Beatrice, who was sixteen years older than my father; and my father, James, or Kenneth Harold James Headifen who was born in 1921 in Wellington.

My father, after leaving Wellington College, went to Victoria University where he studied law, and he had that study interrupted during World War II; he enlisted and went with the second echelon to do his war service from about 1939 to 1943 when he came back from Africa – or the Middle East – where the first lot of … not retirees … but they were on furlough. He didn’t go back after that because he was found to be medically unfit.

He continued with his law studies and completed his LLB [Bachelor of Laws] degree in 1946. He then came to Hastings and practised law from 1946 to 1950 with the Hastings law firm Scannell Bramwell in those days. And I was born in Hastings on 6th March 1948. The family lived in Hastings in Florence Street, and the house is still there today. My father worked for Scannell Bramwell in Hastings as a solicitor-clerk, and in 1950 he and the family left Hastings, and he went to a law practice of which he became a partner, in Masterton, called Foster & Headifen in the end.

I came back to Hastings in 1979 and commenced to practice law with Bannister & von Dadelszen until I retired from the law in November 1915.


Sorry, 2015, yes. [Chuckle] Not 1915, 2015.

So I had lived in Hawke’s Bay, in Hastings initially and then Havelock North, raising three children – James Headifen, who is presently married, residing in Manchester, England with his newborn son, Mischa; twins Daniel and Marcus Headifen – Daniel resides in Waikanae with his family Vicky, Chiara, Abbey and Chester. He’s a civil engineer working for Kiwi Rail. And Marcus resides in Doncaster, England. He is married to Louise and he is a [an] archaeologist.

Based where?

Working out of Doncaster in Yorkshire as an independent contractor, so he is at the bottom of the archaeological chain, as it were.

On my maternal side, my grandfather is Benoni [spells] Nimmo [spells] Sandilands, who farmed in the Manawatu at ‘Mid Calder’, which was the homestead, and the farm was just out of Kimbolton. Benoni married Phyllis Whitton who was from Christchurch, and she died when my mother, Pamela Joan Sandilands, now Headifen, was a young child. My grandfather remarried and there were six children of that marriage. The boys of whom there were four, all were educated at Wanganui Collegiate, where later on in 1961 I also had my education, being at Collegiate from ’61 to 1965, after which I went to Canterbury University to get my law degree, being at Canterbury University from ’66 to ’71. The law faculty at that university was at the town site, with the rest of the university being out at Ilam at that time.

Have I covered the grandparents?

Yes, I think so. Your wife’s maiden name?

Yep, okay. In 1971, the year I graduated from Canterbury University with a [an] LLB degree – that’s a law degree – I married Belinda Mary Douglas who was the daughter of Ian Sholto Douglas and Mary Edith Henderson Douglas. Ian Douglas farmed at ‘Te Ngapari’ in North Canterbury, in the Ethelton Valley. I think the Maori meaning is – I’m happy to be corrected – is ‘a place on the white cliffs’. That farm was part of the Kaiwhara Estate which was something like twelve thousand acres, broken up into two thousand acre blocks, with the Kaiwhara homestead having I think, four thousand acres. ‘Te Ngapari’ has recently been sold by my wife’s brother Ewan Sholto Douglas, who was the fourth generation to farm that piece of North Canterbury. Of interest the land came to Belinda’s father through his mother, Bindi’s [Belinda’s] grandfather, primarily because she was a McFarland and she did not want to farm on Douglas land, she wanted to farm on her own land. So that’s the background to that.

Right. The Douglas family came from Scotland and arrived in New Zealand in the early 1840s also. They bought land in Christchurch and that was later sold and formed part of one of the suburbs of Christchurch.

Right. The family life in Hawke’s Bay that I have had, apart from being involved in the law practice of Bannister & von Dadelszen from 1979 to 2015, comprised of being a member of the Hastings Jaycees which I retired from near about the age of forty; the Hastings-Karamu Rotary Club, of which I am a Paul Harris Fellow. I was the President of the Karamu-Hastings Rotary Club in 1992/93. I also became a member of the Masonic Craft in 2002, and a member of Te Mata Lodge, and was the Master of Lodge Te Mata in 2008/2009. I served on the Hawke’s Bay District Law Society for a good number of years and became the President of the Hawke’s Bay District Law Society in 1996, and was President for two years – 1997, I think.

Were you a member of the Hastings-Karamu Rotary Club when you had those wonderful sessions that got a name for themselves around Hastings?

Probably not; we had matured a little bit [quiet chuckle] when I joined the Rotary Club. But there are many colourful stories told about a number of occasions when the Rotary Club members were (a) much younger, and (b) much more physically active than they are now; when they raised funds by cleaning out wool sheds to sell the manure, chopping firewood, and painting pensioners’ houses and things like that.

It was a young club, and you had the younger brigade who had a lot of fun, and did things that a lot of the older clubs wouldn’t dream of.

Yes, that sums it up well. We had just held our annual helicopter cocktail fundraising party, and it’s my understanding that we have over the years running the cocktail party on an annual basis, raised in excess of $1m for the Hawke’s Bay Helicopter Rescue Trust.

Wonderful organisation.

Moving on …

Peter, sports-wise – were you a tennis player, or rower?

I played rugby but only to club level, so I played at Canterbury University for their Senior Reserve rugby team, which was the third team – we won the championship in Christchurch that year. And when I first started playing rugby for Canterbury University I played in the Under 19 team which won that year’s competition, playing nineteen games undefeated – which included the First XVs of Christchurch Boys’ High School, Christ’s College, Shirley Boys’ High School, St Bede’s College, St Andrew’s College, and the other Catholic college, which was quite a feat. I continued my rugby after finishing with the University by playing for the famous Timpson Tigers social team, which was a Canterbury University collection of older players whose history is probably not recorded, or unlikely to be recorded.

On leaving for the United Kingdom in ’72 after I married, I worked for a law firm, Alexanders, in London for about twenty months of the twenty-two or twenty-three months we were overseas, and I joined and played for the Richmond Rugby Club who had their playing grounds at the Richmond Athletic Club grounds, and we shared the facilities at that time with London Scottish. I played mainly in their third XV and their second XV, and at that stage Richmond had Chris Ralston who locked the English scrum and was in the successful English side which toured New Zealand and beat the All Blacks; can’t remember whether it was one test or two … and was present in England when the All Blacks toured the United Kingdom under Ian Kirkpatrick. In fact, as a result of the Keith Murdoch incident, on going to the bar after one evening training at the Richmond ground with my rugby team, we met Ian Kirkpatrick who had been brought to the Richmond ground to have a quiet beer; that being organised by Earl Kirton, who was practising dentistry in London at the time. And we had a pleasant evening with the All Black captain over a few beers; the aim of Kirton being to take the captain away for a night on his own and relieve him of some of the press pressure that was in existence at that time.

On returning to New Zealand and commencing to practice law in Ashburton in the firm Nicoll, Sinclair & Kearney, of which I became a partner in 1974 to ‘79 when I left to come to Hawke’s Bay, I played two rugby club seasons with the Ashburton Old Boys. Again I had the pleasure of being locked by Jock Ross who later on became an All Black and toured France. Yes, so that was my rugby career.

I didn’t play rugby when I came to Hawke’s Bay, I played squash for the Havelock Squash Club, rising to the great heights of becoming the lowest D2 graded squash player [chuckles] for the Havelock Club, and we played … oh, a good number of club seasons. I no longer play squash, but I play social tennis with friends on a Monday night, where we’ve got to the point where the wine is more of interest than the tennis. [Chuckle] But we play every Monday night, and have done so for a good many years.

In your rugby world, what position?

I hooked. Yeah, I hooked, so I had the interesting experience at the university trials which we had at the beginning of each year, of having to hook against … along with some others … John Crichton, who had spent a good number of his earlier rugby years as the No 2 Canterbury hooker, and also the No 2 All Black hooker to Dennis Young; and I can record that John Crichton, who practised law in Christchurch, was not interested in giving up his No 1 hooking position for the university club. At that stage the university had two teams playing senior club rugby, Varsity A and Varsity B, and I would go up occasionally throughout my time at varsity, and hook for either the Varsity A side, or the Varsity B side, when the regular hooker was away or was injured. I had the delightful experience of going up and playing for the A team who, on the first round of that season, had been beaten by the Varsity B side – the first match after all the trials had ended. And I well recall Dick Hockley who played for Canterbury, also for New Zealand Universities, and I think in the ’56 Varsity side which beat the Springboks, giving me strict instructions of what I was to do if the ball came my way. They were very determined to thrash the Bs, which we succeeded in doing. So they were some good times, those rugby times, but I don’t claim to have performed my rugby career with a great level of motor [a]bility or skill.

But you get great enjoyment playing sport and getting away from the office.

Oh, very much so; yep, very much so.

Well, you must have done well with squash because you know, Havelock were always strong at squash regardless of whichever grade you were in.

Yes. Yeah, they were, yeah. and we played regularly … Don Stewart, Max Beattie [Batey?] from the Havelock North supermarket, Jim Scotland, Phil Freeman who I still play tennis with, Rowan Ogg … yeah, it was an enjoyable time. I now play golf but as the interviewer knows, not with a lot of success. [Chuckle]

Oh I don’t know! You seem to be in the winning circle quite often.

Occasionally … occasionally, yeah.

That’s good relaxation, really.

Yeah, ‘tis. It is.

My working life in law – I initially went into the common law side of law practices which meant Court appearances, and I commenced as a law clerk while going to university at Canterbury. So I did two years, or two and a half years, working full time and attending lectures in the early hours of the morning, and after work finished at night, and also during the lunch break. I began to practice as a solicitor in ’71 after being admitted to the Bar in the September of 1971, and I followed in the early years practising in the Criminal Courts extensively; the Civil Court also extensively, and in the Family Court which was a new area of law that developed pretty rapidly once the Family Court was created, so in my days in Christchurch I would do defended criminal hearings.

When I went to England I continued to work in the common law area, but not as a practising lawyer ‘cause I wasn’t entitled to be admitted to the Bar there. So I worked as a law clerk briefing barristers at the four Inns of Law: the Inner Temple, Middle Temple, Gray’s Inn and Lincoln’s Inn. One of the cases that I was extensively involved in, and briefed senior counsel, ended up being heard by the Master of the Rolls, Lord Denning, in the English Court of Appeal. And at the conclusion of that trial, being a precocious Kiwi, I pinched the Court list which was attached to the outside of the Master of the Rolls’ Court and I still have that amongst my records. [Chuckles] That case was reported in the All England Law Reports in 1972 or ‘73, called Middlemass and Middlegate Properties, from memory, so I have cherished that year’s volumes of the All England Law Reports. And when with modern technology we moved away from having the Law Reports in book forms in our libraries, in our law office, I quietly kept the three volumes of the 1973, I think it is, All England Law Reports in which this case is recorded, so I was pretty proud of that.

I did a case at the Old Bailey … when I say I did a case, I was the solicitor/clerk at an Old Bailey trial where we had barristers representing our client; and I also was down at the Croydon Crown Court with another case with barristers instructed, being presided over by a woman judge – whose name with due respect I forget – when we were required to evacuate the Court because a warning of an IRA [Irish Republican Army] bomb had been given to … I’ll say the Court staff … and we vacated the building. It was a reality in that time; the IRA were setting off bombs in London quite often. And I’ve had the interesting experience of being in a pub in the north end part of London where the IRA openly collected donations from the pub patrons. They were mean-looking men, and you didn’t mess with them I was told, so we gave a small bit a month with no comments. [Chuckle] So that was a life experience.

Wonderful to go to those places that we in New Zealand hear about, read about, and you go and see the real thing.

Well I got to know the Royal Courts of Justice very well. I took a lot of people … well not a lot, but a number of Kiwis who visited and showed them the Courts system. And we could get in the back way, although that was in the end locked after the IRA threats and scares. Yes – it was interesting visiting counsel in chambers at the Inns of Law. From memory, either at the Inner Temple or the Middle Temple, the Knights who were to lead on the Crusades used to joust on what was the open spaces in front of the buildings next to the Thames; and there is in the Inner Temple the famous Knight Templars Church which I visited on a reasonably regular basis in which are buried some of the Knight Templars who either didn’t make it through the Crusades, or who returned from the Crusades and died later on. So there’s quite an interesting historical association with those places and the law.

I do not have any war service experience, but have become a little bit more interested in the service of my family in wartimes. Noni, or Benoni, Nimmo Sandilands went to the South African war, as did my grandfather, James Headifen. Benoni Sandilands also fought at Gallipoli, and I have his diary of his Gallipoli experiences which made interesting reading. A particular fact of which I am quite proud is that the current Gallipoli exhibition at the National Museum which is Peter Jackson’s effort – which is not the one at Te Papa – shows a piece of Benoni’s diary on the wall with a quote which is accurate from his diary which I have; and so that is a fact of which I am quite proud. I have also visited Leonard Headifen’s grave in the Southern Calais Cemetery. He was, from my understanding of his war record, wounded in the Messines attack, and although I don’t know accurately for certain, he was moved from the Messines area to, I’m assuming, a hospital in Calais where he died of his wounds. So I’ve also visited Messines and stood on the ridge line which I think the New Zealanders attacked up; and I’m just surmising that Leonard was injured at that time, although that might not be an accurate understanding of what actually happened.

So I have my grandfather’s … that’s James Headifen … South African medal with its five clasps, and his maps of where he was during the South African campaign, explaining that they went over in groups of men with their horses. And I took his maps to the Antiques Roadshow out of Liverpool at Sunlight Village, which is Lord Lever’s village that he built for his workers, you know, from the point of view of keeping them healthy. The militaria expert who looked at the maps confirmed their genuineness and also confirmed to me that my grandfather would have marked the map positions when he was there rather than doing it you know, afterwards, which was something I was interested in learning. So the Headifen/Sandilands bloodlines from which I come have been involved in the war matters of Great Britain from the South African war, the First World War and then my father in the Second World War.

I remember some time ago we had a talk at a Landmark meeting at the Hastings Public Library, telling us the number of horses that were exported from New Zealand to South Africa during those wars, and it was just amazing just how many went.

And the tragedy is that I think they had to shoot them all, or all those that had survived, and I think only two came back.

Peter, have you got anything else that you’d like to add? You’ve told us about your children; you’ve got many years in front of you …

I hope so.

so we hope that you keep good health, and the same for your wife and family.

One piece of interest to me for this exercise which I haven’t mentioned, is my son Daniel Charles Headifen, who is the older of the twins, went to Canterbury University and did his civil engineering degree. While at Canterbury University he and a mate of his visited a boxing gym run by a man called Peter Bell, who is a known boxing identity in New Zealand … amateur boxer. Daniel continued to go to the training nights and when he finished his engineering degree [for] which he got a second class honours Division 1 merit award, he shifted to Wellington and joined what is now Kiwi Rail, and I’ll come to that in a minute. He was referred to Chris Kenny by Peter Bell and trained under the late Chris Kenny at Titahi Bay, and pursued a boxing career for a period of time. Danny, as he’s known in the family, boxed as a light welterweight in amateur boxing and became a New Zealand champion in 2002 and 2003, winning the national title on each occasion.

In addition to that he also boxed and became a … I’m going to say a Pacific boxing winner … of the light welter division, beating an Australian, and as a result of that was – Oceania, sorry – he became the Oceania champion in the light welterweight in 2002, thus becoming eligible for selection for the 2002 Commonwealth Games team which he was selected for along with three other boxers, one of whom was Shane Cameron who fought later on as a professional heavyweight with some degree of success. So the family … that is Bindi, I and James and Marcus, our two other sons, all attended the Commonwealth Games in 2002 which were held at Manchester City. Dan lost his first fight, and that was the end of the Headifen involvement but actually the fight was drawn in terms of the judges’ decision, and then there’s a further set of rules which are complex; and as a result he lost to his opponent and went out of the tournament.

He at the present time working for Kiwi Rail, is involved in re-establishing the main trunk line between Blenheim and Christchurch which has been devastated by the Kaikoura earthquake. So he is a member of the North Canterbury group which has replaced the Christchurch earthquake group and is working on re-establishing the rail link between both Blenheim and Kaikoura, and also Kaikoura and Christchurch.

It’s a big job.

Yes, it is. He leaves Wellington on a Tuesday morning and returns on a Friday afternoon which is, you know, tough on his family with three young children, but you know, is offering him a huge engineering experience. Yeah.

Just for the record, James Headifen attended Otago University and got a BA [Bachelor of Arts] in English and … I forget what the other one was; and his brother also attended Otago University and got his BA in Anthropology and Archaeology, which is why Marcus is now doing his archaeological work in the United Kingdom which is full of archaeology because of its age. So every time a building’s moved or built, or a drain is dug, or a pipe has to be put somewhere, you have to do your archaeology work first.

Very interesting. Well Peter, thank you very much for your talk, and I hope everything goes well for you; your golf handicap will come down [chuckle] I’ve seen the points that you’re scoring on some of those days when your game just clicks – and on behalf of the Hawke’s Bay Knowledge Bank, we thank you.

Thank you, Jim.

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Interviewer:  Jim Newbigin

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